Holiday Reading

I finished three books over the Winter Break. I like to review and post about what I learned from all books I read.

I first encountered Carl Hiaasen in the 1990s while living in Colombia. This was pre-internet and the only US newspaper we could get was the Miami Herald. He was a long-time journalist and columnist for the paper. I used to visit Miami a lot when I was living in Latin America, off-and-on from 1992 to 2008. Nadia and I got married there in the autumn of 1999 in Coral Gables and the state holds a special place in my heart.

September 17, 1999 – Our wedding night!

Many of Hiassen’s novels are set in Florida. Squeeze Me (2020) is centered on rich, elderly Trump (Secret Service codename “Mastadon”) supporters living in Palm Beach and the “Winter White House”, Mar Largo. Although Hiaasen never mentions Trump’s name or Melania (Secret Service codename, “Mockingbird”), you can easily see the likeness. The protagonist of the novel is a pest control specialist named Angela Armstrong. She is called over to the resort to take care of Burmese Pythons, which are an extensive invasive species problem in south Florida. Hiassen is inspired by his many years of covering Florida characters involved in crazy crime stories, corrupt politicians, rich retirees and the many different kinds of people that are attracted to Florida. I ponder his plot twists and think about what will happen next and it helps me go to sleep at night by taking my mind off my busy work and personal life. It was a light read and a page-turner and I recommend it for those who like humorous, crime fiction.

I like thrillers and crime novels to put me to sleep and I also love historical fiction and Adrian McKinty’s “The Sun is God” (2014) checked those two categories for me. When I think of Germany’s empire or colonies, I think of World War II and Hitler’s march through Europe. However, they did get into the colonies game at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. I didn’t know that they laid claim to parts of what is now Papua New Guinea. They held it until the Japanese came during World War II. McKinty focuses on a nudist colony/cult of Germans that eat only coconuts and bananas and take a lot of heroin. An ex-British soldier that fought in the Boer War, Will Prior, moves to German New Guinea to get over his PTSD. When an autopsy of a recently dead cult member shows that he drowned, Will is called in to investigate the cult. It was a pretty good book which I read through to find out who did it. McKinty is from Northern Ireland and is known for his Sean Duffy Detective series which I have not read.

The last book I finished was Kim Stanley Robinson’s “science-fiction nonfiction novel” The Ministry for the Future”. The book is set in the near future and is all about humanity dealing with climate change. The story is centered around Mary Murphy who heads the United Nations Ministry of the Future. The organization represents future generations and lobbies central banks, governments and multinational corporations to reduce their carbon footprint and lessen the impact of climate change. There is also an unbelievably successful shadow eco-terrorist group that murders oil executives, takes out commercial jets and attacks anyone or anything that is adding carbon to the atmosphere. The book starts with an intense heat wave in India that kills millions.

Robinson puts in a lot of factual essays and information between scenes from the main narrative. There is a lot to chew on in the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot.

  • Humanity soon realizes that “the planet is incapable of sustaining everyone alive at Western levels, and at that point the riches pulled away into their fortress-mansions, bought governments or disabled them from action, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized better time, which really came down to their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic.”
  • The UN measures inequality, which is a big driver of climate change, through their Human Development Index. The Happy Planet Index created by the New Economic Forum, measures reported well-being, life expectancy and inequality incomes, divided by econlogical footprint. The US scores 20.1 out of 100, ranking 108 of 140 countries. Gini Coefficients,devised by Italian sociologist Corrado Gini in 1912, is a measure of income and wealth disparity in a population. It is expressed as a fraction between 0 (everyone is equal) to 1 (one person owns everything). In the mid twenty first century, social democracies like Norway are a bit below 0.3. USA and China have risen from 0.3-0.4 to 0.5-0.6. Cumulatively, globally the number rises to 0.7 because of so many poor people around the world. Disparities in wealth have been rapidly increasing since 1980 and we are nearing the Gilded Age of the 1890s and perhaps even the feudal ear.
  • “The assumption is that future people will be richer and more powerful than we are, so they’ll deal with any problems we create for them.”
  • Since there will be so many more future people, estimates of 800 billion, then the current 7 billion humans should be doing more for them.
  • India features prominently in the novel as one of the leading countries in the battle against climate change.
  • Jevon’s Paradox proposes that increases in efficiency in the use of a resource lead to an overall increase in the use of the resource, not a decrease. William Stanley Jevons wrote this about coal in 1865. Other examples are better gas mileage results in more miles driven; faster computer processing time results in more time spent on computers.
  • Leopoldian land ethic, often summarized as “what’s good is what’s good for the land”.
  • “Humans evolved in ice ages, and properly dressed are good in the cold. Just deal!”
  • Worker owned enterprises in Basque country are the way of the future. 1/3 of profits go to employee/owners, 1/3 to capital improvements and 1/3 given to charities chosen by the employees. The wage ratio between management’s top salary and the minimum level of pay is set at 3:1, 5:1 or at the most 9:1.
  • Los Angeles after WWII changed dramatically because developers were getting rich making ticky-tack suburban neighborhoods – that an putting in freeways, which cut the coastal plain into a hundred giant squares with no plans, no parks, no organization.
  • If all central banks went block-chain and digital currency, that would put an end to tax havens and hiding money.
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death tells the story of the elites having a masquerade ball on a castle on a peak above a plague-wrought populace. The syndrome is an assertion that the end is imminent and inevitable so you might as well party while you can.
  • Some of the solutions for climate change include rewilding 50% of every country and/or continent and creating wildlife corridors between huge areas of wilderness. People are diurnal and animals nocturnal so lots of motion on the corridors at night. This was called the Half Earth Movement.
  • Navy admirals’s salaries top out at $200,000 which is a ratio of 8:1 to the lowest sailor. Admirals are “normal” and there is a great espirit de corps. In the corporate world, the median is 1,500:1. Some executives make in 10 minutes what starting employees earn in a year. If the lowest level of salary of any company is enough to live a decent life, the CEO should be limited to a 10:1 ratio.
  • Public goods (food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, health care and education) should all be public goods and never subjected to appropriation, exploitation and profit.
  • Save the earth through a new earth religion.
  • Housing coops are common, single people sharing kitchens and yards.
  • When Mary Murphy retires and settles in Switzerland, before she felt “an international person living an international life. Now she was a foreign-born Zurcher, living in Zurich. “Their culture doesn’t matter so much just language. That I find is the great connector.”

Vocabulary

  • Earth’s “albedo” – proportion of the planet’s light that is reflected back into space
  • India’s way has always been “syncretic” – merging of different religions and cultures
  • “lacuna” – gap
  • tautology – saying the same thing twice in different words
  • fiat – a decree
  • Gordian Knot – a difficult problem

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