Monday, September 29, 2008

Green Inc.: Waste Not, Want Not: A New Approach to Solar

"Photovoltaic solar systems suffer large energy losses in the form of heat. A venture capitalist and a Berkeley-based company think they've found a way to harness that energy.".. More good news on the green technology front.

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A Bailout We Don't Need

"All five big investment banks have disappeared or morphed into regular banks. Is this bailout still necessary?" I'm currently reading a book by James Galbraith, son of the famous economist and also an economist. Up to now, my favorite economist has been Paul Krugman. I'm happy to broaden my horizons with Galbraith, but the two of them disagree on the need for a bailout, so just color me confused.

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CNN - Rescue bill unveiled, key provisions detailed

"Lawmakers release their plan to enact a historic bailout of nation's financial system." Short easy-to-understand summary of the current bailout bill up for a vote.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Book Review: Vampyres of Hollywood

TitleVampyres of Hollywood
Author:Adrienne Barbeau
Tagshollywood, vampires, horror

This is just a fun book, co-written by Hollywood scream queen actress Adrienne Barbeau and author Micheal Scott. It is a novel set in present-day Hollywood. The chapters alternate between narrative by Ovsanna Moore, actress, mogul, and 500 year old vampire, and Peter King, Beverly Hills policeman. A series of rather gruesome murders takes place of Hollywood celebrities, and Ovsanna knows what Peter doesn't - that all those killed were vampires created by her.

The story is good, and the writing ... authentic. At least, when reading Ovsanna's lines, I heard Barbeau's voice in my head speaking them. Some fun Hollywood history here... the vampyres of Hollywood mentioned in the title include Orson Wells, Peter Lorre, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The book gets gorier than I like, but it isn't surprising from someone who has made horror movies her career.

Other authors
Author – Scott, Michael
PublicationThomas Dunne Books (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0312367228 / 9780312367220

Book Review: The Uprising

TitleThe Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington
AuthorDavid Sirota
Tagspolitics, united states, culture, activism

Sirota, is a progressive political organizer and newspaper columnist. He has worked in both state and national politics for many years. In this book, he investigatges grassroots political activism on both the left and right sides of the spectrum, and looks at what works and what doesn't. It has an odd perspective in being by someone who knows politics from the inside following those who are outsiders in the process of learning how to get inside power and make it work for them.

The book seems a bit disjointed in that it goes to different pats of the U.S. and different types of organizations... all of it interesting, but sometimes it is hard to find the unifying them. He dsicusses politics in Montana and how Gov. Schweitzer uses the issues of the right to bring in some progressive reform. He also discusses three Senators who don't fit the norms, Jon Tester of Montana, Bernie Sanders, socialist independent from Vermont, and Sharrod Brown of Ohio. There
s a lengthy section on the Minuteman in the border states and about shareholder resolutions that strike terror into the hearts of CEOs.

Fascinating glimpse of how power works and how it can be disrupted and re-channelled.
PublicationCrown (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0307395634 / 9780307395634

Book Review: Cries and Whiskers

TitleCries and Whiskers (Theda Mysteries, No. 3)
AuthorClea Simon
Tagsmystery, series, boston, rock music, cats

Third in Simon's Theda Krakow mysteries. Theda is a freelance writer in the Cambridgeport area near Boston, MA. She writes mostly about the rock music scene in Cambridgeport, and also has a major interest in cats. Her friend runs a cat shelter, and in this volume, works with a group whose actions in progressive causes gets them in trouble at times. One of the women in the group is killed in a hit-and-run accident that may not have been an accident.

I enjoy this series quite a bit. The author's experience in rock music gives a nice tone of authenticity to Theda's adventures, and her love of cats shines through for animal lovers. Recommended..
PublicationPoisoned Pen Press (2007), Paperback, 240 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN1590585380 / 9781590585382

Book Review: Witchling

TitleWitchling (Sisters of the Moon, Book 1)
AuthorYasmine Galenorn
Tagsurban fantasy, paranormal, sidhe, witches

First in Galenorn's Sisters of the Moon contemporary urban fantasy series. The main characters are three sisters, half fey and half human. They were raised in the Otherworld, but are now agents for the Sidhe in the human world. Camille is also a witch, whose spells often go wrong, Menolly is now a vampire, and Delilah is a werecat with a tendency to shift to kitty form when there are family fights.

The three must fight scouts sent by a Demon Lord who wants to conquer his realm, Earth, and the Otherworld. To do see he has to find the seals that control the portals between the three. The sisters have to stop him. Along the way they find allies in Camille's ex, a dark fey, a dragon, Tatiana, formerly Queen of the Fairies, and her lover Tam Lin.

It is an engrossing series, I had a hard time putting the book down, and have ordered the others that have been published.
PublicationBerkley (2006), Edition: 1st, Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2006
ISBN0425212548 / 9780425212547

Book Review: Hex Marks the Spot

TitleHex Marks the Spot (Bewitching Mysteries, No. 3)
AuthorMadelyn Alt
Tagsmystery, series, paranormal, witches, psychics

In this third volume of the Bewitching series, Maggie and her boss Liss go to a craft show and fall in love with an armoire by their Amish friend Eli and a young Amish man. Liss loses the armoire in the auction, and that day the young Amish craftsman is found murdered. Maggie and her friends are drawn into the case.

I really enjoyed this book. I continue to like the characters, and this time the plot was better than in book 3. The Amish back story adds interest. Recommended.
PublicationBerkley (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 256 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0425218708 / 9780425218709

Book Reveiw: A Charmed Death

TitleA Charmed Death (Bewitching Mysteries, No. 2)
AuthorMadelyn Alt
Tagsmystery, series, paranormal, witches, psychics

Second in the series about Maggie O'Neill, a young woman who works in a collectibles shop called Enchantments. Maggie's boss, Liss, tells her from the first that she is a witch. Maggie, who has strugled with being Catholic, likes Liss very much and begins to dsicover her own psychic powers and to understand witches aren't all bad, espcially as she meets others like Liss.

In this book a young woman is murdered, and it really shakes up the small town in Inidana that Maggie lives in. On the day she died, Amanda had bought a clock in Enchantments, so Maggie is drawn into the case.

I really like the characters in this series, but I did think there was a plot flaw in this book. Maggie does something that seems to not make much sense, and because of ti she winds up in danger in the climactic scene. In spite of that I enjoyed the book.
PublicationBerkley (2006), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2006
ISBN042521317X / 9780425213179

Friday, September 26, 2008

Green Files: Directory of environmental resources

Marcus Zillman puts together all sorts of webliographies. Green Files is his webliography on environmental sites. Includes green shopping as well as sites for researching environmental topics.

Neuroscience of Feeling and Reason

A friend sent me two wonderful articles on the neuroscience behind how humans make decisions. The first is "My Candidate, Myself" by Robert Burton about the fact that people make their decisions based on the feeling of being right, even when it conflicts with rational evidence. Also, those who score the lowest on tests, the most incompetent individuals, tend to most overestimate their own abilities, while those who performed best were closer to being correct. He applies it to politics in showing that a person who has made up his or her mind on a political candidate usually won't change regardless of being shown facts that are not to the advantage of that candidate. Moreover, he would like to test the candidates with questions that would show how they make decisions.

The second article is an excerpt from a book, On Being Certain, also by Robert Burton. He talks again about the neurobiology of "knowing" something. In this article he argues that we should frame even scientific statements in terms of "I believe" rather than "I know", thinking that this would increase the impact on those who "know" to the contrary. I'm not sure I agree, but it is certainly interesting.

Thursday, September 25, 2008 The Whoppers of 2008

"Normally we post a "Whoppers" compilation the week before Election Day. This time we've already seen such a large number of twisted facts, misleading claims and outright falsehoods that we are doing that now." is marvelous, if you don't know about them, they try to de-spin the campaign, and this is a roundup of the lies and distortions of the candidates so far.

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Eugene Jarecki: Lessons of the Fall: Ike's In, Reagan's Out

"Op-ed piece by the director of "Why We Fight" and author of "The American Way of War" on Eisenhower, Regan, and how they relate to this fall's election and the financial crisis." Eisenhower's conservatism was for smaller government and less military interventionism. The author quotes some prescient words by Ike that apply to our situation today. Ike wasn't perfect, of course, he let the Dulles brothers do some nasty things in the name of containing communism whose effects we are still feeling today. But there is much in what he said that we need to think on during our current crises.

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Palin’s American Exception

"Sarah Palin loves the world “exceptional.” She may be onto something in her batty way: the election is very much about American exceptionalism." Roger Cohen wrote this op-ed about the worldview of American exceptionalism, and how in the world as it is today, we need American cooperation with other countries.

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Wikia Green

Wikia Green is a new environmental resource "We are building the best resource for citizens of the Earth to learn about the environment and how to live a more sustainable life." AL Direct says it is "Created by Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia, the goal is to offer more lifestyle tips, product options, and how-to’s."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LGBT people and depression

This is a great post from Ed Brayton, who writes the marvelous blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on just why there's a greater incidence of depression and substance abuse among lesbians and gays. I won't try to summarize it, it makes the case very well that there is darn good reason why.

Congress Is Resisting the Bailout Plan Now, But Wall Street

"The Bush-Paulson trillion-dollar payoff scheme won't save Wall Street from the mess it created." Explains the deeper problem behind the meltdown and what is required to fix it... which isn't in Paulson's plan.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Olbermann Gives $3,700 To Charity For Every Palin Lie So Far

"On Friday, Keith Olbermann announced he had made good on his promise to pay $100 to charity every time Sarah Palin "lies or repeats a lie in the course of campaigning." This week Keith donated $3,700 to the Alaskan Special Olympics Fund, and one lucky Countdown viewer "will win a can of Aunt Sarah's Moose Stew." I can't say this is priceless, as it does evidently have a cost, but it is a wonderfully creative way to be involved in politics.

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Dirty Secret Of The Bailout: Thirty-Two Words

"Here they are:"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."Still think this bailout as proposed is a good idea? Think again." As many have pointed out, this is the financial equivalent of the Patriot Act, or worse. Given that we've had the worst administration in U.S. history since 2001, can we afford to give ANYONE this much unlimited power?

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Jared Bernstein: Watching Conservative Ideology Collapse

"As we are watching history unfold, do you hear that implosion reverberating through financial markets? It's the sound of decades of conservative ideology collapsing." The article argues that this may be transformative time in politics and the economy.

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We Can't Afford McCain and Palin's Anti-Science Beliefs

"Their combined anti-science positions may be devastating for the economy, the environment and our health." This article is exactly on a topic that has become of increasing concern to me and that I think ought to be a bigger issue in the campaign. Science has suffered severely under the Bush administration, and we can't afford that anymore. McCain, who used to look better than Bush on the environment, isn't likely to make the drastic moves needed to halt climate change, and WE CAN'T WAIT any longer for someone who will.

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10 Things You Should Know About Bush's $1 Trillion Fleecing

The article explains the Bush bailout plan, what people from a variety of political viewpoints are saying about it, and how to make it more progressive.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Reviw: Age of American Unreason

TitleThe Age of American Unreason
AuthorSusan Jacoby
Tagsintellectuals, anti-intellectualism, education, critical thinking

I had watched Susan Jacoby on a couple of shows promoting this book and have been anxious to read it since, though it wasn't what I was expecting - it was something better. I had expected to be a collection of stories about the decline of knowledge in the country and a plea for change, and it is. By saying that it is something even better, I mean that she gives the reader the context of the current poor state of civic understanding and discourse. Part of the book is an intellectual history of anti-intellectualism in America (neat trick, that) as well as the history of intellectualism, and even of the place the two met for a while, the middlebrow culture of the Book of the Month Club and the Great Books of the Western World series.

Not surprisingly, Jacoby sees the key points in the decline of knowledge and understanding to be the decline in reading and in conversation, mostly attributable to the culture of infotainment which began with TV.

She explains herself much better than I can, so here is a pretty extensive quote from p. 297:

"Liberals have tended to blame the Bush administration as the problem and the source of all that has gone wrong during the past eight years and to see an outraged citizenry, ready to throw the bums out, as the solution. While an angry public may be the short-term solution, an ignorant public is the long-term problem in American public life. Like many Democratic politicians, left-of-center intellectuals have focused on the right-wing deceptions employed to sell the war in Iraq rather than on the ignorance and erosion of historical memory that make serious deceptions possible and plausible - not only about Iraq but about a vast array of domestic and international issues.

The general decline in American civic, cultural, and scientific literacy has encouraged political polarization because the field of debate is left to those who care most intensely - with an out-of-the-mainstream passion - about a specific political and cultural agenda. Every shortcoming of American governance, in foreign relations and domestic affairs, is related in some fashion to the knowledge deficit of the American public..."

I've believed critical thinking was the answer, but she points out that thinking critically requires some knowledge as well as the habits of rational thought.

She does stimulate some curiosity when she talks about that other industrialized cultures don't seem to suffer quite as badly. One assumes it is the educational system that works better, but it would be nice to know if, for example, other countries have lower statistics on amount of television watched. Dare I say it? She needs a blog to answer such questions, a suggestion she would not thank me for.

Please read it. Think about it. Discuss it with others. For these things Jacoby would thank you.
PublicationPantheon (2008), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0375423745 / 9780375423741

Friday, September 19, 2008

Former Republican explains how Ohio election was stolen

Important article on electronic voting machines and their reliability. Overall, it seems that we are in better shape than in 2004, but it is still an issue that worries me quite a bit and that should be closely monitored by concerned citizens.

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Palin's husband won't testify in trooper inquiry

Palin's husband Todd refuses to testify in the Troopergate hearing. Palin is claiming the legislative investigation, which was underway before she became the VP candidate, is purely politically motivated. Other articles I've seen dispute that. Palin originally agreed to cooperate with the investigation, and now many of the people involved are refusing to testify.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Only a Roosevelt-Scale Counterrevolution Can Prevent Another Great Depression

"Free-market extremists brought us this needless economic collapse. Here's a rundown of the mistakes we've made and the reforms we need now." I certainly hope the author is wrong about another Depression, but the article is quite good in detailing the problems that caused the current problems and gives suggestions for reforming those problems.

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Book Review; The Laughter of Dead Kings

TitleLaughter of Dead Kings (Vicky Bliss, No. 6)
AuthorElizabeth Peters
Tagsmystery, series, art, theft, mummy

Elizabeth Peters is one of the pseudonyms of Barbara Mertz, whose other synonym is Barbara Michaels. Mertz has a PhD in Egyptology, which expliais her fascination with country in many of her books. As Michaels, she writes Gothics. As Elizabeth Peters, she writes 3 series and various stand alones, all of which have in common strong women characters and an equally strong sense of humor. Peters is most known for the Amelia Peabody series, about a family of British archaeologists working in Egypt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The series is very popular and she has written volumes in that series almost to the exclusion of her other two series and stand alones. One of the other series is the Jacqueline Kirby series about a librarian who becomes a romance writer, and the other is the Vicky Bliss series about an art historian working in a museum in Munich, Germany. I'm quite fond of all three series, and have been missing Jacqueline (she gives us librarians a good name) and Vicky. Now, after a hiatus of several years, this book brings back Vicky Bliss.

Vicky has been involved with a reformed thief, now dealer in antiquities, John. The two of them, along with her wonderful boss Herr Schmidt, have had a variety of adventures. In this volume, the mummy of King Tut has been stolen and too many people think John must have done it. They are forced to find the mummy to clear his name. Vicky, John, and Schmidt are all terrific characters, and the plot is the usual Peters complexity with a strong sense of the ridiculous.

It's nice to have Vicky back! Recommended.
PublicationWilliam Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0061246247 / 9780061246241

James Moore: A Nation of Village Idiots

"A description of the wall street mess and how republicans have played a role in free markets for the last 25 years, including McCain's involvement in the original S and L scandal."

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Earth to McCain: It’s a Crisis

This article details McCain's support of the bills that deregulated the firms now melting into Wall Street. Given that McCain is now claiming to be FOR regulation, it is so important to consider how he has dealt with the issue in the past, and who he looks to for economic advice... such as Phil Gramm, who was a huge supporter of the main deregulation bill.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Return of the Geeks

"For eight long years, the Bush administration has trashed and politicized the government's science agencies." This Mother Jones article gives details on the politicization of science under the Bush administration. This is one of the more important issues in the presidential race this year in my opinion. We must get back to listening to the scientists and putting resources into science and science education.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review: The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot

TitleThe Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed
AuthorBart D. Ehrman
Tagsearly christianity, gnosticism

Bart Ehrman is such a fascinating writer. His knowledge of early Christianity, and what we have found out about it with discoveries of previously lost texts, makes for interesting reading. In this book he talks about the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, which has been recently translated from its original Coptic. The text itself seems to have been written in the second century.

It is not, of course, a document giving the facts of Judas' life, and certainly not written by him. It is a text that shares the secrets of Gnosticism, that the material world is evil, created by an inferior god, and that Jesus came to bring the secret of how some souls can escape the evil material plane and enter the purer realms. Judas, according to this text, was not Jesus' betrayer, but the only one of the disciples to understand Jesus and do what was necessary for Jesus to escape the material world.

The importance of the work lies in a fuller understanding it gives of the history of the early Church, which had an astonishing variety of beliefs and sects. Ehrman talked more about this variety in his book Lost Christianities.

One of Ehrman's more interesting points in the book is on the nature of oral cultures, which, given a literacy rate of about 10 percent, the ancient world was. "In oral culture there is not a concern for what we in written culture might call verbatim accuracy. In oral societies it is recognized that the telling of a story to a different audience or in a different context or for a different reason calls for a different version of the story. Stories are molded to the time and circumstance in which they are told....This is the case with the Gospels of the New Testament. Even when one of the authors used another of the authors as the source for his stories - for example, when Matthew copied some of his stories from Mark - he changed the stories. Why would he do that? Because he lived in an oral society where hardly anyone thought there was a problem with changing the stories. Of course the stories were to be changed when the audience, the occasion, or the situation had changed. The widespread notion that stories never should be changed but should be repeated without alteration every time is an innovation of modern written cultures. Before the creation of the printing press this was not a widely shared view." (p. 36). This seems important to me because I've felt for a while that the writers of much of the Bible never meant for the text to be taken literally, and Ehrman confirms that this was just not a major concern of oral cultures.

Ehrman is an excellent writer in that he is a scholar able to write to a lay person's level of understanding. I've enjoyed all the books of his that I've read.
PublicationOxford University Press, USA (2006), Hardcover, 208 pages
Publication date2006
ISBN0195314603 / 9780195314601

Book Review: Demons Are a Ghoul's Best Friend

TitleDemons Are a Ghoul's Best Friend (Ghost Hunter Mysteries, Book 2)
AuthorVictoria Laurie
Tagsmystery, series, ghostbusters, ghosts, paranormal

This is the second in Victoria Laurie's Ghost Hunter series about a medium who gets rid of unwelcome ghosts. In this episode they are after a truly nasty ghost who chases young people at a school with a hatchet. Scary stuff, but an involving story. I like the characters even better than in the first book. At this point, I've now caught up with everything Laurie has published, and the thought of waiting until next year for new volumes in both her series makes me grumpy.
PublicationSignet (2008), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0451223411 / 9780451223418