Making a Mark

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We all likely belong to one or more institutions. Some belong to many. I’d always wondered why I “stuck” with and to some institutions, while others faded out.

I wondered, that is, until I read David Brooks piece called, “How to Leave a Mark on People.” Here is part of what he said:

Some organizations are thick, and some are thin. Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory. Which raises two questions: What makes an institution thick? If you were setting out consciously to create a thick institution, what features would it include?

A thick institution is not one that people use instrumentally, to get a degree or to earn a salary. A thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul. So thick institutions have a physical location, often cramped, where members meet face to face on a regular basis, like a dinner table or a packed gym or assembly hall.

Thin institutions tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.

In the former, there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus — Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization. In the latter, there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love. Think of a bunch of teachers watching a student shine onstage or a bunch of engineers adoring the same elegant solution.

What about your institutions?

Want more? Read the full article here.

Life Imitates Art

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I recently participated in a military-industry professional conference focused on future threats to national security. As part of that event, I was asked to be on a panel that explored how “life imitates art” and how the military and industry can (and do!) mine fiction to explore how warfighting will evolve in the future.

Fellow panelists included Mr. Peter Singer and Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kirchner. Our goal was to help the conference delegates think outside the box.

Mr. Peter Singer is the author of many books about the military and technology (for example, Wired for War), and more recently, with August Cole, wrote the enormously popular novel Ghost Fleet.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kirchner works for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Virginia. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab sponsors a Science Fiction Writing Contest and publishes these works in a compendium. Why – to stimulate military men and women to have a view of the future they won’t get anywhere else.

Life DOES imitate art, and today we are using it to help ensure our warfighters – and those who support them – are never in a fair fight – but one they will always win.

Missile Defense

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Earlier this month, we posted a blog about the only existential threat to the United States – ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Americans have the right to ask – what are we doing to address that threat? Few know of the responsibility for defense against these weapons rests with the United States Missile Defense Agency. The Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) mission is to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.

Recently, the professional journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, posted an excellent article with an interview with MDA’s leader, Vice Admiral James Syring. Here is part of what he said:

“We must assume that North Korea can reach us with a ballistic missile,” and must do everything possible to meet that threat.”

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) remains one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and especially for the U.S. Navy – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

You can read the entire U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article here.

Here Comes the Sun

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Today is the day. The summer solstice. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with this event, but that’s where it ends. So here is a bit more granularity.

At the summer solstice, the Earth reaches the point in its orbit where the northern hemisphere is most tilted toward the sun, which puts the latter higher in the sky at noon than at any other time of the year. This is also the day of the year with the longest daylight period and the shortest night.  In prehistoric times, the summer solstice was of great importance to aboriginal peoples.  The snow had disappeared, food was easier to find, and crops already planted would soon be harvested in months to come. From then on, however, the days would begin to shorten, indicating the inevitable return of the cold season.

The Red Pencil

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For those of us who write, life is good – or even great – when you have a good editor. Editors are the unsung heroes who make our writing sing.

That’s why it seems a bit unfair that editors remain behind the scenes, toiling in virtual obscurity as they do their vital work.

Occasionally, and editor becomes well-known, largely because he or she has shepherded a writer along and helped that writer achieve fame or even fortune.

Harold Evans is one of those editors and that’s why I latched on to his book: DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR? Why Writing Well Matters.

Here is how Jim Holt’s book review of Evans book begins:

Have you heard of Harold Evans? Sir Harold Evans? Of course you have. He is one of the greatest and most garlanded editors alive. Now in his late 80s, Evans emerged from a working-class Welsh family in the provincial north of England to make his reputation as an ambitious young newspaperman. From 1967 to 1981 he was helmsman of The Sunday Times of London, which he turned into a powerhouse of investigative journalism. Leaving The Times after he clashed with its officious new purchaser, Rupert Murdoch, Evans soon moved to the United States. By the 1990s he had become head of Random House, where he edited the books of eminences like Norman Mailer and Henry Kissinger. Subsequently he himself wrote several popular books on American history. He is married to Tina Brown, the erstwhile editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Harry and Tina are Manhattan’s ultimate editorial “power couple.” One imagines that, after the last guest has left one of their glittering Sutton Place soirees, their pillow talk abounds in terms like “stet,” “transpose” and “delete.”

With that as a teaser, you can read the full review here.

War!

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Warfare has been a fact of life from the time that man first created weapons and used them against other men who presented threats to them.

I have been reading about warfare from the time I began my Navy career decades ago, and am always on the hunt for books that help me understand this phenomenon.

That’s why I found the New York Times article: “War Stories” by Thomas Ricks so valuable. He summarizes eleven new books that cover a wide array of scholarship on this subject.

Want more? You can read the entire article here.

The Existential Threat

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Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The reason why is compelling: Ballistic missiles armed with WMD represent the primary existential threat to the United States as well as other nations.

This is what the New York Times Helene Cooper and David Sanger had to say in a recent article about the American response to the threat of ballistic missiles armed with WMD:

A re-engineered American interceptor rocket collided with a mock intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday afternoon in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said, in the first successful test of whether it could shoot down a warhead from North Korea racing toward the continental United States at speeds approaching true battle conditions.

At a time when tensions with North Korea are running high, a successful test was vital for the Defense Department’s beleaguered missile defense program. It enabled the Pentagon to argue that it is making strides in protecting the United States from a North Korean nuclear warhead.

Not long ago, in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, we addressed the U.S. Navy’s contribution to the nation’s missile defense capability. This is part of what we said:

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

For years, the U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD was secondary to many other systems. Today, the U.S. Navy is “in the van” as we describe in our article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Want more? Read the full New York Times article by Helene Cooper and David Sanger here.

And here is our article talking about ballistic missile defense in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

 

Rules for Modern Living

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We live in an age of excitability, agitation and venting, thanks in large part to our unprecedented leisure time and astounding technology. Yet we also want happiness, serenity and meaning, which is why so many of us keep heading for the self-help section at the bookstore. One powerful way to reach those goals comes from the unlikely revival of the Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism—seemingly the farthest thing imaginable from our own anxious times.

You may associate Stoicism with suppressing emotion and enduring suffering with a stiff upper lip, a la Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. Not so: Stoicism is practical and humane, and it has plenty to teach us. The philosophy may have been developed around 300 B.C. by Zeno of Cyprus, but it is increasingly relevant today.

The Stoics had centuries to think deeply about how to live, and they developed a potent set of exercises to help us navigate our existence, appreciating the good while handling the bad. These techniques have stood the test of time over two millennia. Here are five of author Massimo Pigliucci’s favorites:

  • Learn to separate what is and isn’t in your power
  • Contemplate the broader picture
  • Think in advance about challenges you may face during the day
  • Be mindful of the here and now
  • Before going to bed, write in a personal philosophical diary

Stoicism was meant to be a practical philosophy. It isn’t about suppressing emotions or stalking through life with a stiff upper lip. It is about adjusting your responses to what happens, enduring what must be endured and enjoying what can be enjoyed.

Want to read more? You can read the full Wall Street Journal article here.

The Battle of Midway

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Seventy-five years ago this month, the course of World War II changed forever. The Battle of Midway represented the turning point of the war.

Volumes have been written about this epic battle, so it is difficult to write a pithy summary. This anniversary spurred an avalanche of articles and new books.

One article stood out for me, that by historian Victor Davis Hanson. Here is how he began his short piece:

Seventy-five years ago (June 4-7, 1942), the astonishing American victory at the Battle of Midway changed the course of the Pacific War.

Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. crushed the Imperial Japanese Navy off Midway Island (about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu), sinking four of its aircraft carriers.

“Midway” referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia. But to Americans, “Midway” became a barometer of military progress. Just half a year after being surprised at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had already destroyed almost half of Japan’s existing carrier strength (after achieving a standoff at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier).

The odds at the June 1942 battle favored the Japanese. The imperial fleet had four carriers to the Americans’ three, backed up by scores of battleships, cruisers and light carriers as part of the largest armada that had ever steamed from Japan.

No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian-Manchurian border to Wake Island in the Pacific.

Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why and how?

You can read the entire article here.

Popular?

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Most of us remember our angst as teenagers about wanting to be popular. But few of us realize that it’s something in something in our DNA.

Today some people feed that need via social media, and for too many it becomes something of an obsession.

That’s why I found this piece by Mitch Prinstein, “Popular People Live Longer,” so enriching. Here is part of what he says:

I often hear from teenagers that one of their greatest goals is to obtain more Instagram followers than anyone they know. Even some adults appear obsessed with social media, tracking the number of retweets on their Twitter profiles or likes on Facebook. This type of status-seeking might be easily dismissed as juvenile or superficial, but there’s more to it.

Recent evidence suggests that being unpopular can be hazardous to our health. In fact, it might even kill us. Yet most don’t realize that there’s more than one type of popularity, and social media may not supply the one that makes us feel good.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, consolidated data from 148 investigations published over 28 years on the effects of social relationships, collectively including over 308,000 participants between the ages of 6 and 92 from all over the world. In each study, investigators measured the size of participants’ networks, the number of their friends, whether they lived alone, and the extent to which they participated in social activities. Then they followed each participant for months, years and even decades to track his or her mortality rate.

The results revealed that being unpopular — feeling isolated, disconnected, lonely — predicts our life span. More surprising is just how powerful this effect can be. Dr. Holt-Lunstad found that people who had larger networks of friends had a 50 percent increased chance of survival by the end of the study they were in. And those who had good-quality relationships had a 91 percent higher survival rate. This suggests that being unpopular increases our chance of death more strongly than obesity, physical inactivity or binge drinking. In fact, the only comparable health hazard is smoking.

Interested in learning more? You can read the entire article here.