Vine Deloria's Indians of the Pacific Northwest is a pleasure to read, being both straightforward and captivating, depressing and hopeful. It's a great book for anyone who wants to understand the struggles that American Indians in the Pacific Northwest have waged against colonialism in the last couple centuries. My only complaints are that, despite the name, the author restricts himself almost entirely to Indian peoples in the state of Washington, and that he embraces seemingly without restraint the changes that Indians have been forced to undergo in transitioning from a sustainable and traditional lifestyle to making ends meet in an industrial cash-based economy. While adaptation is certainly better than annihilation, the cultural sacrifices have been great, and it's hard not to feel that those who advocated "killing the Indian and saving the man" won a great and depressing victory over the Indian peoples. On the other hand, I can understand Deloria's optimism in seeing that Indian peoples are continuing on, and continuing to struggle for their rights and their heritage.
As a person, I generally like Richard Heinberg, and wanted to like his book. But often I found myself infuriated reading this. The book itself has a textbook-like sterility to it, with many infoboxes and charts giving more specific detail on certain topics. And the writing feels robotic, as if written from the perspective of an alien from another world looking impersonally down on the world. Beyond that the language is clearly calculated to avoid alienating the typical middle class reader. It seems clear that Heinberg deliberately skewers the strength of his own expertise in order to keep people from panicking.For instance, the thesis of the book, as the title suggests, is that economic growth has come to an end. Although one might assume that means the economy is headed towards a decline, he studiously avoids saying this in any clear terms. He actually seems to try to comfort his readers by suggesting that we can manage something of a steady-state economy, if one with a different series of assumptions and values than the current systems. He neglects to consider that what we're actually looking at is an economic crash of unprecedented speed and magnitude, in spite of the consistency of this idea with his own research.But where Heinberg frustrates me the most is when, after noting a few of the ways in which our way of life is killing the planet, he writes: "Declining oxygen levels, acidifying oceans, disappearing species, threatened oceanic food chains, changing climate-- when considering planetary changes of this magnitude, it may seem that the end of economic growth is hardly the worst of humanity's current problems. However, it is important to remember that we are counting on growth to enable us to solve or respond to environmental crises. With economic growth, we have surplus money with which to protect rainforests, save endangered species, and clean up after industrial accidents. Without economic growth, we are increasingly defenseless against environmental disasters-- many of which paradoxically result from growth itself." He goes on to say that "the end of economic growth cannot be counted on to solve the environmental problems that growth has previously generated".The first absurdity to strike me in the above passage is when the author says that "we are counting on growth" to solve our environmental crises. I don't know about Richard, but I'm certainly not counting on growth to solve anything. And although some people absolutely do believe this, that is largely because people are heavily invested in this system, and believe they can destroy the planet and live on it, too. Also, Heinberg tactfully ignores that far more capital is used to destroy rainforests, kill endangered species, and cause industrial disasters than to solve them. If we genuinely want to stop these disasters, we're going to need to reduce the power of capital, and reduce our total energy usage, by whatever means necessary. As for his statement that we cannot count on the end of growth to solve our environmental problems, this is true. The problem is too dire to count on any proposed solution. That's exactly why we need to do everything we possibly can as soon as we possibly can. Bringing fossil fuel economies to a dead stop, ending deforestation, and restoring prairies and wetlands will not absolutely, without a doubt, stop climate change from becoming runaway and devastating the planet's biosphere, but it sure sounds a far more reasonable avenue than hoping some magical technological solution will come along if we just hold our breath long enough. Certainly, the author tactfully avoids making any effort to show how his own proposals will help to prevent environmental calamities, let alone to proactively solve them.
Norman Douglas was a racist old prick, who writes, for instance, about the necessity of beating Arab women into submission and the virtues of buying and selling them for a profit. Also, for travel literature, this is rather boring. He writes more about the history of places than about his actual experiences within them.I wasn't surprised to learn after reading this book that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a sixteen year old boy.
This book provides an excellent overview of James Kunstler and his work, particularly in connecting his earlier work on suburbs and urban planning with his later work on peak oil and impending economic reduction. The interview method works very well here. It's not used here to interrogate Kunstler, but to draw out and organize his thinking in ways that Duncan's listeners (and readers) can easily consume and digest. It's really a very low key and friendly sort of discussion, which I personally like because it means that the conversations are relaxed and don't feel forced. You get a real sense of what James is like as a person as well as who he is as a thinker. In general I found myself liking him even when I disagree with him. And I do disagree with him on several main points, though probably not the same points most people disagree with him on. And although I think most everyone will disagree with him on something, he offers a lot of food for thought that should challenge the thinking of anyone who approaches this book. I should also say that Duncan Crary has done a very good job editing this work as well as in conducting the interviews, and I appreciate his work here.
A thorough examination of the consequences of the tar sands project in Alberta. The author looks at this situation from a number of angles, including the project's water and methane usage, the wasting of the Athabascan watershed and millions of acres of boreal forest, the ruinous air quality in the area where the bitumen is refined, the devastation of community and economy in the area surrounding Fort McMurray, the contribution dirty oil makes to climate change, the possibility of nuclear reactors being used simply to help power the project, the failure of the project to benefit the citizens of Alberta, the redirection of the oil itself to the United States, and the growing "Saudi Arabization" of Canada and particularly of Alberta.My biggest complaint with the book is that the author all but ignored making any consideration for the Dene people, whose ancestral land is being turned into a moonscape in the name of "energy security". I also disliked the author's nonsensical belief that driving less is an effective means of helping to halt the tar sands project. As a non-driver, I do not believe this. I can understand a corporation using the "It's up to individual consumers to change things" remedy to social and environmental ills, but it's depressing to hear it come from the social and environmental activists themselves.
Shadows on the Gulf is an eye-opening look at the devastation this culture has created on the Gulf coast of the United States. Deepwater Horizon has taken a heavy toll on the Southern wetlands, but this book makes it very clear that this was only the latest event in a long history of environmental destruction. If the wetlands are to be saved, it's going to call for some massive action, more massive than the author seems to feel comfortable discussing. My biggest issue with this book is that the author understands the scale of the Gulf's predicament, and he understands the main actors in bringing this predicament about, but he stops short of demanding radical change. He talks, rather, about resource conservation, for instance saying that by simply driving a few miles less a year, Gulf oil production could be cut to zero. But in saying this he denies the reality of the situation. First of all, it's not at all clear that consumer oil reduction would actually result in reduced oil use. In all likelihood it would just mean keeping the cost down a little for military, industry, and those who have no moral scruples about using as much petroleum as they can afford. Second, even if oil reduction did occur, it's hardly realistic to expect that all of those reductions would take place in a single area. Even if they did, the Gulf has become one of the more cost-efficient sources available, and there's no reason to think production there would be cut. What Jacobsen offers us, unfortunately, is a hopelessly romantic solution to a problem in need of a far more radical solution.That said, I do recommend this book to anyone trying to understand the ecology and history of the Gulf Coast, to get a real sense of how the oil industry and the Corps of Engineers has decimated a vital wetland environment, and the lives of local people dependent on it.
In Savage Anxieties, Robert A. Williams explores the history of the savage-civilized dichotomy in Western civilization, from its origins in Ancient Greece to its continued presence in the richest nations of the contemporary world. This book is a good step in trying to wean ourselves from the notion that indigenous people are simply cardboard stereotypes, whether those stereotypes are viewed positively or negatively.
I really liked the segments by Najwa, Osama's first wife. She really gives us a great picture of who Osama was as a man and as a husband, that really challenges the stereotypes we are bombarded with by politicians and the corporate media. By and large, he seems to have cared a lot about her and treated her as well as he could, or well as he could under the circumstances he generated. She is a woman who still clearly loves her husband and despite everything remains loyal to his memory. There are times when she seems cognizant that something is wrong, as when she discusses the loneliness she felt when Osama took his second wife, but found comfort in the patriarchal dogma of her religion. She is a sensitive and loving woman, and a smart woman, albeit a smart woman whose dedication to her husband and her children overrode any concern for her own welfare.Omar's accounts are also interesting. Although his father treated his wife and daughters well, he was much harsher in raising his sons. In a large way, Osama saw his sons as the Islamic soldiers of the future, and raised him towards this purpose. A sensitive boy, Omar would not be molded the way his father wanted, and craved for his love. I can understand why he broke from his father, and I can understand and respect why he has striven for peace, particularly in light of his life situation, but I don't necessarily understand why the book tries to construct him as brave. It could be said that he was brave in standing up to his father the way he did, but I don't see that it was particularly brave to flee his family in Afghanistan to live the life of luxury and privilege that he was accustomed to as a child. He was also far less than brave or else extremely naïve to deny that Saudi Arabia was behind the assassination attempt against his father when they were living in Sudan. Presumably, Omar recognized that he would wear out his welcome in Saudi Arabia were he to make the obvious conclusions about the actions of the Saudi royals. All of this said, Osama's son seems to be a good man with a troubled past, trying to find his way forward. His relationship with his father provides the reader with a helpful and interesting alternative to Najwa's more intimate perspective.Jean Sasson's commentary is rather irritating for the most part. Her purpose in this book seems simply to be to reconcile these first person accounts humanizing Osama with the xenophobic accounts of the corporate media portraying him as an inhuman monster. Although it is true that she provides some context in certain parts of the book where it is helpful, on the whole I am mostly grateful that she wrote as little in the book as she did. Her closing section is particularly annoying, being in total context to much of the rest of the book. But on the whole I am glad that she has put this book together for publication. It is probably the most honest biography available on Osama bin Laden.
It's hard to imagine why anyone would have accepted to publish this book, and strains the imagination to realize that this has become a major American classic. Although there are some occasional moments of lucid brilliance ("American have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out"), by and large this is incoherent dreck.