Thursday, January 17, 2008

Puruchuco Fallen Inca Warriors

This is a nice and relatively short video I found on YouTube.

The description, "In the barren outlying foothills of the Peruvian capital Lima, fallen Inca warriors speak from shallow graves. An international team of scientists led by Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock has uncovered the remains of Inca casualties from the 1536 Siege of Lima uprising, among them the first gunshot victim ever found from the Conquest era. For the first time, physical skeletal remains reveal the brutally violent historic transition from Inca imperial rule to the Spanish Colonial era."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

'Iolani Palace: Hawaiian Capitol Building

('Iolani Palace, 6 January 2008.)

I was very fortunate to have the time to visit 'Iolani Palace during my recent visit to Honolulu, Hawaii. The tour guide who had taken me to Pearl Harbor drove through different parts of Honolulu and he dropped us off in front of 'Iolani Palace. Although I did not enter the building, I did have time to wander around the perimeter and even amble about the Palace lawn.

As many probably know, 'Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in existence in the United States. It served briefly as the seat of the Hawaiian Kingdom during the late 19th century until the monarchy was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1893. However, Queen Liliuokalani's removal and later abdication did not end the importance of the palace. It was just the beginning.

The official 'Iolani Palace site notes, "A Hawaiian national treasure and the only official state residence of royalty in the United States, `Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom's last two monarchs--King Kalakaua, who built the Palace in 1882, and his sister and successor, Queen Lili`uokalani. During the monarchy period, the Palace was the center of social and political activity in the Kingdom of Hawai`i. "

(The gates of 'Iolani Palace. Fortunately, there were other egresses onto the palace lawn which allowed me to walk around.)

After the fall of the monarchy, both the Provisional Government of Hawaii and the Republic of Hawaii used 'Iolani Palace as their capitol building. After sovereignty of Hawaii was transferred to the United States in 1898, the palace served as the capitol building of the Territory of Hawaii and the State of Hawaii. It also served as the headquarters of the Military Governor of Hawaii during World War Two. Many of the counteroffensives against the Japanese were planned within the walls of the palace.

Here is the official use of 'Iolani Palace during the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries:

1882-1893: Home of the monarchy of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

1893-1894: Capitol building of the Provisional Government of Hawaii

1894-1898: Capitol building of the Republic of Hawaii

1898-1959: Capitol building of the Territory of Hawaii (military government 1941-1944)

1959-1969: Capitol building of the State of Hawaii

1969 to present: Museum under the auspices of the The Friends of `Iolani Palace

As can be seen above, 'Iolani Palace only served a royal palace for a brief period shortly after it was built. However, it has served as a capitol building for the majority of time it has existed. Not surprisingly, a home built for the Hawaiian royal family did not always function the best as a seat of government with a bicameral legislature and a governor. The palace was damaged badly throughout the early and middle 20th century. After a new seat for the Hawaiian government was built, 'Iolani Palace was vacated and the process of restoration was begun. It currently has been repaired and reconstructed to look as it did briefly under the Hawaiian Kingdom.

'Iolani Palace also has been featured in fiction. The TV series Hawaii Five-O had the state police headquarters here. I am also a fan of alternative history. As such, I have liked many of the Harry Turtledove books. In Days of Infamy and End of the Beginning, Turtledove has the Japanese puppet government of Hawaii that replaced an alternate world Hawaiian Kingdom in the palace.

I have only been to Hawaii once. However, that trip has convinced me that I will be visiting multiple times in the future. Next time, I am getting a tour and going inside this palace! My next post about my Hawaiian visit will be on Diamond Head Crater and my hike up to the top.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Inside: Life Behind Bars in America

I just finished reading Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael G. Santos. It is an interesting read that left me with some mixed feelings. Santos is a convicted drug trafficker who has been in Federal custody since he was 23. His earliest release date is 2013. As someone who has spent decades behind bars at a variety of classification levels, he has a lot of knowledge. He is a good writer as well.

This perspective is also what I liked in this book. I think just about everyone agrees that the American prison system is not optimal for rehabilitating offenders. Forcing men (and women) into a system of prison gangs, violence, rape, and an underground economy of drugs does not make most prisoners better citizens upon release. Throw in limited educational opportunities and it is no wonder the recidivism rates are so high. Santos narrative does a nice job of describing life on the inside and why the incentives that exist in the Federal prisons actually work against rehabilitation.

This insider status that Santos has also makes the book problematic at times. As a primary source on the Federal prison system, this book is excellent. As an authoritative account of the reality of life in prisons, the book has some obvious problems.

Santos has understandable developed a bias against correctional officers. He describes them as uncaring people who have no empathy for prisoners. They are almost always portrayed as unreasonable bureaucrats and sadists who enjoy power and enforcing arbitrary rules. He writes with relish the clever zingers he often gets at the guards expense. The only time that correctional personnel are portrayed well is when he describes accounts of inmates having sex with female correctional employees! This inmate vs. the guards mentality clearly impacts the views that Santos holds and can not be considered a good representation of the reality of daily life for these Federal employees. Of the many thousands of these workers, many probably do care about prisoners and do their best to make prison a road to rehabilitation. However, dealing with conning and violent predators impacts them as well and makes it hard to do so at times.

I found the author's complaints about education a bit bemusing. Santos has been fortunate enough to be able to earn a bachelor's degree and a master's degree while in prison. That sounds like he has had excellent opportunities to better himself. Is he satisfied? No. He rails many times in the book that the "evil" prison system will not let him work on a doctorate!

I am sorry but I do not think Federal prisons are where people should be earning doctorates. If a prisoner has the financial resources and academic abilities to work on an undergraduate or master's degree behind bars, great. They should be allowed to do so as long as the security of the prison is not compromised. But a doctorate? I liked the response of a prison employee to his request to work on a doctorate, "If you are interested in libraries and universities, you should not have come to prison." Indeed.

Santos also inadvertently undercuts his own credibility. He writes that he follows prison rules. However, he notes that prisoners are not allowed to operate a business behind bars. He also describes how he has cleverly got around this rule by using family members to trade stocks at his discretion (earning 150K one year!) and by serving as a legal aide for pay to other prisoners who send the money to his family. I guess Santos does not follow the rules as well as he claims he does...

Santos also tells the stories of other inmates. He protects their identities and tells their stories well. What he describes clearly shows many of these men should never be released from prison. In other cases, he makes reasonable arguments that some of the other men he describes might be able to re-enter society someday and that they should be treated differently by the system to help facilitate it.

As Santos is telling the stories from the inmate's perspective, the narrative is one-sided. Santos probably has limited opportunities to research the stories he is told himself. A good example is that of Arnold (Arnie) Bengis who he identified by name with permission. He is an elderly South African man that Santos describes as getting shafted by the US for crimes he committed in South Africa. In the tale Santos relates, Bengis was the owner of a lobster company (Haut Bay Fishing Industries) that over harvested lobster quotas in violation of South African law. He then settled with the South African government by paying a record fine. However, the irrational American authorities charged Bengis with an obscure American law and sent him to jail unfairly for four years.

A quick check of Lexis-Nexis and Google for Arnold Bengis tells a different story. Bengis was involved in an elaborate smuggling operation that was aimed at fooling the international monitoring system to protect sea life. He went after it for many years and it sure looks like he violated US law as he smuggled his product into the United States. Bengis did not contest the charge and voluntarily accepted a prison sentence. If the story of Bengis is wrong, other prisoner tales Santos recounts may be inaccurate as well.

All in all, this is a worthwhile book. It provides a valuable narrative of the Federal prisoner experience in late 20th century and early 21st century America. The account Santos provides is that of a long-term prisoner which understandably is not representative of all those (inmates and employees) involved in the system. I congratulate Michael Santos for doing so well in prison and wish him well upon his release. He would probably make for an excellent speaker at many universities.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pearl Harbor: Strong Reactions Still

(The USS Arizona Memorial on 6 January 2008.)

For the last several years, this blog has featured a post on Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii every December 7th. I did so again recently in 2007. However, I am going to post about it again now. Recently, I visited Honolulu, Hawaii. This was my first visit to America's 50th state. I was in town for a conference but I made sure my initial activity was to wake up early in the morning of my first day in Hawaii and go to Pearl Harbor.

I signed up for a tour to Pearl Harbor. A bus came and picked me up at the hotel I was staying at during my visit. The driver was a native Hawaiian in his 50s. He was very cheerful and knowledgeable. He began his commentary by saying, "I always like to greet visitors in my native tongue. Are you ready? HOWDY! HOW YOU DOING!" The laughter that ensued broke the ice and the whole bus load of visitors spoke freely during the outing.

We arrived at Pearl Harbor around 9 am. The tour guide had us all take a ticket that dictated which showing we would be seated in to visit the USS Arizona. We only had a 50 minute wait and we used the time to visit the bookstore and the Pearl Harbor Museum.

The official program began with a 25 minute viewing of a film in a theatre. It did a good job explaining the events that lead to December 7th, 1941. It also showed in great detail the attack and what the consequences of it were. The film was well done and everyone in the theatre had an understanding of exactly how the USS Arizona came to be a memorial and grave site.

(The Flag of the United States of America flies proudly over what may be one of the most sacred places in all of America.)

After the film, we all boarded a boat which took us out across Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was a silent, solemn, but comfortable trip. We were let off at the memorial with the admonishment to be quiet at the USS Arizona and show respect for the dead.

My brief 20 or so minutes on the memorial was very powerful. I was not born until decades after the Pearl Harbor attack. Despite this, I teared up on several occasions. I felt a great deal of sadness and anger. The names of the 1100+ dead entombed in the water below was almost overwhelming. I was also touched by the names of those who died years (in many cases decades later) from the USS Arizona who made the decision to have their remains placed with their shipmates when they passed away.

I also felt angry towards Japan. Why did they do this? Intellectually I understood their reasoning but I still felt some vile. Many of the men who died on the Arizona had been below decks when the ship exploded and rolled over due to a direct hit from a Japanese torpedo that hit the munition magazines. They never knew that America was at war. They may mercifully never have even been aware of their own deaths as they occurred so suddenly. I let the anger go well before I left the memorial. I was very surprised to have felt it so deeply even if it was for a short time.

There were many Japanese tourists at the memorial. I wondered, what are they thinking? How do they feel about this? Clearly, their nation was in the wrong attacking unprovoked without a declaration of war while their diplomats in Washington were negotiating a treaty with the United States. No amount of mental gymnastics or rewriting the history books will alter who the villain and who the victim were on this day. The events in the Pacific War all started here. Hiroshima and Nagasaki would never have tasted nuclear war without this day of infamy happening first.

I left Pearl Harbor very grateful to have finally visited it. I enjoyed the next three days I stayed in Hawaii and had a productive conference. My presentation went well too. Despite this, my visit to Pearl Harbor was the highlight of my trip.

In a few days, I will write about my visit to 'Iolani Palace.