Monthly Archives: June 2015

Book Review — Monster and Other Stories

The Monster and Other Stories by Stephen Crane

Monster and Other Stories by Stephen Crane and Published By Dover Thrift Editions is a collection of three short stories by Stephen Crane. This collection includes “Monster”, “The Blue Hotel”, and “His New Mittens.”

I admit, I never read Red Badge of Courage even though I should have at least twice through first twelve years of schooling. The book never came up in my college studies and graduate school as required reading, but I was interested in it although I had too much required reading to get through first. After reading Monster, I have even more reason to read Red Badge of Courage. Crane was an excellent writer.

These three stories focus on human actions and reactions. “Monster” is particularly interesting as it deals with a black man, Hank, who saves his employer’s son from a fire, but in the process becomes horribly disfigured. The employer, a doctor, does what he can for Hank, and supports him. The reactions of the town people play a central role in the story and how they deal with a physically and mentally disfigured man in their town. It makes the reader think also about race and if that made any difference in the story. “The Blue Hotel” is another story that reads like good fiction, but it has an underlying plot of how random actions lead to a certain outcome. “His New Mittens” appears to be a child’s story filled with the emotions and logic of a child. From peer pressure to embarrassment and from resentment to belonging. A very well told story with much more to it than the title and opening seem to portray.

This collection gives the reader three great stories they probably never read or for that matter heard of. To most people, Crane would seem to be the “one hit wonder” writer ofRed Badge of Courage. This collection shows that there is much more depth to the writer than just a war story writer. Very much worth the read.

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Book Review — Guerrilla Warfare

He is ready to give his life, but the positive quality of this guerrilla warfare is precisely that each one of the guerrilla fighters is ready to die, not to defend an ideal, but rather the convert it to reality.

Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara is the book of standards and tactics for guerrilla warfare for the 1960s. Guevara needs no introduction. He is either loved or hated with very few people not taking sides.

Although dated in terms of weapons and the lay of the land after fifty years, the book still holds value. Technology has certainly changed. The Chiapas rebels made history by using the internet to promote their cause. Live Twitter feeds now give worldwide coverage to rebellions and protests. Much has changed since Guevara’s days of messengers and carrier pigeons. What makes this book interesting is what makes the guerrilla. When I joined the Marines in the early 1980s, I remember reading through the pre-boot camp material while on the delayed entry program. It explained what it is to be a Marine. How I would be trained to be a cut above the military servicemen around the world. We trained and acted on a higher standard. There was a build up to being a Marine. The idea was to psych you up for the challenge.

Guevara seems to follow the same path. Guerrilla fighters were morally superior to the oppressors. They were to treat the local population with respect and prove to the population that they were the good guys. When engaging the enemy, prisoners were not to be taken. There were to be lectured on the error of their ways and released. Injured enemies were to be given medical treatment. Again, the move was made to appear to be the bigger person, but it was also a very practical move. Guerrillas were in no position to create and run prisoner camps. Guerrilla warfare’s intent was to wear down the opponents to a tipping point to where the population would feel motivated to join en mass. A captured and released soldier might be less willing to put his life on the line for a second time.

This book still contains practical information. Engage the enemy only when you know you will win. Always make sure that when you engage the enemy, that you will capture enough ammunition to replace what was expended. Keep civilian casualties at a minimum; these are your allies and when acts of sabotage are needed, carry them out where they hurt the enemy and not the local population. Do not blow up a soft drink factory; it serves no military purpose concentrate on what feeds you enemy: Power plants, ammunition factories, and places that produce war material.

Guerrilla Warfare is an idealist type of book. It instructs on what makes a guerrilla a hero and leaves out what happens when things go wrong. It is written to make fighting an oppressor morally right and a noble cause. Guevara insists that outside government forces and influence should be kept out of the struggle. Why change from one master for another? In keeping with that theme, he does not mention communism or socialism. Interesting too, Yankee and Soviets are only mentioned twice. America, when used, refers to the hemisphere and not the US. A dated read in technology, but the marketing it still rings true. Selling an idea is not much different from selling a product. Perhaps Che was a bit more of a capitalist than he thought.

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Thoughts on — Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon

Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter

Another audiobook from my walks.

Cyber warfare. It sounds like a movie plot or a good science fiction book. But it is real, very real as it turns out. Computer hacking has matured from hackers turning on sprinklers inside schools after falling for the “Did you see the swimming pool on the roof?” prank. Hacking has moved from pranks, to stealing identities and funds, to now destroying the infrastructures of nations. Once again, it is America that launched a weapon capable of mass destruction first with Stuxnet.

The story starts with a small group at Symantec who run across an inquiry about a laptop that kept shutting down and rebooting in an endless cycle. They got a copy of the file causing the problems and began investigating. The virus, however, had limited circulation and fell from the interest of the computer security world. The small group at Symantec continued to work and on the virus thinking it was something more than it appeared and as it turned out, it was huge. Here was a virus more complex than expected and it had a very narrow mission. It worked quietly and slowly inflicting its damage on the Iranian nuclear program while limiting nearly all collateral damage.

This is a cyber attack that seemed to walk out of an X-Files episode. While investigating the virus no one interfered with the group. When approaching US government agencies, they all seemed interested but denied knowledge in a convincing way. This appeared to be the first digital attack directed at a nation and it came with a great deal of stealth and surprise. In fact, the target didn’t even realize it was being attacked.

Much of the United States infrastructure, like the power industry, is controlled by computers with an internet connection and probably a Windows operating system which means it can be hacked, or corrupted with a USB flash drive. The attack’s origin can hidden or made to appear to come from elsewhere. For example, the recent attack on Sony has been blamed on North Korea. Although North Korea was happy to take credit for the attack, security experts doubt it came from North Korea and the FBI evidence is far from convincing.

I will admit that I never heard of Stuxnet before listening to this book. Perhaps that is part of my surprise and interest in the book. I guess too, I really should not be surprised that governments, my own included, are involved in, buying zero-day exploits. I also think I would be happier if more was done in closing security holes rather than using them as weapons. Here firewalls and virus protection do not work because they search for known issues and behaviors, not new ones. As we become more dependent on computers for just about every aspect of our lives, the more they become a target from not only hostile nations, but hostile groups. A terrorist group may not have the technology or materials to build a nuclear weapon, but building a digital weapon is another matter and can be equally as destructive. A digital weapon can be completely anonymous or blame can easily and convincingly pointed elsewhere.

The true story told in the book is great. The information provided is enlightening and shows what governments are doing. If it wasn’t for a couple of guys with suspicion, Stuxnet probably could have run undetected a great deal longer. The genie is out of the bottle and now we wait and see if it’s an Ifrit.

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Book Review — Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary

Once again I’ve had one of those adventures that are only possible when you make your dreams come true.
~ Alberto Granado

Traveling With Che Guevara by Alberto Granado
Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado is the diary that The Motorcycle Diaries was based. Granado (August 8, 1922 – March 5, 2011) was an Argentine–Cuban biochemist, doctor, writer, and scientist. He was also the youthful friend and traveling companion of revolutionary Che Guevara during their 1952 trip around Latin America, and later founded the Santiago School of Medicine in Cuba.

Traveling cross-continent was a challenge in the early 1950s, especially on a British motorcycle. Granted their Norton was more dependable than the Triumphs I rode years later, but that really isn’t saying too much. Granado documents his trip with Che Guevara from Argentina, Chile, skirting Bolivia, into Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Of course, the diary is full of the problems encountered, good times, bad times, and the people they met. There are contrasts between the new industrial areas and the beauty of the natural land.

One thing that jumps out at the reader is the undertone of the book is the class system and exploitation. They visit a huge mine in Chile where the workers are poor, but the foreigners operating the mine make a fortune. There is a division between the landed and the workers. At tea harvest time, land owners put out hiring notices and people flooded in for the work. With the glut of labor, landowners auctioned off jobs to those willing to take the lowest wages. It is this treatment of the people that turned Che against the foreign capitalist and rich landowners. This became Che’s calling in life.

…the best and most generous of Chile is in its ordinary people, that we hadn’t been wrong in choosing the poor over the rich and the revolutionary over the reactionary.

This was a life changing trip for Che. Without it he may have become just another drone in the society that that was growing apart. Che is condemned by the West as would be expected by someone who openly opposed their system. He remains a hero to the poor and underclass in Latin America. Differing and passionate accounts from both camps keep Che’s life in controversy. No matter which side the reader occupies, the story is well worth reading. The accounts of the trip are entertaining and informative. This diary was originally printed in Spanish in 1978. It wasn’t until the Cold War and the threat of communism were long over before it was published in English in 2003. With the normalizing of relations with Cuba, it will be interesting to see if many more Spanish language books on the struggle in Latin America will make it into English.

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