Whither the United States

30cohen-master768

A recent op-ed about North Korea, jointly authored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, put an exclamation point on fact that, for the United States, as well as for most nations, foreign policy success, is to have diplomats and military officers, work hand-in-hand to ensure the security and prosperity of the United States.

That’s why I was intrigued by two recent companion New York Times articles: “The Diplomats Can’t Save Us,” and “The Generals Can’t Either.” Together they paint a challenging picture for the future of United States foreign policy. Both articles deserve a full-read by all of us. A few highlights to whet your appetite:

From “The Diplomats Can’t Save Us:”

The president signaled early on that military might, not diplomatic deftness, was his thing. Soft power was for the birds. This worldview (in essence no more than Trump’s gut) has been expressed in a proposed cut of about 30 percent in the State Department budget as military spending soars; a push to eliminate some 2,300 jobs; the vacancy of many senior posts, including 20 of the 22 assistant secretary positions requiring Senate confirmation; unfilled ambassadorships — roughly 30 percent of the total — from Paris to New Delhi; and the brushoff of the department’s input in interagency debate and in pivotal decisions, like withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Days are now marked by resignations, unanswered messages and idled capacity.

From “The Generals Can’t Either:”

During a recent conference in Singapore, someone asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis whether, given President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate agreement, we were “present at the destruction” of the America-led postwar order. In a twist on a remark by Abba Eban (often attributed to Churchill), the former general answered: “Bear with us. Once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”

Read more of these two revealing articles here, and here.

Tech Bubble?

06sharma-master768

Much has been written about technology, and especially how technology has changed our lives, mostly for the better. Lately, more ink has been spread about how much the big technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and others – work to dominate our lives in ways in which we are often dimly aware.

Often lost in this near-breathless reporting is the long-term health of these companies. On the surface, investors whose portfolios contain a good amount of technology stocks are doing well.

That’s why I was intrigued by Ruchir Sharma’s recent piece in the New York Times, “When Will the Tech Bubble Burst?” Here is part of what Sharma shared:

Today, tech mania is resurgent. Investors are again glancing at a clock with no hands — and dismissing the risk. The profitless start-ups that were wiped out in the dot-com crash have consolidated into an oligopoly composed of leading survivors such as Google and Apple. These are giants with real earnings, yet signs of an irrational euphoria are growing.

Seven of the world’s 10 most valuable companies are in the tech sector, matching the late 1999 peak. As the American stock market keeps marching to new highs — the Dow hit 22,000 this week — the gains are increasingly concentrated in the big tech stocks. The bulls say it is inevitable that Apple will become the first trillion-dollar company.

No matter how surreal the endgame, booms tend to begin with real innovation. In the past, manias have been triggered by excitement about canals, the telegraph and the automobile. But not since the advent of railroads incited market booms in the 1830s and 1840s has the world seen back-to-back booms like the dot-com bubble of the 1990s and the one we are in now.

The dot-com era saw the rise of big companies that were building the nuts and bolts of the internet — including Dell, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel — and of start-ups that promised to tap its revolutionary potential. The current boom lacks a popular name because the innovations — from the internet of things to artificial intelligence and machine learning — are sprawling and hard to label. If there is a single thread, it is the expanding capacity to harness data, which the Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, calls the “electricity of the 21st century.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Writing Update

59850cdbc648a.image

It has been a busy year from a writing perspective, embarking on a number of fiction and non-fiction projects. One thing that has made the work joyful, rather than drudgery, has been a super-supportive family, as well as a community that has embraced the arts in a positive way. Read more about the City of Coronado Cultural Arts Commission here: http://coronadoarts.com/

Probably the most exciting writing adventure this year has been joining Braveship Books. A creation of writers and entrepreneurs Matt Cook and Jeff Edwards, this new publishing imprint leverages emerging technologies in printing, distribution and communications to produce books in the action adventure, thriller and sci-fi and fantasy genres. You can read more about Braveship Books here: http://braveshipbooks.com/index.php.

Braveship Books has just published my first Rick Holden Thriller, the Coronado Conspiracy in both print and e-book versions.

Recently, Coronado Eagle-Journal reporter, David Axelson, caught up with me and captured my recent writing adventures.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

No More Suffering

0813-BKS-Damasio-master315

Two weeks ago, I blogged on an article by Robert Wright, “The Meditation Cure.” Here is how he began:

Much of Buddhism can be boiled down to a bad-news/good-news story. The bad news is that life is full of suffering and we humans are full of illusions. The good news is that these two problems are actually one problem: If we could get rid of our illusions—if we could see the world clearly—our suffering would end.

Yesterday, in a review of Robert Wright’s new book, “Why Buddhism is True,” Antonio Damasio had this to say about Wright’s book, and more broadly, on whether Buddhism practices can lead to healthier individuals and communities:

My take on Wright’s fundamental proposals is as follows:

  • First, the beneficial powers of meditation come from the possibility of realizing that our emotive reactions and the consequent feelings they engender — which operate in automated fashion, outside our deliberate control — are often inappropriate and even counterproductive relative to the situations that trigger them.
  • Second, the mismatch between causes and responses is rooted in evolution. We have inherited from our nonhuman and human forerunners a complex affect apparatus suited to life circumstances very different from ours. That apparatus — which is controlled from varied sectors of our nervous systems — was created by natural selection and assisted by genetic transmission over a long period of time. It worked well for nonhuman primates and later for human hunter gatherers, but it has worked far less well as cultures became more complex.
  • Third, meditation allows us to realize that the idea of the self as director of our decisions is an illusion, and that the degree to which we are at the mercy of a weakly controlled system places us at a considerable disadvantage.
  • Fourth, the awareness brought on by meditation helps the construction of a truly enlightened humanity and counters the growing tribalism of contemporary societies.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Military Revolt

The_Coronado_Conspiracy_Front_Cover

What happens when the nation’s most senior military leaders chafe under that country’s elected leader and want him out of office? They set in motion a spiraling chain of events that will lead to his ouster.

Sounds like something that happens in a third-world country doesn’t it? Only it isn’t there, it’s here, in the United States. It’s Seven Days in May on steroids. It’s Clear and Present Danger meets No Way Out.

Just released by Braveship Books, The Coronado Conspiracy is here with a vengeance. There is a conspiracy at the very heart of the American government. And bringing down the President of the United States is only the first step.

Here is what P.T. Deutermann, had to say: “A high speed, action-packed naval thriller that delivers a fascinating look at some coiling devils who get loose in a maze of military intrigue. A fun read.”

And here is what by Dick Couch had to say: “A modern naval adventure against a very real and present danger. Galdorisi commands comfortably from the onset of hostilities and through the twists and turns of this thrilling narrative.”

Directed Energy

Galdorisi-F0-March-16_1

I was recently honored by the Surface Navy Association with their Literary Award for my U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, “A Potent One-Two Punch.” It’s always an honor to receive an award such as this one, but I believe what contributed to the award had less to do with fabulous writing than it did to do with the importance of the issue, that is, what kind of ships should the U.S. Navy build in the future. I argued that we will be most successful against our adversaries if we build more ships like the Zumwalt-class destroyer, that is, electric drive ships with directed-energy weapons. Here is part of what I said:

The promise of directed-energy weapons has captured the imagination for more than a century. By the eve of the last century, the understanding of physics had progressed to a point where directed-energy weapons had become a staple of popular fiction, perhaps most famously captured in the Martian “heat rays” of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in 1898.

For more than 50 years, the Department of Defense has pursued the goal of using directed-energy for military purposes. Today, these weapons represent some of the most innovative technologies under development by the U.S. military. Research and analysis suggest that the services in general, and the Navy in particular, can leverage these weapons to field transformational capabilities in the near-, mid-, and far-terms.

Directed energy–based systems are already contributing to the emerging capabilities that enable a new American way of war. Laser range finders and targeting systems are deployed on tanks, helicopters, and tactical fighters. These laser systems provide both swifter engagements and greatly enhanced precision. The role of directed-energy systems in support of military operations will continue to grow.

Directed-energy weapons are a natural next step in the transformation of the U.S. military. While the past decade was marked by the shortening of the sensor-to-shooter cycle, this decade is likely to demonstrate a marked reduction in the shooter-to-target cycle. Directed-energy weapons provide a means for instantaneous target engagement, with extremely high accuracy and, in many instances, at very long ranges.

Three primary types of devices are currently being weaponized for naval use: high-energy lasers; radio-frequency weapons, commonly referred to as high-power microwaves or ultra-wideband weapons; and electromagnetic railguns. Lasers excite atoms to release photons in powerful bursts of coherent light that can be focused and aimed by mirrors. With sufficient power, lasers can quickly pierce or overheat a wide range of targets, including aircraft and missiles. Radio-frequency weapons operate in the lower-frequency, longer-wavelength portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to generate bursts or beams capable of disabling electronic systems. Electromagnetic railguns––while not a directed-energy weapon per se––represent the third major weapon category.

A recent Congressional Research Service report on directed-energy weapons highlighted the potential of these technologies to revolutionize naval warfare, noting:

The Navy is currently developing three potential new weapons that could improve the ability of its surface ships to defend themselves against enemy missiles—solid state lasers, the electromagnetic railgun, and the hypervelocity projectile. Any one of these new weapon technologies might be regarded as a “game changer” for defending Navy surface ships against enemy missiles. If two or three of them are successfully developed and deployed, the result might be considered not just a game changer, but a revolution.

 

You can read the entire article here.

Leaders and Solitude

BN-UJ861_bkrvle_GR_20170723140535

Not many of us associate the two words “leadership” and “solitude.” That’s why I was intrigued by a review of the new book, “Lead Yourself First.” The essence of the review is that leaders need solitude to have the chance to “percolate” and “marinate” in his or her own feelings and to step out of events and locate the sacred space where he or she can reflect on what’s going on inside himself, thus attaining the moral and emotional conviction necessary to act.

In the review, Andrew Stark makes many interesting points, saying, for example:

Former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant runs into it in his garden. For entrepreneur Sarah Dillard, it’s to be found when she’s hiking. Tim Hall, a cycling coach, grabs some of it while gazing out at his bird feeder over coffee every morning. The pastor Jimmy Bartz encounters it while fly fishing.

What they are discovering, as Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin report in “Lead Yourself First,” is solitude, a vitally necessary but all too scarce commodity for organizational leaders. It’s scarce because, even more than the rest of us, leaders get bombarded 24/7 by attention-demanding memos, tweets, texts, emails, phone calls, videoconferences and hallway button-holings.

It’s necessary because only with some alone-time can leaders hope to gain a “sense of control” over all that incoming information, as communications officer Jaya Vadlamudi tells the authors. Only by herself, she says, can she hope to “whittle” such stimuli down to the essentials and reach clarity. Or as the Schwab executive Peter Crawford puts it: Solitude makes it possible to engage in the mental equivalent of “stripping away all the cookies on a computer. Once they’re cleared, my mind works better.”

Read more of this revealing article here.

Ayn Rand

14STEWART1-blog427

Few would argue that Ayn Rand was one of the most provocative writers of the 20th Century. Books such as “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” were mainstays of college courses and were books embraced by many as a recipe for a successful and fulfilling life.

Today, Rand’s books are popular again.

President Trump named Rand his favorite writer and “The Fountainhead” his favorite novel. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has cited “Atlas Shrugged” as a favorite work, and the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, said the book “really had an impact on me.”

As Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, put it in a recent essay, “her books pretty well capture the mind-set” of the Trump administration. “This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies,” he wrote, “and it admires strong, can-do profit makers.”

In business, Rand’s influence has been especially pronounced in Silicon Valley, where her overarching philosophy that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself,” as she described it in a 1964 Playboy interview, has an obvious appeal for self-made entrepreneurs. Last year Vanity Fair anointed her the most influential figure in the technology industry, surpassing Steve Jobs.

But lately, many Rand devotees have been running into trouble. Travis Kalanick’s abrupt departure as chief executive of Uber, the Internet-based ride-hailing service he built into a private corporation worth $50 billion or more, is the latest Icarus-like plunge of a prominent executive identified with Rand.

The hedge fund manager Edward S. Lampert, who some say has applied Rand’s Objectivist principles to the management of Sears and Kmart, has driven those venerable retailers close to bankruptcy.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

All Levers of U.S. Power

BN-UL418_ENGAGE_J_20170727103601

Many who watched President Trump’s speech on July 22, as he commissioned the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, took his remarks as a flexing of American military muscle. Speaking of the Gerald R. Ford, President Trump said, “American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none…We will win, win, win. We will never lose.”

A former U.S. Marine, Jake Cusack, had a sobering assessment of this speech. Cusack, who served multiple tours in Iraq as a platoon commander, pointed out the dangers of relying too heavily on military power while ignoring all the other levers of U.S. national power. Here is part of what he said:

Mr. Trump’s speech reflected his administration’s emphasis on the military as the primary instrument of U.S. foreign policy. He has delegated broad powers to his military commanders while sidelining the State Department and proposing deep cuts to foreign aid. As a former Marine, I loved seeing a new aircraft carrier commissioned. But as I listened to Mr. Trump, I recalled a lesson from my service in Iraq a decade ago: Feeling strong and being strong are often two very different things.

I vividly remember one particular mission in which we searched four compounds for “high-value” insurgents. It was the heady stuff of recruiting commercials—heavily armed Marines riding helicopters into lawless terrain in the dead of night. The raid was a success, and when we landed back on base at 5 a.m., we felt great, high on testosterone and adrenaline.

But I soon began to wonder if this was the best we could do with our superior technology and troops. More than 60 Marines, backed by assault helicopters and fighter planes, just to capture a few Iraqi farmers who had taken potshots at other Marines a few weeks earlier?

Later in my deployment, I joined a small group of Marines to talk to some sheikhs who lived along a U.S. resupply route that was riddled with explosive devices. We tried to map the road out in one- or two-kilometer segments, identifying which local leaders held their communities’ respect. With various rewards and punishments as our tools, we worked with them to reduce the number of roadside bombs.

The second mission lacked the action-movie excitement of helicopters whisking away bad guys under cover of darkness. But what feels effective is often different from what is effective. Winning the support of local leaders was a key part of the counterinsurgency strategies forged by such commanders as David Petraeus and H.R. McMaster (now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser). These low-key efforts buttressed the pulse-pounding raids—and made Iraq a safer place for several years before the U.S. troop pullout that ended in 2011.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Mindfulness Meditation

BN-UL910_MEDITA_12S_20170728111545

Buddha meet Charles Darwin. This initially may seem to be an odd pair to put together, but not according to a recent article by Robert Wright, “The Meditation Cure.” Here is how he begins:

Much of Buddhism can be boiled down to a bad-news/good-news story. The bad news is that life is full of suffering and we humans are full of illusions. The good news is that these two problems are actually one problem: If we could get rid of our illusions—if we could see the world clearly—our suffering would end.

And there’s more good news: Buddhism offers tools for doing that job. A good example is the type of meditation known as mindfulness meditation, now practiced by millions of people in the U.S. and other places far from Buddhism’s Asian homeland. Mindfulness meditation, Buddhists say, can change our perspective on feelings such as anxiety and rage and thereby sap their power to warp our vision and make us suffer.

These claims—the bad news and the good—are more than two millennia old, but they’re now getting important support from evolutionary psychology, the modern study of how natural selection engineered the human mind. Evolutionary psychology gives Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament a back story. It explains why humans are prone to illusions and to suffering and why the two problems are related. And this explanation can strengthen the Buddhist prescription, adding to the power of mindfulness meditation in particular.

Mindfulness meditation is an exercise in attention. It involves calming the mind—typically by focusing on the breath—and then using the resulting equanimity to observe things with unusual care and clarity. The things observed can include sounds, physical sensations or anything else in the field of awareness. But perhaps most important is the careful observation of feelings, because feelings play such a powerful role in guiding our perceptions, thoughts and behavior.

 

Want more? You can read the full article here.