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Son of Amity by Peter Nathaniel Malae

DEAR MALAE: I swear I offered this to a bunch of publications in the straight community but no one wanted it, at least not from me, so here it is on an insignificant blog. I tried! Feel free to use. –N

Peter Nathaniel Malae’s new book Son of Amity begins with themes familiar to his readers: violence, incarceration, cultures tangled and erased by poverty, hatred for the consumer and the less-dedicated, and perhaps the Californian writer’s greatest contribution to twenty-first century literature: an identifiable search for the use of masculinity in our time.

As before, the economy of description is refreshingly socio-economic. Malae’s mission to portray common people brings us undernourished, overfed, jelly-spined poor whites, but also dignified and convincing portraits of men forgotten in prison and in Bush’s Middle-East conflict, and women rejected, imprisoned, by the ignorance in their environments.

But this is no rerun of What We Are: like Jimmy Baca before him, the author’s own evolution since he disappeared into the “Pacific Northwest” makes the reader an attractive offer to evolve according to his characters’ examples. There are three males in this dialect-rendered story. Which is the titular Son of Amity?

Here Malae repurposes his previous characterizations to disarming effect. For a start the writer’s voice, mercifully, is separating from the narrator’s. Malae always demonstrates an ear for specific slang, something that really impresses academics, but in Son of Amity, especially the memories of prison, we finally get to observe what this slang, in its various pressure and quantity, really means between characters.

Central to the three adults’ seemingly-doomed cohabitation is a highly-realistic evolution of characters’ wills and desires, something unfit in What We Are’s immediacy. Starting with revenge for a rape, the characters’ common ground shifts under them as the victim of the violence takes the will to both choose forgiveness and transform the violence into a child: Malietoa to his Samoan uncle, Tophat to his veteran father, the latter crippled by the former.

The use for masculinity is found in a shared faith in family centered around the child Benji, and not in an act or a gesture. The outcast’s longing for a family to serve –and worth serving –in previous work has arrived. As What We Are’s exasperation before an expanded mind rouses similar feelings to Immigrants in Our Own Land, so this meditation on refocused life approaches the glorious beauty of Black Mesa Poems.

Throughout the book, Malae turns his previous work’s conceits against themselves using time and natural renewal: here we hopelessly serve our past even as the future offers us a ride without reservations, in this case the innocent child at the lead. The book’s greatest charm lies in watching the three adults reluctantly choose the boy’s inspiration over their baggage. Who, then, is the Son of Amity? I would argue that it’s the boy, and I propose that the narcissistic masses of this country read this book and follow their own Malietoa, their own Tophat.

Malae never neglects the portraiture of people trying to both live up to the past and make some way of living in the present. Perhaps the clearest symbols of this are Pika’s Samoan umu Thanksgiving turkey at the book’s finale and Michael’s worship of the Vietnam vets. But the conceit and the dignity lies in Sissy’s internal monologue throughout, in which the urban, feminist, progressive reader must coexist with the fact that Sissy’s post-rape decisions come from a need to move forward without any plan.

Highly recommended for those needing an immediate dose of reality.



Eastside Meadows Loop Ride

Found my new favorite ride in the Sierra de Santa Isabel region of San José this morning, which I dub “Eastside Meadows Loop.” I’d been looking at the maps and interested in two new routes: Sierra over this gnarly fire road back down into Alum Rock Park itself, and another route that went up Clayton over either to Alum Rock or Quimby via 130, the very top. I’ll write more about Sierra when I get around to it, but it’s a widowmaker, and I want to ride it strictly out of completism.

Instead of heading to specific spots, I started out straight down Story and just went until I ran out of road. The backroad that joins to it is called Fleming, which went northwest the high road along a nice deep cut between the first hill out of the city and the proper rise of the mountains. When the sun is behind the trees, it’s cool even on summer mornings. It’s definitely suburban, but there are spots that are still more country, even down that low. Beware: Corralitos Road, which sounded good, doesn’t have a dead-end sign like its neighbor roads, but is indeed a dead end, and steep one at that.

Fleming ends at Alum Rock, and then just as it gets steep it connects at right to 130. As the Google Map insists on rendering for you, there’s a shortcut up Porter to Alum Rock. To be honest I still never had done that hill, and I see why those Amgen CEO-ride ninnies use it. They weren’t kidding that it’s the easy way up the mountains, and also the most scenic, with views of apricot orchards, Dario’s Ranch, some old weird dead yuppie palaces with dead-walnut yards and neglected tennis courts, wild turkeys, quail, horse pasture and of course durr. And of course the rotting pustule of Silicon Valley poking out below.

Somewhere around the 12000 address mark of 130 (Mount Hamilton) there’s a doppelgänger for the two shithouses approximately at 4000 Quimby that ruin not one but two peaks standing mightily against the view of the valley. Some douchebags are going around like “hey! It’s the finite resource of two peaks shoulder to shoulder. Let’s wreck it for everyone and put two shite McMansions there!”

Just as one starts to feel the very easy but long 4% climb, the option appears to either keep going up another mile to Quimby or head down Clayton. I’d found Clayton in spite of myself! But the funny part is, when I got down again, I saw that I’d started there and not bothered to read signs to the right when I went up Story! So it was a big perfect loop.

The land up there looks like a solid wall from down in the valley, but it’s actually a slow stepping landscape of slopes and wide meadows. I thought about taking a picture with my Capitalist Scum device, but then I thought, nah. You want to see it, you got to ride it yourself!

I’m glad I did Clayton on the down rather than the up this time, because I enjoyed the Mount Hamilton section more than I otherwise might have. But I did go right past the monastery of the Descalzos and didn’t even notice. Clayton’s land is a little more like Quimby’s, not an easy grade up through high meadows but an express-elevator to the top. Much preferable for making a lovely loop to enjoy the season. Plus, Quimby’s surroundings suck at the bottom; there’s no fast way to get out of Tully-land up to the center of the city.

Once I got down I also accomplished a goal of going to a new liquor store, Jack’s, at the end of Jackson. Where the hell do you go to drink a beer in public at 10am on the east side, besides everywhere? Finally went to Emma Prusch. When you got the best, forget the rest.

Got an under-reported ride in the Santa Cruz or Diablo mountains? Comment it below!

Grocery Store Horrors: The Eating Habits

Once again some comics from a never-finished zine circa 2014. I think the only ones I had left to do were the meat and the produce but whatever.

In order to not hit the size limits, here are all 3 pages in separate images. Grocery stores fill me full of dread to this day, even Staff of Life in Santa Cruz –my ideal store –and the comics elaborate the dark currents running under your do-gooder Whole Foods bullshit life. I also have a really hard time reading menus, as the items are never different enough from each other to catch my eye.

grocery-habits1Here’s page 2

Here’s page 3


New Black and Green Review

The new Black and Green Review is out! Don’t miss an issue! Buy a few copies so they take slightly longer to go balls up!

Here’s an essential article on climate refugees, reprinted here. The active bibliography is available at BAGR’s website above, and yes, those footnotes are active.

Losing Ground: Syria’s Climate Refugees
Evan Cestari, Black and Green Review #2, Fall 2015

The climate wars have already begun. In the parlance of the State, climate change has proven to be a “threat multiplier” that has become typified by, among other conflicts, a war in Syria that to date has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced over 9 million.[1] With people throughout the Middle East escaping the ongoing resource wars and desperate for some semblance of stability, Europe now faces its greatest refugee influx since World War II and fears over a reactionary fascist backlash loom in the background.
All this when we’ve only just scratched the surface of climate change. With a 0.85°C increase in global average temperature over since the Industrial Revolution, the United Nations estimates that 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes.[2] Meanwhile, as global average temperature is widely expected to climb past a catastrophic 2°C limit, analysts predict that number to more than double to 150 million in the next 35 years. Ten times that figure, or nearly 10 percent of the world’s population, are at direct risk of displacement due to climate change.[3] What an increasingly probable 6°C or higher global temperature increase may bring becomes a frightening proposition.

The Syria-Climate Connection

The haunting image of a refugee Syrian toddler’s corpse washed up on a Turkish beach is now weaved into our nightmarish cultural subconscious. But sadly, such a tragedy had been long predicted in a part of the world where water was scarce, populations growing, and pressures to develop advanced agricultural economies reached new levels. At least since the 1970s, Syria, Iraq and Turkey were locked in tense standoffs, and even “undeclared wars” over access to the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.[4] By 1999, Turkey, a NATO member and European Union candidate nation, succeeded in quelling Kurdish resistance and wasted little time in advancing a series of dams and irrigation projects that left Syrian farmers with a trickle of their former flows. Meanwhile, population growth surged in all three countries at a rate that would double the number of inhabitants in mere decades. As analyst Michael T. Klare stated in 2001, “The stage is being set for a series of recurring crises over water supplies in the Tigris-Euphrates basin.”[5]
Enter the threat multiplier, climate change. From 2006 to 2010, as moist Mediterranean winds weakened and surface temperatures spiked to new highs, an epic drought plagued the region. It was reputed to be the worst in Syria’s recorded history and at least two to three times more likely to occur due to climate change. In an area already short on water, 1.5 million starving villagers fled to overcrowded city centers. With a crippled domestic agricultural industry also came a catastrophic loss of imports as Russia, a main supplier of grain, halted all exports in 2010 after a “once in a century” heatwave triggered wildfires, destroyed crops and claimed the lives of over 50,000 Russian people. Food riots erupted throughout the Middle East, eventually cascading into the Arab Spring. The Bashar al-Assad regime reacted swiftly and violently to the desperate migrants while brutal ISIS gangs, dependent on an economy of pillaging and slavery, stepped in to fill the void. As the conflict escalated throughout both the cities and countryside, both sides didn’t hesitate to deploy chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and other indiscriminate weapons causing the casualty figure to surpass 250,000. Determined to escape what can only be called a living hell, 3 million Syrians sought refuge abroad, including 150,000 who treked to parts of Europe by the Autumn of 2015. It is currently uncertain exactly how welcoming the European nations will be. Some states, such as Germany, have pledged to take in tens of thousands; others, such as Hungary, have actively resisted the influx.
Syrian economist Samir Aita notes the historical irony of the disaster’s location: “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”[6] However, considering the rising climate pressures, it is doubtful that any political leader, democratic or authoritarian, could have ever succeed. Despite attempts to obfuscate the crisis as the result of mismanagement, the truth is that it is more structurally rooted in a globalized industrial economy that is both perpetrator and victim of its own catastrophe.

Climate Migrations in Past Collapses

Like every other symptom and driver of a collapsing civilization, what is new here is the global scale rather than the crises themselves. Mass migrations due to climate change have been repeatedly pointed out as a culprit in the sequence of events leading to the collapse of complex societies. In his sweeping history of the role of climate change as a “serial killer” of civilizations, Eugene Linden convincingly portrays the Mongolian barbarian intruders that overwhelmed the Roman Empire in the 6th century as exiles of a conflict catalyzed by sudden global cooling around 536 A.D.[7] Ethnic Avar horsemen, who increasingly lost economic and political influence to their rival Turkic herders after a severe drought decimated their primary equine resources, moved west gathering other disaffected groups on the edges of the Empire. Few historians point to barbarian invasions as the sole cause for the collapse of the Roman Empire, yet combined with other factors including food shortages, disease, and population overshoot, Rome became progressively overburdened by a series of related and ruinous catastrophes.
Jared Diamond illustrates another example of such a process in his book Collapse while discussing the last stages of Greenland Norse society shortly after the start of the Little Ice Age between 1400 and 1800. While Greenland’s Western settlements experienced the worst effects and became unable to grow hay for livestock, the Gardar settlement in the East was located in a more resilient area that could still support cows, the preferred source of protein among the settlers. Diamond suggests how the final breakdown unfolded:

[A]t the end, Gardar was like an overcrowded lifeboat. When hay production was failing and the livestock had all died or been eaten at the poorer farms of Eastern Settlement, their settlers would have tried to push their way onto the best farms that still had some animals: Brattahlid, Hvalsey, Herjolfsnes, and last of all Gardar. The authority of the church officials at Gardar Cathedral, or of the landowning chief there, would have been acknowledged as long as they and the power of God were visibly protecting their parishioners and followers. But famine and associated disease would have caused a breakdown of respect for authority, much as the Greek historian Thucydides described in his terrifying account of the plague of Athens 2,000 years earlier. Starving people would have poured into Gardar, and the outnumbered chiefs and church officials could no longer prevent them from slaughtering the last cattle and sheep.[8]

In both Linden’s and Diamond’s accounts, developed states over time became overpowered by hungry people. And in both cases, climate change fueled that hunger.

Migration and the Collapse Forecast

What remains clear, even to those in power, is that the Syrian situation is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the displacement that is in store. Tesla CEO Elon Musk publicly called Europe’s refugee crisis a “small indication of what the world will be like” adding that the tens of millions of refugees today will increase exponentially. Indeed, all this was forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its very first report on climate change in 1990 which foretold “millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and severe drought.”[9] As the effects of climate change continue to be felt more directly in the First World, we become more and more likely to see conflict. John Gray wrote in his 2003 book Al Qaeda and What it Means to Be Modern that “global warming may well overtake scarcity in energy supplies as a source of geopolitical conflict.”[10] Gray foresaw major disruptions in food production leading to mass migrations that would eventually be blocked by both autocratic and democratic regimes.

     Echoing such a proscription, in 2008 journalist Mark Lynas painted a dismal prognosis in his book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet:

With structural famine gripping much of the subtropics, hundreds of millions of people will have only one choice left other than death for themselves and their families: They will have to pack up their belongings and leave. The resulting population transfers could dwarf those that have historically taken place owing to wars or crop failures.

…Conflicts will inevitably erupt as these numerous climate refugees spill into already densely populated areas….Tens of millions more will flee north from Africa towards Europe, where a warm welcome is unlikely to await them; new fascist parties may make sweeping electoral gains by promising to keep the starving African hordes out. Undaunted, many of these new climate refugees will make the journey on foot, carrying what they can, with children and old people trailing behind. Many of them will die by the wayside. Uprooted, stateless, and without hope, these will be the first generation of a new type of people; climate nomads, constantly moving in search of food, their varied cultures forgotten, ancestral ties to ancient lands cut forever. But these people may not be content to remain passive victims, for they will surely know that the world they inherit is not one that they have created. The resentment felt by Muslims towards Westerners will be tame by comparison. As social collapse accelerates, new political philosophies may emerge, philosophies that seek to lay blame where it truly belongs- on the rich countries that lit the fire that has now begun to consume the world.[11]

Today, Lynas seems incorrect only in terms of exactly who would be the first to experience such climate change induced famine. Certainly, it is not difficult to find parallels between the ideology Lynas describes and the bloodthirsty quest for revenge espoused by ISIS.
Of course, the blame of the rich nations that Lynas describes only scratches the surface; anarcho-primitivism digs deeper to lay the finger on domestication and civilization itself. As Tim Garrett, professor of Atmospheric Studies at the University of Utah explains, civilization is fundamentally a “heat engine” programmed for climate change as it “consumes energy and does ‘work’ in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy.”[12] The task facing anarcho-primitivists then becomes engaging the crisis and the “climate nomads” in ways that expose the underlying culprit while resisting emerging fascist and xenophobic tendencies. Simultaneously, we can lead attempts to reconnect with wild places that may be on the margins for agriculture, but which may allow a more flexible resource base through foraging. The solutions to foraging in dry environments will undoubtedly vary from area to area, but any attempts to do so can draw hope from contemporary foragers. As !Kung elder Moloreng states in James Workman’s important book Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought; “The old…They know how to live without the water.”[13]
Perhaps the most hopeful vision we can draw upon is that of the Greenland Inuit during the course of the Norse civilization’s decline. While not immune to the effects of climatic variations in an already marginal environment, with large fluctuations in the populations of prey species meaning sporadic community starvations, Inuit culture as a whole was able to draw upon a wider variety of food resources to adapt through the Little Ice Age that starved out the Western Settlements and eventually even the rich Gardar. Amidst social collapse the Norse were unable to overcome their ingrained contempt for Inuit culture and could therefore not seek assistance from those who most knew how to persist. It is now our duty to not repeat their mistake.