Silicon Valley is more important than the Middle East

I’m a few chapters into Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a really interesting book by Yuval Noah Harari. He’s an Oxford Ph.D. whose current research focuses on macro-historical questions: What is the relation between history and biology? Does history have a direction? Did people become happier as history unfolded?

Today I found a link to a conversation between Harari and Daniel Kahneman that was packed with interesting ideas. Here’s one:

“In terms of history, the events in Middle East, of ISIS and all of that, is just a speed bump on history’s highway. The Middle East is not very important. Silicon Valley is much more important. It’s the world of the 21st century … I’m not speaking only about technology. In terms of ideas, in terms of religions, the most interesting place today in the world is Silicon Valley, not the Middle East. This is where people like Ray Kurzweil, are creating new religions. These are the religions that will take over the world, not the ones coming out of Syria and Iraq and Nigeria.”

Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice

“What WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the US and UK in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the US and UK in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger” — via

The chickens just called. They’re running late but will be back at the roost shortly.

Time to re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four

I read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school. I need to read it again but it scared me back then and is sure to be even more frightening today. Nightly news reports on our distant wars in Iraq and Afghanastan feel an awful lot like the “telescreen” updates on the war between “Oceania” and “Eurasia.”

Wikipedia: “At the Minitrue (Ministry of Truth), Winston (Smith) is an editor responsible for the historical revisionism concording the past to the Party’s contemporary official version of the past; thus is the Oceania government omniscient. As such, he perpetually rewrites records and alters photographs, rendering the deleted people as unpersons; the original document is incinerated in a memory hole. Despite enjoying the intellectual challenge of historical revisionism, he is fascinated by the true past, and eagerly tries to learn more about it.”

“…fascinated by the true past.” Me too.

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker more than lived up to its billing as an “intense” film. Black Hawk Down intense. Only the men and women who have served in Iraq (or who live there) can say how real the movie is. Real enough, I suspect.

I’m not sure the film makers had any sort of political statement to make about our presence in Iraq, but I came away thinking there is no way to win such a war. Unless the last suicide bomber blowing up the last Humvee with the last chunk of siMMtec counts as winning. Not sure what it would look like for our side.

The “can’t go home again” theme reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in Rolling Thunder. I still don’t know what to make of the brief appearances by David Morse, Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce.

On the bedside table

The Increment, David Ignatius

“The CIA has zero assets in Iran until a message is sent to the agency’s Web site that indicates that the Iranians are making real progress toward a bomb. It falls to veteran spy Harry Pappas to identify the sender and weigh the validity of the information, while the bellicose White House gears up for war. Pappas is disheartened and disaffected; he knew the Iraq War would be a disaster, and he lost his marine son there. To carry out his assignment, he must go rogue and seek the aid of British intelligence.”

Life, Inc., Douglas Rushkoff

“In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family.”

An Oral History of the Bush White House

Just finished reading a very long piece on the Bush administration in Vanity Fair. Almost 40 pages printed from their website. It reads like a very depressing, but gripping, novel. Painful but hard to put down. I’m posting here because I don’t consider this politics. If you don’t want to wait for The Golden Bush Years chapter in the 2080 history books, read this Vanity Fair account. Sort of a high colonic to start the year off clean. A few nuggets from the final page:

“Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: As my boss [Colin Powell] once said, Bush had a lot of .45-caliber instincts, cowboy instincts. Cheney knew exactly how to polish him and rub him. He knew exactly when to give him a memo or when to do this or when to do that and exactly the word choice to use to get him really excited.

Bob Graham, Democratic senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee: One of our difficulties now is getting the rest of the world to accept our assessment of the seriousness of an issue, because they say, You screwed it up so badly with Iraq, why would we believe that you’re any better today? And it’s a damn hard question to answer.

Meanwhile, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have relocated, have strengthened, have become a more nimble and a much more international organization. The threat is greater today than it was on September the 11th.

David Kuo, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: It’s kind of like the Tower of Babel. At a certain point in time, God smites hubris. You knew that right around the time people started saying there’s going to be a permanent Republican majority—that God kinda goes, No, I really don’t think so.”

If I told you, I’d have to kill you

From Scott Pelley’s 60 Minutes interview with with Bob Woodward about “The War Within,” Woodward’s fourth insider account from the Bush White House:

“This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs,” Woodward told Pelley.

“Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?” Pelley asked.

“Yeah,” Woodward said. “If you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town.”

WTF. If this were anybody but Bob Woodward, I’d say yeah, right. If I had to guess I’d say it is some kind of quantum mechanical weapon. All you need is a photo of the target and the weapon punches through space/time and … zap! You read it first (unless you’re Bob Woodward)

Generation Kill (Part One)

Watched the first installment of the new HBO mini-series, Generation Kill last night. Had very high expectations for this series because it was written and produced by the same team that gave us The Wire. I was disappointed. I thought much of the dialogue was lame. And I was bothered by what felt like ham-handed anti-war propaganda. On a deeper level, I hope it was propaganda. Because the alternative is pretty scary. I think I have to watch the entire series before forming an opinion.

[Quick Google search]

From Perhaps the acid test was last Wednesday night on the eve of HBO’s presentation to TV critics at the ongoing press tour.  The producers and cast screened part of the miniseries for several hundred Marines at the Southern California base of Camp Pendleton.

Technical adviser Eric Kocher, who served in the First Recon Battalion
and appears on screen in the miniseries, said what he heard most often
was that "the dialogue is excellent. It hits exactly the way Marines
talk, and then the atmosphere is visually what you see, what you hear
in the background. Everything is it. It hits Iraq."

Well, there you go. I think maybe I expected some kind of Band of Brothers/The Wire mash-up. Different war, different time, different part of the world.

“The Beltway-Blog Battle”

Writing in Time Magazine, James Poniewozek has an interesting take (The Beltway-Blog Battle) on the passing of Tim Russert.

"…the press lost its most authoritative mass-market journalist, just as it is losing its authority and its mass market."

The New Meida vs. Old Media argument got tiresome a long time ago, but Mr. Poniewozek offers a fresh take. A few paragraphs to wet your whistle:

"In their original division of labor, the old media broke news while the blogs dispensed opinion. But look at two of the biggest stories of the Democratic primary: Barack Obama’s comments that working-class voters are "bitter" and Bill Clinton’s rope-line rant that a reporter who profiled him was a "scumbag." Both were broken by a volunteer for the Huffington Post website, Mayhill Fowler.

Traditional reporters were aghast at Fowler’s methods–the Obama meeting was closed to press (she got in as a donor), and Fowler did not identify herself when speaking to Clinton. But mainstream media had no problem treating the scoops as big news; if she had overheard both quotes in the same way but told them to a newspaper instead of publishing them, that would have been considered a coup.

The case against Fowler, in other words, was about process and credentials, not content. If sources stop trusting us, reporters asked, how will we do our jobs? But however sneaky her methods, Fowler’s stories prove that one reason sites like Huffington have an audience is the perception that Establishment journalism has gotten better at serving its powerful sources than its public. Fiascoes like the Iraq-WMD reporting gave many the impression that the old rules mainly protect consultant-cosseted public officials who need protection least."

[For more on the Mayhill Fowler story, here’s a bit of audio with Arianna Huffington, speaking at Guardian News & Media’s internal Future of Journalism event on 18th June 2008.]

Mr. Poniewozik poses this rather rude question regarding MSM: "…if 3 million people read Drudge and 65,000 read the New Republic, which is mainstream?"