Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review of Dark Territory (Cyber war)

Book Review – Dark Territory
Hamid Hussain

Fred Kaplan’s new book Dark Territory is a history of cyber war.  It traces the origins of efforts to protect computers and networks from hostile intrusions and then development of offensive capabilities to eves drop and even sabotage adversary’s computers and networks.  Fred introduces us to many diverse characters from computer geeks to senior government officials involved in a struggle that has rarely seen sunshine as most of the work is highly classified.  It was a 1983 movie War Games that prompted President Ronald Reagan to ask Pentagon if someone could break into Department of Defense (DOD) computers and tamper with missile launch. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey came back a week with the answer that the problem was much worse than they thought.  This prompted the first attempts of cyber security.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Akhtat Mansour, Islamic Wife-beating and Muslims for Trump 5-29-2016

Continuing the random thoughts theme.

This week began with a drone attack that dispatched Mullah Mansoor to meet his 72 virgins. More details have since been revealed about the Taliban chief's last journey and the Pakistani government has finally confirmed that he is dead, though the whereabouts of his remains are still a bit mysterious (it was reported that he has been buried in Spin Boldak, but the latest Pakistani government statement claims his body is still in Pakistan). The details of his life before the fatal strike are still confusing and contradictory.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Random Thoughts 5-19-2016; Asian-Americans, Humanities, Trump..

I have been busier than usual, been reading more than before (trying to avoid Jaun Elya's barb: "he was writing when he should have been reading") and spending more time on Twitter than ever before, so blog posts have been few and far between. And with "products" due at work, things are not likely to change soon. So I thought I would try something different. Once a week or so, I will do something like an open thread. Just a few short comments on a few stories, most of them copied and pasted from comments I wrote on different internet sites. So here goes..

We Are Not Your Asian American (Political) Sidekick Razib Khan has a post up about "..(using Asian Americans) as a prop, often in a mendacious manner." . Read the whole thing. When I did, I had a thought about why some Asian-Americans (mostly in left-liberal academia and it's media periphery) are so eager to embrace a certain "we, the oppressed POCs of America" theme:

I would add that while Asian Americans in general suffer from discreet (or not so discreet) anti-Asian quotas that are put in place to limit their numbers in elite institutions, the kind of Asian-American intellectuals who write books about “POC solidarity” and run blogs called “racialicous” are in a different category; they are net (niche) beneficiaries of the “Asians as picked-upon-POC” framework they promote about Asians in America and this provides an obvious motivation for them to stick to it… For example, it gives them victim status in a social and academic setting where victim status is a very desirable good.

I understand that Asian Americans are not getting jobs on diversity quotas in most places, but the victim status still has clear psychological and social benefits and I strongly suspect that it also protects mediocre work (or whatever passes for work in the social sciences) from criticism OVER AND ABOVE the protection enjoyed by their White colleagues. Imagine 5 equally mediocre bullshitters who happen to be critical studies faculty at a liberal institution. They are not all equally protected. The White faculty member may benefit from connections and “White privilege”, the Jewish faculty from Jewish networking, but what defends the Asian guy? He or she has to rely on the POC card. Maybe they are still at a disadvantage versus equally mediocre Jews or Whites, but it is better than nothing. My point is that this motivation cannot be excluded when we think of WHY some Asian-American intellectual is pushing X or Y crap. In fact, I can think of examples of Indian-American writers and intellectuals who are clearly not being held to very high standards by the New York Times types and I suspect that successful manipulation of White guilt/POC privilege plays a part..

Of course, then there are those (few) intellectuals who are genuinely committed to a specific vision of world revolution and their views about the karma of brown folk follow naturally from that framework. Just to be clear, I am not thinking about them when I think of over-priviliged Asian-American kids blogging on Racialicious. Though both parties are happy to use each other, they are not the same. But truly committed revolutionary Marxists are few and far between. They can be criticized on other grounds, but psychological satisfaction and postmarxist postmodern BS are not their basic framework.


A commentator on another Razib Khan post (a post that touches on the touchy question: “Why Not Close Humanities Departments?”) wondered if shutting down the humanities would not take away a safety valve, one where " the left was effectively “tamed” in the U.S. They became part of the establishment through being allowed a little safe space away from capitalism. ."

I disagreed as follows:

Your argument rests on the assumption that college humanities departments have no real-world consequences at all, so it is safe to put leftists there and let them spout endless reams of pure bullshit….. But while they may not have immediate consequences, they may still have longer term consequences, no?… after all, they do set the intellectual agenda to some extent. ..it may be enough to matter. (This is my favorite theory for why a smart person like Edward Said spewed so much nonsense; he knew it was nonsense, but he was fighting a war and all is fair in love and war. He was doing nothing less than bringing down Western civilization, opera and all. Samson option)

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that social change happens a few years (at least) ahead of any effort to conceptualize or understand it. So if we are doomed, we are doomed. ..in this theory, it may still be possible for scattered individuals to grasp what is going on in some limited area and take advantage of foreknowledge, but even they only know a few things, not the overall picture.

It is what it is, nobody is in control and nobody can consciously alter the big picture… Fate rules everyone.

It is a cheery thought somehow :)

The New York Times has a piece about the rise of the Right (Austria’s Election Is a Warning to the West) which is remarkable for its total lack of self-awareness. The writer seems completely oblivious to the possibility that the endangered liberal consensus may have itself have some issues that have led it to this pass; maybe parts of the liberal framework are not very realistic? (as in "aligned with the world as it actually is") Could it be that one reason a buffoon like Trump has a serious shot at becoming president is because the mainstream liberal worldview contains some elements that seem far too unreal/laughable/wrong to far too many people? 

Anyway, the sky may not be falling. Or at least, not completely so. I remain in the "weirdly optimistic' camp. There will be crises, but there will also be recoveries and new roads to new places..not necessarily recovery of specific parties or specific forms of liberalism... but the arc of history bends towards individualism and autism and more technology, with decreasing everyday violence in the more developed countries... Some places may crash and burn though...

Last but not the least, the BJP appears to be replacing a moribund Congress as India's "national" party . I posted this article from respected (liberal, not pro-BJP) columnist Siddharth Vardrajan on Twitter with the comment " I am not too optimistic abt a soft-landing for Hindutva (not all their fault btw, but bottom line= hard". I was asked to explain what I meant, so I will try: I mean that the BJP includes many people who are nationalist and pro-capitalist but whose "soft Hindutva" is willing to imagine an India that is a country of laws, where non-Hindus (even Muslims) have rights and protections just like everyone else (though not more than anyone else). This is a vision that could be workable. And I would not mind at all if it was made to work, even imperfectly. But there are many things working against it. An obvious one is the "hard Hindutva" band, who really cannot conceive of an India with 200 million Muslims and X million Christians (the "non-dharmic faiths") living as equal citizens (of course this group regard this fact as the fault of Muslims and Christians, who are seen as followers of alien ideologies that aim to undermine and eventually replace the ancient (Hindu) civilization of India, etc etc). This group is not easy to keep in check, especially if BJP comes to enjoy greater power, unfettered by alliances with "secular" forces. This particular threat to a peaceful and harmonious Indian future is frequently mentioned and is never too far from the mind of liberal commentators and this alone may prevent a "soft landing", but there is more; there is the fact that Muslims do in fact include elements who are also unwilling to aim for a truly secular India. There are going to be jihadis and suicide bombers in India's future, and as we have seen elsewhere, the very presence of groups this bigoted and this willing to kill can shift the entire culture towards sectarian warfare and "back to basics" civil war. There is also a very concerted Christian missionary effort that may not match the transnational loyalties of the ummah, but that does have money, modernity and Western support behind it and trouble (justified or not) is easy to imagine. Then there is capitalist disruption and India's not so ready for prime-time infrastructure, state and intelligentsia.. and last but not the least, there is India's Westernized postMarxist Left. Enuff said.

A soft landing will need visionary leadership and lots of luck. Need i say more?

With that cheery thought, i look forward to next week :)

PS: Here is Aasem Bakhshi on Lesley Hazelton's book about the Shia-Sunni split (and about popular history writing in general). 

And don't miss Aqil Shah's excellent piece, which blows away the "drone blowback" theory so beloved of the regressive Left.


And memories of Josh Malihabadi for fans of Urdu poetry 

and to show that I am not completely lacking in self-awareness about what I am doing here, a quote from Nate Silver's mea culpa about his Trump predictions:

"Without a model as a fortification, we found ourselves rambling around the countryside like all the other pundit-barbarians, randomly setting fire to things..."

Words to live by