Friday, February 27, 2009

Should Personal Beliefs matter in Politics?

We like to believe that a person's personal beliefs shouldn't be a bar to their participation in politics. Yet we fairly widely believe we wouldn't elect a white supremacist to office these days. I would add these days that people who are openly dreationists or global warming deniers should no more be considered for office in this country than a Holocaust denier, particularly for the office of President. The President has a major role in setting science policy for the country, and someone who has that poor a grasp of science should not be in that role. I say this because of just having seen in an article that Bobby Jindal is a creationist, and we know from the last election that other Republican candidates are as well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pro-life Policies Don't Reduce Abortions

This article points out something I've thought for a while, that pro-life groups don't seem to support policies which actually WORK to reduce abortions, i.e., access to contraception and (though not mentioned in the article) comprehensive sex education.

Lobbying on Climate Change

Interesting article that talks about the increasing number of lobbyists on different sides of the issue of climate change. Perhaps the saddest feature of the article is that, when we are seeing the effects of global warming happening faster than was predicted, the issue ranked last among 20 issues ranked in one poll.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Cutting the Deficit is Bad AT THIS MOMENT

Obama has called for reducing the deficit. Normally I'd be all for that, but have been seeing a lot of economists explain why this is a bad idea now, and until we get out of the current recession...or looming depression. Here's Robert Reich with a good summary of the arguments I've seen from more than one economist on the issue.

Acceptance Speech by Milk Author

Dustin Lance, who wrote the screenplay for Milk, won the Oscar Sunday night for best original screenplay. This article links to the video and text of his speech, which I found very moving. Here's part of it:

"If Harvey Milk were alive today, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian children out there who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures who have value. No matter what anybody tells you, God does love you and that very soon you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”

Another on Teen Pregnancy Rates

This report from the Population Reference Bureau documents the rise in teen pregnancies in the U.S. and shows where it is rising the most and in what populations. As is no surprise to this native Southerner (born and raised in Alabama) it is the Southern states where it is rising the most. I suspect the reasons are the poorer level of education and the social conservatism that is more likely to insist on abstinence-only sex education.

It makes particularly interesting this blog post by Ed Brayton of the Dispatches From the Culture Wars blog that shows which the states in which people rated religion most important, and the rates of divorce, out of wedlock births, and teen pregnancy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Explaining a Carbon Cap and Trade System

This MoJo article does a good job of explaining what a carbon cap and trade system is, and why it is a good idea. A related article talks about the most important players in climate change legislation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review: Carved in Bone

Title Carved in Bone: A Body Farm Novel (Body Farm Novels)
Jefferson Bass
Rating ****
Tags forensic anthropology, mystery, tennessee, body farm, series

This is the first in the Body Farm novels. The Body Farm is a real place, where scientists study body decomposition in order to improve forensics. The series is written by Jefferson Bass, who is in charge of the Body Farm.

Dr. Bill Brockton, head of the Body Farm, is called in to the case of a woman's body found in a cave in rural Cooke County, Tennessee. Brockton becomes deeply involved in the case, which grows difficult when it seems the villains are more trustworthy than the law enforcement.

Brockton is a good character, though perhaps too eager to put himself in danger. It is always fun to read a story like this where you know the background is done right, and some of the stories are drawn from life. I plan to read others in the series.

Publication Harper (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0060759828 / 9780060759827

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: Blindspot

Title Blindspot: A Novel
Lepore, Jill
Jane Kamensky
Rating *****
Tags colonial america, boston, fiction, women, art, slavery, mystery

An excellent historical mystery novel by two women academics. It is told by two alternating characters: Fanny Easton, a "fallen woman" who disguises herself as a boy to apprentice to the artist Stewart Jameson, who is too preoccupied with his own demons to see Fanny for who she is. His demons include hoping to see again his friend, Ignatius, who was raised to be well-educated, then sold into slavery.

In the end, the authors have woven a mystery with a strong picture of the evils of slavery and sexism. The authors' notes say that the details of the story are accurate to the time.

It is a wonderful story, excellently told.
Other authors
Lepore, Jill

Author – Lepore, Jill
Publication Spiegel & Grau (2008), Hardcover, 512 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0385526199 / 9780385526197

Book Review: Witch's Grave

Title The Witch's Grave (Ophelia & Abby Mysteries, No. 6)
Shirley Damsgaard
Rating ****
Tags paranormal, witches, psychics, reincarnation, mystery, series

Sixth in Shirley Damsgaard's Ophelia and Abby series, about a witch and psychic, Ophelia, her grandmother, Abby, and Ophelia's foster daughter Tink. In this outing Ophelia meets Stephen Larsen and realizes he is the man she has been dreaming about, and they take a walk, both feeling a strong attraction. But a shot is fired, and Stephen falls, critically wounded. Ophelia feels a duty to find out who hurt him and why,

The story begins on a rather unbelievable note - Ophelia meets, literally, the man of her dreams, and then he gets shot -but by the end Damsgaard has written a unique story about how past lives interweave with the present. Nicely done.

Publication Avon (no date), Mass Market Paperback, 272 pages
Publication date no date
ISBN 0061493430 / 9780061493430

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Myths about Coal for Energy

This article gives a lot of facts about coal mining and burning coal for energy. Despite the industry's hype, there is no such thing currently as clean coal technology, and some scientists say it is not likely to ever happen. Moreover, the current mining operations are destroying mountains and polluting water, and don't even produce many jobs. Moreover, coal is a cheap energy source only if you don't include the environmental clean-up costs and the health costs.

Trials of Bush Administration Officials?

This article talks about the status of criminal investigations into several Bush administration officials and the current status. We may see some trials yet. TPM (Talking Points Memo) is the place to go for information on this kind of thing.

End Abstinence Only Sex Education

This article is compelling with many reasons for ending abstinence-only sex education. First and foremost, it DOESN'T WORK. It does not reduce the rates of teen sex, pregnancy, or sexually transmitted infections. Second, many of these programs have erroneous information about condom effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STIs. Third, many of them includes seriously wrong stereotypes on race, gender, and sexual orientation. President Obama pledged as a candidate to get rid of these programs and support science-based age-appropriate sex education. Will he get his way? Maybe, but maybe not, due to too many Senators and Congressmen coming from areas where abstinence programs are popular.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Please Don't Divorce Us" Video

This page contains the marvelous video Fidelity, about same-sex marriage. It shows thousands of people affected by the potential divorce of the same-sex couples married in California while it was legal, not only the marriage partners but their family (including children), and friends. It puts a human face, literally, and in the plural, on an issue that too many in the religious right don't want made sympathetic. If you support LGBT rights, send this out far and wide, and also recommend the book and movie Prayers for Bobby. See also this blog post by the straight, and straight-talking, Ed Brayton, of a story where a woman was unable to visit her dying partner in a hospital in Florida, nor were their children allowed in. HUMAN RIGHTS ARE FOR ALL!

Bristol Palin: Abstinence Only is Ineffective

Bristol Palin has said, in an interview, that abstinence-only education is unrealistic. She enjoys being a mother, but thinks it would have been better ten years from now, when she could have gotten an education and a job. Bless her for her honesty and for speaking a message young people desperately need to hear.

Pure and Applied Science

This article is a guest column in the New York Times blog The Wild Side. The blog started as a forum for evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson, who is currently taking a sabbatical, but has done e marvelous job of writing interesting posts readable by the interested layperson. The guest bloggers have kept up her high standards. This one, by Stephen Quake, discusses the differences between "pure" and "applied" science, saying that the line between the two is pretty much arbitrary, and that work in one affects the other.
This is an interesting point in public policy debates, as applied tends to get more funding, pure more prestige.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

James Galbraith on Next Steps to Ecoonomic Recovery

James Galbraith is one of the economists I trust, and in this article he lays out the next steps needed to create an economic recovery.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why the Stimulus Won't Leave Behind Heavy Debts

This article has a good, readable explanation as to why the stimulus plan won't leave a heavy debt load, as many GOP congress critters are claiming. In short, it creates jobs, so increases tax revenues, and decreases unemployment, thus decreasing unemployment compensation.

A Guard Tells All on Bush Admin. Guantanamo Torture

See this article in Harper's, which talks about and links to a 15,000 word piece by a soldier from Guantanamo detailing the abuse of the prisoners there. It is not pretty reading.

Torture Memo Trouble for Bush Admin.

This article by Michael Isikoff tells of a report by Bush administration lawyers was sharply critical of John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Stephen Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel for their parts in issuing the torture memos that were later retracted by Jack Goldsmith. Goldsmith wrote an excellent book on the topic, The Terror Presidency.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: Prayers for Bobby

Title Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son
Leroy Aarons
Rating ****1/2
Tags lgbt, youth, suicide, christianity, non-fiction

This deeply-disturbing but enlightening book has now been made into a TV movie. It is the story of Bobby Griffith and his family, especially his mother. Bobby came out as gay to his family in 1979, when he was 16, Most of his family was highly religious, and his mother, worried that he would be eternally damned, kept telling him he could change if he believed enough. It didn't happen, and Bobby, age 20, committed suicide by dropping off an overpass into the path of an 18 wheeler.

Mary Griffith's grief was intense. Eventually she began questioning her faith, that told her her son was sinful. She finally came to understand that nothing was wrong with Bobby... but something was very wrong with a religion and a sodiety that causes cildren such self-hatred that they cannot survive. Mary had another difficult-to-handle bout of grief when she understood fully her part in Bobby's death. Her strength and courage won out, and she became an advocate for gay and lesbian youth.

It is a hard book to read... it makes real so much pain, and shows the extent of the problem for millions of gay and lesbian young people. Things have changed some, but there are still too many of these young people dealing with harassment and physical violence in schools, lack of acceptance by friends and family, and high levels of suicides and attempted suicides.

This is a must-read.

Publication HarperOne (1996), Edition: illustrated edition, Paperback, 288 pages
Publication date 1996
ISBN 0062511238 / 9780062511232

Book Review: Wishful Drinking

Title Wishful Drinking
Carrie Fisher
Rating ****
Tags memoirs, carie fisher, humor

Carrie Fisher is the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. It was an unusual upbringing, to say the least. Her father left when she was two and was not around most of the time. Her mother was an eccentric. Carrie also dealt with being bipolar and addicted to drugs and alcohol, a blast of fame at age nineteen thanks to George Lucas and Star Wars, a failed marriage to singer Paul Simon, another failed marriage to an agent who forgot to mention he was gay, and more. She tells it all with warmth, humor, and a high degree of self-analysis. Enjoyable, quick read.

Publication Simon & Schuster (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 176 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1439102252 / 9781439102251

Book Review: The Runner, by Thomas Perry

Title Runner (Jane Whitefield)
Thomas Perry
Rating ****
Tags thriller, series, jane whitefield

Perry is one of my favorite authors, and I have loved the Jane Whitefield series, about a woman who helps people in trouble disappear. This is the first in the series in a number of years; Perry wrote a number of excellent stand alones in between.

Jane takes her first case in over five years, as she feels she cannot turn away the young pregnant woman escaping a dangerous and abusive boyfriend.

I liked this book quite a lot, but it isn't, in my mind as good as some of the others in the series. My favorite was the one in which Jane and a couple of others gave away billions of Mafia money to charities.

It is a terrific series, though I'd start with some of the earlier ones and savor your way through all of them.

Publication Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (no date), Hardcover, 448 pages
Publication date no date
ISBN 0151015287 / 9780151015283
Title: Drawers & Booths
Ara 13
Rating **1/2
Tags religion, fiction, experimental literature

This book is Experimental Literature. I'm either too old or too conventional for it, and I'd really, really, really hate to think it was the latter. The story starts as a rather Catch 22-like war story, then turns into a trial of God. It is fun in its way, but makes the youthful mistake of trying to answer questions people have been trying to answer since man first had a thought, and that no one so far has been able to agree on answers to. At this point, I'm just too old.

Publication CovingtonMoore, Inc. (2007), Paperback, 224 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0979863600 / 9780979863608

Book Review: Queen's Gambit

Title The Queen's Gambit: A Leonardo da Vinci Mystery
Diane A. S. Stuckart
Rating ***1/2
Tags leonardo da vinci, historical mystery

Workmanlike mystery with Leonardo as the detecxtive. It is set during the time Leonardo was working as artist and engineer for the Duke of Milan. His cousin is killed, and the duke asks Leonardo to solve the crime, which he does with the help of his apprentice Dino. Worth a read, don't know if it will be a series.

Publication Berkley Hardcover (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0425219232 / 9780425219232

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Title The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Barrows, Annie
Mary Ann Shaffer
Rating *****
Tags fiction, letters, world war ii, nazis, guernsey

I first heard about this book on a list of the best books of 2008, and after reading it, I agree with that assessment. The book is written as a series of letters between a group of people post World War II. A woman writer becomes involved with a group of people living on the island of Guernsey, which was ocupied by the Nazis during the war. The characters get to know each other through the letters, then in person. There is great humor and warmth here, plus the memory of tragedy and pain.

Highly, highly, highly recommended!

Other authors
Barrows, Annie

Author – Barrows, Annie
Publication The Dial Press (2008), Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0385340990 / 9780385340991

Book Review: The Bodies left Behind

Title The Bodies Left Behind: A Novel
Jeffery Deaver
Rating ****
Tags mystery, thriller, women

Deaver is best known for the Lincoln Rhyme series about a quadriplegic forensic expert. This book is a stand alone, about a woman deputy who is asked to investigate a 911 call and walks into a double murder and is forced to run with another woman. The deputy, the other woman, and the two killers play out a deadly dance, full of Deaver's trademarked plot twists. The book has interesting characters and a good plot. Recommended.

Publication Simon & Schuster (2008), Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1416595619 / 9781416595618

Friday, February 13, 2009

George Soros' Plan to Rebuild the Economy

Soros' plan, an excerpt of his book The Crash of 2008 and What it Means, is here. Consists of five components.

Stimulus Bill and the GOP

Excellent article on what is really in the stimulus bill and what the Republicans hope for by opposing it (more seats in 2010). Also refutes their notion that there was no bipartisan outreach.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on Republican Economics

This article is most useful in refuting that tax cuts are the best way to stimulate the economy.

Why Business Journalism Failed to Cover the Financial Crisis in the Making

Excellent article by a former Wall Street Journal reporter on why business reporters failed to report the problems in the financial industry until it was too late.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reich - Why Republicans Won't Support the Stimulus

I think Robert Reich nails it in this article... they won't vote for the stimulus in hopes that Obama will fail and they can regain control of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections and the White House in 20212.

KBR and Government Contracts

This is outrageous, that KBR has won another contract in Iraq despite major questions about their work. Eighteen soldiers have been shocked, with at least two deaths due to electrocution because of KBR's work in Iraq.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Green Car Ratings has ratings of cars on their environmental impact. Also green driving tips and more.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Video: Did You Know?

Nice video showing where we are in the information age at this moment in time, with references to startling statistics about the past, present, and future.

Defense Spending

This article is a reply to a Washington Post editorial by Robert Kagan on why we shouldn't cut defense spending. The article argues that Kagan got his facts wrong, that the proposed budget is, in fact, a small increase, and that there are areas of Pentagon spending that can and should be cut (mostly costly and unneeded weapons programs), while spending on increasing the well-being of soldiers, their families, and veterans should be increased while the economy is in such difficulties.