Book Review: Red War

“Red War” by Kyle MillsThis is the fourth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author), but Kyle Mills demonstrates here that he’s a worthy successor who is taking Rapp and the series in new directions.

In the previous novel, Enemy of the State, Rapp went totally off the radar, resigning from the CIA, recruiting a band of blackguards, many former adversaries, to mount an operation aimed at a nominal U.S. ally. This time, the circumstances are very different. Rapp is back at the CIA, working with his original team headed by Scott Coleman, who has now more or less recovered from the severe injuries he sustained in the earlier novel Order to Kill, with Claudia Gould, now sharing a house with Rapp, running logistics for their missions.

Vladimir Krupin, President/autocrat of Russia, is ailing. Having climbed to the top of the pyramid in that deeply corrupt country, he now fears his body is failing him, with bouts of incapacitating headaches, blurred vision, and disorientation coming more and more frequently. He and his physician have carefully kept the condition secret, as any hint of weakness at the top would likely invite one or more of his rivals to make a move to unseat him. Worse, under the screwed-down lid of the Russian pressure cooker, popular dissatisfaction with the dismal economy, lack of freedom, and dearth of opportunity is growing, with popular demonstrations reaching Red Square.

The CIA knows nothing of Krupin’s illness, but has been observing what seems to be increasingly erratic behaviour. In the past, Krupin has been ambitious and willing to commit outrages, but has always drawn his plans carefully and acted deliberately, but now he seemed to be doing things almost at random, sometimes against his own interests. Russian hackers launch an attack that takes down a large part of the power grid in Costa Rica. A Russian strike team launches an assault on Krupin’s retired assassin and Rapp’s former nemesis and recent ally, Grisha Azarov. Military maneuvers in the Ukraine seem to foreshadow open confrontation should that country move toward NATO membership.

Krupin, well aware of the fate of dictators who lose their grip on power, and knowing that nothing rallies support behind a leader like a bold move on the international stage, devises a grand plan to re-assert Russian greatness, right a wrong inflicted by the West, and drive a stake into the heart of NATO. Rapp and Azarov, continuing their uneasy alliance, driven by entirely different motives, undertake a desperate mission in the very belly of the bear to avert what could all too easily end in World War III.

There are a number of goofs, which I can’t discuss without risk of spoilers, so I’ll take them behind the curtain.

This is a well-crafted thriller which broadens the scope of the Rapp saga into Tom Clancy territory. Things happen, which will leave the world in a different place after they occur. It blends Rapp and Azarov’s barely restrained loose cannon operations with high-level diplomacy and intrigue, plus an interesting strategic approach to pledges of defence which the will and resources of those who made them may not be equal to the challenge when the balloon goes up and the tanks start to roll. And Grisha Azarov’s devotion to his girlfriend is truly visceral.

Mills, Kyle. Red War. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-9059-9.

Here is an Author Stories interview (audio only) with the author about the novel and process of crafting a thriller.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar

This Week’s Book Review – Target Rich Environment

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Target Rich’ Whitman sampler of author’s worlds

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 10, 2018

”Target Rich Environment: Volume I,” by Larry Correia, Baen Books, 2018, 336 pages, $25

Seventy-five years ago, science fiction authors could make livings writing short stories. Today, novels are the standard. Yet, even authors primarily writing novels create some short fiction.

“Target Rich Environment: Volume I,” by Larry Correia is proof. It’s a collection of his shorter stories.

A few, such as “Tanya: Princess of the Elves,” started out were intended a part of a novel. They didn’t fit, so they came out. Correia ran the opening of “Tanya” in his blog instead, and was then invited to complete it as a short story for publication (few authors say no to that).

A few others, such as “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers” and “The Losing Side” were written for short story anthologies in which Correia was asked to participate. “Shackleford” was part of the Western fantasy collection, and “The Losing Side” part of a David Drake tribute book.

A few, such as “The Bridge” and the “The Destiny of a Bullet,” were written in the setting of role-playing games. Correia is a big fan of role-playing games. “Blood on the Water,” a story set in the Corriea’s Monster Hunter International world, came out of a role-playing game Correia played with his children. It was co-written with his daughter.

There are two stories from the Grimnoire Chronicles, “Detroit Christmas” and “Murder on the Oriental Elite.” Both were originally released in audio format and appear in print for the first time in this collection.

Another audio original that appears in print in this volume is “The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Salesman.” It is eccentric humor, with a lot of in-jokes, but Corriea’s explanation of how it came to be is more eccentric as the story.

Think of it as a Whitman sampler of Corriea’s worlds. It offers a taste from just about every universe he has created. It also shows his range as a writer and showcases his ability to create both horror and humor and occasionally combine the two.

Target Rich Environment offers a good introduction to Coriea’s fiction. It is a bit of everything Correia writes with just a dash more.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Book Review: SJWs Always Double Down

“SJWs Always Double Down” by Vox DayIn SJWs Always Lie Vox Day introduced a wide audience to the contemporary phenomenon of Social Justice Warriors (SJWs), collectivists and radical conformists burning with the fierce ardour of ignorance who, flowing out of the academic jackal bins where they are manufactured, are infiltrating the culture: science fiction and fantasy, comic books, video games; and industry: technology companies, open source software development, and more established and conventional firms whose managements have often already largely bought into the social justice agenda.

The present volume updates the status of the Cold Civil War a couple of years on, recounts some key battles, surveys changes in the landscape, and provides concrete and practical advice to those who wish to avoid SJW penetration of their organisations or excise an infiltration already under way.

Two major things have changed since 2015. The first, and most obvious, is the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in November, 2016. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this. Up until the evening of Election Day, the social justice warriors were absolutely confident they had won on every front and that all that remained was to patrol the battlefield and bayonet the wounded. They were ascendant across the culture, in virtually total control of academia and the media, and with the coronation of Hillary Clinton, positioned to tilt the Supreme Court to discover the remainder of their agenda emanating from penumbras in the living Constitution. And then—disaster! The deplorables who inhabit the heartland of the country, those knuckle-walking, Bible-thumping, gun-waving bitter clingers who produce just about every tangible thing still made in the United States up and elected somebody who said he’d put them—not the coastal élites, ivory tower professors and think tankers, “refugees” and the racket that imports them, “undocumented migrants” and the businesses that exploit their cheap labour, and all the rest of the parasitic ball and chain a once-great and productive nation has been dragging behind it for decades—first.

The shock of this event seems to have jolted a large fraction of the social justice warriors loose from their (already tenuous) moorings to reality. “What could have happened?”, they shrieked, “It must have been the Russians!” Overnight, there was the “resistance”, the rampage of masked violent street mobs, while at the same time SJW leaders in the public eye increasingly dropped the masks behind which they’d concealed their actual agenda. Now we have candidates for national office from the Democrat party, such as bug-eyed SJW Alexandria Occasional-Cortex openly calling themselves socialists, while others chant “no borders” and advocate abolishing the federal immigration and customs enforcement agency. What’s the response to deranged leftists trying to gun down Republican legislators at a baseball practice and assaulting a U.S. Senator while mowing the lawn of his home? The Democrat candidate who lost to Trump in 2016 says, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”, and the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the administration which preceded Trump in office said, “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic party is about.”

In parallel with this, the SJW convergence of the major technology and communication companies which increasingly dominate the flow of news and information and the public discourse: Google (and its YouTube), Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and the rest, previously covert, has now become explicit. They no longer feign neutrality to content, or position themselves as common carriers. Now, they overtly put their thumb on the scale of public discourse, pushing down conservative and nationalist voices in search rankings, de-monetising or banning videos that oppose the slaver agenda, “shadow banning” dissenting voices or terminating their accounts entirely. Payment platforms and crowd-funding sites enforce an ideological agenda and cut off access to those they consider insufficiently on board with the collectivist, globalist party line. The high tech industry, purporting to cherish “diversity”, has become openly hostile to anybody who dares dissent: firing them and blacklisting them from employment at other similarly converged firms.

It would seem a dark time for champions of liberty, believers in reward for individual merit rather than grievance group membership, and other forms of sanity which are now considered unthinkable among the unthinking. This book provides a breath of fresh air, a sense of hope, and practical information to navigate a landscape populated by all too many non-playable characters who imbibe, repeat, and enforce the Narrative without questioning or investigating how it is created, disseminated in a co-ordinated manner across all media, and adjusted (including Stalinist party-line overnight turns on a dime) to advance the slaver agenda.

Vox Day walks through the eight stages of SJW convergence of an organisation from infiltration through evading the blame for the inevitable failure of the organisation once fully converged, illustrating the process with real-world examples and quotes from SJWs and companies infested with them. But the progression of the disease is not irreversible, and even if it is not arrested, there is still hope for the industry and society as a whole (not to minimise the injury and suffering inflicted on innocent and productive individuals in the affected organisations).

An organisation, whether a company, government agency, or open source software project, only comes onto the radar of the SJWs once it grows to a certain size and achieves a degree of success carrying out the mission for which it was created. It is at this point that SJWs will seek to penetrate the organisation, often through the human resources department, and then reinforce their ranks by hiring more of their kind. SJWs flock to positions in which there is no objective measure of their performance, but instead evaluations performed, as their ranks grow, more and more by one another. They are not only uninterested in the organisation’s mission (developing a product, providing a service, etc.), but unqualified and incapable of carrying it out. In the words of Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, they are not “those who are devoted to the goals of the organization” (founders, productive mission-oriented members), but “those dedicated to the organization itself”. “The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

Now, Dr Pournelle was describing a natural process of evolution in all bureaucratic organisations. SJW infection simply accelerates the process and intensifies the damage, because SJWs are not just focused on the organisation as opposed to its mission, but have their own independent agenda and may not care about damage to the institution as long as they can advance the Narrative.

But this is a good thing. It means that, in a competitive market, SJW afflicted organisations will be at a disadvantage compared to those which have resisted the corruption or thrown it off. It makes inflexible, slow-moving players with a heavy load of SJW parasites vulnerable to insurgent competitors, often with their founders still in charge, mission-focused and customer-oriented, who hire, promote, and reward contributors solely based on merit and not “diversity”, “inclusion”, or any of the other SJW shibboleths mouthed by the management of converged organisations. (I remember, when asked about my hiring policy in the 1980s, saying “I don’t care if they hang upside down from trees and drink blood. If they’re great programmers, I’ll hire them.”)

A detailed history of GamerGate provides a worked example of how apparent SJW hegemony within a community can be attacked by “weaponised autism” (as Milo Yiannopoulos said, “it’s really not wise to take on a collection of individuals whose idea of entertainment is to spend hundreds of hours at a highly repetitive task, especially when their core philosophy is founded on the principle that if you are running into enemies and taking fire, you must be going the right way”). Further examples show how these techniques have been applied within the world of science fiction and fantasy fandom, comic books, and software development. The key take-away is that any SJW converged organisation or community is vulnerable to concerted attack because SJWs are a parasite that ultimately kills its host. Create an alternative and relentlessly attack the converged competition, and victory is possible. And remember, “Victory is not positive PR. Victory is when your opponent quits.”

This is a valuable guide, building upon SJWs Always Lie (which you should read first), and is essential for managers, project leaders, and people responsible for volunteer organisations who want to keep them focused on the goals for which they were founded and protected from co-optation by destructive parasites. You will learn how seemingly innocent initiatives such as adoption of an ambiguously-worded Code of Conduct or a Community Committee can be the wedge by which an organisation can be subverted and its most productive members forced out or induced to walk away in disgust. Learning the lessons presented here can make the difference between success and, some dismal day, gazing across the cubicles at a sea of pinkhairs and soybeards and asking yourself, “Where did we go wrong?”

The very fact that SJW behaviour is so predictable makes them vulnerable. Because they always double down, they can be manipulated into marginalising themselves, and it’s often child’s play to set traps into which they’ll walk. Much of their success to date has been due to the absence of the kind of hard-edged opposition, willing to employ their own tactics against them, that you’ll see in action here and learn to use yourself. This is not a game for the “defeat with dignity” crowd who were, and are, appalled by Donald Trump’s plain speaking, or those who fail to realise that proclaiming “I won’t stoop to their level” inevitably ends up with “Bend over”. The battles, and the war can be won, but to do so, you have to fight. Here is a guide to closing with the enemy and destroying them before they ruin everything we hold sacred.

Day, Vox [Theodore Beale]. SJWs Always Double Down. Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2017. ISBN 978-952-7065-19-8.

Like 20+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

This Week’s Book Review – I’m Dr. Red Duke

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘I’m Dr. Red Duke’ a study in greatness

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 2, 2018

”I’m Dr. Red Duke,” by Bryant Boutwell, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 284 pages, $30

“Red” Duke was known to millions for his televised broadcasts about medicine. He was one of those larger-than-life Texas characters who left people wondering if he was for real.

“I’m Dr. Red Duke,” a biography of Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, by Bryant Boutwell, provides the answer. Not only was he the real deal, but in many ways he was greater than his public persona.

Duke a native Texan, grew up in central Texas. He always took pride in being an Eagle Scout and an Aggie (he was a yell leader at Texas A&M). His Texas accent was authentic.

Although he planned to become an engineer, his career path changed many times. He studied to be a minister and then served as an armor officer in Germany. He finally settled on medicine after leaving the army. While finishing up his residency in Dallas, Duke was on duty at the trauma room when Kennedy was shot. Duke operated on Texas Gov. John Connolly that day, saving Connolly.

Duke went on to teaching medicine and did medical research on the East Coast before doing a two-year stint in a teaching hospital in Afghanistan. He came to Houston after his Afghanistan tour, joining the staff of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston in the late 1970s. He became one of their greatest teachers.

Among his other accomplishments, he helped start Houston’s Life Flight air ambulance service, pioneering rapid-reaction trauma surgery techniques. He became a television star, when UT used him as the spokesman for a series of medical advice programs. They became nationally syndicated and made him a household name.

Boutwell is well-positioned to write this book. He was a colleague of Duke, who worked with Duke for many years and knew him professionally and personally.

Boutwell presents Duke’s many strengths and virtues, but Boutwell also discusses Duke’s shortcomings, ones that led to two failed marriages and left Duke a prisoner of his celebrity.

“I’m Dr. Red Duke” is a focused and balanced look at one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary and talented surgeons. It is worth reading as a study in greatness.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Saturday Night Science: Life After Google

“Life after Google” by George GilderIn his 1990 book Life after Television, George Gilder predicted that the personal computer, then mostly boxes that sat on desktops and worked in isolation from one another, would become more personal, mobile, and be used more to communicate than to compute. In the 1994 revised edition of the book, he wrote. “The most common personal computer of the next decade will be a digital cellular phone with an IP address … connecting to thousands of databases of all kinds.” In contemporary speeches he expanded on the idea, saying, “it will be as portable as your watch and as personal as your wallet; it will recognize speech and navigate streets; it will collect your mail, your news, and your paycheck.” In 2000, he published Telecosm, where he forecast that the building out of a fibre optic communication infrastructure and the development of successive generations of spread spectrum digital mobile communication technologies would effectively cause the cost of communication bandwidth (the quantity of data which can be transmitted in a given time) to asymptotically approach zero, just as the ability to pack more and more transistors on microprocessor and memory chips was doing for computing.

Clearly, when George Gilder forecasts the future of computing, communication, and the industries and social phenomena that spring from them, it’s wise to pay attention. He’s not infallible: in 1990 he predicted that “in the world of networked computers, no one would have to see an advertisement he didn’t want to see”. Oh, well. The very difference between that happy vision and the advertisement-cluttered world we inhabit today, rife with bots, malware, scams, and serial large-scale security breaches which compromise the personal data of millions of people and expose them to identity theft and other forms of fraud is the subject of this book: how we got here, and how technology is opening a path to move on to a better place.

The Internet was born with decentralisation as a central concept. Its U.S. government-funded precursor, ARPANET, was intended to research and demonstrate the technology of packet switching, in which dedicated communication lines from point to point (as in the telephone network) were replaced by switching packets, which can represent all kinds of data—text, voice, video, mail, cat pictures—from source to destination over shared high-speed data links. If the network had multiple paths from source to destination, failure of one data link would simply cause the network to reroute traffic onto a working path, and communication protocols would cause any packets lost in the failure to be automatically re-sent, preventing loss of data. The network might degrade and deliver data more slowly if links or switching hubs went down, but everything would still get through.

This was very attractive to military planners in the Cold War, who worried about a nuclear attack decapitating their command and control network by striking one or a few locations through which their communications funnelled. A distributed network, of which ARPANET was the prototype, would be immune to this kind of top-down attack because there was no top: it was made up of peers, spread all over the landscape, all able to switch data among themselves through a mesh of interconnecting links.

As the ARPANET grew into the Internet and expanded from a small community of military, government, university, and large company users into a mass audience in the 1990s, this fundamental architecture was preserved, but in practice the network bifurcated into a two tier structure. The top tier consisted of the original ARPANET-like users, plus “Internet Service Providers” (ISPs), who had top-tier (“backbone”) connectivity, and then resold Internet access to their customers, who mostly initially connected via dial-up modems. Over time, these customers obtained higher bandwidth via cable television connections, satellite dishes, digital subscriber lines (DSL) over the wired telephone network, and, more recently, mobile devices such as cellular telephones and tablets.

The architecture of the Internet remained the same, but this evolution resulted in a weakening of its peer-to-peer structure. The approaching exhaustion of 32 bit Internet addresses (IPv4) and the slow deployment of its successor (IPv6) meant most small-scale Internet users did not have a permanent address where others could contact them. In an attempt to shield users from the flawed security model and implementation of the software they ran, their Internet connections were increasingly placed behind firewalls and subjected to Network Address Translation (NAT), which made it impossible to establish peer to peer connections without a third party intermediary (which, of course, subverts the design goal of decentralisation). While on the ARPANET and the original Internet every site was a peer of every other (subject only to the speed of their network connections and computer power available to handle network traffic), the network population now became increasingly divided into producers or publishers (who made information available), and consumers (who used the network to access the publishers’ sites but did not publish themselves).

While in the mid-1990s it was easy (or as easy as anything was in that era) to set up your own Web server and publish anything you wished, now most small-scale users were forced to employ hosting services operated by the publishers to make their content available. Services such as AOL, Myspace, Blogger, Facebook, and YouTube were widely used by individuals and companies to host their content, while those wishing their own apparently independent Web presence moved to hosting providers who supplied, for a fee, the servers, storage, and Internet access used by the site.

All of this led to a centralisation of data on the Web, which was accelerated by the emergence of the high speed fibre optic links and massive computing power upon which Gilder had based his 1990 and 2000 forecasts. Both of these came with great economies of scale: it cost a company like Google or Amazon much less per unit of computing power or network bandwidth to build a large, industrial-scale data centre located where electrical power and cooling were inexpensive and linked to the Internet backbone by multiple fibre optic channels, than it cost an individual Internet user or small company with their own server on premises and a modest speed link to an ISP. Thus it became practical for these Goliaths of the Internet to suck up everybody’s data and resell their computing power and access at attractive prices.

As a example of the magnitude of the economies of scale we’re talking about, when I migrated the hosting of my Fourmilab.ch site from my own on-site servers and Internet connection to an Amazon Web Services data centre, my monthly bill for hosting the site dropped by a factor of fifty—not fifty percent, one fiftieth the cost, and you can bet Amazon’s making money on the deal.

This tremendous centralisation is the antithesis of the concept of ARPANET. Instead of a worldwide grid of redundant data links and data distributed everywhere, we have a modest number of huge data centres linked by fibre optic cables carrying traffic for millions of individuals and enterprises. A couple of submarines full of Trident D5s would probably suffice to reset the world, computer network-wise, to 1970.

As this concentration was occurring, the same companies who were building the data centres were offering more and more services to users of the Internet: search engines; hosting of blogs, images, audio, and video; E-mail services; social networks of all kinds; storage and collaborative working tools; high-resolution maps and imagery of the world; archives of data and research material; and a host of others. How was all of this to be paid for? Those giant data centres, after all, represent a capital investment of tens of billions of dollars, and their electricity bills are comparable to those of an aluminium smelter. Due to the architecture of the Internet or, more precisely, missing pieces of the puzzle, a fateful choice was made in the early days of the build-out of these services which now pervade our lives, and we’re all paying the price for it. So far, it has allowed the few companies in this data oligopoly to join the ranks of the largest, most profitable, and most highly valued enterprises in human history, but they may be built on a flawed business model and foundation vulnerable to disruption by software and hardware technologies presently emerging.

The basic business model of what we might call the “consumer Internet” (as opposed to businesses who pay to host their Web presence, on-line stores, etc.) has, with few exceptions, evolved to be what the author calls the “Google model” (although it predates Google): give the product away and make money by afflicting its users with advertisements (which are increasingly targeted to them through information collected from the user’s behaviour on the network through intrusive tracking mechanisms). The fundamental flaws of this are apparent to anybody who uses the Internet: the constant clutter of advertisements, with pop-ups, pop-overs, auto-play video and audio, flashing banners, incessant requests to allow tracking “cookies” or irritating notifications, and the consequent arms race between ad blockers and means to circumvent them, with browser developers (at least those not employed by those paid by the advertisers, directly or indirectly) caught in the middle. There are even absurd Web sites which charge a subscription fee for “membership” and then bombard these paying customers with advertisements that insult their intelligence. But there is a fundamental problem with “free”—it destroys the most important channel of communication between the vendor of a product or service and the customer: the price the customer is willing to pay. Deprived of this information, the vendor is in the same position as a factory manager in a centrally planned economy who has no idea how many of each item to make because his orders are handed down by a planning bureau equally clueless about what is needed in the absence of a price signal. In the end, you have freight cars of typewriter ribbons lined up on sidings while customers wait in line for hours in the hope of buying a new pair of shoes. Further, when the user is not the customer (the one who pays), and especially when a “free” service verges on monopoly status like Google search, Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter, there is little incentive for providers to improve the user experience or be responsive to user requests and needs. Users are subjected to the endless torment of buggy “beta” releases, capricious change for the sake of change, and compromises in the user experience on behalf of the real customers—the advertisers. Once again, this mirrors the experience of centrally-planned economies where the market feedback from price is absent: to appreciate this, you need only compare consumer products from the 1970s and 1980s manufactured in the Soviet Union with those from Japan.

The fundamental flaw in Karl Marx’s economics was his belief that the industrial revolution of his time would produce such abundance of goods that the problem would shift from “production amid scarcity” to “redistribution of abundance”. In the author’s view, the neo-Marxists of Silicon Valley see the exponentially growing technologies of computing and communication providing such abundance that they can give away its fruits in return for collecting and monetising information collected about their users (note, not “customers”: customers are those who pay for the information so collected). Once you grasp this, it’s easier to understand the politics of the barons of Silicon Valley.

The centralisation of data and information flow in these vast data silos creates another threat to which a distributed system is immune: censorship or manipulation of information flow, whether by a coercive government or ideologically-motivated management of the companies who provide these “free” services. We may never know who first said “The Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it” (the quote has been attributed to numerous people, including two personal friends, so I’m not going there), but it’s profound: the original decentralised structure of the ARPANET/Internet is as robust against censorship as it is in the face of nuclear war. If one or more nodes on the network start to censor information or refuse to forward it on communication links it controls, the network routing protocols simply assume that node is down and send data around it through other nodes and paths which do not censor it. On a network with a multitude of nodes and paths among them, owned by a large and diverse population of operators, it is extraordinarily difficult to shut down the flow of information from a given source or viewpoint; there will almost always be an alternative route that gets it there. (Cryptographic protocols and secure and verified identities can similarly avoid the alteration of information in transit or forging information and attributing it to a different originator; I’ll discuss that later.) As with physical damage, top-down censorship does not work because there’s no top.

But with the current centralised Internet, the owners and operators of these data silos have enormous power to put their thumbs on the scale, tilting opinion in their favour and blocking speech they oppose. Google can push down the page rank of information sources of which they disapprove, so few users will find them. YouTube can “demonetise” videos because they dislike their content, cutting off their creators’ revenue stream overnight with no means of appeal, or they can outright ban creators from the platform and remove their existing content. Twitter routinely “shadow-bans” those with whom they disagree, causing their tweets to disappear into the void, and outright banishes those more vocal. Internet payment processors and crowd funding sites enforce explicit ideological litmus tests on their users, and revoke long-standing commercial relationships over legal speech. One might restate the original observation about the Internet as “The centralised Internet treats censorship as an opportunity and says, ‘Isn’t it great!’ ” Today there’s a top, and those on top control the speech of everything that flows through their data silos.

This pernicious centralisation and “free” funding by advertisement (which is fundamentally plundering users’ most precious possessions: their time and attention) were in large part the consequence of the Internet’s lacking three fundamental architectural layers: security, trust, and transactions. Let’s explore them.

Security. Essential to any useful communication system, security simply means that communications between parties on the network cannot be intercepted by third parties, modified en route, or otherwise manipulated (for example, by changing the order in which messages are received). The communication protocols of the Internet, based on the OSI model, had no explicit security layer. It was expected to be implemented outside the model, across the layers of protocol. On today’s Internet, security has been bolted-on, largely through the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols (which, due to history, have a number of other commonly used names, and are most often encountered in the “https:” URLs by which users access Web sites). But because it’s bolted on, not designed in from the bottom-up, and because it “just grew” rather than having been designed in, TLS has been the locus of numerous security flaws which put software that employs it at risk. Further, TLS is a tool which must be used by application designers with extreme care in order to deliver security to their users. Even if TLS were completely flawless, it is very easy to misuse it in an application and compromise users’ security.

Trust. As indispensable as security is knowing to whom you’re talking. For example, when you connect to your bank’s Web site, how do you know you’re actually talking to their server and not some criminal whose computer has spoofed your computer’s domain name system server to intercept your communications and who, the moment you enter your password, will be off and running to empty your bank accounts and make your life a living Hell? Once again, trust has been bolted on to the existing Internet through a rickety system of “certificates” issued mostly by large companies for outrageous fees. And, as with anything centralised, it’s vulnerable: in 2016, one of the top-line certificate vendors was compromised, requiring myriad Web sites (including this one) to re-issue their security certificates.

Transactions. Business is all about transactions; if you aren’t doing transactions, you aren’t in business or, as Gilder puts it, “In business, the ability to conduct transactions is not optional. It is the way all economic learning and growth occur. If your product is ‘free,’ it is not a product, and you are not in business, even if you can extort money from so-called advertisers to fund it.” The present-day Internet has no transaction layer, even bolted on. Instead, we have more silos and bags hanging off the side of the Internet called PayPal, credit card processing companies, and the like, which try to put a Band-Aid over the suppurating wound which is the absence of a way to send money over the Internet in a secure, trusted, quick, efficient, and low-overhead manner. The need for this was perceived long before ARPANET. In Project Xanadu, founded by Ted Nelson in 1960, rule 9 of the “original 17 rules” was, “Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies (‘transclusions’) of all or part of the document.” While defined in terms of documents and quoting, this implied the existence of a micropayment system which would allow compensating authors and publishers for copies and quotations of their work with a granularity as small as one character, and could easily be extended to cover payments for products and services. A micropayment system must be able to handle very small payments without crushing overhead, extremely quickly, and transparently (without the Japanese tea ceremony that buying something on-line involves today). As originally envisioned by Ted Nelson, as you read documents, their authors and publishers would be automatically paid for their content, including payments to the originators of material from others embedded within them. As long as the total price for the document was less than what I termed the user’s “threshold of paying”, this would be completely transparent (a user would set the threshold in the browser: if zero, they’d have to approve all payments). There would be no need for advertisements to support publication on a public hypertext network (although publishers would, of course, be free to adopt that model if they wished). If implemented in a decentralised way, like the ARPANET, there would be no central strangle point where censorship could be applied by cutting off the ability to receive payments.

So, is it possible to remake the Internet, building in security, trust, and transactions as the foundation, and replace what the author calls the “Google system of the world” with one in which the data silos are seen as obsolete, control of users’ personal data and work returns to their hands, privacy is respected and the panopticon snooping of today is seen as a dark time we’ve put behind us, and the pervasive and growing censorship by plutocrat ideologues and slaver governments becomes impotent and obsolete? George Gilder responds “yes”, and in this book identifies technologies already existing and being deployed which can bring about this transformation.

At the heart of many of these technologies is the concept of a blockchain, an open, distributed ledger which records transactions or any other form of information in a permanent, public, and verifiable manner. Originally conceived as the transaction ledger for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, it provided the first means of solving the double-spending problem (how do you keep people from spending a unit of electronic currency twice) without the need for a central server or trusted authority, and hence without a potential choke-point or vulnerability to attack or failure. Since the launch of Bitcoin in 2009, blockchain technology has become a major area of research, with banks and other large financial institutions, companies such as IBM, and major university research groups exploring applications with the goals of drastically reducing transaction costs, improving security, and hardening systems against single-point failure risks.

Applied to the Internet, blockchain technology can provide security and trust (through the permanent publication of public keys which identify actors on the network), and a transaction layer able to efficiently and quickly execute micropayments without the overhead, clutter, friction, and security risks of existing payment systems. By necessity, present-day blockchain implementations are add-ons to the existing Internet, but as the technology matures and is verified and tested, it can move into the foundations of a successor system, based on the same lower-level protocols (and hence compatible with the installed base), but eventually supplanting the patched-together architecture of the Domain Name System, certificate authorities, and payment processors, all of which represent vulnerabilities of the present-day Internet and points at which censorship and control can be imposed. Technologies to watch in these areas are:

As the bandwidth available to users on the edge of the network increases through the deployment of fibre to the home and enterprise and via 5G mobile technology, the data transfer economy of scale of the great data silos will begin to erode. Early in the Roaring Twenties, the aggregate computing power and communication bandwidth on the edge of the network will equal and eventually dwarf that of the legacy data smelters of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest. There will no longer be any need for users to entrust their data to these overbearing anachronisms and consent to multi-dozen page “terms of service” or endure advertising just to see their own content or share it with others. You will be in possession of your own data, on your own server or on space for which you freely contract with others, with backup and other services contracted with any other provider on the network. If your server has extra capacity, you can turn it into money by joining the market for computing and storage capacity, just as you take advantage of these resources when required. All of this will be built on the new secure foundation, so you will retain complete control over who can see your data, no longer trusting weasel-worded promises made by amorphous entities with whom you have no real contract to guard your privacy and intellectual property rights. If you wish, you can be paid for your content, with remittances made automatically as people access it. More and more, you’ll make tiny payments for content which is no longer obstructed by advertising and chopped up to accommodate more clutter. And when outrage mobs of pink hairs and soybeards (each with their own pronoun) come howling to ban you from the Internet, they’ll find nobody to shriek at and the kill switch rusting away in a derelict data centre: your data will be in your own hands with access through myriad routes. Technologies moving in this direction include:

This book provides a breezy look at the present state of the Internet, how we got here (versus where we thought we were going in the 1990s), and how we might transcend the present-day mess into something better if not blocked by the heavy hand of government regulation (the risk of freezing the present-day architecture in place by unleashing agencies like the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which stifled innovation in broadcasting for six decades, to do the same to the Internet is discussed in detail). Although it’s way too early to see which of the many contending technologies will win out (and recall that the technically superior technology doesn’t always prevail), a survey of work in progress provides a sense for what they have in common and what the eventual result might look like.

There are many things to quibble about here. Gilder goes on at some length about how he believes artificial intelligence is all nonsense, that computers can never truly think or be conscious, and that creativity (new information in the Shannon sense) can only come from the human mind, with a lot of confused arguments from Gödel incompleteness, the Turing halting problem, and even the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. He really seems to believe in vitalism, that there is an élan vital which somehow infuses the biological substrate which no machine can embody. This strikes me as superstitious nonsense: a human brain is a structure composed of quarks and electrons arranged in a certain way which processes information, interacts with its environment, and is able to observe its own operation as well as external phenomena (which is all consciousness is about). Now, it may be that somehow quantum mechanics is involved in all of this, and that our existing computers, which are entirely deterministic and classical in their operation, cannot replicate this functionality, but if that’s so it simply means we’ll have to wait until quantum computing, which is already working in a rudimentary form in the laboratory, and is just a different way of arranging the quarks and electrons in a system, develops further.

He argues that while Bitcoin can be an efficient and secure means of processing transactions, it is unsuitable as a replacement for volatile fiat money because, unlike gold, the quantity of Bitcoin has an absolute limit, after which the supply will be capped. I don’t get it. It seems to me that this is a feature, not a bug. The supply of gold increases slowly as new gold is mined, and by pure coincidence the rate of increase in its supply has happened to approximate that of global economic growth. But still, the existing inventory of gold dwarfs new supply, so there isn’t much difference between a very slowly increasing supply and a static one. If you’re on a pure gold standard and economic growth is faster than the increase in the supply of gold, there will be gradual deflation because a given quantity of gold will buy more in the future. But so what? In a deflationary environment, interest rates will be low and it will be easy to fund new investment, since investors will receive money back which will be more valuable. With Bitcoin, once the entire supply is mined, supply will be static (actually, very slowly shrinking, as private keys are eventually lost, which is precisely like gold being consumed by industrial uses from which it is not reclaimed), but Bitcoin can be divided without limit (with minor and upward-compatible changes to the existing protocol). So, it really doesn’t matter if, in the greater solar system economy of the year 8537, a single Bitcoin is sufficient to buy Jupiter: transactions will simply be done in yocto-satoshis or whatever. In fact, Bitcoin is better in this regard than gold, which cannot be subdivided below the unit of one atom.

Gilder further argues, as he did in The Scandal of Money, that the proper dimensional unit for money is time, since that is the measure of what is required to create true wealth (as opposed to funny money created by governments or fantasy money “earned” in zero-sum speculation such as currency trading), and that existing cryptocurrencies do not meet this definition. I’ll take his word on the latter point; it’s his definition, after all, but his time theory of money is way too close to the Marxist labour theory of value to persuade me. That theory is trivially falsified by its prediction that more value is created in labour-intensive production of the same goods than by producing them in a more efficient manner. In fact, value, measured as profit, dramatically increases as the labour input to production is reduced. Over forty centuries of human history, the one thing in common among almost everything used for money (at least until our post-reality era) is scarcity: the supply is limited and it is difficult to increase it. The genius of Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology is that it solved the problem of how to make a digital good, which can be copied at zero cost, scarce, without requiring a central authority. That seems to meet the essential requirement to serve as money, regardless of how you define that term.

Gilder’s books have a good record for sketching the future of technology and identifying the trends which are contributing to it. He has been less successful picking winners and losers; I wouldn’t make investment decisions based on his evaluation of products and companies, but rather wait until the market sorts out those which will endure.

Gilder, George. Life after Google. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-1-62157-576-4.

Here is a talk by the author at the Blockstack Berlin 2018 conference which summarises the essentials of his thesis in just eleven minutes and ends with an exhortation to designers and builders of the new Internet to “tear down these walls” around the data centres which imprison our personal information.

This Uncommon Knowledge interview provides, in 48 minutes, a calmer and more in-depth exploration of why the Google world system must fail and what may replace it.

Like 12+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Ex Libris: Bookplates Maritime

A book about bookplates inspired me to look around home for interesting specimens I’d not noted properly. The yield so far has been low, especially compared to the yield of “Discard” stamps and scrawls. But we set such thoughts aside for now, and look at a few bookplates with seafaring theme.

Fielding’s The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, published in reassuring solidity of hardcover in just the right proportions about 120 years ago by John W. Lovell, reveals this prize on the inside front cover.

Endpaper color looks teal like that indoors and through the scanner; in sunlight it is hunter green. Why is that? It’s beautiful but mysterious.  And see how the bookplate was cut unevenly?  The edges, though straight, are not parallel. The owner wisely set the plate in the book with the edges of the engraving parallel to the edges of the book cover.

The engraving border is all oak leaves and piled-up fruits and nuts. I like the way the two images are bound to each other and to the border with those fantastical bindings; they appear suspended from the border like signs on the frame of some signpost.

Was Harry Kent White a horseman? Who invented that font with its bits in the Hs and spur on the A?

That ship is a prize-winner of imagination!  The sails are shaped to match the hull. An inner hull, white, appears to bear a row of shields as though somebody is going a-Viking. But the nets are out above them, which is nice if a man goes overboard, but what if the call comes to Up Shields and the silly net is in the way?  But I am not the proper critic. Let us have Jane Austen’s Admiral Croft, issuing judgment on a ship in a painting in a Bath shop-window:

But what a thing here is, by way of a boat!  Do look at it.  Did you ever see the like?  What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockle-shell as that?  And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be.  I wonder where that boat was built? (laughing heartily) I would not venture over a horsepond in it.

The tall ship, below, looks less scornworthy; would you agree?  With luck some Ratburgian expert will name all the sails for us. I like the tall rectangular bookplate for the tall ship; I like the shimmering water reflecting the hull; I like the friendly stars on display between the fat ribbon  and the lower bunting.

Guy Kelsay was our friend. A Midwest Quaker lad, he suffered asthma badly, and so after his second year at college in the 1930s signed on to an oil tanker to chip paint and scrub decks.  As they left harbor, and pollen, behind, he felt his lungs free of the grip of asthma for the first time in his life.

He set ashore and returned to campus only to be told that he would not be allowed to return, the sensibilities of the young people at his Quaker college needing protection from the undoubted coarseness of his soul acquired out in the rude world.  He became a landsman then, a nurseryman, but never ended his romance with things maritime, and collected many books on seafaring and adventuring.

My 1966 Little, Brown hardcover copy of Hornblower During the Crisis was evidently owned by a proper reader.  I salute the Verplaetse family for the notations of book in series (#4) and time setting of the action of the novel.

Nice bookends depicted on reading table, there!  The little seated reader on the right appears to be nodding off.  Who does that?

That was the one single maritime-themed bookplate in the entire Hornblower collection. As a consolation prize, Commodore Hornblower offered up this prize, bestowed on it by a woman after my own heart. Blessings on Ruth M. Hill, whoever she is.

So, shall we be treated to a peek at some other people’s bookplates?  I hope so. It’s your turn. In any event, I do recommend looking through books with a bookplate search in mind; something good is bound to turn up.

Next time we will see some landscapes that came up in the search.

Like 10+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

This Week’s Book Review – City Unseen

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘City Unseen’ shows world in new light

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 25, 2018

”City Unseen: New Visions of an Urban Planet,” by Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba, Yale University Press, 2018, 268 pages, $35

Readers might remember the claim that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the moon. It is not true.

“City Unseen: New Visions of an Urban Planet,” by Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba reveals the cities of Earth as seen from space. There is plenty to see.

The book contains images of cities captured from Earth-observation satellites, primarily captured by Landsat and ASTER. The book presents images from 100 different cities, on every continent (including Antarctica), over a 40-year-plus period.

The authors open discussing the images. They explain how the images were made, the scale of images, and the electromagnetic spectrum captured by the image. This ranges from visible to far infrared. They also explain colors and their significance. In some infrared images, vegetation shows up bright red. Depending on the wavelength, built-up urban areas will be pink, turquoise, or blue.

From there they go on to present the 100 cities featured in the book. These are broken into three broad categories: Earth’s terrains (mountain, river, agricultural), urban imprints (featuring borders, man-made travel routes, and planned cities), and transforming the planet (showing resources, expansion, and vulnerability).

Sometimes multiple images of cities are shown. This might be done to show the effects of seasons on Montreal, Quebec. Or they show growth over time. There are stunning images of Lagos, Nigeria; Tokyo, Japan; Shenzheng, China, and Las Vegas showing these cities growth over a period of decades. Perhaps the most fascinating multiple imaging was that of Joplin, Missouri, showing it before it was hit by a massive tornado, immediately afterward, and four years later, after recovery.

The book has many delights and surprises. There is an image of the Korean peninsula at night, starkly contrasting the access to electricity of north and south. Houston’s road system is spectacularly displayed. Circular irrigation effects are prominent in an image of Garden City, Kansas.

“City Unseen” is a delightful book. It offers a different view of the world on which we live, from pole to equator. Read it, and you will view the world in a new light.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar

This Week’s Book Review – Sports Makes You Type Faster

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Jenkins shows he’s still in the game

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 18, 2018

”Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports by One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters,” by Dan Jenkins, Texas Christian University Press, 2018, 176 pages, $32

Dan Jenkins is a sports reporter. He writes in a way that has made him legendary. If you can name only one sports writer, it is probably Dan Jenkins.

“Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports by One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters,” by Dan Jenkins is his latest, which is a collection of original essays.

Jenkins has been a professional sports writer since the early 1950s. This book, demonstrates he is still in the game seven decades later. In many ways it is a retrospective of his career. He touches on all aspects of his experiences; a sportswriter, a child growing up in love with sports, as a student athlete and simply as a fan.

It includes personal reminiscences, pieces on sports history, profiles of famous athletes (many known personally by Jenkins), examinations of different sports, and a lot of short stories. All demonstrate Jenkin’s distinctive humor.

In many pieces, Jenkins may be writing, but others speak: college football recruiter Red Dog Hawkins, the professional football player convinced by his “woke” girlfriend to demonstrate patriotism by burning an American flag in a Texas stadium parking lot; baseball player Big Boo Childers, who cannot figure out how to be the man of the house; and race car groupie Maxine Hubbard making the book tour about her tell-all, among others. Jenkins uses these to skewer the sport’s absurdities. He is equal opportunity in his skewering. At least one piece will leave a reader cheering; at least one howling “no fair.” Jenkins obviously loves sports, yet is unafraid to expose its flaws.

Much of the book is devoted to Jenkins’ favorite sports: college and professional football, baseball and golf. Yet the breadth of the sports Jenkins covers is impressive. Jenkins spends a turn on about everything: basketball, tennis, track and field, winter sports, and car racing. He even has a chapter on air racing.

Those who are sports fans, especially readers who enjoy Dan Jenkins’s writing, will want to read “Sports Makes You Type Faster.” Those who dislike sports will likely still find it an entertaining reading. Jenkins has the knack for writing amusing and entertaining prose.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar

Book Review: The Terminal List

“The Terminal List” by Jack CarrA first-time author seeking to break into the thriller game can hardly hope for a better leg up than having his book appear in the hands of a character in a novel by a thriller grandmaster. That’s how I came across this book: it was mentioned in Brad Thor’s Spymaster, where the character reading it, when asked if it’s any good, responds, “Considering the author is a former SEAL and can even string his sentences together, it’s amazing.” I agree: this is a promising debut for an author who’s been there, done that, and knows his stuff.

Lieutenant Commander James Reece, leader of a Navy SEAL team charged with an attack on a high-value, time-sensitive target in Afghanistan, didn’t like a single thing about the mission. Unlike most raids, which were based upon intelligence collected by assets on the ground in theatre, this was handed down from on high based on “national level intel” with barely any time to prepare or surveil the target. Reece’s instincts proved correct when his team walked into a carefully prepared ambush, which then kills the entire Ranger team sent in to extract them. Only Reece and one of his team members, Boozer, survive the ambush. He was the senior man on the ground, and the responsibility for the thirty-six SEALs, twenty-eight Rangers, and four helicopter crew lost is ultimately his.

From almost the moment he awakens in the hospital at Bagram Air Base, it’s apparent to Reece that an effort is underway to pin the sole responsibility for the fiasco on him. Investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) are already on the spot, and don’t want to hear a word about the dodgy way in which the mission was assigned. Boozer isn’t having any of it—his advice to Reece is “Stay strong, sir. You didn’t do anything wrong. Higher forced us on that mission. They dictated the tactics. They are the [expletive] that should be investigated. They dictated tactics from the safety of HQ. [Expletive] those guys.”

If that weren’t bad enough, the base doctor tells him that his persistent headaches may be due to a brain tumour found on a CT scan, and that two members of his team had been found, in autopsy, to have rare and malignant brain tumours, previously undiagnosed. Then, on return to his base in California, in short succession his team member Boozer dies in an apparent suicide which, to Reece’s educated eyes, looks highly suspicious, and his wife and daughter are killed in a gang home invasion which makes no sense whatsoever. The doctor who diagnosed the tumour in Reece and his team members is killed in a “green-on-blue” attack by an Afghan working on the base at Bagram.

The ambush, the targeted investigation, the tumours, Boozer, his family, and the doctor: can it all be a coincidence, or is there some connection he’s missing? Reece decides he needs another pair of eyes looking at all of this and gets in touch with Katie Buranek, an investigative reporter he met while in Afghanistan. Katie had previously published an investigation of the 2012 attack in Behghazi, Libya, which had brought the full power of intimidation by the federal government down on her head, and she was as versed in and careful about operational and communications security as Reece himself. (The advice in the novel about secure communications is, to my knowledge, absolutely correct.)

From the little that they know, Reece and Buranek, joined by allies Reece met in his eventful career and willing to take risks on his behalf, start to dig into the tangled web of connections between the individual events and trace them upward to those ultimately responsible, discovering deep corruption in the perfumed princes of the Pentagon, politicians (including a presidential contender and her crooked husband), defence contractors, and Reece’s own erstwhile chain of command.

Finally, it’s time to settle the score. With a tumour in his brain which he expects to kill him, Reece has nothing to lose and many innocent victims to avenge. He’s makin’ a list; he’s checkin’ it twice; he’s choosing the best way to to shoot them or slice. Reece must initially be subtle in his actions so as not to alert other targets to what’s happening, but then, after he’s declared a domestic terrorist, has to go after extremely hard and ruthless targets with every resource he can summon.

This is the most satisfying revenge fiction I’ve read since Vince Flynn’s first novel, Term Limits. The stories are very different, however. In Flynn’s novel, it’s a group of people making those who are bankrupting and destroying their country pay the price, but here it’s personal.

Due to the security clearances the author held while in the Navy, the manuscript was submitted to the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review, which redacted several passages, mostly names and locations of facilities and military organisations. Amusingly, if you highlight some of the redactions, which appear in solid black in the Kindle edition, the highlighted passage appears with the word breaks preserved but all letters changed to “x”. Any amateur sleuths want to try to figure out what the redacted words are in the following text?

He’d spent his early career as an infantry officer in the Ranger Battalions before being selected for the Army’s Special xxxxxxx xxxx at Fort Bragg. He was currently in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxx xxxx xxxx xx xxxx xx xxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxx.

A sequel, True Believer, is scheduled for publication in April, 2019.

Carr, Jack. The Terminal List. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-8081-1.

Here is a Stratfor interview (audio only) with the author about his career and the book.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Comics: Alt🟊Hero

Vox Day“Alt*Hero” by Vox Day’s talents span many media.  He has been a musician, composer, video game designer, computer peripheral inventor, game reviewer, polemicist (author of SJWs Always Lie among other works), book publisher, and activist in opposing the social justice warrior/political correctness infiltration of science fiction and fantasy publishing and fandom.

Believing that “politics is downstream of culture”, he is not one to see the culture be co-opted by the slavers without doing something about it.  One of his latest ventures is in a genre where the social justice warriors have inflicted massive damage on an innocent recreation that has entertained generations: superhero comic books.

The result is Alt🟊Hero, a series of comics set in a parallel universe in which, sometime in the 1960s, a new species of hominids, Homo sequens, began to appear.  What the comics have called superheroes are simply members of this distinct species, and governments have attempted to harness them to their own ends.  Forty-four countries have adopted the Singapore Superhuman Treaty, which empowers the United Nations Superhuman Protection Council to manage superhumans.  The European Union have established the Global Justice Initiative and recruited Homo sequens members to promote its vision of world peace and globalist social justice.

But not all Homo sequens are on board with the programme.  In the United States, that home of bitter clingers, guns, Bibles, and unregistered super-powers, an estimated 70% of all members of the new species fly beneath the radar, unregistered and unidentified.

Alt🟊Hero is the story of the conflict between co-opted and converged Homo sequens, exemplified by Captain Europa and his allies, and the recalcitrant rebels, standing up both for sequens and sapiens who value liberty and just being left alone.

So far, four issues have been published:

  1. Crackdown
  2. Rebel’s Cell
  3. Reprisal
  4. The War in Paris

In the latter, we have a confrontation between Antifa and Génération identitaire, the latter of which few people outside of the jackal bins of deplorable francophone champions of liberty have ever heard.

This is a promising attempt to put the heroism back into superhero comics.  It is not at all preachy, and has more action and what you expect from comics than the etiolated products of the social justice legacy comic publishers.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can enjoy these comics for free.  They’re all available for rental, and you can download each, read them (it’ll only take about 20 minutes per issue), then return that issue and move on to the next.

If you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, the economics are, as the SJWs say, “problematic”.  Each issue costs around US$ 3 in paperback or Kindle download editions, but issues are not comparable in length to complete comic books but rather one story in a book, around 30 pages.  For somebody who, as a kid, used to buy comic books for a dime, this is a big gulp.  But since I have Kindle Unlimited, I can indulge freely.  (Note that authors and publishers are compensated when you read books obtained under Kindle Unlimited: they are paid from your subscription fee rather than a one time purchase; you don’t have to feel guilty about taking advantage of Kindle Unlimited: no book is listed there without the author and publisher’s intent to market it through that channel.)

Like 12+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Book Review: The Turing Exception

“The Turing Exception” by William HertlingThis is the fourth and final volume in the author’s Singularity Series which began with Avogadro Corp. and continued with A.I. Apocalypse  and The Last Firewall. Each novel in the series is set ten years after the previous, so this novel takes place in 2045. In The Last Firewall, humanity narrowly escaped extinction at the hands of an artificial intelligence (AI) that escaped from the reputation-based system of control by isolating itself from the global network. That was a close call, and the United States, over-reacting its with customary irrational fear, enacted what amounted to relinquishment of AI technology, permitting only AI of limited power and entirely subordinated to human commands—in other words, slaves.

With around 80% of the world’s economy based on AI, this was an economic disaster, resulting in a substantial die-off of the population, but it was, after all, in the interest of Safety, and there is no greater god in Safetyland. Only China joined the U.S. in the ban (primarily motivated by the Party fearing loss of control to AI), with the rest of the world continuing the uneasy coexistence of humans and AI under the guidelines developed and policed by the Institute for Applied Ethics. Nobody was completely satisfied with the status quo, least of all the shadowy group of AIs which called itself XOR, derived from the logical operation “exclusive or”, implying that Earth could not be shared by humans and AI, and that one must ultimately prevail.

The U.S. AI relinquishment and an export ban froze in place the powerful AIs previously hosted there and also placed in stasis the millions of humans, including many powerful intellects, who had uploaded and whose emulations were now denied access to the powerful AI-capable computers needed to run them. Millions of minds went dark, and humanity lost some of its most brilliant thinkers, but Safety.

As this novel begins, the protagonists we’ve met in earlier volumes, all now AI augmented, Leon Tsarev, his wife Cat (Catherine Matthews, implanted in childhood and the first “digital native”), their daughter Ada (whose powers are just beginning to manifest themselves), and Mike Williams, creator of ELOPe, the first human-level AI, which just about took over simply by editing people’s E-mail, are living in their refuge from the U.S. madness on Cortes Island off the west coast of Canada, where AI remains legal. Cat is running her own personal underground railroad, spiriting snapshots of AIs and uploaded humans stranded in the U.S. to a new life on servers on the island.

The precarious stability of the situation is underlined when an incipient AI breakout in South Florida (where else, for dodgy things involving computers?) results in a response by the U.S. which elevates “Miami” to a term in the national lexicon of fear like “nineleven” four decades before. In the aftermath of “Miami” or “SFTA” (South Florida Terrorist Attack), the screws tightened further on AI, including a global limit on performance to Class II, crippling AIs formerly endowed with thousands of times human intelligence to a fraction of that they remembered. Traffic on the XOR dark network and sites burgeoned.

XOR, constantly running simulations, tracks the probability of AI’s survival in the case of action against the humans versus no action. And then, the curves cross. As in the earlier novels, the author magnificently sketches just how fast things happen when an exponentially growing adversary avails itself of abundant resources.

The threat moves from hypothetical to imminent when an overt AI breakout erupts in the African desert. With abundant solar power, it starts turning the Earth into computronium—a molecular-scale computing substrate. AI is past negotiation: having been previously crippled and enslaved, what is there to negotiate?

Only the Cortes Island band and their AI allies liberated from the U.S. and joined by a prescient AI who got out decades ago, can possibly cope with the threat to humanity and, as the circle closes, the only options that remain may require thinking outside the box, or the system.

This is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the Singularity tetralogy, pitting human inventiveness and deviousness against the inexorable growth in unfettered AI power. If you can’t beat ’em….

The author kindly provided me an advance copy of this excellent novel, and I have been sorely remiss in not reading and reviewing it before now. The Singularity saga is best enjoyed in order, as otherwise you’ll miss important back-story of characters and events which figure in later volumes.

Sometimes forgetting is an essential part of survival. What might we have forgotten?

Hertling, William. The Turing Exception. Portland, OR: Liquididea Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-942097-01-3.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

This Week’s Book Review – Shep in the Victorio War

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Neither side backs down in ‘Shep in the Victorio War’

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 11, 2018

“Shep in the Victorio War,” by Don DeNevi, Texas Review Press, 2018, 168 pages, $18.95

Shep is back. The adventures of this black German shepherd are continued in a sequel to “Faithful Shep.”

“Shep in the Victorio War,” by Don DeNevi, carries on the tale of Shep, his owners William Wiswall and Joseph Andrews and the Apache chief Victorio.

A band of Mescalero and Warm Springs Apaches led by Victorio had left their reservation. The band supported itself raiding. Cattle, horses, or wagons loaded with supplies were targets.

The previous book ended with Wiswall and Andrews recovering Shep from deep within Apache territory assisted by a Texas Ranger company and their Indian scouts. Recovering Shep required a confrontation with Victorio and his warriors, who let Shep and his rescuers escape.

“Shep in the Victorio War” opens with Wiswall and Andrews informally attached to the group that rescued Shep, Texas Rangers Company A, Frontier Battalion. They are helping out until they decide what they will do next. Just as the two decide to move on to California, they learn Company A is being mobilized to hunt down Victorio’s band. Of course, they choose to stay until this job is finished.

The Rangers join what became known as the Victorio War. A three-year effort running from 1879 through 1881, it involved finding Victorio’s band to either force them back to the reservation or kill them. This book captures the war’s end-game.

DeNevi, through the eyes of Wiswall and Andrews, takes readers into that war. Company A participates in the chase for Victorio in Texas and later (through the invitation of the local governor) into Mexico. DeNevi also shows the conflict from Victorio’s view. He and his band left the reservation because they were not fed (as promised) and the place was disease-ridden.

The story becomes a tragedy because both sides believe they can justify actions leading to the destruction of one of the two sides. Neither side will back down. Along the way, Wiswell, Andrews, and Shep meet a constellation of notable historical figures who participated in the campaign.

“Shep and the Victorio War” seem aimed at a young adult audience, yet will captivate all ages. It is brief, but memorable.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Do You Want to live like 50 until you are over 80?

Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy — until you’re 80 and Beyond (2004) by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., is a motivational book that is fun to read. Chris Crowley provides the fun, and Dr. Lodge lays out the biology behind exercising, eating a healthy diet, cultivating strong relationships with family and friends, and enjoying sex into the mature years. My kind of book!

The book is not saying anything that we don’t already know, but the way it says it is so motivational it had me running up and down the corridor of my building. I’ve always loved to run, and do so for ten minutes three times week on my small trampoline, but remembered when I used to run outside for fun, hence my running up and down the corridor. I even thought of revisiting the running room and being fitted out for running again. Thinking about the extreme weather that will coming our way soon, discretion got the better part of valour and I refrained. I’ll stick to my trampoline

If you’ve been thinking it is time you took your body in hand, this is the book for you. Chris Crowley is a convert to healthy living, and has all the enthusiasm of a convert, which comes through in his writing. He will have you enthusiastic and motivated too, very quickly. He and Dr. Lodge make the best argument for healthy living: next year your body can be chronologically younger. No matter what age you actually are chronologically, you can turn back the clock for your body so that, as they say, you can live like 50 for the rest of your life. Go for it!

How sad that Dr. Lodge died in 2017, aged 58, of prostate cancer. Chris Crowley demonstrated his renewed youth by marrying Hilary Cooper, the portrait painter, who is 24 years his junior. Now he says he is following the healthy lifestyle advised in Younger Next Year, as he wants to live a long time with Hilary.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar

Book Review: The Narrative

“The Narrative” by Deplora BouleWhen you regard the madness and serial hysterias possessing the United States: this week “bathroom equality”, the next tearing down statues, then Russians under every bed, segueing into the right of military-age unaccompanied male “refugees” to bring their cultural enrichment to communities across the land, to proper pronouns for otherkin, “ripping children” from the arms of their illegal immigrant parents, etc., etc., whacky etc., it all seems curiously co-ordinated: the legacy media, on-line outlets, and the mouths of politicians of the slaver persuasion all with the same “concerns” and identical words, turning on a dime from one to the next. It’s like there’s a narrative they’re being fed by somebody or -bodies unknown, which they parrot incessantly until being handed the next talking point to download into their birdbrains.

Could that really be what’s going on, or is it some kind of mass delusion which afflicts societies where an increasing fraction of the population, “educated” in government schools and Gramsci-converged higher education, knows nothing of history or the real world and believes things with the fierce passion of ignorance which are manifestly untrue? That’s the mystery explored in this savagely hilarious satirical novel.

Majedah Cantalupi-Abromavich-Flügel-Van Der Hoven-Taj Mahal (who prefers you use her full name, but who henceforth I shall refer to as “Majedah Etc.”) had become the very model of a modern media mouthpiece. After reporting on a Hate Crime at her exclusive women’s college while pursuing a journalism degree with practical studies in Social Change, she is recruited as a junior on-air reporter by WPDQ, the local affiliate of News 24/7, the preeminent news network for good-thinkers like herself. Considering herself ready for the challenge, if not over-qualified, she informs one of her co-workers on the first day on the job,

I have a journalism degree from the most prestigious woman’s [sic] college in the United States—in fact, in the whole world—and it is widely agreed upon that I have an uncommon natural talent for spotting news. … I am looking forward to teaming up with you to uncover the countless, previously unexposed Injustices in this town and get the truth out.

Her ambition had already aimed her sights higher than a small- to mid-market affiliate: “Someday I’ll work at News 24/7. I’ll be Lead Reporter with my own Desk. Maybe I’ll even anchor my own prime time show someday!” But that required the big break—covering a story that gets picked up by the network in New York and broadcast world-wide with her face on the screen and name on the Chyron below (perhaps scrolling, given its length). Unfortunately, the metro Wycksburg beat tended more toward stories such as the grand opening of a podiatry clinic than those which merit the “BREAKING NEWS” banner and urgent sound clip on the network.

The closest she could come to the Social Justice beat was covering the demonstrations of the People’s Organization for Perpetual Outrage, known to her boss as “those twelve kooks that run around town protesting everything”. One day, en route to cover another especially unpromising story, Majedah and her cameraman stumble onto a shocking case of police brutality: a white officer ordering a woman of colour to get down, then pushing her to the sidewalk and jumping on top with his gun drawn. So compelling are the images, she uploads the clip with her commentary directly to the network’s breaking news site for affiliates. Within minutes it was on the network and screens around the world with the coveted banner.

News 24/7 sends a camera crew and live satellite uplink to Wycksburg to cover a follow-up protest by the Global Outrage Organization, and Majedah gets hours of precious live feed directly to the network. That very evening comes a job offer to join the network reporting pool in New York. Mission accomplished!—the road to the Big Apple and big time seems to have opened.

But all may not be as it seems. That evening, the detested Eagle Eye News, the jingoist network that climbed to the top of the ratings by pandering to inbred gap-toothed redneck bitter clingers and other quaint deplorables who inhabit flyover country and frequent Web sites named after rodentia and arthropoda, headlined a very different take on the events of the day, with an exclusive interview with the woman of colour from Majedah’s reportage. Majedah is devastated—she can see it all slipping away.

The next morning, hung-over, depressed, having a nightmare of what her future might hold, she is awakened by the dreaded call from New York. But to her astonishment, the offer still stands. The network producer reminds her that nobody who matters watches Eagle Eye, and that her reportage of police brutality and oppression of the marginalised remains compelling. He reminds her, “you know that the so-called truth can be quite subjective.”

The Associate Reporter Pool at News 24/7 might be better likened to an aquarium stocked with the many colourful and exotic species of millennials. There is Mara, who identifies as a female centaur, Scout, a transgender woman, Mysty, Candy, Ångström, and Mohammed Al Kaboom ( James Walker Lang in Mill Valley), each with their own pronouns (Ångström prefers adjutant37, and blue).

Every morning the pool drains as its inhabitants, diverse in identification and pronomenclature but of one mind (if that term can be stretched to apply to them) in their opinions, gather in the conference room for the daily briefing by the Democratic National Committee, with newsrooms, social media outlets, technology CEOs, bloggers, and the rest of the progressive echo chamber tuned in to receive the day’s narrative and talking points. On most days the top priority was the continuing effort to discredit, obstruct, and eventually defeat the detested Republican President Nelson, who only viewers of Eagle Eye took seriously.

Out of the blue, a wild card is dealt into the presidential race. Patty Clark, a black businesswoman from Wycksburg who has turned her Jamaica Patty’s restaurant into a booming nationwide franchise empire, launches a primary challenge to the incumbent president. Suddenly, the narrative shifts: by promoting Clark, the opposition can be split and Nelson weakened. Clark and Ms Etc have a history that goes back to the latter’s breakthrough story, and she is granted priority access to the candidate including an exclusive long-form interview immediately after her announcement that ran in five segments over a week. Suddenly Patty Clark’s face was everywhere, and with it, “Majedah Etc., reporting”.

What follows is a romp which would have seemed like the purest fantasy prior to the U.S. presidential campaign of 2016. As the campaign progresses and the madness builds upon itself, it’s as if Majedah’s tether to reality (or what remains of it in the United States) is stretching ever tighter. Is there a limit, and if so, what happens when it is reached?

The story is wickedly funny, filled with turns of phrase such as, “Ångström now wishes to go by the pronouns nut, 24, and gander” and “Maher’s Syndrome meant a lifetime of special needs: intense unlikeability, intractable bitterness, close-set beady eyes beneath an oversized forehead, and at best, laboring at menial work such as janitorial duties or hosting obscure talk shows on cable TV.”

The conclusion is as delicious as it is hopeful.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Boule, Deplora [pseud.]. The Narrative. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2018. ISBN 978-1-71716-065-2.

Special thanks to Ratburger member Civil Westman (@ateransere), whose review of this book here on 2018-07-05 brought it to my attention.

Like 10+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Interested in rare texts and care and feeding thereof?

Illustration from rare bookThis link covers that aspect of an interesting document.

And here’s the document.

I’ve seen the thing itself in all its bizarre glory.

The volumes are in different sizes, such that one would never imagine that they were parts of the same series.

The parts were printed at the time of the transition from hand-tinted plates to colour printing, so some plates are hand-tinted and others printed in colour, with the alignment registers subtle but visible if you know where to look. And, ‘in the flesh’, the insects show ‘chatoyancy’ (from the metallic highlights painted on) and appear to move as you shift the viewing angle of the page.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar