Thursday, April 24, 2008

12 Reasons Why Leaving Iraq Is the Only Sane Thing to Do

Since the press doesn't bother to ask key questions, here's an attempt to unravel the situation in Iraq.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book review: Truth and Consequences

Title Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration's War on American Values
Author: Olbermann, Keith

Rating ***
Tags keith olbermann, non-fiction, special comments
This book is a collection of Olbermann's Special Comments he started making in 2006. They're good, and shows that Olbermann is one tv newscaster who really knows what is going on, but they begin to sound alike after a while. The thing I found that most irritating yet amusing was the constant use of the word "sir' when addressing President George W. Bush, or the Idiot Shrub, as I prefer to call him. You can just hear Olbermann saying it with utter contempt... as, indeed, Bush has shown himself worthy of, and Olbermann provides good reason for that opinion.

Publication Random House (2007), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 192 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 140006676X / 9781400066766

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Book review: The Year of Living Biblically

Title The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
Jacobs, A. J.
A. J. Jacobs
Rating *****
Tags bible, judaism, christianity, literalism

This is a really terrific book. Jacobs is a good writer, first of all, engaging, witty, and deep by turns.

He is a Jew who grew up in a secular family that were rather embarrassed by this religion thing . He is a professional writer, and while looking for ideas for his next book, hit upon the idea of taking the Bible literally. It would allow him to get to know the best-selling book of all time, to open the door to spirituality and see if anything developed for him, and to explore the concept of biblical literalism. "But my suspicion was that almost everyone's literalism consisted of picking and choosing. People plucked out the parts that fit their agenda, whether that agenda was to the right or left. Not me. I thought, with some naivete, I would peel away the layers of interpretation and find the true Bible underneath. i would do this by being the ultimate fundamentalist. I'd be fearless. I would do exactly what the Bible said, and in so doing, I'd discover what's great and timeless in the Bible and what is outdated." (p. 6-7)

So he bought a variety of versions of the Bible as well as other books about the Bible and read them all. He decided to devote 8 months to the Old Testament and 4 months to the New. He made a list of the rules in the Bible and carried it with him, sometimes binding a copy to his forehead and his arm. He came up with a list of what seemed to him the most bizarre rules in the Bible and investigated some of them early on. For instance, the prohibition against mixing cloth. He figured that no one was actually following this rule, but found that, on the contrary, there are people who are shatnez (mixed fiber) testers. He found one named Mr. Berkowitz who came and inspected his clothes for forbidden cloth... turns out the rule is about mixing linen and wool. Mr. Berkowitz found one suspicious garment which Jacobs put away for the rest of the year. Mr. Berkowitz becomes one of Jacob's mentors into Judaism. He is firmly of the belief that one doesn't need to understand all the rules in the Bible, but simply practice them, and by doing so draw nearer to God.

Jacobs has several mentors in his year, both rabbis and ministers. He visits representatives of all sorts of religious groups, everywhere along the path from rigid literalists to those who see the Bible more in terms of metaphor. He visits the Creationist Museum, Jerry Falwell's church, snake handlers, gay evangelicals, and of course Israel. Many of those he expected to dislike he found he did like, even when he didn't agree with them.

Some things he followed seem pretty silly. There's a funny scene where he decided he needed to stone someone, as it was the most common form in the Bible of capital punishment, and prescribed for numerous sins. So Jacobs gathered up some pebbles and went in search of sinners. He finds an angry old man who wants to know why he is dressed so queer, and he says he is stoning sinners. The old man says he is an adulterer, and Jacobs shows him the pebbles, the old man throws one at him, and he throws one back, and they part.

Other things Jacobs tries have a profound effect on him. He begins praying every day at the beginning of the year, and at first it leaves him feeling empty. Yet by the end of the year he finds himself praying spontaneously, for his son's protection, for instance, or small frequent prayers of gratitude for the small sweet things in life for which he had not before thought to be grateful.

His summary of the year on pages 327-329 worth the price of the book. He, who starts he year as an agnostic, ends the year as still an agnostic... but a reverent one: "I now believe that whether or not their's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It's possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn't take away from its power or importance."

As for the Bible himself, he comes away with two ideas from two of his mentors. One is: "Try thinking of the Bible as a snapshot of something divine. It may not be a perfect picture. It may have flaws; a thumb on the lens, faded colors in the corners. But it still helps to visualize." The other idea is that if one sees the Bible as the ending point of our relationship with God, one is using the Bible as an idol, worshiping the words rather than the spirit.

As a librarian, I tend to notice the bibliographic extras: the book has a great set of notes, an excellent bibliography that puts together books written from all viewpoints about Judaism and Christianity, and a detailed index.

Highly recommended.

Publication Simon & Schuster (2007), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0743291476 / 9780743291477

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Net Neutraility Video

This is a good video I saw on the topic of Net Neutrality. I'm offering it to you mainly to investigate how to embed a video on my blog. ;-).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book review: Free Lunch

TitleFree Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)
AuthorDavid Cay Johnston
Tagsgovernment, politics, wealth, corruption
Your reviewThe most important book I've read since I started reviewing books on Library Thing is The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. Free Lunch may be the second most important book, and both of these are my top picks for books the next President should take to the White House (a concept stolen from the blog for the PBS show Bill Moyers' Journal).

Free Lunch is an expose by a reporter with over 30 years experience, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist named David Cay Johnston. He details many of the ways the government has, since 1980, given advantages to the wealthy, especially the super wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us. From the sports team investors and other businesses that get subsidies and tax breaks that destroy the ability of local governments to provide services, to the illegality of the government negotiating for the best drug prices, to the deregulation of electric power generation in a way that caused prices to soar while services grew worse, to the horrors of non-profit health care becoming profit-making centers, those with the power to regulate and appropriate have contributed to income inequality as great as it was before the Great Depression.

This book complements well Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal, although that book was a history of the political economy of the U.S. since the Great Depression while this one is on abuses since 1980... yet they overlap in places. In particular, they both tell the same story of the health care industry. Johnston says, "Another study estimated that two-thirds of the administrative costs of for-profit insurers are spent on care denial...Americans spend nearly 6 times the average of what 13 other countries do on health care..." We spend so much on health care so that insurers can REFUSE to pay for health care for those they insure.

If you only read two books this year, my suggestion would be The Shock Doctrine and Free Lunch.
PublicationPortfolio Hardcover (2007), Hardcover, 352 pages

Publication date2007
ISBN1591841917 / 9781591841913

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: The Blacksmith's Daughter

TitleThe Blacksmith's Daughter
AuthorSuzanne Adair
Tagssuzanneadair mystery historicalmystery americanrevolution georgia southcarolina south
Your reviewSecond in a historical mystery series set during the Revolutionary War, one of very few set in the Southern colonies. The first book in the series was Paper Woman_. Even though it is the same series, the focus has changed. The main character in this book is the daughter of the main character in the first book.
I read the book on an airplane going to a conference, and didn't get around to reviewing it until a good bit later, and I was sorry for it, as I don't have a good memory for details.
Disclaimer: I have had an email correspondence with the author, and she is a delightful lady, intelligent, charming, and a great researcher as well as a good writer.

Nevertheless, I didn't review the book for a long time in part because it bothered me, and it took me a while to pin down why. I think I have. The problem for me was that other than the sociopathic character, a British officer, the sympathetic characters are pretty much all British or neutrals. I've grown up so trained to revere the Revolutionary generation that it didn't sit well... and I think that is my problem, not the author's, and have come around to believing it is a valuable viewpoint on that era, a corrective that to a view that is all black and white. Get over that, and you'll find it an enjoyable adventure.
PublicationWhittler's Bench Press (2007), Edition: First, Paperback, 353 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0978526538 / 9780978526535

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Animal Welfare

Oprah Winfrey had a terrific show on Friday about puppy mills. If you haven't heard of puppy mills, they are the source of virtually all the dogs that are for sale in pet stores. Conditions in most puppy mills are horrible. Females are bred constantly, and live for the most part in cages all their lives, then are shot or sent to shelters when they are too old to breed anymore. There are fewer male dogs kept, but their lives are similar.

I love both cats and dogs, but have only had cats since I moved out on my own, as cats are more practical in an apartment. As far as I know, there aren't similar breeding mills for cats, as there isn't the demand for specific breeds. However, there are more hoarding cases with cats, and the result is about the same. Hoarding cases are those where a person gathers more cats than they can take care of, and the situation spirals out of control.

To illustrate this problem, let me tall you about my two cats. I adopted them Dec. 27th, 2007 from Good Mews, a wonderful no-kill cat shelter here in Atlanta. My two are both females, a mother and daughter, Shannon, now 7, and Heather, now 6. They came from a hoarding case, and the shelter workers tell me they arrived emaciated and starving. It took some time for them to realize that food was always available in the shelter and they could eat as much as they want. Their teeth had rotted so badly the shelter had them removed. They do fine now eating both wet and dry food.

How has it marked them? Shannon, the mother, is as sweet and cuddlesome as I could want. She comes up to me and rubs my face, and I just melt. She is a little obsessed with food, though, and thinks everything I pick up must be food and comes running to investigate.

Heather, the daughter, is more marked. She has FIV, which is the cat version of HIV. That doesn't worry me, as it doesn't pass to humans and about the only way it is transmitted by cats is deep bit wounds by an unneutered male cat... and Heather has no teeth. It was with Heather I bonded first in the shelter, she followed me around and they said they hadn't seen her do that with hardly anyone. So I chose her and her mother. Since getting her home, she is quite skittish. She comes to me at certain times for petting, but sometimes she runs for no reason I can see. What surprised me is that she sometimes has issues with her mother, hissing and sometimes hitting out at her. I think it is an issue of territoriality and/or jealousy... I pet Shannon a lot because she comes and asks for it. In the months that I've had Heather her lashing out has gotten less, and there are many times they let me pet them at the same time and they will rub faces together. But Heather is unpredictable as to when she will lash out. So their previous life has marked them both, and I am determined to give them a happy ending.

But for far too many animals, that happy ending is still not happening. Over four million animals, cats, dogs, and even rabbits, are euthanized... no, lets say it... killed, in animal control and other facilities every year. The number is down from a decade ago, but it is still far too many. Other animals live in horrible conditions, as outlined above. AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO HAPPEN. There are some clear things to do to stop it.

(1) Never buy a cat, dog, or rabbit in a pet store. Shelters are overcrowded with lovely animals needing homes, and about a third of dogs in shelters are purebreds. Or, if you don't find a dog of the breed you want in a shelter, look on the web for a rescue society for that breed. Some pet stores are trying to be responsible. My local PetSmart, for example, doesn't sell cats or dogs, but has some space for cats from local shelters that can be adopted, and on many Saturdays they have dogs from shelters available for adoption.
(2) Spay or neuter your pet. Don't count on their not going outside, accidents happen. Let's get the population down to where every pet has a loving home.
(3) If you have the resources, give to shelters. One way of doing so that doesn't cost money is by going to the Animal Rescue site. There you can click on a button to give food to animals in shelters. For $25 a year, you can donate to the Best Friends organization and get an absolutely wonderful glossy magazine about animals and their issues.

Thank you.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Book Review: Death was the Other Woman

TitleDeath Was the Other Woman: A Mystery
AuthorLinda L. Richards
Tagsmystery, Great depression, private eye, women
Your reviewLately I haven't had many of those serendipitous finds you get while browsing a shelf of books. I usually put holds on books I Know I want to read, and there are enough books out by authors I know that I like that I don't often browse the shelves, and when I do, I rarely pick up a new author. But I did the other day pick up this book, it looked intriguing. fortunately, it WAS intriguing, and I really enjoyed the book.

It is set in the early 1930s in Los Angeles. Katherine Pangborn was a daughter of wealth and privilege until her father lost all in the stock market crash and committed suicide. Katherine gets a job with a private eye in LA named Dexter J. Theroux. Katherine does some of the investigating when Dex is out of town.

The book takes on the stereotypes of hard-boiled PI novels , and goes from there. Dex is right out of a hard-boiled novel until he tells Katherine some of what happened to him in WWI in France. Behind everything is the pall of the Great Depression, and the desperation of many. Yet the overall story is of a woman finding her strength. But it is also a fun book with an interesting plot. This is apparently Richard's second novel, and I'll be looking for her work from now on.
PublicationSt. Martin's Minotaur (2008), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 272 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0312377703 / 9780312377700

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Book Review: Friend of the Devil

TitleFriend of the Devil
AuthorPeter Robinson
Tagsmystery, series, england, police procedural
Your reviewThis is the 17th in Peter Robinson's excellent Alan Banks series. Banks is a Chief Inspector in Eastvale, a small English town not far from Leeds. The series is rather dark in tone, but one rather expects that in a murder related series. While Banks is the main character, it is something of an ensemble piece, with a number of interesting characters that grow over the course of the series. Annie Cabot is the lead female character, and it is her emotional life that is a major plot point in this particular entry in the series. Excellent series, this book is a well-done part of it.
PublicationWilliam Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0060544376 / 9780060544379

Book Review: The Reeve's Tale

TitleThe Reeve's Tale (Sister Frevisse)
AuthorMargaret Frazer
Tagshistorical mystery, series, medieval, frevisse
Your reviewMargaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse series is one I always meant to get around to, especially after seeing some of her posts on the historical mystery mailing list, Crime Through Time. So when a friend sent me the Reeve's Tale I was quite happy. It is the tenth in the series, and I always prefer to read series in order, but it isn't always easy to find all the books in a series. So I went ahead and read this one, and am happy i did. It is tightly plotted, with good characters, and a great sense of its time (1440 AD) and place (a small English village). Recommended.
PublicationBerkley (2000), Paperback, 274 pages
Publication date2000
ISBN0425176673 / 9780425176672

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bill Moyer's Journal

Bill Moyers is a national treasure. He is a liberal, and unabashed about it, and he looks for truths that the mainstream media won't touch. He currently has a show on PBS called Bill Moyer's Journal. The shows are astonishing... some in-depth journalistic investigations, such as the first one on the lousy media coverage during the run-up to the Iraq war. Some are cultural, such as one that showed many scenes out of a one-woman show about Rachel Carson. Some are interviews with literary or political figures.

The story I'm watching now is on the Kerner Commission of 1968, which examined the causes of the riots in cities. The report said that racism was institutional and that the country was dividing into separate and unequal societies, one black and one white. The story goes on to examine the current state of black America, and as I've seen in other things and mentioned here, statistic after statistic shows that our society is still highly unequal, that the black quality of life is worse in measure after measure even today. Here's a link to the story.

The follow-up story is a conversation with the mayor of Newark, NJ, who is dealing with truly frightening conditions. Both of them mention some of those awful statistics. Corey Booker, the mayor, is surprisingly optimistic that policy decisions can make a difference. He says it is possible to create change, but the problem is less the evil actions of bad people, but the lack of action by good people, and challenges people to be part of the change. He has serious issues to deal with, and is coming up with creative solutions to them. Wow... he says that sooner or later we have to stop assigning blame, but to accept responsibility and take action for change. He says he is proud of this country, but knows it is not complete yet. These are the kind of people we need to listen to, and I am grateful there is someone like Bill Moyers giving them a voice.

Bill Moyer's Journal is on the GPB station on Sunday afternoons, I think at 3 pm. I don't know because I tivo it and watch it later. The audio of all the shows of the Journal are available FREE as podcasts on iTunes, and you can subscribe to the podcast feed and get automatic updates to your iPod.