Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blessings of the Season

May the blessings of this season of light bring you and yours health and happiness.

Book Review: Men of the Otherworld

TitleMen of the Otherworld
AuthorKelley Armstrong
Tagsparanormal, suspense, werewolves, witches, mediums, ghosts, series

This is a collection of short stories/novellas about the male characters from Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. This volume is about the werewolves, with most of it being taken up by the background stories of Clay and Jeremy Danvers. Clay was bitten as a young boy, and lived wild in the Louisiana bayou until Jeremy found him and adopted him.

Good strong stories that fill in needed background detail. Another volume is planned of stories about other supernatural men from the series. I look forward to it, as now I do to any work by Kelley Armstrong.
PublicationSpectra (no date), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication dateno date
ISBN0553807099 / 9780553807097

Book Review: Living With the Dead

TitleLiving with the Dead (Women of the Otherworld, Book 9)
AuthorKelley Armstrong
Tagsparanormal, suspense, werewolves, witches, mediums, ghosts, serirs

Book 9 in Armsrtong's Women of the Otherworld, and the series is still going strongly. In this volume, Robyn Peltier is a human woman, a young grieving widow who takes a job in L.A. as the PR flack for a young celbutante, Portia Kane. When Portia is shot to death in circumstances that suggest Robyn is her killer, Robyn has to run, but it seems the killer can always find her. The policeman looking for her speaks to the dead and is being helped by a ghost who turns out to be Robyn's late husband. Robyn's friend Hope Adams gets involved with her werewolf boyfriend in trying to protect her and solve the killings, along with Paige and Lucas, the witch and sorcerer husband and wife team.

Again Armstrong wins out with a novel comprised of equal parts good plos and good characters. Read the whole series, you'll be glad you did.
PublicationSpectra (2008), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0553806645 / 9780553806649

Book Review: Personal Demon

TitlePersonal Demon (Women of the Otherworld, Book 8)
AuthorKelley Armstrong
Tagsparanormal, fantasy, half-demons, series

Eighth in Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. The main character in this book is Hope Adams. Adams is a debutante with the exotic looks of her Indian mother. She learns as a young woman that she is a half-demon, and her power is detecting and feeding off of chaos (strong emotions). Not knowing how she was reading strong thoughts and being drawn to them earned her some time in a mental institution. Now she feeds the chaos as a tabloid reporter chasing down alien abduction stories and working for the interracial council of the supernatural races. She accepts an assignment that takes her to Miami to go undercover into a gang that wants to challenge the cabals. She is greatly attracted to one of the young gang members, Jaz, while still trying to deal with her strong feelings for the werewolf Karl.

After reading so many books in this terrific series, I've decided Armstrong should take as her motto, "Writing rationally about the irrational". Her plots are well thought out, and so are her characters, who mostly behave like, well, rational adults. They plan things out, yet act when they must, using all their intelligence, talents, and more. The supernatural characters all have powers, and there are consequences to those powers that are often difficult to deal with, and that shape the characters and their destinies.

The purpose of all creative writing, in my mind, is to define what it means to be human and explore its limits and strengths. Armstrong does this well in her series by showing the limits of power, and the choices that power forces on us. And along the way she is darned entertaining. Highly recommended.
PublicationSpectra (2008), Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0553588206 / 9780553588200

Book Review: No Humans Involved

TitleNo Humans Involved (Women of the Otherworld, Book 7)
AuthorKelley Armstrong
Tagsparanormal, suspense, werewolves, witches, mediums, ghosts

Book 7 in Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld. This volume stars one of my favorite of Armstrong's characters, the necromancer Jaime Vegas. She sees ghosts, and makes her living as a medium, traveling the show circuit. She and two other mediums are tapped to do a reality show which is supposed to end by contacting Marilyn Monroe. Meanwhile Jaime is being contacted by ghosts that she can't quite hear or see, and she believes are the ghosts of children, and she determines to understand them and free them from whatever bond is holding them. Meanwhile, her relationship with the Alpha of the wolf pack, Jeremy, becomes the intimate one she dreamed of from when she first met him.

Strong entry in a strong series.
PublicationSpectra (2008), Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0553588370 / 9780553588378

Book Review: Broken, by Kelley Armstrong

TitleBroken (Women of the Otherworld, Book 6)
AuthorKelley Armstrong
Tagsparanormal, suspense, werewolves, witches

Book 6 in Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. Elena the only female werewolf returns as the narrator, as she was in Books1 and 2. She is pregnant and nervous about it, as she is the only female werewolf in living memory and so unsure how her pregnancy will develop. She and the rest of the Pack are offered an interesting job of larceny, stealing a letter supposedly written by Jack the Ripper, which was stolen back in the 20s. Elena is happy to have something to distract her. She, Clay, and Jeremy succeed in stealing the letter, only to accidentally activate a dimensional portal from which two zombies and a sorcerer erupt.

Armstrong's series continues to be a strong one. She sustains the series well, bringing in new characters, building up the old ones, and providing good plots. Recommended.
PublicationSpectra (2006), Mass Market Paperback, 480 pages
Publication date2006
ISBN0553588184 / 9780553588187

Friday, December 19, 2008

Religion and how to ask questions

Verrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyy interesting article from Alternet intended to start a discussion on religion. It looks at the religions that exist, categorizes them, then discusses the viewpoints of each and how we can best study religion. Not sure I agree with the conclusion, but it is a fascinating starting off point.

NYT: The Torture Report Editorial

The New York Times published this editorial that gives some details on torture during the Bush Administration, and what should be done now. It also mentions some of the many government officials who opposed torture and were not listened to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Science Suffered During the Bush Administration

For those who think the only reason liberals dislike Bush is the Iraq war, this article details the politicization and marginalization of science during the Bush administration.

Article: A Climate Plan for the New Administration

Now this is the kind of article I like: it gives specific policy proposals that Obama could implement immediately to start improving the climate. They may not all work, but it is great to see specific proposals that are at least a basis for thought.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Article: Most Important Number on Earth

...is, according to this article, the number that defines the maximum amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that will maintain the planet as we want it to be.

Article: Bush Tries to Whitewash History

This article by Matthew Yglesias debunks Bush's recent claim that it was faulty intelligence that led him and others into going to war in Iraq. Bush is even now trying to revise history, and he can't be allowed to get away with it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Union Busting

Article on the Senate Republican's voting down the auto bailout as a way of busting the UAW. Gives some of the facts about union labor.

It's the Economy

This article explains a lot about the economy and the current situation. I'd like to quote a lengthy bit for those who believe the economy under Bush was rosy until the recent crisis:

"During the intervening period, the "real" American economy was in doldrums: between 2000-2007, median household income dropped; the number of families living in poverty grew by almost 11 percent and the economy added jobs at the lowest rate in the post-World War II era. (I should add that those employment numbers look a lot worse when you take out the job growth in government and our uniquely inefficient health sector -- between 2001 and 2006, health care added 1.7 million (net) new jobs while the rest of the economy added zero.)"

The article also argues that the stock market has driven "short-termism" where the driving force behind CEO decisions is the company's quarter-to-quarter balance sheets, where the short term profits drive the company's stock price and thus CEO benefits. This leads to cutting back on anything that doesn't directly relate to short-term profits, including driving jobs overseas and gutting environmental protections.

Stephen Chu at Energy

Article with reasons why Stephen Chu is a good pick for Secretary of Energy.

Israel and Gaza

This article is hard to read. I support Israel's right to exist, and understand they are very sensitive to any threats to their security, but I believe the policies mentioned in this article are inhumane and short-sighted.

History of the U.S. Health Care System

This article provides an interesting history of the U.S. health care system and how we got to the situation we have today.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: Haunted, by Kelley Armstrong

Title Haunted (Women of the Otherworld, Book 5)
Kelley Armstrong
Rating ****
Tags paranormal, suspense, werewolves, witches, ghosts

Fifth in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. The narrator of this one is Eve, mother of the young powerful witch Savannah. Eve really does her best to protect Savannah, but her task is made difficult by the fact that she's dead, and ghosts are a bit limited in what they can accomplish. The Fates giver her a task that might suit her strength of character and her creative solutions... she is to capture the Nix, a supernatural creature who takes up residence in ther brains of female psychopaths and encourages them to act on their homicidal tendencies. Aiding Eve is Trsiel, an angel, and her dear love, Kristof Nast, who is also a ghost.

This one gets a bit too dark for me when she goes to the prison dimension for serial killers, but overall it is a good book.

Publication Spectra (2005), Mass Market Paperback, 528 pages
Publication date 2005
ISBN 0553587080 / 9780553587081

Book Review: Industrial Magic

Title Industrial Magic (Women of the Otherworld, Book 4)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Rating ****
Tags paranormal, suspense, werewolves, witches

Fourth in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, and perhaps the best yet. Paige Winterbourne, her partner Lucas Cortez, and their ward Savannah are trying to create a life for themselves. Lucas is the son and heir of the powerful Cortez Cabal. There are five cabals of sorcerers who are wealthy and powerful almost beyond imagining. But someone is killing the children of cabal employees, and Lucas and Paige accept the task of investigating.

Excellent suspense, and good characters, including the sexy necromancer Jaime Vegas. Lucas' father, Benecio, is also an intriguing character, a very powerful man driven in part by the need to gain his son's approval. Recommended.

Publication Spectra (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 560 pages
Publication date 2004
ISBN 0553587072 / 9780553587074

Book Review: Dime Store Magic

Title Dime Store Magic (Women of the Otherworld, Book 3)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Rating ****
Tags paranormal, suspense, werewolves, witches

This is the 3rd in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Underworld series. Books 3 and 4 are narrated by the witch, Paige Winterbourne, and I like them the best of the five I've read in the series.

At age 23, Paige finds herself head of the Coven of witches and guardian/adopted mother of the powerful young witch, Savannah. The two come into conflict as the rest of the Coven dislikes Savannah and wants no part of her. Meanwhile a powerful sorcerer and a half-demon woman are trying to take custody of Savannah Paige isn't sure where to turn, but the appearance of Lucas Cortez, determined to act as her lawyer, is just too good to be true.

Again lots of suspense and action, but also the building up of good characters. Recommended.

Publication Spectra (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Publication date 2004
ISBN 0553587064 / 9780553587067

Book Review: Stolen, by Kelley Armstrong

Title Stolen (Women of the Otherworld, Book 2)
Kelley Armstrong
Rating ***1/2
Tags paranormal, suspense, werewolves, witches

Second in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, and the second told from the point of view of the werewolf, Elena. She is part of a werewolf pack, and in the first book they dealt with psychotic werewolves not of the Pack. In this one, Elena and her pack, including her mate Clay and her mentor, Jeremy, find out about the existence of other supernatural creatures and are invited to join a council of them. They meet two witches, Ruth and Paige Winterbourne, a half-demon, a vampire, and more. Elena and Ruth get kidnapped by a human psychopath and his followers who know who they are and want to study them to try and gain their powers. Ruth begins teaching a young witch, Savannah, also in custody, whose mother, Eve, had been killed by the group as being too hard to control.

An exciting read, with lots of action and lots of good characters. The werewolves are a little off-putting as they are quite disdainful of humans, mostly tolerating them when they have to but willing to do what it takes to protect themselves, without remorse. Recommended.

Publication Plume (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 480 pages
Publication date 2004
ISBN 0452285933 / 9780452285934

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prop 8 the Musical

Absolutely hilarious video that's a short musical on Proposition 8 in California. Jack Black is Jesus and there are several other actors I recognize in it, including John C. O'Reilly and Neil Patrick Harris.


Joseph Stiglitz on the Bad Decisions that Led to the Financial Meltdown

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel prize-winning economist. In this article, he talks about five bad decisions that led to the 2008 financial crisis. One was replacing Volker with Greenspan as Federal Reserve Chairman, one was the deregulation that happened when Glass-Steagall was repealed, another was the Bush tax cuts, one was an accounting system that had incentives for fraud, and the last was the particular bailout package that was passed and how it has been implemented. It is a little worrisome that Robert Rubin and Larry Summers were opposed to regulation of derivatives, and they are a major part of Obama's economic team. Stiglitz provides good background on each of the five decisions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: Supreme Conflict

TitleSupreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court
AuthorJan Crawford Greenburg
Tagssupreme court

This is an excellent book to introduce people to the complexities of the Supreme Court. Greenburg, a reporter for ABC News with a law degree, has written one of the most objective books I've read... and I don't much believe anyone is objective.

The book covers the court from the mid-80s or so, and the confirmations of Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Both were disappointments to social conservatives, who were hoping for Roe v. Wade and affirmative action to be overturned. Both started out as fairly reliably conservative, but O'Connor began drifting left in response to Clarence Thomas and his aggressive early stances on the Court. Kennedy, the author believes, drifted left in part in response to public opinion. Neither had a firm judicial philosophy, preferring to take a case-by-case approach. The judicial conservatives believed in interpreting law not making it, while the liberals believed in an evolving Constitution and the ability of judges to affect social issues.

At least those are the theories. One of the things that comes across most clearly is that laws, like anything written by humans, are subject to interpretation, and that the range of possible interpretations is broad. After all, if there were no disagreements on interpretation there wouldn't be a requirement for so many judges. Well-meaning and competent people can, and do, differ as to what laws mean and whether their meaning evolves over time.

Greenburg also gives a picture of the personalities of each judge. They are a diverse group. Roberts and Alito, the newest members, are what those on the right have been seeking for years, reliably conservative, but both are well-qualified and work well with others. They are of an age to sit on the bench for years to come.

Excellent book, a worthwhile read.
PublicationPenguin (Non-Classics) (2008), Paperback, 368 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0143113046 / 9780143113041

Recommendations to Obama on Food Policy

Interesting article from HuffPo on what food policy should be under Obama. It is a topic I know very little about, so find the article useful.

How to Renew the Economy by James K. Galbraith

I liked Galbraith's book The Predator State, though I didn't understand all of it. In this article in Mother Jones he has a short, easy-to-read explanation of what needs to happen to rebuild the U.S. economy.

Defense Budget

Good article on HuffPo about the Defense Budget, its size, what to do about it, and the viewpoint from several of the players. It is time for the nation to have a conversation on what kind of country we want to be, what kind of defense is needed to be that country, and to recognize the limits of military power. The basis for this conversation should be Andrew J. Bacevich's book The Limits of Power.

Background Article on Afghanistan

Excellent article on Alternet giving background on the situation in Afghanistan. What we normally lump together as the "Taliban" are actually a number of different organizations.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book Review: Me of Little Faith

TitleMe of Little Faith
AuthorLewis Black
Tagsreligion, humor

I've loved what I've seen of Lewis Black's comedy. He does the Angry (well, no longer young) Man well, and his use of the f-word less offensive than usual because it fits so well into that persona. In this, his second book, he takes on religion. His trademark comedy is there, but it is actually surprising the religious experiences he has had. Through hallucinogenic drugs, for example, he had profound experiences of the interconnectedness of everything and everyone. He has also had amazing experiences with one particular psychic and after the death of his brother. But he has little use for organized religions, and his trademark humor points up much of the absurdity of them. I'm rather surprised he doesn't seem to know anything about paganism - I'm sure Wiccans and other pagans have educated him by now. Somebody also needs o tell him that there already exist comedy religions, such as Discordianism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the Church of Elvis.

Excellent book if you like Black's style of humor, though the play at the end was not as funny as Black would like to think.
PublicationRiverhead Hardcover (2008), Hardcover, 256 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1594489947 / 9781594489945

Book Review: Here Lies Arthur

TitleHere Lies Arthur
AuthorPhilip Reeve
Tagsking arthur, merlin

Everyone has stories that have had so much of an impact on them that attempts to revise them, to be "realistic", about them, are infuriating. I rejected the Star Trek Enterprise series in its first season, for example, because they made "my" Vulcans into a sneaking, deceptive race and I couldn't stand that. This version of the Arthurian romance has that same problem. Reeve's Myrddin (Merlin) has no power other than the power of a bard to shape a culture's tales. Arthur is a thug, warring only to gain wealth. Gwenhwyvar is selfish, grasping tightly a love she needs. Reeve does it well, and there is some power in the main character, Gwyna, a girl who is servant to Myrddin and does her best to help as many people as she can. Yet for me Reeves is fighting too many years of adoration of the Arthur story, particularly as told by T. H. White's The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart's Merlin series.

Still, if you like having your heroes debunked, Reeves provides a quick good read.
PublicationScholastic Press (2008), Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0545093341 / 9780545093347

Friday, December 5, 2008

Greens Gone Wild

Another MoJo article about some really far-out save the environment ideas... many of them amusing as well as practical.

Europe and the Benefits of Greening the Economy

Great article in Mother Jones about the impact that environmental regulations have had in the European Union. The overall costs of going green (or at least greener) have not been as high as was feared, and there is job/industry growth in green technology.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Review: FDR by Jean Edward Smith

AuthorJean Edward Smith
Tagsfranklin delano roosevelt, fdr, president, biography, wwii, depression

This is an excellent time for this book to come out, and to have read it, when, in the U.S., we have an incoming President who faces challenges almost as severe as FDR did and who is being compared to FDR. It makes it a great time to analyze FDR's strengths and mistakes, to see what lessons can be drawn from them.

There wasn't a lot in FDR's early life to suggest his extraordinary gift for leadership. In his early years he was intelligent and charming, full of life and vigor, but rather callow. Frances Perkins, for one, was not impressed by him as he was in his early political days, though she grew to very much admire the President he became.

Nothing prepared him more for the Presidency than his years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. It taught him about the military and about Washington politics.

Oddly enough, the polio that struck him in 1021, paralyzing his hips, may have been a source of his growth as a human being. He had always been confident, and remained so, but he was courageous and determined in his fight against the disability.

It was his confidence and courage that allowed him to face the deep crises of his Presidency, to be willing to try new ideas, knowing some might fail, in which case he would try something else. By the time he became President he had been to Warm Springs, Georgia, to help treat his polio, and he was much struck by the poverty of the area. His enthusiasm for rural electrification was informed in part by his time there.

By 1940, Roosevelt was tired and, were it not for the worsening international situation, may not have run again for President. He dd run, he won, and led an isolationist public opinion into supporting Britain and then into the absolutely incredible level of military and industrial mobilization required for WWII. He worked particularly well with Churchill and the two had a lot of similarities in their approach, and he was also able to work with Stalin once events forced them into alliance.

Joe Biden had, in my opinion, the best line of the 2008 campaign when he said we need not just a good soldier as President, but a wise leader. FDR was a wise leader. He was also human, and made mistakes, such as the attempt to pack the Supreme Court and to balance the federal budget in 1937, which caused a recession. Other times he was held back from doing better things by political realities, such as the need for the voes of the Southern Democrats, when otherwise he might have moved forward more on civil rights issues.

All of these things provide good lessons for President-elect Obama.

Jean Edward Smith is an experienced writer of biographies, and she handles this one well. It is long, with voluminous notes. At times reading it one feels bogged down by detail, and at other times sees only a glimpse of interesting material that can't be fully covered in this book.... most strikingly, there is surprisingly little of Eleanor's story during her most interesting and productive years for the simple reason that by that point she and Franklin had little to do with each other. Their lives had become quite separate, to the point that each had love affairs with other people, and worked in their own sphere of influence.

Overall, a long book but worth the read. Recommended.
PublicationRandom House Trade Paperbacks (2008), Paperback, 880 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0812970497 / 9780812970494

Book Review: Territory by Emma Bull

Emma Bull
Tagsold west, wyatt earp

War for the Oaks is by Emma Bull and one of my favorite fantasy novels, so I was excited to see she has a new novel out. Territory is set in the Old West, in Tombstone, Arizona. She never gives a date, but gives an event, the assassination of President Garfield, which places the action in 1881. There are two main characters. Mildred Benjamin and her husband moved to Tombstone about a year ago, and her husband died soon after. She now works as a typesetter, occasionally reporter, for the local newspaper. Jesse Fox comes through the town on his way to Mexico. He friend Chow Lung is in Tombstone, and has been trying to get Jesse to admit he has magickal powers and to learn to use them. It is needed because there is at least one more sorcerer in town, a dangerous one. Meanwhile we see parts of the story through the eyes of Doc Holliday.

It is a tale of several fascinating personalities, and a good story most of the way through, but ends unexpectedly and before the scene it seems to be building towards. It is unclear if it is meant to end that way of if there is a sequel in the offing.

Illustrator – Palencar, John Jude
PublicationTor Books (2007), Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0312857357 / 9780312857356