Books of 2015, #29: Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell

The truth is, I didn’t know a damned thing about Hawaii’s history other than the fact that it was “discovered” by Captain Cook, and it was made a state in the same year my wife was born.

I was, in some ways, happier not knowing anything more than that—since to know more than that is to have to once again face the realization that the United States of America is not Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”, so much as (pardon the mixing of metaphors) a fucking lighthouse warning people away from the headlands of that famous road to Hell. You know, the one paved in good intentions?

80 years, roughly—that’s how long it took for Protestant missionaries and their avaricious children to steal a country away from its people, all the while telling everyone that they were doing it for their own good.

And make no mistake: it was stolen. At the time of the first Treaty of Annexation, the majority of citizens were documented as rejecting it. God love ’em, the Democrats at the time defeated it…though only because they were bigots worried about the possibility of enfranchising inferior races. Sometimes if feels like we are conceptually incapable of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

So it became a territory under the table, in a joint resolution that should never have been binding—Hell, I’m almost surprised the Republican party didn’t take up the cause of reversing Hawaii’s statehood as illegal and a grave injustice done to a soveriegn people, as a real way to claim President Obama wasn’t a citizen.

Of course, that was only the final act in a multi-decade con in which supposedly God-fearing New Englanders systematically manipulated the rulers of a relatively isolated and unworldly kingdom for their own venal ends; although from this modern perspective—and, admittedly, with the aid of someone building a narrative on it—you can see them telegraph every move, I have to imagine that it unfolded in real time much more bewilderingly for the ruling family.

I thought the reward for a good life for Christians was supposed to be the Kingdom of Heaven, not the Kingdom of Hawaii. Feh.

Books of 2015, #20: Radio On: A Listener’s Diary, Sarah Vowell

The Wordy Shipmates was a book I enjoyed immensely, as was Assassination Vacation. The piece that Sarah Vowell did on This American Life regarding the “victory lap” Lafayette’s did of the US 50 years after the revolution—that is presumably the basis for her new book coming out in October—moved me to tears. She’s always a fun guest on The Daily Show.

Radio On was a bit of a slog, though not without points of interest.

I think it’s because so much of it just sounded…irritable. Annoyed. Even when the annoyance is understandable, it doesn’t necessarily make for fun reading—and I don’t really care enough about radio to necessarily even find her annoyance understandable, so at times it just grates.

Still, this book is an interesting time capsule for a number of reasons.

I guess the most significant is that towards the end, Sarah is there around the creation of This American Life.

But long before that—happening before the start of the book, and hovering over it like, well, a ghost—is the suicide of Kurt Cobain the year before; an event that I also felt pretty acutely. I can remember quite clearly staying up all night watching MTV for news about it. It was, coincidentally, the first time I saw the video for Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, because MTV would even only show the blurred-out version late, late at night.

The other thread of events that run through the whole book that I remember clearly is the fallout from the midterm elections in 1994—Newt Gingrich and the “Contract for America”, and the government shutdown, etc. It was annoying to see the same sort of crap play out last year.

Plenty of other people and things pop up that I wouldn’t have known then that I know now. David Sedaris is mentioned. The Internet, or at least the World Wide Web, is a very new thing, and there’s a couple of passages that effectively presage blogging, which is incredibly amusing in hindsight.

I dunno if I can really recommend it. It’s not bad, but it’s also not a strong narrative; it’s a diary, and it shows.