Knowing Better

 

Nov|Dec 08 Contents
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Some people just seem to know more than others; they have the ability to spy out opportunities and recognize risks that elude the rest of us—people like the alumni featured in this issue.

Perhaps more than any other individual in the U.S. government, long before 9/11 Richard Clarke C’72 had a clear understanding of the profound danger posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to the country. His warnings went unheeded.

Clarke has told this story himself in his crucial testimony before the 9/11 Commission and in a memoir, Against All Enemies, that was widely praised (as well as attacked for opportunism). He has since written two novels—thrillers that draw on his inside knowledge—and most recently has published Your Government Failed You, the title of which is drawn from Clarke’s apology to the 9/11 families.

In “National Insecurity,” senior editor Samuel Hughes traces Clarke’s path from his days in Penn’s student government and as a Vietnam War protester to his position at the center of the U.S.’s first response to the 9/11 attacks and his current life as author and teacher, security consultant, and freelance Cassandra.

One key consequence of the Iraq War, as Clarke—who resigned in advance of the invasion in 2003—and many others have charged, has been to constrain the resources and attention available to continue the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. As an infantry officer on the ground in the northern part of the country, Erik Malmstrom C’03 got a firsthand look at the results.

In “Losing the Waigul Valley,” Malmstrom offers a grim assessment of current trends and some advice on creating “a real and coherent strategy” to reverse them. Accompanying the piece is “Picking Up the Pieces,” a somewhat more positive view by Matthew Asada C’02 W’03, a Foreign Service officer who spent a year assigned to a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan.

When Inc. magazine named Elon Musk W’95 its 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year, it noted that he “has distinguished himself by attempting things that most people who care about avoiding personal bankruptcy would not even consider.” We wrote about Musk back in 1999 when he had made his first fortune in the dotcom boom [“From Zip to X,” Nov|Dec 1999]. Since then, after creating and selling what became PayPal for even more money, he has shifted his interest to remaking some fairly significant real-world fields—namely, space exploration, automobiles, and energy production. In September, on its fourth try, Musk’s company, SpaceX, successfully launched the first commercial rocket into orbit. Freelancer Robert Strauss brings his story up to date in “The Next, Next Thing.”

Leslie Esdaile Banks W’80 was at a low point in her own life—laid off, struggling to pay her daughter’s medical bills—when she launched her successful and prolific writing career, as former Gazette staffer and frequent contributor Susan Frith details in “Marketing the Macabre.” Combining a keen eye for the market, a vivid imagination and exuberant prose style, and a singular gift for promoting her work, Banks has built a successful fiction franchise with her Vampire Huntress Legend series and other books.

Finally, in early October, as we were closing this issue, it was announced that the point-person for managing the government’s $700 billion rescue package would be Neel Kashkari WG’02. The one-time rocket scientist turned investment banker turned interim assistant secretary of the treasury for financial stability spoke to associate editor Trey Popp in what was his first interview following his appointment, for our “Alumni Profiles” section. See what he had to say on page 70.

—John Prendergast C’80

   
       
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