Happy 2012 to everyone! I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable New Year’s, as well as a bit of a break from the daily grind. Things are inevitably going to ramp up this week and next, especially for the tech world with the annual Consumer Electronics Show kicking off in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. I’ll be there once again, with more on that in the days to come.
In the meantime, I’m starting the new year on a good note with the long-awaited U.S. launch of my book Sex, Bombs and Burgers. The U.S. is either the fifth or six country in which the book has been published – it was supposed to be released in South Korea in the fall, although I don’t actually know if it was or not (nobody tells us authors nothing).
Such is the long, long tail of a book. Coming from the mindset of writing daily, it’s been weird having to continue thinking about something I wrote close to three years ago and that first hit shelves almost two years ago, especially when I’m already working on the next book (more on that soon). Nevertheless, viva Sex, Bombs and Burgers, out this week! I did an interview last week with the New York Post, which had a nice write-up over the weekend – check it out.
One of the funny things that came up while talking with the reporter was how long it has taken the book to make it to the U.S. The truth is, it’s very difficult for anyone who doesn’t have a built-in “platform” to get published in the country – that’s essentially industry speak for anyone who isn’t a celebrity. It goes double for foreigners, so yes, it has taken a long time and it’s why I’m especially grateful to Lyons/Globe Pequot Press for finally bringing it in.
The Post reporter and I got a chuckle out of all of this because, we agreed, Sex, Bombs and Burgers is an all-American book. It’s all about three things that the United States is really good at: war, pornography and fast food. Literally.
To help re-introduce the book to new readers, I thought I’d dedicate my posts this week to demonstrating that point, starting with war today.
In 2009, the world’s militaries spent a combined $1.5 trillion (U.S.), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or about 2.4% of the entire planet’s gross domestic product. The number has been rising quickly – it grew again in 2010 to $1.6 trillion – having increased by almost 50% since 2000.
How much of that spending does the United States account for? More than half: about $661 billion, or about 54%. The U.S. has increased its spending by a staggering 81% since 2001 and in 2010 was responsible for almost all of the growth in total global expenditure (it accounted for $19.6 billion of the $20.6 billion increase).
The next biggest spender, China, is nowhere near close – it spends about $100 billion per year, or six times less than the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. secretly spends more on its military than most countries do openly. The Pentagon’s $50-billion-plus black budget exceeds the defense spending of the United Kingdom, Japan and France and is more than triple all of Canada’s budget.
What does it all mean? Well, the spending obviously translates into military superiority but also, in the context of my book, it also means technological domination. The United States has only 4% of the world’s population, but spends more than half of its research and development dollars, much of which is tied to the military. According to one estimate, one third of major university faculty research has been supported by national security agencies since 1945.
The result is that consumer life in the United States, and much of the developed world for that, is irrevocably tied to military research and spending. And while we like to think this shadowy military industrial complex was at its height during the Cold War, the reality is that links between defense and industry have never been stronger. It’s not just old, aerospace giants that have long and storied connections to the Pentagon – big, new companies such as Google also have very close ties. Google Earth, Maps and Translate are just a few of the company’s services that have defense dollars at their very cores.
One great, recent example of this is Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled assistant on the iPhone 4S. Released in October, the 4S with Siri obviously came after Sex, Bombs and Burgers was written, but the military program on which the software is based is in the book. Siri came out of the Personalized Assistant that Learns research project, funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and put together to crunch the massive amounts of military intel and data being generated.
The project’s purpose was to create an intelligent piece of software that could sort through and analyze reams of data, then suggest useful courses of action. As Wired put it, it was all about developing the sort of responsive computer found on the Starship Enterprise.
A few years and some corporate investment from Apple later and voila – military technology in the palm of our hands. That, in a nutshell, is the underlying story of Sex, Bombs and Burgers, in stores now!