BOOK REVIEW: We can still make “A Bright Future” with nuclear energy

I’m writing on a day when SeaTac had a high temperature 10 degrees hotter than the previous record.

Summer—our brief respite of full, sunny days and clear-crystal weather for which we endure our nigh-year purgatory of ever-drizzle and afternoon sunsets—is still not officially arrived at time of this writing.

Seattle Summer 2018
Seattle Summer 2018 | David A Johnson

We can hope this season will squeeze in some few nice days precious amid the ash-gray haze of Pacific Northwest forest fires that turns the high-sky sun into a cigarette’s cherry.

We’re told this is the new normal, but it could be worse. And it will be.

It is, I promise, worse than you think.”

The New York Magazine piece “The Uninhabitable Earth” by American journalist David Wallace-Wells from 2017 goes on:

If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.

Wallace-Wells details what heating the whole world by degrees really means, the sort of catastrophe a rise of four degrees Celsius causes everywhere and how 10 degrees makes vast portions utterly unlivable from the direct heat—let alone crop failure, flooding, and extreme events that will become common enough just to be called “weather”.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined in its Fifth Assessment Report that: Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: We can still make “A Bright Future” with nuclear energy”

Advertisements

BOOK REVIEW: With “No One at the Wheel”, the rich can steal the roads from us—if we let them

Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, will be the most disruptive technology to hit society worldwide since the advent of the motorcar.

This pronouncement by the team of journalist Karen Kelly and former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz is the sort of boilerplate futurism you’ll find written about any new technology.

Likewise, the very next statement could almost be chalked up to typical hyperbole: “Some futurists and policy experts even talk about driving being banned on some or all roads.”

What sets No One At The Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future apart from that sort of replacement-level schlock isn’t where it looks forward, then, but for how it looks backward to show how a similar process already happened.

A century ago, the original grand theft auto was letting the car industry steal the roads from pedestrians and non-motorized traffic. Soon, driverless industries will be in a position to take the roads from the public entirely.

But only if we let them.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: With “No One at the Wheel”, the rich can steal the roads from us—if we let them”

BOOK REVIEW: “A Prophet of Peace” and Juan Cole’s New Historicism

I sometimes attend the Seattle Atheist Church on Sundays, and despite the many virtues that group has an organization and positive argument it makes by example for secular humanism, the fact that the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism movement were four white Anglo-American men reflects accurately the biases you’ll find in the atheism movement in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Anglosphere more generally.

Seattle’s atheist community is better than many other spaces I’ve seen, particularly in regards to gender and sexuality, but one element it continues to deal with is anti-Muslim racism.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “A Prophet of Peace” and Juan Cole’s New Historicism”

BOOK REVIEW: “Talk on the Wild Side” by Lane Greene shows how language is power

Lane Greene’s Talk on the Wild Side: Why Language Can’t Be Tamed came across, in its initial reading, as a scattershot collection of topics relating vaguely to the way the pronunciations, words, and grammars of languages will change with time so long as those languages continue to live and have people speak them. What makes the book really special, though, is the deeper theme: despite some people’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, decentralized changes are not just acceptable but inherent to language.

A Southern-born American journalist now living in London, the polyglottic Greene likewise moves through his topics with a comfortable, intelligible style, connecting otherwise disparate elements with threads that follow easily and ultimately tie together in a way that is truly something special.

What I’m not fully convinced of is whether this was intentional or something emergent from the subject itself.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “Talk on the Wild Side” by Lane Greene shows how language is power”

BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t

As the Justice Department investigations and Congressional hearings into Watergate closed in, Richard Nixon—as a brag—once said something to the effect of, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”

That was when he was sober. In the depths of his stress and depression, the U.S. president was also mixing alcohol and sleeping pills, and his natural paranoia became even worse.

“He really got paranoid when he got three drinks in him. There are things I’m not even going to discuss that were said, but they were the result of drinking. He could not handle drink,” one of Nixon’s political strategists said.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t”

BOOK REVIEW: “The Empty Throne” makes a better argument for not having one

I’ve said before there’s a seductive idea that some more competent version of American hegemony was once in effect and is desirable to return to.

Without meaning to, what Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay book The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership seems to persuasively advocate for is how bad of an idea it is for the United States to have a throne at all when the person in it is as likely as not to wield that leadership destructively.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “The Empty Throne” makes a better argument for not having one”

BOOK REVIEW: The adults in the room have always been “Reckless”

In the Mel Brooks parody, “Space Balls”, the villainous character Darth Helmet brags to Lonestarr, the protagonist, that, “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

This trope appears in fiction often, and some writers rely on it almost entirely.

The medievalist historian and culture critic Steven Atwell has observed that one of the central differences between George R.R. Martin’s worldview in the fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire and that of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in the HBO adaption Game of Thrones is that Martin will stack the cosmic deck against his “good” characters to give them more adversity while D&D treat nobility itself as a handicap, where evil is synonymous with competence, cunning, with a willingness to make the hard and necessary choices.

The early 21st-century genre of “prestige television” with its white male anti-heroes is predicated largely on this worldview, from Vic Mackey in The Shield to Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but it continues today and goes back to Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and beyond.

In contemporary reality, though, we have a president and administration that is an ever-overlapping Venn Diagram of racists, incompetents, and grifters rapidly approaching a perfect circle with every new cabinet departure and replacement.

Recently, that administration announced that Vietnam War refugees who’ve been living in the United States for 40 years or more are now subject to deportation. We can and should condemn that as yet another example of ethnic cleansing that it is. It’s the sort of behavior that’s cartoonishly evil except for that it’s actually happening and hurting real people.

That we are currently ruled by schmucks does not make their sadism less painful.

At the same time, there is a syrupy-sweet voice talking from the corners of New York Times opinion columns and conservative “former Republican luminaries” that suggests that everything could go back to normal if we just had the adults back in charge, that if people were a bit more civil and subtle as they went about pursuing policies that irreparably harmed marginalized people, and if they didn’t tweet rude, misspelt things, we’d all be OK.

Reckless: Henry Kissinger and the Tragedy of Vietnam by Robert K. Brigham is a great corrective on that impulse.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: The adults in the room have always been “Reckless””

Until prisons can be guaranteed to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, we must abolish them

HUMAN 1
Yeah, fuck prisons how dare they lock up murderers and rapists. It’s not their fault that they commit crimes. Let them do what they want. Honestly it’s 2018 you should be HONORED if someone steals your wallet out of all the people in the world they chose you.

HUMAN 0
Are we attempting to rehabilitate criminals or punish them? Because punishing people doesn’t seem to be working.

HUMAN 1
Neither as I said just let them do whatever they want clearly they wouldn’t be murdering people if it wasn’t the right thing to do. Human nature is inherently good and therefore no one can do anything wrong. Why punish or rehabilitate people just trying to be themselves?

I’m not convinced we’re locking up many rapists right now, and only some of the murders.

Continue reading “Until prisons can be guaranteed to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, we must abolish them”

BOOK REVIEW: In “10 Strikes”, Erik Loomis demonstrates how American labor history is inseparable from American politics

Your short takeaway should be that A History of America in 10 Strikes is a good book in all the ways a history book can be good. You should buy it. You should read it. You should gift it to your friends and family, and stuff extra copies in Tiny Libraries you come across.

The author Erik Loomis is a professor at the University of Rhode Island and regular contributor to the politics and culture blog “Lawyers, Guns, and Money“, and he’s been writing his This Day In Labor History” series for some time. It’s not surprising that he was able to bring the same sort of conversational brevity to this full-length work as he managed on Twitter threads, but it’s impressive he was able to tie almost two centuries of history all together so coherently.

Now, Loomis has a point of view, and he states it outright and upfront: almost everyone in the United States is a worker, and labor unions have been the only force for workers in the past two centuries.

What’s enlightening is his thesis, hammered in time and again, that “the fate of labor unions largely rests on the ability to elect politicians that will allow them to succeed.”

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: In “10 Strikes”, Erik Loomis demonstrates how American labor history is inseparable from American politics”

A few things Washington State Democrats ought to do next

1.CANNABIS CONVICTION REPARATION

Eminently achievable: Retroactive clearance of all marijuana misdemeanors.

Seattle actually already did this through City Attorney Pete Holmes earlier this year.

It may be more difficult for the legislature to do, or they might need to direct the state attorney, but unlike HB 1260 – 2017-18: “Providing for the vacation of misdemeanor marijuana offense convictions“, the focus should be on providing for this automatically instead of requiring often under-informed people to go through a process that necessarily is time-consuming and often costly.

Stretch goal: Extend clearances to felonies

This is a tougher sell because folk with say only “bad guys” got felonies but we know that’s not true, and undoing this harm would have an even bigger impact on housing and jobs.

Whether ounces or pounds, people shouldn’t continue to be punished for something we reward folk for doing now (i.e. Uncle Ike’s vs who used to stand on 23rd and Union)

Ultimate goal: Divert recreational cannabis tax funds to a stipend for people with marijuana convictions

The exact formula would involve some tough math, but it ought to be proportional to their punishments: the most severe the punishment, the larger the ongoing payments.

While this would be helpful to lots of people whose lives were derailed by what we now know to be unjust convictions, it’s going to make a radical difference in the lives of the poorest people. Because the drug war has disproportionately targeted people of color, so will the benefits.

Continue reading “A few things Washington State Democrats ought to do next”