Monday, May 16, 2011

Books I'm Reading 34 - The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

Some of the things that Ronson discusses, like the use of Barney the Dinosaur's song in Iraq and LSD experimentation by the CIA, I've read about previously and pretty much take as fact. That said, I really hope that something in this book is fiction. If I were too take this entire text as fact, I think my brain would explode in a surreal psychotic break from reality ala The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

From depictions of the involvement of psychological operations against the Branch Davidians in Waco through supernatural warfare against Noriega (and why the fuck isn't "Noriega" in my spell check dictionary???), all told through the historical lens of the First Earth Battalion, I find this way too taxing on my sanity if I take it as prima facie truth.

Also, being that I live in Hawaii, I kind of have to ask, what the fuck makes these isolated islands grand central for retired New Age Military? Seriously? I mean look guys, if you've psychically predicted massive Earth-changing catastrophe, whether natural disasters, man-made ecological destruction or alien-assisted Terrarism (pun intended) an island chain with a history of tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes and the ghost stories of multiple races, cultures and generations seems like a bad choice for a retirement community. May I suggest Nebraska? Or maybe Texas. Hell, your particular brand of occult nuttiness may not even stand out much in Texas, especially Austin.

I also read this in part as prep because I saw that he just published a book about psychopaths and at the moment social psychology is something of an interest area of mine. Now that I've read this I'm even more so looking forward to reading The Psychopath Test.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books I'm reading 33 - Unfamiliar fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is probably the most interest-maintaining books about the development of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy that I've ever read.

As part-Hawaiian and living in Hawaii, I grew up learning many these stories in school or as part of the general community knowledge that one just picks up, but I've never had the chance to view this history with the combination of outward objectivity and deep archivists interest that Sarah Vowell has.

It's not surprising that she brings a particular viewpoint to things that slants the story in a particular way; what is surprising is how well she blends a sympathetic and empathic caring for the history of the islands with a sort of comedic self reflection that makes the history of these islands gel into a personal story.

And to be honest, not all of this was stuff that I knew. The relationships between American interests in Hawaii and other imperial ambitions (e.g. the Philippines) was something that I had known in concept without any detailed connecting thread. As a person working in technology who did actually learn Morse Code (albeit briefly and I don't remember much of I now) I also find it amusing that Morse himself has a painting of people who I learned to dislike, hanging in a place that I actually do like.

Much in the same way that Howard Zinn will personalize and make a student reevaluate their own ideas of American history, Sarah Vowell makes it very easy to make me reevaluate those things about Hawaiian History that I though I understood...not well exactly....but with the comprehension of someone who got an A- in Hawaiian History in high school at Kam.