Pentagon Pays Screenwriters, Eyes Craigslist


tkpromo.jpgThe Air Force is bankrolling a Hollywood screenwriting class. A screenwriting class for PhDs. No, seriously.The Christian Science Monitor explains:

America, it turns out, is suffering from a science and engineering shortage. Students are bypassing the sciences for sexier and more lucrative jobs...This creates something of a national security problem... According to Dr. Barker, who works in the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, those who manage the national labs and others who conduct sensitive research have been saying for years "how hard it is to find qualified graduate students who are US citizens..."Barker notes that 50 percent of America's scientific-and-engineering workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Who's going to replace them?...Hollywood... [may] be part of the solution. By writing and producing movies that have more scientific themes - and more authentic and appealing science protagonists - boosters think the US could encourage more young people to pursue careers in plasma physics, molecular biology, and other fields...So what they've done for the past three years is convene a three-to-five-day screenwriting class at the venerated American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Called the Catalyst Workshop, it's a lot like other screenwriting classes that have become a cottage industry across the nation. But here's the twist - all participants in this one are actually scientists. Hardcore, PhD-laden, lab-certified scientists.
Now, the government has dabbled in the movie business before. The CIA, for instance, produced an animated version of Animal Farm. After 9/11, the BBC notes, Die Hard screenwriter Steve de Souza was one of two dozen writers and directors who were "commissioned to brainstorm with Pentagon advisers" about possible terror plots. The Army currently works with a bunch of Hollywood types at USC to build next-generation simulators.And this isn't the only unusual source the Pentagon is tapping for its know-how. As USA Today reports, Defense Department officials are growing increasingly interested in Craigslist, YouTube, and other fast-moving start-ups, for ideas about how terror groups operate.
The military is paying closer attention to business... because the world of geopolitics has discovered itself to be on the same road that business has been on for some time. That road is flatter, more networked and more decentralized than ever.Large companies are groping for strategies to fend off disruptive competitors, including YouTube, Kazaa, Skype and Wikipedia, companies that are giving away video, music, long-distance and information while eroding the revenue stream of companies that charge for it. YouTube is a website where users swap millions of free videos. With fewer than 100 employees, it has created anxiety throughout the giant industries of film and TV...How large, traditional companies fare in this fight may prove invaluable in developing a strategy against al-Qaeda. That's why the military is going to school. A book making the rounds at the Pentagon is The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. It was written for a business audience, but military strategists are saying, "This is the best thing I've read that applies to counterterrorism," says Lt. Col. Rudolph Atallah, a Defense Department director in international affairs.The premise of The Starfish and the Spider is that centralized organizations are like spiders and can be destroyed with an attack to the head. Decentralized organizations transfer decision-making to leaders in the field. They are like starfish. No single blow will kill them, and parts that are destroyed will grow back.When Starfish co-author Rod Beckstrom arrived at USA TODAY's suburban Washington, D.C., headquarters for an interview in November, he said he had just come from meetings with representatives at the Pentagon and elsewhere in the "intelligence community." He said he was contacted "out of the blue" in September by one of the highest-ranking officers in special operations, and more recently by a high-ranking special operations officer at Fort Bragg, N.C.
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