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7. STATE OF FEAR:
MICHAEL CRICHTON'S JACKASS NOVEL OF GLOBAL WARMING - NEW
Michael Crichton thinks he's hot stuff. And why not? He's 6-8, he's rich, he's famous, he's an astoundingly successful author in terms of sales, and he's soo smart. So now he comes to annihilate those perverse, yet pitiable, liberal idiots below him who push a coarse hoax, or misguided folly, that sweaty nonsense, something about man causing a global warming, that you have to be an Al Gore to peddle. ("Al Gore"-- it's replaced "Ted Kennedy" on the right, you need say no more.)
I have to admit something. My reading is usually so high-brow, often so esoteric-- thick, tar-thick, densely riddled scholarly works that rarely reach any layman-- that, if it happens, I too, with relief, can gobble down a macaroni-and-cheese pop novel. And I needed something like that for a train trip I was taking.
The novel sped by like the scenes outside the window. I dug it! It went down so effortlessly! There it was-- right on the first page-- or there she was.
"With her dark skin, high cheekbones, and black hair, she might have been a model. And she strutted like a model in her short skirt and spike heels."
Like a model! On the first page! Short skirt and spike heels! This sure wasn't like most of my climate change reading. It wasn't Archaeological Evidence for Eustatic Change of Sea Level and Earth Movements in the Western Mediterranean During the Last 2,000 Years or Late Paleocene-Early Eocene Climatic And Biotic Events In The Marine And Terrestrial Records.
The writing is short and punchy. Why doesn't everyone write like this? Why do other writers make everything so hard?
She ("like a model in her short skirt and spike heels"): " 'Then we should behave.' "
He: " 'Probably. Anyway, what about your boyfriend?' "
She: " 'Him.' She gave a derisive snort. 'I have had enough of him.' "
That's three entire paragraphs.
More! "Her legs were crossed, and the short skirt rode up high. 'I do as I please.' "
Anyway, she kills him. It's to get the plot going. Careful with hot babes-- in this book they can kill, even with their bare hands.
Let's get to the heart of the plot.
A monstrous conspiracy of rich, powerful eco-freaks/global warming puffers-- "Morton owned nine vintage Ferraris"-- based in California, Hollywood especially, with such as rock stars, actors, comedians and writers noted as scum-- other villains include "fat politicians", "rich news anchors", "conniving lawyers in Mercedes-Benz convertibles", "university professors in Volvos"-- one character is termed an "eco-pimp"-- in their frustration at failing to push the global warming message through to the public, or the courts-- " 'We've tried them all. Species extinction from global warming-- nobody gives a shit.' "-- intend to hit California with a giant tsunami. They've got the science, and the equipment! Yes, many will die. But survivors will be so shocked at how great an environmental disaster can be that afterwards they'll be putty in the hands of those with bogus science. Their agenda will become ours.
In the face of a threat so great-- the U.S. government apparently gets wind of it-- you'd think every human resource would be thrown into the fight: the FBI, CIA, Delta Force, we have SEALS, scientists, thousands of them, the U.S. Air Force-- but they're not needed. Indeed, by the way Crichton's mind and emotions and politics work-- more on all that later-- it will make a better novel, and a better comic book, if one man, as an apotheosis of individualism's power, steps forward to deal with matters: Dr. John Kenner, 39, doctorate in civil engineering (Caltech) at 20, JD (Harvard Law, in just two years), MIT Professor at 28. Prematurely gray, heavy horn-rim glasses. But he's not what you think. Degrees don't mean nerd. He can outfight, outshoot and outthink any man on the planet. Military and intelligence ties. A mysterious life, and mysterious connections. Mountain climber. Almost made the Olympic ski team. Virile, "dark, kind of butch.", even with the horn-rims. He has the gift of appearing mysteriously every right time, especially to rescue people. (" 'Is there anything you're not good at?' she said.") His speech is kind of stilted. "There's some evidence that disseminated AOB at altitude can shift a hurricane or cyclone track. Hydrophilic nanoparticles potentiate the effect. At least in theory." I like that humanizing touch-- "At least in theory." But then, this is a novel where even Eva Jonsdottir ("...tall and athletic...blond hair and a radiant smile.") talks along these lines: "Eva was chattering on about how 12 percent of Iceland was covered in glaciers, and....the type called a surge glacier...was pushing forward at the rate of one hundred meters a day...." Like any beautiful blond you meet in a bar.
Kenner doesn't need much. Himself would do. But he has Sanjong, his Gurkha sidekick, a Tonto character Crichton hasn't bothered giving a personality to. He's not the only one. And some hot babes sometimes are around, to help out.
Here's some more of the work:
"Jennifer [a lawyer] arched her back and kicked her legs up, clipping the kid [villain] under the chin, snapping his head back...As the kid staggered to his feet, she slammed him in the side of the head with both hands...She dove on him...and pounded his head into the ground. Then she pulled the knife off his belt and cut his throat."
I like Jennifer. She's not a stereotypical "babe". She has a mind too:
"She shook her head. 'The threat of global warming,' she said, 'is essentially nonexistent. Even if it were a real phenomenon, it would probably result in a net benefit to most of the world.' "
And if you feel bad about that kid, don't.
Kenner: " 'I wouldn't be too careful about the niceties when you fight back.' "
Narrator: "Extremists had been discovered and they had been killed. He was neither surprised nor disturbed by the news. On the contrary, he felt quite satisfied to hear it....There were bad people in the world. They had to be stopped."
I won't give the details away. I know you want to read it.
But in the end evil doesn't triumph, thanks to people like Jennifer, and Kenner. Yet somewhere, if not everywhere, the global warming movement lives on. We can never rest.
Anyway, that's the fiction part.
Stylistically, the book isn't great.
To call it wooden is an insult to wood.
However, I have to admit it quenched my thirst for a quick, semi-mindless read when I needed one. Good story teller. Oh so good. Knows how to use suspense. Like an old Buck Rogers serial. Will the octopus attack prove fatal? Will their car be swept over the cliff in the desert flood? (A flood caused by dangerous people.) Will they die after falling into an Antarctic crevice? Will the crocodile be able to catch up to Kenner? And then we find out. A leads to B. Like an Einstein equation. Isn't that good writing, to keep you going like that? However, the novel only worked for about the first two-thirds of itself. Finally, absurdity piled on absurdity so high that everything crashed, as if an elephant finally sat down on a flimsy chair.
But like I said, that's just the fiction part.
Embedded in the fiction is a non-fiction book, thick with graphs and data of all sort and even footnotes, all the scholarly apparatus. Kenner plays his part here, wielding his contrarian weaponry as he wheels from feckless liberal to feckless liberal in debate after debate, and here too Crichton apparently thinks that he Crichton is hot stuff. The softest thrusts are just truisms no one can disagree with: the subject's complex, we don't understand everything, the Kyoto Protocol is accomplishing little, computer models are not perfect-- though apart from Kenner, what is?-- some liberals who are rich drive SUV's and fly in private planes thus emitting more CO2 than average-- the hypocrites! and does that alone discredit their arguments yes apparently yes-- etc. Then, like all contrarians, he takes his giant leap off the truistic platform and here he plummets.
Things he says here have been said before and will be said again, though I've never read any contrarian who is so insistent and so cocksure and so filled with rage, and filled with this level of contempt for his opponents, let alone his intimating through his story and his characters that maybe those opponents-- at least the worst of them-- should be killed. But though he's a big guy, and foaming at the mouth, someone still needs to tap him on the shoulder and point out where he's wrong.
For instance, in denying the danger of crop failure from global warming, he says what's commonly said by contrarians (Kenner talking, of course):
"For example, crop failure-- if anything, increased carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth. There is some evidence that this is happening."
Yes, some limited increase can sometimes be stimulative. But the grim beauty of science is that it follows reality wherever it leads. In the 2003 European heat wave that killed in the 20's, maybe the 30's of 1,000's, the warming-- 2.3 Centigrade above average-- combined with the recent increases in CO2-- did not stimulate crop growth. The plants were so stressed they spewed out CO2-- resulting in an extra half billion tons of carbon being added to the atmosphere, equal to about 1/12 of all fossil fuel emissions that year. Agriculture was devastated to the tune of about $ 12 billion. Wheat production dropped 20% in France, 12% in the UK and 80% in the Ukraine. During the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitude drought and heat of 1998-2002 the plants did not gratefully suck in all the extra CO2 and thrive-- they, along with the soil, vomited it out they were so stressed, adding an extra 1 billion tons plus of carbon. And studies show that extra CO2 stimulates weed growth more than crop growth, crowding out the plants we need (or necessitating more fossil fuel-based herbicides). There's no question-- shown in numerous studies that Crichton either isn't aware of or, even worse, knows of but suppresses in his work-- that if temperature rises too high crop growth shuts off-- wheat, corn, rice, take your pick-- regardless of how rich with carbon dioxide the atmosphere has become. Indeed, the consensus among scientists is that a rise of about 3 Centigrade/5.4 Fahrenheit average global temperature will simply shut down some current agricultural regions of the Earth. As Mark Lynas writes in Six Degrees (2008): "...a three degree rise in global temperatures...effectively reverses the carbon cycle. Instead of absorbing CO2, vegetation and soils start releasing it in massive quantities...and plant growth goes into reverse." Let's not even get into the problems of increased drought in some key regions and the inevitable explosion of heat-loving insect pests.
Jennifer: " 'Even if it were a real phenomenon, it would probably result in a net benefit to most of the world.' " (" 'I hit him...I hit him again....He died....You think I should feel sorry for him?...One of us was going to get killed that night. I'm glad it wasn't me.' ")
Crichton's non-fiction State of Fear is incredibly filled with misleading statements, twisted statements, selectivity, cherry-picking, gaps, flat-out mistakes, outright lies-- fiction. Is that smart? Doesn't he want to make a good case? Or does he actually think he's making a good case? Or is he just a lawyer, not worrying about all that and piling up any evidence he can find-- and there is some-- to try to save his client--
ruggedindividualismhypertechnocapitalism? I see where some people could be wowed by his research, and even people on the fence knocked over by it down onto Crichton's side. For instance, he makes a huge big deal about the heat island effect of urban areas-- actually Jennifer is his mouthpiece here, and for almost 20 pages, as the plot drops dead, she presses relentlessly on, using 20 graphs, all of them printed in the book-- the heat island effect, which he feels unfairly skews temperature records toward the high end. Unfortunately for the argument, data from wilderness areas and oceans also show significant temperature rise. Duh. And he doesn't give enough credit to the extent scientists have taken the heat island effect into consideration when producing data. He tries to pooh-pooh sea level rise by-- he does this on other global warming issues-- focusing on the most exaggerated warnings, then cherry-picking a little data to say or intimate the fears are groundless. But in fact no scientist disputes that sea level rise began speeding up in the mid-19th Century-- to about 1/12" a year-- and now it's going faster-- about 1/8" a year. That's worldwide average. The fact that in some spots it's falling is meaningless. Even Crichton concedes there are local conditions that involve sea level fall-- land still rebounding, for instance, now that the Ice Age glaciers that once pressed them down are gone-- but he concedes that in such a tangled jargon most of his readers won't get it. Sea level is surprisingly flexible, actually. I would guess, for instance, that few people are aware that the Pacific at its west end can, under El Nino conditions, be a foot higher than at its east end. So when your cruise ship travels from Chile to Bali it's not just traveling that great distance, it's also going uphill, or upocean. It's just that the rise is so gradual you can't notice it. But the main point, brushing side issues off, is that on average the world ocean is indeed rising.
Near outright lie?
Kenner, on prominent climatologist James Hansen's 1988 climate prediction: " 'And his 1988 prediction...was wrong by three hundred percent.' " Not quite. While Hansen drew up three scenarios at the time, in his testimony to Congress in 1988 his temperature prediction was based on Scenario B, which he said was the most likely, and it came very close to predicting the actual 0.11C rise in the following decade. He even correctly assumed there would be one major volcanic eruption in that period (it would be Mt. Pinatubo in 1991).
" 'Back in the 1970s, all the climate scientists believed an ice age was coming.' "
All 5,000? All 10,000? Or however many there were. World-wide? Crichton spoke with all of them? Read an Ice Age prediction from each? Of course not. John Wayne's just shooting from the hip again. Trying to hit the side of a barn.
In fact, since the 1940-1970's period featured some overall cooling in the Northern Hemisphere-- the Southern Hemisphere was far less affected-- a number of climate scientists-- not all-- and briefly-- thought the possibility of a long-range cooling was worth considering. For a few years some mass media articles made noise about the possibility-- I think that's what Crichton is really talking about. But even in these articles-- which I have never seen quoted by contrarians-- climate scientists were not necessarily doing what Crichton's mouthpiece tells people they were doing.
Newsweek, January 31, 1977, 26-7, "Forecast: Unsettled Weather Ahead", no author listed: "Says George Kukla, a climatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory: 'Just because we can't get out cars started...we should not start worrying about an Ice Age.' Among scientists who fear that significant worldwide climatic changes have already begun, there are those who believe that another Ice Age is not far ahead-- as well as others who predict that a potentially devastating warming may occur....Other scientists believe that the earth is actually getting warmer....many scientists say it probably has been caused by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) spewed into the atmosphere....Only time and more research will reveal which, if either, of these scenarios is correct."
We could go on and on. Such is the quality of his arguments. Read everything for yourself. Take a train trip.
He even stoops to a very dumb and low argument someone else once e-mailed me (who probably got it from Crichton): Global warming position currently respectable? Well, eugenics position once respectable. And the Nazis believed in eugenics!
Let me end by talking about something really pertinent.
You may think America's finally learned to eat well, but in fact many Americans are deliberately choosing to eat worse than ever, and fast food companies' profits have soared as a result. Hardee's, which has been accused of "food porn", has recently introduced, with great success, monstrosities like the Monster Thickburger-- 1,400 calories and 107 grams of fat (well over one day's recommended amount of fat in a single item)-- or the Country Breakfast Burrito (2 eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, cheese and sausage gravy in a tortilla). Add, say, a chocolate shake and medium fries to the Monster Thickburger and you have 2,760 calories (more than a day's worth) and 170 grams of fat (almost three days' worth). Burger King has its BK Stacker: 4 hamburgers on top of each other. Not to be outdone, Wendy's is coming out with a Philly Style Hoagie Burger (burger on top of burger covered with salami, ham and creamy salad dressing).
You know all this-- you know what's out there, whether you eat it or not.
It's a shameless appeal to masculinity.
And a shaming and ridicule if you turn away.
In one Burger King commercial a customer says: "If Burger King doesn't have the Whopper, they might as well change their name to Burger Queen."
CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's (and the equally vile, and popular, Carl's Jr.) has ads which "have included a gorgeous woman riding a mechanical bull while eating a Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger, an attractive woman inserting her entire fist into her mouth to demonstrate the oral capacity one would need to down a Monster Thickburger in a single go, and a Playmate-flanked Hugh Hefner holding one of several varieties of the Six Dollar Burger, with the tagline, 'Because guys don't like the same thing night after night.' " ("Fat Profits", Conde Nast Portfolio, Joe Keohane, February 2008)
Amazingly, Michael Crichton's jackass of a novel is fundamentally an act similar to the ads, a kind of hypermasculine special pleading with reality not to be, and reinforcing my long global warming essay's contention elsewhere on the site (GLOBAL WARMING: THE TRUTH) that the two sides of the global warming debate represent two incompatible models of humanity, who at some point will have to have it out to determine the remainder of the human future. The book is one long scream from Crichton to "Bring it on! Bring that on!", from Butch Kenner's preposterous heroics to the wet-dream of warrior-beauties battling environmental extremists to his ferocious never-concede-one-inch defense lawyer case-making to the book's unending rat-a-tat-tat of violence to his essential ridiculing of any attempts by anyone to halt the current climate course of humanity. (Crichton is so inherently opposed to regulation that he, like Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the super-contrarian MIT Professor, is one of the very few human beings with a scientific or medical background still ready to contest measures against smoking, questioning the cigarette-harm link.) One of the main characters in the book is Peter Evans, a lawyer for rich California ecohead George Morton-- Evan's firm is Hassle & Black-- Crichton is so witty-- who continually acts like a wimp in crisis after crisis-- to the exasperation of the hard-bodied babe beside him:
"His voice broke off. He sounded on the verge of tears.
" 'Okay,' she said. 'Don't worry.'
" 'I'm trapped, Sarah!' "
(Sarah: "...an extremely beautiful woman...perfect....so beautiful....")
Yet as Kenner works on him, and Peter begins to see the light on global warming, he begins to toughen up:
"She [Sarah] noticed that Evan's voice had lost its boyish hesitancy. He was no longer protesting everything Kenner said. He sounded older somehow, more mature, more solid."
And finally Evans is blooded, he makes it all the way over to the other side, he kills (an environmental villain):
"Evans struggled....Evans kicked again...Standing over Bolden [villain], he kicked him hard in the ribs, as hard as he could. He tried to kill him....he kicked once more....Bolden opened his mouth to scream but there was no sound....Jennifer ripped her blouse with her teeth and tore a strip of cloth for a tourniquet."
In addition to contempt for Crichton, it's possible to feel pity for him, watching an unquestionably brilliant man (of sorts) ferociously battling, in a lost cause, with a paper sword, behind a cardboard shield. I understand-- his panic-- and rage-- because indeed, if the global warming alarmists turn out to be right-- I believe so-- the ethos he idealizes-- the world he loves-- hypermasculine, hyperindividualistic, materialist, high tech, libertarian/conservative in politics, Capitalist-- will indeed die. He's fighting, in the only way he knows, and however crudely, for what he thinks has made humanity comfortable and great-- the unchained energy of male genius, which must never be fettered.
Unfortunately, a new reality has come.
On the other hand, if you have a long train trip coming up, and you'd like to leave your mind behind....
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