Happy Fourth of July

New federal employment and OSHA policy:

Posted in Fun

I Guess, At the End of the Day, I Do Care . . .

[I know we’re all really tired of this stuff, and for a bunch of reasons I’ve not been reading all of the news and opinions that I had been. But I do think the summary provided by Dana Milbank in this Sunday OpEd piece is a useful reprise of where we’ve arrived after 18 months or so . . . bp]
Opinions

I really don’t care about Trump’s cruelty, do u?

First lady Melania Trump wears a jacket with wording on the back that says, “I really don’t care, do u?” (Andrew Harnik/AP)

By Dana Milbank              Columnist              June 22                   Email the author

In the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush created an unofficial and much-mocked motto for his administration during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. “Message: I care,” he announced, as if reading aloud the stage directions.

Melania Trump did much the same this week when she went to Texas to see some of the migrant kids who were taken from their parents under her husband’s policy. The now-famous wording on her jacket made her a human billboard for what should be the unofficial motto of the Trump administration: “I really don’t care, do u?”

The administration’s cruelty is particularly prominent lately, because of photos of the anguish of the migrant children — and President Trump’s accompanying allegation of “phony stories of sadness” and his warning that immigrants, like insects, would “infest”  the country. But the current episode, though highly visible, is hardly one of a kind. By now, the administration has amassed an extensive catalogue of cruelty.

On Thursday, Trump doomed the latest attempt to protect from deportation the “dreamers,” those 700,000 people who have known no home but America since they were brought here as children. He tweeted that he didn’t see the “purpose” of the House passing an immigration bill — and, sure enough, the House called off the vote. He previously blew up a Senate compromise on the same subject, during his tirade about immigrants from “shithole countries.” It was his own executive action that exposed the dreamers to deportation in the first place.

I really don’t care, do u?

On Wednesday night, Trump renewed his assault on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as he dies from brain cancer. Trump again blamed McCain for the failed repeal of Obamacare.

The administration earlier this month decided not to defend the law against a court challenge that if successful would end protections for Americans with preexisting conditions. Trump has also ended subsidies to help insurance companies cover low-income people, and acknowledged the Obamacare repeal he championed was “mean.” He gave a green light to work requirements for Medicaid that could deny health insurance even to many poor Americans who work.

I really don’t care, do u?

The Trump administration this month said that domestic violence and gang violence would no longer be grounds for seeking asylum in the United States.

Trump previously reduced the number of refugees from 110,000 to 45,000 per year — the lowest in almost 40 years; and even fewer are actually being admitted, forcing tens of thousands to remain in refugee camps and return to face persecution or violence in the countries they fled. This is after Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, which resulted in families separated and students and doctors denied entry.

I really don’t care, do u?

Lawmakers complained this week to Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, that the administration’s haphazard implementation of trade barriers is causing havoc for farmers, small businesses and manufacturers. Ross responded by calling such notions “exaggerated” and “not our fault.”

A week earlier, as The Post’s Jeff Stein and Andrew van Dam wrote, Trump’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that wages after inflation have fallen over the past year for production and nonsupervisory workers — 80 percent of all privately employed workers. That means economic “gains are going almost exclusively to people already at the top of the economic ladder.” And the tax cuts further widen the gap between the rich and everybody else.

I really don’t care, do u?

Trump’s budget proposal this year, sensibly ignored by Congress, would have cut Medicaid by $306 billion over 10 years, food stamps by $214 billion, nutritional help for mothers and children, and heating assistance for the poor, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Trump administration is also reducing enforcement of fair-housing laws. And Trump said Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not a “real catastrophe”and said Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.” It now appears thousands died.

I really don’t care, do u?

Trump said there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville last summer. He declared a ban on transgender people in the military and later imposed a partial ban. He called for new gun restrictions — then abandoned the effort. His administration ordered prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for even nonviolent drug crimes and removed protections for victims of campus sexual assault.

I really don’t care, do u?

Now come reports that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller — architects and leading defenders of Trump’s child-separation policy — were heckled in separate incidents in recent days while dining at Mexican restaurants. Another report this week highlighted the discovery that Miller’s great-grandfather had his naturalization petition denied because of “ignorance.”

I don’t like incivility, or cheap shots. But you know what else? I really don’t care, do u?

Read more from Dana Milbank’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Posted in Fun

Deutsche Welle Online: Comment on Barbadian Debt as Typical Caribbean Small Island Problem

from the on-line English version of the paper at <http://www.dw.com/en/drowning-in-debt-barbados-predicament-offers-a-warning-for-small-island-nations/a-44245771>

[Just a minor caveat that there is no evidence that German financiers are necessarily balanced assessors of development options for oceanic small islands. . . . but they probably DO reflect the view of a lot of powerful people in the world banking community. bp ]

BUSINESS

Drowning in debt — Barbados’ predicament offers a warning for small island nations

Barbados has been struggling with weak economic growth over the past decade, putting strains on its public debt and deficit. The ailing economy offers a cautionary tale for other small island nation states in the region.

 

Barbados, an island nation in the North Atlantic, doesn’t usually garner the attention of international media, particularly when it comes to its economy. With a population of about 285,000 in 2016 and total economic output amounting to just over $4.5 billion (€3.9 billion), according to World Bank data, the country’s size and role in the global economy is very limited.

Nevertheless, over the past decade the Barbadian economy has been struggling with severe debt and deficit problems. Growth suffered a sharp contraction in the wake of the 2009 global financial crisis and has remained weak since then.

In 2016, according to the World Bank, the economy expanded by a mere 1.6 percent. Weak growth figures have further strained Barbados’ public debt, putting pressure on foreign exchange reserves and helping to spark repeated downgrades of the island’s credit rating.

Read more: Rebuilding tourism after Irma

Highly vulnerable

Barbados currently has the fourth-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world after Japan, Greece, and Sudan with the country’s figure standing at 175 percent. A delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently visited the Caribbean nation and described its economy as being in a “precarious” situation.

Insured against the Storm

Barbados’ recently elected Prime Minister Mia Mottley this week announced a raft of measures to tackle the problems and put the nation’s economy on a firmer footing.
The proposals are estimated to cost around $660 million and include new fuel taxes, a 50-percent hike in commercial premises’ water bills and a new health service contribution amounting to 2.5 percent of an individual’s income, among other things.

Motley, who was elected in May as Barbados’ first female prime minister, also announced that the country would seek a restructuring of the public debt and temporarily suspend payments due on debts owed to external commercial creditors. She said that the previous administration, under Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, left almost $7.5 billion in debt.

“We will protect the most vulnerable, but we will all have to make sacrifices for our country. Today we move forward together in a new spirit of openness and with a new covenant of hope and opportunity. I ask our domestic and external creditors to accompany us on this journey of rescue, rebuilding, and transformation,” Mottley was quoted by local media as saying.

But the prime minister now faces the tough challenge of balancing her campaign promises with the difficult fiscal reality. Her government, experts say, has to take measures to boost growth and expand the tax base while containing public expenditures and protecting the most vulnerable sections of society from economic distress.

A region-wide problem

Barbados is not alone in the region when it comes to facing economic problems. Many Caribbean nations are going through a similar phase, experiencing troubles emanating from their high debt and deficit levels.

The origin of many of their woes dates back to the late 1990s. Between 1975 and 1997, a deal between the European Union’s forerunner, European Economic Community, and Caribbean countries gave the latter privileged access to the European market.

The arrangement was intended to bolster economic development in the Caribbean. But the United States argued that it broke free trade rules and filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization in 1997, and won.

As a result, Europe had to change its rules, hurting the Caribbean nations’ growth prospects. To finance growth and investment, these countries then increasingly relied on debt.

The region has been hit by a number of hurricanes over the past two decades, forcing them to undertake debt-driven disaster recovery efforts, in turn weakening their finances further.

To put its economy back on track, observers say Barbados is making all the right moves but the road to recovery will be a long one. If Prime Minister Mottley can make good on her campaign promises while rectifying external and internal debts, analysts underline, Barbados might be out of the red and into calmer economic waters sooner rather than later.


  • HURRICANE IRMA RIPS THROUGH CARIBBEAN AND US SOUTHEASTERN STATES

    Strongest-ever Atlantic storm

    Hurricane Irma has killed dozens of people and injured many more since the record-breaking storm roared over the French Caribbean islands. With its powerful winds having topped 185 miles (295 kilometers) per hour, Irma is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the US National Hurricane Center based in Miami.

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Insured against the Storm

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Posted in Development, Governance, Small Island

Among Real Problems Largely Ignored at an Important Forum

Lost in the static over Trump histrionics <from the Seychelles News site > —

President of Seychelles shocks G7 meeting with photos of ocean trash

Victoria, Seychelles | June 11, 2018, Monday @ 14:21 in National » GENERAL | By: Betymie Bonnelame | Views: 1794

The team on Aldabra is no match for the great amount of trash washing to shore on Aldabra. (Seychelles Islands Foundation)

(Seychelles News Agency) – The President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, shocked the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations with photographs of the damage being done to the island nation’s Aldabra atoll by plastic pollution and other types of litter coming from the rest of the world, State House said on Sunday.

Faure told the roundtable of small islands developing states at the G7 summitin Quebec, Canada that Seychelles and other small island countries already had enough of a challenge managing their own waste, and didn’t need to take on the rest of the worlds.

Aldabra — a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles – is a remote atoll and the team is no match for the amount of trash washing on its shores. An Aldabra clean-up project was launched last month and will culminate with an expedition to be led by the Queens’s College from the UK to remove tonnes of ocean trash.

Faure added that the islands “needed assistance with handling the vast and increasing amounts of marine litter washing up on and polluting their beaches and coasts from way beyond their shores.”

The roundtable included island leaders from Haiti, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands and Seychelles to discuss the challenges of small islands developing states. (State House, Facebook) Photo License: CC-BY

The leaders of the G7, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, agreed that President Faure had graphically made his point.

The roundtable included four island leaders from Haiti, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands and Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, to discuss the challenges of small islands developing states(SIDS).

Faure was also invited to a special session on oceans at the G7 summit by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since Canada holds the presidency for 2018. The session was held under the theme ‘healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas, coasts and communities.’

In his address at the session on oceans, Faure spoke about Seychelles’ innovative financing for the blue economy and ocean sustainability.

When Seychelles graduated to a high-income country in 2015, instead of complaining about losing grant funding, Faure said the island nation turned to pioneering new innovative sources of financing. This included a first-of-its-kind debt swap for ocean conservation and climate adaptation and the forthcoming and equally novel blue bonds.

“However, try as we might, such new sources of finance will not be enough to meet our sustainable development and climate action obligations under the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the SAMOA Pathway for SIDS,” he told the G7 leaders.

Faure called on the G7 and multilateral partners to agree on a SIDS-specific resilience index that takes into consideration small island countries’ unique vulnerabilities to external shocks, be they climate change or economic.

“Islands can no longer afford to see ourselves as dots lost in a sea of blue. We are sentinels, the guardians of two-thirds of our Blue Planet’s surface. We must act accordingly,” added the Seychelles’ President.

Faure also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada to play a prominent and proactive role in high seas negotiations that begin at the United Nations in New York this September.

Posted in Beaches, Coral Reefs, Governance, Small Island

The Boomers’ Fail

Ron Morgan called my attention to this profound critique of modern social/political deficits by David Brooks from the NY Times, May 29th.

——————

The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite


By David Brooks
Opinion Columnist

May 28, 2018


CreditBrian Snyder/Reuters

Once upon a time, white male Protestants ruled the roost. You got into a fancy school if your father had gone to the fancy school. You got a job at a white-shoe law firm or climbed the corporate ladder if you golfed at the right club.

Then we smashed all that. We replaced a system based on birth with a fairer system based on talent. We opened up the universities and the workplace to Jews, women and minorities. University attendance surged, creating the most educated generation in history. We created a new boomer ethos, which was egalitarian (bluejeans everywhere!), socially conscious (recycling!) and deeply committed to ending bigotry.

You’d think all this would have made the U.S. the best governed nation in history. Instead, inequality rose. Faith in institutions plummeted. Social trust declined. The federal government became dysfunctional and society bitterly divided.

The older establishment won World War II and built the American Century. We, on the other hand, led to Donald Trump. The chief accomplishment of the current educated elite is that it has produced a bipartisan revolt against itself.

What happened? How has so much amazing talent produced such poor results.

A narrative is emerging. It is that the new meritocratic aristocracy has come to look like every other aristocracy. The members of the educated class use their intellectual, financial and social advantages to pass down privilege to their children, creating a hereditary elite that is ever more insulated from the rest of society. We need to build a meritocracy that is true to its values, truly open to all.

I’m among the many who have been telling this story for 20 years. And I enjoy books that fill in compelling details, like Steven Brill’s “Tailspin,”which is being released Tuesday.

But the narrative is insufficient. The real problem with the modern meritocracy can be found in the ideology of meritocracy itself. Meritocracy is a system built on the maximization of individual talent, and that system unwittingly encourages several ruinous beliefs:

Exaggerated faith in intelligence. Today’s educated establishment is still basically selected on the basis of I.Q. High I.Q. correlates with career success but is not the crucial quality required for civic leadership. Many of the great failures of the last 50 years, from Vietnam to Watergate to the financial crisis, were caused by extremely intelligent people who didn’t care about the civic consequences of their actions.

Misplaced faith in autonomy. The meritocracy is based on the metaphor that life is a journey. On graduation days, members for the educated class give their young Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” which shows a main character, “you,” who goes on a solitary, unencumbered journey through life toward success. If you build a society upon this metaphor you will wind up with a society high in narcissism and low in social connection. Life is not really an individual journey. Life is more like settling a sequence of villages. You help build a community at home, at work, in your town and then you go off and settle more villages.

Misplaced notion of the self. Instead of seeing the self as the seat of the soul, the meritocracy sees the self as a vessel of human capital, a series of talents to be cultivated and accomplishments to be celebrated. If you base a society on a conception of self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized; that puts little emphasis on the sorts of moral systems that create harmony within people, harmony between people and harmony between people and their ultimate purpose.

Inability to think institutionally. Previous elites poured themselves into institutions and were pretty good at maintaining existing institutions, like the U.S. Congress, and building new ones, like the postwar global order. The current generation sees institutions as things they pass through on the way to individual success. Some institutions, like Congress and the political parties, have decayed to the point of uselessness, while others, like corporations, lose their generational consciousness and become obsessed with the short term.

Misplaced idolization of diversity. The great achievement of the meritocracy is that it has widened opportunities to those who were formerly oppressed. But diversity is a midpoint, not an endpoint. Just as a mind has to be opened so that it can close on something, an organization has to be diverse so that different perspectives can serve some end. Diversity for its own sake, without a common telos, is infinitely centrifugal, and leads to social fragmentation.

The essential point is this: Those dimwitted, stuck up blue bloods in the old establishment had something we meritocrats lack — a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.

The meritocracy is here to stay, thank goodness, but we probably need a new ethos to reconfigure it — to redefine how people are seen, how applicants are selected, how social roles are understood and how we narrate a common national purpose.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on May 29, 2018, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Posted in Civil Society, Futures, Governance

“Bizarre Spikes” Becomes a Standard Feature of Climate Change — not just in the Arctic

Check it out — an opinion piece from E&E in February of 2018.

from Medium <https://medium.com/@Michael_Spencer/arctic-alarms-climate-scientists-with-bizarre-temperature-spike-ac1354427b97>

Michael K. Spencer 

Arctic Alarms Climate Scientists with Bizarre Temperature Spike

 

WE’RE OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE EARTH

In a world of misinformation, fake news perpetuated by algorithms, walled gardens and digital immersion, people sometimes lose touch with the real world. We read the news as a kind infotainment, but what if we’re missing the news that really matters?

Cape Town is struggling with a water shortage that could end in disaster this year, and recently, record warmth in the Arctic this month is sending experts into new rants on the start of an unprecedented warming event.

In late February 2018, the North pole was warmer than parts of Europe. There are Twitter accounts (@Zlabe) of climate scientists worth following in the story of arctic warming. Why does this matter? Because it influences all of us, all the people alive on Earth. Arctic warming, water shortages, they will go hand in hand in the coming decades. There’s reason to believe, global warming could accelerate faster than many of our simulations.

An extraordinary heat wave pushed temperatures at the northernmost tip of Greenland was as high as 6.1 C this weekend. And the sun won’t rise for weeks. (The Star)

Flooded by extremely mild air on all sides, those southern winds are wrecking havoc on what’s supposed to happen at this time of the year. Something very strange is occurring, it can be summarized as the following: The #Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. 

The cold weather in Europe led in early 2018 to extremely high arctic temperatures. The likes of which we have not seen before. Put another way:

It’s the Middle of Winter and the Temperature at the North Pole Is Above Freezing

About one week ago, the Arctic was so massively unusual, it was stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. The Arctic sea ice around Svalbard is at a record low for the date. It has been well below average all winter.

The sun won’t rise at the North Pole until March 20, and it’s therefore supposed to be close to the coldest time of year, however the hot spike was intense. Droughts leading to water shortage crisis like Cape Town, and in late February, mean temperatures of+3.9°C in the arctic signal sweeping changes have perhaps come sooner than expected. This where the climate average for the date is -16.3°C. These aren’t normal variations!

The northernmost weather station in Greenland saw temperatures soar above freezing on 9 days this month so far. Sea ice near there disappeared. Unheard of for February.

How do you have the arctic perpetual night, but still above freezing? Certainly as the Arctic ice melts more significantly the light reflected will accelerate global warming. We now know this ice will disappear, within our lifetime. Perhaps as soon as 2035 or 2040.

Sea ice fell to its lowest level since human civilization began more than 12,000 years ago.

Human beings left Africa in waves, one of the primary ones being around 55,000 years ago, yet man-made climate change that we’ll witness could trigger changes that might threaten the very way we live.

Residents in Cape Town are awaiting “Day Zero,” when water supplies in the city’s reservoirs drop below 13.5%. Mayor Patricia de Lille estimated recently that the day will likely be April 21, now revised to June or July of 2018.

If you think these events are not related, you would be probably mistaken. Just as humanity is closing in on a technological singularity when technology and our ability to self-engineer ourselves could threaten our survival, we may also be entering an ecological environmental press that could push us to rapid progress, or actually a humanity extinction event. Let’s not even talk about the debt-bubble our global economy is in.

As a futurist, I think about all of these forces and their relationship upon our psyche. Yet in an era of Netflix, mobile immersion and video game zombieism, one has to wonder if we’ve lost touch with the very aspects of what made us most human for the last few thousands of years? The majority of humanity, won’t even be aware of arctic warming or the issues in Cape Town. Most people will still be living locally, without a deep concern for the state of the species. Without a recognition of what colonizing Mars actually means.

The Arctic could be a sauna and it wouldn’t even make the news.

 
The Arctic does not usually look like this, warning this image may not be understood by most viewers.

It was in in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, where a paradox occured, temperatures soared to a record high of 31 degrees, 40 degrees above normal. What does it mean?

So it goes — yet another anomalous winter in the #Arctic. Will Twitter care, human beings already impossibly irresponsible, emphatically lacking in sustainable agility — already we hardly can even formulate what’s to come for our children and grandchildren. The shift, almost beyond our imagination. Climate change skeptics, raging on.

Warm intrusions in February, in the Arctic! Par for the course now each year for Zack Labe, a climate scientist working on his PhD at the University of California at Irvine.

Even the most battle hardened cynic would find it hard to dispute the disappearance of arctic ice.

Hmmm, well I’m not a climate scientists. But this is kind of clear.

Temperatures over the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees above normal since the beginning of the calendar year of 2018.

There’s no viral meme to entertain us of what this actually means for the planet Earth. There’s no clear understanding of the consequences, or what comes next. It’s not the end of the world, but The Arctic Ocean once froze reliably every year. Those days are over. Perhaps for the first time in 1,500 years.

We’ve been measuring arctic sea ice extent by satellites since the 1970s. Fifty years later, we’re witnessing an event. It could have feedback loops which transform the way we live. Closest to the North Pole (>80°N latitude), #Arctic temperatures are the highest on record for the month of February in this data set. This is not News, as humans who follow their apps know it, this is the Earth we are talking about, the very ball of life that has sustained even our ability to destroy such massive amounts of biodiversity and forests in a few thousands years that aliens from other planets must be debating our danger to the cosmos. We’re clearly, not a normal species.

Humans might be on top of the food-chain on this enduring planet, but we are not without our fragility. The top of the world is turning from white to blue in summer as the ice that has long covered the north polar seas melts away, and we did it! We brought this upon ourselves. How many more Cape Towns will there be, and how soon? How many climate change migrants will be forced to leave their homes? How many more frequent weird storms shall appear?

THE LAST POLAR BEARS

We’ve witnessed a lot of species go extinct on our watch, probably more than most of us even realize. The biodiversity that existed before we colonized areas, before we probably made Neanderthals and Denisovans go extinct after some splendid and isolated origies, well — we deserve some credit. Our crisp cities are growing into mega-complexes while the natural world dies; as forests retreat and all the usual things we rarely think about.

We rarely do acknowledge the feedback loops or how we would cope if global warming triggered a mini ice-age. We plan for nuclear war from Russia or North Korea, but not that. A day may come when the Earth’s livability may make colonizing Mars seem like a really good idea.

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This February of 2018, we witnessed another arctic warming anomaly that will probably seem very weird, perhaps that is, until 2019.

 

Posted in Climate Change, Futures

Book about Providencia or New Providence, or ¿Santa Catalina?

from the New York Times Book Review section for Sunday, 13 May 2018 —

NONFICTION

Pirates, Runaways, Smugglers and the Occasional Aristocrat

 

Review By Michael Pye                                                  May 11, 2018

THE ISLAND THAT DISAPPEARED

The Lost History of the Mayflower’s Sister Ship and Its Rival Puritan Colony

By Tom Feiling
402 pp. Melville House. $28.99.

MAP_Providencia_merlin_137596761_bc5e5dcc-c3ee-49cb-a599-b009ddaa3b70-jumbo

Providence lies off the coast of Nicaragua.    Credit    Simonetta Giori

The island of Providence is still on the map, but you just might not notice. It’s a speck of land in the Caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua, with lovely blue waters and good lobster, a fueling stop for the speedboats rushing cocaine to the mainland. It was once a holy settlement founded by English Puritans, then it was Spanish for centuries and since 1928, as Providencia, part of far-off Colombia. It’s a place that’s now out of almost everybody’s way.

Naturally, being obscure, Providence has a raucous history that mostly isn’t officially documented. In the early years, its founding preachers could be “angry” and “vile,” but then the settlement was reorganized by rather jollier Puritans, one of whom liked Irish whiskey and Welsh conjurors. Later there were pirates, runaways, smugglers and the occasional aristocrat. Also a man who blamed himself for a crown prince’s suicide, an Englishman who may have been the first in the Americas to raise a quiet voice against slavery and, it was rumored, a fugitive Pablo Escobar.

All this is in Tom Feiling’s lively, baggy “The Island That Disappeared,” which belongs to the higher class of clever scrapbook, bolstered with the best sources and very fluent storytelling. If the narrative can seem ramshackle, that’s the nature of its subject: Why try to hold history together with map references when the really interesting events tend to happen in the margins? Feiling further muddles things by bringing in other islands when it suits him, which doesn’t help. But he has one huge advantage: the rich 17th-century records of the original Providence Island Company, which tried to found a Promised Land South to rival the famous one in Massachusetts. Although its settlers arrived on the sister ship to the Mayflower, relations between the two settlements were rather fraught.

                 

God’s favor wasn’t obvious. Woodworm got into the tobacco, which was the colonists’ lone hope of a cash crop. On one occasion, the outnumbered English defenders were reduced to cutting up organ pipes from a ruined church and throwing them at the Spanish. The island’s settlers quickly realized there was money in being pirates — or, if you prefer, special forces in the godly war against Spain. And so the place began to divide disastrously between the holy and the military. At home, meanwhile, the company’s members were involved in the English Civil War, which interrupts Feiling’s story to no great purpose and helped to wreck Providence.

The island was taken by the Spanish and became Santa Catalina, [? bp] was then lost by them and taken back again; but now Feiling’s story changes. It’s no longer about the Promised Land. Providence has become just one more island where people wash ashore. Feiling tracks some of those extraordinary individuals and makes them live, but now his facts don’t fit his larger aim, to show in microcosm “how the Western world came into being.”

He may want to talk about the big picture, but the story of Providence wasn’t about the making of “a mighty empire.” It was about God, food and money. When the British of that time talked about empire, they meant Ireland and nothing much beyond the British Isles. It was only later that a British citizen would have the opportunity to feel guilty about such things. And the guest appearance by David Cameron at the end of the book seems bizarrely out of place. Providence’s past would be odder, wilder and more intriguing without being seen through such modern spectacles.

Michael Pye’s most recent book is “The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe.”

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A version of this article appears in print on May 13, 2018, on Page 16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Puritans of the Caribbean. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Related Coverage

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‘A Tale of Two Plantations,’ by Richard S. Dunn         Jan. 2, 2015            ‘A Tale of Two Plantations,’ by Richard S. Dunn

‘Empire’s Crossroads,’ by Carrie Gibson                  Dec. 31, 2014            ‘Empire’s Crossroads,’ by Carrie Gibson

Posted in Small Island