Monthly Archives: June 2013

What then shall we do?

What then shall we do? Straight talk about the next American revolution by Gar Alperovitz (Chelsea Green, 2013)

This book’s goal is to offer practical guidance and hope to discouraged liberal activists who feel that our political and economic systems are broken.  His audience is the many Americans who don’t like the direction the U.S. is going and are looking for alternatives to corporate capitalism, but don’t want state socialism either. Dr. Alperovitz doesn’t propose a literal revolution, but some of his economic ideas are quite radical. He calls his approach a “checkerboard,” where democratization of local economies gradually accumulate and snowball into a systemic change. Many of his proposals center around democratizing wealth, by creating worker-owned businesses and cooperatives, and making utilities, hospitals and other service-oriented firms publicly held. In addition to the opportunities for individuals to benefit more equitably from their labor, local economies become more stable and sustainable when enterprises are owned by local residents rather than by companies that constantly pull up stakes. Dr. Alperovitz cites a surprising number of examples where the ideas he proposes have already been carried out here in the U.S, but urges us to think bigger – why not consider public ownership of banks, telecom firms, or even large manufacturing firms? Many countries outside the U.S. have national airlines, national banks, or national telephone companies. Of course some would call that socialism, but it’s not a completely socialist system unless everything is state-owned. This is a book that will have you questioning your assumptions.


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Canada: a novel

Canada by Richard Ford (HarperCollins, 2012)

This novel isn’t really about Canada, although the main character does end up there. If I were Canadian I would be rather offended at the idea that the small snapshot of time (about 6 months in 1960) and space in this book in any way represents the entire country. Be that as it may, it’s an absorbing and well-written story. The protagonist is a 15 year old Montana boy whose parents are put in jail for robbing a bank, and he is taken to a remote town in Saskatchewan and made to fend to himself. Looking back on these events fifty years later, he indicates that he turned out all right, despite this treatment – he is a happily married Canadian high school teacher. Although this novel is written in a literary style (meaning a great deal of time is spent on personal reflection), it does have a unique setting and characters and an unusual plot that keeps things moving. I was horrified that whoever took this book out before me wrote all over it in pen, as if he or she were studying it for an English class and forgot it wasn’t theirs.

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Local dollars, local sense

Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman (Chelsea Green, 2012)

The goal of this book is to describe how we can invest our money locally instead of in multi-national companies. If you’re like me, your first question is “What money?” A lot of Shuman’s advice is addressed to people who have actual money to invest (and who understand finance). The rest of us are so far from having any money to invest that we had no idea that only accredited investors (those with income over $200,000) can legally invest in companies. However, he points out that most Americans who are employed full time put money in retirement plans, which are invested in the stock market for us.  This money could potentially be invested elsewhere, for example in local enterprises. After explaining how U.S. securities laws make it tough for anyone to invest locally, Shuman illustrates some of the ways we can get around them. His favorites seem to be cooperatives and local banks and credit unions. Shuman does not claim that investing locally will make us rich. He focuses on the good we will do for our local economies, and says that it is likely we won’t be any worse off financially than if we invested in far away enterprises. Investing locally does require that our state of residence offers the types of local opportunities he’s talking about though, since the law is apparently very stringent about restricting investments to state residents. Since my state is the home of so many national and international financial companies, I expect we’ll be one of the last ones to develop homegrown alternatives.

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Farside by Ben Bova (Tom Doherty Associates, 2013)

Farside is the latest novel from longtime science fiction writer and six-time Hugo Award winner Ben Bova. It takes place only 50 -75 years in the future, with appropriate nods in passing to the changes wrought on Earth by global warming. But the focus is on the Moon, where there is a colony called Selene and a new astronomy observatory on the farside (the side of the Moon that never sees the Earth). The main characters include a young astronomer starting her first professional job, an engineer struggling to keep his job, a nanotechnology researcher, and an older astronomer who is desperate for recognition. The point of view switches between the characters as they interact and compete in this unusual and dangerous milieu. This is the first novel I have read with the theme of nanotechnology going out of control (nano-sized holes can cause a lot of damage in an airless environment). I don’t think that nanotechnology is really as dangerous as portrayed here, but Bova certainly gives us something to think about as nanotechnology starts appearing in more and more applications in our present-day world.

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Trading in Danger

Trading in Danger by  Elizabeth Moon (Random House, 2003)

This is an older novel which I bought off of the book sale shelf at the library for my train trip. Like almost all of Elizabeth Moon’s books it begins with a young girl at a military academy. In this one the girl is kicked out of the academy for some crime which is not very well explained. Luckily her family owns a major interstellar shipping company and is happy to give her a job as captain of one of the older ships (they didn’t really approve of her joining the space force anyway). The book tells of her dangerous adventures on her first voyage, when communication with her family is cut off by war on a planet she visits at the wrong time. Of course lots of unexpected things go wrong, but she keeps a level head and comes out all right in the end.

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Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Publishing, 2012)

This was a pretty entertaining science fiction book, somewhat less militaristic than most. It takes place a millennium or so in the future, when many planets have been colonized and various empires created. The main character has a military desk job, but also has a cousin in military intelligence who tends to get him involved in “situations.” The solution to this particular diplomatic situation seemed to be marriage. Though it was not intended to be permanent, the hastily wed couple turned out to be very happy together and decided to stay married. I expect (and hope) that this is the start of an enjoyable new series by Bujold.

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