Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


American War by Omar El Akkad front cover(American War, by Omar El Akkad. Knopf, 2017, $26.95, 333 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent decades, dystopian novels have become nearly synonymous with science fiction. It´s easy enough to see why: climate change seems to be accelerating, some areas (e.g., the American Southwest, where I live) are already feeling severe effects from it, and the results worldwide in coming years promise to be catastrophic; we’re on the brink of a new dark age under the iron fist of religious totalitarians and their political co-conspirators; we’re well into a period of mass extinction; there’s runaway population growth actively encouraged by some of the “great” religions; modern weapons of mass destruction are far beyond “nightmarish”; technological advances are far outstripping social advances; and sadism and stupidity are running neck and neck as national hallmarks.

Given such conditions and such bleak prospects, it’s easy to see why dystopianism is the far-from-new normal in science fiction.

So, having heard next to nothing about American War, I was expecting a fairly standard take on the horrors to come, especially the ecological horrors. But  American War, which describes the “second civil war” (2074 – 2095), is a far from standard tale.

El Akkad deliberately (I’d bet the farm on this) sabotages the plausibility of his dystopia.

The first hint is the map in the front of the book showing the breakaway “Free Southern States” (FSS) of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as opposed to the rest of the U.S., with the Southwest mostly part of the “Mexican Protectorate.”

My reaction to the map was, “What the hell? Three poor, backwards states standing against the rest of the country? Holding on for 21 years?”

Very shortly into the text, El Akkad makes it very plain that he’s not projecting possible future developments in the United States, but is up to something quite different.

The reason for the FSS rebellion is the prohibition of use of petroleum products as fuels. Again, what the hell? None of the three states are significant oil producers; we’re rapidly approaching peak oil production; most new production in North America (shale, tar sands) is much more expensive than pumping from the old, rapidly depleting oil fields; and the cost of renewables is falling like a rock. This almost certainly means that oil will go up in price and will be rapidly displaced by cheaper renewables. The underlying premise is barely plausible now and will become increasingly implausible as time passes; it will make no sense at all six decades from now. So, El Akkad deliberately chose an extremely improbable background premise.

Then there’s a glaring–and I mean glaring–absence in the social structure of the FSS: racism. Racism disappearing from the American South in a mere sixty years, and during a time of upheaval and economic desperation? What the hell?! Who, if they thought about it, could possibly buy this?

So, just what is Akkad up to?

The first clue is the title of the book, “American War.” That seems a bit ambiguous, and why isn’t there even a vague reference to the “second civil war”? (It would be quite easy to add such a reference in a subtitle.)

The second clue is provided by the book description on the inside of the dust jacket:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Fair enough, but the final sentence of the second paragraph on the inside flap reads, “It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its devastating weapons upon itself.”

Close, but not right.

Above all, American War is about the present. (Tellingly, there’s no mention of any technology whatsoever beyond what’s currently available.)

American War is not about the effects of developing technologies; it’s not about an even remotely plausible future in the U.S.

It’s about the psychological effects of the type of war the United States has been waging sporadically for decades, and nonstop for the last 15 years, in the Near East, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa. It’s about what happens to people who are torn from their homes, are forced into miserable refugee camps, are under constant deadly and random threat from above, and are kidnapped, imprisoned without charge, and brutally tortured.

Shortly into the narrative, El Akkad reveals that the U.S. unmanned drones are solar powered, can stay aloft indefinitely, rained down destruction during the entire two-decades-plus of the war, and are uncontrolled, because Southern “terrorists” destroyed the “server farms” controlling the drones. This is beyond ridiculous on several counts, and again points to the very high likelihood that El Akkad deliberately made his background — in this particular, the drones — implausible.

Why would he do that? (Such apparent sloppiness is in stark contrast with Akkad’s adroitly drawn and developed characters and his skillful rendering of both action sequences and physical background.)

The point is that the drones are simply there as a constant threat, maiming and killing the innocent, seemingly at random. The point is the constant, year-in-year-out state of fear and anger suffered by those under threat.

The same holds for all of the other horrors El Akkad describes, and their woeful, ever worsening effects on the personalities, outlooks, and consequent actions of his characters, especially Sarat.

This story could be set in virtually any combat zone in any Muslim country. El Akkad set it in the U.S., using American characters, disguising it as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi dystopian tale, simply so that American readers will be able to relate to it on an emotional level.

There’s little point in saying more, except that if you want to understand the psychological roots of the hate and terrorism engendered by America’s foreign wars, American War is a good place to start.

This book is a masterpiece.

Very highly recommended.

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover

 

 

 

 


DEMOCRATIC PARTY UNITY, phr. Allowing the architects of the current electoral disaster to engineer, unchallenged, further disasters. Some low minded skeptics have suggested that the desire of the masters of disaster to maintain control is due to their wallowing in rivers of corporate cash, but this is obviously not so. They advance corporate interests not out of petty, personal venality, but out of the purest altruistic motives.

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(This one isn’t in The American Heretic’s Dictionary, but it will be should we ever getting around to publishing a further updated edition.)


Homeland Security Graphic -- cops assaulting Statue of Liberty

–from our friends at Peace Supplies


“Trump’s ego is so fragile that it’s like a house made of tissue-paper cards. He wants you to know that he is a genius: ‘I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. When everyone said I wasn’t going to win the election, I said well I think I would.’ Motherfucker, that’s not instinct. That’s being a candidate for office. Of course, you think you’re gonna win. Why brag about that? It’s like saying, ‘Man, no one thought I was going to take a shit today, but, I took a shit. I showed them.'”

–The Rude Pundit on Donald Trump

(Note: The above photo of little Donnie playing truck driver is genuine, not Photoshopped.)


press secretary

Press Secretary, n. A White House official who lies when the president cannot do it for himself.

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


First, a bonus definition — which has become freshly relevant in recent weeks — from our 2016 release, The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded):

Republican, adj. Having an affinity for gold, in both bullion and shower form.

Now for the advertised definitions. The first one is from the Heretic’s Dictionary; the second will appear in an even further expanded edition, should be we ever get around to publishing one.

Republican Party, n. 1) Once described as “America’s largest hate group,” the Republican Party is often scurrilously portrayed as consisting entirely of racists, but this is not so. Many Republican leaders are not racists themselves, but are merely content to pander to them; 2) A political party that appeals to the absolute worst in people, and delivers. The Republicans (or, as they humbly put it, “God’s people”) appeal to fear, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, arrogance, authoritarianism, a preening nationalism, a persecution complex, pride in ignorance, and just plain meanness. This is in stark contrast to the Democratic Party, which appeals to the best in people, their hopes and aspirations — and then systematically betrays those hopes and aspirations.

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by Keith McHenry, author of Hungry for Peace and primary author of The Anarchist Cookbook

Even though I have shared meals with the hungry for over 36 years, I find it shocking that today, in 2017, so many people are coming to eat with Food Not Bombs.

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports there are “2.5 million children in America that are homeless each year.” A society that lets millions of children live on it’s streets is a society that is collapsing.

To address this crisis we need to change our local and national priorities. That is why Food Not Bombs shares its meals outside: to encourage public dialogue about redirecting taxes from the military to providing real security for our people in the form of housing, education, and desperately needed services.

But instead of a humane, sensible response to homelessness, the Santa Cruz City Council has turned instead to making it illegal to be homeless via its law against sleeping outdoors. To make matters worse, a year-and-a-half ago, the City Council closed down the only homeless shelter in our city.

Anti-homeless architecture is also common in Santa Cruz. This includes installation of high frequency sound “Mosquito Boxes” in parks (activated after closing hours), removing planter boxes and free speech zones on Pacific Avenue, replacing the City Hall lawn with gravel and rocks, and now the ugly chain link fencing at the historic downtown post office.

These policies contribute to the death of homeless people, including 53-year-old Micheal Mears who died of hypothermia on February 17, 2017. Medical staff told his sister Jenny that his body temperature was 70 degrees when he was found on Potrero Street.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverAnother response to homelessness is to pass laws seeking to end sharing of meals in public in the hope that hiding hunger and homelessnes will reduce pressure to fund programs to help the poor.

To justify laws against sharing meals outside, advocates of repression cite a theory claiming that “street feeding” keeps people homeless.

One of those seeking to drive the homeless and groups that share food outside out-of-sight is Janet Fardette. In her 2009 Sentinel letter, “Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz,” Ms. Fardette writes, “Our city no longer belongs to us. It has been taken over by drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and the like.”

I can understand that it must be frustrating for property owners to see an increasing number of people living outside. They worked hard to obtain their homes and businesses, and the growing number of people living outside must be disheartening, and does nothing to improve the value of their property. Still, does it really do any good to hide hunger and homelessness? Will that make these problems go away? Wouldn’t it be better to help suffering people than to persecute them.

The campaign to stop Food Not Bombs’ free meals includes an online petition, and phoning and e-mailing local officials. Ms. Fardette suggests in a February 13, 2017 e-mail that officials look into “Robert Marbut’s widely successful” theory — mentioned on the NPR report, “More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless” — that “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do, because it keeps people in homeless status. I think it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of recovery programs.”

Marbut’s “solution” focuses on “correcting” the behavior of those living on the streets, treating people as though they were naughty children. Marbut doesn’t even consider a failing economic system, gross disparities in wealth and income, and the obscene price of housing in neither his analysis nor his “solution.” In short, he posits that it’s the homeless person’s behavior that keeps him or her from paying for housing.

Blaming the victim isn’t working. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people still live outside in the cities that have adopted Marbut’s program and many in those cities still rely on Food Not Bombs and other groups that provide free meals.

Those who would like the homeless to disappear from Santa Cruz are lobbying to adopt Marbut’s “solution” and drive Food Not Bombs from public view. In short, they want to adopt Marbut’s “stick” but in all likelihood not adopt his inadequate “carrot.” The $5,300 a month that might be spent on Marbut’s consulting fee could be much better spent on maintaining 24-hour bathrooms.

Food Not Bombs is not a charity. We share vegan meals in visible locations with signs and literature promoting change in society, change that will mean that no one is forced to live on the streets or to depend on soup kitchens.

We can end homelessness if we divert even a small fraction of the billions wasted on armaments, and insted use it to provide real national security in the form of affordable housing, jobs for anyone who wants one, and access to quality education and healthcare for all. A living wage (a net boon to the economy) would also make it far easier for people to get off the streets. Blaming the homeless for their condition is clearly not working.

Sign the petition
https://www.change.org/p/support-the-right-of-food-not-bombs-to-share-free-food-info-and-ideas-in-public-spaces-in-sc?source_location=minibar

Keith McHenry is a co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement.