FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Brin, Existence

Welcome David Brin (Existence) (The Worlds of David Brin) (Trailer) and Host Siun (FDL)

Existence

In an interview with The Futurist about the publication of Existence, our guest David Brin’s epic novel, the author says:

After all, what better service can science – and science fiction – perform than to poke sticks into the unknown territory ahead of us, probing for the quicksand and land mines? The mistakes that might bring our Great Experiment to an end?

And who better to poke and prod the territory than Brin whose background includes a PhD in Physics, time as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Study of Evolution of Life and a lifetime of writing award-winning books that challenge his readers to join in the exercise of imagining and creating the future.

In his latest novel, Existence, Brin takes on the Fermi Paradox – the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. Set in the 2050s, Existence is at once familiar and oh so alien even before the initial contact with an alien artifact occurs.

Reading Existence I was particularly intrigued by this depiction of the near-future. We see not only significant developments in space activity but also of media, climate change and social structures. Introducing us to a full array of characters – from a space “garbage man” to a father trying to homestead in the flooded remains of Shanghai – Brin portrays the many layers of global society in the near future from so many different angles. Interwoven with these character focused tales that make up Existence are also a series of short pieces from “Pandora’s Cornucopia” which wryly examine “our means of self-destruction.” And it’s the very extrapolations Brin devises from our current state to 2050 that serve as signposts to what we must take seriously now if we wish to avoid those means of self-destruction.

Simon Bisson of ZDnet wrote of Brin’s Existence:

Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we’re building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?

This is precisely where the writers of “hard SF” gift us so magnificently. We live in a world of speeding evolution with technology shifting the very ground beneath our feet, racing towards destruction but also possible salvation. While our politicians still haggle in terms so outdated and ineffectual, we need guides who can point us out toward the next stages. Existence does just that – and provides us with a good fast paced tale that readers will enjoy.

Or as David Brin has written, “It’s time to free ourselves from the old left-right axis of the 19th and 20th centuries.” As we explore the topics of his novel, it’s clear that he is calling on us to make that leap and begin to help build the next stage.

I hope you will join me in welcoming David Brin to FDL – there is so much for us all to talk about. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Brin, Existence

Welcome David Brin (Existence) (The Worlds of David Brin) (Trailer) and Host Siun (FDL)

Existence

In an interview with The Futurist about the publication of Existence, our guest David Brin’s epic novel, the author says:

After all, what better service can science – and science fiction – perform than to poke sticks into the unknown territory ahead of us, probing for the quicksand and land mines? The mistakes that might bring our Great Experiment to an end?

And who better to poke and prod the territory than Brin whose background includes a PhD in Physics, time as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Study of Evolution of Life and a lifetime of writing award-winning books that challenge his readers to join in the exercise of imagining and creating the future.

In his latest novel, Existence, Brin takes on the Fermi Paradox – the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. Set in the 2050s, Existence is at once familiar and oh so alien even before the initial contact with an alien artifact occurs. (more…)

You Don’t Have to Love AIPAC to Oppose Hagel

If you follow foreign policy discussions at all you will have noticed the recent commotion around the potential (and now they say planned) nomination of Republican former Senator and current Chevron board member Chuck Hagel to become Obama’s Secretary of Defense.

Hagel, whose policy positions were never exactly progressive – just scan these ratings to get a flavor of where he stands: Chuck Hagel on VoteSmart — ran afoul of his own party’s dogma police by suggesting that the Iraq war was a mistake. Of course, that opposition to the Iraq War which is now being touted so widely as a sign that he is “a war skeptic” didn’t come until 2007 when we had clearly lost. He also upset the Israel First wing of DC-land by suggesting he was an American rather than an Israeli senator and by using the phrase “Jewish lobby.” And as soon as the rumours that Obama might appoint him began, the usual voices were raised against him with the usual accusations made against anyone who is not lockstep in line with AIPAC.

So far, precisely what one would expect but then something else happened. Defending Chuck Hagel and in fact lobbying for his appointment became the cause celebre of folks like Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and MoveOn. The drumbeat was rather stunning – in fact, at times, rather startling in its … fervor:

If we don’t want to spend the next four years under the jackboot of the neocons, then we have to stop the neocons from blocking the nomination of diplomacy advocate, war skeptic and decorated Vietnam combat veteran Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

I’m not saying that we’re necessarily going to win this. But at least we can have a real fight. This is like the Warsaw Uprising: the odds against us may be daunting, but we’ll never have a better venue to make our stand.

The Warsaw Uprising? Really?

While I certainly understand – and share – the opposition to AIPAC’s vicious campaigns against anyone who dares question loyalty to the Israeli interests as the cornerstone of US policy – and I understand that some, including Glenn Greenwald, feel that support for Hagel is worthwhile:

But at the very least, Hagel’s confirmation will be a much-needed declaration that some mild dissent on foreign policy orthodoxies and Israel is permitted. It will shatter AIPAC’s veto power and dilute the perception of the so-called “pro-Israel community’s” unchallengeable power.

I have to wonder if such a confirmation really will do that as we watch Hagel’s supporters argue more and more loudly that he really didn’t mean it as Greenwald himself rightly points out in his link to ThinkProgress’ Chuch Hagel’s Pro-Israel Record.

Or look at the Politico article highlighting the Fact Sheet that Hagel’s allies are circulating (PDF download here) that includes such counterpoints to the cheerleaders’ claims that he will stop a war on Iran and oppose sanctions as assurances that Hagel “has never ruled out the use of force and supports keeping all options on the table” and that he is not opposed to sanctions on Iran, merely to unilateral sanctions noting that “in a March 2012 interview, he said the U.S. should “keep ratcheting up the sanctions…” Add in the “Facts” about his fervent support for Israel and it’s hard to see how Hagel breaks any molds in reality.

(more…)

Obama Clinton Ad Campaign Doesn’t Work

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Last week, in an attempt to damp down protests against the United States in Pakistan, the US State Department ran advertisements on Pakistani TV:

The ads show Obama saying, “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation of respect, that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
Clinton follows with a speech she’s made several times since the crisis in the Middle East began unfolding last week.
“Let me state very clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its contents. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” she says in the video.

The ad campaign cost $70,000 to run but apparently was ineffective as Friday’s demonstrations were the largest yet.

On Saturday, the United States continued a different campaign:

At least three people have been killed in a suspected US drone attack in Pakistan’s northwestern region along the Afghan border, according to a Pakistani security official…

All three people travelling in the car were killed and the vehicle completely destroyed, the security official said on condition of anonymity…

Witnesses told that drones continued hovering over the area after the attack, which triggered fear among the residents.

According to the New York Times, “The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago, and asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones in the 2012 budget. “

And yet we wonder about the source of “Muslim Rage?”

Or as FB Ali wrote in his very helpful piece at Sic Semper Tyrannis:

It is this sense of conflict with the West and aggression by it against Muslims for centuries that underlies the almost universal antipathy felt towards it by Muslims. The United States, as the current leader of the Western world, now attracts to itself this suspicion and animosity, solidified by its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan’s tribal areas, and its military and economic dominance of many Muslim lands.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Doug Saunders, The Myth of the Muslim Tide

Welcome Doug Saunders (The Globe and Mail) and Host Siun (FDL)

The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?

Doug Saunders is a journalist of the rare kind these days. He actually researches, explores, investigates and only then reports on the major trends of our global community. His earlier book, Arrival City, explored “the final shift of human populations from agricultural life to cities… —from Maryland to Shenzhen, from the favelas of Rio to the shanty towns of Mumbai, from Los Angeles to Nairobi. “ His new book The Myth of the Muslim Tide addresses the fearful response of so many Americans and Europeans to one key constituency of that shift, Muslim immigrants.

While explicitly addressing the extreme views of a Geert Wilders or Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann about Islamic immigrants, Saunders points to so many of the attacks on those communities that also resonate – without acknowledgement – in much of “liberal” society. For all the claims of openness and tolerance, so often the comments and attitudes we hear are reminiscent of the “liberal” racism embodied in the old “some of my best friends are ….”

In responding to either school of bigotry, Saunders sensible, fact-driven book is especially helpful. The Myth of the Muslim Tide begins with a section titled “Popular Fiction” which profiles the right-wing Eurabia myth as well as the various groups and parties allied to it. The author shows us just how very close the writings of “legitimate” politicians can be to the manifesto of an Anders Breivik – and how widespread such attitudes are in Europe, Canada, and in the US.

Once Saunders has laid this out, he begins to methodically tear down the myths used to support those attitudes. In The Facts, he takes us through the standard “beliefs” about Islamic population, integration and extremism, framing each as a series of statements followed by detailed, research based rebuttals. It is marvelous to see a book like this shift away from the polemical to social science and very effectively. Here’s one example:

When a terrorist attack occurs in the West, it’s sometimes hard to avoid wondering if our Muslim neighbours might be watching in silent approval…

It is chilling to learn that 7% of American Muslims say that acts of violence against civilian targets, such as bombings, are ‘sometimes justified’ if the cause is right, and that an additional 1% say they are ‘often justified.’ … Taken in isolation, such poll results have become fodder for a widespread belief that that ordinary Muslims condone terrorist violence. But those numbers leave out the larger context. When the same question was asked of Americans in general, an astounding 24% said they believe bomb attacks aimed at civilians are ‘often or sometimes justified’ and 6% feel they are ‘completely justified.’ In other words, American Muslims are between four and six times less likely than other Americans to endorse violent acts against civilians.

In addition to this debunking of the Myth, Saunders reminds us of the popular fears common during the height of Catholic and Jewish immigration and assimilation. I’m old enough (and Irish Catholic enough!) to remember well the comments heard in the 50s and the arguments against electing John Kennedy since he would obviously be beholden to the Vatican rather than the American people. And the more one explores the information about those times – including the history of terrorism and violence – the more one can begin to view the current bigotry as the latest wave of a social problem we need to work to overcome.

European bureau chief for The Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders has won the National Newspaper Award, (Canada’s Pulitzer) four times and you can follow him on twitter @DougSaunders. Happily today we can discuss this fascinating book with him here and learn what steps he hopes we’ll see to counter the hysteria of the Muslim Tide myth. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Doug Saunders, The Myth of the Muslim Tide

Welcome Doug Saunders  (The Globe and Mail) and Host Siun (FDL)

The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?

Doug Saunders is a journalist of the rare kind these days. He actually researches, explores, investigates and only then reports on the major trends of our global community. His earlier book, Arrival City, explored “the final shift of human populations from agricultural life to cities… —from Maryland to Shenzhen, from the favelas of Rio to the shanty towns of Mumbai, from Los Angeles to Nairobi. “ His new book The Myth of the Muslim Tide addresses the fearful response of so many Americans and Europeans to one key constituency of that shift, Muslim immigrants.

While explicitly addressing the extreme views of a Geert Wilders or Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann about Islamic immigrants, Saunders points to so many of the attacks on those communities that also resonate – without acknowledgement – in much of “liberal” society. For all the claims of openness and tolerance, so often the comments and attitudes we hear are reminiscent of the “liberal” racism embodied in the old “some of my best friends are ….” (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312

Welcome Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit Books) and Host Siun (FDL)

2312

I have to confess I’m a bit gobsmacked to be hosting this discussion with Kim Stanley Robinson about his latest novel, 2312. You see, Robinson’s work has been central to my political thinking since my first trip to his Red Mars. While I grew up in the antiwar and civil rights movement, the old new left, those politics over time were not broad enough, rich enough to encompass the world we now live in and try to reshape. Reading the Mars trilogy, where Robinson mixes serious science with a stunning array of political and spiritual responses to how we might organize our worlds – and his deep vein of human scale storytelling provided me with a new view, a new panorama – and it’s one that has sustained me in the years since. Other works of his – especially Antarctica and Pacific Edge – provide images, models to complement the vision of Blue Mars, reminding me even in the dark days of the world we are trying to create and I wish to live in.

In 2312, Robinson has taken us 300 years into the future, shifting beyond the near times of most of his works to a time when the consequences of our actions now play out in a devastated yet still home planet Earth. And Robinson reminds us, when 2312’s lead character Swan heads from her home Mercury to Earth of the wonder of our own planet, a wonder we forget and destroy with our current actions:

Simply to be outdoors in the open air, under the sky, in the wind – this was what she loved most about Earth. Today puffy clouds were massed overhead at about the thousand-foot level. Looked like a marine layer rolling in… Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and ful. It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers about the clouds – she reached up for it – although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made it glorious.

Of course, 2312 does not solely take place on a flooded post climate crisis earth. Instead we move around a solar system, inhabited and altered – in some places greatly, in others less so – in a “space diaspora”

The space diaspora occurred as late capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy the Earth’s biosphere or change its rules. Many argued for the destruction of the biosphere, as being the lesser of two evils.

Yet Robinson’s vision of human cultures in space is not the light but almost sweet vision of older SF writing, which plays with our imaginations like the old World’s Fair displays, but instead a richly considered portfolio of possible worlds – some disturbing in their darkness, some exhilarating in the potential for human expression and diversity. Robinson assumes that not only will our transport and technology evolve in the coming years and our economics, but the very nature of humanity will as well.

And that evolution is at the core of 2312. The novel introduces us to people who have evolved often in rather startling ways, as Robinson suggests in one the “Extracts” segments of the book: [cont’d.] (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312

Welcome Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit Books) and Host Siun (FDL)

2312

I have to confess I’m a bit gobsmacked to be hosting this discussion with Kim Stanley Robinson about his latest novel, 2312. You see, Robinson’s work has been central to my political thinking since my first trip to his Red Mars. While I grew up in the antiwar and civil rights movement, the old new left, those politics over time were not broad enough, rich enough to encompass the world we now live in and try to reshape. Reading the Mars trilogy, where Robinson mixes serious science with a stunning array of political and spiritual responses to how we might organize our worlds – and his deep vein of human scale storytelling provided me with a new view, a new panorama – and it’s one that has sustained me in the years since. Other works of his – especially Antarctica and Pacific Edge – provide images, models to complement the vision of Blue Mars, reminding me even in the dark days of the world we are trying to create and I wish to live in.

In 2312, Robinson has taken us 300 years into the future, shifting beyond the near times of most of his works to a time when the consequences of our actions now play out in a devastated yet still home planet Earth. And Robinson reminds us, when 2312’s lead character Swan heads from her home Mercury to Earth of the wonder of our own planet, a wonder we forget and destroy with our current actions: (more…)

Manuel Diaz’ Mother Won’t Be Silenced in Anaheim

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Citizens of Anaheim gathered Wednesday night to demand change from their City Council. One of those citizens was Genevieve Huizar, the mother of Manuel Diaz who was shot and killed by Anaheim Police just over two weeks ago. Diaz’ killing led to a series of protests demanding an end to the frequent police shootings in the Latino community – a community that makes up the majority of the city but has no representation in city government. One of the issued addressed at the Council meeting was the call (and suit by ACLU) for a change away from city-wide elections to district representation. One outcome of the recent events in Anaheim is that Disneyland, the largest employer in the city, has now come out in favor of election reform.

While such changes are important, Manuel Diaz’ mother had a simpler and more direct message to deliver – even when a heckler attacked her. She speaks for so many mothers in Anaheim and elsewhere. Please listen.

The Videos Anaheim PD Doesn’t Want Us to See

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Last Sunday Kevin Gosztola wrote about the police shootings in Anaheim, CA and pointed to the reports from local network news reporters that the Anaheim police were trying to buy up cell phone videos residents might have of events. Now a video has surfaced which shows us why the Anaheim PD is so afraid of witness videos.

The video here, shot last Saturday, shows the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Manuel Diaz. As the OC Weekly describes it:

The most harrowing part of the video, however, is the fact that Diaz was alive–and police stood there for over three minutes and did nothing. Instead, they seem more concerned with pushing witnesses away from the scene, the better to diminish the video quality of the footage, when they weren’t actively trying to block the source from recording??Diaz is visibly twitching at the very beginning of the video. It’s not until about 3:13 into the video that police finally turn over Diaz, whose head is bloodied beyond belief.

As noted by the OC Weekly, you can hear witnesses yelling to the police that “He’s Still Alive” and asking them to do something to help Diaz.

Since last weekend, protesters have been out every day demanding an end to police shootings and brutality but the situation is not at all new:

This Anaheim neighborhood has been organizing for years in an effort to stop the police from murdering their family members and to get police-controlled information on how their loved ones were killed by the police.

They tried weekly marches in front of the Anaheim Police Station, which were first organized by Theresa Smith after her son was killed by the police in 2009. The killing continues.

(more…)