Friday, July 31, 2009

Language Gem

Another language gem publicized in the Schott's Vocab column: the meeting between Obama, Henry Louis Gates, and Sargeant James Crowley is being called the Red, Lite, and Blue Summit.

Principles vs. Political Realities

Glen Greenwald has an excellent post on the argument made so often that he doesn't understand the realities of practical politics. He replies that there is a misunderstanding of what he does, that he tends to write about issues of principle which are enshrined in the law, and about which there SHOULDN'T be compromises or we will not be a nation in which, as Thomas Paine put it, the king is the law.


...anticipaaaaaaaaaation... After I leave today I may not post much or at all until I get back from vacation. I'm leaving Tuesday to go to the Science Fiction WorldCon, which this year is held in Montreal, Canada. The con is called Anticipation. Guest of Honor is Neil Gaiman, who I look forward to seeing. Have fun while I'm gone!

Privatized Fire Fighters?

Matthew Yglesias in this post makes the valid point that firefighting was privatized until the middle of the 19th century, when local governments took it over. He makes clear the obvious parellels to the current health care debate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ahmadinejad Having More Problems

...according to this article in the Economist, and as far as I'm concerned it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

You know, one of the things I can't forgive him for is the comment that that there are no gays in Iran. People laughed when he said that, but the ugly reality is that some gays have been executed there.

A Wholly Different View of Taxes

Very interesting article on taxes, tax rates, and economic growth. Hard to summarize, I hope that you will read it.

Rape and Molestation of Children

This CNN article discusses a rape in Arizona in the Liberian community and uses it to discuss rape in Liberia, where 92% of women report some kind of sexual violence. President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson is working to try and increase anti-rape legislation and prosecution of rape. It is difficult.

So, sure, let's all look on and pity the poor Africans, and be grateful it doesn't happen here to us superior Americans.

Maybe I'm wrong that that would be the attitude of many in this country. But anyone who doesn't think it happens here is dead wrong. Rape and molestation of children is a national nightmare that we do our best to ignore. I DON'T ignore it anymore. I was molested by older boys in my neighborhood when I was 5, and it has affected my whole life. I agree that people have to learn to deal with such things, and not see themselves wholly as victims, but part of that is to speak out about it rather than letting it be swept under the rug with all the other molestations that occur.

I speak out in part because I'm convinced that our culture gives boys covert approval for any sexual venture, and approves of any sexual venture because it makes them "men". For 30 years I dismissed it with the same attitude as "boys being boys". Finally, when someone used the word rape to me about it, it ripped off the lid I had put over my emotions on the issue, and the next days were not fun... not at all fun. Oddly enough my best reaction was to write a poem, which doesn't actually refer to rape outright. Around that time I was reminded of how Prometheus was chained for 30 years to a rock with an eagle eating his liver every day, and the coincidence of the 30 years produced this poem:


© July 1993; by Mary A. Axford; all rights reserved

Thirty years and my muscles have adjusted a bit...
the back has learned to stretch so,
and I'm not sure my arms could hang at my sides again,
chains or no...
The eagle...
Well, you know, I think her proud eye
has softened a bit over the years...
She seems to do her job quickly now.
She's learned surgical precision and
how to gaze into my eyes until I cease to struggle.
Almost I welcome the sight of her --
We are such intimates, and I have none other on my lonely rock
(just wish I could persuade her
to take the pancreas rather than the liver -- it
hasn't been working so well). But I lie...
the gods do drop by once in a while.
Luscious Aphrodite and proud Athene
(she comes with her golden boy brother)
quick Hermes and grave Hera
and laughing Pan.
Pan, of them all, my lover of old,
laughing Pan hides his tears
I see my pain tearing at him as if
he had his own eagle.
Zeus came to gloat once.
The others stroke and caress
til I am drained and drenched with sweat.
No matter, the salt spray washes
sweat and tears and cum alike.
Soon I shall be delivered, though.
Heracles the jock is coming to free me.
How will I live?
I've forgotten freedom...
my little vast world of rock and sea and sky is all I know.
How shall I say hello and be polite
at parties?
I fear I don't know current fashions and
grow tired of discussing the weather.
Apollo comes to show me the sun...
the warmth will feel nice.
But I think I shall sleep with the moon.
After thirty years of stability
I shall like her inconstancy.
I shall like to grow with her,
and wane with her
to constantly be born then die with her. The wheel turns ever on...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: A Duty to the Dead

Title: A Duty to the Dead: A Bess Crawford Mystery
Author: Charles Todd
Rating: *****
Tags: mystery, series, bess crawford, world war i

I've been a big fan of the mother-son writing team known as Charles Todd since I was lucky enough to read the first Ian Rutledge novel. There have so far been twelve books in that series, and it has been uniformally excellent. I rank Charles Todd up there with those who are not only great mystery writers, but great writers of any literature. Others in that category include Laurie King and Deborah Crombie.

This is the first volume in a new series, and it shows the authors at their peak. The main character is Bess Crawford, a British nurse in World War I. She is on a hospital ship in the Mediteranean that is sunk, and she breaks her arm. While back in England recovering, she fulfills a promise to one of her patients who died, to get a personal message to the patient's brother. She comes to think the message has to do with Arthur's older half-brother, who was sent to an asylum after allegedly killing a housemaid at age fourteen. The search for the truth causes a crisis in several lives.

It is a real pleasure to see how artists of this caliber work. It isn't until seeing the craft of this book that one realizes how poor most other books seem by comparison. The Todds' characters are complex and real. The plot is smoothly written, and each part seems to grow organically out of the rest, without resorting to freaky coincidences or other weak plotting techniques.

Oddly, while the war is the background to the book, it isn't as important as in the Rutledge books which are set post-WWI but where the war hangs heavy over all the characters. It does in this novel to a degree. The authors seem to have claimed this era as theirs, and one can understand why. It was a terrible war, with millions of lives lost in the horror of trench warfare that seemed endless. The losses were heartbreaking, for a cause that seemed minor to cause such great slaughter. Bess is touched not only by the physical wounds of her patients, but by the mental and emotional trauma they deal with.

This book cannot be recommended too highly.

Publication William Morrow (2009), Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061791768 / 9780061791765

Radley Balko on The Use of Police Power

This article by Balko argues that the take away lesson from Gatesgate is that the police must have the power to operate effectively, but not to misuse their power and not to try to get rid of the evidence of misuse. Nicely reasoned, as is appropriate to a website called reasononline.

Glen Greenwald on Responsibility for Torture

Glen Greenwald of Salon writes extensively on torture. In this article he strongly disagrees with what may be the Obama administration position that low level personnel who did the torture may be the only ones held accountable, not the high level officials that ordered it. One particularly interesting point is a link he provides to a report that says John Yoo was chosen by Cheney and Addington to write the torture memo because he would approve what they wanted.

Next week in Iran

Next week may be difficult in Iran. Moussavi is calling for protests, and it will be the 40th day of mourning for Neda Agha-Soltan, and that is an important day in Shiite Islam.

Brilliant Onion Piece

The Onion is a political satire website. This article is hilarious, showing that abstinence only programs don't make teens less likely to ... eat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Frank Rich on Walter Cronkite

Frank Rich is one of the most insightful analysts of our culture and politics. In this column, he uses the death of Walter Cronkite as a focal point of discussing what is wrong with so much of the media now and in the past. Cronkite was willing to "speak truth to power", to quote the cliche, while too many journalists are not.

Judith Warner on the Gates Arrest

This column by Judith Warner is a nicely-balanced and realistic assessment of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates last week in his home by a white police officer. She looks at it from the narrative frame of the two individuals involved.

Neologisms in Schott's Vocab

Another great column in Schott's Vocat today. I don't know a neologism from a neoconservative, but my favorite of the ones listed is:

"A Palin is only as strong as its cheapest wink."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book Review: Good Book

Title: Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible
Author: David Plotz
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: bible, old testament, tanakh, judiasm, agnosticism

Author Plotz writes for Salon, and this book began as a blog, called Blogging the Bible. Like The Year of Living Biblically, it is written by a Jewish man raised non-observant who gets curious about the Bible and decides to read it through.

In the end, I think his most important point is that most people are pretty ignorant of the Bible, that the most known parts of it are the "prettier" parts. As a whole, the Old Testament or the Tanakh, or whatever you want to call it, has a God who is violent, sometimes capricious. Here's a quote from his summary:

"What I've been doing, I think, is arguing with the Bible as it actually is, not as we want it to be. By reading the whole book, I have given myself a Bible that is vastly more interesting that vanilla-pudding version I was fed by Sunday School teachers and the popular culture. The Bible's gatekeepers have attempted to dupe us into adopting a Bible with a straightforward morality and delightful heroes. The real book is messier, nastier, and infinitely more complex. In other words, it's much more like life."

Thought-provoking, and kind of fun.

Publication Harper (2009), Edition: First Edition, 1st Printing, Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061374245 / 9780061374241

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review; The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel

Title: The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel: A Novel
Author: Maureen Lindley
Rating: ****
Tags: historical fiction, china, japan, women, spies

Interesting historical novel based on the life of a real woman, the Chinese princess Eastern Jewel. She lives with her father, his concubines, and many brothers and sisters until age 8, when her misbehavior seems too much and she is sent to Japan to be adopted by a man named Kawashima. She is introduced to sex early on, seemingly on the principle that that's what girls are for and she is quite attractive. She has many lovers including her adopted father. When she has become too notorious, he marries her to a Mongolian prince. Mongolia is too cold and uninteresting for her, and she manages to escape to Shanghai where she serves her beloved Japan as a spy.

The story is a fascinating one. Eastern Jewel is a woman who goes her own way at all costs, and it costs her much throughout her life. Her narration is self-absorbed, but the other characters do become real, and there are people she loves dearly. The picture she presents of Shanghai is complex, an amazingly cosmopolitan city which includes a particularly nasty side to it.

A well-drawn picture of exotic places, good characters and the best of times, the worst of times.

Publication Bloomsbury USA (2009), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1596917032 / 9781596917033

Book Review: Frostbitten

Title: Frostbitten (Women of the Otherworld, Book 10)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Rating: ****
Tags: paranormal, thriller, series, werewolves

There were other books I needed to read before this one, but it is a new Kelley Armstrong, and I couldn't resist going ahead and reading it, even though I knew it was about the werewolves, my least favorite of her Otherworld characters.

For that reason, it isn't my favorite book in the series. It is set in Alaska, where Clay and Elena go to search for a werewolf who isn't part of their Pack and warn him how dangerous the werewolves hs has hooked up with are. Once there they find that women are disappearing and perhaps are being killed by rogue werewolves.

I think I don't like the werewolf characters as much because of how often they are forced to be very violent. Armstrong makes it justifiable, but i don't want it to be easy to justify.

As usual, Armstrong's writing, characters, and plots are excellent, and there is a fascinating set of shape shifters in this book. Overall, not my favorite, but Armstrong's worst is better than most writers best.

Publication Bantam (2009), Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0553806629 / 9780553806625

Book Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage)
Author: Stieg Larsson
Rating: *****
Tags: mystery, series, sweden, hackers

Wow! That's my reaction to finishing this book. It has been hard to get hold of in my library because it is so popular, and now I know why. There are mixed feelings, though, because the author, Stieg Larsson, wrote this book and two sequels, and then died. So there's that great feeling of discovering a wonderful new author, but knowing there will only ever be two more books to read in the series.

There are two central characters, a financial journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, and a private investigator named Lisbeth Salander. As it opens, Blomkvist has had a judgement against him for libel and his magazine is in trouble. Salandar is a very unusual character who dresses like a Goth and won't follow any standard rules of behavior.

Mikael is offered a job by an 82 year-old industrialist whose grand daughter disappeared 40 years ago. Blomkvist needs something to do while the issue of his libel conviction becomes less toxic to him. Lisbeth investigates Blomkvist for the industrialist and then works with both to help solve the mystery.

Lisbeth Salandar is one of the most unique characters in literature. She's not a comfortable character, but she is fascinating. Blomkvist, despite his conviction, is a decent man and a believable character.

There are parts of the book that are quite dark, but it deals with dark themes.

Excellent book. I highly recommend it.

Publication Vintage (2009), Paperback, 608 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0307454541 / 9780307454546

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happiness and the Dalai Lama

This article by Pico Iyer, is a good summary of the story of the Dalai Lama and the miracle that, with all the sorrow the Dalai Lama has had to deal with, he still remains cheerful and content. Iyer wrote the book The Open Road about the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Very Important Article

Really important article by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post. In it, he wonders if we have become a "can't do" nation, given the degree of political gridlock that exists. This is something that has been worrying me. He argues that if we can't get health care reform done, in a world where other industrialized nations did it long ago, and if Blue Dog Democrats are the problem when universal health care has been a goal of the party since Truman, can we get politicians to solve ANY problems?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Language Evolves?

Twitter seems to be expanding the English language at lightning speed. Twitter, tweet, retweet, Tweetbeep, etc. So it was inevitable that it made it into a pun. This article includes the phrase "itchy Twitter finger". Can I get a groan from the audience? It is, by the way, a valuable article on the state of rural America.

Roger Cohen on Iran

Another good article from Roger Cohen on events in Iran.

Surgeon General Nominee Regina Benjamin

This White House Blog post is about the nomination of Regina Benjamin to be Surgeon General. From what I've read about her so far, I'm very excited about this nomination, and am glad that Sanjay Gupta didn't wind up getting the job. She has experience in the sort of health care that rarely gets an advocate, a small rural practice among the poor. Let's hope she remains a strong advocate for these least-listened to segments of the populace.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rafsanjani Taken to Task

The followers of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad were not at all happy with Rafsanjani for his sermon Friday that supported the protesters.

What's Really Obscene?

This post by Ed Brayton makes a point I've thought about ever since last Thanksgiving when I had a major argument with my sister-in-law in which I used a couple of words she found offensive. Well, I found her ideas offensive, and I tend to fall on Brayton's side of this issue. I think people that use cuss words every other word get boring, and tend not to have original minds. However, I find these words sometimes express legitimate feelings of anger. And those who hold themselves morally superior for not using "bad" words often hold opinions that I find far more dangerous to the health of our society. By the way, there are some cuss words in Brayton's post, but then, that's rather the point.

Challenge to Global Warming Skeptics

Gus DeZeriga passes along this challenge to global warming skeptics. Nate Silver, the statistics guy, has challenged a specific skeptic to pay $25 every day the temperature where they are is one degree warmer than average, and he'll pay them $25 every day their termperature is a degree cooler than the average. If global warming is wrong, they'll make plenty. But I doubt it.

40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing!

The first landing on the moon, 40 years ago today, was one of the events in life that has most moved me and most inspired me. I had just turned eleven. NASA has footage here. Thanks to all the brave men and women who have served as astronauts... if Earth has a future, it will be in part due to your inspiration.

By the way, I got to meet a mission specialist once, a man named Loren Acton. My mother contacted him because they shared a birth name, and he and his wife came to lunch at our house. He had some thrilling stories of astronaut training.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Review: Zorro, by Isabel Allende

Title: Zorro: A Novel (P.S.)
Author: Isabel Allende
Rating: ****
Tags: fantasy, historical novel, california, spain, gypsies, adventure

Isabel Allende in this novel takes all the elements of the legend of Zorro and turns them into a compelling novel. Diego de la Vega is born in Alta California, three-quarters Spanish and one quarter Indian. His mother's Indian servant gives birth the same day to Bernardo, and for the rest of their lives the two boys are closer than brothers.

Allende builds her hero, Zorro, element by element. His Indian grandmother teaches the boys about nature, spirit, and healing. While finishing his education in Spain, he learns the sword from a master, and the Gypsies he gets to know in Spain teach him sleight-of-hand and showmanship. He learns balance on the ships to and from Spain.

More than that, Allende creates compelling characters, Diego, Bernardo, Diego's parents, the sisters Juliana and Isobel, and the pirate Jean Lafitte.

Fine read.

Publication Harper Perennial (2006), Edition: Rep Tra, Paperback, 416 pages
Publication date 2006
ISBN 0060779004 / 9780060779009

Book Review: The Last Olympian

Title: The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)
Author: Rick Riordan
Rating: ****1/2
Tag:s fantasy, demigods, olympus, greek gods

This young adult series is also great for adults. This is the final book in the series. The main character is Percy Jackson, son of a human woman and the Greek God Poseidon. It is current day, and Olympus is now in New York City. The Titan Kronos is trying to destroy Olympus and its gods, and Percy and the other demigods are fighting on the side of Olympus.

There is a lot of action in this book, but also good characters who have developed over the course of the series.

The series has been really popular, and it is worthy of that popularity. Can't wait to see what Rick Riordan comes up with next.

Publication Disney Hyperion Books for Children (2009), Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1423101472 / 9781423101475

Book Review: The Lily Bard Series

Charlaine Harris has written four series, of which my favorite are the Sookie Stackhouse series. The Lily Bard series are set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily is a house cleaner who has lived in Shakespeare for a few years. She moved around for some time after being horribly raped and knifed while living in Memphis. Lily is damaged, physically and emotionally. The physical she takes care of by learning a martial art and exercising. The emotional wounds are harder to deal with, but throughout the series she grows, and in the end is able to sustain a relationship. The books, in order, are Shakespeare's Landlord, Shakespeare's Champion, Shakespeare's Christmas, Shakespeare's Trollope, and Shakespeare's Counselor.

The books are well-plotted, and the characters are interesting. The series seems dark, because it has a main character whose outlook on humanity is understandably bleak. It is a different point of view than most, and worth reading about, though a steady diet of such a viewpoint would be depressing.

Taking the Bible Literally

People who speak out against homosexuality often justify it because the Bible says it is wrong, even worthy of death. But they tend to ignore other parts of the Bible that don't interest them as much. Lots of people have pointed this out, and there have been some good speeches that ask about those parts they ignore, little things like being pro-slavery. Julian Bond did it in his speech on gay rights that I posted once upon a time. Here's a clip from the TV show the West Wing where President Bartlett does it to a radio talk show host modeled on Dr. Laura Schlesinger:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Drug War by the Numbers

MoJo has this set of graphs illustrating how the drug war in the U.S. has been waged, with the money spent for supply reduction vs. treatment, the percentage of drug arrests for possession and distribution, share of arrests for which drugs, percent of inmates getting drug treatment, and number of drug offenders behind bars in 1980 and 2009. Bad numbers, all of them.

Remeber Iran?

Events are still unfolding in Iran, as this BBC article illustrates. Rafsanjani spoke during Friday sermon, calling for the release of those arrested during the protests, even while police were tear-gassing protesters outside.

Meditate Your Way to Happiness

This New York Times article by Daniel Goleman shows once again the benefits of meditation to mental health, and the more one meditates, the more the benefits.

Literary/Monster Mashup

This column of Schott's Vocab in the New York Times is on the new phenomena of mashups between works of literature and monsters. The trend was spawned by the publication of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has sold phenomenally well. Personally, I'm quite looking forward to Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter.

History Teaching Controversy in Texas

The Scout Report is a site that finds high quality internet resources and reports on them in a weekly newsletter. Each week they cover one issue in the news in-depth, with several useful links. Here is this week's "In the News" section, about the development of standards for teaching history and social studies in Texas, which is being influenced by several conservative Christian members of the board:

Debates about the content and focus of United States history courses continue on in Texas

The Culture Wars' New Front: U.S. History Classes in Texas

Board of Education may face controversy over new curriculum

Curriculum debate marred by ideologues

Texas Education Agency: Social Studies Expert Reviewers [pdf]

Smithsonian Source: Resources for Teaching American History [Flash Player, pdf]

TeachingAmericanHistory [iTunes, Real Player]

Everything is a bit bigger in Texas, and it would seem that an ongoing debate about what should be taught in history classrooms in the Lone Star State mirrors that particular sentiment. Along with other states, Texas recently approved new science standards that allowed for creationist critiques of evolution, and this current debate revolves around the place of faith in such curricula. Several of the history curriculum reviewers, including one Reverend Peter Marshall, have suggested that the curriculum be modified to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith, and the civil virtue of religion. There also appear to be initial divisions about which historical figures should be referenced within such materials. Jesus F. de la Teja, the chairman of the history department at Texas State University, noted that the curriculum should draw on a more diverse set of role models, especially Latinos. Other outside observers have stated that these curriculum analysts should all be trained academics, while other parties remain skeptical of trained historians' emphasis on multiculturalism. This debate has raged on across the country for decades, but it will be interesting to see how things turn out in Texas over the coming months. [KMG]

The first link will take visitors to an article from this Tuesday's Wall Street Journal which addresses some of the ongoing curriculum debates in Texas. Moving on, the second link leads to a recent piece from the Beaumont Enterprise which talks about the Texas State Board of Education's curriculum review process. The third link will whisk users away to a passionate editorial piece on this subject by Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News. The fourth link will take visitors to the initial remarks by the social studies reviewers on the proposed curriculum changes. Teachers of American history will be delighted to learn about the fifth site, which was created by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Here they will find excellent teacher-selected resources, complete with primary documents and lesson plans. Finally, the last link leads to the TeachingAmericanHistory site, which was created by the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University. Here visitors can listen to free lectures, look over lesson plans, and check out their primary document library. [KMG]"

Another Playing for Change Video

I previously posted a Playing for Change video, and here is another one, an anti-war song from musicians around the world. Bono is prominently featured. It is good music, and the organization seeks to increase the unity of humankind through music.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: Divine Circle of Ladies Playing With Fire

Title: The Divine Circle of Ladies Playing with Fire: The 5th Cass Shipton Adventure
Author: Dolores Stewart Riccio
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: mystery, series, paranormal, witches, psychics, wicca

This is the fifth book in Riccio's series about a circle of five Wiccan women, their families, and their town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The main character, Cassandra Shipton, is a clairvoyant, and her visions often get the women in trouble investigating crimes. The visions give her enough information to know that something bad is going on, but not enough to clearly identify the villain.

In this volume, the town is being attacked by a serial arsonist. Two men that the ladies know to various degrees are the most likely suspects. meanwhile one of the ladies of the circle is having family trouble with a sick husband.

These books are like coming home to me. I love the characters, the rituals they do as Wiccans, and the plots are good as well.

Happily, according to the author's web site, another in the series is due this fall.

Publication BookSurge Publishing (2009), Paperback, 390 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1439236860 / 9781439236864

Book Review: Red to Black

Title: Red to Black
Author: Alex Dryden
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: russia, putin, thriller, fiction, spies, kgb

This book is one of two things. Either it is written by a man who is a good journalist but mediocre novelist, letting his book get overwhelmed by the message that Vladimir Putin is working to take over the economies and thus politics of the countries of the European Union. Alternatively, the book is written by a clever author who makes you believe the first option.

The story is about Finn, a British spy, and Anna, a Russian spy. Finn is Anna's assignment, and the two fall in love. Finn is handling a high value spy, a top level associate of Putin's. Finn is desperately trying to find out Putin's "Plan", and the novel is the story of his efforts.

Anna is the narrator, and we learn something of her life as the daughter of a KGB agent. She hates him, yet becomes an agent herself in an attempt to please him.

The story is told at an odd remove. A lot of what happens we learn through Anna's discovering Finn's story by reading it while he is missing, and that lessens to some degree the reader's involvement in the story.

Worth a read, though I won't rush out to buy this author's subsequent books.

Publication Ecco (2009), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061803863 / 9780061803864

Eugene Robinson on the Sotomayor Hearings

This article by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post is excellent. It points out that the white male Republicans asking Judge Sotomayor questions are asking them as if being white and male is the default standard, the "natural order of things" and that identity politics only come into play for them if you are NOT white and male.

History of Assassinations in Recent Presidencies

Well, I'm back from the American Library Association conference, to find that Dick Cheney is on the hot seat for creating an assassination team. This article by Jeremy Scahill shows that assassination has been a tool of Presidents, both Democrat and Republican, for decades, in spite of laws prohibiting it.

Is it ever justifiable? Even asking that question feels ethically uneasy. But if we know where a terrorist is, and that terrorist has killed in the past and is going to kill in the future, is it more moral than doing nothing and letting more die? On the other hand, assassination kills innocents as well as terrorists. This is one of those ethical questions that doesn't have a good choice. The West Wing dealt with the question in an interesting arc over months, in which President Bartlett, after agonizing over it, approved the assassination of a terrorist leader who was a member of a Middle Eastern, supposedly friendly, government. The secret came out after several months and the President's daughter was kidnapped in retaliation. Have I mentioned yet how much I like that show? ;-).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: Sun of gOd

Title: Sun of gOd: Discover the Self-Organizing Consciousness That Underlies Everything
Author: Hancock, Graham
Gregory Sams
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: animism, sun, religion, science, intelligence

This book is a perfect example of the dilemma between science and religion that so many people have, though it is an unusual form of religion that Sams advocates. He wrote the book to advocate our seeing the Sun as an organized intelligence, a God, worthy of our thanks and respect. In essence, he is an animist, seeing some intelligence in all things, and seems to believe that elementary particles are intelligent and that as particles get together in greater mass they exhibit more organized intelligence.

He actually explains a lot about modern science, particularly astronomy and particle physics, and I don't know enough about these sciences to know if his explanations are accurate. But then he makes the leap beyond science of ascribing intelligence to things science considers inanimate, and berates scientists for not taking the leap with him. And this becomes part of the central religion/science tension... when is something by definition supernatural, and thus not explainable by the scientific method? Are there ways that science could study the concept of intelligence in inanimate objects?

It is an interesting question. Sams' views fit well into modern Paganism so the book resonates in part with me. The modern rationalist in me wants scientific proof. Hence my saying that the book illustrates the modern problem of what science and religion can meaningfully say to each other.

It is an interesting book, and I'm quite taken with the idea of intelligence being particle-level and gradually increasing in complexity. If Sun is sentient, what sort of intelligence is it? What does Sun think about? Fascinating question....

Other authors
Hancock, Graham

Foreword – Hancock, Graham
Publication Weiser Books (2009), Paperback, 256 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1578634547 / 9781578634545

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Web Site Story: College Humor

College Humor does some terrific humor videos. Here's a link to an excellent one called Web Site Story.

Humor of the Day

I love this marketing idea from the Johnson County Library system in Kansas. They have four trucks that transfer books between branches, and they have new decals for literary "businesses": Benjamin Button's Diaper Service, Kafka's Pest Control, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's Pharmacy, and Captain Ahab's Fine Seafood.

Patriotism, Again

This is an issue I'm concerned about, and Ed Brayton has this good, though strongly worded, post on what is patriotism and what is jingoism. I find the concept of American exceptionalism abhorrent when it leads us to discount the lives of innocents in other countries when it is convenient to our security or economic interests.

Campaign Finance

Disheartening post from Matthew Yglesias. It looks like there is about to be LESS regulation of campaign finance. I had been hoping that the Obama administration would be moving towards public financing of campaigns, which I think is vital to get real progressive legislation passed.

Yglesias on Honduras

I've been hearing conflicting stories on the situation in Honduras, and this post helps make things clearer.

Anti-contraception Movement

Yglesias has this post about the anti-contraception crowd, and how it makes it difficult for those who are pro-choice to work with those who are pro-life, and how hard it makes it to not believe that those who hold this view are simply trying to control women's sexuality.

Ahmadinejad At Best in Denial

According to this CNN article, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the recent election was "the most free election anywhere in the world".

It takes balls to tell his people that, and to continue in office against their will, and when they blame him for the lousy economy and more. In his case, though, that is NOT a compliment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

MoJo on Our Dysfunctional Drug War Policies

See this Mother Jones article on how irrational and broken our drug policies are, and how difficult it is to have a rational discussion on the topic. They also have this related post on marijuana and its issues.

Bob Herbert on War

The more I read of Bob Herbert, the more I respect him. Here is his column on the Vietnam war, sparked by McNamara's death. Excellent column!


Article mentions this hilarious new term for Sarah Palin's resignation: Iquitarod.

French and Dutch Health Care Systems

Good article on the French and Dutch health care systems. The systems are somewhat different, but in both cases almost everyone is covered and at a much lower cost than in the US, and quality of outcome is comparable and in some ways better.

Gus DeZeriga on Patriotism

This is a topic I've written on here before. DeZeriga, a professor of political science, here discusses four forms of patriotism, two positive and two negative. Interesting analysis.

Today's Best Fun Pick

The Bulwer-Lytton contest has announced its 2009 winners. I've enjoyed this contest for years, including a couple of books of compilations. Here's the description of the contest:

"An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."

Here's one example:

Winner: Adventure

How best to pluck the exquisite Toothpick of Ramses from between a pair of acrimonious vipers before the demonic Guards of Nicobar returned should have held Indy's full attention, but in the back of his mind he still wondered why all the others who had agreed to take part in his wife's holiday scavenger hunt had been assigned to find stuff like a Phillips screwdriver or blue masking tape.

-- Joe Wyatt
Amarillo, Texas

Many, many, many more examples on the web site.

Darwinism and its Critics, Again

Here's another great post from Ed Brayton about Darwinism and its critics. It's important because so many Americans seem to believe people like Windchy.

The Unraveling of Iran

The New York Times has this article that seems to show the support for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad among the clerics is continuing to drop off. The regime has lost much of its legitimacy, and it remains to be seen if it can survive through oppression or not.

Here's another article on this topic from Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic. Sullivan, in turn, links to this article on the widening divide.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Excellent Article on Iran

...and events leading up to the current situation.

Roger Cohen on Being a Journalist Reporting on Iran

This column by Roger Cohen is breath-taking, a journalist speaking from his soul on the story that has captured him as surely as a great love.

Paul Begala on Sarah Palin

Ok, I admit this article on Sarah Palin is rather snarky in tone, but funny, and I think pretty accurate.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why Paganism?

This article is a nice brief introduction to Paganism. But if you happen to be a fundamentalist Christian, and wondering why people turned away from you, here's one answer:

"According to the the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: Many people, especially teens, are rejecting what they see as the "autocracy, paternalism, sexism, homophobia and insensitivity to the environment" of some more traditional religions."


Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: Your Government Failed You

Title: Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters
Author: Richard A. Clarke
Rating: *****
Tags: non-fiction, terrorism, national security, military, cybersecurity, energy, civil service

Excellent, wide-ranging view of U.S. national security from someone who spent thirty years in government on these issues, working with the military, intelligence agencies, and the other departments working on national security topics. He takes a snapshot of the state of national security as of the early part of 2008, explains how we got to where we are, and most importantly, makes recommendations on how to improve it all, recommendations informed by his experience and the experience of other professionals.

I find the title rather unfortunate, as it sounds sensationalist and partisan, and hides the professionalism behind the book. Clarke served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He criticized the Bush administration the most, but one believes he would have criticized them as harshly if they had been Democrats. It was their partisanship and their incompetence that he disliked. One interesting statistic he mentions, speaking of partisanship, is this one: "The number of political appointees declined by 17 percent in the 1990s but is now up by 33 percent in the last seven years' [that is, under the Bush administration]. (p. 340). Clarke believes that the government should have both civil servants and political appointees, but thinks that there should be far fewer partisan appointments.

Early in the book, Clarke talks about the military's role in national security. He has the highest respect for those dedicated individuals who serve in the military. What he does is explain how, in reaction to Viet Nam, the military changed radically in hopes of avoiding another poorly planned, unlikely-to-be-winnable and unpopular war. They believed that without a draft, large wars would be impossible without calling up Reserve units and that that would be too unpopular to be considered unless we were a dire situation like World War II. As we now know, they failed to discourage the Iraq war, in part because those willing to speak up against it were gotten rid of.

Next Clarke goes into the nation's intelligence services. They include data intelligence gathering, at which the U.S. excels with its technology, analysis of the data, and human spying. He says the U.S. is very bad at spying, in part because spying effectively can require illegal and unethical actions. He mentions British spies infiltrating the IRA who killed British citizens in order to be accepted into the group they were penetrating. He goes in depth into the problems of intelligence gathering. There may be vast amounts of data, but poor analysis. He mentions in depth the CIA's irresponsibility in not sharing that two known Al Quaeda operatives were in the U.S.

Clarke discusses energy, and says that it is an impossible goal to be energy independent, that no one is.

The chapter on cybersecurity is fascinating. He was involved in the issue once the government became aware of it in the late 1990s, and traveled extensively talking to hundreds of people to educate himself on the topic. He believes that better security systems exist, but that the will to pay for them isn't there, though that may be changing as the costs of NOT having better security continues to increase.

As indicated above, Clarke spends a good bit of time discussing staffing issues, from whether private contractors should be doing national security work to how to keep the experienced and imaginative people needed.

He sums up the book quite well in the following paragraph:

"As you will have noted throughout this book, I have my views on what a good government should be doing on specific and important national security issues in the near term. Two factors shape how I believe we should approach those issues. First, we need to approach national security issues at home and abroad within the context of our values. When we detach ourselves to any degree from the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights, we soon find ourselves adrift without a compass, and engaging in counterproductive activities. Second, the threat of violent Islamist extremists is significant, and we can do a much better job of countering it, but it is not an existential threat to the United States and we will do a much better job of addressing it if we put it into context and do not artificially inflate the threat". (p. 356)

Throughout the book he does make recommendations on bettering the national security apparatus, and I hope the Obama administration is taking detailed notes. The biggest lack in the book is not having a bibliography. There is a good notes section and an index, but he mentions several notable books and having a bibliography would have made things easier. As it was, I ordered about four of the books he mentioned for my Library's collection.

Excellent work, incredibly informative on the one government activity that is the most important to its citizens.

Publication Ecco (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0061474622 / 9780061474620

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Background on Global Warming Denier Report

In case you're heard that the Obama administration is suppressing a report that is skeptical of global warming, read the background information here.

Reporters and Demonstrators "Confess" in Iran

CNN has this story on a reporter confessing that he admitted filing false reports about Iran. The confession, of course, happened while he was in custody. The article reports that other reporters have confessed, ALL USING THE SAME WORDS. Nyah, no coercion there...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review: Bones of Betrayal

Title: Bones of Betrayal: A Body Farm Novel
Author: Jefferson Bass
Rating: *****
Tags: mystery, series, body farm, forensic anthropology, bill brockton

This is the best book yet in an excellent series. Co-written by Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist in charge of the Body Farm, the University of Tennessee facility that investigates body decomposition, and the main character, Bill Brockton, is the same. How much of Bill Brockton is Bill Bass I don't know, but I suspect a lot, and that adds to how real the character of Brockton feels. He is a marvelous character, a scientist who is a rational, mature man, with a great deal of empathy.

In this book, Brockton is asked to investigate the death of a man who was one of the Manhattan Project scientists in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It turns out that the scientist was killed by a pellet of a radioactive substance, and before that is understood the medical examiner, Brockton, his research assistant Miranda, and a police man are exposed. The ME is the most endangered.

The threads of the story lead back to the founding of Oak Ridge. It deals with the personalities that created mankind's most terrible weapon, and all the ethical and spiritual dilemmas inherent to that enterprise, poignantly expressed by Robert Oppenheimer's quoting Hindu scripture after the atomic bomb test. He said, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Bill becomes fascinated with an elderly woman who was briefly married to the scientist. He also is strongly drawn to a younger woman librarian who helps him uncover the past.

The biggest thing I like about this series is the lack of machismo. I get so tired of books where the main character is a wise ass who doesn't know how to co-operate with anyone else, because that wouldn't be manly. Jefferson Bass's books have none of that. The characters are reasonable people, though they are humans with all the dilemmas and complexities that real people have.

Excellent book, excellent series.

Publication William Morrow (2009), Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061284742 / 9780061284748

Evolution and the Evidence

I recently had a run-in with some co-workers on the topic of evolution and intelligent design. Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars has shaped a lot of my opinion on this topic, as he covers it often. In this post he uses Pat Buchanan's recent column on the topic to show how ignorant of science people like Buchanan are.

Pointing this out isn't purely for the fun of it. It is an important topic. Science is our best hope for mankind's future. If Americans remain abysmally ignorant of it, our role in helping shape that future will not be a positive one.

The Power of Images

Post from Ed Brayton on Helen Thomas pointing out a fallacy of Obama's speeches. He talks about the power of images of brutality from Iran galvanizing the world. Thomas asked why, then, he won't allow the publication of the American torture images. Good discussion of why Obama won't publish them. I really love Helen Thomas, read her book, and consider a national treasure like Bill Moyers.

Amusing Tweet of the Day

"Mir Hossein Mousavi and Norm Coleman meet and discuss forming a new country called Alsoran. It's right between Iran and Ilost."

By 99andBarry on 1 July 2009 at 11:22:21 in a update.

Exxon Paying Interest to Those Damaged by the Exxon Valdez Spill

Exxon is paying nearly $500 million in interest to Alaskans hurt by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is high time they took more responsibility for it, and high time that the villages damaged so by the spill get some payment. Exxon should have been liable, because it wasn't simply a matter of a drunk captain, but an issue of equipment that could have prevented and mitigated the spill not being supplied or maintained.

A Guantanamo Detainee's Story a post from the ACLU. Very hard to read, but I think vital to hear about.

Iran and Leftist Confusion

Reese Erlich has written this article on myths about Iran being spread by the left. Includes good reporting on the protests from someone who has been there.

That Pornographic Garfield

An amusing sidelight in a CNN article about internet filtering software the Chinese government is insisting on being installed on all computers sold in China:

"The extent to which the software's can block harmful content is still in question. Unofficial tests by Internet enthusiasts showed that while Green Dam considered a cartoon of a cat in blue clothes safe, pictures of Garfield the Cat were sometimes blocked by the software because it is programmed to categorize images with large areas of "yellow" as pornographic."

Serious issue, funny result.