The underside of digital technology on full, frightening display.

SURVEILLANCE STATE

INSIDE CHINA'S QUEST TO LAUNCH A NEW ERA OF SOCIAL CONTROL

A study of the Chinese government’s sweeping surveillance program.

Chin and Lin, veteran reporters on China for the Wall Street Journal and other outlets, have spent enough time in the country to effectively trace the development of an extraordinary surveillance system, a defining feature of the Xi Jinping era. It began in Xinjiang province, supposedly to keep track of Uyghur dissidents, but the Communist Party leaders quickly saw the broader potential. Featuring a nationwide network of cameras feeding into a massive database, the program connects with online shopping giants such as Alibaba and Tencent, and it also extends to internet usage and mobile phones. Using this data, Chinese authorities established an algorithm-based “social credit system,” under which “responsible” people could be rewarded while others could be monitored and, if necessary, punished. “By solving social problems before they occur and quashing dissent before it spills out into the streets,” write the authors, [the Party] believes it can strangle opposition in the crib.” Another crucial piece is facial recognition software, and the government is reportedly working on “emotion recognition” software, aiming to pick up individuals who have not done anything wrong but might think about it in the future. “China’s leaders,” write the authors, “wanted to redefine government using the same tools that Google, Facebook and Amazon had used to remake capitalism….They could engineer away dissent. China would have optimization.” Party officials understand that most citizens will trade privacy for order. Worryingly, the system is now being exported around the world, with aspects of it appearing in India, Uganda, and Singapore. Occasionally, the authors wander away from their main theme, but they paint a grim, disturbing portrait that deserves close scrutiny, especially as the technology becomes more precise and easier to deploy. While tech giants in the U.S. “exploit this technology for profit…the Communist Party has adopted it as a means to maintain power.”

The underside of digital technology on full, frightening display.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-24929-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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