Sunday, May 11, 2014

LeTriece Calhoun - Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Those are the opening lines to one of the best books to cross my radar in 2014. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is the first in a trilogy about a young girl named Karou who lives in Prague, has blue hair and tattoos, and happens to have been raised by monsters.

Okay, it’s a lot more than that. Karou lives with a group of monsters who send her out all over the world to collect teeth. Teeth? What for? Well, the audience doesn’t know until Karou knows. That, I think, was the best part of this story. Often times authors will throw hints and tips along the way for the conscious reader, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone has you tagging along with Karou as she goes to art class, battles with skeevy ex-boyfriends, and gets in a fight with an angel.

Oh yeah, there are angels, too. And they’re hellbent determined to destroy Karou’s life. One angel in particular, Akiva, has a peculiar fascination with Karou, because he feels like he has met her before. She feels the same way, but his presence is a danger to her and her monster family, so Karou will do anything to protect the ones she loves. And sometimes that comes at a cost.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a beautifully written adventure. There is a romantic undercurrent, but that does not take precedence over the main story, which I really enjoyed. In fact, it intertwines with the main plot to make both aspects of the story relevant to one another. The narrative flows very well, and the action is gripping and thrilling. Each of the character is memorable, from the big ones to the small (quite literally). And there’s humor! I’m tired of “gritty” or “realistic” fiction with absolutely no humor. Give me silly jokes, simple mistakes, and snapping wit. This book has that in abundance. Karou and Akiva are not perfect characters. They have their flaws, which is why the readers should be so drawn to them. They each have a dark or questionable past, which sometimes gets told and sometimes it doesn’t. The mythology behind the angels and monsters is told in such a way that there are still some mysteries, but there’s just enough information to get readers through the story. This book is an excellent foundation to what’s turning out to be a very interesting trilogy.

If you like angels, demons, goulash, and everything between, then Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a fantastic choice. The pacing of the story makes it a quick read, so it won’t feel like you’re slogging through a leatherbound tome. But be warned: you won’t be satisfied until you’ve read the other two books in this series.

Cameron Autry - Information Wars: Crisis in Ukraine

In the post World War II era the U.S., thus far, has enjoyed global financial and military hegemony reminiscent of the former British Empire. American multinational corporations—like the East Indian Company did before—pillage the natural resources and cheap labor that CIA backed regimes in developing countries eagerly provide in exchange for wealth and power. In fact, the U.S. has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world—including Iran, Egypt, Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Libya and many more—to provide American corporations with access to land and cheap labor and to allow for the U.S. military to secure strategic geopolitical pivots for defense and trade. No doubt, this is a rather appalling foreign policy, and the Western media has complicity downplayed the magnitude of these human rights violations. In regard to the Ukraine crisis, understanding this history is crucial for understanding the true motivations of the U.S..

Geopolitically speaking, Ukraine is a treasure trove. Linking Russia with Europe, vital energy resources and commodities flow through Ukraine that benefit both parties. But if the European Union absorbed Ukraine and eroded a large chunk Russia’s sphere of influence, than this symbiotic relationship would quickly turn one-sided. All commodities and resources traded through Ukraine would be bought and sold in either U.S. dollars or the Euro; IMF loans would allow American corporations to invest in Ukraine; and, in all likelihood, a few NATO bases would pop up right on Ukraine’s border with Russia. However, as usual, Western media fails to provide its viewers and listeners with this enlightening context, and has also failed to reveal the internal meddling within the Ukrainian government by the U.S..

For several years, various NGOs—such as the National Endowment for Democracy and The United States Agency for National Development (USAID—bankrolled by the U.S. federal government have spent billions of dollars “promoting democracy” throughout Ukraine—so long as such democratic representative support U.S. interests. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, however, pursued a different agenda: the Russian agenda. Yanukovych refused to form closer ties with the EU, opting to form closer economic ties with Russia instead. So when the first wave of protests erupted in Ukraine last fall—in which genuine citizens expressed real grievances against Yanukovych—the U.S. saw the perfect moment to implement their interventionist policy in Ukraine, and use the American NGOs active in Ukraine to help bring to power those that will comply with U.S. foreign policy.

Unfortunately, America has committed to supporting any force that opposes Russian expansion and economic growth—even if this means teaming up with Neo-Nazis and Ukrainian fascists. Indeed, America has thrown all its support for the Svoboda Party in Ukraine that spearheaded the Euromaiden protests. Of course, the fact that the Svoboda embraces Neo-Nazi and fascist ideologies is of no concern to America, so long as they are inexorably anti-Russian. In fact, Senator John McCain and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland have enthusiastically posed for pictures with Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the Svoboda. Even CIA director John Brennan and Vice President Joe Biden have met with members from the Svoboda, and, interestingly enough, both these visits occurred right before the new Ukrainian government announced their first and second ongoing anti-terror operations. These high profile visits show that the U.S. has a special vested interest in Ukraine. And given that the CIA has, time after time, overthrown democratic governments to empower figures sympathetic towards the U.S., it would be unwise to view these events as coincidental. Cleary, the U.S. craves a pro-Western Ukraine, and it would only make sense that they would seize the current unrest in Ukraine to push forward with their own goals. Russia, on the other hand, stands to suffer enormous losses if Ukraine succumbs to Western influence.

Ukraine has long been integrated into Russian financial institutions and markets. A shift away from Russian and towards the West would undoubtedly heavily damage the Russian economy. Also, Russia could suffer the lost of its Black Sea Navy fleet, strategically located on the Crimean peninsula to provide further access into the Mediterranean Sea. Given this understanding, it should come as no surprise that Russian troops slipped into Crimea and gained control after pro-Russian protests ballooned in Crimea, a historically Russian—not Ukrainian—region. Would America allow a country supported by Moscow or Beijing to steal away strategic military real estate? Of course not, and Russia is not going to allow this to happen either. In response, Western media has lambasted the Crimean referendum to join Russia, posing the question: How can anyone legitimately vote behind the barrel of a gun? It should be noted that Western media did not ask this question when U.S. soldiers occupied Afghanistan and Iraq during crucial election periods; but as always, the Western media fails to provide this point of view. Russia cannot be seen in any sort of positive light.

Overall, America’s meddling within Ukraine has only served to provoke Vladimir Putin to take action. From a military and economic standpoint, a fully Western-integrated Ukraine would raise serious problems for Moscow. But America wants Moscow to feel these problems. As written in Wolfowitz Doctrine, the Pentagon’s defense planning guide from 1994-99:  “Our [The United States] first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival.” The United States is doing every thing they can to pursue this policy. Taking a step back from the Ukraine crisis, America has slowly begun to encircle Russia—and China—with military bases to ensure neither country attempts to become a global superpower on par with the United States. Placing one more base in Ukraine, a country that shares a 2,300 kilometer border with Russia, would be the icing on the cake for NATO and the West. Let’s just hope the U.S. does not become too reckless in their provocations against Russia, and let’s hope Putin does not decide to fight back just as hard.