Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The linked article discusses the Libertarian party candidate. I'm mostly interested in whether Barr will draw votes from McCain. I'm also interested in the Libertarian party because a lot of people I know are Libertarians, and I have wondered why. It seems evident to me that the premise of the Party is, well, sorry, guys, but wrong. The free market does not regulate itself. Money and power corrupt it with the goal of concentrating more money and power.

I think it was John Adams who said something like if men were angels we wouldn't need government. But humans aren't angels and therefore we require that government regulate business to protect against the damage done by concentrated power seeking its own advancement.

Is government any better? No. The more I read the more I know how much damage government has done. But the Founders were right, in my opinion, with their view that government requires checks and balances. So the parts of government regulate each other when the system is working well, and government regulation is the check to the power of business.

Sources for my opinions include Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal, and more.

read more | digg story

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Use Social Media for Social Change

Here's an interesting article on the topic. There are other ways of getting involved, too. For example, just using Digg to see that alternative sources of news get more attention. Facebook, for all of its faults, is being used by many social activists to coordinate efforts.

My salute to those who, using whatever ethical means at their disposal, are working for a more just and peaceful world.

Well, Duh...

I just saw one of the most powerful statements I've seen in a while in an article on Iraq war veterans testifying about the horrors of the war:

""If you want to do something about PTSD, stop sending people into unjust wars"".

Today's rational quote of the day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Book Review: The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

Title The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril: A Novel
Author: Malmont, Paul

Rating ****
Tags thriller, pulps, adventure

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a wild ride! This is an impressive book set in 1937. It is an adventure about adventure writers. The two main characters are Walter Gibson and Lester Dent, writers of the amazingly successful pulp series The Shadow and Doc Savage, respectively. Others along for the ride are L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Welles, H. P. Lovecraft, Doc Smith, a Chinese warlord, and more.

The adventure keeps popping, each more thrilling than the last. Malmont keeps an impressive control over the events for a first novel, though at times one suffers sheer adrenaline fatigue.

Well done, I'll keep this writer on my list of ones to follow.
Other authors

Publication Simon & Schuster (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 074328786X / 9780743287869

Book Review: Keepers of the Flame

Title Keepers of the Flame (The Summoning, Book 4)
Owens, Robin D.

Rating ****
Tags fantasy, lladrana, doctors, series

Book 4 of Robin Owen's Summoning series, in which a country called Llandrana, on a world called Amee, summons women to help them defeat the Dark Enemy sending monsters against them. The women are modern women of the United States, mostly from the Denver area, and are summoned because of their particular talents. In this book twin healers, one a doctor, are summoned to help heal the disease the Dark has created to further weaken its enemies. Elizabeth and Bri are their names. They too, must learn quickly to adjust to a new world and to help.

This entry in the series, like the others, is well written, with good characterization and a well-depicted alternative world. There are surprises in the plot that promise interesting things in the future. Recommended.

Publication Luna (2008), Edition: New, Paperback, 560 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0373802625 / 9780373802623

Book Review: Steart Farrar: Writer on a Broomstick

Title Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick, The Biography of Stewart Farrar
Author: Guerra, Elizabeth

Rating ****
Tags stewart farrar, janet farrar, witchcraft, paganism, writers, biography
The first two most public faces of modern witchcraft were Gerald Gardner and then Alex Saunders. Both of them, it must be admitted, were pretty much flakes, in large part because they insisted on claiming that their religion followed a tradition that was centuries old. These claims were demonstrably untrue, and damaged their credibility.

Stewart Farrar didn't become involved in witchcraft until he was in his 50s. He was a WWII veteran, journalist, and free lance writer when he interviewed Alex Saunders and converted to witchcraft. For the rest of his life, he devoted himself to the religion and was one of its most important writers. He met his wife Janet shortly after becoming a witch and they, along with Doreen Valiente, became some of the most important writers about the religion. Valiente had worked with Gardner and wrote some of the most beautiful rituals. Valiente and Farrar, in their books, were honest, first of all. They didn't feel they had to invent old traditions in order to give the religion validity. Instead, they believed the experiences of the religion gave it its validity, and in their writings taught new Pagans how to craft a religion that worked.

Guerra knew Farrar, and after his death was asked by Janet Farrar to write Stewart's biography. It is an enjoyable read about an interesting, creative, amazing man. Recommended to those interested in modern Paganism.
Other authors

Foreword – Stewart, R J
Contributor – Farrar, Janet
Publication R J Stewart Books (2008), Paperback, 232 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0979140277 / 9780979140273

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where Are Those Iranian Weapons in Iraq?

Some fact-checking on the amount of Iranian weapons in Iraq... very little that can be verified, it seems. This is, to me, yet another example of the failure of the U.S. mainstream media, and how vital it is to see alternative sources of information.

read more | digg story

Losing Perspective

John Dvorak's column on the loss of a broad general perspective on the world, for which he blames the internet and newspapers (for dumbing down content). I really agree with the problem, if not all the details of what he has to say. Very thought-provoking!

read more | digg story

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights.

I'm a day late. The international day for this event was 5/15. I'm also not going to pick a specific topic to blog about. I could blog about China's denial of rights, but that would seem to be hitting them when they are down, and their response to the quake has been pretty noteworthy, unlike the military junta in Myanmar whose response HAS been one of the biggest human rights disasters in the world. I could blog about Guantanamo... the country that has created and maintains Guantanamo is not the America I desire to live in, but I'm not ready to leave, either. I would rather stay and help make this country be the country of its best ideals.

The degree and level of human rights abuses all over the world is overwhelming and depressing. Russia seems to be sliding backwards into Stalinism. The abuses in Africa are widespread, especially against women, and that continent seems cursed.

So many of us, I think, looked forward to a new century and a new millenium as a chance to break with the past, to create a new and better world, to take a renewed and peaceful humankind out among the stars. Instead we have lost freedoms, become mired in misunderstood and misguided wars, and face the real possibility that humans may die and never reach the stars.

So much hatred and violence... and yet most of the people I meet are good people. In everyday life you hear of acts of courage and compassion as well as of the acts inimical to human life. Is the crisis we face enough to change the course of human history? It must be.... it must be.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book review: Changing Heart

Title Change of Heart: A Novel
Author: Picoult, Jodi

Rating ****1/2
Tags fiction, mystery, execution, death row
You have to love an author who creates a fictional bird and names it Batman the Robin. The book is an easy read in the sense of being absorbing and holding the interest, but is not easy in any other sense. The characters are not always easy to understand or accept, including the pivotal character, Shay Bourne, who is on death row after being convicted of killing a 7 year old girl and her stepfather father, a cop. Maggie, the easiest-to-like character, is an ACLU lawyer who is trying to have Shay executed by hanging rather than by lethal injection, so that he can donate his heart to the sister of the murdered girl. Meanwhile Shay develops the disconcerting habit of performing miracles. This shakes the faith of his spiritual counselor, Father Michael. The book asks difficult questions and so challenges the reader in an interesting way.Recommended.

Publication Atria (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 464 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0743496744 / 9780743496742

Book review: The Know It All

Title The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Author: Jacobs, A. J.

Rating ****
Tags reading, intelligence, knowledge, encyclopedia britannica
I enjoyed reading Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically so much that I got this book, and I'm glad I did. Jacobs is an honest and amused viewer of his own life and character. He is a bit obsessive-compulsive, and that, really, makes possible what he does in these two books. In The Year of Living Biblically, he spent a year following all the rules set out in the Bible. In this earlier book, he decides to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A-Z. He's honest in saying that at one point in his childhood he believed himself the smartest boy in the world, and that one reason for reading the EB was to recapture that feeling. In the book he talks about his quest, discusses the history of Britannica and encyclopedias in general. He talks about many of the interesting facts he discovers and various pursuits he undertakes to prove his intelligence, including joining Mensa, interviewing a scientist about intelligence, being a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, etc. It makes for a fun book, and he gets rather profound about the relationships of knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom.
Other authors

Publication Simon & Schuster (2005), Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2005
ISBN 0743250621 / 9780743250627

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book review: Founding Faith by Steven Waldman

Title Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America
Author: Waldman, Steven

Rating ****1/2
Tags religion, christianity, founding fathers, religious freedom, separation of church and state

Highly useful book on the religion of the Founding Fathers, and their intent concerning religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Founding Faith is a fair and balanced book, puncturing liberal and conservative myths about the topic with equal cheer, and more importantly, placing the discussion squarely within the historical context of what the Founders were doing and what it was possible for them to accomplish.

So were the colonies Christian? Yes, of course, and more, predominantly Protestant with considerable anti-Catholic bias. Most colonies did have an established church, mostly Anglican or Congregationalist, yet, after the revivalism of the Great Awakening period in the mid-1700s, the colonies were more religiously diverse than ever. The fear that the British Crown would force all the colonists to be Anglican was a factor in the Revolution.

Some of the factors leading the young nation into religious tolerance were pragmatic. George Washington, for example, was trying to forge a unified fighting force out of a religiously diverse group of soldiers. He had to quell the level of anti-Catholicism because he was trying to persuade the French Catholics in Canada to join in the Revolution.

Were the Founders Deists? No, they weren't, as even Jefferson and Franklin acknowledged the hand of Providence in the affairs of men. But neither were the five Founding Fathers that Waldman profiles orthodox Christians. Franklin flirted with a variety of religions, including Deism (the philosophy that God created the Universe like a watchmaker creates a watch, and then retreated from participation in his creation), but he also was was interested in the Great Awakening and thought the influence of Christianity upon the morals of people was a good one. Adams was more likely than the others to support government involvement in religion, but he moved more towards Unitarianism the older he got and rejected much of orthodox Christianity, thinking that the much that was good in it had been corrupted, but that its founding principles were still the best. Jefferson was similar but more so. Like Adams, he despised the influence of clerics throughout history. He rejected the divinity of Jesus and the miracles, but was so enthralled by the moral teachings of Jesus he twice cut apart Bibles and pasted the parts he thought uncorrupt into new documents and apparently read them often. Washington was the most silent about religion, rarely attended church, yet often used the religious rhetoric of his day. He did, though, speak of religious equality (for Jews specifically) . Most important of all was James Madison, who was the primary writer of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Madison did not leave behind a clear record of his religious views, but from what there is, he seems to have been more orthodox than the others. He was, however, of all of them, the most devoted to the idea of religious toleration. One of the factors that shaped this was his knowledge of the Baptist preachers in Virginia who were often jailed and beaten, and who had to go through lots of hoops to even be able to perform marriages. Madison believed that religious support for one church over others was BAD FOR RELIGION, as well as the state, that it oppressed some religions while making the dominant one lazy. He also thought it a weak faith than needed government support, as well as believing it was bad to force anyone to profess and be taxed to support a religion in which they did not believe. The original language of what is now the First Amendment refers to the "rights of conscience", an even broader formulation than what is in the current amendment.

One of the important historical points that Waldman made is that Madison was a politician, who had to be able to get the votes of other Congressmen to get the Bill of Rights passed. Madison did not get everything he wanted, and what was passed enabled those who wanted some religion in politics to interpret the result their way, as well as those who wanted a strict separation to interpret it their way. Most importantly, Madison did not get a law that applied the Bill of Rights to the states. This meant, for example, that states were perfectly free to establish churches, which most did, though they gradually disappeared during the first half of the nineteenth century. It wasn't until the 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War that the Bill of Rights did apply to the states.

Waldman's most important point, perhaps, is that many religious people did then and do now support religious toleration. "He [Madison] and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-separation means being anti-God." (p. 201). It seems no coincidence that the United Sates is one of the most religiously free, religiously diverse, and religiously flourishing nations on earth.

Publication Random House (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1400064376 / 9781400064373

Book review; Desert Cut by Betty Webb

Title Desert Cut: A Lena Jones Mystery
Author: Webb, Betty

Rating ***1/2
Tags mystery, series, female genital mutilation, child abuse
Your review Betty Webb writes a mystery series about Lena Jones, a private investigator with a mysterious history of child abuse, amnesia, and foster homes. The mysteries sometimes revolve around child abuse cases. Her 2nd in the series, Desert Wives, was about the fundamentalist polygamous Mormon cults. It was published not long before Jon Krakauer's non-fiction Under the Banner of Heaven on the same topic, and the two books helped publicize the serious abuses going on in the name of those sects, which have in turn helped lead to the prosecution of Warren Jeffs and the recent raid on the sect in Texas.

In this series outing, Lena and her significant other find the body of a young girl in the Arizona desert. Lena, driven by her past, must be a part of the investigation, which leads to cases involving female genital mutilation. So, in other words, it is a rather dark story, but a powerful one, made even more powerful by the facts about FGM given in the author's notes at the end of the book.

Publication Poisoned Pen Press (2008), Hardcover, 277 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1590584910 / 9781590584910