This week saw a fine example of political gamesmanship from the Obama administration. He let down his base yet again by opening up certain portions of the U.S. coast to offshore petroleum drilling in an attempt to undercut his (supposed) foes across the aisle, and upped CAFE standards. The former has gotten a lot more press than the latter. Neither are quite what they seem.
All the opponents he hoped to undercut with the announcement are still unsatisfied, because he left some areas untouchable. That’s not going to make his environmentalist supporters feel any better, but no matter as the administration seems to believe that there is an infinite amount of room under the bus.
So to make them feel a little better, he tossed them a bone by raising CAFE standards. This man knows hollow, political gestures like he was born to make them. CAFE sucks. It’s a system designed to be gamed, and this grand announcement doesn’t change that. Continue reading →
Richard Powers is one of the most interesting mainstream American novelists working today. I threw in “mainstream” there because much of Powers’ fiction is concerned with science and its role in human affairs as both an institution and as a philosophical conundrum to be explored in trying to make sense of the human condition—which is what novelists tend to try to do. As a result, much of Powers’ best fiction—Galatea 2.2and Plowing the Dark come to mind—are elegant meldings of genuine novelistic achievement and a finely honed understanding and appreciation of the dynamics of contemporary scientific issues. For that matter, much of Powers’ work is pretty indistinguishable from the work of some writers who are forever consigned to the “science fiction” section of your friendly bookstore, although Powers’ work won’t show up there. This is ironic, because in some ways Powers’ most recent novels—The Echo Maker in 2006, and now Generosity, published last year—exemplify the (occasionally justified) criticisms that critics and writers often have of science fiction—the indifferent characterization of the protagonists of the novels, the clumsy and often unbelievable plotting devices, the stereotypical and flat narrative style. Which makes me wonder what’s going on. Continue reading →