The Day After Mardi Gras

The President’s address to a joint session of Congress last night was like a parade of floats on Main Street America:  the Desperate Infrastructure Float, the Tax Code Float (diverted to Wall Street), the spectacle of the Imploding Obamacare Disaster, the gigantic Defense Budget carried on the shoulders of foreign aid workers and the Environmental Protection Agency, social safety networks, National Endowment for the Arts, etc.  Although appearing more “presidential” as he stuck to the teleprompter speech, the President remains very much a showman.  Misleading statements, statistics taken out of context, and claims of credit for processes begun in the previous Administration were no different from his campaign speeches, adding further confusion to the lack of details:  how would he pay for the floats (besides the vague “growing economy”), who exactly would benefit the most, how much pollution to our air and water would he tolerate, what immediate steps would improve the ongoing immigrant crisis?  And how would he repair the rift with the media and the First Amendment?  Fat Tuesday is over, and now the hangover begins.

Here’s a preview of the sequel to Fourth World (the second in a trilogy), which I have tentatively called Fourth World Nation, as the Mars colonies prepare to rebel against the world government.  Leader Chou Xia-Yu addresses the masses, on the 101st anniversary of the Pan-World Electorate:

To Leader Chou, it wasn’t so much the sheer numbers, staggering though they might be, but the quality of the show that mattered.  If he was slightly anxious, it had to do with the powerful symbolism embedded in every minute detail of the Festival:  the synchrony of waving flags and banners, the spotless neighborhoods on display (even gray earthen walls in the few remaining Hutong Exhibits had somehow been polished to a shine), the flawless complexions of happy, uplifted faces magnified two-thousand-fold on giant screens to his right and left.  Yes, billions were watching closely for any sign of disharmony or failure of leadership, any technological glitch or stumble.  A child throwing a tantrum on-screen, perhaps.  Or an outbreak of food poisoning.  Censors couldn’t possibly suppress every human interest story or news item, which would instantaneously feed the so-called free press and the voracious social media.  More  antisocial than social media, the way the tiniest bit of trivia would be blown out of all reasonable proportion, noted Leader Chou, who thought of the media collectively as a great shrieking voice.  And what if some rebel’s explosive were set off in the middle of Tienanmen Square today?  What would the great shrieking voice make of that?


Show Me Your Papers, Old Man

With the recent Homeland Security memos broadening deportation priorities to include being charged with a crimeeven a minor infraction, even without being convicted of a crime, and even without due process– it is up to the individual ICE agent to use his or her judgment as to whether to arrest (hello again, racial profiling) and immediately deport a person who may pose some undefined threat to our supposedly embattled country.  That person may leave for work in the morning and never come home again.  The widespread fear and anxiety among individuals and families over these developments are probably worse than after Trump’s first executive order on immigration.

And he wants to hire 15,000 new agents to carry out his orders:  is this what he meant by job creation?  Maybe issue them brown-shirt uniforms, to create more jobs in the garment industry?

Of course we haven’t yet reached the red line, the Anne Frank level, but the one word that comes to mind is Sanctuary.  Cities like San Francisco and New York have declared themselves sanctuary cities, refusing- at the risk of losing federal funds- to allow their police departments to help ICE round up undocumented immigrants.  The stated goal is to maintain a fragile trust relationship with the immigrant community, which makes sense:  but what about really providing sanctuary, when the raids begin, when ICE agents swarm into factories, farms, restaurants, hotels and construction sites?  How to confront these agents in a nonviolent manner?  How to avoid sheltering real criminals, along with the innocent?

At the very least, discussions should begin in earnest; there are logistical problems and serious risks involved.  Who can provide physical shelter:  churches and synagogues (regrettably, mosques may want to remain circumspect here)?  Universities?  Community centers?  When I was a rheumatology fellow at the University of Southern California, most of our patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma were Hispanic, and no-one paid any attention at all to their immigration status.  Should hospitals provide care as a form of sanctuary, perhaps funded by philanthropies?  Can irreversible damage be held off until, one day, the pendulum swings back and there is finally a reckoning?

We should get involved.  March in protest.  Write congressmen or newspapers.  Express outrage at the lack of compassion, the decline in our society.  But we should also think about providing sanctuary for vulnerable people, with real faces, facing real fear of deportation.


Beisbol for the People

The World Baseball Classic (#4) is not far away, and the headline in today’s paper referring to the “Fourth World Baseball Classic” caught my eye.  Buster Posey will be a star in WBC#4, but in my sci-fi novel Fourth World, Benn Marr is the main feature:  you remember, he’s the Hydra Giants shortstop who helped defeat the Meteor Dodgers in the Tharsis league championship game with an amazing 6-4-6-3 double play!  There’s a surprising amount of baseball in Fourth World, which I started writing when my son was playing in Little League (see my earlier post, “How True is Fiction?”).

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Yanquis playoff game Benn attends with his med school friends from New Haven:

After the Great War of Unification, the stadium and team had passed from the ownership of despised capitalist exploiters into the hands of El Mercado, a Mexican District conglomerate.  And the new owners had promptly renamed the team, much to the delight of New York Metropol’s dominant ethnic group, and to the resentment of everyone else.  The “House that Ruth Built” became “Casa al Mercado”.  More universally well-received in New York was the Yanquis’ continued domination of the World Series, a contest more aptly named in recent times:  a round-robin tournament in which teams from all over the world competed for the championship.  The team closest to the Yanquis, in terms of their daunting winning record year after year, their image of invincibility, was the Caribbean District Fidels.  Although this was only a first-round playoff game in which the two rival teams, like wolves circling warily before a fight, would each test the other’s skills, the tension in the air was as heady and dense as the aromatic smoke billowing upwards from dozens of hot dog stands into the hazy blue October sky.

The number of visits that Sool had paid to the nearest of these stands was all the more remarkable because the game had only reached the bottom of the fourth inning.  The Yanquis had men on first and third, with two outs, and their cleanup hitter, Max Quintero, was at bat.  Benn asked, “Hey Program.  What’s the count?”

“One ball, two strikes,” replied the program in a hearty male voice.  The pitcher, who had “great stuff,” according to the program, nodded to his catcher, then took a quick look at first base.  From the stretch, he threw a breaking ball which Benn’s program later said “hung just a mite too long over the plate.”  CRACK!  The sound of the ball embarking on its towering journey out of Yanqui Stadium sent Benn instinctively to his feet, as though he might sprint to the outfield and attempt a leaping catch at the wall.  A program somewhere in the next row down excitedly announced, “He hits it hard… he hits it deep… it is outta here!  Adios Pelota!”

(With a nod to Kruk, Kuip and JM).

You Shall Be Overcome

Just got back from Washington DC, where the mood among friends and family is decidedly gloomy these days.  The cold wind blowing past the White House, through the Mall and up to the Capitol Building seemed more like a metaphor than a weather phenomenon.

We were on our way to the National Musem of African-American History and Culture, which turned out to be truly extraordinary.  The average time spent there is apparently two hours, but in that span we were unable to view all of the History portion below ground, let alone the Culture section in the floors above.  The history of slavery in America is worth exploring, no matter how much you think you already know about it:  the displays were eye-opening, from a human, moral/spiritual and economic perspective.  It goes without saying that colonialism’s exploitations left deep scars in the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa, where regional conflicts persist in a post-colonial world.  And all the European nations with empires and colonies participated in slavery, which might be seen as a sort of imported colonialism, where the exploited masses were forcibly removed from their home countries.

You’ve probably heard this benighted argument:  slavery in America ended 150 years ago, so how can the problems faced by African-Americans today still be blamed on slavery?  Just move on, get over it, right?  Wow.  Of course slavery’s effects didn’t end with emancipation:  Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynchings, economic discrimination and the myriad forms of racism did not magically go away in 1865.  For example, laws made it easier to arrest and imprison blacks than whites in the South, and the prisoners could be leased as labor, the profits going to the state.  That sounds like slavery didn’t vanish at all!  The Voting Rights Act, Brown vs Board of Education, the Selma marches (in which my personal hero, William Sloane Coffin, participated), the Civil Rights movement, Black Panthers and so much else, all appeared side-by-side, giving me a brand-new perspective on current events, for example, Black Lives Matter.  The glib response, “All lives matter,” seems all the more hollow and callous in this context.

Then seeing it through the eyes of so many African-Americans (schoolchildren as well as the elderly who may well have marched with Martin Luther King) in the museum made this history more real and more powerful than all my previous reading could ever do.

In my novel Fourth World, and especially in the sequel (almost finished!), colonialism is harsh and cruel.  But this is real:  don’t miss this museum!

The Chaos President

With apologies to the Bard and his Richard III:

Now is glorious summer/ made the winter of our discontent/ by this son of New York.

The daily outpouring of executive orders, decrees, announcements and tweets has sent the nation into a tumble.  Sure, executive orders are expected, but the rollouts have been bungled, resulting in mass protests, traumatized citizens, stranded legal immigrants, people uncertain of their health care, and ad hominem attacks on members of the Judicial and Executive branches of government by a president who shows little understanding of the Constitution.  He thinks in terms of “deals” and negotiates with world leaders as though they are just some guys trying to out-deal him; insults, tirades, even slamming the phone down are all part of hardball deal-making.  Beyond the sense of chaos lies the frightening denial of truth by alt-facts and outright ignorance.  He seems to think that UC Berkeley orchestrated the violent protest on campus this week, and talks about Frederick Douglass as though he were still alive!  It’s all quite bewildering– almost like an intentional obfuscation.

To my skeptical (all right, semi-paranoid) mind, this flurry of confusing developments resembles the distractions and shrewd misdirections practiced on the population by the one world government in Fourth World.  In the case of our president, our own Richard III, was he trying to sneak something past his supporters, hidden in plain sight?  What is the one thing he did this week which will enrich him personally? 

No, not his placing Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council- more obfuscation.  It’s the executive order to deregulate the financial industry.  Let financial advisors no longer seek what’s best for their clients, and let banks run things as they did before 2008!  Take away reforms that protected consumers.  The president has many friends, he says, wth “nice businesses,” and these friends are having trouble getting loans.  His “friends” include his own businesses, and this is the type of conflict of interest everyone saw coming.  With all his other executive orders, his supporters can say “See?  He’s taking action, doing what he promised!”  But can they point to this gift to Wall Street as one of Trump’s promises?  Sad!

It’s Alive! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Hugh S., an early follower of this blog, sent me a link to a 2009 New Yorker magazine article, which I recommend to you:

and he wrote:

“The article was recommended to me by a Yale applicant I interviewed, and I just got around to reading it about a day after your blog post on alt-cuisine and molecular gastronomy. Maybe you’ve already seen it, but WOW! This article is an eye-opener to me, and it’s simply a lot of fun (“Eau d’ecoli!”). Made me reflect on a lot of things in Fourth World. The most exciting prospect to me is the prospect of efficient energy production — rather than coming from the environmental movement, maybe the solution to global warming will come from a field like synthetic bio that Trump probably doesn’t even know about and therefore won’t mess up. Hope springs eternal.”

My response to Hugh, which is fully comprehensible only to those who’ve read the article and Fourth World (sorry):

“Hi Hugh,

Thanks for the interesting and enjoyable article- I had not seen it, but was really struck by some of the parallels with Fourth World’s theragenomics:  the use of a Biogenome Menu sounds like BioBricks; the vital need for the Three Laws of Theragenomics; and the possession of gene-engineering technology by those least likely to observe those laws.  It also struck me how often imperfect or misleading analogies are used by Endy to rationalize the unvetted application of this science:  when a bridge falls down etc…. when a river catches fire etc…. and Wayne Gretsky skates to where the puck is going to be.  They’re all compelling images, but so utterly simplistic vis-a-vis the real issues that they hardly apply.  In Fourth World, Cira Vincent expresses concerns in her opening lecture, but then later, at the restaurant H, regrets that gene technology has not been exploited to its maximum potential in the manufacturing industries.  So it’s complicated:  I don’t want to see synthetic creatures, let alone human “offspring,” walking around outside the lab, but would not mind driving a car fueled by an antimalarial drug!”

To my readers in the blogosphere:  if we extrapolate forward from what was emerging in 2009, the dystopian future of the human race depicted in Fourth World may seem quaintly conservative!






Alt-Cuisine: Yum!

Molecular gastronomy- already outdated in a food culture with an ever-shortening attention span- was known for deconstructing dishes and presenting them anew as foams; solids as liquids; cubes as spheres; cold as hot and vice-versa.  But all that required complicated cooking techniques and expensive equipment. When we can now genetically-engineer an industrial tomato to taste like an heirloom, how long will it be before we can grow plants and animals as foams, spheres, liquids, or simultaneously hot and cold?

Let’s hope the growing (pun intended) interest in local, seasonal, organic and sustainable agriculture can hold our attention awhile and resist the allure of technology.  Let’s keep food slow, and keep it real!

Here’s an excerpt from a dystopian restaurant scene in Fourth World:

“Welcome to H,” said the menu, pronouncing the letter “ahhhsh” in a langorous, caressing way.  “Tonight’s special is the ‘Tout Not Sashimi’, a crudo mousse translated from the recombined genes of three extinct species:  Pacific tuna, Monterey cypress, and arctic walrus.  We are also featuring the rare Atlantic codling, where Chef Hubert cooks a recently living fish.  Farmed off the low-mercury coastline of the Greenland District, our codling is spin-poached in a bold, yet contemplative, bath of piscine neurotransmitters and herbal amino acids, garnished with just a soupcon of white Eurovin foam.”

“Eurovin foam?” Cira was aghast.  “But Eurovin’s not even made from grapes!  It’s a fermentation product of recombinant seaweed.”

“So?  Seaweed goes with fish.”  The menu had dropped its accent, and now sounded like someone from New Jersey.  “You want wine made from grapes?  Try the Quarantine Zone!”

“Menu, read only.”

“Certainly.” Click.