Best book of the series so far. The US Army and the Free States Army try to force an election on the war-torn DMZ and it all looks a little too much l...moreBest book of the series so far. The US Army and the Free States Army try to force an election on the war-torn DMZ and it all looks a little too much like Karzai in Afghanistan until Parco Delgado announces his candidacy for governor of the DMZ. A lifetime resident of New York, Delgado espouses some of the most fiery anti-imperialist rhetoric I've ever heard outside of an Immortal Technique record and he seems dead-set on setting up his own government regardless of what the USA and FSA have to say about it. At the same time he provides an inspiration to the beleaguered residents who have been pinned between the two warring powers for nearly a decade and even jaded reporter Matty Roth gets swept up in the hoopla. Lot's of great commentary in this volume and a good evolution of Matty's character. If you're at all a fan of dystopias, this is a must read series.(less)
Whenever a new friend is perusing my bookshelves, I always find myself mentally cringing when they reach a certain point awaiting the persistent judgm...moreWhenever a new friend is perusing my bookshelves, I always find myself mentally cringing when they reach a certain point awaiting the persistent judgment-laced query: "why do you have so many biographies on dictators and mass murderers?" It's a hard question to answer, if only because it means I have to unpack nearly a decade's worth of my own jumbled thoughts on idealism, social upheaval, human fallibility, and the inevitability of revolution; a task which often leaves the questioner glassy-eyed and drooling as their thoughts turn toward more comfortable musings. That's no fault of the listener though, but more a reflection of my own imprecise grasp of my own ideas. I don't have a fully formed ideology of any sort, but rather a hodgepodge of ideas that I weave together and take apart with the tenacity of an obsessive-compulsive arachnid. This rejection of dogma is, I think, rooted in the lessons learned from the chronicles on my Shelf of Tyranny- our history is chock full of recent examples illustrating the power of an idea to cause much upheaval and while I make ample time to read of success stories (my Shelf of Liberation is directly above my Shelf of Tyranny) I feel that there are more lessons to be learned through the failures. In the case of the Cambodian revolution and the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge, there are learning opportunities by the score.
Chronicling the rise of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) through, first, the struggle to end French colonialism, then to overthrow the monarchy of Prince Sihanouk, and finally to oust the military junta that took control following Sihanouk's abdication, author Philip Short places the revolution firmly in the context of a national history of struggle against outside invaders and the historic distrust for its Vietnamese and Thai neighbors. Likewise, he traces the evolution of the CPK's ideology back to its historical root in the French Revolution, by illustrating the commonalities between those two bloody epochs- the lack of an industrial class of workers made organizing the proletariat impossible so most of the organizing work was shifted onto the illiterate peasants in the countryside who were taught that they did not need to know the particulars of communism but merely needed to adopt the revolutionary struggle into their hearts, entrenching ignorance into the party platform, the struggle was primarily against the monarchy and the corrupt advisers and hangers-on who had found ways to enrich themselves at the expense of the peasantry. Most interesting to me, though, is Short's analysis on how Therevada Buddhism and its emphasis on the abnegation of personal desire and the self created the environment that would allow hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, mainly those forced to evacuate Phnom Penh after its capture by the CPK, to starve to death as they were forced into the countryside to work in the rice paddies as penance for their privileged lives under the old regime.
Put together from dozens of interviews with surviving CPK members, unprecedented access to historical archives, and news sources of the day, Short also does an amazing job at illustrating Cambodia's delicate position as a pawn between the Sino-Soviet struggle to control the Communist International, as well the love-hate relationship with its communist neighbor, Vietnam, a mercurial relationship that could flare into shootings and cross-border raids even as the two countries were working together to throw out American forces. All in all, this was a highly worthwhile read that served to broaden my understanding of modern Cambodian history. If Short gives short shrift to examples of the genocide, it is only because most books on the era already focus primarily on the atrocities and not the events that made such atrocities inevitable.
For those who seek information on the genocide, the amazing 1984 film The Killing Fields has already said all that needs to be said on the subject, and if the enigmatic Pol Pot never steps from the shadows to be analyzed as thoroughly as I had hoped, Short makes clear that this is due to Pol's obsession with secrecy and his desire to never be the face of the party, just the man pulling the strings from behind the curtain. There are tantalizing bits of biography that enter the text, such as the schizophrenia that plagued his wife, but throughout the book the Pol we are treated to is devoid of personality and is shown to be a leader with one goal in mind- revolution at all costs- a singular focus that would allow much to be done in its name.(less)
This 40 page pamphlet is an excerpt that was taken from Andre Moncourt's more in-depth study of the Red Army Faction, a group of German guerillas acti...moreThis 40 page pamphlet is an excerpt that was taken from Andre Moncourt's more in-depth study of the Red Army Faction, a group of German guerillas active in Europe throughout the 1970s that rejected the pacifist tendencies of the majority of anti-capitalists and sought to take the fight directly to the doorstep of the leaders of industry and state bureaucrats, many of whom were unreconstructed Nazis who had resumed their former positions within West Germany without ever having to face up to the roles they played in WWII, in an effort to create a new front in the struggle for a worldwide communist revolution. This pamphlet focuses primarily upon the year 1977, when the RAF's activities were at their peak and barely a week would go by without a bomb exploding under an industrialist's car or the kidnapping of prison executives responsible for the inhumane conditions that the imprisoned founding members of the RAF were being held in. While an incredibly quick read, Moncourt manages to adequately provide an overview of the history of the RAF, their philosophy of armed resistance, as well as some useful critiques of the successes and failures of this very bloody year. For those unfamiliar with the Red Army Faction, I would recommend the excellent German film from a few years back, The Baader-Meinhof Komplex, to help fill in the gaps in this necessarily short pamphlet. Or perhaps going all in and reading the first volume of Moncourt's larger work, The Red Army Faction, a Documentary History: Volume 1: Projectiles for the People.(less)
I'm often leery when friends of mine lend me their favorite books. How soon do you expect me to read this? You know I have a stack of books the size o...moreI'm often leery when friends of mine lend me their favorite books. How soon do you expect me to read this? You know I have a stack of books the size of an end table still to read, right? What if, though this has never before happened in the 25+ years I've been a regular reader, I should lose or damage the book? Most intimidating of all, what if I don't like the read or what if I find it to be so bad that my opinion of you as a friend is changed due to your devotion to these pages? After more than a few heated arguments about the merits of a particular book with friends I've had to place myself at a bit more of a remove from things. It's this same reason why I never recommend my favorite books for monthly book club reads. I take reading more personally than most, apparently.
So it was with much trepidation and nervousness that I accepted my friend James' copy of this book. Battered and well worn, with passages underlined and bracketed from multiple read-throughs, this was obviously a well-loved book. I felt as though we were at a turning point in our friendship and this slim volume would be the pivot upon which the whole relationship would turn. So I guess it's a good thing that I ended up rather enjoying this light-hearted romp.
Taking place in Prohibition-era New York City, Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo charts the rise of ragtime and jazz as an infectious thought meme of liberation and fertility called Jes Grew beating its tattoo of freedom from hierarchical society straight from the heart of ancient Egypt. Regular readers of science fiction will recognize many similarities with the idea of the Sumerian namshub that Neil Stephenson used with such aplomb in his seminal work, Snow Crash. Arrayed against this meme are all the conspiratorial powers of white society, from the simple Freemasons to the Knights Templar, who will stop at nothing to discredit and destroy this nascent movement before it infects New York at large and undoes centuries worth of work at bringing order to society and keeping the dark races under their thumb.
I know, this sounds so very much like every other work of conspiracy fiction ever published and I would have rolled my eyes so hard at some points that they would have dropped from my head and onto the table, if Reed's style weren't so whimsically refreshing. He doesn't take his words too seriously and neither should the reader. Throwing in a great amount of history with references to Marcus Garvey's Back to Africa movement and cameos from major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Reed paints an eminently enjoyable take on race in Western history and, between bits of buffoonery, offers a solid critique of the subtle racism that infects so many of our actions to this day. I especially enjoyed his group of art thieves who would liberate indigenous icons from those graveyards of culture, museums, and return them to their rightful homes among the tribes of Borneo or the descendants of the Olmec. I kept hoping for an Indiana Jones moment where a character could say that "it belongs in a museum" only to get pistol-whipped and told that it belongs to the people who created it.
There are a lot of references packed into this slim volume and one reading can not hope to catch all of the nuance of Reed's work. I see now why James had so thoughtfully underlined many of his favorite passages, it's a great book to quote in conversation and one that I've found myself thinking about quite often in the days since finishing it. I'd never read any Ishmael Reed prior to Mumbo Jumbo but he's certainly an author I'll be on the lookout for in the future.(less)
If I were to ever have doubts as to the worthiness of comics as a medium for social critique or dissenting opinions, they would all be washed away by...moreIf I were to ever have doubts as to the worthiness of comics as a medium for social critique or dissenting opinions, they would all be washed away by this volume of Warren Ellis' masterwork, Transmetropolitan. Within these slim and splendidly decorated pages lie some of the most biting and harsh political and social truths ever uttered, words so wonderfully free of restraint and so incendiary that, were they not shielded by the disregard most high minds have for comics, Ellis would likely be removed from his home late at night by an elite team of Blackwater mercenaries, sleek black hood slipped over his head and tranquilizers pumped through his body, only to awaken after being extraordinarily rendered to Egypt, or Oman, or Yemen, or whatever dictator-du-jour is currently doing the United States' wet work.
Ellis' Spider Jerusalem is a rabid dog of a journalist. Veins racing with an ever-shifting cocktail of uppers, downers, hallucinogens, and baby seal eyes, with a soul yearning to express the Truth at any cost, Jerusalem is quite easily the best and most faithful Hunter S. Thompson caricature that I've ever come across. In previous volumes, Jerusalem has taken on the sacred cows of religion, television, and fame but here in Volume 3 is when he finally tackles my own bete noire, electoral politics, and wins my heart all over again. Sure, the set-up is nearly all cadged from Thompson's Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72, but that air of reality is what lends this volume its bite.
Trying to assuage his ever-demanding editor, Jerusalem is sent to cover the Opposition Party Convention, wherein the Opposition delegates are struggling to decide between two career hacks (Sen. Callahan, a Jerry Brown surrogate with a Joker-like grin and Bob Heller, a thick-necked white supremacist running on a platform of pure rage) to run against The Beast, a Nixon/Bush Jr hybrid that could only have been born from some dark sacrificial act. Over the course of these issues, Jerusalem unwraps a fetid taco's worth of corruption and bile, highlighting all of the backroom politicking, endorsement-buying, and victim exploitation that occurs as a matter of course in our electoral system but amped up to the nth degree and then injected with steroids. It is biting, it is harsh, and it is some of the most topical criticism I've read in a long time. This series is highly recommended for nearly everyone.(less)
This book must have been recommended to me several dozen times over the course of the past year, from activists from either side if the ideological di...moreThis book must have been recommended to me several dozen times over the course of the past year, from activists from either side if the ideological divide. Written by a rabid political organizer who cut his teeth organizing in the Depression-era south-side Chicago who makes no secret of the fact that he views a worker's revolution as inevitable and something that leftists should constantly work toward, and given that President Obama got his start organizing with the late Alinsky's group back in the 80s, it's understandable why Gingrich started slinging around Alinsky's name in the Republican debates. Union organizers I know swear by this book to no end, some hailing it as a bible for community organizers.
I wish I felt nearly as passionate after reading it this morning. Alinsky is fiercely passionate, of that there can be no doubt. He dedicated his life to organizing the lesser privileged in our society so that they could be better agents of their own freedom. He had a cunning tactical mind and his books are great attempts to try to share the lessons he learned in decades of organizing. Which really makes it such a shame that he comes off as such an asshole. Examples? I have a couple.
He makes an understandable point that groups you are organizing with need a win from time to time to minimize activist burnout and to show that change is possible. I find no fault with this- it is damned difficult to keep people enthusiastic in the face of constant setbacks and the unceasing apathy of those not involved. However, the tactic he uses as an example is very unsettling to me. In the heavily Catholic population of Chicago's south-side the churches had kicked out an Infant Welfare Society because it was rumored they were offering birth control. Of course, without the aid the society had offered, citizens noticed an uptick in infant mortality. Alinsky knew that all the citizens had to do was to simply ask the society to return, yet coordinated an exceptionally disingenuous march to the group's headquarters, stormed in, demanded that services be returned to this neighborhood, and refused to let the society's spokesperson say anything other than 'yes.' Sure, it was an easy win at a necessary time, but to deliberately mislead the group you are organizing is not an effective way to engender trust and a surefire way to get them to turn on you when your deception is discovered.
Still, there are numerous useful tips for readers willing to overlook Alinsky's less than desirable personality and more than a few things that I'm going to work to bring into my day-to-day work. It's definitely worth the read and easy to see why both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have embraced it as an instruction manual in their efforts to bring their concerns into the national dialogue.(less)
Readers who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan waste...moreReaders who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan wastes will find a different sort of Hunter here. Given the man's talent for spectacle, pomposity and grand acts of destruction, it's easy for people to forget that before he was a legend, Hunter S. Thompson was a talented and capable journalist- one of those rare souls who was perfectly able to capture the flavor of the 60s zeitgeist, both its rapturous highs and its naive faith that a better world could simply be visualized into existence. Before his image became a caricature to be bandied about by everyone from Doonesbury's Gary Trudeau to Johnny Depp's recent ham-fisted offerings (I take no umbrage with Fear & Loathing, that was Gilliam at his greatest, but rather the execrable adaptation of The Rum Diaries and the animated spoof of Rango) Thompson offered up some truly great pieces of journalism.
The Great Shark Hunt collects many of these lesser known writings of Thompson's. There are some definite retreads of what has been widely available elsewhere- the entirety of Part II was culled primarily from his Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which is an interesting snapshot of life on the campaign trail with the underdog George McGovern campaign that somehow found itself the Democratic nominee despite the Dem establishment's fiercest protests and then fell apart with supreme gusto, allowing Nixon a landslide re-election. The closest example I can think of from recent elections is how close Howard Dean came to upsetting the staid Democratic platform before an unfortunate moment of exuberance caused the nomination to be handed to John "Do I Have A Pulse?" Kerry.
For the most part, however, much of this material was new to me and featured many fine gems. The book is worth reading if only for Thompson's magnificent reporting from his hometown in "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent & Depraved," which recounts the author's first meeting with his long-time illustrator Ralph Steadman and their liquor-fueled romps during the pinnacle event of white Southern gentry's year. Most interesting for me, Part III features political reports sent North during 1963 while Thompson was covering events in ever-turbulent South America. With his characteristic sneer for all those who would use their power to enrich rather than help, Thompson issues communiques from Puerto Estrella, a lawless city of Colombian smugglers, reports on the Peruvian military's overthrow of the popularly elected APRA party in order to maintain the same 40 family's grip on the nation, and recounts a showdown between the Brazilian military and a Rio nightclub which ends with bullets spraying and grenades being lobbed onto the bustling dance floor all to teach the owner a lesson in respect. All throughout Thompson never fails to shine a critical eye on the American expats and businessmen who never fail to embrace the inherent racism of former colonial masters, despairing about Peruvians inability to realize that the gringos are only trying to help and refusing to realize that riding in on a white horse to save them is just a rebranding of the same paternalism that South Americans have been dealing with since the Conquistadors decided to save by slaughter.
This is by no means a must-read, and I definitely found myself lagging through many of the articles, but for anyone who enjoys Thompson's personal brand of biting rhetoric it is an amusing and informative look at the works of a man who was never afraid to say exactly what he was thinking at a given time and who never failed to be shocked and appalled by the perversion of his American Dream by moneyed interests playing upon a populace's fears. In an era that seems so eerily reminiscent of the times in which Thompson was at the top of his game, reading the words of a man who was always willing to voice his outrage is a useful reminder.(less)