Sunday, July 14, 2013

This week at the library: politics, Star Trek, a Cold War fantasy for kids, and trains

Last week's titles: 
The Price of Everything, Russell D. Roberts  | What It Means to be a Libertarian, Charles Murray |  Star Trek Silent Weapons, David Mack |  Day of Reckoning, Pat Buchanan | Getting There, Charles Goddard

Dear readers:

This week has seen some grappling with politics, with Star Trek, fantasy, and trains for relaxation.  Both The Price of Everything and What It Means to be a Libertarian  were on the...well, libertarian side, with Roberts exploring how prices work and vouching for markets as a better way of arranging things than government fiat. Murray was more philosophical, starting off by establishing that libertarianism is fundamentally against coercion of any kind, whether physical force or taxation. After a strong start, he then attempts to explore what a libertarian society would look like: it's one with courts and interstates, and not much else, though allowances can be made for government control of 'natural monopolies' like infrastructure that requires an enormous amount of capital and coordination (hence, highways). As much as I like his philosophy in theory, its widespread application depends entirely too much on the hope that things will sort themselves out for me.  I prefer concrete evidence, not idealism -- even Murray's very attractive kind, which posits that the government putting citizens' responsibility for their lives will suddenly witness a rebirth of civic virtue. a rebirth I'd delight to see. 

I resumed reading the Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack,  which actually took a potshot at libertarianism by putting the action on crime-ridden Orion, where the government stays out of business and out of most everything else.  I didn't plan Mack as a counter to Murray, so it must have been Fate. Obviously. The book was a fantastic mystery-turned-political thriller, which sees the powers within the Typhon Pact vying for dominance, while keeping a close eye on NATO the Khitomer Accord, which consists of the Federation, the Klingon Empire, the Cardassians, and a few other races who were not quite all the way evil.  The Typhon Pact strife seems to hint that the Downfall series of books being planned for autumn will see the Evil League of Evil, not the Justice League of the Federation, disintegrate. 

Speaking of self-defeating evil, Pat Buchanan thinks the United States has become that, invading everyone while simultaneously letting cheap goods destroy American manufacturers and American jobs. He rails against a handful of ideas -- imperialism, the triumph of ideology, the decline of Anglo-Americans, the glorification of free trade --  but only the first two really piqued my interest. Buchanan is called a paleoconservative, and they seem to  differ from 'neoconservatives' on the key issues of invading people and free trade.  Buchanan believes we shouldn't invade people, but should have the ability to do so if need be, and we should raise protective tariffs to keep other people's stuff from invading us. We should have an export surplus, not a trade deficit.  Out of self-interest I'm given to agree, but if the other fellows take the same stance it seems we'll have  a lot of nations with trade walls up, with the ships of commerce unable to pass them. This seems a story with a sad ending. You could invade people and force them to buy your stuff (he's all for mercantilism), but invading people is out, so.....

On the subject of strife between nations, I recently read a fantastically funny Cold War fantasy about a middle-schooler named Jane whose parents flee McCarthyist witch hunts to live in London, where Jane immediately complicates their lives further by getting involved in a battle between intelligence agencies and an ancient order of chemists. But really, how often do you make friends with someone who just happens to be heir to arcane knowledge passed down through uncountable generations, knowledge that can heal the body, turn it into a bird, and even -- maybe -- squelch an atom bomb of the earth-shattering kaboom sort?  Soon enough Jane and her friends (a trio, naturally) are on the run from both the British government and the Soviets. The resulting shenanigans make for hilarious light fantasy, the only fly in the ointment being the fact that the kids are expected to read a book composed in ancient Greek and Latin by means of their grammar school Latin primer.  I can't even read Der Spiegel on my uni-Deutsch, let alone a technical journal.

So! Next week! Today being the 14th, I should be concluding a series of French reads right about now. I am not. Call it poor planning, but my interlibrary loan books haven't arrived, so today I've been reading an oddly personal survey of French history called The Outline of French History.  I'll be continuing that this week, along with (perhaps) The Body Electric, the last in the Cold Equations trilogy. After that, who knows?  Once I've paid honor to France there are a few essay collections I'm itching to read, from Wendell Berry to Bertrand Russell.  I also have a book on airplanes checked out, because airplanes are fun.  Not as much fun as trains, but fun still. Oh, and speaking of trains -- I also read Getting There, about the struggle between railroads and highways for transportation dominance. Remarks will be posted later in the week.

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