Thursday, June 30, 2005

Insanity II

Caught a bit of 60 Minutes earlier and noticed one of the ways our society really is insane:

Somehow, we determined it was a good thing to send new high school grads, who haven't been anywhere and know nothing about the world, into the military, where we'll pay tens or, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach them war, KNOWING some will be quickly killed...


We require people to be older and have college degrees to join the Peace Corps, for which we pay substantially less in training despite the far more crucial tasks they have, such as teaching people how to farm or educating children. We essentially expect them to learn it on their own beforehand or in the field.

We advertise war in countless ways -- real ads, violent movies, military parades on certain holidays, recruiters visiting high schools -- but I can't recall the last time I saw a Peace Corps ad, and the last Peace Corps-related show was actually about the murder of a volunteer in the 1970s, not what they were actually doing.

I think this might have something to do with the apocalypse obsession that forms a constant but not always visible undercurrent to American thought, especially in this era of nuclear weapons where any war has had the potential (even if minimal) to spiral out of control into a nuclear exchange. But whether it's a cause or an effect, I don't know...

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Stop the insanity!

Dear Friends,
I have just read and signed the petition:

Oppose New Nuclear Weapons Today

Please help by signing this petition because there's NO long-term benefit to anyone if we restart the arms race. Although the Cold War arms race was equally stupid, it could be argued that the US buildup helped bankrupt the USSR and maybe prevented a bigger war. This time, however, there is no opponent to bankrupt... just ourselves.

For economic, political, tactical and ecological reasons, nuclear weapons are horrendous failures, and are much, much worse -- they're devices of mass murder and/or mutual suicide -- if they're ever used by ANYONE. Making them smaller only makes it more likely they'll be used, and various non-proliferation experts are already predicting a 29% chance someone will use one (or more) within the next decade. We should've learned enough from Hiroshima & Nagasaki to know this path is one of madness, but it's not too late to do so now.

If you want some more info, visit my rather quiet "alter-ego" blog's post Fantasies of Apocalypse It's a little old, but still relevant... Much older (1993, I think), but with lots more detail from sources directly involved in the Cold War is this Centers for Defense Information transcript.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Study: World at Risk for Major Attack

Source: NY Times by way of the NucNews email list. (links added)

Published: June 22, 2005
Filed at 9:58 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world faces an estimated 50
percent chance of a nuclear, biological, chemical
or radiological attack over the next five years,
according to national security analysts surveyed
for a congressional study released Wednesday.

Using a poll of 85 nonproliferation and national
security experts, the report also estimated the
risk of attack by weapons of mass destruction at
as high as 70 percent over the coming decade.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee surveyed
analysts around the world in late 2004 and early
this year to determine what they thought was the
threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

The study was commissioned by committee Chairman
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., whose nonproliferation
efforts in Congress have been credited with
helping the states of the former Soviet Union
lessen their stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and
biological weapons.

''The bottom line is this: For the foreseeable
future, the United States and other nations will
face an existential threat from the intersection
of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,''
Lugar said in a statement.

Committee aides sent out surveys asking
respondents the percentage probability that a
biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological
attack would occur over the next five and 10

''If one compounds these answers, the odds of some
type of WMD attack occurring during the next
decade are extremely high,'' the report said,
using the acronym for weapons of mass destruction.

The study said the risks of biological or chemical
attacks were comparable to or slightly higher than
the risk of a nuclear attack. However, the study
found a ''significantly higher'' risk of a
radiological attack.

It also said:

--Three-fourths of those surveyed said one or two
new countries would acquire nuclear weapons during
the next five years, and as many as five new
countries could have such weapons over the next 10

--Four-fifths of those surveyed said their country
was not spending enough money on nonproliferation

--Survey respondents also agreed that
terrorists -- rather than governments -- were more
likely to carry out a nuclear attack.


Of course, the process of making things safer isn't helped by proposals like the one criticized here.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Ill Wind"

Authors: Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason
Apocalypse Type: Economic collapse
Rating: **1/2 (of 5)


This is a plague novel, but not your typical one. There's no mad scientist-produced virus that wipes out 99% of humanity as in The Stand or Earth Abides. Instead a bacteria called Prometheus attacks the underpinnings of our economy directly, by consuming oil and many oil-based products.

Most of us don't realize just how many oil-based products we rely on in everday life, and this book's ever-expanding list of affected products is just a drop in the ocean. Just looking around me now, I see a lot: the computer I'm writing on, maybe the desk that supports it, the CDs I'm hearing, the phone, file crates, maybe the chair I'm in, my glasses lenses, the window moulding, the vacuum cleaner, various wiring, the potato chip bag, the window blinds, maybe the wallpaper, the paint & varnishes, the cat box & dishes, the broom...

And that's just the things I can see at the moment, never mind the dozens of things around me that aren't oil-based themselves, but required oil in some stage of their creation or shipment: my notebooks and books, beer glass, wooden furniture, metal file cabinets, etc. (For a longer but still incomplete list, see this site.)

Since I could probably list almost everything I own in one of these two groups, if this happened, I'd have to change lifestyles VERY fast. No more blog, no more freelance journalism, no more Echo & the Bunnymen, no more electric doo-dads, and some very blurry vision. I could probably salvage the beer, but I'd have to make it myself, and since I've never done that, it would be some pretty bad swill at first, I imagine...

Of course, causing such an economic meltdown wasn't the intent of Prometheus... or was it? As a desperate solution to an oil spill worse than Exxon Valdez, in a much more public locale (San Francisco Bay), Prometheus is sprayed on the water to eat the oil slick. It works. Too well.

That's entirely plausible, since we have developed bacteria that break down pollution -- the still controversial process is called bioremediation. In fact, most of the book's science is plausible, including the efforts of some survivors to restore an experimental solar station in NM that receives power beamed down by satellite daily. We have some of the technology to do that.

The book's portrayal of martial law being imposed in cities (with some revolting against it) to control urban chaos is also quite probable, although the authors generally skirt the issue of what that chaos would actually look like. The fact that such martial law might breed a "Napoleon of the Apocalypse" like General Bayclock, who brutalizes Albuquerque in the name of restoring order, is also possible. Although they mention that characters expect urban fires and looting, etc, none of the characters actually experience such things except to portray Bayclock's viciousness; in most cases, the characters escape the cities all too easily.

Also realistic: a government in Washington that thinks it has control but in fact does not. Violent local attacks on people the attackers blame for the crisis (in this case, the oil company). Brief mentions of overseas hostility to US representatives (including the stranded president) as the oil plague spreads around the world. Disparate communities forming to survive semi-independently, some of them very agrarian, some seeking to restore what tech they can.

One thing these communities have that seems a little questionable is the "Atlantis Network," a network of shortwave radio communications. Don't such radios use petroleum-based components (at least, if they're not decades old) and need electricity? The latter could be created in several ways that don't require oil; the former might be harder to come by. It could happen, but I doubt it would spring up so quickly.

Also questionable is the fact that two Navy pilots are flying across AZ when Prometheus consumes their fuel and their planes explode upon crashing. Common sense says that fighter jets flying across the US wouldn't be armed, and without those weapons, how do you explode without fuel?!?

Unfortunately, once we get beyond the science, there are some problems. Many of the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes or have no character at all, with repetition of their full name, title or a slogan replacing any real development. The Mayor of Albuquerque is the most obvious example: despite the fact that he must've had enough personality and leadership skills to get elected, he's totally spineless, with only the repetition of his title giving him any legitimacy at all. Gen. Bayclock is the other extreme: a caricature of what "liberals" see in military figures, a very unsympathetic bastard who hates scientists and other "weenies," a catagory that includes anyone who tries to question him. (Was he modeled on Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe?!?) Sgt. Morris is a stereotype of military women, lacking any semblance of femininity or even intelligent thought, and most of the other military people are just there.

Todd Severyn, one of the heroes, is a semi-steretyped cowboy/oilman; the authors mention that he regrets his role in spraying Prometheus, but we don't actually see it in his behavior. He escapes to an old hippie commune/farm, but is repeatedly portrayed as criticizing them as "weird" or "loony" despite the fact that they are farming and he spends a lot of time riding around rather than helping. (The whole commune's protrayl is itself conflicted: the authors note it has been surviving off the land for years, yet the group spends a lot of energy trying to pull together the "last big rock concert," so we learn nothing about how they farm.) In fact, there's little or no psychological exploration of the characters at all, except, to some degree, with the tanker's captain -- he at least is protrayed as having changed from a voluble guy to a taciturn one and trying to hide his identity due to guilt/responsibility for the oil spill, which he didn't actually cause.

It would've been a lot better if the authors kept us guessing who he was until he re-encountered the spill's cause, Connor Brooks, who is portrayed as having absolutely no redeeming qualities and no sense of responsibility. By the second time he was mentioned, I hated him, far more than Bayclock, who at least had a warped sense of duty motivating him. There are such people, but even sociopaths aren't usually quite so obviously self-centered assholes as this guy is.

Come on. Having minor characters be one-dimensional is expected in a book, and I understand that getting too psychological can slow down the flow of the story. But having almost everyone be a caricature of a real person becomes trying.

So, too, is the ultimate plotline: barbarian with real military training gets defeated by civilized (mostly) civilian heroes who travel all over the place and somehow manage to avoid starving, or, in this case, dehydrating to death. (They do, after all, cross the deserts of the Southwest....) There are way too many of those plots in apocalyptic lit; see for example, The Stand, Swan Song, or Wrath of God, to name a few. I'd much rather see an exploration of what it might take to survive such a crisis, the variety of communities that develop, and how people adapt to the changes.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Cherry Blossom Baptism"

A song obviously inspired by images seen only in Hiroshima & Nagasaki...

Artist: Monks of Doom
From the CD "Meridian" (1991)


I was swimming in the cool waters of an oasis
I was swimming in a mirage
I was wondering just where this road would take us
It’s the same one that we have been on

From the city of bosra to jerusalem
From the west into the east
Only one more sacrifice
Then we’ll finally get us all some peace

The man behind the man behind the curtain is working
Pulling levers by his crystal ball
He’s plowing the fields for crysanthemums
Waiting for the sun to fall

He threw a bone to the starving faithful
They got down on their knees
The man behind the man behind the curtain is talking
But he never betrays what he thinks

Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism
Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism

Now that the rose
Is gone from the garden
What will we do
With the thorn?

Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism

If I went down
To the river of jordan
Just to bathe my wearisome soul
If I could just touch the hem of his garment
Well then I know he’d take me home

To see the water in the river boil
To see the city consumed by fire
To see the man’s cast shadow scorched into the earth
And flies buzzing in the air like a funeral choir

Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism
Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism

Now that the rose
Is gone from the garden
What will we do
With the thorn grown on the grove?

Silver reflection
Cherry blossom baptism

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"Wooden Ships"

Artist: Crosby, Stills & Nash
from their self-titled album, 1969

(by David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner)


Stills: If you smile at me I will understand
'Cause that is something
Everybody everywhere does in the same language
Crosby: I can see by your coat, my friend you're from the other side
There's just one thing I got to know
Can you tell me please who won?
Stills: Say can I have some of your purple berries?
Crosby: Yes, I've been eating them
For six or seven weeks now haven't got sick once
Stills: Probably keep us both alive

Wooden ships on the water very free and easy
Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline let us be
Talkin' 'bout very free and easy

Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving, you don't need us

Aaaah ...
Go take your sister then by the hand
Lead her away from this foreign land
Far away where we might laugh again
We are leaving, you don't need us

And it's a fair wind
Blowin' warm out of the south over my shoulder
Guess I'll set a course and go


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nagasaki pt 2

Aha, I was looking for this. George Weller's original stories as published by the Japanese Mainichi Daily News, based on his notes. There are some weird phrasings and several notations that words are illegible. Given what we now know about nukes, they seem curiously out-dated, and Weller phrases some things in ways that strike me as not being journalistically neutral, but they're an interesting insight into an outsiders view of holocaust on a small scale.

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Banned A-bomb horror reports found (emphasis added)


SOURCE: The Scotsman 6/20/05

CENSORED reports of the devastation caused by the Second World War atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki have been rediscovered 60 years after they were suppressed on the orders of US General Douglas MacArthur.

Award-winning reporter George Weller sneaked into the country - despite a ban on journalists - to provide an unflinching account of the "wasteland of war" and the horrific illnesses caused by radiation.

Mr Weller, who died in 2002, posed as a US Army colonel at one point to get into Japan in early September, about three weeks after the nation surrendered and a month after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

Carbon copies of his stories, running to about 25,000 words on 75 typed pages - along with more than two dozen photographs - were discovered by his son, novelist Anthony Weller, at his father's flat near Rome.

The stories infuriated General MacArthur so much that he personally ordered that they be quashed, and the originals were never returned.

About 70,000 people were killed in the explosion in Nagasaki, and Anthony Weller said he thought wartime officials wanted to cover up stories about radiation sickness and feared his father's reports would sway American public opinion against building an arsenal of nuclear bombs.

In an article dated 8 September 1945, Mr Weller, who submitted his work to the US censors, told how he walked through the city.

Though thousands of burn victims had died within a week after the attack, doctors were stumped by "this mysterious disease X" which was still killing many Japanese people and also Allied soldiers freed from prison camps a month later.

"In flattened skeletons of the Mitsubishi arms plants is revealed what the atomic bomb can do to steel and stone, but what the riven atom can do against human flesh and bone lies hidden in two hospitals of downtown Nagasaki," he wrote.

One woman at a hospital "lies moaning with a blackish mouth stiff as though with lockjaw and unable to utter clear words", her legs and arms covered with red spots.

Others suffered from a dangerously high fever, a drop in white and red blood cells, swelling in the throat, sores, vomiting, diarrhoea, internal bleeding or loss of hair, Mr Weller wrote.

The next day, he met a Japanese doctor and X-ray specialist who thought the bomb had showered the population with harmfully high levels of beta and gamma radiation. But nobody could say for sure.

The journalist was 95 when he died in December 2002 at his home in San Felice Circeo, Italy.

He won the Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious journalism prize in the United States, for an eyewitness account of an emergency appendectomy carried out by a pharmacist's mate on a Navy submarine underwater in the South China Sea.


Other stories of that event & Hiroshima:

BBC's original 1945 coverage

Common Dreams' look at the real story and the propaganda machine that tried to suppress it.

Yale's Avalon Project, Chap. 7 reports something I didn't know, buried in several chapters of pretty generic stuff about both Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

"During the approach to the target the special instruments installed in the plane told us that the bomb was ready to function. We were prepared to drop the second atomic bomb on Japan. But fate was against us, for the target was completely obscured by smoke and haze. Three times we attempted bombing runs, but without success. Then with anti-aircraft fire bursting around us and with a number of enemy fighters coming up after us, we headed for our secondary target, Nagasaki.

What was their PRIMARY target? According to Wikipedia it was Kokura, now part of the city of Kitakyushu (2005 pop. almost 1 million). It was probably chosen because of its status as a transport hub between Honshu and Kyushu plus the fact that it is HQ of Nippon Steel Corp., obviously a major player in Japan's wartime economy. I just wonder if anyone noticed the irony of the fact that one of its sister cities today is Norfolk, VA -- a major US Navy nuclear sub base. "The expression Kokura's luck became common in Japan for escaping a horrible situation without being aware of it." has the following grim memory from survivor Fujie Urata Matsumoto:

The pumpkin field in front of the house was blown clean. Nothing was left of the whole thick crop, except that in place of the pumpkins there was a woman's head. I looked at the face to see if I knew her. It was a woman of about forty. She must have been from another part of town - I had never seen her around here. A gold tooth gleamed in the wide-open mouth. A handful of singed hair hung down from the left temple over her cheek, dangling in her mouth. Her eyelids were drawn up, showing black holes where the eyes had been burned out. . . . She had probably looked square into the flash and gotten her eyeballs burned.

For more survivors' stories, go here... or for their artwork, go here.

If those aren't enough to show that banning the bomb is the only sane course we can take, what kind of evidence does it take???

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

"Black Planet"

Artist: Sisters of Mercy
from "First and Last and Always" (1985)


(In the western sky)
(My kingdom come)

So still so dark all over Europe
And I ride down the highway 101
By the side of the ocean headed for sunset
For the kingdom come
for the

Black planet
Black world

Run around in the radiation
Run around in the acid rain
On a
Black planet
Black planet hanging over the highway
Out of my mind's eye
Out of the memory
Black world out of my mind

Still so dark all over Europe
And the rainbow rises here
In the western sky
The kill to show for
At the end of the great white pier
I see a


Run around in the radiation
Tune in turn on burn out in the acid rain on a..

CHORUS[repeat to fade]


"The Big Chill"

TV show; The Science Channel
June 2005
Issue: Climate change

Lots has been said about the global warming vs. next ice age debate. What this show points out, as other sources are beginning to, is that warming may cause an ice age, and possibly quickly.

To understand why that is, I need to briefly summarize a little oceanography for you (if you don't already know):

Normally, the Gulf Stream carries warm tropical water from the coast of South America north along the US coast, then across to northern Europe before losing enough heat to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic in the Barents Sea. At the bottom, it returns to the tropics to repeat the cycle. That's known as the Great Conveyor Belt, or, in technical terms, "thermohaline circulation."

But, as the globe warms, higher than normal quantities of meltwater from high-latitude glaciers and rainwater from rivers flows into the Atlantic and, being fresh water, it's lighter than the salty ocean. It dilutes the Gulf Stream at its northern end and prevents the water from sinking, causing the Conveyor belt to stop running, or at least to drop to the bottom at some more southerly point.

The Conveyor is the primary reason northern Europe is inhabitable at all. As one speaker on the show noted, it carries about "one million power stations" worth of heat to a part of the world that's at a latitude where Canada has polar bears and Siberia gets winter temps of -40 C on a regular basis. Look at a world map -- or, better yet, a night-time photo -- and you see a striking difference between Europe and other places at the same latitude: Europe is a beehive of cities, home to nearly 500 million people, while the rest of that strip of Earth (except eastern North America)is almost vacant by comparison. (I know the photo seems fairly bright, but a lot of the brightness in western Canada and Siberia is not from cities, it's from oil fields burning off natural gas.)

Right now, annual temperatures are rising, but how much is still debatable; climatologists predict a change of 1.5 to 6 C by 2100, and governments worldwide are to some degree planning for the effects of that heat. But, if this branch of research is accurate, the warmth will be temporary, followed in short order by a rapid cooldown that could last centuries.

Scientists have been finding that Barents Sea salinity is dropping, causing "the largest and most dramatic oceanic change ever measured in the era of modern instruments," according to the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which led the research. London's Independent newspaper, from which the above quote was taken, says this would cause "a nightmare scenario where farmland turns to tundra and winter temperatures drop below -20C" in Britain. The paper reports (link added):

When the Gulf Stream abruptly turned off about 12,700 years ago, it brought about a 1,300-year cold period, known as the Younger Dryas. This froze Britain in continuous permafrost, drove summer temperatures down to 10C and winter ones to -20C, and brought icebergs as far south as Portugal. Europe could not sustain anything like its present population. Droughts struck across the globe, including in Asia, Africa and the American west, as the disruption of the Gulf Stream affected currents worldwide.

Now, it seems really counter-intuitive to assume heat causes freezing, and that's where research by Thomas F. Stocker comes in (emphasis added):

He and colleague Andreas Schmittner looked at the problem through experiments with a simple, coupled atmosphere-ocean climate model in which a final carbon dioxide concentration of 750 ppm was attained over different time spans. They found that the thermohaline circulation weakens when the increase in carbon dioxide to 750 ppm is relatively slow, spanning several centuries or more. However, when the rate of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases (expressed as CO2) is similar to today's rate of growth (1% per year)--or the concentration of 750 ppm is reached in 100 years--the thermohaline circulation permanently shuts down.

Hmmm... It permanently shuts down. That's not too encouraging, is it? I suspect he means for the foreseeable future, centuries or millennia, not for the rest of Earth's lifespan, but that's a detail that would make no difference as far as humans go.

Despite the fact that the Bush II administration seems to be ignoring, even demonizing, climate research, the US Defense Department shows some signs of taking it seriously. (Of course... this admin focuses everything on military issues, rather than all the other effects such a problem could have...) In a report by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, they found that, "With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth's environment."

Schwartz & Randall admit their scenario, which is based on the events that caused a century of cooling 8200 years ago (and thus would NOT be as severe as an ice age), is "not the most likely, but (is) plausible." Overall, they predict, such a cooling could spark wars over food and water supplies and severely restricted energy availability due to frozen ports and increased storminess. "Unlikely alliances could be formed as defense priorities shift and the goal is resources for survival rather than religion, ideology, or national honor."

While reviewing the history, they note that at least eight sudden temperature drops have occurred over the past 730,000 years, and note that a drop like one of the most recent, the Younger Dryas (c. 12.700 yrs ago) or the Little Ice Age (CE 1300-1850), would have a much more serious effect on humans now than then because of our much greater population and, I'd add, the fact that so many people are not living off the land directly.

Their model falls between the two in severity, but still predicts "mega-droughts" in parts of Europe and Asia and less severe droughts in America and elsewhere that "overwhelm available (water) conservation options." Europe's climate becomes "more like Siberia's" within the first decade. Crop yields and growing season lengths in key agricultural areas, including the US but possibly not Australia, "fall by 10-25 percent." Social unrest and wars occur, especially in nations already under economic and political stress, as a "more severe have, have-not mentality" takes over.

"With 815 million people receiving insufficient sustenance worldwide, some would say that as a globe, we're living well above our carrying capacity (already)..." they write. I'm one of those people, as I've mentioned in previous blog entries. But I'm also semi-optimistic; I hope we as a species can realize that such a climate change can best be handled through cooperation, not conflict. But they predict the US and Australia will turn inward, creating fortress nations that keep our supplies for ourselves, while keeping out hungry folks from elsewhere.

...More to come on this, I'm sure...

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Monday, June 13, 2005

"Radium Rain"

Just thought this said something relevant to the blog's subject matter...

Artist: Bruce Cockburn
from the album "Big Circumstance" (1989)

They're hosing down trucks at the border under a rainbow sign --
The raindrops falling on my head burn into my mind.
On a hillside in the distance there's a patch of green sunshine
Ain't it a shame
Ain't it a shame
About the radium rain.

Everyday in the paper you can watch the numbers rise,
No such event can over take us here, we're much too wise
In the meantime don't eat anything that grows and don't breathe when the cars go by
Ain't it a shame
Ain't it a shame
About the radium rain

Big motorcycle rumbles out of the rain like some creation of mist.
There's a man on a roof with a blindfold on and a hand grenade in his fist.
I walk stiff, with teeth clenched tight, filled with nostalgia for a clean wind's kiss.
Ain't it a shame
Ain't it a shame
About the radium rain.

A flock of birds writes something on the sky in a language i can't understand.
God's graffiti -- but it don't say why so much evil seems to land on man
When everyone i meet just wants to live and love, and get along as best they can.
Ain't it a shame
Ain't it a shame
About the radium rain.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

"Alas, Babylon"

Author: Pat Frank
Lippincott, 1959
Apocalypse Type: Nuclear War
Rating: **** (of 5)

Overall, Alas, Babylon rightly deserves its place as a classic of the apocalyptic genre, but that's primarily because Frank's characters are so engaging and realistic. He writes with flair and color, and the people are ones you might meet in real life.

The social events are plausible, but readers have to realize that what happens to his fictional town of Fort Repose, FL, would in fact be the luckiest end of the spectrum of possibilities, with the book only barely making references to the far darker and more tortured reality that would be afflicting the vast majority of a full-scale nuclear war's survivors. Compared to most post-war places, Frank's setting is an edenic paradise -- very few deaths, very little radiation or disease, only minimal trouble finding food, only passing mentions of the horrors going on outside.

Actually, Fort Repose exists in a physically impossible bubble of safety. The characters can see the bombs go off over Orlando, which the book says is two hours away, one of them gets temporarily blinded by the bombs over Tampa, and one sees a distant flash that marks the demise of Jacksonville. All of those would put Fort Repose somewhere around Ocala or Gainesville, but at one point, they say they're lucky the Russians never hit Patrick AFB (aka Cape Canaveral), which is due east of them. That creates a little geography problem, since Canaveral is due east of... Orlando. Anyone living between them would be radioactive toast from Orlando's fallout.

Some of the book's scientific/technical problems exist because Frank didn't know about some of the things we've since learned, especially the possibility of climatic changes sparked by such a war. For him, Florida's climate is still the same... in fact, it's impossibly good, with no rainstorms dropping radioactive ash, no hurricanes, not even the unseasonable frosts that can hit the state in normal years. The story never suggests the possibility of nuclear winter or nuclear autumn, either of which would've made his characters' lives much harder even with Florida's low latitude probably tempering the effect. (That means temperatures around freezing rather than -30 F if nuclear winter theory is correct, almost certainly wiping out any crops then growing and probably preventing the next year's growth, too.)

It is clear from the events, social situation, and technology available to the characters that the book's action is set around the time it was written; there's no effort to imagine more advanced technology, and segregation is still running amok. But that conflicts with some of the things characters say about the US and Soviet nuclear capabilities, leading me to believe Mr. Frank bought into the then-popular propaganda of Soviet power.

At one point, for example, a character estimates the number of enemy subs at 600 to 750 ... numbers the Soviets have never come close to. A detailed chart at the National Resources Defense Council website shows the USSR's missile sub fleet peaked at 89 boats in 1978 and peaked at 2956 SLBM (sub-launched ballistic missile) warheads in 1989. The NRDC shows the Soviets had just 11 missile subs and just 33 SLBMs in 1959. Even if we assume he was counting subs that weren't carrying ballistic missiles, there's no way in hell they had 600 of them.

Likewise, there's a strong subtext that the Soviets were overpowering us in overall number of warheads, but in fact, they were very, very far behind.

Specifically,The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives these figures, which include SLBMs, for the reality of 1959:

US stockpile = 12,298 warheads (2496 of them strategic) totalling 19,054.62 megatons (MT), or an average of 645 KT each.
USSR stockpile = 1050 warheads (283 of them strategic), total megatonnage unknown, but if we assume the Soviet warheads were even twice as powerful as ours on average (they did have some tendency to go for bigger bombs), that still means they only had around 1355 MT.

Of course, getting hit with 1355 MT would still make it the worst day in American history, with the damage probably enough to cripple us, as the story depicts. Make no mistake -- his list of destroyed cities is very long, including most of the places you'd expect (although Denver survives to become the new capital). But Frank does forget about the various side effects a war like that would have, including such things as shattered communications and loss of fuel, medical, and other supplies. He depicts those on the local scale with characters unable to use cars after a while and getting nothing but sporadic Conelrad announcements until the radio stations run out of power, but has the US government still flying heliocopters and jets a year afterward. I seriously doubt that would be true in all but a very limited nuclear war, largely b/c oil supplies would logically be major targets, and the war itself would make oil transport impossible. (He does hint at this at the end, when a character says the country's remaining nuclear power is its only hope, but nuclear plants require a very high-tech base which would not exist anymore, even if the plants themselves did.)

Frank also seriously downplays the psychological effects such a catastrophe would probably have. There are no major cases of mental illness in the Fort Repose population, no obvious signs of grief (even in the two kids who know their dad probably died in Omaha & have therefore lost their home & all their friends; that's a HUGE stretch of reality), no major addictions as ways to "cope" with the stress (in fact, the hero, Randy, gives up his booze entirely), etc.

In reality, studies have shown that although the majority of survivors of a traumatic event would recover within 6-16 months, about 34% of people who experienced a single bombing would develop the symptoms of PTSD -- that's a single bombing, never mind an event which they'd immediately recognize as horrific beyond anything ever experienced by anybody. Generally, the effects are worse for human-caused events than for natural events. The same website notes, "the following types of exposure place survivors at high risk for a range of postdisaster problems:

Exposure to mass destruction or death
Toxic contamination
Sudden or violent death of a loved one
Loss of home or community."

Nuclear war would almost guarantee ALL of those would affect almost everyone who survived.

With all of that said, however, the book IS a good read. There are none of the impossibly heroic or impossibly evil characters that seem to plague this genre, no overblown preoccupation with religion even though the title is a reference to the Book of Revelation. Even the characters' belief that the US government will come to help them is reasonable; we see that happen throughout history when a civilization falls but some people still remember its greatness & do the best they can under trying circumstances.

If it's about anything, Alas, Babylon is about that kind of survival.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

The other coming crisis...

From the Denver Post, 6/9/05:

Expert: water shortage inevitable
The Associated Press

Boulder - Water shortages in the Colorado River are almost inevitable by 2011 and could force feuding Western states to cooperate on managing the river, an expert said.

"All the states are at risk," said Jim Lochhead, former executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

"And when all parties are at risk, there is potential for a mutually beneficial (resolution)." Lochhead spoke Wednesday at a University of Colorado symposium on the river's problems.

A long drought has left Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the river's two major reservoirs, dangerously low. Abundant snow last winter will raise both reservoirs, but not enough to replace what the drought and a booming population have drained.

"We wiped out the bad year of 2004 by having a wet 2005," said Terry Fulp of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "But there is still an impetus to get some agreement." The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the river's water between the Upper Basin states - Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming - and the Lower Basin states - Arizona, California and Nevada. So far, the river has been able to satisfy the demand, but population growth is expected to outstrip the available water, officials said.
The Interior Department has begun writing a drought management plan for the river after the seven states failed to reach an agreement. The plan is expected to be finished by December 2007.


Warning: serious snark ahead...

This is something that's been talked about for years in that part of the country, not to mention parts of the Great Plains and even in several foreign countries. Water, like oil, is a linchpin of civilization; even more important, it's crucial to life.

The problem in the American West, in a nutshell, is not just population growth in itself, but also idiotic use of water by those already there. Let's face it, most of the area the Colorado flows though is a desert, and has been for several thousand years at least. But in the past several decades, people have thought it cool (pun intended) to bring the trees, grasses, and lawn-ornament plants from more Northerly, wetter climes to places like Phoenix.

Fly into that city (I lived there four years, 1997-2001) and you'll see an immense trellis of brilliant green from miles away surrounded by greyish-brown scrubland. That's Phoenix & suburbs, sprawl central, with the trellis being roads that run arrow-straight for miles. It looks beautiful, but it's SO wrong where it is. Instead of adapting to the environment by decorating with local plants (which are beautiful, especially in Feb. and March when the desert blooms), too many places waste tons of water to grow that fashionable but utterly useless urban monoculture -- grass.

The worst violators are the ubiquitous golf courses; the only one I can think of that's truly a desert course is one in the fringe town of Apache Junction, well away from the ritzy hotels and wealthy neighborhoods golfers are more likely to frequent. Given what one golfer said when I lived there -- that the whole point of golf is to confront nature and win -- why don't they actually DO so on Nature's own terms, challenging themselves to fish their balls out of creosote bushes, rocks, cacti small and large, and avoid rattlesnake dens just like the hikers do?

A close second are the acres of cotton and orange groves, mostly on the fringes of the valley. Neither of those plants are native here, either.

Yes, there ARE people who encourage conservation methods such as low-water landscaping, and some of the homes built that way are beautiful (and expensive). Also, the valley boasts several big parks that preserve the desert's austere beauty, where I was able to easily escape from any sight of the sprawl if I wanted to. But when you contrast that with public authorities who, after draining all but the last drop of water from the Salt River (a tributary of the Colorado), proceed to spend millions to install inflatable dams and pump water back into the riverbed to create a boating lake (Tempe Town Lake) that's only going to evaporate without further pumping, you've got to wonder if some of the people were nuts when they got there, or just became that way from the heat.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"Oil Storm" part 2: the population problem

Our addiction to oil is really a symptom of a much more serious problem: our system has been working under the delusion that we aren't subject to the same ecological rules that all other lifeforms are, so not enough people are thinking about what running out of oil will do to our population if we don't have a sufficiently strong energy source to replace it.

Given the short time frame we may have, it's not too surprising that many people see major problems as inevitable and often appeal to an outside savior (including deities, aliens, and technology) for escape. Such apocalyptic thought may in itself be a subconscious recognition that humanity's numbers are well beyond Earth's carrying capacity and are in practice violating natural rules that constrain population. Rule violations are often portrayed in religious terms as "sin," but what the religions define as sins are not the actual problems... they are in fact symptoms of the problem. This problem.

Sociologist William Catton explains the crucial concept of carrying capacity this way (emphasis added):

... For any use of any environment by any population, there is a volume and intensity of use that can be exceed(ed) only by degrading that environment's future suitability for that use. Carrying capacity, the word for maximal sustainable use level, can be exceeded--but only temporarily. Ecologically, Malthus's main error was supposing that it was not possible for a population to increase beyond the level of available sustenance. It can and does happen, but always the overshoot will be temporary.

The comparably tragic error of Malthus's latter-day critics has been to mistake serial traps for progress, i.e., to construe technological change that facilitates temporary evasion of carrying capacity limits as permanent elevation (or repeal) of those limits. When load comes to exceed carrying capacity, the overload inexorably causes environmental damage; then the reduced carrying capacity leads to load reduction (i.e., a crash).

I'd add that many people fail to note that Earth's timeframe for "temporary" can be vastly longer than any one human lifetime. Global human population has been growing for millennia, but really took off in the past two centuries largely due to the use of oil-based fuel and fertilizers and improved medicine (which is often dependent on oil), which prolonged lifetimes and with them the childbearing years. If we hadn't found such fuels, I imagine our population would've stabilized already; if we had an infinite supply of fuels (which the same site never mentions at all as a factor), future population might look like one of these.#

That crash will come when the decline in oil availability begins to really hit home because, as Oil Storm and other sources have noted, oil fuels modern agriculture and without it the big farms are history. Without the big farms, we can't support our society at the level of complexity we've come to take for granted, and, more importantly, can't support the skyrocketing global population we have. For years, we've prided ourselves on being industrial and able to conquer anything, solve any problem, but when it comes right down to it, we are as dependent on agriculture as was ancient Egypt or any other dead civilization of history. Maybe more so.

We all need to realize that the film's "No Harvest in '06" protests are not just hyperbole... eventually, they'll be reality. Violent reality -- not just protests, but revolutions of desperate people seeking food. Maybe not next year, but in the not too distant future, if oil peak predictions are correct. The film showed some people freezing to death, but that would be a tiny number compared to those who starve.

As an example of what could happen, Wolf at the Door notes the following (emphasis added):

The example of North Korea shows us what happens to agriculture when oil products are removed. After the Korean war, it had developed a modern farming system depending on machinery and oil-based fertilisers. After the Soviet Union fell, Communist aid to the country stopped and they were unable to purchase oil and supplies. Without oil, farm machinery was sitting idle (80% of its capacity by 1998) and large proportions of the people had to return to the agriculture. Unfortunately the soil had been drained of nutrients over the years and, without fertilisers, it was unable to produce the same output as before. Crop yields fell by 60% over the period 1989-1998. Unless it can get access to oil and fertilisers again, the population will decline until it reaches a sustainable level.

We've all seen coverage of just how desperate that country is, and eventually we could follow suit. I don't know if we have a way out of that, or if we have one we can implement in time. One thing that will help is to encourage local farming, gardening, etc. by buying locally, but many places don't have enough nearby arable land to support their existing population (esp. cities). Maybe it's time to pressure state legislatures to fund more grants for greenhouses, hydroponics, community farms, apartment-rooftop gardens, better education in horticulture, etc., and take the money from the billions we spend on roads (which simply means oil) as a true investment in the future.


#-The charts linked here obviously don't take into account the population decline that almost certainly will happen when the crutch of oil is gone. In fact, the site says, "In the 20th century the human race began at last to declare victory over both famine-related and infant mortality, at the same time that significant advances in public health and medicine were applied." This "victory" may well prove to be as illusory as Hitler's 1000 Year Reich, and it's blatantly untrue as far as famine goes already.

The world presently grows enough food to feed the starving (in fact, almost certainly more food, as evidenced by our global population growth), but it very often doesn't get to them, and we're already seeing widespread declines in the fertility of farmland due to the repetitious use of a handful of crops. Such declines were being reported in the early 1900s in some places such as Kansas, but fertility was temporarily propped up by the development of petrochemical fertilizers, which, combined with booming profitability, promoted practices (especially monoculture) that have depleted key soil nutrients even more rapidly than was already occurring:

Call and Throckmorton {two U. of Kansas scientists in 1918} credited the declining productivity of Kansas soils to five factors: depletion of soil organic matter, failure to grow enough acres of leguminous crops for nitrogen fixation, depletion of mineral nutrients, the lack of proper crop rotations, and the erosion of fertile topsoil. These five factors are the subject of nearly every soils publication prior to the advent of inexpensive nitrogen fertilizers in the mid-1900's. They continue to be the basis of soil health for every farming system regardless of the use of commercial fertilizers.


(Note: This entry has been edited over the last few days (6/7-9/05). Hopefully, it's more focused now... -- JD)

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motivation & media portrayals

Liz wrote: I'm also very curious about how media portrayal of apocalyptic scenarios affects people. Are they moved to think differently or even act differently?

I'm curious about that, too; that's one of the things I hope we will come to understand a little about using this blog.

I think some people use it as a warning, a way to understand what we need to fight against (that's my motivation, in part); others probably accept the idea as inevitable and are trying to predict how it'll play out. (I know I said in "Intro..." that I don't think it's inevitable, but I think part of me does, and if it happens, I intend to try to survive it, although I'm not into the whole "survivalism" thing per se.) Many have been conditioned to hear such tales as "Chicken Little-ism" and ignore them.... possibly at their peril.

Denial is a very serious problem in our society, and by ignoring this particular subject, people are in effect ignoring some of the serious flaws our society has always had but tries to keep hidden, often through religion and/or political repression. We as a society are denying both our fear and our recognition that we are NOT indestructible, nor even all that special in the grand scheme of things.

In recent decades, though, it has become increasingly difficult to pull off the convoluted dance steps denial requires, in part because the problems themselves are reaching boiling point, but also because the amount of knowledge about the reality of our situation and our alternatives has grown exponentially. In most previous centuries (and this problem has been developing for centuries, at least) and in most societies even recently, information was rigidly controlled or simply not available. People did not have the access we now have, and that both terrifies some people and emboldens others to work for change. Ultimately, apocalyptic literature of any stripe is about gut-wrenching, traumatic change and how people and societies deal with it (or not).

Personally, I got interested in apoc-lit in high school and have since realized it's both a reaction to the real-world threat of nuclear war and an exploration of the darker side of my own psyche after family disintegration ("nuclear (family) war," the other side of my motivation).


Monday, June 06, 2005

"The Cold and The Dark"

Authors: Paul Ehrlich, Carl Sagan, et al.
Norton & Co, 1984
Apocalypse Type: Nuclear (Non-fiction)
Rating: **** (of 5)

The first major book to really explore the science behind the concept of nuclear winter, this is -- and should be -- disturbing.

In case you're just off the ship from Mars, nuclear winter theory is the idea that a nuclear war over a certain number of warheads will trigger temperatures to plummet, especially in Northern Hemisphere lands distant from the ocean, with drastic consequences to many species including humans. They don't specify what that threshold is because no one knows, but responding to questions at the conference this book records, Carl Sagan said, "I think that to take out all major fixed strategic targets reliably, you have to exceed the nuclear winter threshold" (p33).

Sagan's group, best known as TTAPS#, explored numerous scenarios of various severity including attacks solely on cities (called "countervalue" targeting), attacks solely on military targets (called "counterforce" targeting), and mixed attacks hitting both urban areas and military sites. Based on a wide range of variables -- many of which they admit they couldn't quantify, and simply labeled as "synergisms" -- and atmospheric effects partly modeled on the massive globe-spanning dust storms of Mars, they argued that almost any exchange will exceed this threshold. If that happens, the theory says it will spark average temperatures to fall and stay cold for a time in proportion to the size of the exchange; just a few degrees for small ones down to -47 deg. C for the most severe scenario, taking more than a year to return to normal in some scenarios. They theorize that a major part of the freeze is caused clouds of soot from fires making Earth's surface far darker than normal, possibly too dark for people to see or plants to photosynthesize.

There is good news here (if we can call it that): sparking a new ice age is highly unlikely. Still, "it's very hard to see in any of these scenarios a situation in which the impact on people mediated through the ecological systems would not be at least as severe as the direct effects," Paul Ehrlich writes (p65). (Ehrlich, a biologist, wasn't an original TTAPS member.)

What he means is this: a nuclear war's effects would harm humanity from two different directions. First, millions die from the direct effects -- blast, fire, and fallout. Those effects are fairly short-term. Much longer-lived, and far less predictable, are the climatic changes; the radiation-induced mutations causing new diseases and fertility problems##; increases in ultraviolet sunlight once the skies clear; widespread radiation & other pollution for years; widespread destruction of fertile cropland; loss of vast quantities of fuel, data and technology; and the ripple effects the massacre of large swaths of the world's mammalian, bird and other species we depend on for food and less obvious "environmental services."

"The total number of people afflicted would certainly exceed one billion and might include everyone in the Northern Hemisphere," Ehrlich writes (p52). (For a somewhat technical summary of why environmental services are important, see an article by Thomas Deitz and Eugene Rosa here.)

"The survivors will be back in a kind of hunter and gatherer stage. But hunters and gatherers in the past have always had enormous cultural knowledge of their environments; they knew how to live off the land," Ehrlich writes (p59). Given that most people today in the major target countries are city-dwellers, that kind of knowledge is pretty uncommon, a fact that will certainly result in the starvation of many of those who actually survive the war itself. I suspect, though, that people will cobble together locally-varying kinds of scavenging systems and maybe very basic agriculture once canned goods are depleted.

Obviously, this idea has detractors, some of whom have argued that nuclear winter is more politics than science. One of those detractors hs been author Michael Crichton, who said the following in a Caltech speech in 2003:

What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was a meaningless formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. It was political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance.

Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can be found in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman was characteristically blunt, saying, "I really don't think these guys know what they're talking about," other prominent scientists were noticeably reticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying "It's an absolutely atrocious piece of science but…who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?" And Victor Weisskopf said, "The science is terrible but---perhaps the psychology is good." The nuclear winter team followed up the publication of such comments with letters to the editors denying that these statements were ever made, though the scientists since then have subsequently confirmed their views.

That may be true; in fact, it's quite clear a major goal of the TTAPS group was to influence public perception of nuclear weapons and to express their great dislike of the weapons. As Yevgeniy Velikhov put it, "They are simply tools of suicide."

Brian Martin presents a pretty complete view of the politics behind the debate, but ultimately notes:

Just because 'politics' may be involved with nuclear winter research does not automatically mean that the research is scientifically wrong, tainted or inappropriate for use in policy-making. A straightforward response is to be aware of the political context of the research when evaluating it. For example, if the peace movement has provided the indirect or direct stimulation for doing the research, this may suggest that other social movements (or other strands of the peace movement) might have provided the incentive for different research or different emphases in nuclear winter research. If the background and experiences of key nuclear winter researchers lead them towards certain presuppositions in their model-building, such as an emphasis on worst cases, then this is something to be aware of, not necessarily something to be condemned. If nuclear winter research is defended on the basis of verifications (different scientists finding the same results from similar models) rather than attempted falsifications because verifications are better suited to promoting the theory, the implications of this for policy-making should be discussed.

Personally, I'm inclined to view the whole issue this way: even if the theory is seriously over-representing the consequences, can we afford to ignore it? If it's wrong but we get rid of nuclear weapons assuming it's right, we're in good shape. If it's right and we do the same, we're also in good shape. But we lose if we have a nuclear war whether it's right or wrong; the only difference is in the severity of the subsequent catastrophe. I suspect even the most severe war and its aftermath wouldn't cause our extinction, but would leave enough survivors for human populations to adapt and stabilize long-term at a neolithic subsistence level. What I doubt is whether we'd ever rediscover an industrial society afterward, since we've already used most of the fuel supplies that allowed us to create one this time.


# TTAPS comes from its members' names -- Turco, Toon, Ackerman, Pollack and Sagan -- but is also a pun on the military music for funerals.

## Sloan-Kettering recently developed a drug that prevents this in female mice, although it would be just as hard to find as any other drug after a war.

(entry revised 6/13/05)

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"Oil Storm": a fabric of holes

Authors: n/a
FX TV movie, 2005
Apocalypse Type: Economic meltdown
Rating: *1/2 (of 5)

Before getting into anything detailed, I'll say this -- Since it's Fox and they generally suck when it comes to portraying reality in news, I didn't expect much from their "future documentary" Oil Storm. I wasn't too surprised. Also, this technically isn't an apocalypse tale, but something like this could happen and could indeed send our society into a major tailspin, possibly even spark war(s) that could become apocalyptic. (It made me think of the "Food and Fuel Wars" that form the backdrop to Michael Kube-McDowell's Enigma, where oil supplies have dried up and left civilization in a rather paranoid quasi-18th century state. I'll review this one at some point.)

Anyway, back to the movie. It should be subtitled "Many Unanswered Questions."

In summary, a nasty hurricane wipes out a major US oil processing port in Louisiana in late summer 2005, suddenly reducing the nation's supply by 2 million barrels/day, causing prices to spiral rapidly upward ($4.29/gal for regular within a couple days; peaked at $8+/gal later in the film, and returned to $4.29/gal at end). Obviously, those prices cause all kinds of problems, causing the gov't to draw 1 million barrels/day from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve and seek extra Saudi production.

The Saudi gov't agrees, their militants don't, we send troops from home to protect the oil fields, and all hell breaks loose, ultimately cutting Saudi production by a third. (There's only a passing mention of the troops in Iraq, and no mention of the fact that they'd be a lot easier to move to Saudi Arabia than would troops stateside. Nor does it mention the likely escalation of civil war there, or in other Muslim lands, when Iraqi rebels see the success of Saudi militants.) A bad accident closes Houston's port & oil processing facilities for months, leaving people freezing in their homes in winter. Thousands die in Boston alone.

(That in itself, sparked an observation: One character was a Boston EMT whose mother lived alone, was already ill, and died. Why didn't they move in together?!? That's obviously a solution -- it's a lot cheaper to heat one apartment than two...)

The suburbs start depopulating as people either head into the cities to be closer to services or into the countryside to get away from the protests and riots that have sparked martial law in some cities. (That's my guess, but the film all but ignores where they all go and what they do when they get there. Where do they live? How do they eat, esp. without jobs?) Farmers begin to agitate that if nothing changes quickly, they won't be able to plant come spring, since they can't afford fuel, farm subsidies have been cut, and many necessities based on petroleum are now scarce.

Bankrupties skyrocket in many business sectors, with one character saying "People are getting rid of anything that has to do with oil, which is pretty much everything." Stocks plummet, ultimately losing trillions.

The gov't turns to Russia and negotiates a new oil supply, China buys it with a higher bid while it's in transit, and the US buys it back with a $16B investment in Russian oil infrastructure improvements. Things begin to return to "normal."

Seems pretty mundane, huh? Well, it was.

But what was interesting was what they DIDN'T talk about, or barely skimmed over. Only once did they mention, in passing, the need to explore alternative energy sources, but there's absolutely zero effort to DO it. No funding increases to public transit, no mention at all of coal, solar, hydro, even nuclear power (even though Bush, who is supposedly still president in this film, has talked about hiking nuclear power), even though they make it clear nobody can afford to drive SUVs that cost $200 a tank to fill. (At those prices, even my Geo Prism would cost $90 to fill, and I get decent mileage.)

On several occasions, they talked about how much damage this was doing to the economy, but many overflight scenes of the cities show many cars on the roads. No buses or trains, even in Boston, which has a popular subway system. They said businesses were closing and stockholders were dumping oil stocks, yet somehow those firms are still in business & able to receive the Russian oil at the end. (At one point, they mention 30% unemployment, I think it was.) Tell me, how do you resume businesses when your employees have left town? When your stocks are junk & you have no money?

Too many things in this film are taken for granted -- one of them being the news media. The film's style is based on the news documentary, but how do you have news coverage if the reporters & cameramen cannot afford to get to the places were news is happening or fuel for newspaper distribution? I could see a lot of coverage via Internet, with people writing about their own areas, but mainstream media would be very hard pressed to maintain their coverage of anything outside the cities.

Also, although it mentions in passing that this crisis affects other countries, China is still somehow an economic powerhouse capable of paying "any price" for Russian oil. In reality, without our economy buying Chinese products, they'd be in worse shape than we are, and many other advanced countries would be far worse still. Japan would be starving, Europe would be in trouble. What would China's reaction be to our overbidding them? Maybe an invasion of Siberia to take the oil they couldn't buy? How would Europe react? As usual, Fox portrays the US as being almost in isolation, unaffected by most of the world.

And are we sure we'd bother trying a second bid for the Russian shipment? We'd be pretty desperate by then. I could imagine someone (esp. given Bush's penchant for using force) sending the Navy to hijack the Russian tankers, which is what I thought was going to happen during the commercial break.

Speaking of Russia, even if we did negotiate such a deal, their infrastructure is rusting and would need a fair amount of work BEFORE they could supply us with any substantial portion of the needs we now get from the Saudis. We might get an emergency shipment, but not a continuing supply, and even a supply still doesn't solve the problem that caused this crisis: Oil addiction. The film mentions protests against oil companies, but doesn't take that to its logical conclusion -- widespread protest vs. Bush himself because he's an oil man.

Our supplier may change, just like a smackhead will find a new dealer if his gets locked up, but he's still a smackhead. Typically, Fox didn't explore this issue at all. The ending only guarantees a similar, but probably more severe, crisis will happen in the near future.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Intro.../ Rating System

For most people, the concept of doom, apocalypse, holocaust, the potential end of civilization as we know it, isn't high on their thought radar screen... but maybe it should be. We probably can't eliminate all life on Earth, but we have the capacity to eliminate ourselves and several other species, and that should cause serious reflection.

I for one LIKE living here, so I certainly hope it doesn't happen and believe we MUST do whatever we can to prevent it from happening. Despite this blog's title I am NOT a person who believes that such catastrophe is inevitable, that Earth would better off with humans extinct (as one old guy once told me while I was canvassing for Sierra Club), or that some god will come save his favorites and leave the rest of us to roast. As far as the latter goes, I find salvationism an incredibly irresponsible, narcissistic concept that in fact fuels the threats we face and divides us when we need unity to deal with them.

This blog is a look at the literature, film, and other expressions of apocalypse (mostly books, fiction and otherwise). We'll summarize and look at how realistic the story is in the light of modern technology and scientific knowledge, how well the story is crafted as a piece of writing, etc., or, if non-fiction, how accurate and clearly-presented the science and/or political arguments are. We'll also occasionally look at real-world events that might have an impact on our chances of having or avoiding a holocaust.

One caveat: I will review almost anything, and have several dozen books already, but have no interest in financially supporting fundamentalist ministries, so I will NOT buy books published by such ministries. If you already have an interest in this subject, I bet you can guess some of the ones I'm referring to -- the Left Behind series, for example. If someone wants to send them to me free, I'll read them, but I won't pay for them.

I'm doing this because, although there are several good apocalypse-related sites online (see some of them in my links list, and I welcome others), I've seen very few that do more than rank or briefly mention the books/films they list. Not here. I hope to spark some discussion of the concepts these tales contain and how they might help us find a way out of the mess we're in...

It finally occurred to me you might want some explanation of the rating system, so here it is. All reviews are rated 0 to 5 stars as follows:
0 = Unbelievable dreck with no redeeming qualities. Has to be REALLY bad to earn this one; I can't think of anything I've read in years that does.
* = Don't bother. Fundamentally flawed in numerous ways.
** = Fair. Its problems outweigh its good points.
*** = Good. Interesting and well-presented story and characters outweigh whatever flaws it has.
**** = Excellent. Strong characters and plot; plausible science (even if speculative) and psychology; realistic, etc.
***** = Masterpiece of the genre. Not just a great apocalypse story, but a great tale of humanity, fact or fiction, with some unique quality that stands out.

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