Sunday, November 23, 2008

Book Review: Camp Follower

TitleCamp Follower
AuthorSuzanne Adair
Tagsrevolutionary war, south, women

This is the third in Suzanne Adair's series on the Revolutionary War series set in the Southern colonies. Each of the three has had a different heroine but the same villain. In this volume, the protagonist is Helen Chiswell. At seventeen this daughter of poverty and abuse in Wiltshire, England, is sold to a wealthy lout and goes with him to Wilmington, North Carolina.

The body of the work takes place in 1780. Helen has been a widow for several years, but her husband's debts have left her desperate for money. She earns some by writing for the society page of a local publication.

Helen's publisher offers her a big payment to write a lengthy feature on Banastre Tarleton, one of the more exciting British officers. To get close to him she poses as the sister of Lt. Dunstan Fairfax, whom readers know as the villain of the last two books by Adair. Before she leaves Wilmington, her old butler is murdered, and Helen is suspected. Fairfax saves her to satisfy his own needs. They begin their journey, along with a couple who serves as Helen's servants, and her dearest friend since she came to America, Jonathan Quill, who also acts as her servant in order to protect her. They leave on their lengthy journey and encounter plots, counter-plots, and more plots. Helen is tested to figure out who she can trust, and must learn how to open her heart enough to love.

Like the other two books in the series, this book is a rip-snorting good adventure with a strong woman protagonist. In addition, it is valuable picture of what the Revolution was like in the Southern colonies. Recommended, as is the author's blog (
PublicationWhittlers Bench Press (2008), Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0978526546 / 9780978526542

Friday, November 21, 2008

The American Worker

Very, very good article from Truthout by a gentleman named Rick Kepler, talking about redistribution of wealth and why he is all for it... that the wealth in the last eight years has gone to the wealthy while the worker's wages have declined while costs soar. I would take the history back farther than he does... the economy of the US has almost quadrupled since the 1970s, but wages for the average worker have remained stagnant or regressed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Ford Lost Focus

Nice piece of reporting by Mother Jones on how Bill Ford wanted to increase production of more environmentally-sound products but was restricted by market forces. Shows the difficulty of investment in green tech.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


AutoblogGreen was mentioned today on Talking Points Memo as being an essential site on green automotive technology.

Who's Behind the PR Spin?

From Marylaine Block's Neat New Stuff:

"Full Frontal Scrutiny

This joint project between Consumer Reports Web Watch and the Center for Media and Democracy aims to examine advocacy groups with misleadingly green-sounding names that are actually funded by corporate interests."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Review: Underground

TitleUnderground (Greywalker, Book 3)
AuthorKat Richardson
Tagsurban fantasy, series, ghosts, paranormal, Native American legend

Third in Richardson's Greywalker series. It is a good read, though I didn't find it as compelling as the first two in the series. It is set in Underground Seattle, which is almost wholly closed off, but in the book, an interesting area inhabited by the homeless. The story also has great detail on legends of the Northwest Indians.
PublicationRoc Hardcover (2008), Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0451462122 / 9780451462121

Friday, November 14, 2008

Automobile Manufacturing Idea

Neil Young (yes, Neil Young the famous rocker) has an interesting article on HuffPo on how to keep American automakers working while they retool to make more energy efficient cars. I'm not enough of an engineer to judge its feasibility, but I'm all for people coming up with innovative ideas. We need lots of them right now, because there are so many crises to deal with and because not all of the ideas will pan out.

Obama and the Imperial Presidency

Excellent article on the difficulties Obama will have dealing with the Bush administration's extraordinary claims of executive power and the fallout from them.

Judith Warner on Gay Marriage

Another really thoughtful piece by a straight person on what the passage of Prop. 8 and the other anti-gay initiatives felt like to gay and lesbian couples. A must read.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Justice Department Overhaul

Washington Post article about the severe problems in the Department of Justice under Bush and how Obama might handle them. A real post to watch will be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) which is the office that decides on the legality of executive branch programs/policies. John Yoo was in the OLC when he wrote the memos authorizing torture and wiretapping programs, authorizations that were revoked by a later head of the OLC, Jack Goldsmith. These stories are told in fascinating detail in Goldsmith's book, The Terror Presidency, and in Barton Gellman's Angler and Jane Mayer's The Dark Side. I highly recommend all three books.

Bretton Woods II

Economist article that explains this weekend's global economic summit, what it might do, what it can do, and what it ought to do.

Goodbye and Good Riddance

This article does quite well something I've been contemplating doing, summarize just why I disliked George W. Bush and his administration so much. And let me be frank and a bit mean here. I know a lot of Republicans are worried about what Obama will do. But you owe me. You stuck me with eight years of the worst administration in history. You owe the Democrats a chance to try it our way for a while. I believe Obama can't possibly be worse than Bush, and think he has the potential to be as transformative a President as Lincoln or FDR.

Another Problem with Ethanol

Sigh. Meanwhile, many possible solutions to energy problems have their own problems. This article from Slate points out that ethanol won't reduce our dependence on foreign oil because it only replaces gasoline, while the demand for the other products of crude oil such as diesel, jet fuel, and asbestos are in increasing demand.

Coating to Improve Absorption by Solar Panels

CNN article on a coating that has been developed to improve the energy efficiency of solar panels. I just love stories like this, showing the amount of innovation out there. This one could actually be in production within 2-3 years.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Iraqi Civilian Deaths

This article summarizes the status of studies of Iraqi civilian casualties since the U.S. invasion. Best guess is that the number of war dead is in the several hundreds of thousands.

I accept that sometimes to defend ourselves there will be civilian deaths. But what I have said, and emphasize again, the United States that I believe in must have a damn good reason to kill people, especially civilians, and in Iraq there was no such reason. Explanations for the war range from a war for oil to a need to demonstrate to "the evil axis" that America would act, to a need to win in the 2002 midterm elections. When I think of multitudes of Iraqis killed for these reasons I am sick, and angry, and want Bush and Cheney tried for war crimes.

Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is an extraordinary thinker. I've read his book The Limits of Power, but haven't reviewed it yet, I want to read it again. He was in the military many years, now teaches college. He has called himself a conservative, but he approaches things in a way that I wouldn't call either conservative or liberal. He is a realist, insisting that we look at the world the way it is, and have a dialog as a nation on important questions about the meaning of war, what is possible through force, what kind of a nation we want to be, and more. He blogs occasionally for HuffPo. I first saw him on Bill Moyer's Journal and found him extremely impressive. He knows very much whereof he speaks, not only from his years in the military but as a father who lost a son in Iraq.

Books for Obama to Read

Two Chicago Tribune reporters put together a list of 10 books for President-elect Obama to read or re-read. I've read and agree with the top four, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency, Charlie Savage's Takeover, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. The others I haven't read. Bill Moyer's Journal blog had a long thread on this topic, too, and I started a similar discussion on LibraryThing.

Rape in the Military

Alternet has an appalling article on rape in the military services. Rape rates are twice that in civilian life, women soldiers often have to pay for their own rape kits, and few are ever prosecuted for these rapes. This must change!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Olbermann on the Passing of Proposition 8

Marvelous special comment by Keith Olbermann on the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Please watch.

Robert Reich on the Economy

Robert Reich writes in Talking Points Memo about his view of what to do about the economic crisis, or as he puts it, our Mini-Depression. He is careful to say it is him talking about his own views, not in his capacity as an Obama adviser. He is very much for economic stimulus, especially infrastructure investment that would create jobs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama to Undo Harmful Bush Regulations

Good article from the Washington Post on rules and regulations of the Bush department that the Obama team has already identified to be quickly overturned. They include the Bush administration restrictions on California's attempts to deal with global warming and limitations on stem cell research, among others.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More on LGBT issues

I'm sorry to harp on this topic when there's so much great political news to celebrate, but have been discussing this issue more and clarifying my position.

First of all, I believe that any laws, including state constitutional amendments, banning gay marriage will eventually be overturned. I believe they violate two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the document we all claim to hold dear. First, the only arguments I have heard against gay marriage are from religion. But laws based on religious arguments violate the separation of church and state. Secondly, the 14th amendment granted equal rights, and denying marriage to same sex couples violates those equal rights. Just as it was once ruled that "separate but equal" did not give equal rights to African Americans, civil unions do not give gays and lesbians the same rights as marriage.

If you are opposed to gay marriage, though, what you really must do is listen to the stories of LGBT folk. Get to know someone who is gay, and hear what they have to say about their life. Gays and lesbians do not have a choice in their sexual preference (bisexuals are the ones who have a choice). Many of them know from the time they are children that they are different, and they learn pretty quickly that lots of people think something is wrong with them. Many of them absorb that belief and feel flawed, have very low self-esteem. Many of them are bullied in school, many of them are physically beaten. Many deny their sexual preference because it tears them up so to have family or friends who wouldn't accept them if they admitted, even to themselves, that they are gay. Eventually most of them do learn to accept it, but most have to fight very hard to understand and accept who they are. Some can't. A large percentage of teenage suicides are due to issues of sexual preference or gender identity.

You have the right to your religion. But you have no right to impose that religion on others. You also need to accept that your religion is causing harm to innocents who wish no harm to you. Please wake up and look at the reality of the world.

The Anti-Gay Sad News of the Election

This is a post by a gay man, a teacher, who expresses eloquently the feelings of the LGBT community at the passage of the anti-gay initiatives in Florida, Arizona, California, and Arkansas. The Arkansas measure prohibits unmarried couples from adopting. To those who passed it... do you call yourself pro-family? Then what about the children who will be denied loving homes because of this measure? You make me ill in your blind bigotry and hatred.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Book Review: Steinbeck's Ghost

TitleSteinbeck's Ghost
AuthorLewis Buzbee
Tagsbooks, libraries, john steinbeck, young adult

How could I not love a book that is about a love of reading, and about the transformative effect libraries can have on people's lives. I also have to love a book that opens with referring to Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. Along the way there is a lot of great information about Steinbeck, whom I must admit I've never read, and about Salinas, California and the area near that. It is a story about friendship, about parents, and, in the end, about magick. Recommended, especially for teenagers.
PublicationFeiwel & Friends (2008), Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0312373287 / 9780312373283

How Obama Might Use His Internet Army

Interesting article on how Obama might use the people that signed up through his various Internet activities, keeping them involved in the administration.

Starhawk on Obama's Win

Starhawk is a leader in the Pagan community. Her book The Spiral Dance introduced many people to Paganism. She is also a progressive activist for many causes. This is a lovely article by her on what she saw on election night. It comes from the On Faith website, which brings together commentary by people from many religions and is sponsored by the Washington Post.

Lots of Great NY Times Column's today.

See some terrific columns by Roger Cohen, who voted as an American citizen for the first time in this election, Gail Collins, who finds reasons to salute everyone, Nicholas Kristof, who, as usual, covers the world, and Timothy Egan, who covers the breadth of Obama's support. Well done, all.

Another beautiful article on the meaning of Obama's win

This one made me cry.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To My Republican Friends

I know you are disappointed at John McCain's loss. But I hope that you can understand something of the hope that is felt by those of us who are energized by Obama's win, and feel that it is a fulfillment of the best of the American dream.

First, don't be afraid of Obama, and look to the man himself for the understanding the kind of leader he will be. Read and/or watch his victory speech last night. He is willing to reach out to you, to listen to you. Note that he makes no divisive remarks about his opponents or the campaign. If you watch his 30 minute infomercial that aired last week I think you will see the same thing. He is looking to the future and to helping all Americans reach their best potential.

Next, I'm convinced that his policies will be the best for the economy. He will invest in greening America's infrastructure, providing jobs and improving the environment. Deficits are a concern, but as James K. Galbraith pointed out on Bill Moyer's Journal , there will be higher deficits no matter what we do. The next President will have the choice of spending to support the economy, or the economy will collapse and the tax base be devastated.

It is also vital that we have a President who will move us towards a sustainable environment. Carbon emissions have to be reduced, and we have to stop depending so much on foreign oil. I believe Obama will work toward those things.

I believe that Obama has the best temperament to be President. He is calm, rational, he listens to advice, and I believe he will talk to the American people about the problems we face and what must be done to solve them.

I believe that he will do his best to resolve the two wars currently straining our troops to the limit, that he will better support our soldiers by seeing to it that they get the armor they need, and the medical treatment they need (including psychological help). I believe he will have a more realistic vision of the limits of American power and how to achieve our strategic objectives, and how to cooperate with other nations.

The next President faces enormous problems. He needs our help to solve them. Please give him a chance.

And Then They Wept

Beautifully written article on the meaning of the Obama win for African Americans.

Obama's Victory Speech

See here for the text of Obama's victory speech (and here for the video). I was so impressed with it last night, especially with the degree to which he pointed to his victory as a vindication of the American dream, something many of us thought of as lost, and his reaching out to those who did not vote for him, and promising to be their President and to listen to their voices.

It was also amazing to see the faces of those listening to the speech... so many beautiful emotions.

Where Obama Stands on Economic Issues

Another good CNN article on where Obama stands on economic issues.

The Heroes Who Came Before

Great article on CNN about those who, in the civil rights movement, began the work that last night came to fruition.

The Sad Part of Mostly Good News that most of the anti-gay measures passed. We still don't know about Proposition 8 in California.

It is incredible to me that we can have dealt such a heavy blow to intolerance on the basis of race and yet have increased intolerance on the basis of sexual identification. And it IS discrimination and intolerance. I am a Kinsey 2 bisexual, but it isn't about me... the issue doesn't personally affect my rights. But it does affect people that I love, who were hoping to be able to live fully with the same rights as the rest of us.

I hope these amendments can be challenged in court, and I hope that as we embark on a new world for fulfilling America's promises to so many we will move towards fulfilling it for all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It is Done!

It is done. Barack Obama has won the race for President. What a historical election! I'm so proud of us that we elected an African American President, so that all Americans know that the great promises of this country can be extended to everyone.

John McCain is giving a gracious concession speech. I hope that now the bitterness of the campaign can retreat quickly into the past, and Democrats and Republicans can work together to move into a more promising future.

I believe that Obama is the best choice in so many ways. I believe he will appoint outstanding judges to the Supreme Court, given his background as a constitutional law professor. I believe he offers better hope for the economy. He will be far better on science policy and the future of technology. We will, I pray, get out of Iraq and restore the reputation of the United States in the world. Obama will close Guantanamo and end its shameful legacy, and hopefully restore the US to lawful adherance to the treaties governing the treatment of prisoners. And it may literally mean the salvation of the planet, with someone committed to environmental action.

Our long national nightmare will be over on January 20th, 2009.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Please Vote

If you haven't already voted, please do so tomorrow. It's your democracy, be part of it!
If you have any trouble voting, please call the ACLU election hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

More on what to do about voting problems from the League of Women Voters:

Election 2008 Voting Information

Today, November 4th, is Election Day! Remember to vote—not just for Barack Obama, but for Senate candidate Jim Martin, and other Congressional, state, and local candidates as well.

Where and when do I vote?

Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information by checking out these sites and the hotline below. These resources are good, but not perfect. To be doubly sure, you can also contact your local elections office.

What should I do before I go?

  • After you've entered your address on either Vote For Change or Vote411, read the voting instructions and special rules for your state.
  • Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it.
  • Check out all the voting myths and misinformation to look out for:

What if something goes wrong?

  • Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then demand a provisional ballot.
  • If you're voting on an electronic machine with a paper record, verify that the record is accurate.
  • Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
  • If you encounter a problem, try to videotape the situation and submit it to

Want to do more?

  • Text all of your friends: "Vote Obama today! Pass it on!"
  • Volunteer at your local Obama office. Find an office here or here.

Now, everybody go vote!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book Review: The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

TitleThe Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals
AuthorJane Mayer
Tagsterrorsim, torture, bush administration

I resisted reading this book for a while, but felt it was one of those books I HAD to read, as an American citizen, to know the worst about my government in order help to elect better ones. The book was hard to read, both for the occasional and in this case NOT gratuitous depictions of torture, and to see what fear did to this nation that has not ever before, as a policy, used coercive interrogations. Mayer makes that clear by giving a brief history. George Washington insisted on humane treatment of British prisoners of war, and that tradition continued with the U.S. in the forefront in creating treaties such as the Geneva Conventions.

All that was turned on its head after 9/11. After that, captured terrorists were subject to extraordinary rendition, in which some were taken to foreign countries to be tortured for information, while others were tortured in prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The story of how it happened is complex, and sickening... a combination of fear and incompetence. Policy on this, as on so many things, was mostly set by VP Dick Cheney and his legal adviser, David Addington. Both are authoritarian personality figures who do what they believe is right and don't listen to anyone advocating something different. Addington's response is usually to shout down the opposing opinion.

One interesting thing that Mayer points out is that it was a quite small circle of people setting torture policy and that only Addington was a lawyer. Of course John Yoo, who wrote the infamous torture memo while on staff in the Office of Legal Council (OLC), was a lawyer as well, but other lawyers have said that his work was badly done. Jack Goldsmith, who was head of OLC later, thought it was so deeply flawed that he withdrew it, and that was something that had not been done before (I also recommend Goldsmith's book, The Terror Presidency, on this subject). What OLC says is so important because they are the standard bearer for any administration on legal matters, and what they say goes.

The Dark Side is also frightening it its depiction of sheer incompetence. At the time of 9/11, the CIA had not done interrogations for years, and had few experts in it. At first, they used some of the FBI's interragaters, who were experienced and did not use torture because they knew that information from torture was unreliable -it might be accurate, it might be lies, and you don't know which is which. They had interragaters who were experts in Muslim culture and who were used at the beginning, but the powers that be thought that information wasn't coming fast enough and handed the interrogations over to the CIA who was told to use any means necessary to get information and get it quickly. The CIA retro-engineered the SERE program, which was used to teach soldiers and agents to withstand torture and began using those techniques to torture.

All of this was done with doubtful legal and moral justifications. Mayer uses that marvelous quote from Nietzsche "He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process becomes a monster himself. And if you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss will stare right back at you." There seems to be some indicatons that many of those who tortured developed psychological problems themselfes. There were also heroes in this battle, as Mayers is quick to acknowledge. See her summary in the afterward:

"In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America's interests in the world. Those warnings came not from just political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and, perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself. The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America's ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring." (p. 327).

This book, along with others such as Barton Gellman's Angler, will be very important to historians trying to understand an administration that went so wrong in so many ways, and to those who, as citizens, want to understand so as to elect better governments. Besides, it is a story to stand up with any epic, a story of heroes and villains, as well as people simply trying to do their best for their country in a dangerous and uncertain world. Excellent and highly recommended read.
PublicationDoubleday (2008), Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0385526393 / 9780385526395