Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Transforming Nokia ties together three business stories I’ve been reading about for years: the history of Bell Labs, the history of cell phones, and the history of Microsoft. The perspective is biased — told from the perspective of the last Chairman of Nokia’s cellular era and first Chairman of Nokia’s networking era — but informative. The book’s only weakness is it feels like a rough draft of a business self-help book glued onto a corporate history — I would take less self-help, and more corporate history.

The last ten years of the cell phone business has seen the death of companies like Blackberry and Palm, while Apple and Google formed a duopoloy.

Two other players in this market where Nokia, with the Symbian Operation System, and Microsoft with Windows Phone. The middle episodes of Transforming Nokia place place during events which made it clear that Symbian was now obsolete, but where it was unclear if Windows Phone provided a meaningful way forward. Windows Phone had less technical debt, better design, better monetization options for the company, and better tooling for engineers.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to combine Symbian’s marketshare with Windows Phone’s modern platform. There was no ability for apps written on one platform to run on another, and seemingly no discussion about this either. Windows Phone entered the market with no apps that could run on it, leaving it a worse library than any operating system. And new apps were written for the new market leaders, Apple iOS and Google Android, which already had share. To have bet the company on two different operation systems, both of which had complementary advantages and neither of which were able to survive on their own, must have been incredibly frustrating.

And not just frustrating — a major failure for another company too. Microsoft’s failure with Windows Phone lead to the firing of CEO Steve Ballmer and new CEO Satya Nadella’a major strategy shifts. Microsoft’s investments in Nokia were scrapped, and even Microsoft’s internal hardware development focused on a sister project, Windows RT, was fundamentally impacted by Nokia and Microsoft’s total defeat in the hardware market.

Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO during its attempted transition, temporarily ran the Microsoft Mobile division it bought from Nokia until Satya gave up on that effort. A lot of the book is given to the perspective of Risto Siilasmaa, who regularly criticizes the actions of the prior chairman while defending Elop, who had been hired by the prior Chairman. It seems that Riisto sees his role as primarily that of chief investor — a position typically taken by the CEO in the U.S. — and not of executive leader — also a role for the CEO in the U.S. While Risto ultimately abandoned the phone as a business, he seems to believe that Elop ran the phone business as successfully as possible given the circumstances.

Ultimately, Nokia sold the phone business to Microsoft, and used that successful sell to buy one and a half real businesses: the half of Nokia Siemens Networks the company did not earn, plus Alcatel-Lucent — Lucent itself being a rebrand of Bell Labs. The history of (Nokia) Bell Labs is tragic. The invention of the semicoonductor made computer miniaturization possible. Terrible leadership clapped itself on the back for changes that lead to the death of its ability to function as a first-class company or laboratory. Four years ago I read the most recent book about the firm, which was “high detailed, impressionist, echoing with nostalgia,” and impossibly beautiful.

Bell Labs – in the form of Alcatel-Lucent — enters Transforming Nokia near the end. Nokia is seeking safety in the telecommunications business, and Alcatel-Lucent is a similarly sized company with similar problems but complementary product lines. What feels like it should have been the most dramatic part of the story — a potential merger-of-equals under French control becoming a takeover of Alcatel-Lucent by Nokia — is oddly downplayed. Perhaps because those events are the most relevant inside the company, Siilasmaa is careful to avoid providing signals as to the company’s future intentions.

I enjoyed the history a lot, and the Siilasmaa’s in general seemed more forthright about Nokia than Satya did about Microsoft. The tone feels closer to very self-critical works, such as We Were Yahoo or Robert X. Cringley’s takedown of the modern IBM. My gripe is that the author uses a lot of buzzwords – phrases like “The Paranoid Optimist” and other jargon is used a lot, and I’m not sure if this is how the author thinks or if he’s planning a consulting career after Nokia. Or just really likes some phrases.

On a personal note I enjoyed hearing about the post-Nokia history of their phone business, called “Devices and Services” in the book. I knew Nokia D&S became Microsoft Mobile, I did not know these assets then formed the core of HMD, the company that made my (current) Nokia phone.

I read Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 9: Repentance

The first chapter of the Qur’an was a prayer. The next seven chapters explored a churchless Arian Christianity. The writer of the Qur’an struggled with the loss of the sacraments, a church he felt to be fundamentally corrupt and hostile, all while showing his devotion of Mary, and belief in heaven, hell, and purgatory.

But now something breaks. Every chapter so far has begun with “In the Name of God.” Not this one.

A repudiation by God and His Apostle to the polytheists with whom you made a treaty:

Travel in the land for four months, but know that you cannot frustrated God, and that God will disgrace the faithless.
Qur’an 9:1-2

Like the author of Ezekiel the Qur’anic author is using the alienation effect to force the reader to stop think. You are reading a book. You are reading a teaching written by a teacher.

Remember this. Think about what polytheism, worship of many Gods, means. Recognize those false gods who are not the One. Follow the One, not the other gods. Worship the One Alone. And have hope, for the One demonstrates His greatness through your weakness, and not only your strength.

Kill and Protect the Worshipers of Other Gods

The Qur’an appears contradicts itself. This chapter does so immediately, and obviously. Believers are told to kill “polytheists” in one verse:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, maintain the prayer, and give the zakat, then let them alone. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 9:5

And be merciful in the next:

If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from you, grant him asylum until he hears the Word of God. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.
Qur’an 9:6

We can resolve this contradiction by treating the Qur’an as Wisdom writing. In this genre, the pattern of instructions reveals a broader theme.

Consider where Christ both demands constant forgiveness, and warns of a lack of forgiveness:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Matthew 18:21-35

The Qur’anic author references this contradiction, and the seventy granted repentances, and the lack of any:

Whether you plead forgiveness for them or do not plead forgiveness for them, even if you plead forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them because they defied God and His Apostle, and God does not guide the transgressing lot.
Qur’an 9:80

The point of course is not to literally count the number of times we forgive. The point is not that God can’t forgive, or that God is not all-forgiving, all merciful.

The point is that forgiveness is divine. And that a lack of forgiveness separates one from the Divine.

Likewise, the Qur’an’s rival teaching of polytheists — they must be killed but granted asylum — likewise has a clear meaning: Do not worship other gods, worship the forgiving God..

Yet Arabia was largely Christian and Jewish during the writing of the Qur’an. So who were the “Other Gods” a poly-theist would have worshiped?

One Teacher, One God

Christ’s rhetorical attacks were often aimed at the “scribes and pharisees.” The target were folks who explicitly believed in God, and backed that with action, but with a priority greater than god. The Qur’anic author adapts and updates this attack, against “scribes and monks” in an attack against believers who loved gold more than God:

O you who have faith! Indeed, many of the scribes and monks wrongfully eat up the people’s wealth, and bar from the way of God. Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not spend it in the way of God, inform them of a painful punishment on the way when these shall be heated in hellfire and therewith branded on their foreheads, their sides and their backs: ‘This is what you treasured up for yourselves! So taste what you have treasured!
Qur’an 9:34-35

Here the author is rephrasing the apostle James, who said the same:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
James 5:1-3

James and the Qur’anic author are emphasizing the same phenomenon — corrupted faithful who mislead others. False teachers. When only the One is a Teacher, and other “teachers” place heavy burdens on people by barring them from the way of God:

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
Matthew 23:1-9

The One Teacher does not mean that no one can physically provide information to another. But the source of any Teaching is the one Teacher: God. The Lectionary or qur’an — which seems to be the Qur’anic author’s way of referring to his work — the Torah of the Jews and the Gospel of Christ are all seen as teachings from God, but not a substitute for God.

Indeed, God has bought from the faithful their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs: they fight in the way of God, kill, and are killed. A promise binding upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Lectionary. And who is truer to his promise than God? So rejoice in the brain who have made with him, and that is the great success.
Qur’an 9:111

The Qur’anic author seems to be aware he’s at risk of pride here, putting his composition at the same as the Law and the Gospel. But from his perspective, both are re-establishments of a forgotten law:

The Gemara notes: And Reish Lakish follows his line of reasoning stated elsewhere, as Reish Lakish said: I am the atonement for Rabbi ?iyya and his sons, as initially, when some of the Torah laws were forgotten from the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, Ezra ascended from Babylonia and reestablished the forgotten laws. Parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, and Hillel the Babylonian ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. When parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi ?iyya and his sons ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. This expression of deference toward Rabbi ?iyya introduces the halakha that Reish Lakish is citing in his name. And so said Rabbi ?iyya and his sons: Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis did not disagree concerning the soft mats of Usha
Sukkah 20a

The theme of forgetting, and replacing what should be remembered with Teachers, is also in the Gospels:

Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
Matthew 16:1-5

The Qur’anic author’s comparison of his Lectionary to the Torah and the Gospel seems not intended to place it as a divine object, but to emphasize the created nature of all earthly texts, and all earthly teachers. One may be a saint, or in biblical terminology a Son of God, without being the One:

The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of God,‘ and the Christians say, ‘Christ is the son of God.’ That is an opinion that they mouth, imitating the opinions of the faithless of former times. May God assail them, where do they stray?!
Qur’an 9:30

The Qur’anic author is using Biblical rhetoric, problematizing the Hebrew Bible’s description of an inner class of angel-like beings called the Sons of God. The Apostle, Paul, made the same point, twice emphasizing the equivalence of all believers with the Sons of God:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. or the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
Romans 8:14-19

The implication is here, for the Qur’anic author himself, and every subsequent transmitter of wisdom. The right action is grief for the distress of sinners, concern for sinners, and mercy to sinners.

There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you and is most kind and merciful to the faithful.
Qur’an 9:128

But when he is rejected, that’s ok. Because while we are commanded to be righteous to each other, the true object of our love is the One

But if they turn their backs, say, ‘God is sufficient for me. There is no god except Him. In Him alone I have put my trust and he is the Lord of the Great Throne.
Qur’an 9:129

One Father, One God

Yet faith in God, to the Qur’anic teacher, means splitting from these teachers, and keeping one’s eyes on God as the Teacher. These aren’t the only Case where faith forces painful splits:

Works are to be split from Faith, in opposition to to the view of religion as managing a powerful relationship. Maintaining a house of prayer, like serving as a teacher, is no substitute for God:

Do you regard the providing of water to hajj pilgrims and the maintenance of the Holy House of Prayer as similar to someone who has faith in God and the Last Day and wages jihad in the way of God? They are not equal with God, and God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
Qur’an 9:17

Likewise, as the earthly teacher is nothing compared to God as teacher, the earthly family is nothing compared to God:

O you have who have faith! Do not befriend your fathers and brothers if they prefer unfaith to faith. Those of you who befriend them — it is they who are the wrongdoers.
Qur’an 9:23

Christ, of course, made the same point:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Matthew 10:34-39

The Qur’anic author also uses the Lord’s prayer as an example of how even prayer needs to be separated from faith:

Among them are some who say, ‘Give me leave, and do not put me to temptation.’ Behold, they have already fallen into temptation and indeed hell besieges the faithless.
Qur’an 9:49

The choice is meaningful. For Just as Christ separated son from father, but united him with the One Father, the Qur’anic author tries to separate student from teacher, but unite every godwary student with the One Teacher.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven Hallowed by Your Name…

Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Matthew 6:7-9,11-13

One Foundation, One God

Jews and Catholics are blamed for their respect for their religious authorities:

They have taken their scribes and their monks as lords besides God and Christ, Mary’s son; though they were commanded to worship only the One God, there is no god except Him; he is far too immaculate to have any partners as they ascribe!
Qur’an 9:31

These merely human teachers give a foundation only as strong as sand. A house built on these teachers, on the worship of these other gods, will fall into chaos:

Is he who founds his building on Godwarines and pleasure better-off or someone who founds his building on the brink of a collapsing bank which collapses with him into the fire of hell? God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
Qur’an 9:109

The Qur’anic author here is restating Christ:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Matthew 7:24-27

There’s one solid foundation, for basing one’s faith, whether in reception or in promulgation: God.

“Hear, O Israel: he Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

We cannot see God on earth, but we can see His Image: Christ. This means that the visible foundation is Christ alone, while the foundation as such is God alone:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him….

But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:1-3,7-8

But note how these ends. The words that are taught are actually commands from God. The “teaching” is not from the man who teaches it — it’s a commandment from the Lord:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And it is God’s role, and not man’s, to share these facts. Consider how the first Pope was himself silenced by God:

While [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” …

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:5,7

One Friend, One God

The Qur’anic author emphasizes the unique and direct relationship between the believer and God. So while there are apostles, helpers, and fighters, these are all fighters for God, those who “Help” through submission, and so on.

Certainly God has turned clemently to the Prophet and the Emigrants and the Helpers, who followed him in the hour of difficulty, after the hearts of a part of them were about to swerve. Then he turned clemently to them — indeed he is most kind and merciful to them.
Qur’an 9:117

Even the Kingdom of Heaven’s only Helper is God Himself, and not its subjects:

Indeed, to God belongs the Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth. He gives life and brings death. And besides God you do not have any friend or helper.
Qur’an 9:116

The same wisdom in contradiction. We may help each other. But the only real Helper is God. This does not mean individual creatures can’t work together. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was made possibly with the Commander of the Lord’s Army, for example. But the Work that mattered was God’s will, not a creature’s response to it.

Then God sent down His Presence upon His Apostle and upon the faithful, and He sent down hosts you did not see, and He punished the faithless, and that is the requital of the faithless.
Qur’an 9:26

We now see who the polytheists are — hypocrites: those who have the Heavenly Tablets as conscious knowledge but not in their hearts:

Fight those from among those who were given the Book who do not have faith in God nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Apostles have forbidden, nor practice the true religion, until they pay the tribute out of hand, degraded.
Qur’an 9:29

They are the enemy:

“O you who have faith! Fight the faithless who are in your vicinity, and let them find severity in you, and know that God is with the Godwary.
Qur’an 9:123

One Comfort, One God

How can we bare this message?

From a Catholic perspective, the answer may be: we can’t. The Qur’anic author’s vision is of a fundamentally atomized creation, with every created thing utterly dependent and contextualized by God alone. This is largely compatible with Calvinism as described by Dumbrell and van’t Veer, but contradicts the Catholic vision of creation as an inter-connected body in which all members co-participate in the work of salvation in this world.

But the Qur’anic author would respond that he re-presents a hope that can overcome any sin. Christ tells us not to put a light under a wicker basket:

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”
Luke 11:33-36

But even a light we desire to extinguish would be magnified if God wishes:

They desire to put out the light of God with their mouths, but God is intent on perfecting His light though the faithless should be averse.
Qur’an 9:32

The believer is promised a paradise even better than Eden:

God has promised the faithful, men and women, gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them, and good dwellings in the Gardens of Eden. Yet God’s pleasure is greater; that is the great success.
Qur’an 9:72

And even that famously backward people, the Arabs:

The Arabs are more obdurate in unfaith and hypocrisy, and more apt to be ignorant of the precepts that God has sent down to His Apostle, and God is all-knowing, all-wise…
Qur’an 9:97

Can be adopted into the love of God:

Yet among the Arabs are those who believe in God and the Last Day, and regard what they spend as nearness to God and the blessings of the Apostle. Now it shall indeed bring them nearness, and god will admit them into His mercy. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 9:99

Conclusion

Kill the worshiper of other gods. Forgive the worshiper of other gods. If you believe that I am your teacher, you are the worshiper of other gods.

The Ninth Chapter, Repentance, is unlike any other. It starts in a shocking manner that makes one question the teacher. The lesson is going to be on poly-theism, the worship of other Gods in addition to God. Faith, according to the Qur’anic author, requires splitting all false foundations away from God and the believer. Only the One is a Teacher, as Christ said. God transcends the limitations of all limited teachers, and promises a reward greater than paradise to those who repent of other teachers.

In this chapter the reader is immediately taken out of just reading into realizing he is worshiping the writer as a God. This is an unforgivable sin. But the words that are missing from the very beginning of the Book are the most important words of all

In the Name of God, the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful

Impressions of “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base,” by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51 is the best institutional history I have ever read.

Annie Jacobsen tells the story of the work done in and around Area 51, a section of the Nevada Test Site used for work the government needs to keep secret. Projects such as AQUATONE, CROSSROADS, GRUDGE, HARRASS, OXCART, and PAPERCLIP come to life through interviews with security guards and generals, de-classified documents and the findings of Presidential inquiries. Jacobson’s work is all the more impressive because of overlapping work by three government agencies that are sometimes rivals — the Air Force, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Central Intelligence Agencies — and their corporate suppliers, such as EG&G, Lockheed, and Raytheon. Two separate systems of classification are discussed, including one in which the President does not have a “need to know.” Annie frames the work by two events she believes are closely related — the War of the Worlds broadcast and the Roswell crash.

Jacobsen focuses on four great efforts by the United States — recruiting German scientists after the War, testing atomic bombs, building spy aircraft, and reverse engineering “alien” technology. The “alien” technology was primarily Russian, such as with captured MiG fighters as well as Soviet radar installations. Spy planes that traveled high and fast, and were distinctive, included the the A-12 spyplane, an early version of the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 spyplane, as well as (since the 1960s) drones. German scientists were recruited primarily for help with the rocketry program, though this program was not flawless. The United States repeatedly and accidentally bombed Mexico with V-2 rockets, and the recruiters did not understand the importance of the Horton flying wing soon enough

The number of people who kept the secrets of Area 51 is astonishing. The figure has to be in the tens of thousands. Jacobson outlines a few reasons. The most obvious is the classification system. The use of disinformation to hide real facts within ridiculous ones is also used. Lastly, there is guilt and self-incrimination.

I was fascinated by the overlapping methods of classification Annie Jacobson described. One is to shuffle a project between agencies or contractors, often under new names. It becomes hard to track a project over time, or request information about a project, if one does not know organizational where it exists or what it is called. Another is to use the two separate systems of classification in the United States. Some forms of Classification require only Presidential action to unclassify. Others exceed the President’s “need to know”. Thus, sensitive or potential controversial work — such as nuclear tests or exposure of retarded children to radiation — can be kept secret.

Another is what I called the “veil of laughter” a decade ago. To use one example, the U.S. Army Air Force hid its jet program by having pilots wear gorilla masks, so that any pilot close enough to confirm a lack of a propeller would have to confirm a gorilla flying a plane. To use another, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations “leaked” information about aliens to hide the actual Air Force drone program. The only individual to actively leak about Area 51, Bob Lazar, appears to have been a victim of this disinformation.

There also was self interest. Some things could not be disclosed without incrimination the people who would leak them. For instance, “safety tests” that exposed civilians to nuclear radiation or missile attacks on other countries. Likewise, the competitive nature of the US military-industrial complex meant that a disclosure of information could help a rival agency. The only known breach of Area 51 during the period of the book was when a worker at a rival defense contractor “accidentally” landed at the Watertown airstrip, for example.

Jacobsen begins the book by teasing a theory of the Roswell crash, and provides it explicitly near the end. She has stated it was provided to her by one or two sources who had a means to know, but it’s striking that nearly every element of it had been documented elsewhere in the book, at least in isolation. Briefly, Jacobsen believes that Soviet-aligned ex-Nazi scientists had taken Jewish children, deformed them, and had them occupy disk-shape “hover and fly” craft launched from a semi-stealth captured long range German bomber that flew from over Alaska. Roswell was chosen as it was a major location in CROSSROADS, the Hydrogen bomb project that Truman attempted to hide from Stalin. In my Roswell theory I speculated we had not disclosed the truth (which I took to be a crash of a German glider piloted by quasi-defected Japanese pilots) because failure to return or disclose Prisoners of War would be a war crime. Jacobsen’s explanation is darker — other ex-German scientists had conducted similar experiments on children for the U.S. government.

Area 51 is the best history of a government program I ever read. It is more balanced than other histories I’ve read of post-WW2 institutions, whether the American university system or the foreign policy elite. If there is a weakness, I wish that Jacobsen’s work on the Roswell crash had been as exhaustively researched as the other programs she discussed.

I read Area 51 in the Audible Edition. An excellent, and recent, long-form interview of Jacobsen by Joe Rogan is available online.

Impressions of “Alpha and Omega,” by Harry Turtledove

Recently I finished Alpha and Omega, Harry Turtledove’s book of the end of the world. I have a soft spot in my heart for Turtledove’s earlier book, Guns of the South. Turtledove’s book is not a lesson in theology, but could be thought of as a secular Lord of the World: a blow-by-blow account of the Eschaton from the perspective of several secular characters, as well as a few religious point of view characters.

But first: a few words about Guns of the South. Guns is an alternate history where time-travelers present General Robert E. Lee with a large truck full of AK-47s, associated parts, and ammunition. The rest of the book is told primarily from the perspective of Union and Confederate war-fighters. I loved Guns of the South because of the relentlessness with which it takes the logic of its initial premise. Second- and third- order effects, such as the Union’s industrial base better ability to replicate parts, are taken seriously. The conclusion is a brilliant combination of historical contingency and historical determinism.

Alpha and Omega is not as good. The book’s blending of apocalypses is original.  Yet Turtledove is clearly better at materialistic history rather than comparative theology. Turtledove does not have more than a surface-level understanding of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, as in the scene where a televangelist gives prayers for the dead:

Lester Stark prayed for the victim’s soul and drove on.
p. 46

There are other cases where the Jewish and Islamic distinctions are likewise muddled. Yet there are still some good lines and set-pieces which cleverly play on expectations, such as the origin of the “Messiah”

Chaim knew exactly what he wanted: “Take me instead!”

“What?” The rabbi’s eyebrows came down and together in a scowl that should have petrified Chaim.
p.g 393

The context being a very odd take on Paul:

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

and the loneliness of the Messiah:

Before this started, Eric hadn’t worried about the Messiah. He’d never imagined Him as the loneliest guy in town. Judging by Chaim Avigad, that came with the package.
pg. 446

being an unstated commentary on Matthew:

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-46

I wanted more of the historical strengths of Turtledove’s earlier works. When Turtledove writes about history he’s on solid ground, and the result is great:

“Then this is yet the Kingdom of Judah?” he asked.
“This is Israel,” Chaim answered.
“The northern kingdom, the false line, have conquered the true, holy realm?” The ancient Jew sounded horrified.
pg. 432

Plus some of Turtledove’s references to recent history were fascinating:

The 1948 War of Independence saw bizarre things, like Israeli Air Force pilots flying Messerschmidt 109s (Czech-built postwar versions) against Egyptian B-17s and their Spitfire escorts.
pg. 444

Sadly, there’s nothing like Lee’s dialogue in Guns of the South where he discusses the future South Africa’s political situation with time traveling Afrikaners. I enjoyed Alpha and Omega, but it was neither as good as the comedic Tom Stranger series, nor as thought-provoking as Ball Lightning, other fiction books I’ve read recently. If there are sequels to this book, I may not read them.

I read Alpha and Omega in the Kindle edition.

Impressions of “Paul: A Biography,” by N.T. Wright

Recently I read Paul, N.T. Wright’s biography of The Apostle. Paul fits within other books I have read that emphasize the Kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Wright emphasizes faithfulness to this King, and the freedom that following the King gives to His subjects. Along the way N.T. Wright reconstructs Paul’s journeys, creating a chronology that is both traditional and revisionist.

Heaven and Earth

The oldest Christian creed we have is the Apostle’s Creed. Paul’s missionary journeys took place about halfway between the first of Christ and the writing of the Creed, in A.D. 120. It concludes:

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting
.
Amen.
The Apostles Creed

Christians look forward to a resurrected body and everlasting life. Heaven is not promised as a place of living. Though having one’s own body, a physical existence, is promised.

This brings up a distinction between C.S. Lewis, who Wright reminds me of, and Wright himself. Both were Anglican, both had a knack for talking to a Catholic and Reformed audience simultaneously, and both have a delightful British writing style. But there’s a striking difference. Lewis focuses on Christianity as a philosophy, or even cosmic worldview.

The Weight of Glory focuses on dimensional projection, and The Great Divorce on an image of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Yet if there’s a central difference between Wright and Lewis, it’s that Wright emphasizes Christ’s mission in this world, and not a platonic understanding of the next world. Our home is earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here in part, and the promise of the future is the resurrection of the dead on a new earth, and not eternal souls living in Heaven. I suspect Wright would state that Lewis’s Christianity was less bodily and more abstract than anything written in the Bible, and that such Platonism was not a legitimate development of doctrine, but a forgetting of the good news of the Bible: the Heavenly Kingship of Jesus Christ. To give a brief illustration, the first mention of “Heaven” in each of the gospels is either announcing Heaven breaking into earth, or Heaven as the location that God lives:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2:13-15

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 1:32-33

Heaven is not promised as a location for us to live in either the Creed or the gospel text. But the invasion of Heaven into this world, a royal brigandry against the forces of darkness, is:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matthew 12:25-30

By Faithfulness to the King You Are Saved

The Bible was written for us but not to us — it was written to the Jews and later Romans of the near east thousands of years ago. Understanding its message for us requires understanding how it’s message would have been understood by the people to whom it was written.

This is the approach taken by thinkers like Michael Heiser (Reformed), Taylor Marshall (Catholic), and N.T. Wright himself (Anglican). All argue that it is clear that Christ established a Kingdom during his earthly ministry, and his teachings (and those of other early Christians) should be read in that context. What Christ brought was not a philosophy called Christianity, but a Kingdom that reorganized the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Kingdom of God. In this way Mormonism — at least in its corporal understanding of the importance of Jesus — is onto something.

A consequence is an sudden ending of the debate around “justification by faith alone” or “justification by faith and works” — the great dispute between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. If Christ’s Kingship is literally true, then the Biblical term “faith” is better translated and “allegiance” or “faithfulness,” and the distinction between “faith” in Christ and working for Christ melts away. The Greek word translated as ‘faith’ — pistis — refers to the faithful obedience of a subject to a king, or a soldier to a commanding officer. Consider the two passages that had been held up by these rival groups of Christians — the message is the same:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has pistis but does not have works? Can pistis save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also pistis by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have pistis, and I have works.” Show me your pistis without your works, and I will show you my pistis by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that pistis without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that pistis was working together with his works, and by works pistis was made perfect?
James 2:14-22

and Paul’s justification “by faith” becomes

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by pistis in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by pistis in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16

Faithfulness in bad faith is not faithfulness. Faith in God is not like the Chinese Imperial Religion where the relationship between fully transactional. And faithfulness without obedience is not faithfulness. Though the purpose of works is to climb the ladder of faithfulness to a closer relationship with God.

According to Wright, Paul argue that God’s righteousness refers to His continued upholding the covenant with Israel. God is a conquering Sovereign who upholds a terms of surrender with a lesser party, in spite of repeated breaches by the lesser party. When Paul speaks of righteousness, Wright argues, is not speaking of individual entrance into heaven — but that in spite of Covenant breach by the inferior party (Israel), but superior party (God) would remain loyal. This makes sense to me. The Old Testament description of Covenant is clearly along the lines of an Status-of-Forces or Instrument-of-Surrender, so it makes sense this theme is continued in the New Testament as well.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by pistis.”

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 1:6,5:17

Freedom in the Kingdom

A “kingdom” reading of the Bible involves at least two offices Christ establishes — the Queen Mother (Mary) and Prime Minister (Peter). Wright elides the issue, noting that (whatever was said in the Gospel itself) by the time of Paul’s ministry a de facto office of “pillar” had been established that included Peter, as well as James and John

And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:9-10

This trio was the group that had witnessed the Transfiguration, or in other words were present at the apparent Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven, and seemed already at that time to be part of an inner circle:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

Paul though at least seems to subvert the new Christian government, whether based on Peter’s Prime Ministership or these “pillars.” He derived his apostleship directly from Christ, and not from the Twelve. This is a challenge to a fully incarnate understanding of the Kingdom, as Paul emphasizes the Sovereign is still God in Heaven:

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Though Paul argues that in doing so he is not subverting the government, but enjoying his “right” as a subject of Christ:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1 Corinthians 9:1-5

It is this sort of “freedom” — not a reading of Reformation-era concerns against the Curia, but Paul’s actual position within the Kingdom of Heaven, that he talks about when he speaks of freedom from the law. The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a rule of law by a rule by Christ:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4

This is a profound point I did not grapple with before. God is greater than the Covenant, and greater than the Prime Ministership he appointed. Whether in the old or new Israel, the reality of the Covenant and the Papacy are confirmed and not undermined by the righteousness of God in upholding them along with the direct access of the believer to God. Thus when Elijah tried to lift the Covenant, he emphasized the superiority of God over the merely human King of Israel. With Christ, we now have a righteous King, but are left with merely human Prime Ministers — Popes. This is a view — that the Pope is Christ’s Prime Minister, but a Prime Minister who presides over free subjects, is perhaps best reflected in a document Wright does not mention — the Second Vatican Council. Note how the Council not only restates Paul’s message on freedom, but insists on God’s “righteous” upholding of the terms of His kingdom, as God upholds His covenant.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
Dignitatis Humanae, A.D. 1965

The Journeys of Paul

Wright reconstructs Paul’s travels in terms of major political cities in the Empire. A typical pattern of Paul was first to appear in the Jewish synagogue, and then elsewhere in the city:

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.
Acts 13:14-16,42

This is in keeping with the literal Kingship of Jesus Christ, whose arrival is announced to the country he is king of — Israel — and then to the newly liberated areas of the gentiles. While Heiser emphasizes Christ’s kingship over supernatural forces and powers — the Canaanite gods and the like — Wright emphasizes that it is Caesar himself who is now subjugated. Caesar had been called…

A Savior who has made war to cease
and who shall put everything in peaceful order;
and whereas Caesar,
when he was manifest,
transcended the expectations of all who had anticipated the good news,
not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors
but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him,
with the result that the birthday of our God signaled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him
Priene Calendar Inscription, 9 B.C.

From the beginning, the Church used this rhetoric to make an identical but opposite point: the King is here, but the King is Christ.

Wright also addresses the question of the order of Paul’s travels, and where documents were written. The imprisonment traditionally ascribed to Paul’s stay in Rome, Wright places in Ephesus. If so, this is only obliquely referenced as part of the “uproar” mentioned by Luke:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen…

But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia
Acts 19:23-24,34-41,20:1

Wright also identifies the Letter to the Ephesians (whose initial line “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” does not occur in the oldest surviving manuscripts) as a catholic letter, and the same as the supposedly lost Letter to the Laodiceans. Wright’s new chronology of Paul has other implications too. He does not find room in this chronology for some of the pastoral letters, leading the possibility open that either Paul traveled extensively during his pre-trial imprisonment in Rome (possible, as he was a citizen) or even was acquitted. The earliest extra-biblical mentions of Paul are ambiguous here:

Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience:
seven times was he cast into chains;
he was banished;
he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West,
he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world,
and having come to the extremity of the West,
and having borne witness before rulers,
he departed at length out of the world,
and went to the holy place,
having become the greatest example of patience.
1 Clement 5:5-7

Another example is Paul’s fundraising efforts to Jerusalem. The Apostle repeatedly mentions this effort in his letters:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.
Romans 15:25-32

but their reference to it by Luke in Acts is brief, does not address the raising of the money, or how the money was received. The brief mission is bracketed by Paul (at trial) saying he had a clean conscience and no one disputed his mission.

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, n the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me
Acts 24:16-19

So what does this mean? I don’t know. Its interesting Paul refers here to the “pillars” as Holy Ones, the same terms used for high-ranking functionaries of God in Daniel when translated to Greek:

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Daniel 4:17

This is both a high praise (being compared with angels!) and a subtle knock (like the angels, subject to a higher power). What’s the purpose of including this reference in such a moment? As I said — I don’t know.

Final Thoughts

N.T. Wright’s biography of Paul made The Apostle a fascinating man for me in a way he wasn’t before. I knew the focus on Christ’s Kingship, Paul’s dual identity as both Jew and Roman, and about his travels. But I hadn’t thought to consider the chronology of Paul’s actions, or how the events in Paul’s letter interact with Luke’s recording of similar events.

I read Paul: A Biography in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution that Swept Virtual Reality,” by Blake Harris

Two years ago I read Console Wars, Blake Harris’ history of the competition between Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Shortly after that book came out the leadership of Oculus VR asked Harris to document their efforts. Console Wars follows the men who lead that effort — Brendan Iribe, Jack McCauley, Michael Abrash, John Carmack, and most of all — Palmer Luckey.

The book begins by following Luckey’s initial work hacking together hardware components to attempt to mimic high-end virtual reality systems. The process is classic disruption, focusing on building a somewhat inferior hardware product at dramatically lower costs. Luckey succeeded at the goal, and had the good fortune to be working at the same time that John Carmack (creator of the DOOM franchise) was building and publicizing a ‘test bed’ to allow easy comparison of VR quality. Carmack heard of Luckey’s efforts, highlighted it during an industry conference, and the buzz began.

The second part of the book focuses on the formation of Luckey’s company, Oculus VR. This seems to have been a happy time. The narrative follows Palmer and Brendan primarily. I would have enjoyed learning more about what Carmack was up to, as well as the manufacturing process, but the perspective of these two are still great. Oculus first achieved fame beyond the gaming or VR circles for an extremely successful kickstarter campaign. The blow-by-blow of the creation of that video, which is later recapitulated during a lawsuit, was really fascinating.

The last part of the book is the acquisition of Facebook, and after. There’s actually a few sub-narratives here: the neutering of Oculus’s competitor, Valve. The lawsuit with ZeniMax/Bethesda. And Palmer Luckey being fired for his political activities.

Console Wars concerned Nintendo’s rise to the top of the Console Market, and then her challenge by Sega. At Sega’s best she controlled half of the home console market. Oculus headed off that possibility early on. What Tim Kalinske (head of Sega America) was to Nintendo, Michael Abrash (head of Valve’s VR effort) was to Oculus — a formidable potential competitor. So three days after Facebook acquired Valve, Facebook hired Michael Abrash, and thus (for one man’s generous compensation package) ended a potential competitor.

Throughout the book the relationship between John Carmack and ZeniMax, the company that bought his previous company “id,” is a source of drama. ZeniMax has a poor reputation in the gaming community. The founder lost control of the company to the current CEO, who is a lawyer and not a developer by background. Unfortunately (for the source of drama) Facebook has both plenty of lawyers and plenty of money, so from a corporate perspective the lawsuit seems to have been more important for honor than practical effects.

A more serious change was what appears to have been political reprisals by Facebook against Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, for donating $10,000 to a Trump-associated campaign group in the 2016 election. Non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements for now keep us from knowing the full truth, but *The Wall Street Journal has a factual analysis of the situation. In case case it seems dangerous to be a conservative in a visible position at Facebook, and Palmer did not last long.

The History of the Future is an enjoyable and fast-paced read about a contemporary corporate history. It’s a worthy follow-up to Console Wars. I read The History of the Future in the Audible edition. An hour long interview with the author on Triangulation is also available.