Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

For the sake of ornament and illumination.

Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Mon Jan 23, 2017 5:24 am

A Brief Introduction to Jaynesian Bicameralism
by Charles Carreon
January 22, 2017

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Julian Jaynes didn’t quite convince Richard Dawkins that the theory of mind proposed in his 1976 psych-classic, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” was correct – Dawkins remains on the fence about whether it’s pure bullshit or pure genius – but Jaynes certainly won first prize for Most Provoking Title for A Serious Book. Jaynes was competing in the burgeoning post-Freudian psych-theory market where Szasz, Laing, Leary and Lilly had already pitched their tents, so he undoubtedly wanted to cut through clutter and get people to hear his idea. The only drawback to his strategy is that, to the pedestrian ear, Jaynes’ dramatic declaration sounds a little like, “We Come From Crazy Ancestors Who Had A Breakdown, and Became Us.”

Bicameralism, Split-Brain Syndrome in Pre-Iliadic Humanity

Jaynes argues that our ability to cognize ourselves as human beings results from the linguistic integration of the two hemispheres of our brain. Jaynes further argues that for millennia, our human ancestors possessed a “bicameral mind,” in which the two brain hemispheres collaborated without the medium of self-conscious awareness, before the activity of naming events, objects and living beings blossomed into the magic of individual consciousness. If you were equipped with a bicameral mind living in the Indian subcontinent in 4000 BC, according to Jaynes, you literally could not think “I,” much less, “I should pick these mangos to eat later.” You’d just pick the mangos, eat as many as you could, and save some for later, because of learned responses generated by your nervous system, that he calls “aptic” systems, i.e., systems that make us apt at performing certain actions, what used to be called “instinct.”

The above illustration presumes that mangos are familiar, and thus no stress is created when they are seen. The person sees the mango, knows it is food, eats and stores it. But suppose the same person discovers an unfamiliar fruit outside of their usual domain. Now the bicameral mind might kick into action. The right brain might manifest as a voice, emanating from a haze around the fruit tree, and that voice might say, “Eat of this tree, for it is good.” Why? Since the idea of the self does not exist in the bicameral mind, the idea of aiding the self to survive cannot arise. Jaynes’ vision of these type of people includes even the heroes of the Iliad, such as Achilles, Hector, and Menelaus, all of whom ascribe what seem like rash, passionate actions to the irresistible power of the gods, whose voices drive them to act in ways that modern humans would call intemperate.

The bicameral condition of pre-Iliadic man, is therefore one of unconscious action, directed by forces either automatic or hallucinated. The automatic forces are the “aptic systems,” and the “divine” hallucinations are provoked by the untethered right hemisphere. Jaynes supports his interesting theory with evidence derived from split-brain research that proves that, in cases where the physical mechanism of hemispheric interconnection is physically damaged, the right brain and the left brain fail to integrate two things: perceptions and concepts. The integration of perceptions and concepts is a metaphor-fueled activity that occurs due to the interaction of brain hemispheres and the speech centers of the brain. Self-awareness and self-interest then supplants the visionary hallucinations.

Bicameralism in Westworld

A modern Jaynes fan, Marcel Kuijsten, head of an Institute dedicated to his theory, was recently interviewed on the topic of bicameralism after the term was uttered on the current TV series, “Westworld.” Kuijsten described the bicameral mind as what humans have “after language develops, but before we learn consciousness [so that instead] of an introspective mind-space, we’re hearing a commanding voice when we have decisions to make [until eventually humans] develop the ability to have introspection and little by little, the hallucinations are suppressed.”

“The hallucinations” that are associated with the “voices of the gods” must be understood to be quite different from something like “the voice of conscience,” which is a conscious structure constructed of concepts, that couldn’t exist in a bicameral mind. Unlike Jehovah, these “gods” perform no miracles, command no one to do the impossible, and exert a pure authority. By “pure authority,” I mean that when their inner voices speak, the bicameral people act. Bicameral minds cannot ponder the “influence of the divine” upon the “self,” nor can they choose by an act of “free will” to behave as “a sinner” or “a saint.”

Submission, Not Anarchy, Is the Bicameral Condition

So far, so good, but without a coordinating authority, would not all of these “gods,” shooting off their mouths in everyone’s head, create chaos? How can it be that, as Jaynes argues, bicameral minds operated the first agrarian societies, managing vast irrigated fields and timed harvests, gathering all the grain into central granaries, and operating complex administrative systems? As Kuijsten helpfully explains, summarizing Jaynes’ idea – bicameral people tended to hear the boss’ voice:

“You would hear the voice of the chief of the tribe, or the king, and then as the leader died, what would happen was that followers would still hear his commanding voice. So that’s why you see all around the world, the dead are treated as living, and fed, and propped up, and worshiped. So in the death of the leader, we see the birth of the concept of the gods. In ancient Egypt, for example, each king that dies becomes the God of Osiris.”


Thus, argues Jaynes, when the Chief died, people continued to get advice from him, a lot like the Clooney character showing up to help out the Sandra Bullock character in Gravity, described in this review:[1]

“[T]he scene in question involves the return of Clooney’s veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski. Late in the game, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) has reached her breaking point. She thinks that she has exhausted every possible opportunity to return home. She shuts down the oxygen the capsule that contains her, and prepares to asphyxiate. But she’s woken out of her stupor by her supervisor (Clooney), who reminds her of one last option she hadn’t explored. Only the catch is, Kowalski’s still dead, and Stone was – what? Imagining him? Envisioning him? Conjuring his essence? The scene is open to multiple interpretations.”


Well, if you were about to pull the plug on your ventilator because you couldn’t figure out how to save yourself, it might push you right back into a bicameral condition. Note the Bullock character has exhausted all of her conscious resources. This is a situation that, however good it is for the rest of her life, is just not being adequately addressed by “consciousness,” and so, she reverts to bicamerality long enough to get that “aha” experience, and rediscover what is beyond the known. But how would she explain it to the folks back at home? So she would quickly revert from bicamerality to consciousness, as soon as the danger was over.

Brain Plasticity and Post-Conscious Humanity

How did humans graduate from bicameralism to “consciousness?” As best I can tell at this stage of the reading, through language. By learning to attach names to perceptions, to discrete objects, to persons, and then, to the self. Having cognized the self, we can begin to experience it, to use it, and to recognize it in others.

Because Jaynes was arguing that human brains now operate differently from those of our ancestors with the same cerebral hardware, he also had to argue that this change in function was possible, thus throwing in his lot with the newly-emerging paradigm of brain plasticity. Today, we have plenty of evidence that the brain repurposes its neural resources with great flexibility, and can thus agree that the functioning of the brain has evolved as linguistic capacities developed, causing newer brains to be wired more efficiently as generations have grown up with ever-more sophisticated speech resources, including of course, the Internet.

So one must ask: if our consciousness arose from the “breakdown” of the bicameral mind, due toits inability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations as efficiently as a “conscious” interface, what could lead to the “breakdown” of consciousness? Could it be the labor of keeping up with machine intelligence? Could it be the overtaxing of consciousness by loading it with too many alternatives for a single mind to process? And if so, what would the next evolutionary stage be?

_______________

Notes:

[1] http://www.cinemablend.com/new/George-C ... 39723.html
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Thu Feb 16, 2017 6:25 am

Has It Happened Here?
by Charles Carreon
February 15, 2017

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Each Night & Day I Pray for the Fall of the U.S.A.
[Trump] SWAMP … TOO BIG. TRUMPTHOR DESTROY EVERYTHING!
— by Tara Carreon


The nation’s self-image has suffered a blow from which it will never recover – the President’s weird hair flip is the new logo for “USA” on every TV in the world, pushing aside the Stars and Stripes. Trump’s flip is as recognizable as a Coke can, and far more menacing to the world’s governing elite. President Donald has put the world on notice that the U.S. Presidency is his job to do as he pleases.

Campaign slogans like “drain the swamp” have been traded for “buy Ivanka’s stuff.” What swamp? Damn Nordstrom! Of course the Goldman guys are in charge of the gold! Must we talk about women again? Look, the good old days at Studio 54 are forgotten – abortions are verboten. Energy? The national parks are being carved up for immediate exploitation in a big way. Criticism? Those who don’t like our program will be acquainted with the business end of a pitchfork. None of this is what you’d expect from a man who ran as the sworn enemy of Washington corruption. He seems born to it.

Who’da thunk it? He lied. But I don’t hear a swelling rebellion from the trailer parks, the suburbs, the Walmart parking lots. Those angry white guys wanting a fair shake aren’t worried about the swarm of Wall Street bankers pouring into the Trump Administration. Why?

The entire ship of state is listing backwards into the past, the far past, like Reconstruction. Under Republican rule, realities can change very quickly. A little nudge with controlled demolitions, and the dominoes started falling after 9/11: Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, NSA domestic spying, all metastasized during the Cheney Years. Now, thanks to the incredibly stupid children’s crusade that passed for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the USA is once again trussed up like a submissive at a BDSM party, ready to provide complete satisfaction for plutocrats now dressing without shame as total Nazis.

A lot of people are sure that there’s going to be a great big rebellion. Kathleen Parker gives Trump’s impeachment an ETA of 2018, at the latest, when she predicts a protest vote more powerful than a soccer mom’s backhand will give Democrats a Congressional majority in both houses, and remove all vestiges of Trump from the Oval Office, if the occupant is not by then already President Pence.

I’m not so sure. I note that sales of “It Can’t Happen Here” have surged 12,000% since Trump took office. Sinclair Lewis’ demagogue is Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a homespun, straight-talking politician with the confidence of a carnival barker, who rises to power on a populist platform, and implements a corpocratic dictatorship with brownshirts, clubs, and all the good stuff. There are uncannily close parallels between Buzz Windrip and Donald Trump, and many of us have been waiting all of our lives to see how it would play if an economically devastated white, male voting public were given the chance to vote for Buzz – or Donald. Since we now have the answer to that question, we move to the next one.

Might it be possible to organize all the bigots now polishing rifles in anticipation of defending their homes against rampaging hordes of illegals? Perhaps they could be offered jobs policing and transporting illegals and other undesirables out to the border wall? And running the internment camps that will have to be set up in every community to manage the outbound migration. Since there are large numbers of Americans who believe that the country is under threat, and who are familiar with the use of weapons and security equipment, they actually stand ready to be recruited to imprison their fellows.

In a relatively plausible scenario, these people could be recruited anonymously and secretly, and organized into neighborhood cells. Before launch day, their neighbors wouldn’t know what was being already prepared. One day, the neighborhood cell would all get emails, and in unison, begin patrolling the neighborhood as a security force, and assist in the immediate arrest and deportation of illegals and other undesirables.

If this scenario were in force, it would be logical to take it all the way up the chain of command, and take over power stations, government offices, and transportation facilities. It would be a flash Blitzkrieg. Hitler would be impressed with the efficiency, at how the communication system could be used to take over the system it was intended to serve.

Anyone can see that implementing these scenarios is well within the realm of the possible, and could be used to establish paramilitary, dictatorial rule with the active participation of a minority of citizens to procure the surrender of the majority. We tend to think that so long as a majority of the people would not approve of such a shift in power, it could not happen, but that is not correct. All it requires is for people with strong, malevolent intent to work diligently to spring the trap, using the power of surprise and state-sanctioned lethal force.

I can hear the huffing and puffing from people who reject all such scenarios as utterly absurd, an impossibility. One question? Did you predict that Hillary would win?


Burn
by Rancid

13 red and white stripes flying
White for skin and red for dying
Why can't i
Walk on through
And not feel like
One is in hell
We don't need no water
Let the motherfucker burn
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Sun Feb 19, 2017 7:15 am

The Art of War: How Will Team Trump Fare on the Field of Battle?
by Charles Carreon
February 18, 2017

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Sun Tzu, author of the Chinese strategy classic, The Art of War, observed that if you take a proper accounting of the strengths and weaknesses of an army, you can forecast how it will fare in armed conflict. Five factors must be assessed to determine which army will win an armed engagement: philosophy, climate, terrain, leadership, and military methods. Sun Tzu commends those who would engage in armed conflict to the consideration of these factors:

“Which government has the right philosophy?”
“Which season and place have the advantage?”
“Which commander has the skill?”
“Which system has strong incentives and effective punishments?”
“Which forces are strongest?”


Analyzing the Factors That Lead to Victory

The most effective organizational philosophy unites owners, managers and workers behind a common goal. The best managers promote the right philosophy, choose the right season for action, and fight only when it makes sense. When does fighting make sense? Only when, after having made the assessment, they know they will win. Indeed, the first step in successful warriorship is analyzing one’s own forces and those of the adversary before engaging in war. As Sun Tzu observes:

“Some commanders perform this analysis.
If you use these commanders, you will win.
Keep them.
Some commanders ignore this analysis.
If you use these commanders, you will lose.
Get rid of them.”


Like military commanders, business leaders should take stock of their chances in the market by performing a similar analysis. A business will thrive if its workers share a group purpose, are coordinated, have the equipment needed to do their work, apply sound business methods, and enjoy good leadership. Looking at the Trump administration’s first actions, we can see that this organization does not score well in this analysis.

Philosophies That Lead to Victory

First, let us consider the administration’s stated philosophy -- to make America great, as it once was, before terrible things began happening sometime after Reagan left office, and the nation’s spirit was darkened by an evil emanating from the liberal media. Trump’s philosophy blames outsiders for America’s lost greatness, and seeks to restore it by erecting protective barriers. He will build a wall to keep out job-stealing immigrants entering from the south. He enacted the now-defunct travel ban to keep out terrorists from seven Islamic countries. He wants to tax imports to keep out cheap goods from China and elsewhere.

This philosophy has the capacity to unite only what is, on a good day, a slim majority of white male voters to preserve their advantages as against encroaching “minorities” that are rapidly moving into the majority. This union of disaffected white men was sufficient to win one election against a very poorly-chosen Democratic candidate who withered in the heat of Trump’s white-hot incitements. Whether this narrow philosophy can carry Trump farther will depend on what the other factors contribute to his administration’s performance, because Trump’s plan to Make America Great appeals only to a small portion of the electorate, and negatively motivates a wide swath of opposition.

Consider the Climate

Second, let’s consider the climate in which the Trump administration is operating. Climate is driven by timing, seasonal changes, and weather, that can be hostile or accommodating to one’s military or business plans. Even the Wehrmacht could not defeat a Stalingrad winter while dressed in summer clothes. Consider the significance of the numerous indications that climate catastrophe is much closer than previously predicted. Trump’s “drill, baby drill” approach to energy policy is poorly-timed, and his rejection of renewables -- wind, solar, conservation, and the smart grid -- pivots the nation away from technological strategies that will bring the most value to the nation during the impending planetary heat wave. Trump’s plans for the nation would be better suited to that time when the USA seemed to have limitless resources from which to draw and endless room in which to discharge waste. Those times are gone, and enshrining wasteful technology as “American” will not make it economically viable.

Now let us consider the economic climate. Trump rode in on a wave of discontent among the formerly middle-class, who have watched their advantages swept away by economic devastation due to financial excesses, governmental disinterest, and the all-devouring thinking machines. Trump made promises to the emerging underclass, and is now expected to deliver. Many people will give Trump a few years to deliver the bacon to their front door, but they won’t wait forever. Eventually, unless of course an actual war blows up to distract us from our domestic poverty, Trump will be judged by those holding bags of student loan debt that they are unable to service due to lack of gainful employment. At that point, the climate could turn truly nasty.

Skillful This Is Not

Third, let us consider what kind of skill the President has demonstrated, which I define as the ability to accomplish your purpose. Trump’s first act of authority was to enact the travel ban. On the plus side, it was bold, decisive, and a lot of people thought it would be successful. Putting it into sales-speak, Trump treated his Executive Order banning immigration from seven countries as a new product that would sell well with his target market, and he was right. It was a hit with Trump’s base. Encouraged by what he knew would be mass approval from his adulating crowds, Trump was confident, and therefore he thought he was ready to launch.

Trump believes that launching the product tells the public you’re confident of success, and since confidence breeds success, you must launch quickly. Trump was in such a hurry to launch that no one had time to review the constitutionality of his Executive Order. Trump’s team didn’t call anyone to play “Devil’s Advocate,” and went to market with a vulnerable product. Then the competition pounced.

The opposing team highlighted all of the travel ban’s bad consumer features: people locked out of the country, people stranded in foreign airports, people blocking airports in support of detained foreign nationals locked in the TSA offices, and lawyers besieging the courts with the assistance of two state governments – Washington and Minnesota -- that claimed their sovereign interests, their state educational institutions, and their citizens, were injured by the travel ban. Trump is not intimidated by judges -- perhaps in the course of filing 3,000 lawsuits, he has come to view them as mere functionaries whose will is usually an extension of his own. And it’s not been long since Trump impugned the impartiality of the Hispanic Federal District Judge presiding over the Trump University lawsuit. So when the travel ban was held unconstitutional by Seattle Federal Judge Robart, Trump’s caustic tweet was hardly surprising:

The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!


Bad enough, you say, but a day later, the President had focused his 140-character assassination weapon directly on Judge Robart, proactively making him the fall-guy for the terrorist attacks that Trump is trying to prevent:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!


A few days later, the Ninth Circuit panel agreed with Judge Robart, putting the Executive Order on hold indefinitely, turning Trump’s predictions of victory into a further source of embarrassment, and fueling further Twitter attacks on the judiciary, as the President tweeted his defiance:

SEE YOU IN COURT!


The phrasing was not inspired, but his meaning was clear. Screw that liberal Ninth Circuit panel, he was marching right up the street to visit SCOTUS and straighten this out. But a few days later, Trump’s Department of Justice announced it would not appeal the President’s loss to the 8-member Supreme Court. Instead, Trump would issue a new, improved Executive Order to accomplish the same purpose that had already been found unconstitutional. None of this was skillful.

Trump should have at least been advised not to tweet his final brazen boast. He should have listened to someone who could have told him that the 8-member Supreme Court hasn’t delivered a right-wing win since the conservative majority lost its enfant terrible, Justice Scalia. Surely someone could have told Trump that the evenly-balanced Court would probably not overrule this Ninth Circuit decision in a month of Sundays, especially after all the anti-judicial hate-tweets emanating from the White House. Instead, he didn’t get this news until he’d already stuck his foot in it.

“Sad!” as the President is fond of tweeting. If Trump’s legal team had just waited for Congress to approve Trump’s ninth Supreme Court Justice, the grateful new appointee would have swung the decision over to Trump’s side. Through bad timing, Trump logged a loss where he could have notched a victory. To head straight for a judicial conflict without suitably establishing favorable conditions at SCOTUS was a dunderhead move.

To translate this sad tale into marketing-speak – after the product was rejected by consumers, retailers, and wholesalers, team Trump pulled the defective travel ban off the market with the promise to release a new, improved version really soon! Unfortunately for Team Trump, when a product fails, the market remains ready to reject all similar products from the same manufacturer, unless it can roll out something like “Classic Coke.” Unfortunately, “Classic Bigotry” doesn’t have that type of built-in market appeal, even with those prone to nostalgia.

A Slack System of Discipline

Fourth, we should consider whether the the Trump administration is improving team performance with proper rewards and punishments. Looking at the rewards, they appear to be distributed despite bad performance. Kelly Conway goes out and plugs “Ivanka’s stuff,” ends up looking like an ethics dunce, and is rewarded for her ethical gaffes with continued praise. Trump is apparently the kind of leader who doesn’t care if his players play by the rules, which assures they will not.

However, this slackness seems to be motivating “whistleblowers,” as national-intelligence leakers are now known, to subject Team Trump to a little discipline of their own. Many DC spooks are unfriendly to the Trump team, and this is producing dangerous fruit. It must have been very disturbing news to the President that the FBI had tapped General Flynn’s phone and was accusing him of breaking the law by talking to Putin’s man about Obama’s sanctions against Russia.

General Flynn is receiving swift punishment for activity that, in past administrations, would have been swept under the rug by an accommodating national security state. After all, both Nixon and Reagan had secret communications with North Vietnam and Iran, respectively, signaling the enemy that they’d get better deals from incoming Republicans than they would from outgoing Democrats. That didn’t get anybody fired!

These modern “intelligence agencies” seem to have a mind of their own. Trump and his team are wrapped in a Laocoön with fractious government agencies that bodes ill for him. If Trump doesn’t have control over the covert security apparatus of government, and cannot prevent it from striking at his minions, he is going to wield considerably less power than Presidents who can. Just imagine if someone at the FBI had tried to pull a similar number on Dick Cheney. A faceful of buckshot, literal or figurative, would have certainly been the upshot.

Mistaking the Source of Presidential Strength

Fifth, let us ask ourselves, how strong is Team Trump? In a group enterprise like representative government, strength comes from the ability to aggregate power to your position. Momentum takes a long time to build, moves swiftly when it is finally engaged, and makes things look inevitable once it has worked its magic. Strength must be cultivated in such an environment. It cannot be exercised before its basis has been established.

Trump may have most miscalculated in this area. He appears to believe that the office of the President comes with an inherent grant of authority, an illusion created by the skill that we call “looking Presidential.” Looking Presidential means never over-investing yourself in a single gesture, like the travel ban, so your prestige will not suffer if the gesture is rejected. Looking Presidential means not giving orders if there is any doubt they will be obeyed, because the appearance of impotence corrodes the mystique of power. Looking Presidential means showing grace when things do not go your way, acknowledging that being sporting means losing a hand now and then.

Prognosis: More of the Same, At Higher Speed

If Team Trump were a startup, I would have to give it next to no chances of survival as a profitable entity. This doesn’t mean that the entire Trump Administration will be ineffective in accomplishing desirable results for the clique of billionaires who have the President’s ear. Tremendous things could occur, because of course, the US government is not a startup. It does not operate under economic imperatives that demand that its products provide some saleable benefit. It can operate at a deficit, generating more credit to avoid making cost-benefit decisions, while carrying on with sentimental policies that provide psychological comfort to a shrinking cohort of backward-looking voters.

Ironically, the President most identified with the “businessman” mind-set in our entire history is now sitting in the Oval Office, pursuing policies that business leaders who turn a daily profit would instantly recognize as a sure path to failure. In a further irony, Trumps’ policies will blend well with the wasteful, failure-rewarding culture that dominates the military establishment, to which the largest proportion of national revenue is allocated. The revolving doors that enrich private persons and corporations at the expense of the nation will likely begin to rotate at speeds sufficient to generate turbine power and gale-force winds. Hold on to your hat.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Mon Jun 12, 2017 6:12 am

A Short Review of “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi
by Charles Carreon
June 12, 2017

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I live in Tucson, Arizona, a town that has basically already dried up and blown away by the time the action goes down in this Climate-Catastrophe dystopian thriller. The action kicks off in the lush arcology of Las Vegas, where the protagonist, Angel Velasquez, works for the Southern Nevada Water Authority as a “water knife,” a hit man who works to keep himself living in an air conditioned Vegas arcology. A cool drink of water he’s not.

Angel works for Catherine Case, whose job it is to keep Vegas supplied with the water it needs to continue its existence in the parched American Southwest. Angel’s first mission is to lead a Blackhawk raid on the little town of Carver City, Arizona, a misbegotten burg that Case has targeted for annihilation by water-deprivation. Angel gets his score, and moves on down to Phoenix in his yellow Tesla roadster to investigate why his fellow-assassin, Julio, has gone silent when he’s supposed to be destroying lives and acquiring water rights.

Angel finds Julio, and they head down to the Phoenix morgue to look over the corpse of a man name of Vosovic. We don’t know it at this point, and neither does Angel, but Vosovic has been hideously tortured to death by Julio, who is pretending to be scared out of his wits, but is actually colder than a can of Coors, ready to get back to work on anyone who might be able to answer those difficult questions that water knives always have to be asking – who’s got the water rights? Torture for fun and profit is a topic that Bacigalupi enjoys exploring. He gets into the details, the modus operandi, and it may not make good bedtime reading if your sleep is easily disturbed.

At the morgue, Angel meets Lucy, a journalist who is always a little too curious for her health. Lucy is at the morgue looking for the corpse of one of her sources, James, a water-rights lawyer who thought he had found his ticket out of Phoenix somewhere in a stack of old paperwork. Digging through old, dusty water rights on an Indian reservation, James found some rights so old they’d been forgotten by everyone, so senior that only God could assert a claim of priority. Not surprisingly, James has been tortured to death in a manner identical to Vosovic – so relentlessly that he’s bitten off his tongue in an effort to end the ordeal.

Like a negative Grail, James’ water rights are deadly to anyone who touches them, and the bodies keep piling up. Amidst a landscape crowded with Texans dying of thirst, paying whatever the market will bear for water, we meet street trash like Maria and Sarah, whose daily existence is to be stalked by gangsters working for "the Vet," a psycho who keeps jackals as pets and feeds them people – people like Maria and Sarah, or anybody who doesn’t pay rent to him for the privilege of selling water or skin on his dusty gang turf.

You can guess that Angel and Lucy are going to get hooked up, and that either Sarah or Maria, or both, will get dispatched by the Vet’s gangsters, but you’ll never anticipate all of the twists and turns as these characters orbit the black hole of greed that surrounds the water rights James died for. Embedded in the book is another book – Mark Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert,” a serious work about the feckless exploitation of the rivers and aquifers of the Southwest by rapacious farmers and bureaucrats, the ancestors of Angel’s boss, Catherine Case. A first edition of Cadillac Desert is found on the bookshelf of every educated person who has the misfortune to inhabit the pages of Bacigalupi’s sad and prescient tome. I think he is suggesting that it’s high time we all read it. But I must admit, I started Cadillac Desert a few years back, and never finished it, opting to watch a rental copy of the multi-part PBS series that, somehow, hasn’t yet made it into DVD format.

I don’t know if The Water Knife will get turned into a movie, but it would be educational if it didn’t just devolve into a splatter-fest. After all the blood and the dust settles, the lesson that Bacigalupi is trying to get across is simple: there are two types of people. The first group of people see the ugly truth that humans have badly fucked up, and we are all going to pay the price. The second, much larger group, keeps believing the happy horseshit shoveled our way by the politicians and the media. I’m not sure we have a choice in what group we are in, but you could always kill your TV if you don’t want to be in the second group.
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