Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Candidates' Positions of Voting Rights Issues

Another Alternet article on the 2008 presidential candidates. This one focuses on their positions on important voting issues, such as voter registration, voter suppression, verifiable vote counts, and more.

Candidates' Positions on Gender and Reproductive Issues

Another in Alternet's series of articles on the presidential candidate's positions on specific issues. This concerns reproductive rights, including abortion and contraception, and other issues of interest to women in particular, including pay equality, minimum wage, and family leave.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Palin on Science Research

I've expressed before in this blog my concern over the poor state of science in the Bush administration, and my fears as to the treatment of science in a McCain/Palin administration. This HuffPo article confirms those fears in a big way.

Candidates' Position on Water

As this Alternet article points out, water is necessary to life, and many states and communities are already or are going to face shortages in the coming decade. The article points out the problems, possible solutions, and the positions of the two presidential candidates on the issue.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: The Broken Window

TitleThe Broken Window: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel (Lincoln Rhyme)
AuthorJeffery Deaver
Tagsmystery, series, forensics, lincoln rhyme

The latest in Deaver's sries about Lincoln Rhyme, noted forensics expert who is paralyzed from the neck down.

In this book, Lincoln's cousin Arthur is arrested for theft and murder. To Lincoln's trained eyes, the evidence seems too perfect. So he and his team go looking for similar murders and find two. So who could have access to all the information that the murderer must know about both the victims he kills and the people he frames? Their eyes turn to one of the world's largest data mining companies, SSD. The killer soon learns they are aware of him and strikes back using all of his resources.

Deaver is a master of plot. He is well known for his fake outs, sending he plot into unexpected directions over and over. Sometimes they don't work as well, as one gets used to the device. Here they worked quite well. His plots are also more logical than many writers are able to manage. For example, in this book the major female character is in jeopardy, but what happened fits the character and story and doesn't come across as simply a device to get her in danger. True, she didn't get sufficient backup, but that too fits the character and she had no reason to think the lead she was following would be that dangerous.

Along the way Deaver provides a rather shocking education about how much data is being gathered on each of us and how it can be misused.

Good read, highly recommended.
PublicationSimon & Schuster (2008), Edition: Large Print Edition, Hardcover, 432 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0739497278 / 9780739497272

Book Review: A Beutiful Place to Die

TitleA Beautiful Place to Die: A Novel
AuthorMalla Nunn
Tagssouth africa, mystery, apartheid

This is the first novel of a woman filmmaker born in Swaziland and now living in Australia. It is set in South Africa in the 1950s, when the laws of apartheid were new and regimented strictly the amount of contact that whites, blacks, colored, and Indians could have with each other, as well as where each could live and work.

The Afrikaner police captain of the small town of Jacob's Rest, on the border of South Africa and Mozambique, is murdered. Detective Emmanuel Cooper, who is English, is ordered to investigate. Was Captain Pretorius the upstanding citizen he seemed to be with a solid marriage? Could he have been killed by smugglers, or by a communist agitator, or one of his five contentious sons? All of these are possibilities, and Cooper means to find the truth even in the face of Security Forces determined to find radicals responsible.

Malla Nunn shows considerable talent in her first novel. She's a filmmaker, and it shows in her ability to evoke the beautiful landscapes of South Africa. She has as well a sure touch with her characters, whatever their color or status. Through the characters and the plot, she depicts the brutality and rigidity of apartheid, and how frequently people crossed its lines and the consequences of doing so. Americans reading this novel will find the book an excellent depiction of a time and place that are strange, and yet has painful echos of our own times of deadly prejudices.

The cover blurb says that Nunn is working on her second novel. It should be one to watch for.
PublicationAtria (no date), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication dateno date
ISBN1416586202 / 9781416586203

Book Review: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

TitleAngler: The Cheney Vice Presidency
AuthorBarton Gellman
Tagsdick cheney, politics, government

Gellman's book is not a biography. It only deals with Cheney's time in office as Vice President. It does cover some familiar ground, but also surprising facts, personality traits, and events.

Cheney comes across here as indeed a man driven by his love of his country and to do what he perceives as right for the country, regardless of the costs and the politics. He is, in some ways, driven by ideology. One of his most fixed ideas was that the power of the Presidency was damaged by the fallout over Nixon and Watergate, and he was determined to increase the power of the Presidency by any and all means.

Yet Gellman places him in the pragmatist wing of the GOP rather than the neoconservative wing, despite the fact that the Iraq war was the neocons' wet dream. His explanation of why Cheney supported the war makes more sense than any other explanation I've seen. Cheney did see Iran and North Korea as more of a threat, but we would not be able to attack them without severe blowback. The response of China to an attack on North Korea was too uncertain and Iraq had a well-equipped army and the fourth largest oil reserves. So Iraq was selected for its "demonstration effect" - it would show the other enemy regimes that America could and would act (see chapter 9). Gellman doesn't say it, but Cheney seems to have miscalculated the time and effort involved in the Iraq war, and that Iran's position in the region would only be enhanced by removal of Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the depiction of the near meltdown of the government over the attempt to re-authorize the surveillance program over the objections of much of the Justice Department. We've all heard about the dramatic scene in John Ashcroft's hospital room, but Gellman gives even more detail and shows why this was one of the most important episodes in the Bush administration. First of all, the program was reauthorized without the approval of the Attorney General, and it came quite close to having several layers of Justice Department employees resigning over it, even many who didn't know all the details of the program in question. Gellman seems to think the administration would not have survived that kind of a loss and the subsequent Congressional investigations. Moreover, Cheney and his right-hand man, David Addington, did not sufficiently brief the President on the events, and Gellman seems to think Bush after this turned to Cheney less and to other advisers more. Cheney was also weakened by the loss of Scooter Libby.

All in all, a fascinating read. Gellman uses many sources, but relied heavily on interviews with as many people as he could, some of whom are anonymous - a necessary evil in a book like this. Future historians will find this book invaluable in understanding the Bush administration, as should citizens trying to understand why our government under George W. Bush has gone so wrong.

Highly recommended.
PublicationPenguin Press HC, The (2008), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1594201862 / 9781594201868

Book Review: Halfway to the Grave

TitleHalfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1)
AuthorJeaniene Frost
Tagsparanormal, serie, vampires, urban fantasy

Cat's mother was raped by a vampire, and Cat was the result. Cat didn't know until age 16 why she had enhanced speed, strength, and sensory powers until her mother told her and urged her to kill vampires. So Cat did, until she met Bones, a vampire who figured out what she was doing and wanted her to join him in killing worse vampires than she had known of before. Along the way she begins to modify her view that all vampires are evil, and to not hate herself for being half-vampire.

This series was recommended by a friend and it is, after the first book in the series, a good recommendation.
PublicationAvon (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0061245089 / 9780061245084

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Roger Cohen column on Iran

Excellent article by a columnist for the New York Times who seems to know quite a lot about the world, has lived in many parts of it. In this op-ed piece he talks about Iran, our current state of relations with them, their current state, and how best to deal with them.

Great Ideas Occasionally Get Funded

Great story on CNN about Google's contest to help the world. They solicited ideas in the categories of community, opportunity, energy, environment, health, education, shelter, and everything else. They have gotten over 100,000 submissions (no more being taken), and will let people vote on the best ideas. They will fund five of them. You go, Google!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Taking On the System

TitleTaking On the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era
AuthorMarkos Moulitsas Zuniga
Tagsactivism, politics, how to

This book, by the founder of the Daily Kos website, is a guide to effective political activism. This is the second book that I've read recently that speaks highly of Saul Alinsky's book Rules for Radicals as being a blueprint for progressive action, and Zuniga seems to see his book as a modernization of that book.

The Table of Contents serves as an outline for the book. The chapters are the New Insurgents, Mobilize, Set the Narrative, Reinvent the Street Protest, Feed the Backlash, don't Believe the Hype, Fight Small, Win big, the Unlikely Warriors, and the Epilogue. Each chapter is broken down into subsections, and each one includes success stories.

It is interesting that one of Zuniga's principles is to not let success go to your head, instead to keep the goals and objectives in mind.

Great book for activists, that is, anyone at any level interested in changing the world.
PublicationCelebra Hardcover (2008), Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0451225198 / 9780451225191


Here's a story that appeals strongly to my librarian's heart: a gentleman in Columbia who has gathered a library of over 4000 books, and uses two burros to take the books around the country for people to read. Marvelous story!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: The Given Day

Title The Given Day: A Novel
Author: Dennis Lehane
Rating ****
Tags boston, 1919, babe ruth, police, race relations, fiction

Dennis LeHane is one of those authors whose books I eagerly look forward to. He can be uneven... some of his things I've disliked, some I've liked, but two, Gone, Baby, Gone, and Mystic River, left me sitting dazed at how good the book was.

The Given Day is an epic. I'm not surprised after reading it that it has been a while since he published anything else... the book is long, epic, and rich, and took a lot of research to make it real. The setting is Boston, in 1918 and 1919. It was an eventful time. World War 1 ended, the influenza epidemic happened, there was labor unrest, a red hunt, anarchist and Bolshevik agitation with some violence. The main character is Danny, a policeman and son of a policeman. He is assigned to infiltrate various radical groups, and meanwhile gets involved in a nascent policemen's union. Meanwhile a young black man, Luther, is introduced in a baseball game. Babe Ruth shows up, and some of his team mates, and they play Luther's team. It doesn't add to harmony between the races. Luther, after various unfortunate events, winds up in Boston. The events slowly lead up inexorably to a strike by the Boston police and subsequent riots.

The book is about 700 pages long, yet never flags. It is an ambitious work, with a large number of characters, events, and forces. In less capable hands, it would be a mess. But LeHane slowly weaves a rich tapestry, character by character and event by event, until all collide in a cataclysmic event. The characters are astonishingly real and complex.

Excellent work.

Publication William Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 720 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0688163181 / 9780688163181

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ferguson on Voting pt. 2

See the last post for the first part of Craig Ferguson's monologue on voting and politics. This is the 2nd part, in which he shows the folly of not voting because of a lack of interest in politics.

Craig Ferguson rant on Voting

He wonders a lot to get there, and this is fairly long clip (about 9 minutes), but Craig does a great rant on exercising your right to vote. Interesting that someone who just this year became a citizen of the U.S. is so much more passionate about voting than most Americans.

From Gitmo to the U.S.

"The story behind last week's stunning ruling on the fate of 17 Uighur prisoners at Guantanamo Bay." Important story illustrating how really ugly things are at Guantanamo.

read more | digg story

Progressive Voter Guide to Human Rights and Civil Liberties

"Find out how the candidates compare on a range of issues from torture to wrongful convictions." This is part of a series of articles that Alternet is running on different issues, breaking down a larger topic into smaller issues, proposing a solution, and then looking at each candidate's position on the topic.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama vs. McCain on Equal Pay

Gives the candidates' positions on issues of interest to working women, such as the minimum wage and the Ledbetter law.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Review: Death's Half-Acre

TitleDeath's Half Acre
AuthorMargaret Maron
Tagsmystery, series, north carolina, judge

The latest of many in Maron's Deborah Knott series, abut the lawyer/judge daughter of a bootlegger. In this volume a local business woman is murdered, and Deborah's husband Dwight, a policeman, is investigating. As usual, Deborah gets involved.

Good, but not excellent, entry in the series - which still makes it better than most books. It does provide a thoughtful picture of land development and its consequences in once rural communities.
PublicationGrand Central Publishing (2008), Hardcover, 272 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN044619610X / 9780446196109

Book Review: Dragon Wytch

TitleDragon Wytch (Sisters of the Moon, Book 4)
AuthorYasmine Galenorn
Tagsurban fantasy, paranormal, sidhe, witches

Fourth in the Sisters of the Moon series. The first three volumes were each narrated by one of the sisters, and now in the fourth it is Camille's turn again. She is the oldest sister and a witch. She has a rather complicated life. Her main lover is a dark elf, her secondary lover is a shape shifter fox nature spirit, and in this volume she must fulfill her promise to be a dragon's concubine for a week. Meanwhile the sisters must continue to fight the efforts of the demon lord Shadow Wing to over the three worlds of Earth, the Otherworld, and the Shadow Realms. They have the help of a prince of the unicorns.

This was as good as most of the other books in the series, but not as memorable as the third book. Worth reading.
PublicationBerkley (2008), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN042522239X / 9780425222393

Book Review: Darkling

TitleDarkling (Sisters of the Moon, Book 3)
AuthorYasmine Galenorn
Tagsurban fantasy, paranormal, sidhe, witches, series

Third in the Sisters of the Moon series. This one is narrated by Menolly, who is half-human, half-fey, and now all vampire. She was tortured and murdered 12 years ago, but her murderer was a vampire who turned her. In this book she and her sister Camille go to the City of Seers, seeking help in their battle against unknown enemies. There Menolly finds healing from her emotional wounds.

So far I've liked this one the best in the series. The scenes set in the City of Seers are wonderfully imaginative, and the delving into Menolly's pain is well, sometimes even lyrically, handled.
PublicationBerkley (2008), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0425218937 / 9780425218938

Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Meltdown 101

"Very well-written primer on the meltdown." I still don't say I understand it, but it is useful.

read more | digg story

Nathan Gardels: My Interview with George Soros

I mentioned Soros in my last post, and this article is an interview with him that mentions his five-point plan for recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, much of which is now happening...

read more | digg story


This article is a companion piece to the "Economic Dishonor Role" of those who encouraged policies that allowed the 2008 financial crisis to happen. This article mentions those who warned that the policies would cause a financial disaster. They include Warren Buffet, Paul Krugman (whom we find out today has won the Nobel Prize in Economics), Nouriel Roubini, and others. According to Bill Moyer's Journal this week, George Soros also warned a crisis was coming.

read more | digg story

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Book Review: The Way of the World

TitleThe Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism
AuthorRon Suskind
Tagspolitics, world, pakistan, nuclear weapons, bush administration, intelligence

This is a "big picture" book. It covers a large slice of the world, and builds up the large picture by creating a series of small pictures. The topic is power, how it is used and abused and in surprising ways is impotent. It is also about democratic ideals and how true America is to them, and how the rest of the world views them. One piece of the story is Benazir Bhutto, and how she began to understand democracy and move towareds it only to end in the tragedy of her death. Pakistan is a nexis point in the book. One story is that of a young Pakistani Muslim who lives in the US, and how he deals with issues of faith and democracy.

Much of it concerns the intelligence community and the information they know or are desperately searching for, the information to prevent new attacks. One concentrates on finding out how much loose nuclear material there is, who is offering to sell it and who to buy it. Another met with the head of Iraqi intelligence in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and found out Saddam Hussein had no WMD. That same Iraqi was paid by the U.S. to forge a letter claiming the 9/11 hijackers were trained in Iraq and that there was a WMD program.

It is a book where terror and freedom strive against each other. One of the goals of Al Quaeda is to get the U.S. to react in fear and against its own beliefs:

"The aim of the al Quaeda leadership for the present phase of their campaign is not just to attack us. It is to try to create the impression throughout the Muslim world that a global struggle against oppression is under way in which violent jihad against us is a personal duty since, in their eyes, the policies of the U.S and its allies towards the Muslim world are incurably discriminatory and at heart colonial. Through constantly tempting us into over-reaction, they want to expose our values as fragile and hypocritical, suppressing civil rights at home and supporting apostate and repressive government overseas. We should recognize their motive as the well-understood tactic of the revolutionary through the ages, and not fall for it." (quote from David Omand, p. 198-199).

in the end, Suskind sees hope in the longing for people from around the world to recreate the world and make it new and hopeful.
PublicationHarper (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 432 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0061430625 / 9780061430626

Book Review: Changeling

TitleChangeling (Sisters of the Moon, Book 2)

Yasmine Galenorn

Tagsparanromal, urban fantasy, weres, witches, magick, dragons

Second in Galenorn's Sisters of the Moon series, about three half-human half-faerie sisters. The first book was narrated by Camille, a witch. This one is narrated by Delilah, a werecat and private eye. Once again they have to foil the demon lord Shadow Wing who is looking for one of the spirit seals. In this case he uses a clan of werespiders who are killing a clan of werepumas who have the seal.

It is a fun and magickal book, like the first one. The characters are well-drawn and quite varied, including the terrific Smokey the Dragon. Recommended.
PublicationBerkley (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0425216292 / 9780425216293