Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’


(We ran two earlier, considerably shorter versions of this post in years past under the title “Nazi Germany and the U.S.A.” As you might have noticed, things have changed a bit lately, hence this update.)

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REFERENCES TO FASCISM abound in American political discourse. Unfortunately, most of those using the term wouldn’t recognize fascism if it bit ’em on the butt, and use it as a catch-all pejorative for anything or anyone they dislike. But the term does have a specific meaning.

Very briefly, as exemplified in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, fascism is an extreme right-wing, phony-populist ideology and political-economic system (which Mussolini dubbed “the corporate state”), the key features of which are strident nationalism, militarism and military worship, a one-party state, a dictatorial leader with a personality cult, a capitalist economic system integrated with state institutions (to the mutual benefit of capitalists and fascist politicians), suppression of independent unions, government use of media as a propaganda instrument, suppression of civil liberties and all forms of political opposition, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy.

The racism, racial scapegoating, and racial persecution that permeated German fascism are not part of fascism per se, unless one wants to classify extreme nationalism as racism. There’s a case to be made for that, but for now let’s consider them as separate maladies. But since the topic of this post is the comparison of Nazi Germany to the U.S.A., we will consider racism as well as fascism in the following comparisons.

Getting to the headline topic, just how similar is the present-day U.S. to Nazi Germany? Let’s look at specifics:

 

Nationalism

  • Nazi Germany: See Deutschland Uber Alles, Triumph of the WillLebensraum, etc., etc.
  • US.: “American exceptionalism,” “God Bless America,” “Manifest Destiny,” “Make America Great Again,” etc., etc. From ideological justification for invasions, territorial annexations, and military interventions to everyday trivialities (Nazi armbands in Deutschland, flag worship in “the land of the free”), America gives Nazi Germany a run for its money as regards nationalism.

Corporate Capitalist Domination

  • Nazi Germany: The German industrialists (notably the Krup armaments company) were key Hitler backers, and benefited handsomely from his rule.
  • U.S.: Trump has filled his cabinet with people from the fossil fuels industry (e.g., Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil) and big banks, notably Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin, et al.); Obama’s primary 2008 backers were Wall Street firms and the pharmaceutical companies; Bush/Cheney’s were the energy companies.

Of late, Trump’s slavishness to the interests of the big corporations has become blindingly obvious with his dismantling of clean air and water regulations (which safeguard public health while impeding corporate profits), his attempts to open millions of acres of federal lands (including national monuments) to desecration by mining and fossil fuels corporations, his (and other Republicans’) attempts to restrict access to Medicaid, to allow the insurance industry to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, and his refusal to do anything about the obscene price of prescription drugs and the obscene profits of the drug companies. (Trump’s “plan” to reduce drug costs was complete bullshit designed only to string along the gullible while providing cover for the continued gouging of the public by big pharma. The fact that pharma stocks spiked immediately after Trump released the details of his “plan” tells you all you need to know about it.)

Militarism

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis constructed the world’s most powerful military in six years (1933-1939).
  • U.S.: Last year, U.S. military spending accounted for approximately 43% of the world’s military spending, and the U.S. has hundreds of military bases overseas. With the aid of his accomplices in Congress, Trump just boosted the “defense” budget to approximately $700 billion, not including the tens of billions in the “black budget.” The figures aren’t final yet, but it’s a good bet that current U.S. military spending not only considerably outstrips any other nation’s (China’s is hard to judge because of secrecy, but may be as high as $250 billion), but could quite possibly now account for a full half of the world’s military spending.

Military Worship

  • Nazi Germany: Do I really need to cite examples?
  • U.S.: “Support our troops!” “Our heroes!” “Thank you for your service!”

Military worship is almost a state religion in the United States. Tune in to almost any baseball broadcast for abundant examples; this worship even extends to those on what passes for the left in the United States: Michael Moore, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow.

Military Aggression

  • Nazi Germany: “Lebensraum” — you know the rest.
  • U.S.: To cite only examples from the last half-century where there were significant numbers of “boots on the ground,” Vietnam (1959-1973), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1970), Grenada (1983), Panama (1988-1990), Kuwait/Iraq (1991), Afghanistan (2001-present), Iraq (2003-2011). And this doesn’t even include bombing campaigns and drone warfare. Then there’s the matter of proxy aggression enabled via logistical and intelligence support by the U.S. The most horrific current example is the brutal Saudi intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

Misuse and Misrepresentation of Science

  • The Nazis suppressed “Jewish science,” financially supported and sponsored fringe pseudoscience (into the supposed superiority of Aryans, among other things), and based government policy (including the Holocaust)  on that fringe pseudoscience. They mutilated science to force it to fit into the procrustean bed of their ideology, and millions died as a result.
  • U.S.: Here, the misleading “science” is supplied by the major corporations and their bought-and-paid-for “scientists,” who denigrate real science while promoting corporate-sponsored studies that promote corporate interests. Prominent examples include the efforts of the tobacco, pesticide, and sugar industries to present their deadly products as safe while vilifying scientists whose research demonstrated the actual effects of their products. Tens of millions have almost certainly died as a result.

Currently, the most serious such assault on science is corporate-funded climate change denial. It’s been obvious for decades that climate change is real and a deadly threat, and over 95% of climate scientists agree — and have agreed for decades — that it is. Yet the fossil fuels corporations have funded and promoted the work of a very few contrarians (whose work doesn’t, upon examination, hold up) to cast doubt on climate change science so that they can wring every last dollar from coal, oil, and natural gas.

Now, official U.S. policy is based on climate change denial pseudoscience. Trump has filled his administration with science deniers, especially climate change deniers, notably Scott Pruitt at the EPA, who are busy undoing clean air and water regulations, are doing their best to promote use of dirty fossil fuels, and are discouraging the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Trump has even proposed public subsidies for money-losing coal-fired power plants that utilities are planning to close.

As in Nazi Germany, government policy is based on willful ignorance of science. Millions upon millions will almost certainly die as a result, unless the government drastically reverses its course and implements evidence-based policies based on the work of climate scientists.

(For more on all this, see Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science [revised & expanded], by John Grant. Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published Corrupted Science.)

Incarceration and Slave Labor

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis built concentration camps holding (and exterminating) millions, and employing slave labor.
  • U.S.: In comparison, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, far outstripping China, with only Russia’s incarceration rate being anywhere near that of the U.S. Slave labor is routine in America’s prisons.

Justice System

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis had a three-tiered “justice” system: one for the rich and powerful (who could get away with virtually anything); a second for the average citizen; a third for despised minorities and political foes.
  • U.S.: There’s also three-tiered “justice” system here: one for the rich and powerful (who can get away with virtually anything); a second for middle-class white people; and a third for almost everyone else.

Obama’s “Justice” Department never even investigated the largest financial fraud in world history that led to the 2008 crash, let alone charged those responsible. Prosecutors routinely pile on charges against average citizens to blackmail them into plea bargaining and pleading guilty to charges of which they’re not guilty; it’s no accident that America’s prisons are filled with poor people, especially blacks and hispanics who can’t afford bail and good legal representation; at the same time cops routinely get away with murder of blacks, hispanics, and poor whites.

Suppression of Unions

  • Nazi Germany: In Nazi Germany, the government tightly controlled the unions, and used them as arms of the state.
  • U.S.: In the U.S., the government merely suppresses strikes when “in the national interest” and allows corporations to crush union organizing drives through intimidation and by firing anyone who dares to attempt to organize.  Of late, the Supremes have further crippled the unions by outlawing the collection of fees from nonmembers who the unions represent in collective bargaining. (Admittedly, the sell-out, hierarchical, visionless AFL-CIO unions bear considerable responsibility for this sad state of affairs.)

Free Speech

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression of free speech; direct government control of the media.
  • U.S.: There’s near total corporate control of the media, and suppression of free speech when it shows the faintest sign of threatening, or even embarrassing, the government or the corporations that control the government. The Obama and Trump administrations have viciously gone after whistleblowers and reporters who have exposed their wrongdoing — Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, James Risen, Reality Winner, et al.

Trump routinely attacks journalists who report anything even slightly embarrassing to him, or who point out any of his almost innumerable lies. Of late, he’s upped the ante by attacking the press as the “enemy of the American people” in a transparent attempt to intimidate the press and provoke the anger of his worshippers.

As well, Trump routinely lies about damn near everything, great and small — Politifact clasifies 69% of his statements as being “mostly false” or worse — counting on the fact that the press (e.g., New York Times) is reluctant to label his lies as lies, allowing Trump to muddy the waters and mislead the public.

Fortunately, Trump doesn’t have complete control of the media. But he does have the sycophantic tools at Fox “News,” Breitbart, InfoWars, and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber. Almost worse, 67% of Americans get at least some of their news from social media sites such as Facebook, with an unknown percentage getting all of their news from these platforms (predominantly Facebook). What makes this dangerous is that Facebook feeds them news reports that, based on their previous “likes” and other use, reinforces their existing beliefs and prejudices.

Add that to Trump’s denigration of the free press and you end up with a significant part of the population that’s woefully misinformed.

Other Civil Liberties

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression.
  • U.S.: Suppression when individuals exercising those liberties show the faintest sign of threatening the government or the corporations that control the government. The coordinated suppression (by the FBI, local governments, and corporate security agencies) of the Occupy Wall Street Movement nationwide in 2011/2012 is the latest large-scale example.

Spying Upon Citizens

  • Nazi Germany: The government had a massive eavesdropping operation. No citizen was safe from government scrutiny.
  • U.S.: The FBI, DHS, and NSA — and let’s not forget Facebook — make the Nazis look like amateurs.

Free Elections

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression
  • U.S.: U.S. citizens have the opportunity to vote for the millionaire and billionaire representatives (over half of Congress at last count, plus the president) of the two wings of the property party: one wing being authoritarian, corporate-servant, science-denying theofascists, the other wing being merely authoritarian corporate servants who routinely betray those who elect them. As well, the Republicans are doing their best to destroy what passes for American electoral democracy through egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression on an industrial scale.

Racism

  • Nazi Germany: Do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.: (We’ll restrict ourselves here to the present.) The “justice” system imprisons blacks at a rate over five times that of whites, and hispanics at a rate about 30% higher than whites. Cops routinely get away with murdering poor people, a disproportionate number of them blacks and hispanics. Median household wealth for whites is 13 times that of blacks. And median household income for whites is 60% higher than that of blacks and hispanics.

As well, the Republican Party’s longtime “southern strategy” — and its largely successful attempts to disenfranchise black voters — was and still is designed to appeal to racists.

Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and racial scapegoating of Mexicans and other hispanics is merely the cherry atop this merde sundae.

Victimhood

  • Nazi Germany: Hitler and the Nazis whined constantly about the German people being victims of the Jews (under 1% of the population at the time) and the supposedly vast Jewish conspiracy permeating all facets of social and economic life, even depicting Jewish people in propaganda films as vermin: rats. In short, Hitler stirred up hatred of a powerless minority by presenting them as victimizers rather than victims.
  • U.S.: Trump whines constantly about an “invasion” of Latin American immigrants — fleeing horrific violence and political and social repression — who he portrays as rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and gang members endangering the nation through a supposed crime wave. (In reality, per capita criminal activity by Latin American immigrants is lower than that of Americans as a whole.)  In short, Trump stirs up hatred of a powerless minority by presenting them as victimizers rather than victims.

Personality Cult

  • Nazi Germany: Again, do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: Trump worship is rampant on the evangelical right, who see this steaming pile of viciousness, hypocrisy, and narcissism as the means to their theofascist ends. And Trump encourages such sycophancy. The cringe-inducing filmed cabinet meeting last year in which cabinet secretaries heaped fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise and thanks on the dear leader is but one example. Another example: Last July presidential aide and Trump toady Steven Miller said on Fox “News” that Trump — who would likely flunk a fourth-grade English test — was the “best orator to hold that office [president] in generations.” All hail the Glorious Leader.

 

Yes, there still are significant differences between Nazi Germany and the U.S.A.  But they grow smaller with every passing day.


Bandwidth by Eliot Peper(Bandwidth, by Eliot Peper. 47 North, 2018, 252 pp., $24.95)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: This review contains mild spoilers concerning the first two dozen or so pages of the book.)

In recent years, the beer mega corporations have been buying up independent small breweries. They’re continuing to use the small breweries’ names as marketing tools while avoiding disclosure of the relationship of the formerly independent breweries with the conglomerates. The list of fake craft brands includes Ballast Point, Breckenridge, Kona, Pyramid, Redhook. . . . . The list goes on.

Now this trend has reached the publishing industry in perhaps even worse form. Meet 47 North.

When I picked up Bandwidth and saw the 47 North logo and name, I said “Ah! another small press publishing science fiction! Haven’t seen this before!” Then, after I finished the book and was preparing to write this review, I looked at the fine print on the copyright page. It read in part, “Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47 North are trademarks of Amazon.com Inc. or its affiliates.”

So, we’ve now reached the point where we not only have fake craft breweries, but also fake small presses. (Yes, I know, traditional large publishing houses — almost all bought up in recent years by media conglomerates — have imprints, but Amazon is not a traditional publisher: it’s now vertically integrated in its bookselling/publishing arm, and seems to be attempting to achieve a monopoly in the bookselling trade. It’s already close, selling approximately 50% of all print books in the U.S. and 70% of e-books.)

As well, Amazon (following in the steps of the chain bookstores) has been largely responsible for the decimation of American independent bookstores over the last two decades, and has also been an absolute disaster for small presses. (The reasons for this are too complicated to go into in this review, however you can read more about the damage Amazon does to small publishers here and here.)

So, what to do about a book published by one of the tentacles of this octopus? To review or not to review? (Not coincidentally, U.S. independent bookstores almost across the board refuse to carry books published by Amazon.)

Unfortunately, I liked Bandwidth and don’t want to hold the publisher against the author, so . . . . .

Bandwidth is a near-future techno-thriller whose primary character, Dag Calhoun, is a highly placed lobbyist for sale to anyone with the money to buy. Those with the cash include fossil-fuels corporations engaged in climate-change denial, and The Feed, a world-spanning company that has subsumed Facebook, Google, and to a large extent the Internet itself, and to which almost all people are connected 24 hours a day.

While on a lobbying assignment in Mexico City, Dag meets a mysterious woman, and shortly after is shocked to find that someone has total access to his Feed and its archives, including information that could send him and his clients to prison.

From there, he goes on a quest to find the woman who he suspects is the one responsible for the data breach.

The remainder of the book revolves around Dag’s search, how Facebook-like entities can be used to shape perceptions and even personalities, the character transformation Dag undergoes — he’s initially very unlikable — while on his quest, climate change, climate-change denial, and especially whether the ends, no matter how high minded, ever justify the means.

Peper comes down on the right side of this question in Bandwidth, which makes his choice of a publisher highly ironic. It would have been hard for him to find a more evil means of conveying his message that the ends never justify the means. If he was conscious of the damage Amazon has done, and is continuing to do, to independent bookstores and small presses, his choice of Amazon as a publisher was quite hypocritical.

Authors, however, are often amazingly oblivious to the workings of the bookselling and book publishing industries, so it’s entirely possible that Peper wasn’t aware of how toxic Amazon is to the book trade, small publishers, and ultimately the authors those small presses publish.

Despite the clear contradiction between Bandwidth‘s noble message and its odious means of delivery, I do recommend the book.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, two translations, a nonfiction book, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 

 

 

 


John Grant, author of Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), has a nice piece on why the Republicans and especially the Bush and Trump administrations have been so eager to ignore and misrepresent science, and at the same time pursue environmental policies that couldn’t be more obviously harmful to the public and to future generations.

John’s essay, “Donald Trump, Corporate Profits and the Cult of Tomorrow Morning,” appears in The Revelator (“An initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity“).


The Water Will Come front cover(The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, by Jeff Goodell. Little Brown, 2018, 340 pp., $28.00)

 

It’s easy, even if you accept the science, to think of global warming as an abstraction, because, as regards the human perception of time, it’s a long term trend. That’s true even in many places which are already being affected, such as Southern Arizona, which is projected to suffer the highest temperature increases of anywhere in the lower 48.

We’re already experiencing drastic warming. Last year was the warmest ever here, we had our hottest June ever, with three days at 115F or above (46C), and we had almost no winter (well, what passes for winter down here: It’s below 70? Break out the parkas!).

The change in the weather is already affecting vegetable and fruit tree planting seasons here: What I and other gardeners used to plant in October, we now tend to put off until November (hottest ever last year). Or December. (It was so warm this winter that I’ve put off buying and planting a peach tree until this fall, hoping for cooler weather then.)

So, I’m already affected by long-term temperature increases, if only as a minor annoyance. But most people here don’t garden, are caught up in daily life, and find it easy enough to ignore gradually warming temperatures — at least until the next 116 or 117F day, which they’ll promptly forget once it cools down even slightly.

But it’s not so easy to ignore global warming in other places, specifically low-lying coastal areas and islands.

Hence the value of Jeff Goodell’s latest book, The Water Will Come. It serves as a timely reminder to those of us who live inland, those who are climate-change deniers, and those with head-in-the-sand attitudes living in low-lying coastal areas, that climate change (with a focus on ocean warming and sea level rise) is all too real, is already having drastic, destructive effects in some areas, and that the destructive effects will get worse, especially if we don’t do anything to mitigate them, while we still can.

Goodell, in plain, “just the facts, ma’am” prose, explores what’s already happening in places as diverse as Alaska (Inuit villages falling into the rising sea), Miami (ever-worse flooding), and the very low-lying Marshall Islands (which will disappear). Goodell does this through not only presenting the scientific facts, and through descriptive passages, but also through interviews with many local people who provide graphic illustrations of the effects of sea level rise on daily life.

While that’s valuable, I wish Goodell would have spent more time on mitigation efforts and ways of reducing CO2 emissions in the short term. But that’s not the point of The Water Will Come — those are topics for other books. Goodell’s point is that we have a real problem, and we need to start addressing it now.

If there’s one real fault with The Water Will Come, it’s that Goodell gives the Obama Administration, and Barack Obama himself, a complete pass in regard to dealing with climate change (and everything else). There are several passages in the book dealing with Goodell’s interviews with Obama Administration officials, and one with Obama himself, and the tone in those passages borders on worshipful.

Given how awful Donald Trump is, there’s a tendency on the part of liberals to venerate Obama while ignoring the fact that he was a lousy president who betrayed those who voted for him.

When he had real power, with big majorities in both houses of Congress during his first two years, what did Obama do? He produced a grossly inadequate stimulus package that was just large enough to save the big banks, but not the millions upon millions who’d lost their jobs and homes — for them, he did next to nothing; he pushed through a grossly inadequate healthcare measure (Michael Moore called it a “quarter of a loaf” measure) that was designed to preserve the parasitic healthcare insurance industry and big pharma; and beyond that, he didn’t even try to accomplish anything significant regarding climate change or much of anything else. (For more on Obama’s betrayal of the people who voted for him, see “Obama and His Base: An Abusive Relationship, part 3.“)

(I mention all this for two reasons: 1) one always suspects, generally correctly, that when writers treat politicians reverentially, it’s because they’re not fully doing their jobs — as Frank Kent famously said, “The only way a reporter should look on a politician is down”; and more importantly 2) because, if we elect another business-as-usual, corporate Democrat in 2020, it’s a good bet that his or her response to the climate crisis will be, as usual, very inadequate.)

But aside from the Obama worship, there’s little to dislike in The Water Will Come. The book is a useful reminder and illustration of the seriousness of the global warming problem, how bad its effects already are in some places, and how much worse those effects are likely to get — especially if we don’t start making real changes now.

Recommended.


Howdy from Tucson, where the final day of Spring came in at (depending  on which forecast you believe) somewhere between 112 and 114 degrees F (45 degrees C for you furriners). (Update: it was actually 115 F.)

It’s supposed to be even warmer tomorrow (make that in a few hours). (Update: It was warmer: 116 (47 C) ; in Phoenix it was 119. As I write, the high today was a mere 115, and we’re in for a major cooling spell this weekend, where the highs won’t get much above 110.)

About three weeks ago, after our first string of 100+ degree days, one of the local weathermen (Kevin Jeanes on KOLD — and sorry for the political incorrectness, that should be “weatherperson” or “person of weather”) with, shall we say a dry sense of humor, commented that the temperature was “all the way down to 99, and it’ll be even cooler tomorrow at 97.” (Again, for those of you who use a rational temperature scale, that translates to 37 C and 36 C.)

For those who haven’t been paying attention to U.S. climate models, they predict that this region, the desert Southwest, will be the hardest hit of the “lower 48.” And indeed it has been. We’ve been in a prolonged drought for nearly 20 years (broken last year by “normal” rainfall), and two of the last three years, 2014 and 2016, were the hottest on record. We just experienced the second warmest Spring ever, with the hottest March (high and mid 90s temperatures starting around March 1).

So, yeah, global warming is a “hoax.” We need to burn more coal. Donald Trump is an intelligent, honest, compassionate human being. And the unfettered greed inherent in capitalism isn’t a death sentence for the planet.

Things seem bleak, but we’re not totally screwed. There are things we can do individually and collectively to adapt and to counter global warming.

One thing damn near everyone can do is to plant trees. If done on a mass scale, this can reverse desertification. Even on an individual scale, it’s one of the best things we can do.

Gardening is another individual approach that makes sense. It involves far less expense than transporting food for thousands of miles, and involves far less waste. It also yields health benefits via relaxation, if nothing else.

Another individual approach, in arid regions, is to use xeriscaping, using native plants and a carpeting of rocks in place of lawns and non-native plants. This saves water — a lot of it, and it looks better than lawns.

Then there’s water harvesting — again, something damn near everyone (at least every property owner) can do at reasonable cost that will be amortized in a relatively few years. Even if you’re just channeling rain water from your roof and patio into wells for your fruit trees (as I am), it helps.

And then there’s passive solar heating (just think big picture windows facing south with an overhang that cuts off the sun in the summer months) and solar hot water heating (ultra easy — I built a solar hot water heater out of two old hot water heaters painted flat black [stripped of their external metal jacket and insulation], plumbing fittings, an old window, and scrap plywood and 2X4s about 20 years ago — a friend is still using it).

Then there’s ultra-insulation. Think straw bale and rammed earth construction. These energy-saving approaches can be used almost anywhere, and will often result in extremely energy-efficient dwellings.

To go even further on the individual scale, basements make a hell of a lot of sense in desert areas. Temperatures in them are a good 25 degrees F below surface temperatures, and there aren’t even seepage problems in deserts. The only reason they haven’t been adopted on a mass scale in the sprawlopalises  of the Southwest is that land, historically, has been so damn cheap that builders have foregone them in place of slab construction, which yields better short-term profits. If you’re having a place built in this area, think about adding a basement.

As for societal approaches, they’re so obvious that I’ll mention them only in passing. First and foremost, a direct tax on carbon emissions — screw carbon “offsets”: they’re a recipe for fraud; massive public investment in clean energy; energy-efficient transport and appliances; mass investment in public transit, including bicycle projects; tree planting on a mass scale; and subsidies for individual clean energy projects, passive-solar retrofits, water harvesting,  and energy-efficient construction.

Why do I think all of this is important? There are a couple of reasons.

One is that if adopted widely all of this would help save the planet (or at least make the lives of our children and their children better). The other is that it would keep people involved, and at least marginally hopeful. People without hope are easy to control and manipulate. Real, positive change is possible only when people have hope.

If you haven’t already done so — even on the smallest individual scale — please join those of us trying to create real change, please join those of us creating hope.

 

 

 


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.

* * *

(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

 

 

 

 


Last weekend it was 115 here in Tucson (or 114, depending on which weather service you want to believe — 45C for you furriners).  We’re well on the way to the hottest June ever, with temperatures averaging maybe seven degrees F above the normal 101 or 102.

What brings this to mind is that is’s 2:00 a.m, still 90 degrees outside, and (after escaping the hotter office), I’ll sitting in the coolest room in the house (practice room on the north side), playing guitar because it’s too hot to sleep, too hot to work in the office, and it’s way too hot to play guitar in the living room.

The climate models indicate that southern Arizona will be the most affected (no, I won’t say “impacted”–too ugly a term) area in the U.S. by global warming, and our temperatures are certainly bearing this out.

The shills for the fossil fuel companies, their propaganda “Faux News” network, and the “low information voters” they dupe attempt to dismiss this. They call themselves “conservatives,” but’s what “conservative” about playing Russian roulette with a loaded pistol? Realistically, it’s more like playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic. (There are no  peer-reviewed articles on the topic, out of more than a thousand,  in scientific journals that deny that man-made global warming is real.) Think about it — what is “conservative” about ignoring a dire threat? Even if you give it only a 10% chance of being right (rather than the almost certain 100%) , what’s conservative about gambling with your kids’ lives and well-being?

The temperatures keep going up, the energy companies and their dupes/paid whores keep denying there’s a problem, and I truly wish they were bringing the apocalypse only on themselves. (They’d richly deserve it.)

But they’re bringing it on all of us.

If you ever wanted evidence that capitalism is pathological, this is it: These immoral profiteers have been trying to  hide evidence and delay action for decades on an existential threat to all of us that will bring about, at minimum, hundreds of millions of deaths and untold misery for billions of others. Including our kids.

But they’ve been profiting by it to the tunes of billions upon billions of dollars.

So, climate change deniers, go for it, be “conservative.” Ignore the scientific evidence, and pull the Russian roulette trigger on your — and your kids’ — heads.

The oil companies will thank you for it. (Actually, they won’t — they utilize, but have no respect for, stupidity.)