Thursday, April 30, 2009

Legal Importance of the Iowa Gay Marriage Decision

This blog post on the Iowa gay marriage decision is useful because of the legal background in it. Here's the critical part:

"What sets the Iowa opinion apart is a passage near the end. After dealing with the arguments the state offered to justify the exclusion of same-sex couples, the Iowa Supreme Court addresses head-on what it says is the “unspoken” reason many support the exclusion: religious opposition.

The Court says that while many oppose marriage for religious reasons, religion cannot justify a law excluding gay people from marriage. “State government can have no religious views,” the opinion says, “either directly or indirectly expressed through its legislation.” “This proposition,” the Court goes on to say, “is the essence of the separation of church and state.”


Kristof's Column on Rape

Nicholas Kristof has a thought-provoking article on rape kits and how often they go untested. He questions why, and wonders if it is because rape is not considered a serious crime.

Sexual violence is heart-breaking, and so very prevalent. At one time, I realized that every woman I talked to about the topic had either been raped or sexually abused. Maybe I just had a small circle of friends, but that fact startled and depressed me.

Kristof mentions that New York has been the one shining example in this, that in the last ten years they've been consistently testing rape kits and had great success in matching DNA. This is interesting, because for part of this time the Assistant District Attorney for Sex Crimes in New York was Linda Fairstein. She has also written a successful mystery series in which her main character, Alexandra Cooper, has the same job, and lots of the minor stories are drawn from Fairstein's experience as ADA.

I have had one personal experience with sexual violence... in 1989 a friend of mine, a 21 year old woman who was beautiful both inside and out, was murdered here in Atlanta. Years later they tested the DNA and matched it to a man who was already in prison for another crime. She has justice now, but it can never replace what the world lost in her.

Lily Ledbetter

Good article on Lily Ledbetter, the woman whose case the Supreme Court made such a mess of. She's worked hard all of her life, and has the courage to stand up for equal pay for equal work. Another hero.

Quote of the Day 4/30/2009

I've been compiling quotations that I really like for years. I used to have them up when I had a web page. So I thought maybe I'll start posting one of them a day.

Here is today's favorite quote:

"When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment."
- Scout Cloud Lee

Troy Davis

If this country doesn't torture, I would hope that it also doesn't execute people when there is a real chance the prisoner may be innocent. I don't know if Troy Davis is innocent or not, but I do know 7 of 9 witnesses have recanted their testimony, and that eyewitness testimony is being looked at more and more skeptically. Davis has appealed about as far as he can go, and they have failed, I think mostly on technical reasons.

I'm opposed to the death penalty, anyway, because those sentenced are mostly poor and black, leading one to doubt the justice of it. And, simply, there have been so many people exonerated by DNA evidence that we risk executing the innocent, and that's intolerable.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

U.S. Treaty Obligations on Torture Prosecutions

This post from Glenn Greenwald (he follows the torture story very well) is a transcript of an interview he had with Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, on the obligations the U.S. has under various treaties to try those who approved torture techniques. Worth reading.

Drug Sentencing Disparities

I like this blog post because it explains the history behind the huge sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. I echo the call for ending same. Obama is apparently planning to act on this.

Bloggers Unite for Hunger and Hope

Today is a day to write about Hunger in the world. The economic downturn is simply devastating for so many in this country and the world. May the world's leaders have the wisdom and commitment to improve the global economy and help lessen poverty and starvation.


I found this quote in a story about a gay football player, now lawyer:

"Our Constitution is very specific," Sims said. "It either says separation of church and state or equal protection. And there's not a valid policy argument to be made for why there isn't complete 100% equal rights for LGBT folks. There just isn't. The only argument that can be made has to trace back to religions norms. I happen to pay taxes to a government that says it won't base how it treats me on what a religion has to say about me."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Review: Some of It Was Fun

Title: Some of It Was Fun: Working with RFK and LBJ
Author: Nicholas Katzenbach
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: politics, government, rfk, lbj, civil rights, vietnam

Well, actually, all of it was fun... reading the book, that is. Katzenbach served in the administrations of both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He participated in some of the most exciting events of those administrations, including efforts to increase civil rights for African Americans and in debates about Vietnam. He knew well Bobby Kennedy and Johnson, JFK less well, and his observations of these leaders and others of lesser rank are fascinating.

Katzenback began in the Office of Legal Counsel and then became deputy Attorney General under Bobby, then Attorney General when Bobby left the Johnson administration, then undersecretary of State.

He was often involved in civil rights issues while in the Department of Justice, including being on the ground for the integrations of the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama. He was also involved in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act which changed the face of America. His perspective on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' efforts in civil rights is invaluable. Civil rights leaders were doubtful at times of the federal government's commitment in this area, but Katzenbach points out that the South was a caste system, that local law enforcement was almost completely opposed to black civil rights, and that the government's powers were limited. It simply wasn't practical to mobilize the National Guard or to send in military troops to desegregate schools and public accommodations district by district. What they did do was enforce desegregation in selected instances so that they could threaten to do so somewhere else with credibility. Still, it took the Voting Rights Act to get blacks into office, which really broke the back of segregation. The passing of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act are both thrilling stories, and depended on an amazing amount of prep work and floor management. JFK was assassinated before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which slowed things down to some degree as it took time for Bobby to regain his zest for action.

Katzenback became Attorney General after Bobby left for the Senate He grew kind of bored, frankly, as the excitement of earlier days waned. When the undersecretary of State position opened, he asked for it and got it, despite the fact it was in title and pay grade a demotion. As undersecretary of State he was involved in many interdepartmental meetings about Vietnam with high-powered players from Defense, State, and other government agencies. Consistently the only person with any optimism about Vietnam was Walt Rostow, the national security advisor. The others for various reasons were doubtful that the war could win, in the sense of a survivable South Vietnamese state. But the North Vietnamese knew that time was on their side and were not interested in substantive negotiations, and LBJ did not feel he could unilaterally pull out. Katzenbach believes that in part Johnson' passion was for domestic politics, and he was not as interested in or as knowledgeable about foreign policy. Johnson could see that the war was destroying the Great Society that he had worked so hard for, but couldn't see a way out.

Katzenbach speaks well of almost everyone, but he is fairly realistic in his assessments. His picture of Bobby Kennedy increases one's sense of the tragedy of his loss, and confirms why people thought of the Kennedy administration as Camelot. It was full of the young, the energetic, the innovative, the bright, the open to hearing ideas from a broad range of people, and led by a President who was all of these things. He took great pleasure in working with Bobby, but learned to get along with Johnson. He doubted Johnson's motives at first, but came to recognize LBJ's passion for the Great Society programs and his unfailing political instincts, which he has never seen surpassed.

Sprinkled throughout the books are wise assessments of the ability of governments to affect issues, real lessons in politics as the art of the possible.

Fascinating and amazingly readable book.

Publication W.W. Norton & Co. (2008), Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0393067254 / 9780393067255

Lovely Pagan Poem

To somewhat offset the last post, here is a lovely pagan poem, also posted by Gus diZerega.

Is This Blog Too Political?

This post by Gus diZerega of A Pagan's Blog asks a question I could ask of my blog, and his answer suits me very well and is what I would say if I were as good a writer as he is.

Monday, April 27, 2009

One More on Torture...

by the eminently sane Frank Rich. He goes through the justifications for torture and sees in the timing of it that the motive was to find a link between al-Quaeda and Iraq in order to sell the Iraq war.

The Real Reagan

People I care for and respect are fans of Ronald Reagan. That's fine for them, but not for me. I didn't like him while he was President and don't now, and this article gives good reasons why. I think a mythology has grown up around Reagan and that we need to be more aware of the negatives of his Presidency. For one thing, I find it hard to forgive him for beginning his Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, near where the 3 civil rights workers were murdered, and speaking there about states' rights, clear code to appeal to the worst strand of racism in America. Reagan came close to impeachment over Iran-contra, as well, and the article references a lot of the nasty things the U.S. did in Latin America under Reagan. The article may go to far the other way, but Americans seriously don't know our own history of supporting murderous dictators and the blowback that has caused our relationships in the world. Take Iran, for example... very few Americans know that we caused the overthrow of a popular prime minister there in 1953, and re-instated the Shah, who proceeded to brutalize his people. But the Iranians know. They don't forget it, and it was part of the reason for the Iranian revolution. A good back on that topic is All the Shah's Men.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: A Fool and His Honey

Title: A Fool and His Honey (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, Book 6)
Author: Charlaine Harris
Rating: ***
Tags: mystery, series, aurora teagarden

Sixth in the Aurora Teagarden series. Roe's husband's niece arrives unexpectedly for a visit, has a baby Roe and Martin didn't know she was expecting, and offers very little in the way of explanation. Regina and the baby move into the garage apartment. That night Roe finds the body of a young man on the steps going to the apartment, the baby under the bed, and Regina nowhere to be found. Shortly Roe, Martin, the baby, and Rory, a friend of the dead youth who has shown up out of nowhere, head to Martin's old home town to try and trace Regina.

Fairly good book, but I really disliked the ending.

Publication St. Martin's Minotaur (1999), Hardcover

Book Reviw: Dead Over Heels

Title: Dead Over Heels (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, Book 5)
Author: Charlaine Harris
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: mystery, series, aurora teagarden

Fifth in the Aurora Teagarden mystery series, set in Lawrenceton, Georgia. Roe is married, and has gone back to working in the local library part-time. She and Angel, her bodyguard/general help are in the garden one day when a body is dropped from a small plane and almost lands on Angel. it turns out to be that of Jack Burns, a policeman with whom Roe has had a number of unpleasant encounters over the years.

Good book but not outstanding.

Publication Berkley (2008), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 272 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0425223035 / 9780425223031

Book Review: Dancing on the Head of a Pin

Title: Dancing on the Head of a Pin: A Remy Chandler Novel
Author: Thomas E. Sniegoski
Rating: ***
Tags: paranormal, thriller, fiction, series, angels, private eyes

This second book in the Remy Chandler series has just come out, and I was lucky enough to read it right after reading the first in the series.

Remy, who was and still can be the angel Remiel, is a private eye in Boston. A client hires him to search for several priceless weapons that have been stolen. It becomes clear quickly that the weapons and the thieves are supernatural, not of the nice kind, and things are going to get pretty bad.

What I perceived in the first book to be weaknesses of the mythology here also translate into an inconsistent character. Sniegoski treats Remy the "human" and Remiel the angel as two entirely separate characters in one body, and Remy is by far the more honorable and compassionate of the two. It is the angel that hankers for war and blood, which doesn't make a lot of sense because it was the war in Heaven in which Remiel killed many of his brothers that caused him to leave Heaven and try to live as a human. If his angle nature was so bloodthirsty he wouldn't have gotten so soul-sick over the war.

Interesting enough to read through, and there are characters I like, including Remy (not Remiel) and Marlowe the dog, but I'm not sure I'll read any more in this series.

Publication Roc Trade (2009), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0451462513 / 9780451462510

Book Review: A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Title: A Kiss Before the Apocalypse
Author: Thomas E. Sniegoski
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: paranormal, thriller, fiction, series, angels, private eyes

Remy Chandler was once the angel Remiel, and he is still, unless he suppresses his angel nature. After the war in Heaven where Angels fought and killed each other, Remy left to live among humans. In the 1950s he became a private eye in Boston, and met the love of his life and married her. Now Madeleine is ill. Meanwhile odd things are happening, mainly that people stop dying, worldwide, no matter how ill or injured they are.

Sniegoski's world is pretty interesting, with pretty good characters and plot. But maybe I'm just growing too old, or maybe watching enough of The Daily Show makes me think more critically and makes it harder for me to suspend my disbelief. It's just that the whole break the seals and the Apocalypse comes thang has not only been done, it never made a whole lot of sense while also saying there's an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God on the Throne of Heaven. All those things just can't be true.

Anyway, I liked it well enough to read the second one in ther series.

Publication Roc Trade (2008), Paperback
Publication date 2008

Book Review: Wromwood

Title: Wormwood China Bayles #17 (China Bayles Mystery)
Author: Susan Wittig Albert
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, china bayles, herbs, herbalists, shakers

Susan Albert is one of those authors who cause me to give a sigh of pleasure when I open one of her books. I know I can count on a book that is deftly written, a good story, with characters I've followed over a large span of their lives.

This particular book melds the past and the present. China goes on a trip to a restored Shaker village with a friend who is a trustee of the village and who suspects the things going wrong there are no accident. The story parallels events in 1912 in the village, a few years before it shut down as a community.

Excellent story, as usual. The Shaker history is an added bonus, as are the herbal lore and recipes, though the latter is a typical feature of books in this series.

Publication Berkley Hardcover (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0425226093 / 9780425226094

Friday, April 24, 2009

Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Pain it Causes

Post from Ed Brayton on the damage done by Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Yglesias on Why Torture Doesn't Work

This blog post by Matthew Yglesias is another good explanation of why torture doesn't work... it may in fact provide some true results, but they may be mixed in with so much deception that the time it takes to sort out the information makes it unlikely to produce much in the way of results.

Sorry to keep harping on this topic, but it is a major news topic currently.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on Interrogation Techniques from a Professional

This New York Times op-ed discusses torture from the perspective of a professional FBI interrogator, who has some important things to say. One is that Abu Zabaydah had already given his most valuable intelligence under traditional interrogation techniques before he was tortured. Another important point is that the use of torture created blockages to interagency cooperation between the CIA and the FBI.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How the CIA Started Torturing

Dennis Blair, current director of National Intelligence, said recently that the harsh interrogation techniques of the Bush Administration worked. However, this New York Times article claims it is not effective, and goes into detail as to how torture techniques were chosen and that it was in large part out of ignorance of current interrogation techniques.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another Hero

Here's someone else I consider a hero who is not a stereotypical hero, Stephen Hawking. To have faced such challenges and yet to have accomplished all he has is remarkable! This article is about his current grave illness and has background on him. Best wishes to him.

Brilliant Video Refuting Anti-Gay Marriage Claims

This is a marvelous video about conservative Christian claims and gay marriage and how to refute them. This was created by a YouTube user named robtish (I assume that would be Rob Tish), and it looks like he has some other good videos on YouTube.

The Ninth Amendment and Enumerated Rights

This post from the marvelous Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars is a good discussion of the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is often forgotten. When the Bill of Rights was written, one of the concerns was that it was impossible to enumerate all the rights due a free people, and that enumerating some rights might imply those were the only legal rights. Madison saw that could be a problem, and therefore he added the 9th Amendment, which says "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." This is where the courts find such things as a right to privacy.

Click to Give!

The Greater Good Network has 6 sites where you click on a button and sponsors give food to that specific charity. See the Animal Rescue site where a click donates food to animals in shelters. Once there, on the top of the page are tabs linking to the other sites for Hunger, Breast Cancer, Literacy, Child Health, and the Rain forest. All the sites have interesting tidbits of information, and interesting sponsors. The Greater Good Network also has a store which is a great place to buy gifts as well as things for yourself. They get craft items from all over the world, and you can also give charitable gifts in someone's name. I've bought quite a bit from the stores and always found interesting items for a decent price, and all items were shipped in good condition and in a timely fashion. You can get an email reminder to click every day, which helps me. A friend of mine has it set to open in his browser every morning when he first logs on, so that works too. They've been having trouble getting enough people to click, so please spread the word!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Review: Plain, Honest Men

Title: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
Author: Richard Beeman
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: non-fiction, history, constition, united states, constitutional convention

Plain, Honest Men is an excellent history of the Constitutional Convention which wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787. I have always been a fan of the Founding Fathers, but after reading this book I admire them even more, and admire a broader set of men than simply Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington..

Consider what these men had to contend with. The Confederation Congress directed them to make improvements to the Articles of Confederation, not create a whole new government. It was James Madison, more than any other, who provided the energy for such an effort and who wrote much of the document.

The convention was called because the Articles of Confederation were simply not strong enough a foundation for the young United States. State power was superior to federal, international commerce was not working well, nor was taxation. Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts raised fears that national defense was inadequate.

The task was daunting. No republican government of this size had existed before. England was a constitutional monarchy, and its Parliament provided something of a model, but it was still a monarchy. Many of those in the United States knew the Confederation was not working well, but they were very afraid that too much executive power would lead to tyranny.

Madison, James Wilson, and Governeur Morris each extensively studied previous governments and their studies helped inform the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. Besides the real problem of creating a balance between national and state governments, the writers of the Constitution had to deal with how to create a government with separation of powers and checks and balances so that no one branch was too powerful. They also had to balance the interests of the large states and the small states, and the slave states vs. the free states. All of these could have been deal breakers. The author's discussion of the slavery issue adds to my belief that ending slavery was simply not possible, at least that it would have destroyed the young country.

Beeman believes that the secrecy in which the deliberations were conducted was essential to the success of the Convention, that it allowed free debate and the ability to keep trying out different solutions. Unfortunately it also means we don't have as full an account of the Convention as one would wish.

The Constitution that resulted was not perfect, but that it came into being at all was a miracle. Beeman gives a readable account of the issues and personalities involved. It was interesting to find out about some of the people who aren't as well known. Madison, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were essential to the effort, but many others such as Robert and Governeur Morris, James Wilson, John Dickinson, and John Rutledge all added greatly. The entire Connecticut delegation, led by Roger Sherman, provided essential compromises.

A wonderful history that makes me more than ever grateful to live in the United States.

Publication Random House (2009), Hardcover, 544 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1400065704 / 9781400065707

Book Review: 7th Heaven

Title 7th Heaven (Women's Murder Club)
Paetro, Maxine
James Patterson
Rating ***1/2
Tags mystery, series, police procedural, san francisco, women's murder club

I've caught up now with all the Women's Murder Club series published so far. I haven't been reviewing the individual titles, but thought I'd say some things about the series as a whole.

Overall, I like it. The books are workable, the characters pretty good, the plots decent. The series centers around Lindsay Boxer, a homicide detective in San Francisco. Her best friend is the medical examiner, and in the first novel she gets to know a reporter, Cindy. The three form a Women's Murder Club that helps Lindsay figure out the cases she is working on. The are joined by Assistant D.A. Jill and in later books by another Assistant D.A.

The biggest problem I have iwth the series is one that is common to a lot of police procedurals. The authors seem to think a police procedural can't be interesting unless the main characters are in danger or get hurt or lose people they care for, and I don't believe that is the case. Certainly I don't think it is sustainable for something like this to happen in every book in a series, and it seems to happen in every book in the Women's Murder Club series.

In sum, readable, but not outstanding. I am still bummed though that they cancelled the TV series, which I really liked.
Other authors: Paetro, Maxine

Author – Paetro, Maxine
Publication Grand Central Publishing (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0446199257 / 9780446199254

Book Review: The Increment

Title: The Increment: A Novel
Author: David Ignatius
Rating ****
Tags iran, spy story, thriller, nuclear weapons, fiction

Ignatius is a journalist who has been reporting on the Middle East for more than 25 years. So part of the fun of this novel is trying to figure out what parts reflect insider knowledge. Ignatius knows this and says don't do it, it's a chump's game, but only AFTER the book is over. So it doesn't destroy the fun.

The novel is about a CIA agent in charge of the Iran desk, Harry Pappas. A message comes through the CIA's public web site that appears to come from a nuclear scientist in Iran offering to share information. If true, it would be unique and extremely valuable. Harry has to verify the information the scientist sends, and figure out whether he is in danger and needs to be extracted or whether he can be kept in place, and how to keep in touch with him since the U.S. has no agents in Iran.

It is a good thriller. Harry is a good character, the best-realized in the book. The other characters are adequate, but Harry is central. The depiction of life in Iran is interesting and one assumes fairly accurate. The plot is ok, maybe three stars instead of four.

The Increment is a recommended adventure read.

Publication W.W. Norton & Co. (2009), Edition: 1st American Edition, Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0393065049 / 9780393065046

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New studies on IQ

Nicholas Kristof in this article points to new studies on IQ that show that poverty has a severely negative effect on IQ and that education has a positive impact on it. This contrasts with earlier studies suggesting that it was more a factor of genetics... but Kristof points out that kids in poverty were not included in these studies.

His conclusion is that early childhood education be intensified, and I would also think that anti-poverty efforts not only improve people's lives but their minds, and all of that would have a positive effect on the nation's wealth.

Talking Points on Taxes

When those who are against taxes start telling you why, this article by Robert Reich gives some of the facts on our tax system.

The "Liberal" Media

This article is rather hysterical in tone, but makes some good points, that the media is more right-leaning than left, in large part out of fear of rousing the wrath of the highly vocal right.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What do Federal Taxes Pay For?

Seems like April 15th is a good day to mention this post from Mathew Yglesias with a nice chart of where our tax dollars go.

Homeless LGBT Teens

On this page is a link to a 2007 report that estimates between 20 and 40% of homeless teens are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Many are simply kicked out of their homes after coming out. Others are abused so badly they leave. I saw this report because of an Alternet article on homophobia in the Bible belt.

It is important to bring items like this forward. It is one thing to believe that your religion is against homosexuality. But it must be recognized how severely abused many kids are for being LGBT. Given the suicide rates of LGBT teens, and these abuse statistics, homophobia kills and it maims. Those are the stakes in the culture war over homosexuality.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The GOP's Future? Meghan McCain on Gay Rights

I believe the anti-gay activists are on the losing side of history, and this article by Meghan McCain is some proof of that. She is pro-life, AND believes strongly in equal rights for all Americans. Here is a great quote from the article:

"Lest we forget, our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, grants the same rights to everyone in this country—“All men are created equal.” If you think certain rights should not apply to certain people, then you are saying those people are not equal. People may always have a difference of opinion on certain lifestyles, but championing a position that wants to treat people unequally isn't just un-Republican. At its fundamental core, it's un-American."

The whole article is worth a read. Not only is this an issue she believes in, but one she is passionate about.

Go, Meghan!

Gus diZerega: Thoughts on Power and Spirit

I have been heavily, and I mean heavily, invested in politics since becoming so horrified by the Bush administration. This post by the terrific Gus diZerega on his "A Pagan's Blog" on Beliefnet is a marvelous corrective to forgetting about the spiritual life and the healing it offers.

Drug Decriminilization

I suppose that just by posting this I'll be accused of being pro-drugs. I take a lot of them, but they are all legal because prescribed by a doctor for me. I'm highly concerned about the issue of illegal drugs, however, because of the frightful toll the drug war is having in this country. I've posted before about the numbers of Americans in prison, with blacks and Hispanics being a higher percentage by far than their percentage of the population. Moreover there are the horrors going on in Mexico and Columbia caused by the drug lords who are satisfying the unhealthy demand of Americans for these drugs. At this point I think the situation is so bad we need to consider alternatives to our current policy, which has been in place for so many years and had such bad results. First I think we should get rid of mandatory minimum sentences, and stop sending people to jail for minor non-violent drug-related offenses. But I think we should consider decriminalization of at least some drugs. This post by Glen Greenwald talks about the recent success in Portugal of drug decriminalization.

Judicial Activism

Ed Brayton has a wonderful blog called Dispatches from the Culture Wars, which he calls "thoughts from the interface of science, religion, law, and culture". He covers a lot on all of these topics from a Libertarian/Liberal perspective. He has a great way of quoting an idiotic argument and then explaining WHY it is idiotic. The post I'm interested in today is on "judicial activism" and conservatives calling the Iowa court decision on gay marriage by that term. Here's the important part:

"If activism just means a court is overturning the "will of the people" then virtually all court rulings are activist. Any court ruling that overturns legislation would, under this definition, be "activist." Yet conservatives have no problem going to court to overturn legislation they disagree with, like California's medical marijuana referendum or Oregon's assisted suicide initiative."

Good talking point if you have to discuss these issues with a conservative.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Finally the Media Questions Itself

I found this CNN article interesting, because it seems to me to be one of the few times a media person has asked what should we be covering, what's out of bounds, and why?

Defense Budget Increase Under Obama

Much of the mainstream media has presented the first Obama budget for the Pentagon as a massive cut of defense spending, which is not accurate. See this TPM article for a roundup of who got it right. It is, instead, a 4% INCREASE, though I believe that includes spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have previously been funded by supplemental appropriations. Some large weapons programs are cut, and that will be a job problem in some areas, including here in Georgia. But most of the systems being cut have run horribly over budget and have either not performed as advertised or were designed to fight the Cold War, which has been over for many years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Unwed Mothers

This CNN article takes a pretty balanced look at the issue of unwed births. It includes some on the rise in the number of teen pregnancies, but also shows that in many cases the parents remain involved romantically. It also discusses the single women that deliberately choose to be single mothers.

My main concern is that children be born to people who want them, who can emotionally and financially care for them, and that people keep in mind overpopulation and not have too many children.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Real World Defense Spending

I like Mathew Yglesias... he writes quite a lot on defense issues, and has an influential blog. This post talks about a realistic defense budget given the world situation and economy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Book Review: Sunnyside, by Glen David Gold

Title: Sunnyside
Author: Glen David Gold
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: charlie chaplin, russia, art, world war 1, dogs, movies

Sunnyside is Glen David Gold's second novel. The first, Carter Beats the Devil, was published in 2001. I just recently read Carter and thought it marvelous. It isn't surprising that Gold takes so long to finish a novel... both are big works, in every sense of the word, large in page count and wide-ranging in scope. In Carter, it worked well. Sunnyside is more ambitious, less successful, but a worthy read.

Gold obviously has an epic mind. Both books are set in the early 20th century. The main character in Carter is a magician, Charles Carter. In Sunnyside, the main character is Charlie Chaplin, but there are numerous more-or-less associated plots and characters. One is an aspiring actor, Lee, who winds up as a U.S. military airman in France where he meets the love of his life. Another is a U.S. soldier in Russia. The themes are as wide-ranging as the geography, being the nature of artistic creation, the nature of ambition, and, of course. love, or sometimes what passes for it.

The failure is that there are a lot of fascinating pieces, but they don't add up to one puzzle, so that the book as a whole feels out of control. Which feels strange, because in every piece Gold does seem to be in control, of the characters, the dialog, the emotions, the themes, everything. He is an amazing writer, though I sometimes got tired of certain stories, but I think that was mostly because I wanted more Chaplin.

In my opinion, Sunnyside is a magnificent failure... but one I'm happy to have read. Gold in failing is far more interesting than more successful but less ambitious works.

Publication Knopf (2009), Hardcover, 576 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0307270688 / 9780307270689

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Review: The Messenger by Jan Burke

Title: The Messenger: A Novel
Author: Jan Burke
Rating: *****
Tags: paranormal, ghosts, evil, telepathy

This is one of the most original books I have ever read, and one of the best. Tyler Hawthorne is a Messenger. He is immortal, and hears in his head those who are unconscious, dying, and have messages for their loved ones. The one from whom he took over this gift is totally evil, was neutralized but now is coming back. Meanwhile Tyler has met Amanda, and is drawn to her as he hasn't been to anyone in many years.

I'm having a good month... a new S. J. Rozan, this terrific book by Jan Burke, and my discovery of Glen David Gold. Woo-hoo!

Publication Simon & Schuster (2008), Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0743273877 / 9780743273879

Book Review: Carter Beats The Devil

Title: Carter Beats the Devil
Author: Glen David Gold
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: fiction, magic, houdini, charles carter

This is a marvelous novel about Charles Carter, aka Carter the Great, a magician. It covers from his youth in the 1890s into his greatest show in the 1920s. Along the way the story involves Houdini, creation of great magic, two great loves, Philo Farnsworth and the creation of television, and a lion. Glen Gold has the talent to make it all work spectacularly. Recommended.

Publication Hyperion (2002), Paperback, 496 pages
Publication date 2002
ISBN 0786886323 / 9780786886326

Book Review: How to Break a Terrorist

Title: How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq
Author: Bruning, John
Matthew Alexander
Rating ****
Tags iraq, terrorism, interrogation, non-fiction

This is a non-fiction book that reads like a thriller. The author was an experienced criminal interrogator who went to Iraq with the military to question captured terrorists. Their goal was to capture or kill Zarqawi, the head of al-Quaeda in Iraq. Alexander was not an interrogator who relied on "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture), as he did not believe in its efficacy. Some on his team believed that the interrogator had to show the terrorist that the "gator" was in charge. Alexander more relied on psychological techniques, on determining what might influence the particular prisoner he was questioning. He knew a lot about Islam and Arab culture, and this helped him understand the prisoners. Those interrogated had various reasons for their actions. One, who turned out to be the electrician who wired suicide bomb vests, needed money to support his second wife who was bleeding him dry. Others were simply trying to survive the sectarian conflict. It only seemed to be the top levels who were idealogues. The book gets exciting as the need increases to get Zarqawi and to get their highest value prisoner to talk. It has been decided that he isn't going to talk and they will transfer him to Abu Ghraib. Alexander goes against orders to talk to him with only hours to go before his transfer.

Excellent book, with real lessons for how the U.S. deals with terrorists.
Other authors
Bruning, John

Author – Bruning, John
Publication Free Press (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1416573151 / 9781416573159

Book Review: Witch Fire

Title: Witch Fire (Elemental Witches, Book 1)
Author: Anya Bast
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: paranormal, fantasy, romance, thriller, witches, elements

Mira doesn't know she's a witch, a powerful air witch. She's in danger from a warlock who killed her parents in order to call up a demon. The good guys show up in the person of Jack, who is a fire witch. He is also the sone of the warlock and saw Mira's parents die when he was 10. He ran away because he couldn't stop his father's horrors.

Now Jack must persuade Mira of things that sound crazy to her, teach her how to use her magic, protect her, and deal with the overwhelming attraction between them.

Pretty good book. Lots of sex and romance, if that's your thing. I'll probably read more in the series.

Publication Berkley (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0425216144 / 9780425216149

Book Review: 1st to Die

Title 1st to Die (The Women's Murder Club)
James Patterson
Rating ****
Tags women's murder club, mystery, series, police procedural

The first I heard of the Women's Murder Club series was through the short-loved TV series, which i really liked. Then I read the 6th book in the series, which was good. So I decided to go back and read the series in order. Patterson hasn't been my favorite author. I got tired of the Alex Cross series. So far, I liked the TV show better than the books, but they are good enough I will read the whole series.

The villian of this piece is a nasty guy, killing couples who have just married. Detective Lindsey Boxer is determined to catch him. She winds up turning for advice to her old friend Claire, the medical examiner, and her new friend, Cindy, a reporter. By the end they also bring in Jill from the D.A.'s office.

Worth reading.

Publication Grand Central Publishing (2005), Paperback, 432 pages
Publication date 2005
ISBN 0446696617 / 9780446696616