A brief and lightweight, but amusing, reflection on the author's time living in Managua during the 80s. Stories about Nica culture and life under theA brief and lightweight, but amusing, reflection on the author's time living in Managua during the 80s. Stories about Nica culture and life under the Sandinista revolutionary government....more
Reflections on racism and xenophobia, and the still-beating promise of social justice from Sandhya Jha. Each chapter is grounded in the stories of reaReflections on racism and xenophobia, and the still-beating promise of social justice from Sandhya Jha. Each chapter is grounded in the stories of real people, campaigns, communities, many from California, with a particular focus on what role faith communities can play in creating a better world....more
Beyond the famous first sentence it somehow gets even more disturbing ... and terribly sad. There's obviously lots to say and lots that has already beBeyond the famous first sentence it somehow gets even more disturbing ... and terribly sad. There's obviously lots to say and lots that has already been said, so I'll stick to recommending this piece from Jacobin, which digs into the big theme of "alienation" and how you should and shouldn't read it as a Marxist allegory. I also thought this article was interesting to see Kafka as the progenitor of the "slipstream" genre....more
Between Black Panther, the Atlantic and all the awards this book picked up, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been on fire this past year. Probably there is a backBetween Black Panther, the Atlantic and all the awards this book picked up, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been on fire this past year. Probably there is a backlash brewing out there, but all I can say is that Between the World and Me really spoke to me on an emotional level. I'm sure it was the quality of the writing, and being a parent, and perhaps reading it after two nights of no sleep, but the passage that left me weeping in the middle seat on a cross-country flight was this one:
“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said, 'You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.'” (p. 113)
He goes on: "I was glad she said this. I have tried to say the same to you, and if I have not said it with the same direction and clarity, I confess that is because I am afraid. And I have no God to hold me up." I get it, and I know that I don't get it at the same time. It's a passage that touches on the hopes and fears of every parent, and in the imbalance of those fears, lays bare the ever-present reality of racism and injustice in America.
There is a lot to reflect on and think about in the book, but I wanted to highlight one really interesting place he lands at the end, tying together the American consumerist dream, the plunder of black bodies, environmental degradation and climate change. I would love to see him develop those ideas more in the future.
"This revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation." (p. 150)
The Water Knife is essentially Cadillac Desert fan-fiction -- which is not remotely meant to be a criticism. Marc Reisner's 35-year-old exposé of wateThe Water Knife is essentially Cadillac Desert fan-fiction -- which is not remotely meant to be a criticism. Marc Reisner's 35-year-old exposé of water politics in the American Southwest has acquired an air of prophecy as temperature records are routinely broken, the SW sags under 4 years of drought, and immigration politics take center stage. So it makes perfect sense that someone would craft Reisner's message into a whip-smart action-adventure-thriller, with the physical book even standing in as a McGuffin. (Take the hint: read it!)
Bacigalupi's own book is an exciting page-turner with somewhat stock characters but an admirably cynical conclusion. I enjoyed it a lot and I suspect the inevitable film or TV adaptation will be a big hit....more
Mostly a good example of the type of writing Stephenson does really well -- plus a bit of his traditional weak spots. The first 2/3rds of the book telMostly a good example of the type of writing Stephenson does really well -- plus a bit of his traditional weak spots. The first 2/3rds of the book tell a gripping, fast-paced sci-fi adventure where humanity has two years to figure out how to save itself from a catastrophe worthy of Arthur C. Clarke. Good stuff, smart characters, exciting storyline. The final 1/3rd of the book is a speculative coda to the story that takes place 5000 years in the future. It was fine, but typical of some sub-par Stephenson in that it put interesting ideas ahead of quality storytelling. (view spoiler)[For example, I thought the central premise that the 7 surviving women would give rise to 7 distinct sub-species was implausible and done mostly for point-scoring. Why would a community worried about extinction and genetic diversity ties their hands in that manner? I guess the answer is supposed to be "genetic engineering" but really it seemed so that Stephenson could draw his nifty color-coded Power Ranger map. (hide spoiler)]...more
The legal battle over Texaco's petroleum contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon has taken so many twists and turns over the decades that it can't easiThe legal battle over Texaco's petroleum contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon has taken so many twists and turns over the decades that it can't easily be summarized even in a longish online think piece, so Paul Barrett's well-organized book is probably as good a place to start as any. The story is a testament to the idea that for every lawyer there is an equal and opposite lawyer: in this case, the crusading obsessive Steven Donziger versus the legal might of Chevron, one of the largest and most-profitable corporations on the planet, duking it out over billions of dollars in liability for environmental contamination.
Barrett's overall stance is slightly pro-Chevron, but his telling of the basic facts of the case is fairly persuasive. Starting in the 1960s, Texaco discovered oil in a previously undeveloped region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and it operated the oil fields in a consortium with the Ecuadorian government until 1992. In the process, Texaco left behind waste oil in hundreds of unlined pits in the rain forest (!!!), dumped vast quantities of toxic "produced" water directly into the rivers, and drove a rapid settlement and industrialization process in a previously isolated indigenous region. Texaco also directed that any records of environmental mishaps be destroyed, aided by a series of unstable Quito-based governments who sought to profit off the oil revenues, rather than regulate the environmental harm.
In 1993, a team of lawyers led by Steven Donziger filed suit in New York on behalf of residents of the contaminated region (Aguinda v Texaco). Texaco successfully argued that the suit should be moved to Ecuador, and in 2003 the suit was refiled in Lago Agrio, right in the heart of the oil fields. Chevron acquired the lawsuit when it bought Texaco in 2000. For their part, Chevron argues that a 1998 agreement to remediate a portion of the oil pits absolves them of any liability, and that any remaining contamination is the responsibility of the government of Ecuador. The plaintiffs counter that the agreement did not apply to private individuals, who are still free to bring lawsuits, and that because Texaco made the day-to-day operational decisions they are the proper liable party.
We visited the Lago Agrio region in late 2008, while the Aguinda lawsuit was still going on, and took a "toxics tour" organized by the plaintiff's organization. We saw a shocking level of oil contamination in the midst of a beautiful rain forest -- large pools of oil that had apparently been sitting there since the '70s, some with installed overflow pipes leading into the nearby rivers, some close to houses and communities. We were also taken to sites that Texaco claimed to have remediated in the 1990s, where modest homes sat on top of dirt that had been bulldozed over the oil. A few shovelfuls quickly uncovered dirt that stank like oil. Since that trip I've been mildly obsessed with the case.
In 2011, Chevron's strategy failed and the Lago Agrio court found Chevron guilty and ordered a massive $9.5 billion judgment (doubled to $19B if they didn't say "sorry"). However, Chevron counter-attacked with a series of discovery motions that found that Donziger, Pablo Fajardo and the other plaintiffs' lawyers had basically selected and ghost-written the report of the court-appointed expert -- a massive no-no in U.S. courts, although Donziger claims the norms are different in Ecuador. Chevron then filed and won a RICO suit against Donziger in U.S. courts. The judge prevented the plaintiffs from collecting damages on Chevron assets in the U.S. and found Donziger guilty of racketeering for allegedly bribing and ghostwriting the judge's final verdict. Which sounds pretty bad, but consider the racketeering evidence is largely based on uncorroborated testimony from an unreliable former judge who is now on the Chevron payroll and living in the U.S.
Barnett largely concludes that Donziger is guilty and seems quite attracted to the story of a flawed idealist who crossed ethical lines in pursuit of justice. I would tend to agree that Donziger badly overstepped a number of bounds. He has admitted to "mistakes" but denies any serious wrongdoing. In the dirty tricks department, Chevron's hands are not clean either, which does tend to raise questions of reasonable doubt about the RICO verdict.
(The legal intricacies and dramatic reversals have been fodder for a number of online legal analysts and "chevronologists." If you are curious to go deeper down the rabbit hole, you can read Donziger's own account of the case here, Chevron's take here, and an interesting analysis of the RICO verdict from a legal group sympathetic to Donziger here.)
It's not clear what will happen next. The RICO case is currently under appeal, but for the moment the plaintiffs are unable to collect any rewards in U.S. courts. Chevron holds no assets in Ecuador, but lawsuits have been filed in Canada, Argentina and Brazil. The plaintiffs have a new lawyer and are arguing that whatever Donziger's screw-ups they should not be held accountable for his sins. I would have thought that given the convoluted history a new trial might be a good idea, but as several legal experts have pointed out, the Lago Agrio verdict was upheld on appeal by another Ecuadorian court, of which there has been no allegations of impropriety. Texaco originally argued that it was Ecuador's case to decide; well, they seem to have gotten their wish.
It's at the conclusion that Barrett's "pox on both houses" reporting style partly misses the larger picture. The facts of the case seem to indicate that Chevron is almost certainly liable for at least a fraction of the contamination. Petroecuador certainly shares responsibility, but that fact does not absolve Chevron. But is it even possible to bring one of the world's largest multi-national corporations to justice? As Barrett notes, it was more cost-effective for Chevron in the short-run to "fight until hell freezes over" and then "fight it out on the ice" rather than settle (seen as a sign of weakness by management). But in the long run, Chevron has spent a few billion in legal fees, the rainforest remains polluted, the region remains quite poor, local inhabitants continue to get sick, and environmental justice remains elusive....more
OK 2.5 stars. Granted, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a hard act to follow, and it must be said that this volume strives mightily to live up to those expOK 2.5 stars. Granted, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a hard act to follow, and it must be said that this volume strives mightily to live up to those expectations. But all of its busyness leads to some poor plot decisions. As most other reviewers have noted, the second act twist that converts Locke and Jean into amateur pirates is... misguided at best, a failed hail mary pass at worst. In fact, it makes so little sense that the characters even remark on what a weird decision it is.
There is still a lot to like in Lynch's writing. He's funny and witty and has a good handle on his main characters, but there's little sense that he knows where this series is going or what exactly he wants to say with it. For better or worse, Locke is a character who requires an insurmountable challenge and a lofty goal, and this outing doesn't quite supply it. ...more
The City of Dark Magic is a fun read, but (let's be honest) pretty ridiculous. In fact, a lot of the fun is watching the authors stretch the historicaThe City of Dark Magic is a fun read, but (let's be honest) pretty ridiculous. In fact, a lot of the fun is watching the authors stretch the historical-romance-fantasy-mystery genre conventions to their breaking point. Tonally, the book attempts to straddle the gap between its serious world-saving and mystery-solving and its goofier elements, and doesn't fully succeed (not everyone can be Joss Whedon)....more
Having devoured the book in just a few days, I have to say, it's got a killer story concept, well-executed (obviously a lot of other people think so tHaving devoured the book in just a few days, I have to say, it's got a killer story concept, well-executed (obviously a lot of other people think so too). Being a giant science nerd, I definitely got a kick out of the ways he wrung real drama out of scientific constraints, problem-solving and the reality of unforeseen consequences. Oftentimes hard sci-fi can seem contrived in the way it boxes protagonists into conflict with the laws of physics, but the set-up here seems pretty realistic.
I thought the "mission log" framing device was a bit of a mistake, as it tended to flatten out the emotional aspect of the adventure. We were constantly seeing crises in the rear-view mirror, which was a good opportunity for Watney to crack self-deprecating jokes, but missed a lot of opportunities to do something more interesting with despair, loneliness, hope, memory, etc....more