Eugene Linden
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THE OZONE CHRONICLES; HISTORY REPEATING AS TRAGEDY

Joe Farnam, the dogged, data-driven discoverer of the ozone hole, died in 2013, three years before publication of findings showing that the ozone layer, which protects life on earth from UV radiation, has finally started to recover. This nascent recovery comes 42 years after atmospheric chemists fir...

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The Ragged Edge of the World
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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Apes, Men, & Language
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5 Things To Expect Dick Cheney To Do As Global Warming Intensifies


Monday April 10, 2006

[Adapted from my contribution to Duck!, a new humorous anthology of advice for Dick Cheney] If climate turns out to be the weapon of mass destruction Vice President Cheney should have been worrying about, he has a problem. Let’s say in the near future hurricanes, nor'easters, dust bowls, floods, crop failures, ice storms and tornadoes are ruining the economy, and the voters are blaming Cheney because he and President Bush dismissed the science behind the threat, ridiculed conservation (one of the easiest ways to immediately lessen greenhouse gas emissions) as a “civic virtue,” and were champions of the fossil fuel industry. Cheney may think he has big business on his side, but even before Katrina, many CEOs began joining the tree huggers. Even the evangelicals, whose leaders went enviro and called for action. So when the weather changes, what will Cheney do? 1. Blame the Democrats. This is easy, it's what he always does, and they usually don't fight back. Cheney will say that he and Bush inherited the problem from the Clinton administration (not mentioning that it was a Republican- controlled Congress that torpedoed action) and that the Bush Administration actually cut oil use by the end of its second term, while it steadily went up during the Clinton years (expect him to gloss over the fact that supply disruptions due to civil war in the Middle East and a worldwide depression caused the decline). 2. He will claim that no one could have seen it coming. That strategy worked for a bit after Katrina--until those irritating videotape and emails started surfacing. And the truth is, it's entirely possible that Cheney didn't see it coming: it's unlikely that any of the “experts” his administration consulted, ranging from science fiction writer Michael Crichton to the paid lackeys of the coal industry, mentioned that it might be a problem. (Don't expect him to acknowledge that the entire scientific establishment had been warning of the threat for fifteen years.) 3. He will argue that the Kyoto Treaty would not have helped, and that he and Bush were engaged in a search for the real way to deal with the problem, one that includes India and China. This one is tricky-smart. It's true that Kyoto is vastly inadequate to the scale of the threat, but it could be made stronger. On the other hand, he will have to finesse that India and China are never going to join an effort on climate change unless the U.S., with 25 percent of world emissions, shows leadership on the issue. 4) He will say the crazy weather is natural. Why not? That's what the naysayers have been saying whenever an ice shelf collapses. It's unlikely that Cheney will mention that CO2, which has tracked temperature for millions of years, is now at higher levels than its been since homo sapiens evolved (better for him to avoid evolution anyway). 5) Expect him to move to Canada. Washington will have a climate like Khartoum, and Vancouver will be the new San Diego.

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Short Take

[Mild spoiler alert: the book is a fictionalized exploration of a girl who falls under the spell of a Manson-like cult. We all know how that story unfolded. In this Short Take I’ll be offering my reactions to the protagonist, Evie Boyd.]

 

The Girls offers as bleak a view of the amorality of American youth as I have ever encountered. In a review of my first book, I was called “Intolerably apocalyptic,” but I can’t hold a candle to Ms. Cline. The book is a novelistic attempt to try and understand how some of the privileged young women of the late 1960s could commit unspeakable acts while under the sway of a Manson-like psychopath. 

 Thus we meet Evie Boyd, a fourteen year-old growing up amid relative affluence in Petaluma California. She’s directionless, with no apparent passions, self-conscious about her looks, emotionally needy, alienated from her parents (who get divorced), but possessed of a tough inner core and a rebellious streak. She’s enthralled when she encounters Suzanne, a wild, charismatic 19 year-old who seems to be a composite of Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houton, and Evie is honored when Suzanne pays her some attention. Events bring her to the cult’s squalid ranch, and for some weeks, Evie maintains a dual life, throwing herself into the life of the cult, while returning home enough not to galvanize her mother, who is pre-occupied with a rebound relationship with Frank, an entrepreneur who comes across as a hustler with a heart of gold.

Evie is so smitten by Suzanne that she doesn’t notice as the cult spirals down from talk of love and freedom to episodes of paranoia, back-biting and revenge. Along the way, Evie has her first sexual adventures, and enters sufficiently into the spirit of the cult that she brings them to the house of the family next door (which they descrate), even though she has known the family all her life and has no score to settle. Later, Evie talks her way into joining Suzanne as she and others set off to inflict mayhem on a Dennis Wilson-like figure, but Suzanne kicks her out of the car before they begin a horrific rampage.

Did Suzanne do this to protect Evie from what she knew was about to happen, or because she felt that Evie wasn’t a murderer and would become a liability? That’s left unanswered, but the bloodbath that Evie missed is so depraved – including the slashing apart of a toddler – that no human with a soul could find that earlier gesture redemptive … except for our Evie, who still feels the tug of Suzanne’s power, even after she learns every gory detail of Suzanne’s actions.

It’s several months between the time of the murders and when the cult is finally caught. During this time, Evie keeps her mouth shut about what happens and meekly allows herself to be shipped off to boarding school to resume her comfortable existence, though as a wreck, not a spirited teenager.

That’s when I decided Evie was a worthless human being. Sure, she was terrified that the cult would come after her, and there’s some honor on not squealing, but Evie had to know that the cult would likely kill again, and that made her an enabler of whatever they did subsequently.

The book interweaves the present and the past and so we learn how these events haunted Evie’s life. But there’s no redemptive moment, no act where she summons the courage to do the right thing, or rises above her own self-absorption. Even in the present, when the psychopath-in-the-making son of a friend and his underage, impressionable girlfriend crash at her digs, she can only summon a half-hearted (and failed) attempt to save the girl from following the path that so grievously sidetracked her own life.

All the men in the book are either pathetic or pigs of various shapes and forms – except for a premed student named Tom, who sees the cult for what it is, but who Evie rejects as a dork. Towards the end of the book, Evie ticks off a long list of subsequent experiences with awful men that could summon in her the hatred to commit horrendous crimes, seeming to imply that with the right mix of events, she too might have become a Suzanne, and, by implication, so could enormous numbers of other young women.

My first reaction was to call “Bullshit!” Were all young women potential Suzannes, we would have seen endless repeats of the Manson horrors in the nearly 50 years since the events. Instead, those murders still stand as a touchstone of horror because nothing since has eclipsed their mindless violence.

The Manson cult was at the far far end of the normal curve during truly abnormal times. In just the two years leading up to the murders, we had the huge escalation of a senseless war, the explosion of the anti-war movement and counter-culture, a breakdown of generational trust, my generation’s first experiences with powerful, mind-altering drugs, and a sexual revolution. In a country of more than 200 million people, that roiling stew of disruptive forces bubbled to the surface about 20 broken souls, deranged by drugs and in the thrall of a false prophet.

On reflection, however, maybe Ms. Clein was making a different point. All we have to think of are the teenage executioners of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or the child soldiers of Africa to recognize that the capacity for evil lies latent in the young. And, while in fiction we want our protagonists to find redemption or transcend their flaws perhaps Evie’s failure to rise to the occasion was making the point that a civilization that keeps our murderous impulses in check is not innate, but something external that has to be actively inculcated and supported. That’s something to keep in mind amid the current insanity of gun violence, and as more dark clouds gather on the horizon.



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