Does it have to be Kamala Harris?

If Biden isn’t able to run for re-election for health reasons, say, or if he is re-elected and Democrats must choose someone to run after him…Or if he’s not re-elected (supposing the GOP succeeds in rigging races through forcing their extremists into secretary of state positions in critical electoral zones) …does Kamala Harris have to be the next Dem nominee for President? I know, we tend to choose the VP of the Democratic President to run… I want a woman President too. I voted for Elizabeth Warren for President during the primary.

But, as per the Washington Post:

Staffers who worked for Harris before she was vice president said one consistent problem was that Harris would refuse to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members, then berate employees when she appeared unprepared….’It’s clear that you’re not working with somebody who is willing to do the prep and the work,’ one former staffer said. ‘With Kamala you have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism and also her own lack of confidence. So you’re constantly sort of propping up a bully and it’s not really clear why.'”

And I remember when a reporter asked her a tough question about her plans for immigration and she got mad, bitterly sarcastic, with him–and she didn’t really answer the question. Harris doesn’t do well with pressure. During the primary debates, she got flustered and wasn’t very focused–unlike Warren–which might be explained partly by Harris over-reacting to pressure, and partly by her problem with prep. Not enough preparation… A political commentator I know said, I wasn’t a fan of hers during the primary. “She kept putting out position papers and then 180 degrees reversing herself when she got pushback. If you’re going to put out a position paper, shouldn’t you anticipate the pushback and have answers for it prepared?”

And she’s notorious for burning through her assistants and aides.

Now imagine what Biden has to put up with as President. Not only Covid and its new variants, not only vast misinformation and flat-out lies, not only the GOP openly preparing to steal elections, not only Trump and his buddies, not only inflation and school massacres, not only a kneejerk-hostile press–but the possibility of WWIII flashpoints in Ukraine and the China Sea.

How would Harris deal with that level of near-perpetual crisis? She wouldn’t. I’d rather have Stacy Abrams, or some other woman run.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/04/kamala-harris-staff-departures/

My story about Prisons for Profit

The first story in my new collection THE FEVERISH STARS is called A STATE OF IMPRISONMENT. The story about a near-future situation extrapolating today’s privatized prisons. Here’s what I said about it in a recent interview:

Frequently I have something I’ve perceived that I feel needs to be dramatized, and I cast about for the way to do that. I choose the best genre for it, in my view, and work out how to entertainingly express the underlying observation. Other times, I feel my way along, and the story tells me what the theme is; it reveals itself to me.  In “A State of Imprisonment” I started with my own personal anger—I was smoldering over the insane growth and greed in the privatized prison phenomenon. Prisons for profit. When prisons are run by a corporation for profit, rather than as a publicly funded institution, they are inevitably prone to cutting corners on the most basic needs of the human beings incarcerated; food and medical care are minimized for the sake of maximizing profit. Privatized prisons tend to use convicts as unpaid workers in a vastly more exploitative way than prisons did ever before. And there is an incentive to imprison people—accomplishing this through corruption of local justice systems—so to have more people to bill the state for, and to use as forced labor. There’s also an incentive to invent reasons to keep them in prison past their time. This outrage has been foisted on America broadly, in real life, and in places like Arizona it’s now a major industry. It was spreading so much I imagined a future in which an entire state—most of Arizona!—was converted into one big complex of privatized prisons run by a single corporation. Could this happen in real life—a prison that engulfs a whole US state? Probably not; it’s social satire. But I make it believable enough so that the reader can suspend disbelief, and get caught up in the frightening story of a woman, an investigative reporter, trapped in the system—the symbolism, the metaphor, emerges then quite naturally in the narrative…It’s an Orwellian parable based in real contemporary issues.  

And Speaking of Fear…It’s a good time to feel some dread.

Do you have agricultural land you’re not using? Even a quarter-acre, say?

I’ve been hired as a futurist at different times, as a consultant, by Stanford Research Institute for example, and I’m not bad at futurism, my novels bear that out–but more importantly I’m in touch with professional futurists, and scientists. And they’re worried. As you may have some untilled land, can I offer you some unsolicited advice for you and yours…? Study agriculture, to a sufficiency, and set aside some of your land, or more of it—you may well already have a truck garden or small plot —for raising food. You are likely to need to devote even more space to agriculture. This would be mostly for you and your family.

Be very aware of possible wells on your land. If there are streams they may go away. Piped water might diminish a good bit. But the big national problem that people are now beginning to wake up to, like people coming out of a sleep at being awakened by the smoke of their house afire…is going to be food. The supply chain may in large part collapse, due to far worse climate change effects than most people anticipate.

The relative abundance in the supermarket will come to an end in your lifetime. Probably you have an understandable dislike of “the sky is falling” people, and right enough too, but just take those steps for the sake of your family. You need not clear much land to do it. You don’t have to “become a farmer”.

We don’t want to go about frantically chopping down trees for home farming–we should be planting them. But look about you, if you have some land, and set aside a goodish section for growing food. Learn how to do it. There are pleasures in that process…and there is necessity…

If you live in an apartment, grow food on your balcony, or on the roof if they’ll let you–bring soil up there. Or join a community agricultural project.

Also think about storage; dried food, canning. I advise doing this for your children and grandchildren–or simply for your own well-being. That land will feed you if nothing else does. The coming food crisis won’t happen tomorrow—current shortages are relatively minor and evanescent— but it’ll begin within ten to twenty years

For Halloween: THE TRUTH ABOUT HORROR STORIES

Written by a guy who won the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer’s Association.

We’re all scared. That’s the truth. A billionaire in good health has no reason to be scared, in most cases. He won’t show fear, overtly. But he’s often protected by armed guards, security cameras and other devices. Because in the back of his mind, he’s scared.

A happily married woman living in a comfortable, well patrolled suburb has fun with her kids, loves her spouse, goes to church or temple or a mosque, gets much comfort at those places. But she’s scared. In the back of her mind, she’s scared.

We go cheerfully about our lives, yet in some part of ourselves we’re multiply scared. We’re socially scared when we encounter even people we trust. We’re scared of failure; we’re scared of home intruders, of cancer, of the depredations of serial killers and child abductors and the outbreak of chaos and war. We’re scared by the inevitability of death–even if it’s decades down the road…Now we’re scared of wildfires…

Some people are unconsciously drawn to discharge these fears, through horror movies and tales. The horror story doesn’t need to be specific to one’s personal fears. Fear builds up as tension; it builds like pressure in a water main. It must be controlled, sometimes discharged. Some find this release to be especially pleasurable. For some it’s even mildly addictive. Being harmlessly scared, via an art form, releases tension so it’s paradoxically relaxing–after the fact. One even feels a (ridiculous) sense of unreasoning triumph, after the book or movie, having come through what was fearful–untouched.

There is more to the psychological mechanism underlying the delight in horror stories. There are neuroses. There is rage acted out, subconsciously, on the screen. But essentially it comes down to this: we’re always scared. And when we say we’re not–we’re lying to ourselves. You see, we’re always more scared than we realize. In order to live with our fears, we buffer them, wall them off, look away from them. But they haven’t gone anywhere. Most people don’t have the self-knowledge to see themselves as they are; they’re unaware, on a conscious level, of the persistent presence of their own fears…

IS OPTIMISM POSSIBLE?

Is optimism possible in a time when democracy seems fragile; seems on the verge of being overthrown by neofascist, overt racist Trump clones? Is it possible in a time when we see legit headlines like, The world needs to cut its emissions seven times as fast to hit climate goals, U.N. report finds and Thousands of dead sea creatures are washing up on English beaches and so on…

Yes it’s possible. It requires far-seeing, and it requires the labor of comprehending complexity. But, admittedly--optimism, now, is hard work.

As for one *realistic* avenue to optimism, try THIS.

An off-the-cuff review of the new DUNE adaptation

We saw it on HBO Max, so perhaps there was cinematic power we were missing out on. But it seemed towering enough. The visual design of it seemed influenced by the old John Schoenherr covers. And that’s a good thing. He really had the heft and feel of Dune. It had the scope of Dune. Clearly it was “part one” but it worked very well for me–far better than the creative but hubris-choked movie, any cut, by David Lynch. This is Dune as I remembered it. When I open a copy nowadays, I find the dialogue to be…oh, much of it egregiously pompous and expository and just too much. But still the novel was a great science fiction conception, a wonderful vision, a classic of interplanetary dramas. I think it was influenced by The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence.  AKA Lawrence of Arabia, of course. Note that the movie Lawrence of Arabia came out before the publication of Dune. But it’s quite possible that Herbert read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom too. The novel came out before Star Wars and one is reminded of what Lucas swiped from Frank Herbert (as well as Lucas having ripped off from Jack Kirby comics and other sources) …I think Game of Thrones is also influenced by Dune…And Dune…was influenced by magic mushrooms. Psilocybin. So Frank Herbert told me when he was my teacher at Clarion.

I saw the first three episodes of the Foundation adaptation, based on the Asimov novels, and thought they were trying to be something like this…and the Foundation opening episodes of the series have their fine moments…but ultimately the adaptation of Foundation implodes, corroded by Hollywood hack plotting.

The David Lynch movie was really about David Lynch’s obsessions. This new Dune movie gives us Frank Herbert’s vision.

The Big Question of Our Age

Regarding the problem with the Big Lie spread by Trump. The problem with the Big Lie spread by anti-vaxxers. The problem with the Big Lies spread by racists. The problem with the countless lies spread by Qanon. Here’s the question:

How do we persuade someone they’re being lied to about the facts, when they believe the lie that we are liars?

Big Oil Decides It Will Live and You Will Die

“Mr Jist? You’re the scientific consultant on climate change?” the young woman asked.

“Yes.”

“The Committee will see you now. Right through that door.”

Entering the penthouse conference room, Jist was unnerved, meeting with these powerful industry leaders, since he had nothing but bad news for them. The dozen people around the big mahogany table were mostly men; there were a few women, all wearing immaculately tailored office fashions. He was suddenly self-conscious of his off-the-rack suit. And he noticed that no one asked him to sit. They looked blithely up at him with only a little more interest than if he were delivering their lunches.

They hailed from all the major obsolete-energy companies–oil, coal, fracking concerns; come together for a pan-industry strategy meeting. He was a bit surprised to see several United States Senators sitting with them, including Joe Manchin. The Senator from West Virginia was on his cell phone, half-turned to look at the monument-strewn panorama of Washington DC below. “Well now, Susan, you tell Donald I don’t have time to meet with him right now–we’ll see how things pan out in 2022.”

“Joe!” said a botoxed woman with shiny-blond hair. “You might want to end that little chat right now.” The others chuckled at that.

Manchin ended the call, then turned Jist a heavy-lidded look of vague disapproval. “Who do you work for?” he asked, emanating suspicion.

Jist blinked. “Uh–I work for this committee! I was hired to oversee the assessment. The committee asked for a frank assessment and that’s what I’ve got for you all. I’m a scientist. I have a degree from Harvard, another from MIT, and another from the Sorbonne. I won a Nobel Prize for–“

“Enough of all that eyewash,” Manchin interrupted, waving a hand dismissively.

A man Jist recognized as Lyman Frinks, the chairman of the committee, cleared his throat and said, “Let us have the summary–the short version, Mr. Jist.” Frinks had a face that looked as if it were slowly sliding into the collar of his hand made exquisitely tailored four thousand dollar silk shirt. His Texas accent was strong. “We have the report you sent over but we haven’t had time to really assess it.” He was not officially the head of a company, but he owned vast shares across the oil and gas industry, and was closely connected to Republican-controlled media sources.

Jist took a deep breath and said, “In sum, while the worst effects of climate change can be curtailed, saving perhaps a billion lives, if we act in concert right now, the greenhouse effect has only gotten more dramatic. No significant efforts to reduce carbon emissions, nor methane, and the like, have been made and many of the worst effects are now, in 2021, happening sooner than some climate scientists expected. We are seeing the melting of the permafrost with the subsequent massive release of methane. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and forest land generally, in uncontrolled exploitation and the climate-change-generated wildfires, along with the concatenation of effects in the oceans, all this accelerates the negative effects of climate change. The result is that extreme storms are becoming the norm, and they will only get worse. Infrastructure will be repeatedly interrupted by flooding and hurricane damage, in places that never saw it before. Droughts will be the norm-and they too will only get worse. The damage to arable land will limit food production, and there will be egregious and routine famines across the world, including in the United States, and with roads and other forms of transport under constant threat, food delivery will be harshly reduced. Supermarkets will have very little on the shelves. The price of food will skyrocket. There will be an increase of pandemics due to the northern movement of tropical mosquitoes and other–“

“A famine in the USA?” Botoxed woman interrupted. Her face was essentially frozen so he couldn’t read her expression precisely but he took it she was startled.

“Yes ma’am. Starvation will be widespread in this country, and every other country. And of course billions of people will be uprooted by unlivable conditions and will become a great mass of refugees which will radically undermine social order, leading to wars, which in turn–“

“You sure this is the short version, boy?” Manchin broke in, rolling his eyes.

“Oh yes sir. I could go on for a couple hours. Basically, global catastrophe is unavoidable now–we could have limited it a great deal if we’d started reducing carbon and methane emissions dramatically decades ago, when we were first made aware of the problem, but–“

“What a lot of hogwash!” Manchin laughed.

“Joe?” Frinks said, toying with an unlit cigar. “It’s not hogwash. He’s just confirming what our internal research has shown us. Last thirty years we’ve been aware this would happen. But we wanted to make our own plans at this meeting, across industry– but of course, sub rosa, on the quiet.”

“It’s true, what he’s saying?” Manchin said, who looked like he had heard the ineffable.

“Yes it is, Joe. So–shut up!”

Manchin sniffed. But he nodded. “Yes sir.”

Lindsay Graham chuckled but said nothing.

“But–what we going to do about it?” asked Mitch McConnell. “You going to…to…” He licked his lips. He had difficult saying it. “Reduce emissions? Go into energy, ah, alternatives?”

“Hell no!” Frinks said.

Everyone laughed at that, except Jist.

“Nope, it’s too late to do much good and anyway, it won’t matter. We’ve got our luxury bunkers, our mountaintop homes–“

Botoxed Woman looked nervously at Jist. “We shouldn’t be talking about those places here.”

“Don’t you worry about it,” said Frinks. “As I was sayin’, we’ve located the zones least likely to be damaged by climate change and most of us are building our homes under the domes and we’ve got the greenhouses–now there’s an irony–and the private high rise hydroponics and the food synthesizing 3D printers and the private distilleries. Hell, we’ll be fine! We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing! Folks are going to die, but folks die anyway. Except me, maybe–I’m getting that new rejuvenation treatment–“

“There’s a rejuvenation treatment?” Jist blurted.

“Oh yes, we kept it secret, of course. Yep I’ll be around in a hundred years lookin’ young as you!”

“But…if it’s secret…” Why are they telling me? Jist wondered. He had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. How are they planning to keep me quiet?

He started edging toward the door.

Frinks touched a tab the table. “Hon, send in Duke and Bubba.”

The door opened behind Jist and he turned to see two big, square-jawed men– enormous steroid-pumped masses of muscle in golf shirts and tan slacks. They both had guns holstered on their hips.

“Yes, Mr Frinks?” said the one on the left.

“Duke, I like to do things expediently. You know me–ol’ Mister Get It Done. Now, take Mr. Jist here to the roof. You know that construction site next door?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well I own that and it’s shut down today. Big fences around it. Toss him off the roof so he falls in that site, and we’ll cover him in concrete, okay?”

“You got it, sir.”

“Wait, what–?” Jist began.

“Sir,” said Bubba, “what if someone sees him fall?”

“Well if they report it,” Frinks said, admiring his cigar, “go get ’em and toss them off the roof there too. And of course we own the police in this town anyhow.”

The committee nodded thoughtfully at that.

Jist turned to run but the big men grabbed him. He was not a big man himself, and he was not strong, and they had no difficulty dragging him out.

When they’d gone, Frinks stuck the cigar in his mouth.

Botoxed Woman frowned. “You’re not going to light that in here are you?”

“No, no, wouldn’t do that, hon,” he said. “Why that’d be polluting the air!”

He got the laugh, all around, that he wanted.


THE PRESS IS PRETTY MUCH FUCKED BY THE INTERNET

The press is one of the many aspects of contemporary human life that was severely damaged by the internet. The current emphasis is on internet news, and it’s subjected to less scrutiny now. Because news gets out so fast thanks to the web, wire services are almost meaningless and the result is a general hastiness and sensationalism and commercialism of internet news sites, even the “legit” ones, the whole culture of internet short sightedness and haste and short attention span has weakened news gathering. There was this woman who claimed to have saved a bunch of young Afghan women from the Taliban, and she was touting her great accomplishment on Today.com and New York Post.com and CNN and Wall Street Journal.com and tv cable news. And they didn’t check her out. It turned out she made up 99% of it. So now they’re all, uh, That story about that woman was not true,s orry…because no one did due journalistic diligence…They’re also obviously selling puff pieces about products, sometimes in special sections with euphemistic titles meaning someone paid them to write an article or “review” but sometimes not, sometimes it’s right there in the news stream, as in a recent Washington Post puff piece endorsing, and linking to, a company selling fruity soda-pop like alcoholic drinks to college age kids…