As other reviewers have noted, Galeano doesn't provide footnotes to back up his assertions, which makes this book a rant and not a treatise. It is a b...moreAs other reviewers have noted, Galeano doesn't provide footnotes to back up his assertions, which makes this book a rant and not a treatise. It is a breathtaking rant, though, with language as beautiful as the world it describes is ugly. Plus, Galeano does provide a list of sources at the end, if the reader needs further convincing that Galeano's description of the "Looking-Glass world" is spot-on.
Here are some of Galeano's own words:
The "killer instinct" is an essential ingredient for getting ahead, a human virtue when it helps large companies digest small and strong countries devour weak but proof of bestiality when some jobless guy goes around with a knife in his fist. (6)
The world economy is the most efficient expression of organized crime. The international bodies that control currency, trade, and credit practice international terrorism against poor countries, and against the poor of all countries, with a cold-blooded professionalism that would make the best of the bomb throwers blush. (6)
The looking-glass school teaches us to suffer reality, not to change it; to forget the past, not learn from it; to accept the future, not invent it. In its halls of learning, impotence, amnesia, and resignation are required courses. (8)
What schools and media teach as the only possible way of remembering the past simply passes on the voices that repeat the boring litany of power's self-sacralization. Exoneration requires unremembering. (34)
No judge can send a global system to jail for killing by hunger, but a crime is a crime even when it's carried out as the most normal thing in the world. (154)
Just as "smart bombs" killed Iraqis in the Gulf war without anyone except the dead finding out, 'smart money' earns 40 percent profits without anyone finding out how. (157)
The development of technology leads not to more free time or freedom, only to more unemployment and fear. (164)
Saving the environment is turning out to be the most brilliant enterprise of the very companies that are destroying it. (191)
Inequality before the law lies at the root of real history, but official history is written by oblivion, not memory. We know all about this in Latin America, where exterminators of Indians and traffickers in slaves have their statues in city plazas, while streets and avenues tend to bear the names of those who stole the land and looted the public purse. (201)
Impunity is crime's reward, openly promoting and encouraging more of the same. And when the criminal who has raped, robbed, tortured, and murdered without answering to anyone happens to be the state, a green light is flashed to all of society to rape, rob, torture, and kill. The same society that uses punishment like a scarecrow to frighten criminals at the bottom rewards them at the top with a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card. (207)
Can anyone really argue with these last two quotes after watching the banksters on Wall Street destroy the global economy, and then give themselves record bonuses, free from any oversight or prosecution?
No matter how much they burn it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is. The right to remember does not figure among the human rights consecrated by the United Nations, but now more than ever we must insist on it and act on it....When it's truly alive, memory doesn't contemplate history, it invites us to make it. (210)
Impunity is the child of bad memory. (211)
If we behave ourselves, it will come to pass. We will all see the same images and hear the same sounds and wear the same clothes and eat the same hamburgers and enjoy the same solitude in our houses all alike in neighborhoods all alike in cities all alike where we will all breathe the same garbage and serve our cars with the same devotion and carry out the orders of the same machines in a world that will be marvelous for all who have no legs or wings or roots. (233)
Like so many other symbols of consumer society, cars belong to a minority whose habits are parlayed into universal truths, obliging the rest of us to see cars as the only possible extension of the human body. (241)
Modernization, motorization: the roar of traffic drowns out the chorus of voices denouncing civilization's sleight of hand that steals our freedom, then sells it back to us, that cuts off our legs to make us buy running machines. (243)
The consuming masses take orders in a language that is universal; advertising has achieved what Esperanto could not. (257)
Free time, time imprisoned: the homes of the very poor have no beds, but they have TVs and the TV has the floor. Bought on credit, this little beast is proof of the democratic nature of progress. It listens to no one but speaks for all. Poor and rich alike thus learn the virtues of the latest car, and poor and rich alike discover the favorable interest rates offered by one bank or another. (257)
I've always heard that money can't buy happiness, but every poor TV viewer has ample grounds for believing money can buy something so close to happiness that the difference can be left to specialists. (259)
The global mass media have set the price of freedom of expression in the clouds; the opinionated, who have the right to listen, are ever more numerous, while the opinionators, who have the right to make themselves heard, are ever fewer. (276)
Technological diversity is said to be democratic diversity. Technology places images, words, and music within the reach of all, as never before. But this marvel becomes a dirty trick if private monopoly ends up imposing a one-image, one-word, one-tune dictatorship. (278)
In their speeches politicians are prepared to die for education, and in their acts they proceed to kill it... (293)
In the name of justice, so-called socialism had sacrificed freedom. The symmetry is revealing: in the name of freedom, capitalism sacrifices justice day in, day out. Are we obliged to kneel before one of these two altars? Those of us who believe that injustice is not our immutable fate have no reason to identify with the despotism of a minority that denied freedom, was accountable to no one, treated people as children, and saw unity as unanimity and diversity as treason. (318)
In the language of Castile, when we want to say we have hope, we say we shelter hope. A lovely expression, a challenge: to shelter her so she won't die of the cold in the bitter climate of these times. (320)
Truth lies in the voyage, not the port....Living wherever, living however, living whenever, each person contains many possible persons. Every day, the ruling system places our worst characteristics at center stage, condemning our best to languish behind the backdrop. The system of power is not in the least eternal. We may be badly made, but we're not finished, and it's the adventure of changing reality and changing ourselves that makes our blip in the history of the universe worthwhile, this fleeting warmth between two glaciers that is us. (329)
If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn't we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight? (337)
Concisely explains the Green Revolution and its coming crisis in the context of peaking exploitation of oil, natural gas, and fresh water. Provides lo...moreConcisely explains the Green Revolution and its coming crisis in the context of peaking exploitation of oil, natural gas, and fresh water. Provides look at two modern societies, North Korea and Cuba, which have both experienced agricultural crises related to the unavailability of oil and other essential resources, and explores the radically different approaches these nations took to the crises. Briefly explores alternatives to the technology- and resource-intense Green Revolution and provides an excellent set of resources at the end for folks who want to do their part to prepare for the coming agricultural crisis. (less)
"P&G has manipulated and abused its own employees, consumers, and competitors and gotten away with it for years....P&G's...moreFrom the Epilogue, pp. 307-310
"P&G has manipulated and abused its own employees, consumers, and competitors and gotten away with it for years....P&G's actions continue to receive little scrutiny as long as the financial returns are solid....Those who embrace P&G because of its financial strength need to rethink the steep price of that success....P&G and other companies should be held accountable for more than their quarterly dividends-and-profit report. For starters independent science--free from P&G's grants--should substantiate the company's claims on products...Likewise, state and local governments need to reconsider how much of P&G's power and influence a free society should tolerate....Little changes unless people question corporate giants like P&G."
In the last decade the U.S. news media have been more open about the fact that the U.S. and its planet-wide military garrisons constitute an empire—a...moreIn the last decade the U.S. news media have been more open about the fact that the U.S. and its planet-wide military garrisons constitute an empire—a benevolent and reluctant empire (of course) but still an empire. Parenti's gem from the mid-90s explains in detail how empires, particular the U.S. American empire, function; specifically, he provides a Marxist, class-based analysis that fills in the holes left by many other commentators on empire.
Some critics have argued that economic factors have not exerted an important influence on U.S. interventionist policy because most interventions are in countries that have no great natural treasures and no large U.S. investments, such as Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. This is like saying that police are not especially concerned about protecting wealth and property because most of their forceful actions take place in poor neighborhoods. Interventionist forces do not go where capital exists as such; they go where capital is threatened. They have not intervened in affluent Switzerland, for instance, because capitalism in that country is relatively secure and unchallenged. But if leftist parties gained power in Bern and attempted to nationalize Swiss banks and major properties, it very likely would invite the strenuous attentions of the Western industrial powers. (p. 43)
Parenti demolishes the myth that empires are losing propositions for everyone in the imperial state, by reminding us that the folks who pay and the folks who profit are two quite distinct groups ("classes") of people. I don't think this point can be made often enough or strenuously enough.
We are made to believe that the people of the United States have a common interest with the giant multinationals, the very companies that desert our communities in pursuit of cheaper labor abroad. In truth, on almost every issue the people are not in the same boat with the big companies. Policy costs are not equally shared; benefits are not equally enjoyed. The "national" policies of an imperialist country reflect the interests of that country's dominant socio-economic class. Class rather than nation-state more often is the crucial unit of analysis in the study of imperialism.... To be sure, empires do not come cheap. Burdensome expenditures are needed for military repression and prolonged occupation for colonial administration, for bribes and arms to native collaborators, and for the development of a commercial infrastructure to facilitate extractive industries and capital penetration. But empires are not losing propositions for everyone. The governments of imperial nations may spend more than they take in, but the people who reap the benefits are not the same ones who foot the bill. As Thorstein Veblen pointed out in The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), the gains of empire flow into the hands of the privileged business class while the costs are extracted from "the industry of the rest of the people." The transnationals monopolize the private returns of empire while carrying little, if any, of the public cost.... In sum, there is nothing irrational about spending three dollars of public money to protect one dollar of private investment—at least not from the perspective of the investors. To protect one dollar of their money they will spend three, four, and five dollars of our money. In fact, when it comes to protecting their money, our money is no object. (pp. 47-49, emphasis mine)
Those who think of empire solely as an expression of national interests rather than class interests are bound to misinterpret the nature of imperialism.... Psychologizing about aching collective egos allows us to blame imperialism on ordinary U.S. citizens who are neither the creators nor beneficiaries of empire.... Whether they support or oppose a particular intervention, the American people cannot be considered the motivating force of the war policy. They do not sweep their leaders into war on a tide of popular hysteria. It is the other way around.... U.S. leaders feel free to intrude massively upon the economic, military, political, and cultural practices and institutions of any country they so choose. That's what it means to have an empire. (p.50, 52, 54)
[R]ather than being stupid, U.S. policy is, for the most part, remarkably successful and brutal in the service of elite economic interests. It may seem stupid because the rationales offered in its support often sound unconvincing, leaving us with the impression that policymakers are confused or out of touch. But just because the public does not understand what they are doing does not mean national security leaders are themselves befuddled. That they are fabricators does not mean they are fools. While costly in money, lives, and human suffering, U.S. policy is essentially a rational and consistent enterprise. Certainly the pattern of who is supported and who opposed, who is treated as friend and who as foe, indicates as much. (p.80)
Evidence to the contrary?
If these assertions are untrue, what is the evidence to support an alternative view? Why has the United States never supported social revolutionary forces against right-wing governments? Why does it harp on the absence of Western democratic forms in certain anticapitalist countries while ignoring brutal and widespread human rights violations in procapitalist countries? Why has it aided dozens of procapitalist military autocracies around the world and assisted their campaigns to repress popular organizations within their own countries? Why has the United States overthrown more than a dozen democratically elected, reformist governments and an almost equal number of left-populist regimes that were making modest moves on behalf of the poor and against the prerogatives of corporate investors? Why did it do these things before there ever was a Soviet Union? Any why does it continue to do these things when there is no longer a Soviet Union? Why has it supported and collaborated with narcotic traffickers from Asia to Central America, while voicing indignation about imagined drug dealings in Cuba? Why has it shown hostility toward every anticapitalist party or government, including those that play by the democratic rules and have persistently sought friendly diplomatic and economic relations with the United States? Neither "foolishness" nor a "misguided zeal" nor a need to defend us from "foreign invaders" explains such an unholy consistency. (pp.132-3)
Small government, big state
It is ironic that ... conservative interests—so overwhelmingly dependent on government grants, tax credits, land giveaways, price supports, and an array of other public subsidies—keep denouncing the baneful intrusions of government. However, there is an unspoken consistency to it, for when conservatives say they want less government, they are referring to human services, environmental regulations, consumer protections, and occupational safety, the kind of things that might cut into business profits. These include all forms of public assistance that potentially preempt private markets and provide alternative sources of income to working people, leaving them less inclined to work for still lower wages.
While conservative elites want less government control, they usually want more state power to limit the egalitarian effects of democracy. Conservatives, and some who call themselves liberals, want strong, intrusive state action to maintain the politico-economic status quo. They prefer a state that restricts access to information about its own activities, taps telephones, jails revolutionaries and reformers on trumped-up charges, harasses dissidents, and acts punitively not toward the abusers of power but toward their victims. (pp.144-5)
Some dare call it "conspiracy theory"
Some people reject this critique as "conspiracy theory." They do not believe that policymakers may sometimes be lying and may have unspoken agendas in the service of powerful interests. They insist that, unlike the rest of us, the rich and powerful do not act with deliberate intent. By that view, domestic and foreign policies are little more than a series of innocent happenings having nothing to do with the preservation of wealthy interests. Certainly this is the impression officials want to create....
The alternative is to have a coincidence theory or an innocence theory, which says that things just happen because of unintended happenstance, or a muddling through, with a lack of awareness of what is at stake, of who gets what, when, and how. It maintains that workers, farmers, and most other ordinary people might make concerted attempts to pursue their own interests but not the corporate elites and top financial interests, who own and control so much.
For some unexplained reason we are to assume that the rich and powerful, so well-schooled in business and politics, so at home in the circles of power, are unaware of where their interests lie and that they lift not a competent finger in support of them. Such an innocence theory appears vastly more farfetched than the idea that people with immense wealth and overweening power will resort to every conceivable means to pursue their interests—the state being their most important weapon in this heartless and relentless undertaking. (pp. 155-7)
Bailouts for those "Too Big to Fail" and "austerity programs" for the rest of us
In regard to all [the] corporate largesse, no mainstream commentator asks, "Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these things?" an inevitable question when social programs are proposed. Nor do they seem concerned that the corporate recipients of this largesse will run the risk of having their moral fiber weakened by dependency on government handouts. In sum, the myth of a self-reliant, free-market, trickle-down economy is just that, a myth. In almost every enterprise, government provides business with supports, protections, and opportunities for private gain at public expense....
As more of the federal revenue goes into debt payments, U.S. taxpayers get proportionately less in services.... Those at the top may take away our timberlands, oil reserves, mineral deposits, pension funds, airwaves, and jobs, but the national debt will always remain safely ours. (p. 163, 168)
On the disconnect between decisions and their consequences
People who never set foot in a supermarket and never have to worry over a food budget make public policies for people who have to count every penny. Health policy is formulated by people who never have to sit for hours in a public clinic. Transportation policy is made by people who never have to wait for a bus or search for a parking space. Our education system is legislated by people who have never had to send their children or grandchildren to public schools. Our daycare policy is devised by people who have au pairs and nannies. Public recreational policy is in the hands of people who vacation on private country estates and never have to visit a crowded, polluted municipal beach. And occupational safety laws are written by people who have never been inside a factory or gone down into a mine. (pp. 197-8)
I remember one time complaining to a friend that in a fair world the elites would be lined against a wall. Her response was, "Nah, they just ought to be made to use food stamps and take public transportation." Point taken.
Those of us who point out the class basis of imperialism are accused of preaching "class warfare." But top-down class warfare by the ruling elites against the middle and lower classes is what we already have as an everyday occurrence. It is only when the many begin to fight back against the few that class warfare is condemned by political and media elites. (p. 207, emphasis mine)
Written in 1995, even more relevant in 2012
Along with all its horrors and cruelties, the history of imperialism is a history of resistance and rebellion, coming sometimes in the most unexpected moments and places. Resistance to the self-devouring empire is not a chimera but an urgent necessity. Our best hope is that in times ahead, as in the past, when things look most hopeless, a new cry will be heard in the land and those who would be our masters are shaken from their pinnacles.
Not only must we love social justice more than personal gain, we also must realize that our greatest personal gain comes in the struggle for social justice. And we are most in touch with our own individual humanity when we stand close to all of humanity. (p. 210)
When Irish-born school teacher Mary Harris Jones was in her late thirties, a yellow fever epidemic swept Memphis, TN, where she lived with her iron mo...moreWhen Irish-born school teacher Mary Harris Jones was in her late thirties, a yellow fever epidemic swept Memphis, TN, where she lived with her iron molding husband and their four children:
All about my house I could hear weeping and the cries of delirium. One by one, my four little children sickened and died. I washed their little bodies and got them ready for burial. My husband caught the fever and died. I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came to me. No one could. (1)
For the rest of her life, Mary Harris Jones (better known as Mother Jones by the millions of surrogates who stood in for her four lost little ones), agitated ceaselessly for the rights of the poor and the workers across the United States. Her autobiography describes in vivid detail the plight faced by these poor nameless hordes, from coal miners toiling at a seam miles below ground to six-year old children bobbing around hand-crushing textile machinery for pennies a week.
Religion and labor, part I:
"You have to have religion to make a colony successful, and labor is not yet a religion with labor." (12)
"Now, boys, you are twelve in number. That was the number Christ had. I hope that among your twelve there will be no Judas, no one who will betray his fellows. The work you do is for your children and for the future. You preach the gospel of better food, better homes, a decent compensation for the wealth you produce. It is these things that make a great nation." (36)
Replace "mine owners" with "corporate conglomerates" and nothing much has changed in the last century. Then, as now, the wealthy paid for the shaping of public opinion and the re-writing of history:
Taking men into the union is just the kindergarten of their education, and every force is against their further education. Men who live up those lonely creeks have only the mine owners' Y.M.C.A.s, the mine owners' preachers and teachers, the mine owners' doctors and newspapers to look to for their ideas. So they don't get many. (25)
[In response to the Ludlow massacre] Rockefeller got busy. Writers were hired to write pamphlets which were sent broadcast to every editor in the country, bulletins. In these leaflets, it was shown how perfectly happy was the life of the miner until the agitators came; how joyous he was with the company's saloon, the company's pigsty for homes, the company's teachers and preachers and coroners. How the miners hated the state law of an eight-hour working day, begging to be allowed to work ten, twelve. How they hated the state law that they should have their own check weighman to see that they were not cheated at the tipple.
And all the while the mothers of the children who died in Ludlow were mourning their dead. (118)
The grueling reality of the miner's life:
Men's hearts are cold. They are indifferent. Not all the coal that is dug warms the world. It remains indifferent to the lives of those who risk their lives and health down in the blackness of the earth; who crawl through dark, choking crevices with only a bit of lamp on their caps to light their silent way; whose backs are bent with toil, whose very bones ache, whose happiness is sleep, and whose peace is death. (122)
On the futility for working folks of replacing rent-a-cops with the real deal:
[Workingmen] hated the coal and iron police of the mine owners and thought anything preferable to them. They forgot the coal and iron police could join the constabulary and they forgot the history of Ireland, whence the law came: Ireland, soaked with the blood of men and of women, shed the the brutal constabulary.
"No honorable man will join," said a labor leader to me when I spoke of my fears.
"Then that leaves the workers up against the bad men, the gunmen and thugs that do join," I answered. (33)
The unmitigated evil that is child labor:
In the spring of 1903, I went to Kensington, Pennsylvania, where seventy-five thousand textile workers were on strike. Of this number at least ten thousand were little children. The workers were striking for more pay and shorter hours. Every day little children came into Union Headquarters, some with their hands off, some with the thumb missing, some with their fingers off at the knuckle. They were stooped little things, round shouldered and skinny. Many of them were not over ten years of age, although the state law prohibited their working before they were twelve years of age. (40)
Little girls and boys, barefooted, walked up and down between the endless rows of spindles, reaching thin little hands into the machinery to repair snapped threads. They crawled under machinery to oil it. They replaced spindles all day long, all day long: night through, night through. Tiny babies of six years old with faces of sixty did an eight-hour shift for ten cents a day. If they fell asleep, cold water was dashed in their faces, and the voice of the manager yelled above the ceaseless racket and whir of the machines.
Toddling chaps of four years old were brought to the mill to "help" the older sister or brother of ten years but their labor was not paid.
The machines, built in the north, were built low for the hands of little children.
This barbarism was only 108 years ago?!
But of course, the religious leaders were against something so obviously immoral, right? Alas, no. Then as now, more preachers preached on behalf of Mammon than against him. (Religion and labor, part 2):
Not far from Shamokin, in a little mountain town, the priest was holding a meeting when I went in. He was speaking in the church. I spoke in an open field. The priest told the men to go back and obey their masters and their reward would be in Heaven. He denounced the strikers as children of darkness. The miners left the church in a body and marched over to my meeting.
"Boys," I said, "this strike is called in order that you and your wives and your little ones may get a bit of Heaven before you die." (51)
We working folks are all in this together, and the standard elite tactic is to divide us based on anything:
"Brothers," I said, "You English speaking miners of the northern fields promised your southern brothers, seventy percent of whom do not speak English, that you would support them to the end. Now you are asked to betray them, to make a separate settlement. You have a common enemy and it is your duty to fight to a finish. The enemy seeks to conquer by dividing your ranks, by making distinctions between North and South, between American and foreign. You are all miners, fighting a common cause, a common master. The iron heel feels the same to all flesh. Hunger and suffering and the cause of your children bind more closely than a common tongue.... I know no East or West, North or South when it comes to my class fighting the battle for justice...." (57)
I am not blind to the short comings of our own people. I am not unaware that leaders betray, and sell out, and play false. But this knowledge does not outweigh the fact that my class, the working class, is exploited, driven, fought back with the weapon of starvation, with guns and with venal courts whenever they strike for conditions more human, more civilized for their children, and for their children's children. (120)
Some things never change. Will we spend the money on the working class by enriching their lives or by buying more weapons and building more prisons?
"I would make the operators listen to the grievances of their workers. I would take the $650,000 spent for the militia during this strike and spend it on schools and playgrounds and libraries that West Virginia might have a more highly developed citizenry, physically and intellectually. You would then have fewer little children in the mines and factories; fewer later in jails and penitentiaries; fewer men and women submitting to conditions that are brutalizing and un-American." (100)
Is it any wonder that we have murders and holdups when the youth of the land is trained by the great industrialists to a belief in force; when they see that the possession of money puts one above the law. (66)
A good question, and one that is relevant today with its trillion-dollar bankster bailouts and growing economic depression for the rest of us.
The moneyed interests and their servants, the officials of county and state, howl and yammer about law and order and American ideals in order to drown out the still, small voice of the worker asking for bread. (126)
Patriotism, then as now, meant following orders for some, and war profiteering for others:
The cost of living during the [First World] war went rocket high. Copper stock made men rich over night. But the miner, paying high prices for his food, his living, was unpatriotic if he called attention to his grievances.
Contemporary protestors and activists could learn something from Mother Jones:
I told the people after they had cheered me for ten minutes, that cheering was easy. That the side lines where it was safe, always cheered.
"The miners lost," I told them, "because they had only the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end, bayonets always win." (124)
As I look back over the long, long years, I see that in all movements for the bettering of men's lives, it is the pioneers who bear most of the suffering. When these movements become established, when they become popular, others reap the benefits. Thus is has been with the labor movement. (148)
She also had advice for the womenfolk:
"No matter what your fight," I said, "don't be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies." (125)
I am not a suffragist nor do I believe in 'careers' for women, especially a 'career' in factory and mill where most working women have their 'careers.' A great responsibility rests upon women--the training of the children. This is her most beautiful task. If men earned money enough, it would not be necessary for women to neglect their homes and their little ones to add to the family's income. (147)
Mother Jones' thoughts on prohibition. Mentally replace "alcohol" with "drugs" and you will find yet another feature of American society that hasn't changed much in the intervening century:
"Prohibition came," said I, "through a combination of business men who wanted to get more out of their workers, together with a lot of preachers and a group of damn cats who threw fits when they saw a workingman buy a bottle of beer but saw no reason to bristle when they and their women and a little children suffered under the curse of low wages and crushing hours of toil.
"Prohibition," said I, "has taken away the workingman's beer, has closed the saloon which was his only club. The rich guzzle as they ever did. Prohibition is not for them. They have their clubs which are sacred and immune for interference. The only club the workingman has is the policeman's. He has that when he strikes." (148)
In spite of oppressors, in spite of false leaders, in spite of labor's own lack of understanding of its needs, the cause of the worker continues onward. Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think. Slowly his standard of living rises to include some of the good and beautiful things of the world. Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all.His boy is taken from the breaker, his girl from the mill. Slowly those who create the wealth of the world are permitted to share it. The future is in labor's strong, rough hands. (149-150)
This book should be required reading for anyone who continues to thank the military for our freedoms, because it clearly shows how often police and military power have been used to repress and enforce the status quo, rather than to liberate and turn the world upside-down. It should also be required reading for those who believe that lawlessness on the part of government (e.g., renditions, torture, denial of habeas corpus, suppression of civil rights, etc.) began with the so-called War on Terror. It is essential that we see how things were the last time the gap between wealth and poverty was so vast, if we are to make it through these times. (less)
Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow has evidently written some great short stories, six of which are presented here in graphically adapted form. All of these...moreBoing Boing's Cory Doctorow has evidently written some great short stories, six of which are presented here in graphically adapted form. All of these stories but one--"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"--really struck me and made me want to read the original, un-adapted versions. Doctorow is the first SF author I've read who deals with our mash-up/remix culture's concerns about intellectual property vs. free speech, piracy vs. legal controls over research and communication, and corporate profits vs. human needs. He revisits many of the themes of classic SF and rethinks their implications for a radically changing, and changed, world. In addition, the artwork in most of these graphic adaptations was excellent and really added to the storytelling. (less)
Right off the bat, the title intrigued me because of its potent, and somewhat idiosyncratic to my upbringing, associations. I grew up in a fundamental...moreRight off the bat, the title intrigued me because of its potent, and somewhat idiosyncratic to my upbringing, associations. I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant Christian home in the late 70s, and my dad was into the televangelists, charismatics, and late-Great-planet-Earth types.
Exhibit A: a picture I found on a pamphlet in his bathroom drawer when I was a kid:
Since that time my dad has been caught up in the apocalyptic notion that one day everyone will have a barcode "stamped" on their hand and forehead, encoding all of their vital information and making life outside of the Satanic, totalitarian "one-world-government" nigh impossible. This was predicted in (his reading of) Revelations 13.16–17:
It [the second beast] also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
Well this book takes that apocalyptic meme as its starting premise. People have gotten used to being tracked, chipped, and inventoried for the first quarter of the 21st century, and so for most folks the move to tattoo every adult (seventeen and up) with a barcode is seen as business as usual, and in fact, for many, convenient and patriotic. For the young protagonist, though, there is something sinister about the tattoo, and she is rapidly embroiled in a conspiracy involving corporate tyranny, individual freedom, social pressure, and very real hazards resulting from the genomics revolution and a re-envisioning of the meaning of being human.
Good young adult book, a quick read for a good reader. Not too challenging, in terms of writing, but engaging and thought-provoking, particularly in regard to the consequences of contemporary policies and discoveries for the world which will be inherited by the book's primary audience.(less)
Meh. Took a good initial premise and more or less squandered it. (view spoiler)[Telepathic powers and Native American shamans are the least of the dis...moreMeh. Took a good initial premise and more or less squandered it. (view spoiler)[Telepathic powers and Native American shamans are the least of the distractions from the original leitmotif of resistance and rebellion. Now we find that no only has the evil corporation been reorganizing society around genomically-informed cost-benefit analyses, but that it has also been working on cloning. And not merely human cloning, but posthuman, transgenic cloning, the mixing of human DNA with that of other species. In the case of the protagonist and her clone sisters, the DNA of a sparrow. (hide spoiler)] I kept wanting to like this book more than I did, because it is fun enough and the author seemed good intentioned, but when I got to the final section, where the author resolved literally every loose end (and we're talking BIG loose ends, what used to be called the denoument and stuff) in less than fifteen pages, I couldn't be charitable any longer. (view spoiler)[Some of those loose ends include: Shutting off the global system for killing people using viruses encoded in their barcodes by means of an algorithm that the protagonist's discovered-minutes-before autistic bird-clone-sister remembered from infancy. Finding out via the news media, who have been singularly inept until this point, that the aforementioned barcode viruses die after six months anyway, so whew, dodged that bullet. The ACLU sues the government so that people (presumably losers and freaks, since most normal folks love their 'toos) can refuse to be tattooed. Clap clap, erm. Evil corporation running the country? No problem—the idealist ex-senator will run for president, and that will save everything. Huh? Can anyone take that seriously after the 2008 elections? (hide spoiler)] Yeah, lots and lots of loose ends. Seen better endings in overlong Stephen King novels.(less)