Review (Guest): American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

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Colin Woodard

Phi Beta Iota:  Elevated to four stars on recommendation of Chuck Spinney.  Synopsis of book in article for:  A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party

3.0 out of 5 stars How many sub-nations compose the USA?,October 10, 2011

Many people think of the United States as a nation with two regional or sub-national entities — the North and the South. The two sub-nations have identifiable differences in outlook. The South, a traditionally rural and agricultural region, has always been perceived to have a relatively conservative and individualistic outlook, oriented toward small government and states rights. The North, dominated by urbanized commercial centers, has always been relatively more aligned with big government agendas, a natural characteristic of densely populated areas where most people’s livelihoods are derived from industry and commerce.

The geographical, political, and cultural divides between the North and South have been fairly well defined by the “Mason-Dixon Line” — approximately the line of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers . Indeed states like Kentucky and Maryland are called “Border States” as if they were on an international frontier. And of course a military frontier DID materialize between the North and South when the Southern sub-nation attempted to assert its sovereignty during the Civil War.

This great divide between the Northern and Southern sub-nations continues to this day. I’ve read commentaries from foreigners who explain the politics of the United States as consisting of a struggle for dominance between the Northern and Southern sub-nations. We Americans refer to this as the “Red State / Blue State” divide. So the idea of the USA consisting of two sub-nations is well established.

The question this book addresses is whether it makes sense to subdivide the United States into MORE THAN TWO subnational entities. Others have asked this question before. Joel Garreau wrote about it in 1981 in his book THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA. I read NINE NATIONS then and concluded that it was partially valid in an economic sense, i.e. relatively more Westerners earn their livelihoods from mining, relatively more people on the Great Plains earn their living from growing wheat and corn and livestock, and relatively more Northerners earn their living from Industry. So from that perspective there are arguably nine economic nations in North America. But Garreau did not convince me that there are more than two political sub-nations inside the USA.

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Oct 18

Review/Reference: Black World Books by Trevor Paglen

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Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes is Trevor Paglen’s long-awaited first photographic monograph. Social scientist, artist, writer and provocateur, Paglen has been exploring the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies–the “black world”–for the last eight years, publishing, speaking and making astonishing photographs. As an artist, Paglen is interested in the idea of photography as truth-telling, but his pictures often stop short of traditional ideas of documentation. In the series Limit Telephotography, for example, he employs high-end optical systems to photograph top-secret governmental sites; and in The Other Night Sky, he uses the data of amateur satellite watchers to track and photograph classified spacecraft in Earth’s orbit. In other works Paglen transforms documents such as passports, flight data and aliases of CIA operatives into art objects. Rebecca Solnit contributes a searing essay that traces this history of clandestine military activity on the American landscape.

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Blank Spots: According to Trevor Paglen, a geographer by trade, this black world can bounded by adroit compilation of blank areas on official maps, deleted passages from official documents, and acute observations of restricted areas and activities. Well he has certainly done a very thorough job of it. He begins with the secret and unacknowledged government test sites scattered throughout the country, but especially in the South Western U.S. that actually employ an astonishingly large number military and civilian workers yet still are literarily off the map. He subsequently tackles such arcane topics as black operations, black funding, and a host of other unacknowledged, often denied, U.S. activities including questionable and even illegal programs and operations. Perhaps the most discouraging information he provides is how easily it is for officials of the black world to hoodwink congress and the media, both nominal guards against government excesses. Certainly the most astonishing thing he reveals is that the black world in total may employ as many as 4 million military and civilians who carry secret or higher clearances. The fact that this many people can be involved and yet so many black activities remain completely off the gird is pretty scary in itself.   This reviewer has tremendous respect for the academic discipline of geography. It combines some of the best features of social and physical science and perhaps is the most effective system for understanding the phenomenon of Globalization. Some 60 years ago one branch of geography that was called “cultural geography” sought to describe the relationship between societies and the environment in which they lived. The term may no longer be used, but Paglen is a cultural geographer in the best sense of the term.  [Retired Reader]

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I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World

Shown here for the first time, these sixty patches reveal a secret world of military imagery and jargon, where classified projects are known by peculiar names (“Goat Suckers,” “None of Your Fucking Business,” “Tastes Like Chicken”) and illustrated with occult symbols and ridiculous cartoons. Although the actual projects represented here (such as the notorious Area 51) are classified, these patches—which are worn by military units working on classified missions—are precisely photographed, strangely hinting at a world about which little is known.

By submitting hundreds of Freedom of Information requests, the author has also assembled an extensive and readable guide to the patches included here, making this volume one of the best available surveys of the military’s black world—a $27 billion industry that has quietly grown by almost 50 percent since 9/11.

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Since 9/11, the CIA has quietly kidnapped more than a hundred people and detained them at prisons throughout the world. It is called ”extraordinary rendition,” and it is part of the largest U.S. clandestine operation since the end of the Cold War.

They find that nearly five years after 9/11, the kidnappings have not stopped. On the contrary, the rendition program has been formalized, colluding with the military when necessary, and constantly changing its cover to remain hidden from sight.

“Shows just how far two guys without any highplaced government contacts can go in blowing open a story of global import.” — The San Francisco Chronicle

“The cool, almost dispassionate tone…. makes their book all the more disturbing.” — The Washington Examiner

“The logistics of torture, and the public’s role in the brutal business…. the book excels at filling in blanks.” — TIME OUT Chicago

“The real thing… and not on the evening news. Go figure.” — New York Times

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Oct 2

Review: The Atlas of Water, Second Edition–Mapping the World’s Most Critical Resource

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5.0 out of 5 stars Single Best Book on Content, Visuals, and Price

August 26, 2010

Maggie Black and Jannet King

This is one of twelve books on Water that I have read or am reading, expecting to get through all of them in the near term.

In comparison to the other works, this is the single best book when considering content, visuals, and price. This is the one book to buy if you want just one book and for that reason it is the only 6 in the lot, although Marq de Villier’s book, the last one listed below, is in that group as well as the first book to really put it all together. Here are ten other books, reviews for all of which will be posted here at Amazon and at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog where you can access all my reviews on books about water with one click.

The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water
Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institution Building (Global Environmental Accord: Strategies for Sustainability and Institutional Innovation)
Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It
Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water
Whose Water Is It?: The Unquenchable Thirst of a Water-Hungry World
Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

It is a real shame the publisher has not posted the table of contents, which I find to be one of the most holistic and useful I have seen in a very long time, and/or used Inside the Book capabilities that Amazon makes so easily available.

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Aug 26

Review: Mapping Sustainability–Knowledge e-Networking and the Value Chain

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3.0 out of 5 stars 5 for Potential Value, ZERO for Greed Pricing

August 21, 2010

Nazli Choucri (Author, Editor), Dinsha Mistree (Editor), Farnaz Haghseta (Editor), Toufic Mezher (Editor), Wallace R. Baker (Editor), Carlos I. Ortiz (Editor)

I was about to buy this book when I noticed the price–$189. This is, once again, a situation where the authors have to think clearly when arranging for publication. News flash: you can still publish and be listed on Amazon, get the publication credit, and NOT be a prisoner to a greedy publisher out of touch with the information society. It is not enough to be published–one must be published in a manner that makes the knowledge accessible to all others, not “locked down” by publisher over-pricing.

Springer is offering it for $139, and Barnes & Noble is offering it for $103.

An online version is offered but Springer site is not at all friendly and there is no obvious price-checkout option for guests.

This book should be selling for no more than $49.00. I am adding it to my Amazon list of outrageously priced books antithetical to the needs of society.

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Aug 21