The Truth About Terrorism

Jonathan Raban writes in the New York Review of Books:

If you live, as I do, in an American city designated as a likely target by the Department of Homeland Security, the sheer proliferation of security apparatus in the streets assures you that there is a war on. Yet the nature and conduct of that war, and the character—and very existence—of our enemy, remain infuriatingly obscure: not because there’s any shortage of information, or apparent information, but because so much of it has turned out to be creative guesswork or empty propaganda.

Books discussed in this article:

America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism by Stephen Flynn
Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security—An Inside Look at the Coming Surveillance State by Matthew Brzezinski
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States by The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror by “Anonymous” (Michael Scheuer)
Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror by Richard A. Clarke
The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis –a three-part television series BBC Two, October 20 and 27 and November 3, 2004
Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke

The Lust for Lists

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

The media loves year-in-review stories. This is, in part, because such wrap-ups provide the perfect opportunity to exploit the public’s unquenchable lust for lists. The Top Ten News Stories of the Year, The Ten Most Fascinating People, The Ten Biggest Business Blunders, The Ten Best Films/Books/Songs/Stocks/Celebrity Trials/Sex Scandals/Asinine Statements Uttered by Don Rumsfeld About the Mess He Helped to Create in Iraq. Whatever the category of information, it is always more appealing when presented in cheesy list form.

More silly lists here.

The Year the Earth Fought Back

Simon Winchester in the New York Times:

Like two bookends of calamity, earthquakes at Bam in Iran and off Sumatra in Indonesia have delineated a year of unusual seismic ferocity – a year, one might say, of living dangerously. Twelve months, almost to the very hour, before Sunday’s extraordinary release of stress at the India-Burma tectonic plate boundary, a similar jolt at the boundary of the Arabian and the Eurasian Plates devastated one of the most celebrated of Persian caravan cities. The televised images of Bam’s collapsed citadel and the sight of thousands of bodies being carried from the desert ruins haunted the world then just as the images of the drowned around the shores of the Bay of Bengal do today.

But that has not been the half of it. True, these two disasters were, in terms of their numbers of casualties, by far the most lethal. But in the 12 months that separated them, there have been many other ruinous and seismically ominous events, occurring in places that seem at first blush to be entirely disconnected.

More here.

The Art of Always Being Right

George Walden reviews The Art of Always Being Right, Arthur Schopenhauer, with an introduction by A C Grayling, in The New Statesman:

SchopenhauerSchopenhauer’s sardonic little book, laying out 38 rhetorical tricks guaranteed to win you the argument even when you are defeated in logical discussion, is a true text for the times. An exercise in irony and realism, humour and melancholy, this is no antiquarian oddity, but an instruction manual in intellectual duplicity that no aspiring parliamentarian, trainee lawyer, wannabe TV interviewer or newspaper columnist can afford to be without.

The melancholy aspect comes in the main premise of the book: that the point of public argument is not to be right, but to win. Truth cannot be the first casualty in our daily war of words, Schopenhauer suggests, because it was never the bone of contention in the first place. “We must regard objective truth as an accidental circumstance, and look only to the defence of our own position and the refutation of the opponent’s . . . Dialectic, then, has as little to do with truth as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a quarrel leads to a duel.” Such phrases make us wonder whether his book was no more than a bitter satire, an extension of Machiavellian principles of power play from princes to individuals by a disappointed academic whom it took 30 years to get an audience for his major work, The World as Will and Idea. Perhaps, but only partly. With his low view of human nature, Schopenhauer is also saying that we are all in the sophistry business together.

The interest of his squib goes beyond his tricks of rhetoric: “persuade the audience, not the opponent”, “put his theory into some odious category”, “become personal, insulting, rude”. Instinctively, we itch to apply it to our times, whether in politics, the infotainment business or our postmodern tendency to place inverted commas, smirkingly, around the very notion of truth.

More here.

10 Tech Trends to Watch in 2005

Fred Vogelstein in Fortune:

The Internet is becoming the epochal communication and entertainment platform that the dot-commers envisioned—it just took longer than most of them thought. But some things have changed: This year’s key tech arenas will be wireless and the home, not the office, while wars, both real and virtual, are bringing security issues into sharper relief.

Beyond infotech, neuromarketing, genetic medicine, and even nuclear power will make themselves felt as trends. And who’d have dreamed that China’s tech sector would evolve so quickly or that its entrepreneurs would be clamoring for intellectual-property protection? But then, it’s 2005, and more and more of the world is running on Internet time.

More here.

Terminating Spyware With Extreme Prejudice

Rachel Dodes in the New York Times:

The end of the year is a time when people sit down, rethink their priorities and sometimes change their ways. Some quit smoking. Others join a gym. I chose to erase my hard drive and reinstall my operating system.

Sure, it was a drastic move, but my two-year-old I.B.M. ThinkPad – equipped with a 1,000-megahertz Pentium III processor, a high-speed Internet connection and 256 megabytes of memory – was running about as fast as the Apple IIE I used in the mid-80’s.

After six months engaged in mortal combat with spyware – parasitic software that tracks your browsing habits, sends out pop-up ads and can even send your private information to an organized crime ring in Guam – I had two options: shell out $1,200 for a new ThinkPad, or wipe my hard drive and start from scratch – a huge production with potentially cataclysmic results.

More here.