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Books 1-10.
Books 11-20.
Books 21-30.
Books 31-40.
Books 41-50.
Books 51-60.
Books 61-70.
Books 71-80.
Books 81-90.
91. The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: Everybody Ever Forever by Justin Pierce.
92. Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin.
93. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.
94. Strip Jack by Ian Rankin.

95. Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Over-the-top (in the best way) allegorical epic about an African dictatorship based on Daniel arap Moi's presidency in Kenya--Ngũgĩ was imprisoned by Moi and then forced into exile for his political writings. You might expect a man who went through that (and more) to write a bleak and angry book, but that's not what Wizard of the Crow turns out to be. It follows the fortunes of the Ruler of the Free Republic of Abruria and his ministers, as well as the much less influential (at first) man and woman who share the identity of the Wizard himself/herself/itself. There is magic, or at least the unexplained, at work throughout this book; this is reflected in the magical thinking engaged in by Abruria's leaders, whose intrigues are driven in equal parts by paranoia and superstition. Ngũgĩ handles a large cast skillfully, often building suspense by starting after things have changed and only explaining how after moving the narrative forward for some distance. Darkly funny, on the edge of satirical, but with a surprisingly hopeful feel.
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I'm going to try to be regular about this again. Of course, I'm about to head out traveling for two weeks, so "regular" may be a relative term for a bit.

It appears that Indonesian villagers poisoned four rare Sumatran elephants, probably to protect their palm oil plantations. Last month two male elephants were poisoned with cyanide-laced pineapples in the same area.

Kenya--which is still in the midst of a drought--has seen a wave of elephant killings by poachers, who are also killing other wildlife for food. Also in Kenya, work to excavate a rock quarry in Amboseli Park may cut off wildlife migration corridors for elephants and other animals.

Lastly, some good news from Kenya: a pilot study has found that fences made from wire, wood, and beehives can be an effective deterrent against elephant raids on farms. Seems the elephants recognize the shape and smell of the beehives and steer clear: "The bees aren't likely to be able to sting though an elephant's thick hide. But they can and do sting elephants around the eyes and inside the trunk. It seems that this only has to happen once for an elephant never to forget the experience."
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First, the good (or at least hopeful) news. The Christian Science Monitor is running a four-part series on the Kenyan election, compromise, and aftermath. From part one, yesterday:

In the next five weeks, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a team of African statesmen and women, known as The Panel of Eminent African Personalities, they achieve what few thought was possible: a cessation of fighting and a power-sharing deal to put Kenya back together again.

[Graça] Machel's presence, along with Mr. Annan, and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, would provide important ballast. Machel and Annan are part of The Elders, a dozen experienced leaders from around the world, set up in 2007 by Mr. Mandela and others to address global problems.

At a time when Kenya's angry "young turks" were whipping up the emotions that fed violence, these African elders had the calming influence of a stern grandparent, in front of whom one doesn't misbehave.

In news distressing enough that I've been putting off posting about it, elephant poaching in Africa is at a critical level, higher in fact than the rate before the ivory ban was put into effect:

Evidence gathered from recent major ivory seizures shows conclusively that the ivory is not coming from a broad geographic area but rather that hunters are targeting specific herds. With such information, [University of Washington biology professor Samuel] Wasser said, authorities can beef up enforcement efforts and focus them in specific areas where poaching is known to occur as a means of preventing elephants from being killed. But that will only happen if there is sufficient public pressure to marshal funding for a much larger international effort to halt the poaching.

. . .

"The situation is worse than ever before and the public is unaware," he said, "It's very serious because elephants are an incredibly important species. They keep habitats open so other species that depend on such ecosystems can use them. Without elephants, there will be major habitat changes, with negative effects on the many species that depend on the lost habitat.

"Elephants also are a major part of ecotourism, which is an important source of hard currency for many African countries."
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The NYT talks about the present and likely future of Kenya, now that tribal tensions have erupted in such a way that it'll be impossible to paper them over again. From the article: "Kenya used to be considered one of the most promising countries in Africa. Now it is in the throes of ethnically segregating itself." Be warned that this is not a very uplifting read.
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In Kenya, the death toll has passed 1,000, but negotiations are continuing. Kofi Annan was already my hero, but if he can pull this off I will love him forever.

To the northwest of Kenya, Chad is also in crisis; overwhelmed with refugees from the Darfur crisis and the Central African Republic, with a war raging between the government and rebel groups. The president there won his position by coup, just as his predecessor did, and in 2006 he abolished term limits.

In news closer to home, tonight I will caucus for the first time in my life. Being that this is (apparently) some kind of bizarre ritual in which people socialize while they vote, I am probably more terrified than excited. But I'm doing it anyway. I don't want to get into it in a big way, but I'm for Obama. There are many reasons why--this eloquently expresses one of them--but the main one comes from a different impulse entirely. I am 37 years old, I've voted in every presidential election in which I was eligible to do so, and this is the first time I've ever looked forward to voting for someone as opposed to against everyone else. It's not disgust motivating me this time, it's hope. It's kind of a good feeling.

[Poll #1133416]
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Kenyan Pundit points to Vuma Kenya, an organization which seeks to bring attention to and work toward solutions for the current crisis. They're planning a benefit concert on February 2nd at the Roxy in Boston, so if you're in the area you may want to check it out.

Looks like the presidential race is down to two on each side; reports are that Giuliani and Edwards are both dropping out. I wonder if this will all be figured out by convention time. Speaking of which, I am NOT looking forward to having scads of Republicans crawling all over my town come September. Shall I protest? Shall I pretend it's not happening? Shall I scramble to see if anyone wants freelance coverage from someone who has an imperfect understanding of politics but lives within walking distance of the convention center? I can't decide.

Because I am neurotic (no sense trying to hide it) I am beginning to obsess over stupid things, like how shall I dress for book-related stuff? I am a person who dislikes "dressing up" in general, but I'm not sure that the jeans/t-shirt/hoodie look is how I should be presenting myself. Since everyone knows that all great fashion choices are made by committee, OBVIOUSLY this calls for a poll:

[Poll #1129997]
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Kenyan opposition politician slain. Fuck.

Greek Orthodox, Mormon religious leaders dead. Armageddon coming.

Mole rats are freakishly immune to pain, a fact apparently discovered by scientists trying to inflict pain.

[Poll #1129364]

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I was going to let the previous post stand as my only entry on MLK day, but I think this dovetails with Reverend King's concerns; not because it has to do with blackness, but because it has to do with racial hatred, with poverty, and with democracy.

Leaflets calling for ethnic killings mysteriously appeared before the voting . . .
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Kibaki speaks. The suggestion to seek redress for an election possibly rigged by corruption in the courts, which are presumably just as vulnerable to corruption, seems rather disingenuous. At least there's a call for an end to the violence; I saw a report earlier that Odinga had done the same, but I can't find it now. Unfortunately not everyone seems to be listening. Things have calmed down a bit in the past couple of days, but it's not over. From the article: "On Wednesday night, residents of a usually quiet town in the Rift Valley said that a mob of Maasai killed four Kikuyu shopkeepers and then looted their stores."
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The NYT is estimating that more than 250 people have died in the rioting; the AP puts the total at 300. The government is alleging that this is part of Odinga's plan to force them to destabilize them and force them into a state of emergency. The AP reports that African Union chief, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, had planned to visit and help mediate, but the visit has apparently since been cancelled. Western diplomats are talking a lot, but it doesn't look like anyone's planning on doing anything.
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It's gotten worse, and may continue to do so. Kibaki, the incumbent, has been declared the winner. 94 people are dead so far in the rioting. Live television coverage has been suspended. International observers are saying that Kibaki's totals have been inflated, and members of the country's election commission have seen irregularities. "In some areas, more people voted for the president than there were registered voters," is a telling quote.
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You may not have seen this on your news (at least not in the US; the Beeb, for one, is usually better about such things), but yesterday there was an election in Kenya. The vote itself seems to have gone smoothly, but now both sides are claiming victory, and violence is breaking out. Last night the opposition had a hefty lead, but overnight the incumbent Kibaki accumulated a suspicious amount of votes, and they're still counting. Even if there hasn't been any election tampering, a close vote could make things worse, because the two candidates essentially split the nation along tribal lines. While everyone is worried about Pakistan, and about a U.S. election that's nearly a year away, it's worth remembering that democracy is tricky all over.


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April 2011

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