Posts Tagged ‘Hilary Clinton’

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson front cover(Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. HarperCollins, 2015, 867 pp., $35.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Neal Stephenson has written one great book, Cryptonomicon, and several excellent ones, including Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Anathem, and Reamde. They’re oftentimes funny, always innovative and thought provoking, look at big issues, and are very well written mechanically. Now, with Seveneves, he’s done something I thought he was incapable of: he’s produced a novel that’s all but unreadable. At three points in it I almost put the book down, but continued reading because Stephenson is the author and I thought “it has to get better” (it didn’t) and “there has to be a payoff” (there wasn’t).

Seveneves concerns the destruction of the moon and the subsequent near obliteration of life on Earth due to a cascade effect in the moon’s breakup and a consequent storm of impacts on Earth two years after the event on the moon. Every sci-fi novel has at least one “gimme,” and this is one hell of a “gimme.” In contrast with the almost obsessive explanations of other technical and celestial phenomena in Seveneves, Stephenson is very cagey about the nature of the “agent” that caused the breakup, devoting very little space to it, and at times lapsing into passive voice (a means of avoiding assignation of responsibility). One possible “agent” he mentions is a small black hole left over from the big bang (something for which there’s no observational evidence) hitting the near side of the moon. Stephenson never even hints at the mass of the “agent” nor its velocity, nor its angle of impact, for that matter.

The “agent’s” mass and velocity  determine how much energy its impact would impart, and to get the the effect Stephenson describes it would have to hit a “sweet spot” (rather, a “sour spot”). If the impact had much less energy, it wouldn’t cause the moon to break up; if it had much more it might annihilate the moon or at least impart enough energy that the fragments would simply fly away from each other forever. So, Seveneves starts with the mother of all gimmes.

Then the problems really begin. The primary one is that the first two-thirds of Seveneves consists mostly of exposition (telling, not showing)–page after page after page of mind-numbing technical detail about the mechanics of the creation and operation of the orbiting “arks” and mothership intended to preserve at least a few thousand people from destruction on the Earth’s surface. To make matters worse, this grim exposition is occasionally presented in page-length or longer paragraphs, something which went out of style in the 19th century because it makes reading tedious. In this portion of the book, Stephenson is following a standard prescription for novels, putting one’s characters through absolute hell; one wishes, though, that he hadn’t put his readers through hell, and had shown us rather than told us about it.

There are a lot of good narrative passages along the way, but they’re buried in the mass of exposition. Stephenson could easily have omitted 200 or even 300 pages of exposition in the first two-thirds of the book, and improved it by doing so.

Beyond the relatively sparse narrative sections, this portion of Seveneves does have its virtues. Stephenson very obviously spent a lot of time researching the technical details he so meticulously describes; I have no doubt that his descriptions are all well grounded. As well, it’s entertaining to see recognizable contemporary figures appear as major characters. They include two of the heroes, “Doc Dubois” (Neil deGrasse Tyson) and “Sean Probst” (probably Elon Musk), and the novel’s suitably detestable villain, the first female U.S. President, “Julia Flaherty” (Hillary Clinton–a woman who could give cynical opportunism a bad name; Stephenson even has her speech patterns down — e.g., “I’m glad you asked the question,” as preface to evading a question she very much wasn’t “glad” to hear).

Flash forward five thousand years, and the survivors–who are reforming (rather than terraforming) the Earth and are starting to repopulate it–have become seven separate races based on their progenitors from the early survivors. These races are all genetically modified to express certain physical and intellectual traits, and all share their progenitors’ emotional dispositions. Beyond that, they live in orbiting habitats and there are a few, described-at-length, technical innovations. Socially, there’s not much of interest beyond the  interactions between members of the various races, which are all in line with the interactions of their progenitors described in the first two-thirds of the book. As for political and economic innovations, there aren’t any–the characters live in a business-as-usual capitalist society with a (very sparsely described) government.

The one real virtue of this concluding section is Stephenson’s description of the ecological “reforming” of the Earth. Again, he obviously spent a lot of time researching the matters he treats, and the result holds the reader’s interest. (At least it held mine.)

The conclusion of the book revolves around a development that was predictable from the first few dozen pages and telegraphed not too long after that. There’s one minor surprise toward the very end, but it’s hardly adequate payoff for slogging through the previous 800+ pages.

Not recommended.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Stephenson’s work, do yourself a favor and read any of the novels mentioned in the first paragraph of this review rather than Seveneves. You very probably won’t be disappointed.)

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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 and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover

by Chaz Bufe, See Sharp Press publisher

There are plenty of reasons that no one should ever be president (more on that in a later post), but for now let’s focus on why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president.

She should never be president because of one single vote, the vote that authorized the illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003. No one in their right mind would accuse  Hillary Clinton of being stupid. It’s beyond dispute that she’s one of the sharpest political operatives in recent decades. So, it’s almost certain that she knew exactly what she was doing when she cast that vote. It’s almost certain that she knew it was wrong, that the “evidence” supporting the invasion had been cooked, and that the invasion would result in disaster–in untold death and misery. But she cast the vote anyway.

This is no small thing.

When the chickenhawks in the Bush Administration (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.) began ginning up the case for invading Iraq, it was obvious from the start that they were doing exactly that–manufacturing evidence and support for an unnecessary, illegal war. The very concept that former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda was mind boggling, absurd on the surface. Al Qaeda was and is a virulently fundamentalist religious organization. Saddam Hussein, for all his many and terrible sins, was a secularist. Al Qaeda considered Saddam a very bad Muslim.

Then there was the problem that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, the head of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was a Saudi, his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was an Egyptian, and that Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. From all this, Bush and company concluded–more accurately, attempted to sell the idea–that Al Qaeda’s secularist enemy, Saddam Hussein, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and, to make matters worse, had weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s).

And most Americans bought it. Not all of us, but most of us. How did Bush and company pull off this incredible con job? They grossly manipulated intelligence, ignored evidence that pointed away from their predetermined conclusions, relied on weak and even demonstrably false evidence supporting those conclusions, smeared those who pointed out false evidence (Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame), and even set up their own intelligence operation in the Pentagon to produce the “evidence” they wanted.

Even so, they’d never have gotten away with it if the press had done its job. With very few exceptions (notably some reporters at Knight-Ridder), the press rolled over and served as the propaganda arm of the Bush Administration. It did essentially no investigation of Bush et al.’s claims, let alone expose their falsity. Rather, the press served as Bush’s megaphone. In the run-up to the war, the networks (notably CNN) hired dozens of former high-ranking military officers as “expert” commentators, and fired anti-war reporters and pundits (among them, Phil Donohue, who had the top-rated show on MSNBC). So, not only were the TV news operations not doing their job of investigating and reporting, they were actively supporting the launch of an illegal war. A study of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS in January and February 2003 by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) found that only 17% of guests on those networks’ news programs were opposed to or skeptical of invasion, while 83% favored it.

As well, a New York Times “reporter,” Judith Miller (now, appropriately, employed by Fox “News”), served as the Bush Administration’s stenographer. She reported as fact what they told her about supposed Iraqi WMD’s, and the Times ran Miller’s reports as front-page “news.” In one particularly egregious example, Miller’s September 13, 2002 article in the Times, “White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons,” repeated White House-supplied disinformation about the “threat” of Iraqi WMD’s — and the next day Dick Cheney cited Miller’s article as “evidence” of the WMD “threat,” using the Times, the national “paper of record,” to lend credibility to his and Bush’s self-manufactured “evidence.” Of course, Miller and the Times didn’t call Cheney on his dishonesty.

Almost all of this (sans some details of the media manipulation) was obvious at the time–at least to those who were paying attention. And rest assured, Hilary Clinton was paying attention. Yet she cast a vote in favor of death and destruction on an industrial scale. Approximately 4,500 American troops died needlessly in that war, with tens of thousands more wounded, many of them maimed for life. Iraqi casualties were far higher. All of the widely cited estimates of the number of deaths caused by the war exceed 100,000, with some being much higher. The Lancet estimate, for instance, is 601,000. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi wounded and the estimated 1.5 to 4 million Iraqis who lost their homes and became refugees as a direct result of the war.

Hillary Clinton couldn’t have known how destructive the Iraq War would be. No one could have known that. But she had to have known that it would cause death and destruction, and that it was unjustified, simply wrong. At the time, public opinion was heavily in favor of invading Iraq, with most polls showing support by roughly a 2-to-1 margin. So, Hillary Clinton made a cold political calculation and voted in favor of the war. She certainly wasn’t stupid enough to believe Dick Cheney’s b.s. that U.S. troops would be “greeted as liberators,” but she bet that public opinion would remain in favor of the war and that voting for it would be to her political advantage. Never mind the unnecessary death and destruction.

That alone is enough to forever disqualify her from being president.