Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Using Social Media for Positive Change

Mashable has a couple of articles on this topic, mentioning social media for social causes. This is the first one which lists a number of sites under the headings Get Informed, Get Involved, Take a Stand, and Take Action. In another post, they highlight five organizations. This is the beginning of a series called the Summer of Social Good.

Evangelical Proselytization in the Military

Ed Brayton posts a moving letter that was one of tens of thousands sent to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). I had no idea that things were this out of hand, and almost no one is talking about it. Our soldiers deserve all the rights of the people they defend, and not being forced into a religion is one of those rights.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Roger Cohen answers Questions on Iran

In this article Roger Cohen of the New York Times answers readers' questions about Iran. Valuable information and point of view.

Paul Krugman on the Climate Change Bill

This is a strongly-worded denouncement of global-warming deniers. Well worth the read. He also has the data on global warming here. Matthew Yglesias has a post on a similar topic.

Diversity of Iranian Protesters

David Corn in this article has correspondence from an Iranian that not all of the protesters are Mousavi supporters.

To Cult or Not to Cult

This brief article makes some excellent points about people in cults uncritically accepting the words of their religious authority, and adds that many people in more mainstream religions are guilty of the same thing. I want to stress she is not talking about any one religion.

History of the Iranian Revolution

Good article discussing the history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the reasons for the current wave of discontent.

Children of Gays

Good article from CNN on children of gays and lesbians. It makes the point that the children are at least as well adjusted as the children of heterosexual couples, and they are no more likely to be gay than the general population.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: Guardian of Lies

Title: Guardian of Lies: A Paul Madriani Novel (Paul Madriani Novels)
Author: Steve Martini
Rating: ****
Tags: paul madriani, series, thrillers

This book was my introduction to Steve Martini's work, and what an adrenalin-pumping introduction it is.

The lawyer Paul Madriani talks to a beautiful young South American woman in the grocery store. Soon thereafter she is charged with the murder of the older man she was living with. We know that he was killed by a hit-man, and the plot gets more complex when it seems that behind it all is a plot by terrorists to loose a nuclear device in the U.S.

The pace is so fast that it is hard to have time to think about the plot, but the plot is overall a good one, although there were a few unaswered questions. Characterization is pretty good, though the people get lost to some degree in the action. The brst character to me, actually, wasn't in the book for long, she was an agent assigned to get information from Katia, the woman accused of the murder.

A recommened read if you're looking for a thriller.

Publication William Morrow (2009), Hardcover, 448 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061230901 / 9780061230905

Book Review: Another Thing to Fall

Title: Another Thing to Fall (Tess Monaghan)
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

In this volume in the Tess Monaghan series, Tess is hired as a bodyguard to a young and wayward actress in a TV series being shot in Baltimore. Murder ensues, and the stakes get higher.

Good novel, not the best in the series, but well worth the read.

Publication Harper (2009), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061128880 / 9780061128882

Book Review: No Good Deeds

Title: No Good Deeds
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

Another really excellent book in a good series. Tess's boyfriend Crow brings home for a night a young homeless black man. It turns out that he is a key witness to a clue to the murder of an assistant District Attorney. Crow and the young man flee while law enforcement comes down on Tess to try and find him. The threat to Tess and her family gets worse and worse.

Excellent suspense


Publication Harper (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0060570733 / 9780060570736

Book Review: By A Spider's Thread

Title: By a Spider's Thread
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

In this volume of the Tess Monahan series, Tess is investigating the disappearance of the wife and three children of an Orthodox Jewish man in Baltimore. The story follows both the investigation and the travels of the disappeared.

Good story, not quite as strong as the one before it in the series, but good.

Publication Avon (2005), Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date 2005
ISBN 0060506717 / 9780060506711

Book Review: The Last Place

Title: The Last Place
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

This entry in the Tess Monaghan series is one of the best. It is ta tightly-written story of obsession and good investigation. Tess Monaghan is hired by a charity to investigate random killings to check if local law enforcement is doing a good job of looking at domestic killings and see if what could be improved. After investigation, the killings chosen don't seem random, and the choice seems aimed at Tess.

Excellent book.

Publication Avon (2003), Edition: 1ST, Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
Publication date 2003
ISBN 0380810247 / 9780380810246

Book Review: In a Strange City

Title: In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan Mysteries)
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

Every year in Baltimore, on the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allen Poe, a mysterious visitor leaves roses and liquor at Poe's grave site. After an odd man tries and fails to hire Tess Monaghan to be there, she goes anyway out of curiosity. TWO visitors show up, and one is shot and killed.

And then things get weird.

Good book, in a good series.

Publication Avon (2002), Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2002
ISBN 0380810239 / 9780380810239

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Title Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
Relin, David Oliver
Greg Mortenson
Rating *****
Tags greg mortenson. schools, pakistan, mountain climbing, ngo
Collections Your library
Your review Read this for my book club, and am so very glad. This book hits just right on a lot of things important to me. It gives me a new hero in Greg Mortenson. It helps me understand another part of the world, the Middle East, that is vital in the modern world. It covers Pakistan, a country many consider one of the most dangerous in the world. It talks about ethnicities unknown to most in the West. Most of all, it talks about people, of different countries and religions, working together to make life better for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson was a young mountain climber in the early 90s. He was part of an expedition to K2, the second tallest mountain in the world. He didn't quite make it to the top, but performed heroic service saving another climber. On the way back he got lost and wound up in the Northern Pakistani village of Korphe. The villagers nursed him back to health, and in return he promised he would build a school for the village. Once home, the task seemed impossible. Mortenson had no money and no experience in raising it or disbursing it. He sent out random letters and through a miracle found a donor. Then he went back to Pakistan, where he learned the ins and outs of buying supplies, transporting them to the remote village, and getting the labor. Then it turned out the villagers decided a bridge needed to be built first. He managed it!

Along the way, he met other villagers whose needs were as great, and his donor set up The Central Asian Institute and put Mortenson in charge. Many schools were built. Things were never smooth, but he learned so much. At one point he was kidnapped and held for a week in Waziristan, the area where Al Quaeda was rumored to live. Mortenson had already decided to move into Afghanistan as well when 9/11 happened, which in one way made it easier to create schools, especially schools for girls, after the Taliban was removed. But the stories Mortenson heard in Afghanistan were heartbreaking.

Please read this book, then share it with others. It is a wonderfully uplifting story of what people can do when they care. Along the way, it teaches a lot about an area of the world many of us need to know more about.

Other authors: Relin, David Oliver

Author – Relin, David Oliver
Publication Penguin Books (2007), Paperback, 349 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0143038257 / 9780143038252

Book Review; The Open Road

Title: The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Vintage Departures)
Author: Pico Iyer
Rating: ****
Tags: dalai lama, dharamsala, buddhism, tibet

The author, Pico Iyer, has known the Dalia Lama since childhood, as Iyer's father was a friend of the Dalai Lama's. Iyer has seen him in formal settings and infomral, in his exile home of Dharamsala, and at functions around the world. That makes the book an excellent picture of the man who is considered a God by his countrymen. It is not just a picture of the man, but of Buddhism, and of Dharamsala, of the Tibetan exiles and small bits about those still in Tibet.

Most of all, it is a picture of a man who has great spiritual reserves tested to the max by the situation he is in. He must look on while his countrymen are tortured and their culture diluted by Chinese immigration into Tibet. He is a man who believes in democracy and keeps urging it on the Tibetan exiles, who in turn only want to leave governing all up to him. He is a man of an ancient spiritual discipline who urges others to follow their own traditions but to make space in their lives for the spirit, and yet is also fascinated by modern science and technology.

Fascinating book about a fascinating man.

Publication Vintage (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 288 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0307387550 / 9780307387554

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gus DeZeriga on Forgiveness

Gus DeZeriga of A Pagan's Blog has this wonderful post on forgiveness as a virtue. He points out that hatred and bitterness are spiritual poisons, and gives an example of a man who forgave things most of us think unforgivable.

Prison Violence

This post from the ACLU deals with the highly unpleasant subject of rape in prison. It is a horrible situation made worse by bad law. Our whole prison system is dysfunctional in the extreme, and it enrages me that people view prison rape as another aspect of punishment. Rape is a violent CRIME and should be treated as such.

Being tough on crime is viewed as politically necessary, but we do not get justice, and we do not get rehabilitation. I don't know how much job training services there are in prisons anymore, and have to ask what kind of person do we expect to come out of jail, when many prisoners have been subjected to severe trauma while in prison and the prospect of no job after prison?

Quote of the Day: 6/27/2009

[On living next to a cemetery]
Even in an age of science, the dead were often considered bad neighbors. Henry couldn't understand why; the dead never played Twisted Sister at 130 decibels at 3 in the morning".

-- Tanya Huff, _Blood Price_

Well, I thought it was funny... Tanya Huff is a terrific writer. Her Blood series is about a vampire who in life was the bastard son of Henry VIII, and is now a romance writer. He is living in Toronto and gets to know Vicky Nelson, who was a police woman, now a private eye. Great series.

Oh, and speaking of cemeteries, there is a funny story from my childhood. My mother was into Alabama history and took me around to a lot of antebellum houses and cemeteries, where she gathered genealogical information. She swore up and down that when I was three, I asked for a toy cemetery for Christmas.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Sanford Affair

This article sums up my feelings about Governor Sanford of South Carolina nicely. Except it doesn't mention why I think he should be impeached, that he left without leaving contact information and a clear line of authority. That's what I thought when I first heard the story, and was gratified to her Gail Collins mention it in a column for the New York Times.

Quote of the Day: 6/25/2009

June 24, 2009, 10:00 am

Weaponized Keynesianism

A great line from Barney Frank, about Republicans trying to preserve funding for the F-22:

"These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs. We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington: It’s called weaponized Keynesianism. It is the view that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation."

From Paul Krugman’s NYT blog.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

U.S. Journalism

Glen Greenwald has this post on the firing of Dan Froomkin from the Washington Post. This has been of concern to a lot of people because Froomkin was one of those who held the party in power, no matter which it was, accountable for its actions.

In an update, Greenwald has a good quote on the status of U.S. journalism, something which has concerned me:

"UPDATE III: Referencing the Froomkin essay I posted the other day on the (abdicated) duty of journalists to "call bullshit" on government officials, Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller recounts a conversation he had this week with a high British government official:

It’s difficult not to feel despair at the increasing banality of journalism in the US. A couple of days ago, I had the privilege of spending the evening with Lord Carlile of Berriew, who has served as the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation since 9/11. He has no binding authority, but he insisted that his power to "name and shame" gives him a great deal of actual influence over the content of antiterrorism legislation. And indeed, it seems clear that many of the UK’s imperfect antiterrorism laws would have been far less perfect but for his efforts. I found Lord Carlile’s discussion of his "soft power" fascinating, so I asked him why he thinks the power to name-and-shame has almost no effect in the United States, where those who are named as the intellectual authors of repressive legislation feel no shame and suffer no consequences for their actions. He gave a very simple answer: journalists. I won't repeat some of the words that he used to describe just how pathetic he considers US political journalism, but it’s clear that he believes it has completely abdicated its duty to — as Froomkin describes it — call bullshit on the government.

There are many reasons why establishment media discussions of our political conflicts are so incomplete, distorted, vapid and unsatisfying. But one significant reason is that one of the most important causes of our decayed political culture is a topic which is excluded almost completely from those discussions: namely, the central role the establishment media itself -- with its uncritical and loyal subservience to political power -- plays in enabling and protecting that decay."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Supreme Court's Bad Decision on DNA Testing

I thought the Supreme Court decision that there is not a necessary right to DNA testing was bad, and Ed Brayton does a good job of showing how bad it is.

Matthew Yglesias agrees and ends with this statement:

"The two cases handed down yesterday are just two new additions to the trend observed by Jeffrey Toobin, “in every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.” That’s conservative jurisprudence in a nutshell."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Science and Faith

This is an issue that concerns me greatly. I just watched the "Mr. Frost" episode of the seventh season of The West Wing. That season concerns the campaign for President between the Democrat, Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, and the Republican candidate Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda. The question of whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools, and I really liked Santos' answer:

[Santos has responded to an earlier question about Intelligent Design saying "I believe in God and I like to think that He's intelligent." So now people don't know where he stands on what should be taught in school science classes. So during a small forum with teachers, he is asked,
"...if you believe in the theory of evolution?"]

[Santos] "Well, I think it would be fairly difficult to teach geology, anthropology and zoology without evolution. So, yes I do. I don't think it's contradictory to believe in science and believe in God."
"Do you believe that the theory of Intelligent Design and the theory of evolution should be taught alongside each other in the public schools?
"Absolutely not. One is based on science and one is based on faith. Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. It's a religious belief and our constitution does not allow for the teaching of religion in our public schools.... Evolution is not perfect, It doesn't answer every question but it is based on scientific facts. Facts that can be predicted, tested and proven. Intelligent Design asks theological questions. I'm sure that many of us would agree that at the beginning of all that begetting something begun. What was that something?"

[questioner] "...Many of us what a version of science taught to our kids that's in accordance with our beliefs."

[Santos] "I understand. But can't we agree that the inclusion of non-scientific explanations into the science curriculum of our schools misrepresents the nature of science and therefore compromises the central purpose of our public education which is the preparation of a scientifically literate work force?"

Inspiring Music Video

This is a marvelous video from a group called Playing for Change. It is a mashup of musicians from around the world all performing the song "One Love".

Who's in Control in Tehran?

Excellent post on who's calling the shots in Iran at the moment. Good background information on the power structure there. Article is by Gary Sick, a veteran Iran watcher.

But here is a wholly different view, questioning whether the election was fraudulent.

Here's Juan Cole in his continuing coverage of the election results. The top level address for Informed Comment, Cole's blog, is http://www.juancole.com/.

Nico Pitney is liveblogging events in Iran at Huffington Post.

Nick Kristof and Roger Cohen both write often about Iran in their columns in the New York Times. Kristof has an excellent article today on internet technology for dissidents. Here's another good one from Cohen.

David Corn here reposts two good background articles by experts from Gary Sick's Iran mailing list.

Robert Dreyfuss, of the Dreyfuss Report blog in The Nation, has this article which shows the two sides in Iran and who is backing each.

The New York Times has this op-ed piece by an anonymous student in Iran that is an excellent picture by a participant in the events.

Very good article by Azadeh Moaveni who has been covering Iran for years, and she shows how the frustrations of Iranians have been building for a decade, if not longer.

Update 6/22/09: Marvelous piece of reporting from the ground by Roger Cohen. Also a good piece from the Economist listing other good sources of information, and decrying that American news media keep using the same old talking heads that were wrong on Iran and don't know enough about Iran. Cohen's latest is marvelous, with good background information on the power struggle, and this amazing message from an anonymous woman student:

"I received this from an anonymous Iranian student: “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to be killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow!”

And she concludes: “I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so that they know we were not just emotional under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mogols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children.”

Update 6/23: Thomas Ricks, whose book The Gamble I really respect, has this to say. He points to this essay by Robin Wright, which talks about in part about a cleric who has said the election results are invalid. The New York Times today had this article about the elections and the questions that remain after analyzing the results. The Los Angeles Times has this moving article on Neda, the young woman killed in the protests. Mashable has a list of 10 YouTube must see videos on the Iran election crisis and this timeline of social media events. ReadWriteWeb has this post that efforts to keep information flowing into and in Iran are failing. In another post, RWW has a great cartoon.

Update 6/25: Good article from AP on the role of women in Iran's protests and Iranian society in general. The Guardian U.K. has this horrible story that the family of Neda Soltan, the young woman whose death was captured on video and has been spread around the world, has been forced to move and prevented from showing any signs of mourning, and that they are now claiming that the protesters or foreign journalists killed her. What a travesty.

Breaking: story that the clerics of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts may be considering replacing Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Unconfirmed at this point. This comes from a list of useful and timely tweets.

Mousavi has now spoken out forcefully, to a group of 70 scholars who were arrested and taken away. I hope it doesn't cost Mousavi his life... surely the leaders are too smart to create that powerful of a martyr. Martyrdom is a major theme in Shia Islam, anyway, stemming from early martyrdoms that created Shia Islam.

Chatham House is a major British think tank, and here is their preliminary analysis of the Iranian elections. They find, for example, that two conservative provinces had above 100% voter participation, and other indications of fraud.

Here is the website for the Iran section of Reporters Without Borders, who are concerned primarily with press freedom issues. Three more journalists have apparently been arrested.

Update 6/26: The Wall Street Journal has this article on the spiritual authority of Khamenei for all Shiites and how that faith is being shaken by the current crisis.

McClatchy has this article story on the defiance in having a memorial service for Neda Soltan, and more on internal power struggles. All but four of the professors who met with Mousavi have been released now. Mousavi is increasingly restricted. By the way, McClatchy is a good news source to follow. They don't have a New York City or D.C. outlet, but they get a lot of stories that the others don't, including having a couple of reporters who were right about Iraq pre-war, when everyone else was drinking the Kool-Aid.

Here's a piece, originally published in French, with a lot of background about Mousavi.

Diplomacy Monitor is a great site that provides the full text of government documents from around the world. Here is their feed for official Iranian documents.

Twitter Responses to Hoekstra - Hilarious

This TPM article reports on a tweet from Representative Pete Hoekstra:

"Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House."

He was hit with a barrage of replies, mostly scathingly funny as to the idiocy of what he posted. Take a look.

Update 6/18: To Hoekstra is now a phrase. See this page for the meaning and some pictures illustrating the meme.

Planned Parenthood

This article attempts to get the word out about the many things that Planned Parenthood does. It is a major provider of health care to poor women, especially African-Americans and Latinas. It screens for cancer, provides immunizations, contraception, and STD screening and treatment. The last is important because the teen STD rate has soared.

I'd like to remind everyone that Planned Parenthood exists because of a courageous woman, Margaret Sanger. She campaigned for sex education and contraception when those things were against the law. She came to this fight from being a nurse who treated poor women. She watched too many die from having too many children, she heard them beg her for any way to prevent pregnancy. At the time it was illegal even to tell someone ANYTHING about pregnancy prevention. She suffered arrest, saw her relatives and friends arrested, and more in getting her word out and setting up a clinic for women. She is one of my heroes.

Cognition of Weight Gain

A friend sent me this article which looks at how people make estimates of certain things and shows that the brain ignores some information, which developed in times when survival depended on fast decisions. It causes people to do things like underestimate the calories in a meal, for example, which may be a factor in the current obesity epidemic. Plus humans evolved when food was scarce, so the instinct was to eat everything in front of us. Interesting!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The Sugar House

Title: The Sugar House: A Tess Monaghan Mystery
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

In this book in the series, Tess is investigating a young girl's death and the death of the young man who confessed to killing her. The trail leads her into some dark places, and puts those she loves in danger.

Publication Avon (2001), Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date 2001
ISBN 0380810220 / 9780380810222

Book Review: Butcher's Hill

Title: Butchers Hill (Tess Monaghan Mysteries)
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

Third in a series about Tess Monaghan. A man who spent time in jail for shooting a young boy, one of five kids stealing and trashing his place comes to Tess to find the other kids who were there that night. He tells her he wants to give them money; as foster kids they haven't had a good life. But things get hairy when those other kids start turning up dead.

Good read.

Publication Avon (1998), Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Publication date 1998
ISBN 0380798468 / 9780380798469

Book Review: Baltimore Blues

Title: Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan Mysteries)
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: mystery, series, tess monaghan, baltimore

First in the Tess Monaghan series about a Baltimore reporter turned private eye. The book is rather slow to get started, but by the end was quite good. Tess is a rower, and her fellow rower and friend, Rocky, is accused of the murder of a high-priced lawyer with a sleazy past. Tess takes on an investigation to get him cleared.

Publication Avon (1997), Edition: Later Printing, Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 1997
ISBN 0380788756 / 9780380788750

The Tortured Lie

This article from the LA Times strengthens the arguments of those who say torture doesn't work reliably. According to U.S. government documents obtained by a FOIA request by the ACLU shows that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) claimed he had made up lies to get his torture to stop. Torture may work, but one can never be sure if the information is accurate or not.

Yglesias on Health Care Efficiency

Matthew Yglesias here shows how off-base some discussions of health care in the U.S. are. Once again, he points out that other industrialized countries offer equal or higher quality health care at a much lower cost. He points out that per capita health care spending is 44% of U.S. spending for the OECD median figure.

Quote of the Day: 6/16/2009

"Peace will not come to a generation that hates war. Peace will come to a generation that loves peace."
-- Seth

Seth is an entity allegedly channeled by a medium. There are books of Seth's words on metaphysics.

What's Going On Inside Iran

Another good article on what's happening inside Iran.

Stolen Election in Iran?

Juan Cole, a Middle East expert, reports on the reasons for believing that the Iranian presidential election was rigged, and the consequences of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The AMA and Health Care Reform

Yglesias here has a post about the American Medical Association and its ties to for-profit businesses. Currently, according to him, the pharmaceutical industry provides about 20% of AMA's budget. This makes me less surprised that they have come out against a public health care option, despite many physicians having become disgusted with the failures of our current health care system.

The Criminal Justice System

This post from Ed Brayton talks about Senator Jim Webb's efforts to reform the American prison system, and some of the statistics involved. This is, IMHO, a very serious issue that isn't getting enough attention and drastically needs reform.

Green Jobs have Better Growth

See this article in the Christian Science Monitor. Given the energy situation described in the last two posts, the faster we spin up green energy the better... as long as the negative factors of each are taken into consideration and allowed for. Each alternative energy source has its problems, and it is the major reason I say we must look at a mix of energy alternatives, not crowning just one as our answer to oil.

World Energy Outlook

... is not good, not good at all. See this post on TomDispatch. Juan Cole made similar points in the first chapter of Engaging the Muslim World (see review below).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Review: Engaging the Muslim World

Title: Engaging the Muslim World
Author: Juan Cole
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: islam, middle east, iran, pakistan, energy, oil, non-fiction, afghanistan, egypt, saudi arabia

Juan Cole is an expert on the Middle East and Islam. He first encountered Islam as a boy when his Army father was sent to the Horn of Africa. Later he spent 10 years living in Muslim countries and learned several of the languages used in this part of the world, and he has continued to travel extensively in the region.

The book is his attempt to show how Islam anxiety in the U.S. and American anxiety in the Middle East fuel misunderstandings. The book is a corrective to Islam anxiety in the U.S., which is dangerously under-informed about Islam. Cole seeks to remedy this ignorance.

The first chapter of the book is an excessively grim, albeit realistic, view of the world's energy situation. The world currently produces 15 terrawtats of energy. Estimates are that by 2050 the demand will double. Alternative energies aren't yet able to suppy a large part of the need. The U.S is more dependent than ever on foreign oil, and the chances are small it will be able to reduce that anytime in the forseeable future. And that's why Cole believes that Dick Cheney became convinced that a war with Iraq was necessary to secure the rights of U.S. oil companies to a supply of Middle Eastern oil.

Cole then goes into the histories of various Islamic groups and countries. For the most part, Muslims are more moderate than Americans give them credit for, and that is the lesson that comes across over and over as Cole shows the potent mix of religion, ethnicity, nationality, economics, colonialism, post-colonialism, and other factors that have created the current situation. If you know someone who blithely tosses off the term Islamofascism, please give them this book to read.

Cole's book was reviewed in the New York Times by David Sanger, author of The Inheritence, a book I read a few months ago and which scared me silly. He and Cole seem to have very different views of the Middle East, especially the dangers posed by Pakistan and Iran. I suspect, as is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. Read both, and decide for yourself.

Publication Palgrave Macmillan (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0230607543 / 9780230607545

Nick Kristof on Health Care

Good article on health care and the scare tactics being used against health care reform, and some experiences with the Canadian health care system.

The Meaning of Marriage: Mildred Loving

Ed Brayton here publishes a marvelous piece of writing by Mildred Loving. Mrs. Loving is the African-American woman who married a white man, was arrested for it, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court which decided that miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. I would quote parts, but what she has to say about love is so important I urge you to read the whole statement, which is not very long.

What it Is to Be Pagan by Gus DeZeriga

Gus DeZeriga, who writes A Pagan's Blog, creates many wonderful posts. Here is one I really like, defining yet another part of what it means to be Pagan. He mentions that we are more concerned with immanence, reaching the Divine within, rather than transcendence, reaching up to a separate God. Also that we do not focus on sin and redemption, but "Rather we seek to get into greater harmony with this world through our rituals, personal practices, and work with deities." I believe the lack of concern with sin and redemption also has to do with the belief common to many Pagans in reincarnation, seeing life as part of a learning process that goes on for uncounted lives and years and that return us to a state of harmony with the Divine.

Quote of the Day: 6/11/2009

by Margery Williams
NY: Half Moon Books, 1983.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Hating the Enemy

Lots of things have conspired to make me really think about the level of hatred and vituperation in the country today. One is this article on right-wing attacks... but I'm not sure there are no liberals equally as inflammatory. They don't have the same media exposure as the Fox crowd, though, so can do less damage. I am concerned that some of the liberal outlets, including Huffington Post and Alternet, publish stories with unnecessarily inflammatory headlines, which often don't do justice to the reporting in the article.

Another part of this is the attack in the Holocaust Museum yesterday coming so soon after the murder of Dr. Tiller. Something that has been pointed out is that the Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing terrorism, that has been so demonized by the right, was talking about exactly this kind of thing, not about right-leaning political commentary (and see this article that points out there was a quite similar document about left-wing extremism). Other articles talk about the continuing campaign against abortion providers that has been deadly to some, continually harasses the rest, and has been successful. Many abortion providers have been driven out of the profession, and it is understandable that they not want to put themselves and their families under so much pressure. The debate has been changed, too, so that even reproductive choice advocates have lost sight of the fact that there are medical needs for late-term abortions that Dr. Tiller met, including the case of the 9 year-old girl who was pregnant and who would have been torn apart by a delivery.

Another strand comes from a book I'm currently reading on the Dalai Lama. He is the religious leader I most respect in the world. The author shows that Buddhism teaches that we are all interconnected, thus hating another person is as senseless as hating your own foot. Pagans, too, tend to believe that everything is interconnected. One of my favorite deities is Kwan Yin, who is a goddess of compassion, and by celebrating her, I am trying to learn more of compassion. I fall far short of it. Yet that compassion has to also be balanced by realism, which Iyer points out is also a large part of the message of the Dalai Lama. He deals in very harsh realities every day, yet has the wisdom to deal with them with compassion.

My mind gets jumbled though, when I try to figure out what is pointing out a harsh reality, and what is hateful speech. Humans rationalize everything, so most of us sees our own speech as reality while decrying the hatefulness of someone else. Reminds me of the old game of pointing out this human inconsistency by showing how we view speech by different people: for example, she sweats like a pig, you perspire, and I glisten. Bill O'Reilly obviously sees himself as a teller of truth, not hatred, and takes no blame for the death of Dr. Tiller despite his continued references demonizing Dr. Tiller. I myself have been known to be pretty heated about Bush and Cheney, and other Republicans, even at times being worried that they would effect a coup in this country before turning over power. In hindsight, that was wrong and may have had harmful effects. At the time, it seemed reasonable.

It seems I must settle for being aware of the issue, trying to be as reasonable as I can be, and hoping that others will be the same. Here is an excellent article that speaks to the need for free speech and to have a dialog about ethical issues such as abortion.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Day: 6/10/2009

Rev. Dexter: "Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, oh no, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you."

-- From the Babylon 5 episode “And The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place"

Best episode of one of the best series ever on TV.

Book Review: Water for Elephants

Title: Water for Elephants: A Novel
Author: Sara Gruen
Rating ****1/2
Tags: circus, elephants, animals, elderly

Excellent story of an elderly man who remembers his young years as an almost-graduate of Cornell vet school who loses everything in the Depression, and works for a circus. Terrific characters and story.

Publication Algonquin Books (2007), Edition: Good, Paperback, 350 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 1565125606 / 9781565125605

Book Review: Charm City

Title: Charm City (Tess Monaghan Mysteries)
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series tess monaghan, baltimore, newspapers, fiction

Second in Lippman's Tess Monaghan series about a former newspaper woman turned PI. Lippman was herself a newspaper reporter, and is from Baltimore, so she is writing what she knows, and doing it quite well. In this volume Tess is investigating, for a newspaper, who inserted a story into the paper that the editors decided not to run, and whether the story have anything to do with the death of the man the story was about? Along the way Tess is given a greyhound, a former racing dog, about whom there is a mystery, and she must deal with deciding what she feels about Crow, the man in her life.

Publication Avon (1997), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 1997
ISBN 0380788764 / 9780380788767

Book Review: Bones, by Kellerman

Title: Bones (Alex Delaware, No. 23)
Author: Jonathan Kellerman
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: mystery, series, psychologists, police procedural. alex delaware

I've read most of this series about a psychologist, Alex Delaware, who works with the police, specifically his friend Milo Sturgis. This is the 23rd in the series, and it shows signs of age, but is still a good read. Alex and Milo are still excellent characters, but the rest of the characters in this volume were not pleasant. A box holding bones from three human hands is found, near the same time that four women's bodies are found in a marsh, all missing their right hands.

Publication Ballantine Books (2009), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0345495179 / 9780345495174

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Marriage Equality Video

I believe I posted earlier a video by this same gentleman. He is, for the most part, excellent at taking anti-gay marriage talking points and answering them. He has a blog at http://wakingupnow.com/blog/.

Quote of the Day 6/9/2009

"How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall..."

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, W.W. Norton, Inc., 1962; quoted on the Beauty and the Beast CD "Of Love and Hope", selections read by Ron Perlman.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Even Conservatives Now Support Repealing DADT

This Gallup Poll article shows that even conservatives now favor allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, which would mean repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). Good news for LGBT equality.

Humor: Tom Swifties

Nice article of Tom Swifties. What are Tom Swifties? "A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed" according to Wikipedia.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Numbers of Late-Term Abortions

This post from Ezra Klein puts some numbers to the discussion of late-term abortions, that show how rare abortions are after 21 weeks or so. It provides some much needed context to the debate.

Best Album

I'm listening again to Snow Patrol's album Eyes Open, and it is my favorite album of all types of songs, all eras of music. Excellent! Includes "Chasing Cars", "You Could Be Happy", and "Close Your Eyes", all of which I slavishly adore.

Culpability in Speech

Ed Brayton here does a wonderful job of discussing whether people whose speech can be considered hateful can be held accountable for the actions of others based on that speech.

Memories of Dr. Tiller

This post has some memories of Dr. George Tiller, the man murdered by an anti-abortion activist. It is important, I think, to humanize the victims in a case like this, to show the courage of a man who had been threatened and injured before in the fight for something he believed in.

I also recognize that those who are pro-life (I have some quibbles with that term, but will respect those who consider themselves so) believe deeply in what they are doing, and know it is painful to them to see continuing what they believe is murder. It would drive me crazy if I believed that. And I think only a tiny, tiny, percentage approve of Tiller's murder.

It is a painful, difficult, complex situation all around.

GLBT Youth in Crisis

The article reports on a survey of LGBT youth in the Dallas, TX area. It illustrates strongly the horrors of homophobia. Among the appalling statistics are the number who have attempted or contemplated suicide, the number kicked out of their homes, the number sexually or physically abused, the number beaten at school or called names because of their sexual orientation, and more.

Obama Declares LGBT Pride Month

Obama has declared June National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month. Here is his declaration. I hope he carries through with all the policies he declares he will support here.

June is usually when GLBT pride events happen to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which are generally credited with being the starting point of the national gay rights movement. That movement brought many courageous GLBT folk out, and knowing an LGBT person has been the catalyst for as much change as we've had towards gay equality. May the change continue until all people in this country are equal before the law.

Another piece of happy news to celebrate is the passage into law of marriage equality in New Hampshire.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quote of the Day: 6/3/2009

"Bless the sky that holds the light and life of the sun and the promise of rain...
Bless the moon with her calm and her dreams.
Bless the waters of the lake, and the earth that is strong under our feet.
Bless the east where the sun rises and the west where it goes to rest.
Bless the north from where the snows come, and the south that brings the spring.
Bless the wind who gives us our name.
O Blesser of all blessings, we thank you."

-- Madeleine L'Engle, An Acceptable Time. NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1989, p. 219.

Madeleine L'Engle was a marvelous writer, most known for the young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time, but she wrote many more wonderful works, including some on the Christian religion, such as the very enjoyable Penguins and Golden Calves.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: State of Jones

Title: The State of Jones
Author: Stauffer, John
Sally Jenkins
Rating: ****
Tags: civil war, confederacy, unionists, mississippi, reconstruction, slavery, civil rights

This is a dark and unrelenting book about a dark and unrelenting time. All wars are brutal, but the Civil War was particularly so, and this book doesn't stint on making one understand its horrors.

One of the co-authors of the book, John Stauffer, wrote the book Giants: the Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed.

State of Jones is centered on the story of one man, Newton Knight, who was a poor farmer in Jones county, Mississippi. Knight's grandfather was a fairly wealthy slave owner, but his eldest son and all twelve of the son's children refused to own slaves. This may have come from being Primitive Baptists, who believed that all souls were equal.

Knight was not in favor of succession when it happened, but was conscripted into the Confederate army and fought, but deserted a couple of times. There were probably a couple of points that broke his will to fight... one was when the Confederate government passed a bill that those who owned twenty slaves or more were exempt from fighting. Another was the siege of Vicksburg, which he endured and survived. Moreover his family may have been in dire straits, as many of the wives of soldiers were close to starvation.

After Knight escaped for the last time and returned to Jones County, he was forced to live in the local swamps, which he knew intimately. He wasn't the only one. The swamps were full of soldiers who had deserted, and runaway slaves. They all helped each other, and Knight became the leader of a pro-Union band of soldiers who ran a guerilla operation for the rest of the war. At one time most of the lower third of Mississippi was out of effective Confederate control. The partisans of the free state of Jones were poorer yeoman farmers who didn't own slaves, and resented the slave-owning aristocracy. During the war, Knight met a slave named Rachel, and they were as close to married as they could be, given that he was already married. He continued to live with and have children with both women until Rachel's death. Sometime after that his white wife left him.

The Confederates lost the war, the land was devastated, but they determined they would win the peace, and they did. By the late 1879s the Northern populace, including President Grant, had become apathetic and no longer willing to fight. The Democrats took over by a reign of terror that didn't let up until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The Ku Klux Klan were the terrorists, and blacks and Republicans were murdered, including by lynching, for the crimes of voting, seeking social equality, or for speaking up for their rights. How Knight survived is a mystery, except that he always had a pistol and a shotgun with him and people knew it. He and his large mixed-race family became socially isolated, as even his former fellow soldiers couldn't abide his domestic arrangements.

The book takes one story and through it tells some difficult truths about Southern history. First of all, it explodes the myth of the solid South. There were many pro-Union Southerners. Moreover the Southern revenge and the regaining of power were not a win for democracy. The former slave owners won back power by terror pure and simple, like many of the worst dictators in history.

I have an odd reaction to books about the Civil War and the South. I am a white woman born in the South who has spent most of my life here, an for most of that time, I've hated the bigotry and despised Southern romanticism about the Old South... something my mother was prone to. This book in a way gives me a sense of coming home, knowing that there were Southerners who repudiated slavery and even a few who believed in the equality of all.

It also sheds an interesting light on General Sherman, Sherman's brutality in war was born of the conviction that making the war one of maximum destruction would shorten it. His opinion about war was summed up in the following quote: "Its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentation of distant families." (p. 166)

The book is as well written as I expected from Stauffer. It has good footnotes, not obtrusive, and a good bibliography. My copy was an advanced reader's copy, and is missing features I hope will be in the final book, including an index, maps, and photographs.

Excellent book of history about a brutal time and place whose effects still reverberate in our culture.

Other authors: Stauffer, John

Author – Stauffer, John
Publication Doubleday (2009), Hardcover, 416 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0385525931 / 9780385525930

Speak Out on Sexual Violence

Nicholas Kristof has done admirable work in talking about sexual violence occurring all over the world. In this column he talks about silence being an enabler of sexual violence, and urges all to speak out about it.

I was sexually abused by older boys in my neighborhood at age 5, and it has severely damaged my life. I recognize it is up to me to make healthy changes... but I ache for children given such a poor start in life, and hope that together we can make changes. I remember I was horrified at one time to discover that every woman I talked to about sexual violence had either been raped or molested. And I particularly want to remember and honor Joanne Hankamer, who was a friend and coven mate of mine. She endured sexual abuse from her father from the time she was 5 or so. Despite that, she grew into a beautiful young woman with a great, loving soul. She was taken from us when she was 21 by a man who beat her to death in another act of sexual violence. Joanne, sweet heart, I remember you well.

Here is my witness, Mr. Kristof. Thank you for your efforts.

Quote of the Day: 6/2/2009

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

-- Clarence Darrow

Darrow is one of my favorite people in history.

Eugene Robinson on Sotomayor

In this column, Eugene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post, talks about the Sotomayor nomination. In particular, he discusses the Ricci case, which critics have charged show her as a reverse racist, in fact hinged on the point of law as to whether the city of New Haven, CT had acted legally in cancelling a test. The decision was that they did. Note, the case was NOT to decide which firefighters were qualified.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Higher Education

This article looks at higher education in America and argues that its greatest failing is that does not teach students to be self-aware thinkers. Not an original idea, but an important one.

What I'd do if I could go back in Time

...is the title of one of those rather silly Likeness quizzes available on Facebook. As usual, few of the ten answers fit what I would do, and for years I've pondered off and on about writing a science fiction novel around what I'd do, and a friend and I have had several discussions of it.

What I'd do seems to show my librarian's heart... I'd go back to the burning(s) of the Library of Alexandria, and rescue all the materials stored there. Then I'd go find other such lost treasures. For example, the ancient Irish used runes on sticks to record their law codes and more, and I'd love to save them. Another thing I'd do is get DNA samples from great leaders (using, of course, my own definition of great leaders) and study them, and maybe clone them. Would need to think a lot about the ethical implications of that last one.

Sotomayor on Bias

This article quotes more completely what Judge Sotomayor has to say on the subject of judge's personal bias, and what she says is very reasonable.

"Conflict" between Science and Religion

This post on the always interesting About.com Alternative Religions page discusses the "conflict" between science and religion very intelligently and with a high degree of sanity - in my humble opinion.

Interesting article on Gay Marriage

This article by a bisexual mixed-race man makes the argument that the next step in the marriage equality battle ought to be lawsuits in federal courts, that several court cases that have been decided in favor of gay right and interracial marriage give good precedents that the Supreme Court would likely follow in deciding for gay marriage rights.

Susan Boyle's Disabilities

This article mentions what I hadn't known before, that Boyle has learning disabilities and neurological damage from not getting enough oxygen at one point. Despite that, she took care of her mother until the mother died two years ago, and she had the guts to enter the competition, where she performed magnificently. For someone who has lived as isolated a life as she has to suddenly have so much attention on her would be hard for anyone to deal with. I understand that she has entered a treatment facility for nervous exhaustion AFTER winning 2nd place in the talent show. She has plans to make an album though. What a great example of courage she is, and I'm so glad she has her chance to shine.