Found 5 comments on HN
crdb · 2016-11-14 · Original thread
I think, on its own, that the story holds up to being "worth reading". The Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox is elegant and I was surprised (from cursory research) that Liu seems to be the first to come up with it.

However the real value in the book for me was twofold: first, some insight into the way PRC folks think (some mistake it for a bad translation or criticise the way the characters are thinking as "unrealistic" - I would say instead it's often very Chinese); second, this is one of few books depicting information warfare.

On the first I have not much more to say. I've lived in Asia for a while so I recognise some patterns, but I don't speak Mandarin. My understanding of PRC folks is purely based on my interaction with my friends there. Nevertheless based on this I would say that a lot of the ways in which the characters' thinking differs from that of say, those in a Vernon Vinge novel are typically Chinese. In the same vein there is the hilarious dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao although it's hard to pick up a subtitled version (it airs on one of the Australian channels occasionally).

Information warfare is rarely discussed intelligently here for some reason (probably because it is used systematically by a variety of groups that frequent HN and try to minimise its existence and impact, because "those who know stay quiet" and because it is easier to defend from manipulation if the manipulator does not understand you well).

In Liu's books, particularly the first and a little bit in Death's End, it consists of modifying the culture of the enemy so that it is more easily defeated. This is an art as old as humanity; the first formal reference to it in the modern era might be the Potemkin village, and a good introductory book on the Soviet flavour ("Active Measures") is Gen. Oleg Kalugin's biography [1] published after he defected. If you speak French, both books by the anonymous "Lt Col X" [2] (most likely to be a French intelligence officer) are also worth a read.

Taken together with the fact that the book was very successful in China (which is impossible without at least tacit government approval), it presents a possible explanation for the Great Firewall.

In the book, a key plot point is that everything you do is known instantly by the enemy - just like the NSA was shown to be able to do by Snowden. Thus, humans need to learn to hide their actions, letting just enough information leak to other humans for coordination but without tipping their hand to the very smart, omniscient, but less able to lie Trisolarians. Considering the Chinese have a reputation for speaking in parables ("riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" - applicable to the Russians originally but I heard it many times applied to the PRC) there is a direct parallel with a facet of how the authorities and some of the population might view the current top superpower.

In short I guarantee it will be unlike anything you've read this year.


[2] -

crdb · 2016-04-05 · Original thread
In theory, you can watch anybody, but for this to work, you'd need someone to actually look at the evidence i.e. suspect the person in the first place. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes... And in this case it's the guardians of the guardians: who are you going to trust with watching the head of MI6's counter-intelligence division 24/7?

As the CIA found in its paranoid early days, over-suspicion is highly counter-productive (see e.g. [1]). You just HAVE to trust your managers. Even if all services have some kind of internal intelligence setup to watch the watchers, it's focused downwards where the risks are higher and cost of suspicion lower, and it has to be run by people you trust the most. You balance the cost of a mole, versus the opportunity cost of turning down genuine defectors and trusting your own staff.

This is why (according to [2]) many European services are run by people from wealthy, old families, preferably with at least a few members who have served. It's expected that on average, these people have profound ties to their country - if nothing else, in the form of immense property portfolios - and thus are much less likely to defect. You can't bribe them, you can't offer them a better life [3], what's left? Ideology, and that can be somewhat watched for. Of course, you deny yourself some great talent that way but as with managing a hedge fund, you want to limit downside rather than maximize upside. Nationalism and dynastic politics are a form of defense against foreign enemies.

Hence Philby. He was trusted by design, not because MI6 were "bloody incestuous fools" or whatever, and no amount of surveillance would have changed that.



[3] Kalugin recalls in that he was somewhat worried about Philby's living conditions in the Soviet Union (unheated flat, alcoholism, etc.). It's been a while since I read the book but I recall he or someone else decided to push for him to have a good quality of life as an advertisement to other potential defectors; only then was Philby put up in proper accommodation and welcomed by the Soviet system.

crdb · 2016-01-20 · Original thread
The modern way to get untraceable money (according to [1]) is to set up (legitimate) small companies, then wildly overcharge the government for services.

Looks like your standard government incompetence and passing cash to well connected friends, and doesn't show up in any sort of government black budgets accounting.

The author estimates that one Western intelligence agency has over 2,000 such companies.

Fun fact: should one of these companies actually end up profitable in the course of its legitimate activities, it then gets overcharged by the unprofitable ones.


crdb · 2015-12-20 · Original thread
I think there are a large number of people who have read both books and who keep quiet about it especially in more left-leaning company, due to the rapid reflex-like negative emotional reactions generated by Ayn Rand. This both for self-preservation and out of considerateness (one does not want to make one's friends unhappy), although it is a shame because it precludes any interesting discussion as might be had, for example, over Marx's or Piketty's output.

The Fountainhead's strength is the promotion of professional ("artistic") integrity and a warning about the lack of long term happiness one might find in "selling out" for short term advantages (such as social status) versus building long-lasting work. It's also one of the few works to make the case for very strong IP rights. Despite Ayn Rand's association with the modern right wing globally, I know many left-leaning professional artists who loved the work, it is less political than philosophical.

Atlas Shrugged is about individual rights, and should be read from the point of view of the time it was written, when millions of Soviets were stuck behind the Iron Curtain and told what to do with their lives. Ayn Rand herself left the Soviet Union and much of her output ("Anthem" is the most obvious) is coloured by the stark contrast between the misery of living there versus the prosperity of her new home - less so the physical aspects, more so the psychological.

The key idea of the work - the one that somehow, is rarely talked about - is the idea that the individual is more important than the state in which they are a citizen, that "raison d'Etat", the sacrifice of a few innocents for the "many", is not morally valid philosophically and ends in disaster for the "many" in practice. And it is a shame the work is so shunned in today's American political discussions (beyond being used by a few Tea Party politicians to promote small government) as it is very much relevant to many modern discussions such as, for example, the NSA scandals, drone use or the existence of the Guantanamo prison.

Regarding the title itself and a popular criticism of the work, there are many countries today where it is still the case that people with potential are unable to make any progress and should absolutely emigrate (e.g. [1]). I recommend following Atlas Shrugged by Vito Tanzi's excellent chronicle of the collapse of Argentina since the Peronists [2], it's short and an almost direct real world parallel.

Something I always wondered about is why Atlas Shrugged was only very recently translated into French. I read another book [3] by an anonymous but clearly French intelligence services officer who claims it was done deliberately as the work (much like Frederick the Great's Political Testament) is considered politically destabilising by the French authorities, who put pressure on editors accordingly. I suspect a more realistic explanation might be that the political environment in France is such that there would be little demand for the work, which would be derided as "typically American" even by the "liberals"; this makes me a little sad.

Ayn Rand's output has a subset of "interesting" fans, as with many other famous works (I'm sure someone, somewhere has made a wooden wand with a horsehair in it and shouts "Accio!" at their kettle or something). No work is perfect but there is much to be learnt from books that became famous and influential. For better or worse, Ayn Rand is the modern, famous writer who most extensively wrote about "extreme" individual rights enforced by the state, as well as advocating well for passion in one's work and pride in one's competence, and as such is worth reading.




crdb · 2015-11-24 · Original thread
Additional slightly paranoid alternatives:

- $1 IT contracts get in the way of crony overcharging, said cronies then provide campaign financing to the right people (never forget Accuweather paying Rick Santorum $50,000 to lobby to stop making National Weather Service data public);

- overcharging is how some intelligence services finance black ops (the modern Air America might be a press or marketing company) as France is alleged to be doing already (e.g. [1] for the full description)

In both cases, there would be powerful incentives to shut down "more efficient government IT" projects.


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