America’s Future Wars


America is still at war. But increasingly, that war is fought in the shadows, using our warriors from the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to carry the fight to the enemy. It is a deadly serious war and our SOCOM men and women are carrying a hugely disproportionate share of the fighting and dying.

Since our SOCOM warriors operate primarily in the shadows and secretive missions, little is known about them. That’s why this article, “Special Operations Troops Top Casualty List as U.S. Relies More on Elite Forces,” was so revealing and enlightening. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:

“Over the last year, Special Operations troops have died in greater numbers than conventional troops — a first. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they made up only a tiny sliver of the dead. That they now fill nearly the whole casualty list shows how the Pentagon, hesitant to put conventional troops on the ground, has come to depend almost entirely on small groups of elite warriors.”

I’ve never read an article that revealed so much about what our  SOCOM warriors do to protect us. It spoke to me and I think it will speak to you.

You can read this intriguing article here.

It’s the Economy Stupid


It has been a quarter-century since Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville, coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid” as a focusing metaphor for Clinton’s campaign workers as the campaign sought to unseat a sitting president, George H.W. Bush. It worked, and Clinton became our 42nd president by driving home the message that he could fix America’s economy.

Most agree that he did, but since then, the U.S. economy has been on roller coaster ride of boom and bust. Many of us feel that the nation is moving forward from the depths of the 2008 recession.

But are we really making progress? David Brooks asks this question in his op-ed piece, “This Century is Broken.” Brooks suggests that the 21st century is looking much nastier and bumpier: rising ethnic nationalism, falling faith in democracy, a dissolving world order. Then he points out that at the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. His thoughts are chilling:

Read this intriguing, and troubling, article here.

Cyber War


We are inundated by information about the cyber world – most of it negative. Russian hacking designed to influence the American election, Wiki-leaks, NSA monitoring of phone conversations, scammers emptying bank accounts and the like. The information comes at us so fast and furious that for most of us, there’s more heat than light.

That’s why I found the article, “The @ – Bomb” so revealing. It lights a candle on the extent of the threat cyber poses to nations, as well as to individuals.

I’ve poured over the article looking for snippets to share with you, but it’s a fool’s errand. Spend some time devouring this great piece. You won’t be disappointed.

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here.

The China Threat


Two weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct.” This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” China is one of those contingencies.

China’s economic rise over the last several decades has been breathtaking, and has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But China’s newfound economic prosperity has also enabled that nation to build a highly capable military. China has strong regional ambitions and is using its military to achieve them.

One thing we should ask is this: Since the “4+1 construct” was announced in the fall of 2015, identifying China as a nation we needed to be concerned about and be prepared to deal with from a military perspective, how have things been going? Are our relations with China getting better or worse?

First, there are longstanding issues between the United States and China. Among the most prominent:

  • China’s self-declared “Century of Humiliation” at the hands of the West
  • China’s economic boom that is fueling a rapid military buildup
  • A strong belief that the United States is trying to “encircle” China
  • Regional ambitions that are enhanced and enabled by military capabilities

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, China is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • Chinas aggressive actions toward smaller neighbors, some of them U.S. allies
  • China’s relentless military buildup on South China Sea islands, rocks and reefs
  • China’s demonstrated intent to flout international law, ignoring the Hague ruling
  • China’s deployment of a PLAN aircraft carrier to the South China Sea
  • China’s strong, negative, reaction to SECDEF Mattis on the Senkaku Islands
  • The recent seizure of U.S. UUV in international waters of the South China Sea
  • The new administration has denounced China’s maritime bullying

Worrisome signs from a nation that will soon eclipse our economy. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

America and the Oscars


I suspect many of you watched the Academy Awards show Sunday night – all four-hours worth – closer to eight if you count the Red Carpet warm-up.

Many of us think that art imitates life and that the kind of movies nominated for the Oscar represent us – American writ large.

That’s why I found this article “America as Told by the Oscars,” so riveting and eye-opening. It spoke to me, and I think it will speak to you. Here is part of what the writer said:

“For years, the Academy Awards reliably recognized movies that attempted to capture the sweep of the American idea — in earnest films like “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan” as well as more scorching efforts like “There Will Be Blood” — that seemed to want to define the country, and its people, all at once. If you wanted a shot at a best-picture Oscar in that era, an ambitious statement film that tried to tell Americans who they really are was a good bet.”

“The narrow, personal focus of this year’s top Oscar nominees suggests how tough it may be for Americans, or Hollywood, to settle on a single unifying vision of what America means, or what it means to be an American. It may never again be possible for one movie to fully answer those questions. More likely, it never was.”

“Yet this year’s best-picture crop may have provided an answer — in the notion that there is no one American story, but a variety of specific and unique American stories, and in the idea that America is a nation of both individualism and pluralism. You might think of the movies in the best-picture category as a kind of expanded cinematic universe — not of superheroes, but of ordinary, extraordinary lives, overlapping and intersecting in a sprawling national epic too big for any one film.”

“Of course, that means the task is more difficult for moviegoers as well: If you really want to find out what America looks like, you have to watch all of them.”

You can read this fascinating article here.

Deconstructing a Novel


There are many ways to get advice regarding writing a novel. There are courses, experts and any number of books and online advice. How to sort the wheat from the chaff?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and focusing on novels in particular for almost twenty years. While it’s hard to pick the “best” advice I’ve ever encountered, I’ll offer the Freytag Pyramid as one we can all benefit from. From my perspective, you can deconstruct any novel and it fits this model.


Very briefly, here is what each part comports:

  1. Exposition: setting the scene. The writer introduces the characters and setting, providing description and background.
  2. Inciting Incident: something happens to begin the action. A single event usually signals the beginning of the main conflict. The inciting incident is sometimes called ‘the complication’.
  3. Rising Action: the story builds and gets more exciting.
  4. Climax: the moment of greatest tension in a story. This is often the most exciting event. It is the event that the rising action builds up to and that the falling action follows.
  5. Falling Action: events happen as a result of the climax and we know that the story will soon end.
  6. Resolution: the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her.
  7. Dénouement:(a French term, pronounced: day-noo-moh) the ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author. Sometimes the author leaves us to think about the THEME or future possibilities for the characters.

Artificial Intelligence


Artificial intelligence, AI, has dominated the news in recent years – and it should. The promise offered by AI in the commercial sector, think, for example, of driverless cars, is revolutionizing our thinking about how much AI can make our lives better.

That said, one of the most controversial aspects of AI is its use in military weapons. Here is how an article entitled, “Morals and the Machine,” in The Economist addressed the issue of AI in military unmanned systems this way:

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.

As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas. Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driverless car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic?

Such questions have led to the emergence of the field of “machine ethics,” which aims to give machines the ability to make such choices appropriately—in other words—to tell right from wrong. More collaboration is required between engineers, ethicists, lawyers and policymakers, all of whom would draw up very different types of rules if they were left to their own devices.

Until recently, the United States had the dominant position in AI, especially AI used for military purposes. That is no longer the case. Here is the way a recent New York Times article entitled, “China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter,” began:

“Robert O. Work, the veteran defense official retained as deputy secretary by President Trump, calls them his “A.I. dudes.” The breezy moniker belies their serious task: The dudes have been a kitchen cabinet of sorts, and have advised Mr. Work as he has sought to reshape warfare by bringing artificial intelligence to the battlefield.

“Last spring, he asked, ‘O.K., you guys are the smartest guys in A.I., right?’”

“No, the dudes told him, ‘the smartest guys are at Facebook and Google,’ Mr. Work recalled in an interview.”

“Now, increasingly, they’re also in China. The United States no longer has a strategic monopoly on the technology, which is widely seen as the key factor in the next generation of warfare.”

Read this intriguing article here

What in the World?


We have access to so much information, we should always be able to find precisely what we want to. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Sadly, this isn’t the case. We are bombarded with information on multiple fronts and for most of us, separating the wheat from the chaff is difficult, often extraordinarily so.

That’s why a recent report from the non-partisan World Economic Forum is so refreshing. In a few hard-hitting charts we learn important facts ranging from: The top ten global economies, to what countries are rising fastest, to global risks we need to be concerned about, to so much more.

Thought provoking? You can read the full report here.

The Next Level

Writing Techniques

Last month, I spoke at the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference.  As always, it was an inspiring event with extraordinarily accomplished writers as keynote speakers, such as:

  • Jonathan Maberry
  • J.D. Jance
  • Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • R.L. Stine

What struck me about each of these writing rock stars is that ALL of them had difficult childhoods and struggled as adults before they garnered success as writers.

We all have our struggles and if our situation ever leads to our thinking that writing is just “too hard” given our touch circumstances, learning a bit about their life stories should encourage us to keep plugging away.

As one example of these travails, Jonathan Maberry, New York Time best-selling writer, and five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, grew up in a home with an abusive father who allowed no books in the home. It was his way of keeping his family in bondage. Maberry found freedom in his local library.

Juxtapose this with a recent piece in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress. The article is entitled: Carla Hayden Thinks Libraries Are A Key to Freedom.” You can read the entire piece here.

I’ll share more insights from the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference in future blog posts.

National Security Threats


Reading the daily headlines offers only a piecemeal understanding of the threats to U.S. National security. Said another way, there is far more heat than light. We’ll try to light a candle.

As a result of globalization and the proliferation of new technology, the United States is facing challenges on a global scale.  At the 2015 Reagan National Defense Forum, Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, outlined the “4+1 construct. This new way of looking at threats to our nations focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.”

The “contingencies” include, China and Russia, the high end threats, and Iran and North Korea, lower end threats but with great instability. The “condition” is the long-term fight against global terrorism.

This is a completely new way that the United States looks at these threats to our national security. For several generations, the Cold War and a fight against the Soviet Union dominated our national security calculus. While there were other threats the United States had to deal with, they were all viewed as “lesser included subsets” of the Soviet threat. In other words, if we had the doctrine, people and equipment to take on the Soviets, we could deal with these lesser threats.

That is no longer the case, and that is why the new “4+1” construct is so important. We face dramatically different strategic, operational and tactical challenges from the “four contingencies and one condition.” And in the year-plus since this construct was announced, these threats have taken on worrisome changes – all for the worse.

Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about each of these threats to our national security.