UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXXVIII: July 10, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

Mike Davis, Dead Cities and Other Tales (New York: The New Press, November 2002; paperback October 2003). [Themes. The suburbanization of U.S. politics has led to a curtailment of resources for cities that fuels racial and ethnic strife; urban ecology is not being studied scientifically, but it should be.] Prefaces: The Flames of New York. The 1990s saw a series of American phobias; it is precisely because American cities embody the bourgeois quest for a totally calculable and safe environment that they have "generated radical insecurity" (8; 1-10). The American city is facing "major mutations" (11; 10-14). A little-reported but vicious anti-Muslim backlash followed 9/11 (14-18). PART I: NEON WEST Ch. 1: 'White People Are Only a Bad Dream...' [1999]. The late-19thcentury Ghost Dance religion as an alternative narrative from that of Frederick Jackson Turner's otherwise dominant one of the closing of the frontier (24-31). Ch. 2: Ecocide in Marlboro County [1992/1997]. The Cold War as the world's worst eco-disaster, in the Soviet Union (33-35) and in the western U.S., as documented by photographer Robert Misrach (35-38) and others involved in the New Topographics and among the anti-Ansel-Adams Atomic Photographers (38-43). "Ironically, Washington waged its secret nuclear war against the most patriotic cross-section of the population imaginable, a virtual Norman Rockwell tapestry of American: gung-ho Marines, ultraloyal Test Site workers, Nevada cowboys and tungsten miners, Mormon farmers, and freckle-faced Utah schoolchildren," about 500,000 people in all (45). Grassroots resistance (46-59). Ch. 3: Berlin's Skeleton in Utah's Closet [2002]. "German Village," designed and built on Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (also site of U.S. military research on "napalm, botulism, and binary nerve gas") by "one of Modernism's gods, the German-Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn," contributed to "the Good War's darkest side," the firebombing of German and Japanese cities, about which, ironically, civilians were more enthusiastic than the military —Winston Churchill in particular (65-80). Ch. 4: Las Vegas Versus Nature [1998]. Las Vegas is characterized by "hypergrowth without counterpart social spending"and "slavish dependence on cheap water and energy" (85-103). "The Las Vegas 'miracle' . . . demonstrates the fanatical persistence of an environmentally and socially bankrupt system of human settlement and confirms Edward Abbey's worst nightmares about the emergence of an apocalyptic urbanism in the Southwest" (91). Ch. 5: Tsunami Memories [2001]. A study of the commemoration of Apr. 1, 1946, when tsunami waves wiped out Waiakea Town, heart of the Japanese working class of Hilo, Hawaii, and a "crucible for trade unionism and the local Communist Party" (111; 107-16). PART II: HOLY GHOSTS Ch. 6: Pentecostal Earthquake [1999]. The Black-led (Daddy Seymour), ethnically mixed origins of pentecostalism was long denied but is now warmly acknowledged by whites (119-25).

Ch. 7: Hollywood's Dark Shadow [2000]. L.A.'s Bunker Hill district, once L.A.'s most crowded neighborhood and setting of important examples of film noir, was replaced by "a glitzy command center of the booming Pacific Rim economy" by 1950s urban renewal (139; 127-40). Ch. 8: The Infinite Game [1990/2002]. City development in Los Angeles's city center in the latter years of the 20th century is conceived, in this detailed examination of its historical development, as "a vast game—a relentless competition between privileged players (or alliances of players) in which the state intervenes much like a card-dealer or croupier to referee the play" (144; 143-76). Ch. 9: The Subway That Ate L.A. [1995]. The Hollywood Sinkhole: on Jun. 22, 1995, a massive part of Hollywood Boulevard collapsed because of the construction of the Red Line subway (183-89). Ch. 10: The New Industrial Peonage [1992]. A study of Vernon, CA [motto: "Exclusively Industrial"], explores the 1970s and 1980s a low-wage reindustrialization of SE L.A. where East Asian capital exploits immigrant labor from Mexico and Central America (191204). PART III: RIOT CITY Ch. 11: 'As Bad as the H-Bomb' [2001]. Davis argues (based partly on personal recollections) that that youth riots in southern California in 1960-1961 (beginning in San Diego in August 1960) "were largely driven by the hidden injuries of calss colliding with an overweening ideology of affluence"; the paranoid reaction of authorities that they were leftist-inspired "proved to be a selffulfilling prophecy" (222; 223; 207-23).

Ch. 12: Burning All Illusions [1992/2002]. The April-May 1992 L.A. riot was an insurrection against "an intolerable political-economic order" (235; 227-37). Ch. 13: Who Killed L.A.? A Political Autopsy [1992]. The 1992 L.A. riots can be traced to the abandonment of the cities by the federal government (23969). "[T]he semantic identity of race and urbanity within US political discourse is now virtually complete. . . . "'[B]igcity' . . . today . . . equates with a BlackLatino 'underclass.' Contemporary debates about the city—as about drugs and crime—are invariably really about race" (255-56). 1992, with the Ross Perot phenomenon, was a watershed year in American politics: "suburban voters and their representatives became the political majority in the United States" (256). Ch. 14: Fear and Loathing in Compton [1994]. Compton is an L.A.area city a mile from Watts whose violent reputation was spread by prominent gangsta rappers (Compton's Most Wanted; N.W.A. [whose 1988 album "Straight Outta Compton" is highly regarded]; Eazy-E). Its 1992 riots saw "the first time that the Black poor looted and burned the property of the Black bourgeoisie on any large scale" (276; 275-83). Ricky says: "Thing you got to understand, partner, is that all cops are colored blue" (278). Ch. 15: Dante's Choice [1995]. Black and Latino gangs in L.A. as the result of the "poverty of public resources" (299; 285-303). PART IV: EXTREME SCIENCE Ch. 16: Cosmic Dancers on History's Stage? [1996/2002 update at 357n.149]. Davis excoriates postmodernism for having "defoliated the humanities and turned textualism into a

prison-house of the soul" and exalts the natural sciences for having become "the sites of extraordinary debates that resonate at the deepest levels of human culture" (309). This essay [apparently inspired by the ideas presented in Herbert Shaw's relatively unknown Craters, Cosmos, and Chronicles (Stanford UP, 1995; Shaw was born in 1930 and died in 2002) which seem to have excited Mike Davis more than just about any other commentator], explores the "increasingly sweeping claims" regarding "the 'coevolution' of mantle dynamics and asteroid bombardment" in the history of the Earth, especially as these relate to mass-extinction events (320; 309; 307-46). "[C]haos ultimately rules the entire solar system, but on radically different timescales for different classes of planetary objects. . . . The orbits of NEOs [Near Earth Objects], in particular, evolve so chaotically that 'they cannot be computed far enough into the future to determine reliably the risk of planetary impact" (317-18). A new framework is emerging, according to which "[t]he solar system is fundamentally historical: a bricolage of unique events and assemblages, governed by deterministic chaos and open to galactic perturbations. . . . Nature usually proceeds by leaps" and "Natural history, like planetary history, is characterized by its irreversible and unpredictable contingency" (321). According to the "grand hypothesis" of some neo-catastrophists, "[t]he evolution of the Earth . . . is galactically controlled through a Rube Goldberg-like chain of gravitational accidents" (322-23). The autonomy of various scientific disciplines is thus being radically challenged (32325). In general, almost every finding of planetary exploration has surprised scientists, which accords with the view that the solar system is "the outcome of a kind of deterministic chaos" and that the solar system is "radically historical" (330; 331; 327-33). This view has revived interest in the "biosphere"

concept of Soviet mineralogist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) who saw life itself as a powerful force in transforming the planet; "Although life, at any one time, may seem only an insignficant scrim on the face of the Earth, the total mass of all organisms that have ever lived has been estimated as 1000 or even 10,000 times the mass of the Earth itself!" (334; 333-37). More recent speculations (337-46). Extensive notes (347-59). Ch. 17: Dead Cities: A Natural History [2001]. The last 150 years, with its devotion to building cities, those "radically contingent artifacts," is an historical anomaly (362; 361-63). Yet urban ecology is not being studied scientifically (363). Richard Jeffries's After London: or, Wild England (1886) imagined the demise of England's capital (364-71). In 1996 New Scientist invited experts to perform the same thought experiment (371-75). Jack London's The Scarlet Plague (1912) imagined the destruction of San Francisco (374-75). George R. Stewart's Earth Abides (1949) was "the first novel to incorporate a sophisticated understanding of . . . ecology" (376; 375-79). Natural history as observed in the ruined cities of Europe (380-86). Ecology of abandoned ghettoes returning to nature (386-91). Critique by Rodrick and Deborah Wallace of plans to change firefighting in New York City (391-95). Ch. 18: Strange Times Begin [1998/2002]. Compendium of bizarre events around the world, 1998 (401-14). 2002 update (414-15). Acknowledgments. Index. 12 pp. About the Author. Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, and Magical Urbanism, and the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun.

[Additional information. Mike Davis was born Fontana, CA, in 1946 and grew up in El Cajon. He interrupted his education (which began at Reed College) to work at various jobs; he was active in SDS. His B.A. and M.A. are from UCLA, where he dropped out of the Ph.D. program in history. In 1996-1997 he was a Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute and received a Macarthur Fellowship Award in 1998. In 2004 he won the Erich Shelling Achitekturpreis for "outstanding contribution towards the architecture-theoretical discourse," in 2006 he won the Esther McCoy Award from the USC Architecture Guild, and in 2007 he won the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. He teaches in the Dept. of Creative Writing at UC Riverside; he has also taught in the Dept. of History of UC Irvine and at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. — Davis has written eighteen books; the first was Prisoners of the American Dream (1986), about unionism in the U.S. His bestknown work is City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), named a best book in urban politics by the American Political Science Association and winner of the Isaac Deutscher Award from the London School of Economics; it has been translated into eight languages. — In general, Davis is more interested in the revolutionary transformation of society in the direction of sustainability and socialist regionalism than in urban

reform. In fact, he seems utterly pessimistic about the possibility of systemic change. — Davis has written two children's books. He also writes frequently for The Nation, and the British New Statesman and Socialist Review. — Davis calls himself an "international socialist" and a "MarxistEnvironmentalist."] [Critique. Dead Cities and Other Tales is a rich and varied collection of essays, each stamped with a year, presumably of its composition; some have been updated. The earliest dates from 1990. — Davis's tone is generally journalistic or analytical, depending on the origin of the piece. Though he calls himself an "aging socialist" (309) these pieces are more descriptive than prescriptive. His sensibility is that of an historian, though he does not claim that title here. — Most of this book is about Los Angeles. But the longest piece is an ambitious and mind-boggling account summarizing and conceptualizing recent scientific work radically revising the history of the earth and our understanding of how it relates to the surrounding cosmos, with special attention to the theory of "coherent catastrophism" and its implications for the biological sciences. Why Davis did not expand this extraordinary piece into a book of its own is a mystery; no foreword explains the author's intentions.]

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