Book reviews - Chain Reaction #127
Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016
The Invisible War, a graphic novel
The Invisible War
Created by Briony Barr & Gregory Crocetti
Written by Ailsa Wild (in collaboration with Dr. Jeremy Barr)
Published by Scale Free Network
Illustrated by Ben Hutchings
Melbourne art-science collective Scale Free Network create stories set in the microscopic world. Working in collaboration with other artists, scientists and writers, their workshops, exhibitions and storybooks visualise invisible ecologies, too small to see. The Invisible War is their latest interdisciplinary creation – a science and history-inspired graphic novel set in World War One, for anyone aged 11 to 111.
However, this is not your average WWI story. The action unfolds across both the human and the micro-scale, and centres around Annie – an Australian nurse serving on the Western Front in France. When she contracts dysentery from a patient, the reader is introduced to a second battle taking place inside her gut. Featuring a cast of trillions, the story is inspired by very new scientific research into a very unlikely alliance between animals and microbes. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and scientific truth is stranger then science-fiction.
The heroes of the story are a type of virus called bacteriophage. Never heard of bacteriophages before? Bacteriophages (also called phage) are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. They are the most prolific life-forms on Earth, the most effective predators known to science, with trillions of them calling your body home. Microbiologist Jeremy Barr's research shows how bacteriophage connect with our mucus to form a symbiotic, protective barrier against infection, described as a 'second immune system'.
In addition to telling a positive story about viruses and (most) bacteria within our gut microbiome, The Invisible War provides a rare view into the role and responsibilities of women during WWI. The book also offers an unflinching depiction of what it means to suffer from dysentery – which tragically remains a common disease in the poorest communities on Earth – causing over half a million deaths each year, where clean water and basic sanitation aren't affordable.
The first printed edition of The Invisible War is available from the publisher's website (www.TheInvisibleWar.com.au) and the Friends of the Earth Melbourne Co-Op (312 Smith St, Collingwood), with all books printed in Melbourne on 100% recycled paper using 100% green energy.
Fukushima's Stolen Lives: A Dairy Farmer's Story
An English translation of a book by Mr Hasegawa Kenichi, a dairy farmer from Iitate Village in Fukushima, has recently been published and is available on Kindle and iBooks. Hasegawa-san is a strong community leader who has been an important voice for the rights of local citizens, and a regular speaker on Peace Boat voyages, at conferences and field visits including during the Global Conference for a Nuclear-Free World, and in other speaking tours overseas including to Australia and the EU Parliament in Brussels.
Hasegawa-san describes in the book how most of the people in the Japanese village of Iitate ‒ including very young children ‒ continued to live in their homes for more than two months following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
Hasegawa describes the catastrophe and its consequences in simple, direct, and clear prose. Weaving together stories about the experiences of Iitate's residents, Hasegawa is a witness to the truth of what life was like immediately following the accident ‒ as he suffered with the knowledge that his children and grandchildren had been exposed to radiation, as he lost all of his cattle, and as he endured the suicide of a fellow dairy farmer and friend.
This is the story of Iitate, but it is also the story of Hasegawa-san, a man who had a lot to lose: a beautiful village steeped in natural history and time-honored traditions, a working dairy farm, a lovely home shared with his extended family, a close-knit community, and colleagues whom he considered close friends. Ultimately, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi ‒ in concert with the profit-minded "nuclear power village" and failures of leadership at every level of government ‒ not only took, but contaminated, all of it: the farm, the fields, the milk, the water, the harvest, the home, and a cherished way of life.
Through it all, Hasegawa pursued the truth by meeting with journalists and taking his own radiation readings. He made sure that the residents in his hamlet of Maeta got what they needed ‒ whether it was bottled water, or reliable information. He confronted lies and hypocrisy in the leadership where he found it. Ultimately, he took a leading role in preserving the interests of everyone and everything he cared about.
Since the evacuation, Hasegawa has organized people from all over Fukushima, including nearly half the population of Iitate, with the goal of getting justice from TEPCO.
Hasegawa-san's ebook is available for US$8 from www.amazon.com/dp/B01GYBERT8
Pitched Battle: in the frontline of the 1971 Springbok tour of Australia
A vivid story of the men and women who took a stand when sport mixed with politics In 1971, when the racially selected all-white Springbok rugby team toured Australia, we became a nation at war with ourselves. There was bloodshed as tens of thousands of anti-Apartheid campaigners clashed with governments, police, and rugby fans ‒ who were given free reign to assault protestors. Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen declared a state of emergency. Prime Minister William McMahon called the Wallabies who refused to play 'national disgraces'. Barbed wire ringed the great rugby grounds to stop protestors invading the field.
Pitched Battle recreates what became one of the most rancorous periods in modern Australian history ‒ a time of courage, pain, faith, fanaticism, and political opportunism ‒ which ultimately made heroes of the seven Wallabies who refused to play, played a key role in the later political careers of Peter Beattie, Meredith Burgmann, and Peter Hain, and ultimately contributed to the abandonment of Apartheid.
Moving Beyond Capitalism
Moving Beyond Capitalism
Edited by Cliff DuRand
Moving Beyond Capitalism speaks to the widespread quest for concrete alternative ways forward 'beyond capitalism' in the face of the prevailing corporatocracy and a capitalist system in crisis. It examines a number of institutions and practices now being built in the nooks and crannies of present societies and that point beyond capitalism toward a more equal, participatory, and democratic society – institutions such as cooperatives, public banks, the commons, economic democracy. This collection of critical studies draws on academic and activist voices from the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and Argentina, and from a variety of theoretical-political perspectives – Marxism, anarchism, feminism, and Zapatismo.
Some of the chapters are as follows:
- Beyond capitalism to sustainability: the public bank solution
- Building a grassroots democratic economy: the rising tide of local self-reliance, workplace democracy, and social justice
- Worker's economy in Argentina: self management, cooperatives and recovered enterprises
- Cooperative Cuba
- Building the commons as an antidote to the predatory market economy
- Autogestión: prefiguring a new cooperativism and the 'labor commons'
- Divisions in the commons: Ecuador's flok society and the Zapatistas' escuelita
- Economic crises, environmental crises: moving beyond capitalism
- The left and a green new deal
- Alternatives to development in Latin America
- The limits of localism
- Toward a stronger, more influential political left: an appeal for critical self-reflection
- Building a 21st century socialism
- The communal state (Venezuela): communal councils and workplace democracy
- The necessary renovation of socialist hegemony in Cuba: contradictions and challenges
- Cuba's cooperatives: their contribution to Cuba's new socialism
Towards a steady state economy
A Future Beyond Growth: Towards a steady state economy
Edited by Haydn Washington, Paul Twomey
There is a fundamental denial at the centre of why we have an environmental crisis – a denial that ignores that endless physical growth on a finite planet is impossible. Nature provides the ecosystem services that support our civilisation, thus making humanity unavoidably dependent upon it. However, society continues to ignore and deny this dependence.
A Future Beyond Growth explores the reason why the endless growth economy is fundamentally unsustainable and considers ways in which society can move beyond this to a steady state economy. The book brings together some of the deepest thinkers from around the world to consider how to advance beyond growth. The main themes consider the deep problems of the current system and key aspects of a steady state economy, such as population; throughput and consumerism; ethics and equity; and policy for change. The policy section and conclusion bring together these various themes and indicates how we can move past the growth economy to a truly sustainable future.
The Great Multinational Tax Rort
The Great Multinational Tax Rort: how we're all being robbed
Enough is enough. Multinational corporations have avoided trillions of dollars of tax over the past 25 years. Tax avoidance is legal, but its massive abuse by multinationals has had a devastating effect on governments around the world, and has placed an unbearable burden on individual taxpayers and on honest local competitors.
Multinational corporations generate profits in around 180 countries around the world. They work hard to avoid, reduce, or delay their tax obligations for as long as possible, and they generally succeed. Sometimes they pay nothing or, at best, the percentage of their multibillion-dollar incomes that they pay in tax is a lot less than the percentage an individual worker pays.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Deloitte are the global accountants and tax advisers for the multinationals. Their favourite tool to minimise tax for their multinational clients is transfer pricing: a complex and confusing array of methodologies and strategies that works to reduce tax or even avoid tax payments altogether.
The Great Multinational Tax Rort explains how transfer pricing developed, and describes the strategies and tactics that the Big Four global accounting firms use on behalf of their voracious clients. Written by Martin Feil, one of the few Australian independent experts on transfer pricing and profit repatriation by multinationals ‒ a former poacher turned gamekeeper ‒ it is a call to arms for citizens and governments to restore a fair taxation system. Feil is a former Industries Commission's project director and also worked for the Australian Taxation Office as one of the few Australian independent experts on transfer pricing and profit repatriation by multinationals.
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
The U.S. is experiencing an age of profound economic inequality. Employee protections have been decimated, and state welfare is virtually non-existent, while hedge-fund billionaires are grossly under-taxed and big businesses make astounding profits at the expense of the environment and of their workers. In this powerful and meticulously researched work of investigative journalism, Jane Mayer exposes the network of billionaires trying to buy the US electoral system ‒ and succeeding.
Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers?
The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against "big government" led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.
The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs ‒ that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom ‒ are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights.
When libertarian ideas proved decidedly unpopular with voters, the Koch brothers and their allies chose another path. If they pooled their vast resources, they could fund an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency. Richard Mellon Scaife, the mercurial heir to banking and oil fortunes, had the brilliant insight that most of their political activities could be written off as tax-deductible "philanthropy."
These organisations were given innocuous names such as Americans for Prosperity. Funding sources were hidden whenever possible. This process reached its apotheosis with the allegedly populist Tea Party movement, abetted mightily by the Citizens United decision ‒ a case conceived of by legal advocates funded by the network.
The political operatives the network employs are disciplined, smart, and at times ruthless. Mayer documents instances in which people affiliated with these groups hired private detectives to impugn whistle-blowers, journalists, and even government investigators. And their efforts have been remarkably successful. Libertarian views on taxes and regulation, once far outside the mainstream and still rejected by most Americans, are ascendant in the majority of state governments, the Supreme Court, and Congress. Meaningful environmental, labour, finance, and tax reforms have been stymied.
Jane Mayer spent five years conducting hundreds of interviews-including with several sources within the network-and scoured public records, private papers, and court proceedings in reporting this book. She traces the byzantine trail of the billions of dollars spent by the network and provides vivid portraits of the colourful figures behind the new American oligarchy.
South Pole: Nature and Culture
South Pole: Nature and Culture
In South Pole: Nature and Culture, Associate Professor Elizabeth Leane from the University of Tasmania explores the Geographic South Pole as a place of paradox and investigates the important challenges this strange place poses to humanity.
"The earth quite literally pivots around the Geographic South Pole, but it has a habit of falling off the edge of our maps," she said.
"The Pole has no obvious material value – it's an invisible spot on a high, comparatively featureless ice plateau. At the same time, it is a much sought-after location."
Elizabeth Leane has first-hand experience of the lure of the southern polar regions. In 2004, she travelled to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division on an Arts Fellowship.
This journey included stopovers at Casey Station and Macquarie Island ‒ where she stayed in a field hut and read the log books dating back as far as the 1960s ‒ and fed into her previous book Antarctica in Fiction, published in 2012.
With degrees in literary studies and physics, Elizabeth Leane currently holds a research fellowship split between the School of Humanities and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. She is also the author of Reading Popular Physics (2007) and the co-editor of Considering Animals (2011).
This book is part of the series Earth by London publisher Reaktion Books, which also includes Cave: Nature and Culture, and Desert: Nature and Culture.