Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
Leave it to Sarah Vowell to visit Hawaii and spend her trip indoors, wearing a cardigan and tracking down the historical narratives of early English settlers. A wry history nerd who fixated upon America's Protestant predecessors in The Wordy Shipmates, Vowell's new book, Unfamiliar Fishes, sails off the mainland to trace the annexation and conversion of our 50th state.
Unfamiliar Fishes sweeps us through juicy accounts of saltine-cracker-dry Puritans hellbent on "civilizing" Hawaiian natives—and horny New England seamen with other plans for the locals. Also featured: prostitutes, fanatics, and an incestuous queen. Even Vowell's adorable nephew Owen makes the cut, popping up from time to time in the narrative to do impressions of King Kamehameha and begrudgingly trail after his aunt on yet another hike to an island landmark. Vowell spoke with Mother Jones recently about Hawaiian secessionists, Polynesian greetings, and King Kamehameha III's big mistake.
Mother Jones: Did you decide to write Unfamiliar Fishes so you could get a tan in Hawaii?
Sarah Vowell: Well, a lot of my time in Hawaii was spent wearing a cardigan sweater and sitting in archives that are climate-controlled, researching old missionary letters and correspondence between the men who got the United States to annex Hawaii. There are probably better plans for knocking around than writing a book about Hawaii in the 19th century.
MJ: So you didn't see the sun all that much.
SV: I mean, I did a lot of traveling around. I got to do things like try and find a queen's birth cave and go to the valley on Maui where a particularly brutal battle occurred that is all the more beautiful a place in contrast. There was a lot of mixing it up in the out of doors—just not that much sitting around drinking umbrella drinks.
Judge Jay Reiss helps Mythbusters' co-host Adam Savage pronounce a word
The atmosphere at San Francisco's Herbst Theater on Thursday night felt more like a high school auditorium than its usual elegant performance space. Hundreds had come to observe the Spelling Bee for Cheaters, a fundraiser for literary nonprofit and tutoring center 826 Valencia, and the air bubbled with the sounds of peppy teams cheering on their spellers. A team of librarians near stage right quietly practiced snarky rhyming chants, and teens dressed in bee costumes flitted around the orchestra seats. As the lights dimmed, the "Black Swan" team near the front row turned on their twinkling electric crowns, stood up, and in unison did a ballerina spin in support of their tutu-clad teammate on stage.
Environmental activists have long criticized the production of tar-sands oil; this especially dirty form of fuel demands tons of energy to obtain and results in high greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention the toxic wastelands its extraction leaves behind. But a new report, "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks" (PDF), looks more closely at the environmental costs associated with the oil's transportation—which might soon run straight down the middle of the continent. A proposed TransCanada pipeline, the Keystone XL, would carry billions of gallons of crude tar sands oil from Canada into the US. This raw oil—more corrosive, volatile, and acidic than the upgraded synthetic tar-sands oil we've become used to—would flow from Alberta to Houston, through some valuable wetlands and aquifers in the Midwest.
When a suicide bomber killed Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007 in her native Pakistan, not everyone was surprised. Over three decades, Pakistanis had watched three of Benazir's immediate family members murdered. Benazir had just returned from exile in Dubai in hopes of being reelected for a third term as Prime Minister, stepping back into the fast-moving and often bloody currents of Pakistani politics. It wasn't just their charm that earned the Bhuttos the comparison with the Kennedys: Upon reentering Pakistan, it was as if Benazir had unlocked the doors to her family's curse.
When the filmmakers set out to make the documentary Bhutto about Benazir, they too got a taste of the Bhutto curse. "Three days after checking out of the Marriot Islamabad," writes American director Duane Baughman, "the entire hotel was blown to the ground by a suicide bomber and a truck full of explosives, killing over 40 people." Despite this haunting experience, Baughman and his crew went on to interview dozens of allies, family members, historians, and academics and used unaired footage of the Bhuttos and audio recordings of Benazir create a dense, chronological look at Bhutto's tumultuous life and the predicaments in which her country has found itself over and over again. And though the film sympathizes heavily with Benazir, it also hints at the shadows inherent in her controversial persona.
When Fatima Bhutto was just a precocious little girl with "a mouth that never stopped running," family members often commented on her similarity to her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first—and so far only—female prime minister, assassinated in 2007. "'You're just like your aunt' was often used as both a compliment and an admonishment," writes Fatima in her new memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword. She'd likely be insulted by the same comparison today. Now an author and journalist based in Karachi, Fatima as an adult is one of Benazir's most outspoken critics. She now characterizes her aunt as an arrogant, manipulative leader who climbed to power without any plan of what to do once she got there.
But her criticism comes paired with an old family grudge: Her father, Murtaza Bhutto, was also a political activist in Pakistan. Unfortunately for the Bhutto dynasty, Murtaza's views diverged sharply from Benazir's, and he spent much of his life in exile. In her memoir of the Bhutto family soap opera, Fatima spins an alternative history of the clan and Benazir's troubled times as prime minister.
Fatima's no Kennedy; she denies having political aspirations. Nonetheless, she remains loyal to improving Pakistan—even if it is, as she puts it, "a nuclear state that cannot run refrigerators." She spoke with Mother Jones recently about feminism, Egypt, and the ongoing plight of the Pakistani flood victims.
MJ: Do you think the recent unrest could spill over into Pakistan?
FB: You know, I can't overstate how much I hope that would be the case.
Mother Jones: Do you think that the recent unrest in parts of North Africa and the Middle East could spill over into Pakistan? Have you seen any signs of this?
Fatima Bhutto: You know, I can't overstate how much I hope that would be the case. We haven't seen any rumblings in Pakistan just yet, it hasn't seemed to reach people in the way that it's spreading across North Africa and the Middle East, but you know the parallels are incredible. These are generations of Tunisians and Egyptians, for example, who have known nothing but the Ben Ali family, the Mubarak family, in the same way my generation of Pakistanis have come of age in the era of dictatorships. We have only known military dictators or corrupt civilian autocrats. We have more than one name, maybe three, where the face has changed but the policy has stayed the same: the ability for the state to impose emergency rule on its people, the ability for the state to censor and to hinder the liberty of its citizens is incredibly familiar.
But it hasn't happened in Pakistan yet, so of course all of the objective conditions exist. And is it because Pakistan is a country reeling at the moment? We have the most disastrous natural disaster in our history, in 80 years; we hadn't seen anything like the floods that hit the country this fall and winter. Twenty million people were affected. We're also an international battleground; some 2,000 Pakistanis have been killed in drone attacks in the last two years, largely civilians. You know we have a government that takes great support and great strength from foreign power. Are these the factors that are keeping people from reacting as they are in Egypt and Tunisia? I don't know, but I certainly hope that they can be overturned.