America’s Identity Crisis

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America has an identity crisis – and we are all part of it. In her prescient op-ed “Who Do We Think We Are?” Maureen Dowd notes how the recent World Cup exemplified our confusion. She notes:

America’s infatuation with the World Cup came at the perfect moment, illuminating the principle that you can lose and still advance. Once our nation saw itself as the undefeatable cowboy John Wayne. Now we bask in the prowess of the unstoppable goalie Tim Howard, a biracial kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s syndrome.

“The 23-year-olds I work with are a little over the conversation about how we were the superpower brought low,” said Ben Smith, the editor in chief of Buzzfeed. “They think that’s an ‘older person conversation.’ They’re more interested in this moment of crazy opportunity, with the massive economic and cultural transformation driven by Silicon Valley. And kids feel capable of seizing it. Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.”

Walter Isaacson, head of the Aspen Institute and author of the best-selling “Steve Jobs,” agreed that “there’s a striking disconnect between the optimism and swagger of people in the innovative economy — from craft-beer makers to educational reformers to the Uber creators — and the impotence and shrunken stature of our governing institutions.”

“The more we can realize that we’re all making it up as we go along and somehow muddling through making ugly mistakes, the better. We’re not destined for greatness. We have to earn that greatness. What George Washington did right was to realize how much of what he thought was right was wrong.”

Read more here.

Writer Envy

Writing Techniques

Most writers have a short “pantheon” of well-known writers who they admire. And more often than not, new writers tend to write the kind of books their “heroes” write. They may branch out later, but they typically begin by “writing what they read.”

In this short “Bookends” piece, successful writers Zoe Heller and Daniel Mendelsohn share their favorite writers – with a twist. The subtitle of the piece is: “Whose writing career do you most envy?”

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DARPA Cutting Edge Technology

MQ-1 Predator

The story line of this season’s “24” revolves around terrorists taking control of armed U.S. military unmanned aerial systems – commonly called drones – and attacking London while the U.S. president is in England’s capital city. A key element of our plot in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes involves a foreign power hacking a U.S. Global hawk unmanned aerial system.

This is a real challenge and one so severe the U.S. military’s premier research institution – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA for short) is investing in cutting-edge research to defeat those enemies who would hack into our drones.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed the unmanned aerial vehicle under its High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program, military blog Defense Tech reported. DARPA unveiled a prototype of the mini-drone last week during a broader demonstration of over 100 ongoing research projects at the agency.

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China Rising

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 China’s rapidly growing military spending is paving the way for the country to expand its sphere of influence and challenge the U.S. across the globe, the Pentagon said, in a report laying out challenges facing America as it steps up involvement in Asia.

While U.S. military spending is in decline, China is spending billions of dollars to develop stealth fighters, cyber-weaponry, armed drones and a growing naval fleet that has repeatedly squared off with its Asian neighbors, according to the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress.

China spent more than $145 billion on military programs in 2013, the Pentagon estimated, part of a two-decade-long increase in the country’s military spending. China’s official budget has grown by an average of 9.4% each year since 2004, the report said. U.S. military spending is facing a constrained future as the military prepares to bring 13 years of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end. “China’s military investments provide it with a growing ability to project power at increasingly longer range,” the report said.

The Pentagon said the Chinese air force is aggressively modernizing “on a scale unprecedented in its history and is rapidly closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities.” China is trying to develop a stealth jet fighter, but the report said the country “faces numerous challenges” in the program, which it isn’t expected to overcome for at least five years.

The report also warns that China continues to use cyber-warfare to target the U.S. in an effort to increase its advantages over America. Cyber is a critical element of China’s military strategy and is becoming an increasingly tense battlefield for the new nations.

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Out of the Ashes

tom clancy

Many people have asked us, “How does the new Tom Clancy OP-Center series differ from the wildly-successful ten-book series published between 1995 and 2005?” It is an important question and one that helps define the ground we stake out in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes and will continue in future books in the series.

In addition to the action, adventure, military-techno journey we take the reader on, there are some overarching themes in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes and these themes will continue in future books in the series.

  • The notion of civilian control of the military is “unsettled” in America in 2014
  • There is tension between government, military and intelligence entities, and the people
  • There is technology-enabled tension between counterterrorism efforts and civil liberties
  • There are issues that are “too hot to handle” for DoD, DoS et al…hence OpCenter
  • The United States is not a juggernaut, we have to be thoughtful how we apply power
  • This series will convey “strategic foresight” i.e. predict what will happen in future
  • The key to what OpCenter takes on regards leveraging “anticipatory intelligence”
  • Information is now a weapon…this is where network-centric warfare has evolved

The “new” OpCenter and the characters who man it will be a dramatic departure from the “old” OpCenter to reflect the sea change in the U.S. security posture since the series was created:

  • Even more than ten years removed, September 11, 2001 still drives U.S. security thinking
  • The creation of the Director of National Intelligence and the NCTC
  • The creation of the Department of Homeland Security
  • The creation of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence
  • The creation of U.S. Cyber Command as a full combatant commander in 2013
  • The creation of Northern Command as a United States Combatant Commander
  • The success of the television series “24” and its recent re-boot
  • The success of the television series “Person of Interest”
  • The fact that the United States has been at war for twelve years – and counting
  • The major strategic shift involved in the U.S. “pivot to Asia”
  • That said, the validated U.S. near-term strategic focus is still the Mideast
  • The forces unleashed by the Arab Spring are causing more Mideast turmoil
  • In 2014, the U.S. military is reviving the counterterrorism vs. counterinsurgency issue

We believe we have delivered on these themes in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes. Stay tuned for more in book two, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire.

Blurbs Run Amok

Writing Techniques

Writers want other writers – especially prominent authors – to blurb their books. Blurbs sell books and most writers – especially new authors – crave them. But there is growing evidence the blurb industry had run amok and as the picture here suggests, attempts to pump up sales of books may have reached terrifying heights. Here’s what Jennifer Weiner has to say:

The publishing industry is littered with frequent blurbers. Mr. Shteyngart managed to stand out as an undisputed master of the form. His standards were high. “I look for the following: two covers, one spine, at least 40 pages, ISBN number, title, author’s name. Once those conditions are satisfied, I blurb. And I blurb hard,” he once told a reporter at this paper. Indeed, a Shteyngart blurb was a thing to behold, soaring past quotidian praise to the level of performance art.

For Upamanyu Chatterjee’s “English, August,” Mr. Shteyngart wrote, “Comparing Upamanyu Chatterjee with any other comic novelist is like comparing a big fat cigar with a menthol cigarette.” He called Charles Blackstone’s “Vintage Attraction” “so post-post-modern it’s almost pre-modern.” Of Reif Larsen’s “The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet,” Mr. Shteyngart said, “I felt my brain growing as I read it.”

Writers seeking praise at any price might pause to think again. Read more here in the article “All Blurbed Out

Chore or Fulfillment?

Books George Galdorisi

Do people today look at reading as a chore – or as a path to fulfillment? Finding the answer to that question is may be the secret to inspiring children to read. Here’s what Frank Bruni suggests in his op-ed, “Read, Kids, Read.”

As an uncle I’m inconsistent about too many things. But about books, I’m steady. Relentless. I’m incessantly asking my nephews and nieces what they’re reading and why they’re not reading more. I’m reliably hurling novels at them, and also at friends’ kids. I may well be responsible for 10 percent of all sales of “The Fault in Our Stars,” a teenage love story to be released as a movie next month. Never have I spent money with fewer regrets, because I believe in reading — not just in its power to transport but in its power to transform.

In terms of smarts and success, is reading causative or merely correlated? Which comes first, “The Hardy Boys” or the hardy mind? That’s difficult to unravel, but several studies have suggested that people who read fiction, reveling in its analysis of character and motivation, are more adept at reading people, too: at sizing up the social whirl around them. They’re more empathetic. God knows we need that.

Books are personal, passionate. They stir emotions and spark thoughts in a manner all their own, and I’m convinced that the shattered world has less hope for repair if reading becomes an ever smaller part of it.

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Aegis: Shield of the Fleet

CG-and-DDG-Aegis

It is easy to look back from the perspective of 2014, with scores of Aegis cruisers and destroyers populating the U.S. Navy’s fleet – and with Aegis ships now serving as the Navy’s primary surface combatant – and think that the journey toward building an Aegis fleet was simple or straightforward. It was not. A full description of that journey is vastly beyond the scope of this post. But for those readers wanting more, the 2009 Naval Engineer’s Journal, The Story of Aegis: Special Edition contains a rich and detailed description of the Aegis program – how it came into being, where it is today, and where it is going in the future.

As Adm. John Harvey, former Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, explained, what made the original Aegis program so successful was “a single-minded dedication to the pursuit of technical excellence.” That commitment to excellence permeated the Aegis community even before the first ship of the class, the cruiser Ticonderoga (CG 47), was commissioned in January 1983. It likewise remains embedded in Aegis today.

Read more about the United States journey to provide world-class missile defense on the Defense Media Network website here

Words vs. Spreadsheets

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Have the nerds won? Is it: “Statisticians 10, Poets 0?” It appears so. Increasingly, words take a back seat to spreadsheets as more aspects of life become quantifiable and apps even track our moods. Have we gone too far? Do we need poets any longer?

In the last few years, there has been a revolution so profound that it’s sometimes hard to miss its significance. We are awash in numbers. Data is everywhere. Old-fashioned things like words are in retreat; numbers are on the rise. Unquantifiable arenas like history, literature, religion and the arts are receding from public life, replaced by technology, statistics, science and math. Even the most elemental form of communication, the story, is being pushed aside by the list. We’ve become the United States of Metrics.

But does this crush of data threaten our very selves and our aliveness? Grids, spreadsheets and algorithms take away the sensory connection to our lives, where our feet are, what we’re seeing, all the raw materials of life, which by their very nature are disorganized. Metrics rob individuals of the sense that they can choose their own path, because if you’re going by the data and the formula, there’s only one way. As the greatest numbers person of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, warned, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

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Out of the Ashes

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Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes is a reboot of the best-selling Op-Center series that produced twelve books between 1995 and 2005. Continuing in that best-selling tradition, Out of the Ashes was featured on Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today’s best-seller lists just two weeks after the book’s release.

Why is the book doing so well? Above all else, and continuing in the Clancy tradition, Out of the Ashes is prescient. It looks to the future of intelligence, terrorism and military operations and shows what threats to our national security will look like tomorrow. Set in the cauldron of the Middle East, Out of the Ashes is a deep dive into tomorrow’s headlines today. It also takes the readers into the labyrinth of the tensions in this volatile region. Our research for this book took us to several great sources, one of which was Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.