Sunday, April 20, 2014
Earlier today in the Indian state of Gujarat, a 15-year-old boy walking on a wooden bridge across a river fell into the water and died in the jaws of a crocodile.
China's Second Continent
Nonfiction book by Howard W. French
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
An exciting, hugely revealing account of China's burgeoning presence in Africa — a developing empire already shaping, and reshaping, the future of millions of people.
A prizewinning foreign correspondent and former New York Times bureau chief in Shanghai and in West and Central Africa, Howard French is uniquely positioned to tell the story of China in Africa. Through meticulous on-the-ground reporting — conducted in Mandarin, French, and Portuguese, among other languages — French crafts a layered investigation of astonishing depth and breadth as he engages not only with policy-shaping moguls and diplomats, but also with the ordinary men and women navigating the street-level realities of cooperation, prejudice, corruption, and opportunity forged by this seismic geopolitical development. With incisiveness and empathy, French reveals the human face of China's economic, political, and human presence across the African continent — and in doing so reveals what is at stake for everyone involved.
We meet a broad spectrum of China's dogged emigrant population, from those singlehandedly reshaping African infrastructure, commerce, and even environment (a self-made tycoon who harnessed Zambia’s now-booming copper trade; a timber entrepreneur determined to harvest the entirety of Liberia's old-growth redwoods), to those just barely scraping by (a sibling pair running small businesses despite total illiteracy; a karaoke bar owner-cum-brothel madam), still convinced that Africa affords them better opportunities than their homeland. And we encounter an equally panoramic array of African responses: a citizens' backlash in Senegal against a "Trojan horse" Chinese construction project (a tower complex to be built over a beloved soccer field, which locals thought would lead to overbearing Chinese pressure on their economy); a Zambian political candidate who, having protested China's intrusiveness during the previous election and lost, now turns accommodating; the ascendant middle class of an industrial boomtown; African mine workers bitterly condemning their foreign employers, citing inadequate safety precautions and wages a fraction of their immigrant counterparts'.
French's nuanced portraits reveal the paradigms forming around this new world order, from the all-too-familiar echoes of colonial ambition — exploitation of resources and labor; cut-rate infrastructure projects; dubious treaties — to new frontiers of cultural and economic exchange, where dichotomies of suspicion and trust, assimilation and isolation, idealism and disillusionment are in dynamic flux.
Part intrepid travelogue, part cultural census, part industrial and political exposé, French's keenly observed account ultimately offers a fresh perspective on the most pressing unknowns of modern Sino-African relations: why China is making the incursions it is, just how extensive its cultural and economic inroads are, what Africa's role in the equation is, and just what the ramifications for both parties — and the watching world — will be in the foreseeable future.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Nonfiction book by William Stadiem
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
In October 1958, Pan American World Airways began making regularly scheduled flights between New York and Paris, courtesy of its newly minted wonder jet, the Boeing 707. Almost overnight, the moneyed celebrities of the era made Europe their playground. At the same time, the dream of international travel came true for thousands of ordinary Americans who longed to emulate the "jet set" lifestyle.
Bestselling author and Vanity Fair contributor William Stadiem brings that Jet Age dream to life again in the first-ever book about the glamorous decade when Americans took to the skies in massive numbers as never before, with the rich and famous elbowing their way to the front of the line. Dishy anecdotes and finely rendered character sketches re-create the world of luxurious airplanes, exclusive destinations, and beautiful, wealthy trendsetters who turned transatlantic travel into an inalienable right. It was the age of Camelot and "Come Fly with Me," Grace Kelly at the Prince's Palace in Monaco, and Mary Quant miniskirts on the streets of Swinging London. Men still wore hats, stewardesses showed plenty of leg, and the beach at Saint-Tropez was just a seven-hour flight away.
Jet Set reads like a who's who of the fabulous and well connected, from the swashbuckling "skycoons" who launched the jet fleet to the playboys, moguls, and financiers who kept it flying. Among the bold-face names on the passenger manifest: Juan Trippe, the Yale-educated WASP with the Spanish-sounding name who parlayed his fraternity contacts into a tiny airmail route that became the world's largest airline, Pan Am; couturier to the stars Oleg Cassini, the Kennedy administration's "Secretary of Style," and his social climbing brother Igor, who became the most powerful gossip columnist in America — then lost it all in one of the juiciest scandals of the century; Temple Fielding, the high-rolling high priest of travel guides, and his budget-conscious rival Arthur Frommer; Conrad Hilton, the New Mexico cowboy who built the most powerful luxury hotel chain on earth; and Mary Wells Lawrence, the queen bee of Madison Avenue whose suggestive ads for Braniff and other airlines brought sex appeal to the skies.
Like a superfueled episode of Mad Men, Jet Set evokes a time long gone but still vibrant in American memory. This is a rollicking, sexy romp through the ring-a-ding glory years of air travel, when escape was the ultimate aphrodisiac and the smiles were as wide as the aisles.
Brazil: The Fortunes of War
Nonfiction book by Neill Lochery
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
An acclaimed historian unravels Brazil's deft geopolitical machinations during World War II, showing how the country became a modern nation by first manipulating, then joining, the Allied powers.
When World War II erupted in 1939, Brazil seemed a world away. Lush, remote, and underdeveloped, the country and its capital of Rio de Janeiro lured international travelers seeking a respite from the drums of the war. "Rio: at the end of civilization, as we know it," claimed Orson Welles as he set out for the city in 1942. But Brazil's bucolic reputation as a distant land of palm trees and pristine beaches masked a more complex reality — one that the country's leaders were busily exploiting in a desperate gambit to secure Brazil's place in the modern world.
In Brazil, acclaimed historian Neill Lochery reveals the secret history of the country's involvement in World War II, showing how the cunning statecraft and economic opportunism of Brazil's leaders transformed it into a regional superpower over the course of the war. Brazil's natural resources and proximity to the United States made it strategically invaluable to both the Allies and the Axis, a fact that the country's dictator, Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, keenly understood. In the war's early years, Vargas and a handful of his close advisors dexterously played both sides against each other, generating enormous wealth for Brazil and fundamentally transforming its economy and infrastructure.
But Brazil's cozy neutrality was not to last. Forced to choose sides, Vargas declared war on the Axis powers and sent 25,000 troops to the European theater. This Brazilian expeditionary force arrived too late — and was called home too early — to secure a significant role for Brazil in the postwar order. But within Brazil, at least, Vargas had made his mark, ensuring Rio's emergence as a major international city and effectively remaking Brazil as a modern nation.
A fast-paced tale of war and diplomatic intrigue, Brazil reveals a long-buried chapter of World War II and the little-known origins of one of the world's emerging economic powerhouses.
Friday, April 18, 2014
In India's state of Odisha, a 61-year-old goatherd died when he took his goats into a forest today. Wildlife rangers blamed the man's death on a herd of 10 to 12 wild elephants in the area.
The Burning Shore
Nonfiction book by Ed Offley
The thrilling, untold story of two men — an American pilot and a German U-boat commander — whose vicious clash off the coast of North Carolina in 1942 brought the horrors of World War II to American shores.
On June 15, 1942, as thousands of vacationers lounged in the sun at Virginia Beach, two massive fireballs erupted just offshore from a convoy of oil tankers steaming into Chesapeake Bay. While men, women, and children gaped from the shore, two damaged oil tankers fell out of line and began to sink. Then a small escort warship blew apart in a violent explosion. Navy warships and aircraft peppered the water with depth charges, but to no avail. Within the next twenty-four hours, a fourth ship lay at the bottom of the channel — all victims of twenty-nine-year-old Kapitänleutnant Horst Degen and his crew aboard the German U-boat U-701.
In The Burning Shore, acclaimed military reporter Ed Offley presents a thrilling account of the bloody U-boat offensive along America's east coast during the first half of 1942, using the story of Degen's three war patrols as a lens through which to view this forgotten chapter of World War II. For six months, German U-boats prowled the waters off the eastern seaboard, sinking merchant ships with impunity, and threatening to sever the lifeline of supplies flowing from America to Great Britain. Degen's successful infiltration of the Chesapeake Bay in mid-June drove home the U-boats' success, and his spectacular attack terrified the American public as never before. But Degen's cruise was interrupted less than a month later, when U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant Harry J. Kane and his aircrew spotted the silhouette of U-701 offshore. The ensuing clash signaled a critical turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic — and set the stage for an unlikely friendship between two of the episode's survivors.
A gripping tale of heroism and sacrifice, The Burning Shore leads readers into a little-known theater of World War II, where Hitler's U-boats came close to winning the Battle of the Atlantic before American sailors and airmen could finally drive them away.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Defending the City of God
Nonfiction book by Sharan Newman
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Jerusalem sits at the crossroads of three continents and has been continuously invaded for millennia. Yet, in the middle of one of the region’s most violent eras, the Crusades, an amazing multicultural world was forming. Templar knights, Muslim peasants, Turkish caliphs, Jewish merchants, and the native Christians, along with the children of the first crusaders, blended cultures while struggling to survive in a land constantly at war. Defending the City of God explores this fascinating and forgotten world, and how a group of sisters, daughters of the King of Jerusalem, whose supporters included Grand Masters of the Templars and Armenian clerics, held together the fragile treaties, understandings, and marriages that allowed for relative peace among the many different factions. As the crusaders fought to maintain their conquests, these relationships quickly unraveled, and the religious and cultural diversity was lost as hardline factions took over. Weaving together the political intrigues and dynastic battles that transformed the Near East with an evocative portrait of medieval Jerusalem, this is an astonishing look at a forgotten side of the first Crusades.
Melville House: "The award-winning Melville International Crime Series features works of edgy literature from around the world that — like the books of the founding fathers of noir, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain — have something to say about the real crimes of modern society."
NASA: "Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the 'habitable zone' — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun."
One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, was on a field trip with her father in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled upon an orchid they had never seen before.
Unable to identify it, they contacted German Carnevali, a world authority on orchids. The orchid turned out to be an unnamed species. So Carnevali recently named it after the Silveras: Lophiaris silverarum.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Temptations of Power
Nonfiction book by Shadi Hamid
Oxford University Press:
In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously announced the "end of history." The Berlin Wall had fallen; liberal democracy had won out. But what of illiberal democracy — the idea that popular majorities, working through the democratic process, might reject gender equality, religious freedoms, and other norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups to power.
In Temptations of Power, Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with leaders and activists from across the region to advance a new understanding of how Islamist movements change over time. He puts forward the bold thesis that repression "forced" Islamists to moderate their politics, work in coalitions, de-emphasize Islamic law, and set aside the dream of an Islamic state. Meanwhile, democratic openings in the 1980s — and again during the Arab Spring — pushed Islamists back toward their original conservatism. With the uprisings of 2011, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one for which they were unprepared. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of both political parties and religious movements, leading to an inherent tension they have struggled to resolve. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and significant backlash. Yet, while the Egyptian coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist "project," obituaries of political Islam are premature.
As long as the battle over the role of religion in public life continues, Islamist parties in countries as diverse as Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power. But what are the key factors driving their evolution? A timely and provocative reassessment, Hamid's account serves as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region's varied Islamist groups have come from and where they might be headed.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The People's Republic of Amnesia
Nonfiction book by Louisa Lim
Oxford University Press:
On June 4, 1989, People's Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, killing untold hundreds of people. A quarter-century later, this defining event remains buried in China's modern history, successfully expunged from collective memory. In The People's Republic of Amnesia, NPR correspondent Louisa Lim charts how the events of June 4th changed China, and how China changed the events of June 4th by rewriting its own history.Related: NPR
Lim reveals new details about those fateful days, including how one of the country's most senior politicians lost a family member to an army bullet, as well as the inside story of the young soldiers sent to clear Tiananmen Square. She also introduces us to individuals whose lives were transformed by the events of Tiananmen Square, such as a founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, whose son was shot by martial law troops; and one of the most important government officials in the country, who post-Tiananmen became one of its most prominent dissidents. And she examines how June 4th shaped China's national identity, fostering a generation of young nationalists, who know little and care less about 1989. For the first time, Lim uncovers the details of a brutal crackdown in a second Chinese city that until now has been a near-perfect case study in the state's ability to rewrite history, excising the most painful episodes. By tracking down eyewitnesses, discovering US diplomatic cables, and combing through official Chinese records, Lim offers the first account of a story that has remained untold for a quarter of a century. The People's Republic of Amnesia is an original, powerfully gripping, and ultimately unforgettable book about a national tragedy and an unhealed wound.
Monday, April 14, 2014
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):
Being in the desert for 40 years is not just a biblical narrative; it's also the story of the Shadow Wolves. For 40 years, this elite special unit of tactical officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has been scouring about 5,000 square miles of vast southwestern desert tribal land, 75 miles of which are located on the U.S-Mexico border, known as the Tohono O'odham Nation. About 28,000 Native Americans call this region their home.
This area is a major corridor for contraband coming in from Mexico, where it then moves north.
HSI Sells, in Arizona, is the only HSI office in the United States based in Indian country. The Wolves, or tactical officers, work with criminal investigators toward the common goal of dismantling narcotics and human smuggling organizations that operate on the tribal land.
On April 14, 1974, the first seven Shadow Wolf recruits took their oath of office under ICE's legacy agency, U.S Customs Service. Today, HSI Sells has nine Shadow Wolves within its ranks.
"The mere fact that the Wolves are Native Americans allows them to better interact with the Nation's citizens," said Angel Rascon, HSI Sells assistant special agent in charge. "Not only do most of the Wolves speak the native language, but their unmatched knowledge of the area is a tremendous tool."
Rather than relying solely on high-tech gadgetry — night-vision goggles or motion sensors buried in the ground — members of this unit "cut for sign." The "sign" is physical evidence — footprints, a dangling thread, a broken twig, a discarded piece of clothing or tire tracks — while "cutting" is analyzing the sign once it's found.
As their name implies, the Shadow Wolves hunt like a wolf pack. If one wolf finds prey, it will call in the rest of the pack, meaning the Shadow Wolves converge in an area where evidence of criminal activity is found.
In one HSI investigation, the Shadow Wolves seized nearly two tons of marijuana after tracking the tire tracks of two vehicles.
Shadow Wolf Supervisory Tactical Officer Kevin Carlos, who has been a Shadow Wolf since 1997, said that smugglers and traffickers of illegal contraband use the remoteness of the area to their advantage.
"As law enforcement tactics change, so do the smuggling tactics," said Carlos.
For instance, criminal organizations now use an elaborate network of spotters. Spotters, situated on mountain tops, keep their eyes peeled for law enforcement activity. Using cell phones or encrypted radios, the spotters give the all-clear or warn their cohorts not to advance, depending on whether or not law enforcement activity is spotted below.
While today's Shadow Wolves stick to the same sleuthing techniques as their forebears, they are not averse to using modern methods or equipment. Instead of a horse, the Shadow Wolf rides an all-terrain vehicle. Each Wolf is equipped with a GPS device and a state-of-the-art radio for communication. Their weaponry has also been updated.
As world renowned trackers, the Shadow Wolves travel all over the globe at the request of foreign nations. They've been to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland and Romania, among other countries. They share their knowledge of ancient tracking skills with customs officials, border guards and national police of foreign governments interested in protecting their own borders. In Sept. 2013, the Shadow Wolves provided training to Ukraine and Moldovan border guards.
"In a high-tech world, Native American tracking is an art that can easily be lost," said Carlos. "The Shadow Wolves are actively using and preserving time-honored and proven skills at a time when the stakes are as high as they've ever been, with people trying to bring contraband and other threats into the United States."
California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI):
Killer sponges sound like creatures from a B-grade horror movie. In fact, they thrive in the lightless depths of the deep sea. Scientists first discovered that some sponges are carnivorous about 20 years ago. Since then only seven carnivorous species have been found in all of the northeastern Pacific. A new paper authored by MBARI marine biologist Lonny Lundsten and two Canadian researchers describes four new species of carnivorous sponges living on the deep seafloor, from the Pacific Northwest to Baja California.