Military Revolt

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

A New Approach to Eating

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If you need more evidence regarding how much Silicon Valley has come to dominate our lives, you need only look at the statistics: In 2016, the five top U.S. companies based on market capitalization where all tech companies. That trend continues today.

Now this trend is moving into our kitchens. Amazon has bought Whole Foods. Some didn’t see this coming, but in a prescient article some years ago entitled, “Rethinking Eating,” here’s what the writer suggested:

Having radically changed the way we communicate, do research, buy books, listen to music, hire a car and get a date, Silicon Valley now aims to transform the way we eat. Just as text messages have replaced more lengthy discourse and digital vetting has diminished the slow and awkward evolution of intimacy, tech entrepreneurs hope to get us hooked on more efficient, algorithmically derived food.

Call it Food 2.0.

Following Steve Jobs’s credo that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” a handful of high-tech start-ups are out to revolutionize the food system by engineering “meat” and “eggs” from pulverized plant compounds or cultured snippets of animal tissue. One company imagines doing away with grocery shopping, cooking and even chewing, with a liquid meal made from algae byproducts.

You can read the entire article here.

America and Asia

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Over five years ago, in his speech delivered to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011, then-U.S. President Barack Obama made the first official announcement of a change in U.S. security policy. He said:

Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth–the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation …Here, we see the future. With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.

Since then, as I’ve reported on this website several times (see, for example)…

…and have written about in various national and international publications (here):

Few would argue that the point President Obama made in his speech, “The United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation,” is true, but it wasn’t until I read a book review by Gordon Chang, “Bibles and Ginseng,” in the New York Times that I understand not just why this is true, but also how it happened.

Read this short – and clarifying – review here.

Hurricane Dancing

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There are years that are watershed years, times where just extrapolating the present into the future isn’t enough.

For most of us, these years come and go and only in hindsight so we put it all together and take stock about what just happened.

It wasn’t until I read Tom Friedman’s article, “Dancing in a Hurricane,” that I was able to reflect that 2007 was such a year. Here is part of what he said:

What the hell happened in and around 2007? 2007? That’s such an innocuous year. But look again.

Steve Jobs and Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, starting the smartphone revolution that is now putting an internet-connected computer in the palm of everyone on the planet. In late 2006, Facebook, which had been confined to universities and high schools, opened itself to anyone with an email address and exploded globally. Twitter was created in 2006, but took off in 2007. In 2007, Hadoop, the most important software you’ve never heard of, began expanding the ability of any company to store and analyze enormous amounts of unstructured data. This helped enable both Big Data and cloud computing. Indeed, “the cloud” really took off in 2007.

In 2007, the Kindle kicked off the e-book revolution and Google introduced Android. In 2007, IBM started Watson — the world’s first cognitive computer that today can understand virtually every paper ever written on cancer and suggest to doctors highly accurate diagnoses and treatment options. And have you ever looked at a graph of the cost of sequencing a human genome? It goes from $100 million in the early 2000s and begins to fall dramatically starting around … 2007.

Read more of this short – but revealing – article here.

Artificial Intelligence

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You don’t have to pick up a technical journal to be exposed to articles about artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, deep learning, and the like. This technology surrounds us today and is quickly becoming something we access on a daily basis – witness, SIRI, Alexa and other apps and things we not only use for convenience, but that we count on every day.

Because of the seemingly sudden ubiquity of artificial intelligence (commonly called AI) there is vastly more heat than light on this subject.

That’s why I found this MIT Technology Review article, “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI,” so fascinating. It asks the crucial question, do we really know what AI is doing for us? Here are a few excerpts:

A car’s underlying AI technology, known as deep learning, has proved very powerful at solving problems in recent years, and it has been widely deployed for tasks like image captioning, voice recognition, and language translation. There is now hope that the same techniques will be able to diagnose deadly diseases, make million-dollar trading decisions, and do countless other things to transform whole industries.

But this won’t happen—or shouldn’t happen—unless we find ways of making techniques like deep learning more understandable to their creators and accountable to their users. Otherwise it will be hard to predict when failures might occur—and it’s inevitable they will.

This raises mind-boggling questions. As the technology advances, we might soon cross some threshold beyond which using AI requires a leap of faith. Sure, we humans can’t always truly explain our thought processes either—but we find ways to intuitively trust and gauge people. Will that also be possible with machines that think and make decisions differently from the way a human would? We’ve never before built machines that operate in ways their creators don’t understand. How well can we expect to communicate—and get along with—intelligent machines that could be unpredictable and inscrutable?

Want more on this fascinating subject? Follow the link to the article

And for a comprehensive report on the growing value of AI in business, read this Price, Waterhouse, Coopers report: “Sizing the prize What’s the real value of AI for your business and how can you capitalize?”