Monday, September 22, 2014
When I lived in Northern California, a friend and I visited another friend who lived in Humboldt County. I remember being warned to look up in the trees before even thinking about smoking outdoors. At that time, the local law enforcement would wait for unsuspecting college kids to light up in the woods and then rappel down from trees to bust them - or so the story went. The other thing I remember about that trip was seeing the absolutely wonderfully crazy Kinetic Grand Championship - formerly known as the Kinetic Sculpture Race. Imagine two to five people racing over 40 miles in a bike sculpture that also needs to be able to move through sand and float on water. For these reasons and more, when I saw Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier by Emily Brady I knew I wanted to read it.
The book centers on four different people: Mare - an older hippie, Crockett - a younger grower, Emma - a student who grew up in Humboldt, and Bob - a deputy sheriff who patrols all of the southern part of the county (usually by himself). Mare is interested in growing marijuana for medicinal use, Crockett wants to make as much money as he can before cannabis is legalized in the state and the black market is killed. Emma is trying to understand why so many of the young people she grew up with have died. And Bob realized a long time ago that the country's War on Drugs was a complete waste of time and money. Each person's stories are interspersed with the others to tell the larger story of what life is like for those who live in Humboldt. Brady spent more than a year living in the county doing research and gaining trust from the inhabitants. This is a compelling book with memorable characters and stories.
Monday, September 15, 2014
“On Black Mesa we, as a society, are engaged in destroying some of our oldest sustainable Native American cultures so that people in Phoenix and Las Vegas can water their hundreds of golf courses, swim in swimming pools, and pretend they live in a desert miracle.”
Unreal City: Las Vegas, BlackMesa, and the Fate of the West by Judith Nies is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Arizona. She describes how public officials partnered with coal, utility and water industries to monopolize resources under the Hopi/Navajo reservations to fuel development in Las Vegas, Phoenix and California. Described as a ‘centuries-old land dispute’ between two tribes, Nies insists, “It is actually an example of a global phenomenon in which giant transnational corporations have the power to separate indigenous people from their energy-rich lands with the help of host governments.”
The history of corruption uncovered is deep and detailed. She ties together shady partnerships hidden behind the Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project, and the Navajo Generating Station power plant near Black Mesa – all touted as heroic public works projects created to serve local communities while they were secretly generating huge profits for private corporations. Read Unreal City and you will discover a history unwritten in the pages of mainstream textbooks.
Monday, September 8, 2014
In The Deportation of Wopper Barraza, aimless Wopper Barraza drifts and drinks and, after his fourth drunk driving arrest, is deported to Mexico. His father views it as an opportunity for Wopper to rebuild the family rancho, and dispatches his son with a map and suitcase bulging with appliances and clothing to distribute among the locals. After arriving in La Morada, the luckless deportee discovers a squatter has planted the family fields and built a house on the Barraza land. Soon the squatter's daughter is sleeping in Wopper's bed, and maneuvering him to a political appointment on the platform of modernizing La Morada. But opposition is fierce and talk is treacherous, as Wopper navigates through the hidden agendas and artifice of small town politics. Told through multiple voices - including his pregnant American girlfriend and his parents - Wopper's deportation is a lively journey across multiple borders and cultures.