Contributors to The New York Review of Books write to complain about Ian Buruma’s ouster: “We find it very troubling that the public reaction to a single article, “Reflections from a Hashtag”—repellent though some of us may have found this article—should have been the occasion for Ian Buruma’s forced resignation. Given the principles of open intellectual debate on which the NYRB was founded, his dismissal in these circumstances strikes us as an abandonment of the central mission of the Review, which is the free exploration of ideas.” The editors respond that Buruma’s resignation was not, in fact, a result of the “outrage” the article created: “Rea Hederman, the publisher of the Review, has said publicly that Ian Buruma’s departure was not a response to outrage over ‘Reflections from a Hashtag,’ and we strongly believe in Rea’s commitment to editorial independence.” That’ll be news to Buruma, I’m sure.

In praise of wombats: “‘The Wombat,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an African elephant but concluded that at £400 it was unreasonably priced. He bought a toucan, which he trained to ride a llama. But, above all, he loved wombats.”

A history of the Victorian transformation of England’s plain churches: “‘Tens of thousands of churches were built and still more altered in England alone’ during the 19th century, Whyte writes. By helping us to better understand this change to sacred spaces—not only the fact of the move away from plainness but the motivations for it—Whyte has given us valuable insight into the shaping of our Victorian forebears who did so much to shape the world.”

Patrick deWitt praises the brilliance of his own novel, but it hardly shines, Johanna Thomas-Corr writes: “French Exit is the sort of novel wherein the spirit of a dead husband possesses a live feline, people travel from New York to Paris by cruise ship even though it’s the 21st century, and characters are less than the sum of their affectations. The themes (inadequate parents, broken dreams) and mise-en-scène (fading grandeur) owe a lot to the American indie cinema of Wes Anderson — but for all its arch dialogue and kooky anachronisms the book never hits that vein of melancholy and pain. And after whetting the appetite for wit, deWitt merely serves a few half-baked hors-d’oeuvres. People say things like: ‘I don’t think that there’s anything so comforting as quite a lot of money, wouldn’t you agree?’ and ‘Everything I’ve ever lost in my life has always wound up being under the bed’, which sound like they may come from some kind of Noël Coward line generator.”

Bradley J. Birzer asks if Christian humanism is gone forever.

Essay of the Day:

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley explain how China used tiny microchips to hack American companies:

“In 2015, Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.

“To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

“Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

“During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Ukraine

Poem: Eugenio Montale, “At the Verge” (translated by Len Krisak).

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