Archive for December, 2010

Unsatisfying

December 29, 2010

Having purchased this Booker shortlist in less than precipitous circumstances, although I’d always wanted to read it, having heard lots of kind words for it, the end result was unsatisfying. Hell, I’ve nothing against GLBT, but Waters’ depiction of their emotional state  left a bitter aftertaste of teenage novel angst in my mouth. Maybe I”m getting old, but narrative ambiguity isn’t what it’s cut out to be anymore. If you want closure, Waters leaves you hanging like a shipwreck watching his lifeboat drift irrevocably away.

Tarrying in a viper’s pit

December 28, 2010


Just polished off Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos and James Fergusson’s Taliban in short order. The former is indeed, as Fergusson opines, a “masterly” survey of all the things that went wrong that did, and lays the blame squarely at the feet of all parties, devoting quite a bit to Pakistani machinations in her South Asia policy. While Fergusson’s neo-apologist stance towards Mullah Omar and the rest of the hardline Tier One Taliban may be off-putting to some, his central premise – of the necessity of an eventual political accommodation with the Taliban – is both practical and inevitable. The least the West could do to honour their brothers who have already fallen is to seek an honourable solution instead of tarrying on in the same old tired way in what will be for them a pit of vipers.

Holding up a mirror to History, WW2 historian illuminates the post-9/11 world

December 12, 2010

In attempting a comparative analysis of 9/11 and the war on terror with WW2, military historian John Dower does what he does best with his copious knowledge of Pearl Harbor and continuing through to the atomic bombings and postwar occupation of Japan. However, this sometimes (especially in mid-book) results in large parts that are more WW2 and not really comparative. While this tome doesn’t really add new knowledge about 9/11 and GWOT, Dower insightful’s contribution in considering these events using this historical frame should not be ignored, in particular, his damning critique of a groupthink “culture of willful forgetfulness” in US policymaking circles and their almost criminal (and doubtlessly ideological) impulse to “cherry-pick” irrelevant and unrelated historical events to justify and legitimise current policy.

Intimate Portrait of the ‘Yagestan’ that is Afghanistan

December 12, 2010

Part history lesson, part personal recount and part scholarly review, Sarah Chayes’ intimate portrait of her post-9/11 years in Kandahar may strike some as being by turns idealistically naïve and yet devastatingly arch in its reading of Afghan realpolitik. What’s apparent is her genuine affection for the place, and her use of ‘yagestan’ as an organising concept to describe Afghan history and political culture is a refreshing take. Highly recommended if you’ve had enough “cups of tea”.

The Human Mind in an ‘Ecosystem of Interruption Technologies’

December 6, 2010

Carr follows up his much-cited Atlantic cover story “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” with this extended exploration of the neurological, sociological and cultural consequences of online reading and other Net behaviours.  Given that he cites plenty of research findings in an attempt to make his thesis more credible, it’s surprising he doesn’t devote more time exploring how machine intelligence could possibly acquire more human characteristics, just as he opines that human intelligence is “flatten[ing] into artificial intelligence”.

And as if lending personal credence to Carr’s theory, this is Version 2 of this entry; the original got lost because of a timed-out scenario. And yes, it was so much better written than this one 😦

Our Nemesis, Ourselves

December 5, 2010


Philosopher John Gray meditates not just on AQ’s ideology, but in giving us his take on related matters such as the decline of the West’s intellectual and ideological legitimacy and the checkered history of American foreign policy, makes a strong case for cultural pluralism as the best defense against an all-too-familiar fundamentalism.

Our Nemesis, Ourselves

December 5, 2010


Philosopher John Gray meditates not just on AQ’s ideology, but in giving us his take on related matters such as the decline of the West’s intellectual and ideological legitimacy and the checkered history of American foreign policy, makes a strong case for cultural pluralism as the best defense against an all-too-familiar fundamentalism.