Thursday, July 31, 2008

US judge: White House aides can be subpoenaed

A federal judge has ruled against the Bush administration in ruling that former Bush aides cannot refuse to testify before Congress on the basis of executive privilege. This is a huge step in restoring the Constitutional checks and balances.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

4.5 Billion Years in Provence

MoJo article on nuclear power that is a cautionary tale, discussing problems in France, which has invested heavily in nuclear power, with leaks, and with the disposal of waste.

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Acts of War

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter explains how some of the intelligence about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is flawed.

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Do Women Have an Inner Glass Ceiling?

"That's the reason circulating in the media for why more women aren't in politics. That conclusion is convenient -- and flawed." Good Alternet article pointing out the flaws in the argument that women don't run for office just because they don't want to.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Review: Better Read than Dead

TitleBetter Read Than Dead (Psychic Eye Mysteries, Book 2)
AuthorVictoria Laurie
Tagspsychics, mystery, series

It has been a long time since I read a book I just couldn't put down, but this book is one. I just had to read the whole thing to find out what happened. The protagonist is Abby Cooper, a professional psychic. After doing a reading for a masked hit man at a wedding, Abby becomes dangerously involved in the Greek mafia. Meanwhile she is having difficulties in the early stages of her relationship with a hunky FBI agent. The characters are good, the plot is very involving.
PublicationSignet (2005), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2005
ISBN0451215583 / 9780451215581

Book Review: Where Memories Lie

TitleWhere Memories Lie: A Novel (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels)
Deborah Crombie


Tagsmystery, series, london, police procedural

Deborah Crombie, like Laurie King, is one of the most reliably good writers. I have never disliked one of her books, and one, Dreaming of the Bones, I thought was of the highest literary quality. Her series is set in London. The two main characters are Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, both in the police. Their relationship has developed over the course of the series, and each has a son from a previous marriage.

This novel switches back and fortth between scenes with different characters in different time periods. Gradually the pieces come together in a powerful and satisfying novel. Highly recommended.
PublicationWilliam Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0061287512 / 9780061287510

It's not easy being green

"You might want to go green, but how do you know what you're buying is truly ethical? Greenwash -- the ignoble art of misleading consumers about a product's true green worth -- is on the rise. But thanks to the work of increasingly vigilant regulators, some of the more curious and downright spurious claims are being weeded out.: Story from CNN.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going Solar Power: One Month Later

"Loyd Case talk a few weeks since his solar power installation went live. More importantly, the monitoring system has been in place for about a month now." Interesting look at one family's experience with solar power.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Book review: Witch Hunt

TitleWitch Hunt (Ophelia & Abby, Book 4)
AuthorShirley Damsgaard
Tagsmystery, paranormal, witchcraft, psychics

Fourth in the Ophelia and Abby series by Shirly Damsgaard. The series is about a Ophelia Jenson and her grandmother Abby, both from a long line of traditional Appalachian witches, though Ophelia and Abby now live in Iowa. Ophelia is a librarian and resisted her psychic powers most of her life. Now she uses them, learning how from Abby.

In this episode in the series, bikers have come to town, and one of them is murdered. Ophelia's friend Darci, has a visiting cousin who is accused of the murder.

I've liked all of the series so far. The characters are good, and the plots, if you accept the psychic powers, are believable. Recommended.
PublicationAvon (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0061147117 / 9780061147111

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What is a Scientific Theory?

Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover, has more to say on another topic I'd like to quote. Those who argue against evolution often say that it is just a theory, implying that it isn't proven, isn't the basis for much of current science. She has a couple of good quotes on that topic that might be of use if you find yourself arguing with a creationist.

From page 151: "At one point Rothschild [plaintiff's lawyer] reminded Behe [defense witness] of National Academy of Science's definition of a scientific theory: 'A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses."

From page 115: "Dr. [Ken] Miller [plaintiff witness], isn't evolution just a theory?" Walczak [plaintiff's lawyer] asked at one point in the testimony, emphasizing the word, 'just'.
Miller answered with the same patience and earnestness he might direct to a bright but confused student. 'Evolution is just a theory,' Miller said, ' in the same way that the atomic theory of matter is just a theory, the Copernican theory of the solar system is just a theory, or the germ theory of disease is just a theory. But theories...are not hunches, they're not unproven speculation. Theories are systems of explanations which are strongly supported by factual observations and which [explain] ... whole sets of facts and experimental results."

Journalism, Fairness, and Balance

Several things that I've read recently discuss the current state of the news media and the problems with it. Media consolidation, giving control of the news to large corporations, is one problem. Another is an interesting discussion that journalists have been acting according to a particular idea of fairness that requires them to get quotes from people on different sides of an issue. It does SOUND fair, but there are problems with it. Lauri Lebo, in The Devil in Dover (see review below) on pages 95-97, has an excellent discussion of the topic, and I want to quote at length from it. She is discussing why the media don't give more coverage to the fact that there is no controversy among scientists that evolution is true:

"So why isn't the message getting through to the public? One of the problems is that few newspaper reporters posess backgrounds in science. Furthermore, the mainstream media's adherence to a notion of objectivity and "fair and balanced" journalism is frequently expolited, allowing advocacy organizations to portray an issue as controversial when it's not. Journalists, fearing ofending conservative and fundamentalist readers, have become timid at presenting information. Consequently, what passes for news gathering becomes what Science magazine's Donald Kennedy called the 'two-card Rolex problem'.
'There's a very small set of people who question the consensus', Kennedy said. 'And there are a great many thoughtful reporters in the media who believe that in order to produce a balanced story, you've got to pick one commentator from side A and one commentator from Side B.'
As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote in their book The Elements of Journalism,

Rather than high principles, [fairness and balance] are really techniques - devices - to help guide journalists in the development and verification of their accounts. They should never be pursued for their own sake or invoked as journalism's goal. Their value is in helping us get closer to more thorough verification and a reliable version of events.
Balance, for instance, can lead to distortion. If an overwhelming percentage of scientists, for example, believe that global warming is a scientific fact, or that some medical treatment is clearly the safest, it is a disservice to citizens and truthfulness to create the impression that scientific debate is equally split. Unfortunately, all too often journalistc balance is misconsrued to have this kind of almost mathematical meaning, as if a good story is one that has an equal number of quotes from two sides. As journalists know often there are more than two sides to a story. And sometimes balancing them equally is not a true reflection of reality."

Lebo, Lauri. The Devil in Dover. New York: New Press, 2008.

She got the Kovach and Rosenstiel quote from The Elements of Journalism, New York, Three Rivers Press, 2001.

On a related topic, Lebo on page 199-200, has this:

At the conclusion of the Scopes trial, H. L. Mencken wrote, "Even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them on other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected from the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge."

What a great summary of free speech.

Book Review: The Devil in Dover

TitleThe Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America
Author:Lauri Lebo


Tagsevolution, intelligent design, education

Excellent book by reporter Lebo about the case in Dover, Pennsylvania as to whether the school board could force the science classes in the schools to mention intelligent design along with evolution. Lebo, herself the daughter of a fundamentalist Christian minister, writes with passion about the trial and events leading up to it, and the characters of all the leading people in the case. Those people range from the school board members, to the parents of children willing to become plaintiffs, to the lawyers, the scientists, the judge, the reporters, and the people of Dover.

Intelligent design had been a growing issue in the American culture wars, and national level organizations on both sides were looking for a test case. The school board, though warned that their actions could result in a costly and lengthy trial, went ahead and bought 60 copies of an intelligent design (ID) textbook and made it available in the schools, and also required that a four paragraph statement calling evolution a theory, not a fact, and recommending ID as an alternative theory be read to the students in biology classes (for the full text of the statement see page 62).

The book deals with a lot of important issues. Lebo is terrific at giving context to everything, from the Scopes trail and subsequent court cases involving evolution, to the people behind the issues and what drives them. It is a complex story. Those on both sides, for example, were predominantly Christian, but held widely different views of how science, government, education, and religion interact.

Fascinating book, fascinating story, and Lebo tells it well. She is wiling to listen to every side, and in the process of covering the trial learned a lot herself about what is science and what is not, and in the end she is unwilling to label something that is religion as science. This contrasts with the proponents of ID, who were consistently unprepared and had little knowledge of what ID is, and how it could fit into a valid scientific framework. Even Michael Behe, who is the most known scientist promoting ID and who testified at the trail, was unable to explain the mechanisms of how ID could work and explain the facts of biology. Lebo proves she is a good writer by being able to explain enough of the science clearly without it overwhelming the story. She does it again in talking about the pooeple, and bringing in enough of her own story to add a unique slant to the book. For example, the trial increased tensions with her father. She was unable to see how he could support those school board members who committed perjury to obscure their religious motivations, while he mourned that her acceptance of evolution would lead her to hell.

One of the heroes of the trial was the presiding judge, John E. Jones. He is a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, but who decided the case on its merits rather than his political interests. "In a speech he gave to the Anti-Defamation League [after the trial], Jones said accusations that he is 'an activist judge' point to a problem 'that threatens to, I think, tear at the fabric of our system of justice in the united States... the premise of Ms. Schlafly and some others seems to be that judges can and should act in a partisan manner rather than strictly adhering to the rule of law. Now, to those who believe that judges must cast aside preferences and rule according to an agenda, let me say that I believe the public's dependence upon the impartiality and integrity of judges is absolutely essential to its confidence in our system of justice." (p. 214).

Marvelous book, well-written, well planned, and thoughtful.
PublicationNew Press (2008), Hardcover, 256 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1595582088 / 9781595582089

Book review; Digging to America

TitleDigging to America: A Novel
Author:Anne Tyler


Tagsfiction, adoption, cultures
Your reviewThis is the first Anne Tyler book I've read, and it is one of my bookclub's choices. It is about two families who meet while waiting for the arrival of their baby daughters adopted from Korea. One family is American, one family is Iranian-American, and the story is about the interaction of the families. The characters and their finteractions are quite ralistic; for example, two women wind up with what niether of them want becasue they are too polite to say what they do want.
PublicationBallantine Books (2007), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN034549234X / 9780345492340

Book review: Sorcery and the Single Girl

TitleSorcery And The Single Girl (Red Dress Ink)
Author:Mindy Klasky


Tagswitchcraft, series

This is the second in a series, the followup to Klasky's A Girl's Guide to Witchcraft. In the first, Jane Madison finds out that she is a witch, with a familiar, Neko, and a warder (teacher and guardian) David. In this one, she is set a challenge in order to become part of the powerful DC area ccoven.

Jane has to learn to balance the need for intensive study about witchcraft with her job as a librarian, her duties to family and her best friend, and her romance with Graeme, who seems her ideal man. Overall , the characterizations are good, and the depiction of witchcraft is pretty accurate. The only thing I found rather unbelievable was that having been badly betrayed by a man in the first book that Jane would enter so easily into another relationship with a somewhat mysterious figure.

PublicationRed Dress Ink (2007), Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0373895631 / 9780373895632

Book review: Deadly Vintage

TitleDeadly Vintage: A Molly Doyle Mystery
Author:Elaine Flinn


Tagsmystery, series, antiques. carmel

This is the fourth in Elaine Flinn's Molly Doyle series about an antiques dealer in Carmel, California. I've enjoyed all four of the books, and reading a new one feels like coming home. The characters are so comfortable to be around, because they are realistic and would be interesting people to know. It helps, too, that since reading the last one I've visited Carmel and can now picture the scenes in the book easier.

Molly has to deal with an unpleasant husband of a customer for her new decorating service, and when he is killed in front of many people she is a suspect. Meanwhile she is dealing with the possible loss of the niece, Emma, who lives with her and she has grown to love, and whose father now wants her with him.

Flinn deals well with that problem faced by all authors of cosy mystery series, which is how come the amateur sleuths keep coming across dead bodies? It becomes a plot point in that the father of her niece wonders if living with Molly isn't unhealthy for Emma given that Molly keeps getting involved in such unsavory business.

Another nice feature of the series is the set of characters around Molly, all of which add to the pleasure of the book. There's the police chief, the district attorney, the restaurant owner, and more. Makes for a nice ensemble cast, so to speak.

Highly recommended.
PublicationPerseverance Press (2007), Paperback, 264 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN1880284871 / 9781880284872

Book review: For a Few Demons More

TitleFor a Few Demons More (Rachel Morgan, Book 5)
Kim Harrison


Tagsseries, paranormal, witches, vampires, werewolves

This paranormal mystery series is one I've enjoyed, though at least one was not a favorite. My expectations of this one were not high but I turned out to really enjoy it. Rachel Morgan is a witch and a bounty hunter in a world where vampires, witches, werefolk, and other magical creatures exist as slightly different species from humans and have only been known to humans for about 40 years. Rachel is a bounty hunter who brings in lawbreaking paranormals. She has a business with her housemates, Ivy, a yet living vampire, and Jinks, a pixie.

In this outing it seems everyone, including a powerful demon or two, are out to get Rachel, and that not only is she in danger but those she loves. Recommended.
PublicationEos (2007), Edition: 1ST, Hardcover, 456 pages
Publication date2007

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Green Tech: Popular Mechanic's page on Green Cars

Popular Mechanics has a page called Drive Green which has many articles on green automotive technology, alternative fuels, getting the most from your gas, and more. Kudos to them.

Iran's Missile Test and the Consequences of an Attack

"Iran’s recent missile test should remove all doubt that an attack by either the United States or Israel would be a terrible mistake." Scott Ridder, the author, is a former UN weapons inspector so speaks from in-depth knowledge of what weapons the Iranians would bring to a conflict.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book Report: Diplomatic Act

TitleDiplomatic Act


Tagssf, actors, aliens

Jurasik is an actor who played Londo Mollari on the TV Show Babylon 5. So when I saw a reference to the book I got hold of a copy. I'm glad I did. It is a great read. It starts with a humorous, irreverent style, but turns out to be a well-written SF novel, in my opinion. The plot is similar in its most important element to the movie Galaxy Quest, in that an actor is kidnapped by aliens who think he is an elder who can stop an interstellar war. The aliens leave a substitute for the actor, an anthropologist, of course, who takes the opportunity to learn about more about humans The rest of the story alternates between what's happening to the actor and the alien.

What did I like? I like the writing style, the plot is pretty decent though a little generic. I really like that the authors create aliens who are as wildly inventive physically as those of James White in the Sector General series. Altogether a fun book.

Author – Jurasik, Peter
Author – Keith, William H.
PublicationBaen (1998), Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date1998
ISBN0671877887 / 9780671877880

Friday, July 11, 2008

Foreclosure Phil

"Years before Phil Gramm was a McCain campaign adviser and a lobbyist for a Swiss bank at the center of the housing credit crisis, he pulled a sly maneuver in the Senate that helped create today's subprime meltdown."

This is a really important story, because Gramm is one of McCain's closest advisors on the economy, and a likely pick for a major office in a McCain administration.

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Frank Rich's Timelines

In my review of Frank Rich's Greatest Story Ever Sold, I mentioned the timelines he includes. There are two parallel timelines. Here's his description of them: "

Entries in italics in the right-hand column chronicle the story that was sold by the Bush administration and other relevant events, news reports, or official statements that were known publicly at the time.

Entries in roman type in the shaded left-hand column chronicle what the administration was learning behind the scenes about intelligence and other war-related matters—and not telling the public. The events in this hidden time line were revealed publicly only later; citations note the dates and sources of each revelation."

I highly encourage anyone to use these to answer questions about when the Bush administration knew what about Iraq and what it was spinning at the same time.

David Bromwich: The Unitary Executive Congress

"The collapse of the Democratic leadership on FISA was thus a sheer political calculation; yet the panic of the reversal ran ahead of any visible threat. It betrayed an embarrassment at the leadership's complicity with the president -- but in a manner that only increases the embarrassment and only tightens the complicity."

Provides a good explanation of the FISA bill, what the vote means, and why Obama's vote was a mistake.

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Sizing up Iran's oil threat

"The country can strangle nearly 30% of the world's oil output and could send prices to $250 a barrel, but some say all the tough talk is still just that." This article gives facts and opinions as to what Iran COULD do if attacked, and what it may do.

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Obama Gets Help from Iraq Prime Minister & U.S. Army

Two important features about this story: (1) the Iraqi Prime Minister says Iraq is serious in insisting that they will not sign a new security agreement with the U.S. that does not include a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops; and (2) the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has told Israel that they will not get a "green light" to attack Iran. Both are good news!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Behind the Bush Bust

"Other politicians besides George W. Bush share the blame for the economic mess we’re in — but most of them are Republicans."Paul Krugman explains more on the current state of the economy and how we got here. For understanding our economy I highly recommend his book, _Conscience of a Liberal_.

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Oil billionaire Pickens puts his money on wind power

"Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens is putting his clout behind renewable energy sources like wind power." Pickens is a long-time Republican. I find this a hopeful sign that the message we must take action on renewable energy is gaining more and more traction.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Michael Vick's Dogs get Second Chance

Only one of the Vick dogs had to be put down. This tells something about the 49 others. 22 of them went to the wonderful Best Friends sanctuary in Utah (

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Green Resource: Edmunds Green Car Guide

Edmunds is a leading source of information on buying cars, both used and new. They now have this Green Car Guide which gives all sorts of information on the most fuel-efficient cars. Includes information on alternative fuels vehicles. Great site!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

At the half century

It is now after midnight, making this July 6th, 2008. I have now lived on this earth a half century. That seems to call for reflection, and a gathering of any wits I have left.

First of all, this is a birthday I've looked forward to celebrating for a year or so. There were times I didn't think I would make it to this age, and now that I have, I am proud and happy to have done so. So I celebrate. Celebration is also the way I worship.... it is for me a connection to life, to something larger than myself and something it is joyous to be a part of, even when I get so angry and sad about the state of the world.

How did I get here? I thought life meant love, in its full romantic form. When that failed me, I turned to thoughts of death. I got through with help from friends, and I learned that happiness, and love, must be found within.

Is my life perfect? No... but then, it never is. If it were, what would we have to strive for? I am more grateful than I can tell for friends, for animals, for books, ideas, poetry, and the people who are doing the best that they can. I am greatly concerned about the state of this country and the world. I love the ideals that created this country, and hope that one day we can actually live up to them. I think it takes each of us standing up and saying that we are a light, and we will not add to the darkness. The easiest way to spread the darkness is to get hung up on what brand of light we are, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Pagan, black, white, green, man, woman, child, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, bi, transgendered... instead let us simply be the best light that we can be, true to our deepest self.

Be well, be true, and be joyous. Pretty please.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: Moyers on Democracy

TitleMoyers on Democracy

Bill Moyers


Tagsdemocracy, politics, religion, civil rights, speeches

This is a collection of Moyer's speeches over many years that touch on the subject of democracy. If I could, I'd give a copy to everyone in the world to read. Forget Nicholas Cage movies, Bill Moyers is THE National Treasure.

Mr. Moyers probably doesn't believe in reincarnation - though he would respect my right to do so - but I think in one of his previous lives he must have been a bard, and in another one of those court jesters who was the only person to tell the king the truth. For he has both the journalistic integrity to be dedicated to finding the truth and to sharing it with the public. The speech he gave on Hubert Humphrey is one of the best pieces of writing, fiction or non-fiction, I've ever read in my life, and many of the other pieces are of similar quality.

It is hard to give a sense of the book, because it wanders many places in talking about democracy. There are obituaries here, to such people as Barbara Jordan, William Sloane Coffin, and Fred Friendly. There is a commencement address. Issues of media, politics, and religion are discussed. And always, Moyers gives us history, often history of the relatively unknown and their struggles to be free. It is an inspirational book, one that sets the mind alight to preserve and restore freedom and its handmaiden, responsibility.
PublicationDoubleday (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0385523807 / 9780385523806

Book Review: The Greatest Story Ever Sold

TitleThe Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush's America
AuthorFrank Rich
Tagspolitics, george w bush, iraq war, media
Your reviewI've admired Frank Rich's New York Times columns for some time. He always seems to be able to cut through the hype to get to the facts, and that is what he does excellently in this book. The purpose of the book is to show when the Bush administration knew what about Iraq and how they were spinning what they knew. The best part of the book for graphically showing this is the appendix, which has two parallel timelines. The first is the timeline of intelligence and what the administration knew when, and the second is the public pronouncements of the administration about the war, as well as relevant events and news reports that were known publicly at the time.

It is, of course, pretty damning evidence. I already knew most of it from other reading, but it is so well laid out here that it will be of great value to future historians, as well as those of us interested in current events.
PublicationPenguin (Non-Classics) (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
Publication date2007