Book: Anatomy of Terror by Ali Soufan

In my comments about Joby Warrick’s book, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, a 2016 Pulitzer winner for general non-fiction, I said this:

Good but incomplete/one-sided. This is told mostly from the perspective of those (mostly Western powers, and at that, mostly American) who oppose and fought (and still fighting) Zarqawi and later ISIS. If you want to talk about the rise of ISIS at least you attempt to explain or go into the antecedents and causes why, and motivations of thousands of men (and women) from all over the world (including from Malaysia) who went (and is still going) to Syria and Iraq to take up the cause and put themselves in harm’s and death’s way.

In “Anatomy of Terror,” author and former F.B.I. special agent Ali Soufan wrote this in his introduction:

“The key to a more constructive use of our imaginations is empathy – not in the colloquial sense of sharing another person’s perspective, but in the clinical sense of being able to see the world through another person’s eyes. Sadly, after fifteen years of the war on terrorism, we still do not really know our enemy in this deeper sense. In this book, by delving into the personalities of men who mean us harm, I aim not to create sympathy for them – far from it – but to help point the way to a deeper understanding of their worldview, their motivations, and how best to combat the destructive ideology they represent.”

To a certain extent Soufan has achieved his goal. Disappointingly though he has written only a short last chapter on the “how best to combat the destructive ideology they represent.” Even this is skewed towards a Western perspective. It is noteworthy to point out that thousands and thousands more Muslims (compared to Western victims) have died and suffered at and through the hands of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and their many offshoots in Muslim countries like Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan where they command actual real estate to operate and proliferate.

On this, I think Donald Trump, during his recent speech in Riyadh, touched on a very pertinent and important point when he said:

“It is a choice between two futures. And it is a choice America can not make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists…Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy lands. Drive them out of this earth.”


Inculcating the reading habit

My 3 elder kids like to read. I would like to think that that was no accident. When they were mere pre-schoolers, their mom and I (being avid readers ourselves) decided on a strategy to how to make them take up the reading habit. We realise early on that to force anybody – let alone mere babies – to do a particular thing as a matter of self interest will not work. We need a hook-and-bait strategy.

Reading for the pure joy of reading and appreciating an author’s work is like an addictive drug. Let me explain: as is for any drug, you have to consume more to get more bang for the buck as things progress – to get your requisite fix, you need to wind up the dose.

And so we started the kids on comics. Yes, the really (dumb) kiddie ones. Then they upgraded to heavier stuff like Doraemon, Archie, etc. Notice what I said: they upgraded; these are their choices now: you can see the upgrade treadmill is about to start. Now, they are regular readers like me. There was a time when they tossed away novels that were less than an inch thick. Mission accomplished! Heck, my elder boy even reads Haruki Murakami (whose writings/protagonists are so dense even I won’t touch).

Personally I wanted them to read for a very specific reason. No, not the usual academic/knowledge reasons; the school can take care of that. I wanted them as young as possible to be introspective as they read about the characters in a novel: to learn how people think, their thought processes, how different people have various takes on particular situations, the many varied characters of human beings, etc.

If you have read through, for example, a Murakami novel you would know what I mean.

One parent long time ago argued, “Better I feed them with movies, they can be entertained while learning.”

Ha ha, but there is a huge difference: watching TV is a passive, non-participative consumption of essentially the screenwriter/director’s version of a made-up world. Reading, on the other hand, invites the reader, in her mind’s eye, to paint a vastly textured canvas and populate it with characters as she interprets the author’s vision.

Anyone who has seen the movie version of Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent book, Unbroken, will understand how shallow the celluloid story was compared to what was written.

Legal principles in the usage of the word Fuck

Reading a scholarly book on legal principles on the word “Fuck” (at least in the U.S.) – Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting our First Amendment Liberties” (2009) by Christopher M Fairman, an eminent law professor at OSU. You can feel the gist of his book in the Cardoza Law Review here:

Meanwhile another professor has covered the middle finger:

Who says the law has to be boring?

Book: A Nasty Piece of Work by Robert Littell

One of the things I hate about fiction told in the first person is when the author tends to pontificate all the time –  to tell the narrative always from the high horse – and insults the reader’s intelligence.  That is why Chandleresque private detective fiction works:  the reader happily accepts the story teller is willing to bare himself, warts,  nuerosis and all. A fine turn of phrase is also crucial for this type of genre.

I like A Nasty Piece of Work by Robert Littell for the above reasons.  Consider this excerpt :

Her eyes were seaweed green and deep-set and solemn and blinked about as often as those of the Sphinx. Her lips were straight out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel, oval and moist and slightly parted in permanent perplexity. Everything, as Mr. Yul Brynner used to tell us six nights a week and Saturday matinees, is a puzzlement. Her hair was short and straight and dark and tucked back behind her ears. She wasn’t wearing makeup, at least none that I could spot. There wasn’t a ring on a finger, a bracelet on a wrist, a necklace on the neck she had swiped from a swan. Take me as I am, she seemed to be saying.

Book: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Following his (not so good) biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s wide arc history of the computer, Information Technology and the Internet, and the people who thought, created and drove the digital revolution. He tells and explores the fascinating personalities such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page, among others.

It read like a well-researched book, and well it might be since Isaacson claimed it took him 10 years to finish it. If there is one thing that I was disappointed in the book it is that the narrative did not cover at all the business side of the computer era, of how the trajectory of IT development took the many companies that we know – the HPs, Microsofts, Apples, Googles, Amazons, IBM, Facebooks – into the financial stratosphere, and turn these companies into money-making behemoths as we know them now. Surely, the development of computers and IT were also largely in part to the these companies leveraging certain business innovations focused on IT.

Book: The Infinite Sea by Ricky Yancey

It’s been a while since I wrote a review for a book.

Rick Yancey’s The Infinite Sea is the second instalment of a 3-books epic which tells the story of a group of mostly young protagonists surviving a post-apocalypse earth caused by the invasion of aliens. While the first book, The 5th Wave (It is now being made a movie slated for release in 2016.), was a fast-paced, well written story that sets up nicely the predicaments of the young heroes, this follow up was a letdown in a sense. For sure, Cassie Sullivan and her friends were involved in many tight scrapes and escapes but the villains – the Others – were surprisingly contented to chug along doing human-like things. I mean, here we are in a virus-infected, drowned earth where most (billions!) people have died, and the bad guys – the all powerful who have even conquered physical existence – were contented to do a slow tête-à-tête with the youngsters.

There is a part in the book that is reminiscent of the scene in The Matrix Reloaded where the Architect went into a long discourse and rambling exposition with Neo. Why do bad guys in a movie have the need to explain themselves?

Let’s see if Rick Yancey save his trilogy in Part 3. No The Matrix Revolutions please.