Book Review: Grand Delusion; the Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Book Review

Steven Simon.  Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East (New York: Penguin Press), 2023.

“Grand Delusion” by Steven Simon provides a timely analysis of the dynamics that shaped American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era in the Middle East.

The major theme of “Grand Delusion” revolves around the notion that American policymakers suffered from a persistent delusion that military force alone can bring about sustainable change and security in the complex web of Middle Eastern conflicts.

In the last five decades, American involvement in the region revolved around many areas considered vital for American national security interests.  In the early phase, containment of Soviet Union was major area of concern.  The U.S. sought to prevent the spread of communism and Soviet influence in the region, leading to increased military and economic aid to countries perceived as strategically important allies, such as Turkey and Iran. Continue reading Book Review: Grand Delusion; the Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East

Podcast: A “Frank” conversation about modern Indian politics

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Akshar and I talk to “Frank”, an Indian financial professional with an interest in Indian history and politics. We discuss everything from Nehruvian India to Modinomics, Hindutva and whether a boom is coming…

Frank tweets on twitter as @frankisalegend1 

People of lower castes have bad personalities

Making the Elite: Top Jobs, Disparities, and Solutions:

How do socioeconomically unequal screening practices impact access to elite firms and what policies might reduce inequality? Using personnel data from elite U.S. and European multinational corporations recruiting from an elite Indian college, I show that caste disparities in hiring do not arise in many job search stages, including: applications, application reading, written aptitude tests, large group debates that assess socio-emotional skills, and job choices. Rather, disparities arise in the final round, comprising non-technical personal interviews that screen on family background, neighborhood, and “cultural fit.” These characteristics are plausibly weakly correlated with productivity (at the interview round) but strongly correlated with caste. Employer willingness to pay for an advantaged caste is as large as that for a full standard deviation increase in college GPA. A hiring subsidy that eliminates the caste penalty would be more cost-effective in diversifying elite hiring than equalizing the caste distribution of pre-college test scores or enforcing hiring quotas.

No big surprise.

Book Review: Four Battlegrounds by Paul Scharre (AI Defense Applications)


From Dr Hamid Hussain

Recently did a book review of an excellent book about AI use in defense realm.


 Book Review –   “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre

 “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre is a fascinating account of emerging technologies especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) in military affairs and modern warfare. New technologies from the invention of gun powder, artillery, automobile, airplane, tank, and submarine have propelled revolution in military affairs throughout human history. The first computer-based model was used by the Russian military known as the Unified Command and Control System (UCS). It was developed during the late 1960s and became operational in the Soviet Armed Forces in the mid-1970s. It integrated various data sources, such as radar, satellite imagery, and communications, to provide comprehensive real-time information about the tactical and operational situation to military commanders. Since then, computer technology has penetrated every aspect of military activity.

 Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving and changing the military culture and has the potential of revolutionizing various aspects of warfare. AI assists in analyzing vast amounts of data collected by military sensors, satellites, and intelligence sources. By utilizing machine learning algorithms, AI can identify patterns, detect trends, and extract actionable intelligence from large data sets, supporting decision-making processes in a shorter time span. AI enables the development of autonomous systems operating on land, air, and sea, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and autonomous submarines. These systems can perform surveillance, reconnaissance, and even combat missions without human intervention, reducing risks to personnel.


AI is also employed in the development of what is called ‘intelligent weapons systems’. AI algorithms help improve targeting accuracy, optimize trajectories, and enhance overall effectiveness. This information can then be used to make better-informed decisions, AI algorithms can also be used to monitor and analyze data from military equipment, enabling predictive maintenance. By predicting failures and recommending maintenance actions, AI helps increase equipment reliability, reduce downtime, and enhance operational readiness.

 AI has a crucial role in military cybersecurity to detect and respond to cyber threats. AI systems can analyze large amounts of data, identify patterns, and detect anomalies that can prevent and mitigate cyber-attacks. AI’s role in training is developing sophisticated simulation tools for military training purposes. AI-based training systems can be used to simulate realistic combat scenarios, allowing soldiers to hone their skills in a safe and controlled environment. This technology can also be used in medical evaluation and ordnance disposal saving human lives.

 In addition to many limitations of technology in human conflict, use of AI in the military also raises ethical and legal considerations, such as ensuring appropriate human oversight and control, minimizing risk of collateral damage, and addressing potential biases in decision-making algorithms. The major challenge is the need for ethical guidelines and regulations to govern the development and use of AI in military contexts as different cultures have different perspectives.

 The book gives use of emerging technologies in four battlegrounds of the future: land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Scharre expertly navigates through each domain, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of how traditional and unconventional warfare are being reshaped by advancements in technology. Scharre uses case studies to explain these technologies that are shaping the battlefield and changing the dynamics of conflict.

 Scharre is well qualified to discuss the subject in depth in view of his own career in the military, defense policy and technology sector. He is familiar with the terrain of all three areas as he a former U.S. Army Ranger who have served tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, served as policy advisor in Pentagon and familiar with the culture of technology companies at the forefront of groundbreaking work on defense application of AI.

 Schare is not a disciple of ‘tech mania’ and presents a balanced view providing an insightful analysis of opportunities presented by emerging technologies while at the same time highlighting the limitations as well as potential dangers. He also addresses the moral dilemmas faced by policymakers, military leaders, and soldiers on the ground. He examines the challenges of adhering to international laws and conventions while leveraging cutting-edge capabilities and the potential for unintended consequences in an interconnected world.

 There will be fierce competition between United States and China to develop and implement the game-changing technology of AI in military domain and the winner will dominate the future. We hope that humans don’t repeat the history that in their quest for domination focus only on destructive creativity ignoring constructive creativity. Humans invented weapons for industrial scale carnage of First World War managing to kill about 18 million humans of all races, religions, and ethnicities in four long years. 1918, God reminded them what he can do by sending influenza pandemic that killed 21 million people globally in four short months. He has sent a signal in 2022 in the form of COVID-19 that should encourage reflection by all powers obsessed with global domination only through coercive means.

 Paul Scharre. Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (New York: W. W. Norton), 2023


Hamid Hussain

20 May 2023

Population structure in South Asian – Genomes Asian 1K paper

The full version of this paper is out, South Asian medical cohorts reveal strong founder effects and high rates of homozygosity. It’s not the best for understanding population structure because they focus on within South Asia variation, but it does seem to confirm that among Bengalis there is a cline from west to east, irrespective of religion (see the discussion where they note that Muslims in the west cluster with westerners). I found a PCA in the supplements where I added some explanatory notes. It’s really hard to parse their figures because they really didn’t care, and the Genomes Asia Consortium doesn’t release their data… (their browser sucks)

History and Evolution of Malayalam Cinema


Arun talks to Maneesh on the history and evolution of Malayalam cinema.

What makes Malayalam cinema different from Tamil and Telegu cinema, the influence of communism on its early years and how the OTT phenomenon is helping a generation of film makers take Malayalam cinema to a new audience.

1IndiI. A Hindu Business Line article, which, while trying to explain why South Indian cinema has box office muscle also shows an excellent visualisation that explains the limitation of Kerala’s screen real estate
2. An Economic times article lamenting the lopsided economics of Malayalam cinema
3. Whitepaper from Kannur University talking about the conscious role of Communism in shaping Malayalam cinema
4. Screenwriter Joh Paul talks about the environment of early Malayalam cinema of the 50s

Modinomics: Why India is Rising

India is changing. For years the BJP has been banging drums, tolling bells, and blowing conches to signal a New India. A mammoth mandate in 2019 was an early smoke signal for the fire that had erupted in the Indian market, but now a flurry of foreign praise answers the call of the drums, bells, and conches previously labeled as empty and enemy propaganda. Ironically, the newly found foreign admirers just a few years back cried wolf as they predicted India to turn into a hellscape due to what they saw as economic mismanagement, not listening to “experts,” religious tensions, some random picture they saw on the internet, or any other reason a comprador elite would pass on from the home country. What changed?

There are plenty of articles about India’s rise, but very few about why. The reason for this is that they would have to associate with someone untouchable in their ivory towers. The government primarily responsible for this rise is not only the arch-nemesis of the narrators of India to the West but also has a terribly difficult time presenting their case in a manner that doesn’t involve frothing at the mouth. There have been many mistakes made along the way. There are many critiques worth their weight. But one has to start acknowledging that something special is occurring in India. Let’s explore why.

Continue reading Modinomics: Why India is Rising

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