Sunday, June 26, 2016

Harvest of Empire

Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America
©  2000 Juan Gonzalez
416 pages

Harvest of Empire is a tale of two civilizations, Anglo and Spanish. In general terms, it recounts the history or rather the plight of Latin America, of people and cultures dominated first by European powers, and then by the colonial rebels turned colonial master, the United States.  The author ends by arguing that the United States owes as much its Hispanic tradition as its Anglo, and that it should embrace Hispanic culture  and make amends to foreign policy which has wreaked havoc throughout the eastern hemisphere.  Divided into three parts, Harvest first dwells on the roots of Anglo-American conflict by recounting the age of discovery and rise of American imperialism, moves to the "branches", in which populations disrupted by war and famine (often linked to American foreign policy) migrate to the United States to seek their fortunes, and then ends with a "harvest" that looks towards a stronger role played by Latino culture in the United States.

 Considering that two of the leading recent  Republican candidates for El Presidente were Cruz and Rubio, 'los hermanos cubanos',  there's no denying the book's relevance, despite its sixteen years of age. Even though neither are in the running now,  immigration  -- the causes and consequences of which are explored here -- remains a big-ticket item.  While some of the author's recommendations (that the United Staces embrace its Hispanic heritage and start promoting and protecting Spanish) are likely to fall flat,  at the very least this review of the United States' catastrophic record of international meddling in central America might give American leadership pause about supporting future debacles.  More convincing is the authors' case for settling the matter of Puerto Rico, which for a century has been a bastard, neither  sovereign, nor a territory or a state.  Harvest has a lot to recommend it, first as a general history of Latin America, secondly by focusing on the widely varying experiences of different Latino groups as they moved to the US.  What name recognition does Puerto Rico have with most Americans, other than the film West Side Story? ("Puerto Rico is en America now!")   The author is right when he points out that the United States is scarcely over two hundred years old, a mere blip in the historical perspective, and the past century of exploitation and dominance by D.C. over Latin America are not likely to last. Latinos will play a larger role in the United States as they continue to migrate here, and will shape D.C's policy as they achieve political influence -- and as the descendants of those who have experienced the consequences of foreign-policy imperialism, they are unlikely to support more of it. Personally, my hope is that increasing Latino influence will derail the tired black/white race narrative completely.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hurricane Katrina through the Eyes of Storm Chasers

Hurricane Katrina through the Eyes of Storm Chasers
© 2005
96 pages, virtually all photographs

I recently discovered a collection of Hurricane Katrina photography that I thought worth mentioning.  The book collects photos taken by Jim Reed and Mike Theiss, principally in the Gulfport area but also including a handful of shots in Orlando and New Orleans.  Eleven years later, the plight of New Orleans monopolizes any mention of Katrina, but these photographs were amazing.  The storm hit only a year after Hurricane Ivan walloped Alabama, so I watched it approach the coast with dread. Reed and Theiss are lunatics, judging by how close they were to the storm surge and the winds here -- though at least once they set up a highly stable and encased camera near the path, then recovered it later. If the only Katrina footage you have seen is of New Orleans, this book is worth looking through.  Gulfport wasn't merely flooded: the winds, 26-foot storm surge, and ships thrown inland wiped out massive swaths of development. Hotels had their first floors gutted, with only the load-bearing walls intact,  The shots of wind blown trees have a beauty about them, despite the sheer danger they make those of us living anywhere near the Gulf remember.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Romulan Stratagem

The Romulan Stratagem
© 1995 Robert Greenberger
297 pages

A planet on the border of the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan empires has invited the Enterprise to sell its government on Federation membership. When the Big E arrives, however, they find a Romulan warbird waiting for them. The Romulans have also been invited to make a pitch for membership, and their negotiator is no less than Admiral Sela. Sela, who claims to be the daughter of an alternate-universe Tasha Yar, fell from grace after Picard dismantled her last set of nefarious plans, and for her snatching this planet  from under his nose will be sweet revenge. During the week of meetings, however, several deadly explosions implicate the crews of both the Enterprise and Sela's warship, threatening both powers' desires. Incredibly, Data finds himself working with Sela to work out what third party is sabotaging the conferences. While this plot thread has considerable interest,  given Data's intimate history with Yar,  that angle is never pursued. The ending is a departure from the unexpected, but on the whole there's nothing really remarkable about the book. Ro Laren lends  interest in her comic-relief thread, being assigned to babysit a civilian family after bodily throwing one too many civilians out of her way attracts the Wrath of Riker.  A teenage boy in said family develops a raging crush on Ro, one which she is far too slow to pick up on.  All told, this is enjoyable enough, but I only read it for the characters featured on the cover.

Read it for Ro. Patrick Stewart wants you to.

On Free Will

Suppose for a moment, that we define a virtuous act as bowing in the direction of Mecca every day at sunset. We attempt to persuade everyone to perform this act. But suppose that instead of relying on voluntary conviction we employ a vast number of police to break into everyone's home and see to it that every day they are pushed down to the floor in the direction of Mecca. No doubt by taking such measures we will increase the number of people bowing toward Mecca. But by forcing them to do so, we are taking them out of the realm of action and into mere motion, and we are depriving all these coerced persons of the very possibility of acting morally. By attempting to compel virtue, we eliminate its possibility. To be moral, an act must be free.

Murray N. Rothbard, "Frank S. Meyer: The Fusionist as Libertarian Manquè". Quoted in Freedom and Virtue.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wrath of the Prophets

ST DS9: Wrath of the Prophets
© 1997 Michael Jan Friedman, Peter David, Robert Greenberger
300 pages

On the cover: Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys, Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren

An epidemic is sweeping Bajor, a pestilence born of faulty replicators smuggled in by a young woman desperate to feed her village.  Placed under quarantine, the planet's peril is so intense that even  renegade Ro Laren emerges from hiding to help transport food there. On Deep Space Nine, Julian Bashir works to find a cure, but every breakthrough is immediately reversed. This is a virus with a deep bench of tricks. In the hopes of expediting matters, two teams are sent into shady markets  to find the source of the replicators and demand some answers.  While Sisko, Odo, and Quark  examine a smugglers' hub in space,  Major Kira grudgingly accepts the company of Ro Laren on Bajor.

Putting Ro and Kira together is a recipe for fun. Orginally, DS9 was written to include Ro Laren, but Michelle Forbes didn't want to commit. Another feisty Bajoran was invented to take her place, Kira. But despite being cut from very similar cloth, Ro and Kira are not bosom buddies. As hot-headed and willful officers, they butt heads repeatedly. Ro's appearance is not welcome by anyone: she deserted Bajor during the occupation to join Starfleet, then went AWOL after Starfleet began pushing around settlers to fulfill the Federation's foreign policy commitments.  Of course, Ro Laren eventually  does make it to Deep Space Nine, in the relaunch -- as the station security chief. The authors are aware of Kira and Ro's linked origin, even having Ro muse that had things been different, they might have switched places. Despite their similarities -- their combativeness, their independence -- the two women are different in substantial ways here. Ro is a cynic,  disheartened by Starfleet's bullying of innocents in regards to the Maquis. Kira isn't naive, but she's idealistic: she believes in her fellow Bajorans, and when she realizes how corrupt Bajor's provisional government is, how even her wartime allies prove to be positively venal, she suffers a crisis of faith made worse by Ro's attitude. Eventually, through much argument and mortal peril, Ro and Kira become the other's comrade-in-arms, and by the book's end they're standing back to back making fiery speeches at Bajor's congress. Attagirl, Ro, you did learn something from Picard.

There are other plot points -- the chief is worried about his family on Bajor whom he never sees, Dax is mysteriously incompetent, being distracted by a previous host's experience with a similar plague -- and the multitude of angles the story is being chased down probably owes to the fact that there are three authors, all of whom needed something to do. But really, twenty years after this book's publication the only reason to read it is for the combination of Ro and Kira.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Three for One: Robbing Banks and Being Robbed by the Banks

I stumbled upon The Great Taos Bank Robbery at some point last year. What road led me to it I can't say, but it is a most interesting little book -- a combination of folk history, humorous stories, and archaeology.  The subject is New Mexico in general, the quirky characters touted off as exemplars of New Mexico's eccentrity. Some of the stories are so entertaining and weird that I presumed them fiction, like the title piece about two men who patiently stood in line to rob a bank, only to discover it was a bank holiday. Absurdity ensues, especially as one of the culprits is wearing a dress and a small mound of pancake batter on his face.   There are several serious pieces of archaeology and anthropology in here, though even these have a few lines delivered with the literary equivalent of a straight face. ("The only problem with the report was that it was absolutely wrong.")

Over the weekend I read Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff, which proved entertaining if disappointing. It is less a fulsome introduction to the nonaggression principle and classical liberalism, and more a kick in the teeth of a corrupt and ineffective bureaucracy.  It was written in 2013, with the campaign promises of 2012 already unfulfilled and stale; the author anticipated another round of calming lies in 2016 and wanted to wake readers up to the possibility of a third option.  He champions freedom and creativity, loathes the administrative state (full of "gray suited soviets"), and mixes the political feistiness with affectionate rambling on the Grateful Dead and Rush. (The band, not the blowhard.)  Kibbe has a libertarian since high school, so while he's passionate he doesn't have the experience made from traveling in other camps that would allow him to connect other views with his arguments.  Still, in political season marked by sneers and street brawls, being reminded of a political philosophy based on peace instead of ambition to control  is refreshing.   The libertarian candidate this year is Gary Johnson, retired governor of New Mexico.

Relatedly, a few weeks ago I read Ron Paul's Liberty, Defined, which works out what liberty entails in the 21st century. For the author, it is nothing less than the golden rule applied to politics, and he uses fifty issues floating around in the sewage tank of American political debate as examples. These range from abortion to Zionism, with less controversial fare in between. The subjects are alphabetical, without any other structure, which makes it less a definitive argument for liberty and more a collection of policy papers. There are no surprises for someone who is familiar with Ron Paul's reputation as a staunch libertarian:  naturally, he is against an over-mighty executive, against constantly deploying the military to police other nations, and against  burdensome taxes and irresponsible legislation. Because of the arrangement, it's hard to imagine a man off the street  picking up the book and reading it through -- what's the hook? I went for it because I knew the author, but because I was familiar with the author, nothing in here was really new.

Monday, June 20, 2016

TBR Bodycheck

Another week, more solid progress on the TBR. There are a couple of reviews pending. I plan one more big push this week, then a switch to American lit, then another drive to finish this one off!

Taken down!

Coming Attractions

  •  The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday.
  •  Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy, Shane Hamilton.
  • 10% Human, Alanna Collen.
  • The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left, Yural Levin.
  • .Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World,  Richard Francis.

And (a little) more!