“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

— George Orwell, Why I Write


(Thanks to T.C. Weber for this one, who’s doing the same damn thing.)


Here’s one from my old pal and ex-bandmate up in S.F.,  Mick Berry, who’s the co-author of The Drummer’s Bible: How To Play Every Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco:

“There are two types of people in this world: musicians, and other people who are even more unhappy.”

If you think that’s dark, here’s an earlier one: “Why don’t people who don’t play music just get it over with and shoot themselves?” (He wasn’t kidding.)

Micko, who just turned a spry 60, will be in Austria in May performing one of his one-man plays, Dad fought Hitler and Me, and will be in Los Angeles performing his latest one-man, Keith Moon: The Real Me, at the L.A Fringe Festival in June and then in Europe at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a couple of months later.

Not that anyone cares, but he’ll also be in Tucson sometime this summer along with Bassist’s Bible author Tim Boomer to do some recording and to play a couple of jobs at the local blues dives along with yours truly and some talented local friends. It’ll be huge fun for either a no- or five-dollar cover featuring two great musicians.

(In the meantime, the surviving members of my 20-years-past blues band, Green Bullet Band, will be performing at House of Bards in early June, featuring my good bud, musical collaborator, and brilliant front man Brian Hullfish. The only front man I’ve ever seen who I though was better was David Byrne, with maybe Mick Jagger on a par. I’m not kidding. If you’re in Tucson, do yourself a favor and see this performance that will be free on a Sunday night. Stay tuned.)



Steven Pinker

“Let verbs be verbs. ‘Appear,’ not ‘make an appearance.'”

–“Cognitive Scientist Steven Pinker’s 13 Tips for Better Writing” on BoingBoing

(Amusingly, and showing just how difficult it is to follow one’s own advice, no matter how good, Pinker’s 13th tip is “Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. . . .” while his first tip is “Reverse-engineer what you read. . . .” which leads to the question, why should one “reverse-engineer” rather than analyze?)


Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow front cover(Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow. Tor-Forge, 2019, 304 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Radicalized consists of three novellas and one longish short story — all described as “tales” on the dust jacket, probably in part to avoid quibbles over terminology. It’s highly entertaining and provides a good example of science fiction at its best; it shows just how relevant, how useful science fiction can be. It stands in stark contrast to the escapist, often scientifically illiterate space opera, big-dumb-object stories, coming-of-age tales, superhero juvenilia, and medievalist court-intrigue/sword-and-sorcery dreck that dominate the field.

Radicalized‘s four near-future stories deal in turn with the inhumane treatment of immigrants in the U.S. and potential nightmare scenarios due to the ever-spreading Internet of Things (which Boing Boing, Doctorow’s site, refers to as the Internet of Shit); systemic racism as seen through they eyes of a very familiar superhero (here dubbed “The American Eagle”); healthcare nightmares endemic to our for-profit healthcare system and a possible radical response to those nightmares; and an entitled, arrogant member of the super-rich who intends to ride out social breakdown in a fortified compound.

All four stories are well plotted, feature believable, sympathetic characters (but for the super-rich jerk in the final tale, who’s all too believable, but not sympathetic), Doctorow gets the science right, and there’s more on-the-nose social and political commentary in this slim volume than there is in a dozen average sci-fi novels combined.

Highly recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (large pdf sample here). He just finished translating Rodolfo Montes de Oca’s Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, is currently working on the sequel to Free Radicals, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover

How many times have you heard the pious intonation, “we’re all to blame”? If you’ve thought about the matter at all, the answer is obvious: too damn many. (Frankly, one time is too damn many.)

At best, this assertion — “argument” is too kind a term — is a malign form of virtue signalling indicating that the speaker has wisely and selflessly “accepted responsibility,” while you, you poor benighted sod, haven’t.

Beyond the unseemly self-congratulation, the humble-bragging inherent in the phrase, why is it malign? Why is it worse than useless?

Because it short circuits critical analysis. Because it let’s those entities and (to a lesser extent) individuals responsible for the world’s problems off the hook.

Let’s see how this works in regard to the most pressing issue of our times: climate change and resultant global ecological catastrophe. (Here, a popular variation on the “we’re all to blame” trope is that old people, as a class, are to blame.)

What kind of actions does assigning blame to everyone point to? With responsibility that diluted, assigned to an undifferentiated mass, with every individual treated as equally responsible, the “we’re all to blame” assertion points to nothing beyond what everyone can do: lowest-common-denominator individual actions such as recycling, reducing energy consumption, tending a vegetable garden, repairing rather than replacing, bicycling and using public transit, eating a vegan diet, etc., etc.

While these actions are all worthwhile, even if they were very widely adopted they would be grossly inadequate as an answer to ecological collapse. They would provide some amelioration, but they would do nothing to address the underlying structural reasons for impending and ongoing environmental cataclysm.

To find ways to address that collection of catastrophes, you need to go beyond pious platitudes, you need to look at the economic, social, and political structures that have produced the ecological crisis, and those sociopathic entities that benefit from the crisis. The vast majority of people are largely along for the ride, propelled by forces they neither understand nor control. (This isn’t to say that they can’t understand or control those forces, just that at present they don’t.)

So, let’s do a brief, necessarily very incomplete analysis of how global warming and its attendant ecological problems were created, and what can be done to address them. Let’s consider rising sea levels (inundating island nations and low-lying coastal areas, and already producing climate refugees), and ever-increasing extreme weather, with its droughts, floods, and hurricanes.

There are reasons for all this. The following list of factors is very obviously far from complete. But it points in the direction where research and consequent action is needed. Please note that this is not intended as a blueprint or detailed analysis, and is simply intended to show the direction we need to take to actually deal with the environmental crisis. How we need to start thinking about things. Given these provisos, here are a few of the most important factors producing global warming — there are many others:

  • Fossil-fuel burning. At present, the cost of renewables (solar, wind, etc.) is falling like a rock, and in many cases is already below the cost of fossil-fuel power generation. But the government continues to provide massive subsidies to the fossil fuels (and nuclear) industries, and to starve renewables of development funds. Why? That brings us to the next factors:
  • The profit motive. Many of the world’s biggest companies are fossil-fuels corporations, and make tens of billions annually (sometimes per quarter) from sales of compounds that are destroying the environment and the lives of future generations. Why are they doing this? Why this horrendous irresponsibility? It’s simple. Money, lots of it. Lots of it in the short term. Corporations are sociopathic by nature and have essentially a single duty: to maximize returns to investors, no matter the cost to others or the environment.
  • Our bought and paid for politicians and political system. Why do our “public servants” put up with, indeed support, this grossly antisocial behavior? Because it’s in their interests to do so. A great many of them receive campaign contributions from the fossil fuels industries, sometimes enticements beyond that, and many often go to work as well-paid lobbyists for those industries immediately after retiring from “public service.”

What does all this point to in the here and now (neglecting radical social-political-economic transformation, which will be necessary at some point soon)? Here are but a few possible steps:

  • Removal of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Drastic increase of funding for renewables research and deployment.
  • Greatly increased taxation of fossil-fuels companies.
  • A ban on corporate political contributions; an upper limit on all political contributions; and a mandate that all political campaigns be funded by small donors.
  • A ban on lobbying by former “public servants.”

As noted above, this does not even begin to approach a comprehensive analysis nor a comprehensive list of recommendations. It’s merely an example of how we need to start thinking about these matters and start thinking about ways to deal with them, how we need to get away from the simplistic “we’re all to blame” assertion and look at actual causes and solutions.

(For more on all of the above, see John Grant’s excellent Corrupted Science (revised & expanded).

Health permitting, I’ll try to have a related post on habitat loss and resource depletion up shortly.

Chris Hedges just put up a fantastic, fearless post on Truthout about the libeling of those of us who oppose Israeli brutalization and murder of Palestinians as “anti-semitic” (e.g., 200+ murders and thousands of deliberate maimings by Israeli snipers of protesters on the other side of the fence in Gaza during the ongoing “right of return” protests — and just ask yourself, how desperate must people be to deliberately expose themselves to murder and maiming, while the corporate press dishonestly excuses that slaughter — sniper shootings at hundreds of yards — as “clashes”? ). I just wish I could repost Chris’s piece here.

Hence an inadequate but claratory definition from The American Heretic’s Dictionary about what “anti-semitism” means currently in the U.S.:

Anti-Semitism, n. 1) A blind, unreasoning hatred of Jewish people by those who fear, with good reason, that they are inferior to Jews. (This is not to say that Jews are inherently superior to anyone else, even anti-Semites; rather, that Jewish culture encourages self-responsibility, social responsibility, learning, dedication to goals, and individual achievement—things sorely lacking in the mainstream of American culture. Hence Jews tend to be perceived as threatening “overachievers” in comparison with average, “fetch me another beer, Bubba” Americans.); 2) As defined in the United States for well over half a century, the unspeakable act of criticizing the oppression and murder of one Semitic people by another (Palestinians by Israelis). Needless to say, this leads to gross confusion of those who seek social justice with actual anti-Semites—which is precisely the intention of those who use the term in this manner. (Curiously, the ethnicity of all of these individuals is apparently Irish, as they invariablyh respond to the name “McCarthy.”)

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—from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded)







(The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Tor, 2019, $26.99, 366 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: mild spoilers follow.)

I wanted and expected to like this book, due to its author. A couple of years ago I read in an anthology one of her short stories, which I thought was both inventive and funny. More importantly, I admired her work editing the io9 sci-fi site; while she was editor there was always something worth reading: news about upcoming sci-fi novels, well written pieces on science by the likes of Annalee Newitz and George Dvorsky, plus occasional insightful social commentary.

Of course, most of the material on the site was awful, junk on superheroes and manga and the like, but there was enough meat to make the site worth perusing frequently. Now that Anders has left, the site features 100% dreck.

So, I had fairly high expectations when I opened this book, among them that Anders would have a lot to say politically and socially, that the story would be well crafted, and that there would be at least some humor in it.

Those expectations crashed and burned. This is one of the most ineptly written novels I’ve ever read. Contrary to expectations, Anders has nothing to say politically or socially. Nothing. And as far as craft? OMG.

She had a very promising social/political set-up (rigidly authoritarian city vs. a totally “free” city), and she totally wasted that opportunity. Instead of exploring the ways a free society could be organized (anywhere from anarcho-capitalist to anarcho-communist), she chose to do no exploration whatsoever, just (badly) describing it as boss-run. It would be hard to come up with a more meager description of an alternative economic/political system.

Beyond that, the action sequences are poorly written, often difficult to follow and awkward. At one point, during a pirate attack, two of the protagonists take two-thirds of a page for a heart-to-heart melodramatic talk about their feelings.

Even beyond that, Anders does nothing to bring her supposed horrors to life. Nothing. For instance, the homicidal “bison,” who play a key role, have mono-filament mouths and are big. And that’s it. No description beyond that.

As well, there are altogether too many coincidences and unexplained events.

Add to that that the two alternating p.o.v. characters, Sophie and “Mouth,” are entirely duochromatic (Sophie — hopelessly naive and romantic — and “Mouth” — hopeless, longing, and angry.) That’s it.

There’s also a weird lesbian tension throughout the book that’s never resolved and in the end is quite irritating. Who cares? But please stop hinting around and just fucking do it. Please.

As well, the physical world is ineptly described. At one point, a “typhoon” passes in moments, and a “sea” is supposedly “fished out,” apparently by fisherfolk in small boats.

You get the idea. It seems as if Anders just slapped this book down on the page, didn’t bother to revise the first draft, and Tor didn’t bother to edit it.

Very much not recommended.