Posts tagged ‘Dave Eggers’

The Circle

The Circle by Dave Eggers, previous American Book Award winner, Knopf, New York/McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco, 2013 (ISBN 978-0-385-35139-3 (It’s available on line, in bookstores in print and e-book form and at most libraries in large print too.)

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Blogger/writer Rudy Rucker called Dave Eggers The Circle “a page-turner,” explaining, “I plowed through it in two days, thinking a lot about the characters and the ideas, and when it was done, I missed having it to read.” When I read the novel last spring, my reaction my reaction was almost exactly the same, although my feelings were more complex. Other critics have called it a dystopian novel. It centers on a company called the Circle, a Twitter / Google / Amazon /Microsoft / Apple / Facebook / LinkedIn / YouTube mash-up, a company hell-bent on making us all one people, like it or not.

The protagonist, Mae Holland, lands her dream job at a relatively new and small but potentially powerful Southern California tech company and becomes an expert at her job of finding out what other people want and giving 100-percent satisfaction to them. Her transformation over the space of more than 400 pages is compelling.

Pleasing customers is only the beginning of what she must learn; she also must become a transparent member of the company and give up any other competing interests or obligations, including family, friendships, and even romantic entanglements. Sounds like a cult? She is, in fact, transformed into Everywoman for the 21st century. I don’t know whether you’ll find her sympathetic or not, but her journey is fascinating to watch and her decision at the end is thought-provoking..

The Circle raises questions about keeping up with the latest in technology as well as the issues of privacy, vulnerability, transparency, being in control of one’s destiny, our social and moral responsibility to others, and the blessing/curse of the permanence of the Cloud, and facing the consequences of decisions we make all too innocently, all of which are now in the news. These are all women’s issues, but they are more than that: they are human concerns.

The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 by John Farmer, Riverhead Books, New York

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco

On 9/11, otherwise known as 11 September 2001, Americans were shaken out of any delusions of security they had possessed when 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four air liners on the East Coast. Two of the aircraft were operated by United Airlines, the others by American, and each of the hijacking parties was assigned a specific target to attack. UA 175 was to strike the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York, AA 11 the South Tower. American 77 was to take out the Pentagon and United 93 the White House. The two that hit the towers were Boeing 767s; the other two Boeing 757s.

Over a period of about ninety minutes that morning the first three sets of hijackers accomplished their missions, crashing into their assigned targets and killing more than three thousand men, women and children in the attacked structures (and, of course, also killing themselves and the passengers and crew of the destroyed planes.) The fourth team of hijackers, however, was defeated by the passengers and surviving crew of United 93, who attacked their hijackers en masse. They were successfully overpowering the terrorists when the one at the plane’s controls, apparently convinced they were defeated, cried, “Allah is the greatest!” and put the plane into a near-vertical dive, crashing, with the deaths of everyone aboard, near the little community of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

This was fortunate for the White House in more than one way. At that point UA93 was only about 20 minutes flying time from the White House that was its target, and — the “ground truth” being the opposite of what the participants claimed — the President’s team did not have the situation well in hand. The F-16s pursuing it were not even given the order to shoot it down until well after it had already crashed. It isn’t even clear that the order could ever have been issued in time. The authorities seemed less interested in UA93 than in another plane that had been suspected of being a hijack, Delta 1989, but wasn’t. Actually, at the time of the discussion, Delta 1989 was proving that by obediently landing a thousand miles away in the Midwest.

From Farmer’s text in his book, The Ground Truth:

“History should record that whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11attacks. The story they were told gave a false assurance that by the time the last hijacked plane was heading for Washington, some ninety minutes after the attacks began, the military, from the commander in chief on down, had reasserted control over American airspace and was prepared to respond to the final attack…. (T)hat wasn’t true.”

The trouble with attempting to review this book is that, in it, Farmer documents all of his charges. Having read the book, it is clear that what he just said is true: generals, department heads and even cabinet officers had to be either outright conspiratorial lying (orchestrated mendacity) or unforgivably ignorant of the actual conditions they were describing and pretending to control (administrative incompetence).

But to prove them in this review needs a lot of words — -probably about as many as are in his book. And in many cases what those responsible actually did might not have looked particularly important to the testifiers. For example, the scrambling of the F-16s from the Langley Air Force Base was due to a report of a hijacked plane heading out of New York and toward Washington, with its terrifying wealth of potential targets, whereupon the fighters were scrambled. What was lied about was the identity of that hijacked plane. Someone on the radio — it was never established who — said it was AA 11, and it is true that that was in fact the “plane” the fighters were scrambled to intercept. Of course, that was impossible. AA 11 had already ceased to exist as an actual airplane and was by then just part of the components of the South Tower inferno. But the error persisted.

Then when American 77 turned up — a real hijacked aircraft, actually heading for Washington and it was untruthfully said to be what inspired the order to launch the F-16s — one may suppose that the mendacious ones thought all they were doing was simplifying an over-complex situation.

But the little emendations all moved in the same direction, which was to eliminate reporting of all the blunders that had been made by the higher-ups and strengthen the illusion that they were actually in charge. All those little “corrections” to actual history did have two quite serious consequences. The first was the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, since his allegedly strong and wise dealing with 9/11 and its consequences was his principal claim to competence. The second was the ungodly, even lethal mess that followed Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught on New Orleans in 2005.

(I should state that the claim of the influence of the 9/11 cover-up on the results of the 2004 election is not explicitly made by Farmer in his book, although I think it inevitably follows from the evidence he presents. As to the Katrina event, see below.)

The good thing about Katrina is that planners had always known that it was likely to happen some day, and that led many thoughtful people to believe that the nation had better prepare to deal with it.

Accordingly, in July of 2004, several hundred emergency workers participated in an exercise in which representatives of all the assorted agencies who would play a role in a real disaster were involved. Over a three-day period they worked through what to do about the incursion of a (non-existent) Hurricane Pam on the vulnerable city..

All agreed that the exercise was a great success that had revealed serious faults in the existing plans. New plans were quickly drawn up Some of the things they called for were improved relations between parties and agencies involved; for pre-positioning stores of water, food, ice and other necessities at least 72 hours before they were expected to be needed; and for revised traffic laws, including one that would permit the Louisiana State Police to limit the use of local highways to “contraflow” one-way driving, limiting all lanes for use only by people leaving the city.

In the event, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco did alter the highway plans accordingly. In the opinion of experts, this saved thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of lives that would have been lost otherwise.

Unfortunately, no other step was taken.

In the event, those involved did not work closely together at any point. Some, including the New Orleans Police Department, hardly worked at all; only a few police stayed on the job, most walked away to go home and care for their families, a large fraction not only didn’t quell the looting that broke out but actually joined in it..

The higher up the individuals involved were, the less their actions were relevant to the needs of the situation. Governor Blanco and President Bush’s staff squabbled over whether troops providing aid should be federalized or not; Bush’s team wanted to do it, the governor said that was an attempt to gain credit. The President convened regular meetings to expedite aid. They had no contact with those aid forces actually doing so.. The prepositioning of needed stores of water, ice, food, etc., 72 hours before need didn’t happen. At about 12 (not 72) hours before Katrina struck, the President got on TV to assure the people of New Orleans that vast stores of all needed supplies had been sent on their way. Perhaps they were. What he did not say was that it would be several weeks before all of them would arrive.

It was a great plus that the legal steps to contraflow the highways were indeed taken by Governor Blanco, but how much better it would have been if the relief organizations had carried out all of the other excellent plans they themselves made — and then ignored.

We know what the “ground truth” of New Orleans was in the time of Katrina, thousands dead, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, tens of thousands stranded in the neighborhoods of a city that had lost power, food, water and the rule of law. But to know what it was like to be in the city when the violence of Katrina struck — and when the storm moved on and the human violence of the lawless city replaced it — we need to look to the story of the Syrian-born Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who stayed through the worst of it because he thought he could help — and who was rewarded by being arrested as a looter — in his own home — and jailed incommunicado.