Monday, August 31, 2009

The Tree of Crazy

Rick Perlstein's article looks back at the level of paranoia on the Right every time a Libreral is elected, and how it goes back at least as far as FDR and Truman.  What he sees as different, now, though, is that the media is treating the paranoia as worthy of serious consideration.


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Cheney and the Effectiveness of Torture

Glenn Greenwalt is the go-to guy on torture issues, having studied it intensively.  Here he refutes Dick Cheney's claims that torture was necessary to get actionable intelligence on Al-Quaeda. He doesn't mention it here, but my understanding is that more traditional interrogation methods were working with KSM before he was tortured.

I don't want the argument on torture to be about its efficacy, but about the ethics and legality of it... but effectiveness arguments help end the use of torture, I'll use them.


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The Costs of Our Current Health Care System

Nicholas Kristof has this important article reminding us of why health care reform is so important.  Two important quotes:

"A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour."


"A study reported in The American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 percent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 percent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills."


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Exxon-Mobil - NOT the Greenest Company of the Year

This article talks about Forbes' magazine calling Exxon-Mobil the greenest company of the year, and then goes into the details of why that isn't true.  They fund climate-change deniers to this day, despite promises to quit, they were awful in dealing with the Exxon Valdez spill, etc.


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The Dreamer, the Revolutionary

This article makes an excellent point about Dr. Martin Luther King... he was a dreamer, yes, but sadly those are about the only words of his that most people remember.  He also spoke truthfully about the nightmare that most African-Americans faced then, and the author details the difficulties that still exist for so many.  Dr. King's vision is not yet fulfilled.

This is true of the vision of America's fouding fathers.  They voiced some of the most stirring words about the future of humankind, yet their vision has yet to be wholly fulfilled as well.  Nor would they recognize how we strive to fulfill the vision of equality for all... they would have been quite startled at giving equal rights to all classes, to women, to African-Americans, to LGBT people.  Yet what they articulated remains our goal.


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The Dreamer, the Revolutionary

This article makes an excellent point about Dr. Martin Luther King... he was a dreamer, yes, but sadly those are about the only words of his that most people remember.  He also spoke truthfully about the nightmare that most African-Americans faced then, and the author details the difficulties that still exist for so many.  Dr. King's vision is not yet fulfilled.

This is true of the vision of America's fouding fathers.  They voiced some of the most stirring words about the future of humankind, yet their vision has yet to be wholly fulfilled as well.  Nor would they recognize how we strive to fulfill the vision of equality for all... they would have been quite startled at giving equal rights to all classes, to women, to African-Americans, to LGBT people.  Yet what they articulated remains our goal.


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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book Review: Grave Goods

Title Grave Goods (Mistress of the Art of Death)
Author Ariana Franklin
Rating *****
Tags mystery, series, historical mystery, women, doctor, henry ii, england 

Third in the Mistress of the Art of Death series. So far Franklin hasn't faltered yet. All three books in the series are among the best books I've ever read (thanks to Tom Fisher for introducing them to me). The main character is a woman doctor who specializes in pathology, or as they put it, a master in reading what a corpse has to tell about its death. She was educated in Salerno, Italy, where they don't scorn to teach women.

She has been living in England now for several years, called by Henry II, the Plantagenet King, who values her services and won't let her go. Besides that, she has a child and a family of sorts, and is happy in the fens of Cambridgeshire treating the poor.

King Henry is preoccupied putting down revolts by the Welsh who call out the name of King Arthur in battle. Since the publication of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History 40 years before, King Arthur has been a romantic hero to all Britains. So when Henry hears a monk's story that the body of Arthur might be buried at Glastonbury, he calls on Adriana to establish that Arthur is, indeed, dead, not sleeping until he returns.

Adriana does what the king says, but is also investigating the disappearance of her friend Emma and Emma's entourage, and this puts her in danger.

What makes a book great? For me, it is interesting characters who grow and develop, plots that are believable, good writing, and often a strong sense of the time and place of the story. Franklin does all of these superlatively.

But now I have to wait for the next book to come out. Ouch!

Publication Putnam Adult (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0399155449 / 9780399155444

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The Military and Strategic Communications

This article is by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  In it, he says all the lovely things I like having the military say, such as  "No, our biggest problem isn’t caves; it’s credibility. Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises."  He points out the the Taliban delivers, both in terror to people who disobey them and in services that they promised to deliver.  This is pretty common with insurgencies, by the way... they help to ensure that the govermment they are fighting can't provide basic services like health care and garbage collection, then they deliver those services.  Very effective combination.

And Mullen also says that we fail when we don't live up to our ideals as Americans:

"No other people on Earth have proven more capable at establishing trust and credibility in more places than we have. And we’ve done it primarily through the power of our example. The voyage of the Great White Fleet told the world that the United States was no longer a second-rate nation. The Marshall Plan made it clear that our strength was only as good as it was shared. The policy of containment let it be known we wouldn’t stand for the spread of communism. And relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters all over the world said calmly and clearly: we will help you through this.
We didn’t need a public opinion poll to launch that fleet. We didn’t need a “strat comm” plan to help rebuild Europe. And we sure didn’t need talking points and Power- Point slides to deliver aid. Americans simply showed up and did the right thing because it was, well, the right thing to do.
That’s the essence of good communication: having the right intent up front and letting our actions speak for themselves. We shouldn’t care if people don’t like us; that isn’t the goal. The goal is credibility. And we earn that over time."

Now THERE's something to which I can say Amen and Hallelujah.

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Foundations and Faith

Yesterday I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my friends.  It was called something like "this will get you thinking" and so it did, although I doubt the person who put it together would LIKE my thoughts.  I'm not going to point to the video because they have a goal of getting a certain number of views and I don't want to add to them any more than I already have. 

The video does have some nice music, by the way, but the rest of it is just white text on a black background.  Anyway, it tells the story of a college professor who for twenty years has been turning Christian students into unbelievers with his impeccable logic and his intimidation, calling believers fools, etc.  Of course the video doesn't share with us any of his impeccable logic, but we'll move away from that thought.  At the end of the semester, he always asks that anyone who still believes in Jesus to stand up, whereupon he again calls them fools and says if Jesus is God, he could keep this piece of chalk from breaking.  He drops the piece of chalk and for twenty years it has broken.  But this time a student stands up, the professor drops the chalk awkwardly, and it doesn't break.  The professor storms off and the student spends a couple of hours sharing his witness of Jesus Christ as his lord and Savior.

Well, there are just so many things wrong with this it is hard to know where to begin.  Not very true to academic life, first of all.  I've been a student trough an undergraduate and two masters, and never had a professor this abusive.  I've also worked in academia for over twenty years, and I've known some professors who were prima donnas, and heard some horror stories, but I suspect any professor this abusive would be risking his job.  But ok, forget that.  Is the fall of a piece of chalk REALLY a worthwhile test on which to base either belief or unbelief?  Really?

I suspect this video is a piece of comfort food for fundamentalist Christians.  I suspect that they find a lot of college students do lose their beliefs in college, and they don't understand why, and it is too uncomfortable to like, you know, ASK the students why.  I can come up with a couple of scenarios.  One may be that these students have been told for years that evolution is wrong, a sham, and not scientific, and even their teachers in high school may have been too intimidated to do more than gloss over the subject.  But in college, they find out that evolution is, indeed, a foundation stone of modern science, and as well proved as the theories of gravity and atomic structure.  Not only does this challenge their beliefs, it means that the people who have been responsible for their spiritual warfare were deluded or LYING to them.

Another scenario would apply to students who go to seminary, and for the first time in their lives are exposed to the last couple of centuries worth of Biblical scholarship, which goes to show that we do not have the original texts of the Bible, that the texts were written beginning thirty to forty years after Jesus' death and we have no copies written earlier than a couple of centuries after his death, that the copies we do have are riddled with errors and changes, and that some of the books of the Bible are most likely forgeries.  Again, the student learns that the people responsible for his spiritual guidance were wrong or lying.

None of this will necessarily shake the faith of the kind of Christian who sees the Bible as an inspired guide, and Jesus as an expression of God's love.  But it can be devastating to the student who has been taught the Bible is the literally true inerrant word of God.   And the fundamentalist has no cure for that.  So they produce the comfort food of a video like this one that assures them that atheist professors will be easily vanquished, and that their children will not turn away from them and their beliefs.  Now of course I think their solution should be to face up to the real world and teach their children the truth.  But I can see that that would be devastating to them as well.  I don't have a solution for them that they will find acceptable.  And so students will go on being shocked by knowledge, and they will or won't turn away from the beliefs of their fathers and mothers.  Many remain Christians, just not fundamentalists.  That isn't a help to a fundamentalist parent who doesn't believe non-fundamentalists are Christians, though.


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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Book Review: Kill For Me

Title Kill for Me
Author Karen Rose
Rating ****
Tags thriller, series, serial killers, human trafficking 

Fast-paced thriller with a high body count. It is the third of a set of related books, and I did feel a bit lost at first for not having read the first two. But Rose gives enough of the backstory to make the book intelligible.

There are few books these days I find I can't put down... this was one of them, and I stayed up until after one on a weeknight to finish itl. The characters are quite well done, the main characters each have to deal with a serious emotional wound. The villains are truly nasty characters, not much nuance to them. They're just bad, and mostly proud of it. The plot is fast-paced but handled well.

Publication Grand Central Publishing (2009), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 560 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0446616931 / 9780446616935

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Book Review: The Great Decision

Title The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court
Author Cliff Sloan
Rating ****
Tags supreme court, non-fiction, judicial review, john marshall, thomas jefferson 

Well told story of perhaps the most important Supreme Court decision in United State history, the one that determined that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review. In other words, it established the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of government with the power to decide if laws passed by Congress were constitutional or not.

The two antagonists in Marbury vs. Madison were Chief Justice John Marshall, a Federalist appointed by John Adams, who had served as Adams' Secretary of State, and Thomas Jefferson, President of the United State, and a Republican. The authors give a nice sense of the personalities, the parties, and the legal issues involved. They argue that the legacy of an independent judiciary is America's greatest legal legacy, and quote the following from a Russian judge:

"I like my wine French, my beer German, my vodka Russian, and my judicial institutions American."

The book has extensive notes, a good index, and the full text of the Marbury vs. Madison decision.

Other authors


McKean, David
Publication PublicAffairs (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1586484265 / 9781586484262

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Violence in Tarantino's Films

Nicely-written meditation on the violence in the films of Quentin Tarantino, and how they reflect a moral emptiness.  Rather than fostering empathy for the characters, it appeals to the basest part of us.  The author, Johann Hari, finds that Tarantino's talent makes it worse.... that he could be making some of the best films ever, but does not.

The violence has kept me from watching a lot of Tarantino's films, despite their critical acclaim.  This article reinforces that I've made the right choice for me.


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The Light and the Dark of Religion

I've said before that religion has been used in madly destructive ways, and that because so many people seem to blindly accept that religion is good, I've been willing to point out where it has been bad.

What I really believe is that any religion can be used for the positive - to connect the celebrant (I much prefer the concept of celebration to that of worship) to something greater than herself, to create community, to facilitate helping others, and so on.  Likewise, any religion can be used for destructive purposes - to increase hatred, to justify killing those who are different, to try to control people's lives and force their adherence to rules that are harmful, and so on.  This week, I've been hit on the head with one example of each.

The good example comes from a former co-worker and friend.  It is the First Baptist Church Decatur (Georgia).  My friend Leslie attends this church, and in our book club's discussion of Outcasts United she mentioned that the church has been working with a lot of refugees.  Her husband Bill is an Asian scholar and knows some languages that allow him to be a huge help with some of the refugee population.  She says that a lot of the church's ministry in there kinds of areas is behind the scenes.  There's an article on the church and its pastor in Atlanta Magazine from May 2008 on pg. 112 (I haven't had a chance to read it).  Reading the book made me realize how much help is needed by the refugee population, and how overwhelmed the aid groups are, so this kind of outreach is so much needed and speaks of care on the part of the church.

The bad example comes from this article from Talking Points Memo about the pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ.  The pastor preached a sermon called "Why I Hate Barack Obama" the day before a member of the church brought a gun to an event where Obama was appearing.  I listened to the first few minutes, and according to the pastor, God is quite capable of hating people, and he hates the violent in particular.  It shows, again, how little these type of people have the capacity for self-reflection.  They have a page of their doctrines, and one of them is this:  "We believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty." The pastor, Steven Anderson, in his sermon prayed for Barack Obama to die - not by violence, that would create a martyr, but a natural death.  Maybe he's been taking lessons in imprecatory prayers from Wiley Drake.

So here we have concrete examples of the light and the dark, love vs. hate, kindness that reaches out vs. evil that excludes.  I think you can guess where my sympathies lie.  Blessings to those who are spreaders of light, and may the haters look out from the pit they have dug for themselves and decide to become a part of what is good in the world.


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Top Chef Blog on Marriage Equality

Excellent post on marriage equality by Top Chef Blogger Tom Colicchio.  Here's a sizable excerpt:

"I’m going to go out on a limb and say a few words about same-sex marriage: First of all, part of the problem with the issue is that it is framed by opponents as a discussion of whether gay people should get special rights. This is specious – yes, special legislation or court decisions grant them the right to wed in a particular state, however this is done to ensure that they share equal protection under the law by finally being able to avail themselves of the same rights as everyone else.  They are not seeking special treatment, just equitable treatment. Second, religion has no business being part of the discussion. When a couple is wed in a house of worship, the officiant may be performing a religious rite, but as far as the law is concerned, that officiant has been authorized to perform a civil function, plain and simple. And even were same-sex marriage to be legalized by the state, no one would be holding a gun to the heads of the clergy to require them to perform a ceremony that their faith or personal creed does not condone.  Just as some rabbis would not perform my marriage to my wife because I wasn’t Jewish, clergy can decline performing same-sex marriages; gay couples can either find clergy willing to officiate or can be wed in a civil setting. The idea that religious leaders are continuing to shape state law is just wrong. The institution of marriage should be available to all. The idea that you can have a life-long partner and not make decisions for them in a hospital, not share in insurance benefits, not automatically have parental rights unless you are the birth parent, is just flat-out wrong."


Well said, Mr. Colicchio!



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Op-Ed Columnist - Till Debt Does Its Part

So new budget projections show a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade. According to many commentators, that’s a terrifying number, requiring drastic action — in particular, of course, canceling efforts to boost the economy and calling off health care reform.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

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Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

The truth is more complicated and less frightening. Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic.

The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?

Let’s start with the effects of this year’s deficit.

There are two main reasons for the surge in red ink. First, the recession has led both to a sharp drop in tax receipts and to increased spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs. Second, there have been large outlays on financial rescues. These are counted as part of the deficit, although the government is acquiring assets in the process and will eventually get at least part of its money back.

What this tells us is that right now it’s good to run a deficit. Consider what would have happened if the U.S. government and its counterparts around the world had tried to balance their budgets as they did in the early 1930s. It’s a scary thought. If governments had raised taxes or slashed spending in the face of the slump, if they had refused to rescue distressed financial institutions, we could all too easily have seen a full replay of the Great Depression.

As I said, deficits saved the world.

In fact, we would be better off if governments were willing to run even larger deficits over the next year or two. The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years. If that’s at all correct — and I fear that it will be — we should be doing more, not less, to support the economy.

But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might think.

Here’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/G.D.P. ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around 1 percent of G.D.P., or 5 percent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.

Now, this assumes that the U.S. government’s credit will remain good so that it’s able to borrow at relatively low interest rates. So far, that’s still true. Despite the prospect of big deficits, the government is able to borrow money long term at an interest rate of less than 3.5 percent, which is low by historical standards. People making bets with real money don’t seem to be worried about U.S. solvency.

The numbers tell you why. According to the White House projections, by 2019, net federal debt will be around 70 percent of G.D.P. That’s not good, but it’s within a range that has historically proved manageable for advanced countries, even those with relatively weak governments. In the early 1990s, Belgium — which is deeply divided along linguistic lines — had a net debt of 118 percent of G.D.P., while Italy — which is, well, Italy — had a net debt of 114 percent of G.D.P. Neither faced a financial crisis.

So is there anything to worry about? Yes, but the dangers are political, not economic.

As I’ve said, those 10-year projections aren’t as bad as you may have heard. Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall health care reform. After all, America spends far more on health care than other advanced countries, without better results, so we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.

But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”

So don’t fret about this year’s deficit; we actually need to run up federal debt right now and need to keep doing it until the economy is on a solid path to recovery. And the extra debt should be manageable. If we face a potential problem, it’s not because the economy can’t handle the extra debt. Instead, it’s the politics, stupid.

Sign in to Recommend Next Article in Opinion (1 of 28) » A version of this article appeared in print on August 28, 2009, on page A23 of the New York edition.

Paul Krugman on the deficit and why it is not as worrisome as it sounds.

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Anything But Straight: The Pathology of Purity | Falls Church News-Press Online

This is a really good article on the psychology of the fundamentalists. I have to admit the concept of God-centered sex rather blows my mind. I would think it would be better to concentrate on your partner, but maybe that's just me. ;-).

BBC - Earth News - Mouse set to be 'evolution icon'

This article is about evolution in action. It talks about deer mice who have evolved with light-colored coats to match the area they live in. Scientists now know the gene that was at work in the natural selection. Deny that, creationists.

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Book Review: Outcasts United

Title Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town
Author Warren St. John
Rating ****1/2
Tags non-fiction, soccer, refugees, georgia 

What a splendid book! My book club read it, and it makes a great companion to a book we read a few months ago, Three Cups of Tea. They are entirely different stories, but share teaching what is happening in other parts of the world and in being uplifting stories of what people are doing to create positive change.

It is the story of Luma Mufleh, who was born and grew up in a loving family in Jordan, yet a family that expected Luma to follow tradition. After coming to the United States to attend college, she did not return to Jordan, knowing that she could not be a part of the traditions. She wound up in metro Atlanta, Georgia, and while driving through Clarkston, a suburb, she saw a group of refugee boys playing soccer. She had been a soccer coach and became the coach to the refugee boys.

Besides telling Luma's story, St. John tells the stories of many of the refugee families: the horrors from which they fled, and the painful adjustments to living in Clarkston, usually living in poverty in a high-crime area in a totally new culture. The author also tells the story of the older inhabitants of Clarkston, who saw their typical small Southern town change drastically with the influx of refugees from all over the world.

Luma, with little compensation, became coach to three different boys' soccer teams, the Under 17s, the Under 15s, and the Under 13s. The teams took the name Fugees, short for refugees. Each had its unique challenges and strengths.

Sports is not, generally, a subject I care about at all, which I blame on growing up in Alabama when Bear Bryant was God. And yet I thorougly enjoyed this book and its stories of people living with great challenges but making something strong and courageous out of them.

Highly recommended.

Publication Spiegel & Grau (2009), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0385522037 / 9780385522038

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Counter-Enlightenment

Excellent post on the history of conservatism in this country and how the rabble-rousing seen at the health care town halls ain't the real thing.  The author is unsure what they are looking to conserve other than the power and privileges of the insurance industry.  Here's an important paragraph from the article:

"America was the first country founded upon Enlightenment values. Granted, Americans themselves have rarely in the mass lived up to those values, and the history of America is to some extent the development of these enlightened  values over the darker forces of our nature for two hundred years. No one with eyes to see could say that America is a perfectly enlightened or tolerant country, but without a doubt the enlightened values of the founding have slowly found favor with a greater percentage of the population. Those Americans resisting the ideals of reasoned discussion and debate, toleration for the Other, individual rights, liberty, equality, and education are thus not conservatives, but reactionaries. They don't wish to conserve or even resurrect a fallen order, but to impose darkness on the land."



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DNC Tribute Video

Ok, I'll slack up soon on the Kennedy stuff, but there's a lot of fine tributes out there.

My friend Mark was telling me last night about the stories on a message board he reads from a woman who was at one time an aide or intern to Teddy. She described him as a kind man, one all the people who worked for him looked up to as a father figure. I strongly feel that you can get a sense of a person's true character by how they treat people of lesser status than themselves. Someone who makes it a rule to treat waiters badly, for instance, and stiff them on tips is someone I wouldn't trust. And this woman attests to how people who worked for Teddy loved him. Besides that, his dedication as a legislator to be a voice for the underprivileged shows him to have been a man for whom the term "public service" was a life's work.

Here is the tribute video the Democratic National Committee made honoring Senator Kennedy at last year's convention:

Yet Another Quote on Kennedy

... from William Rivers Pitt in this article:

"Teddy was just a man, but ended his life as something far more than that. Teddy, now gone from us, has become an idea, a bulwark, a standard and a clarion call to service and national duty. He will no longer be in the Senate working for us, and it is impossible to believe someone will step forward to stand in his place. He was just a man, and he has finally paid that death we all owe in the end, so the rest is up to us all. The dream he spoke of can indeed end, and surely will, if we let it. He guarded it, tended it and enriched it for so long, but that is over. It is up to us now, just as he would want it to be."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paul Krugman on Being Reflexively Anti-Bush

Krugman has two blog posts (part 1) and part 2) on a running discussion with Mark Ambinder. Ambinder says certain people were against Bush by gut instincts, and shouldn't have been trusted, even though as it turned out, they were right. Krugman rightly points out that by the time Ambinder was discussing, there was a clear pattern of lies for political gain and abuse of power in the Bush administration, and there were excellent reasons for skepticism which turned out to be well-founded.

Ezra Klein's Moving Tribute to Teddy Kennedy

...which includes links to other Teddy resources, but is as well a moving piece on the meaning of Teddy's life. The final paragraph is the best epitaph the Senator could have wished for:

"Ted Kennedy did not wish his brother's hopes into being, or pray that a better world would manifest. He stood up and stepped forward into the tradition -- the tradition not only of his family, but of the social reformers who inspired, and then supported, them. The key fact of Kennedy's life was that he was born a Kennedy. But the key decision of his life was that he decided to do something with it, to echo those who had come before him, and to continue their work."

Ted Kennedy's Speech Opposing the Iraq War

Excellent speech reprinted here. It makes excellent points about war with Iraq being premature. Teddy is remembered most for domestic policy, but from this he was pretty smart about foreign policy as well. I wish this kind of respectful anti-war sentiment had been given more coverage in the media at the time.

Excellent Post by Yglesias on the Progressive Movement

This post by Matthew Yglesias is excellent. It points out that progressives tend to a boom and bust cycle psychologically - periods of high hopes for real change, then depression when those hopes fail. His point is that the better viewpoint is that the work goes on, a little here and there, all the time, and requires a steady commitment of work.

Yglesias on Media Spinning False Debates

This post from Yglesias brings up again an issue I've been concerned about and blogged about before. The media seems to look at every issue as if there are valid arguments on both sides, and, as Yglesias points out, creates false debates. This is particularly true on evolution and climate change. Evolution and climate change are real and factual and have stood the tests that science has thrown at them. Their enemies have almost no credible arguments... but that isn't clear from the way the media covers them.

Biden Tribute to Ted Kennedy

I've read a lot of tributes to Ted Kennedy today, but this one from Joe Biden is one of the most heartfelt and talks about the great contributions Kennedy made to people's lives, including Biden's.

Warning! Snarky anti-Hannity post

Ed Brayton posted this article on Sean Hannity, like Michelle Bachman, willing to run for President if called to do so by God. There are some wonderfully snarky comments, including what someone claims is this er, ode to Hannity by John Cleese:

Ode to Sean Hannity
by John Cleese

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You're a profanity

Bad News from Iran

Some of the opposition leaders who organized protests against the Iranian election results are on trial and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty. Democracy there is almost dead, but I am betting it lives on in the hearts of many of the Iranian people, and they will one day manage to bring it back to reality.

Teddy Kennedy, In Memorium

As part of the Kennedy family, he had a lot to live up to, and after Chappaquidick, a lot to live down. He spent over 46 years in the Senate, and while never knowing need himself, understood the need of the least among us, and sought to help. His depth of commitment was rare and will be impossible to replace.

Thank you, Teddy. You will be missed.

Evolution of the Death Panels Meme an photo gallery with text from Talking Points Memo. Shows who started it and how it developed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Frank Rich on the Violent Right

Frank Rich is also a New York Times columnist I really admire. In this most recent column he talks about the violent rhetoric from the right, and the spectacle of their being encouraged by members of the government such as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn - who, given that the Oklahoma city bombings were in his state, should know better.

Paul Krugman on Reaganomics

Another great article by Paul Krugman, who writes to be easily understood by the layman (and when he doesn't, he labels the article or blog post as "wonkish"). In this one, he discusses his disappointment that the economic collapse did not kill certain bad ideas, such as that government intervention is always bad, and that the free market is always good, neither of which are the case.

Great Short Summary of the Need for Health Care Reform an Emory professor. See the article here. He makes the same argument as Obama, that without health care reform health care costs in this country will rise to unbearable levels and still leave too many uninsured.

The Outside View

Sometimes it takes an outsider to voice painful truths. This article by the Indendent newspaper in the U.K. talks about how divorced from reality the right wing in America has become, and gives some interesting reasons for it. Anyway, it has two marvelous quotes in it:

From Bill Maher:

"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital."

And from Arianna Huffington:

"It is as though, at the height of the civil rights movement, you thought you had to bring together Martin Luther King and George Wallace and make them agree. It's not how change happens."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Philanthropist

I'm absolutely fascinated by an NBC summer replacement series called The Philanthropist. It's mostly about a guy who is a partner in a huge corporation, Maidstone Rist. He was married, he and his wife lost their son and divorced, and he's been a playboy. But things conspire to awaken a social conscience in him, and as he goes around the world for business he sees the dire situation in so many countries and does what he can to alleviate the situation, along with his partner, Philip Maidstone.

What fascinates me is the gritty reality of the situations shown... poverty and disease in Africa, a ruby mine in Burma where children and the elderly are being worked to death, girls brought from Eastern Europe to Paris to be prostitutes, child slavery and children eating dirt cookies in Haiti. Admittedly, too often Rist manages to create fairy-tale endings that aren't very true to life. However, I've kind of become convinced that the purpose of the show is to educate Americans to the realities of the world, and awaken compassion and a willingness to help. And if so, that is taking on a responsibility that television, outside of the public stations, doesn't accept in general.

Just saw the Haiti episode today. It ends with a dinner for the Maidstone Rist Foundation to raise money. At the dinner Teddy tells his tale of child slavery, and that he was able to save 2 children, two out of 300,000. The dinner consists of four ounces of rice, the usual dinner for so many Haitians. And, at the end, Teddy challenges the diners. He says it is not only Haiti... there are such problems worldwide. Please, do any of you have ideas of what we can do to create change? And the episode ends with a single raised hand. I thought it was brilliant. It brought out a very important point to me, that money alone isn't the answer, but money allied with creative ideas may be, and that while not everyone has money, many people have innovative ideas. It reminds me of some things that are changing the world that I've blogged about... the water pump powered by a kids' merry-go-round that is being used in Africa. The whole concept of microfinance, including Kava, the web site where people can band together to loan money for the disadvantaged of the world to make their ideas and dreams come true.

Two further ideas it brings to mind. One is that in the short run, the show may increase people's sense of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems in the world, the feeling of not knowing where to start. I think that's a real danger. And I suspect the show won't last long. I doubt if it has or will get a large audience, though I don't have any data either way as to their ratings.

It also converges with my earlier post called "A Raspberry to Good Morning, America". In that post I talked about what a bad example GMA set by seeming to say that men and women can't be friends. See the whole post for that discussion. But combined with my thoughts on The Philanthropist, it brings more clearly into my mind that while television primarily exists to entertain, it also teaches, whether it intends to or not or accepts that responsibility or not. It models human behavior to its audience. And when it models immature, selfish behavior, as it does persistently, it helps create a more immature and selfish culture. The Philanthropist shows that it can choose something better.

The show's website has lots of goodies, more background on the issues and chances to get involved.

Book Review: Serpent's Tale

Title: The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death)
Author: Ariana Franklin
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: mystery, series, historical mystery, women, doctor, henry ii, england, eleanor of aquitaine

Second in the mystery of the art of death series. Adelia, a woman doctor who specializes in the causes of death, is still being held in England by King Henry II, who finds her too valuable to part with. She has found a great love. They have parted, but she is left with a baby daughter she adores.

Henry's mistress, Rosamund, has died from eating deadly mushrooms. His wife Eleanor is blamed for it, and the country is again on the brink of civil war - not good news in a country that endured 13 years of such a war less than twenty years previously. Adelia must find who killed Rosamund and quickly. Meanwhile the country is undergoing the most severe winter weather in memory, and it strands Adelia in Godstow Abbey with Eleanor and her fighters... and one among them in the murderer.

I adored the first book, and this one is also excellent. The only reason I didn't rate it quite as highly is that the first volume had the added value of novelty. But the second book absolutely does not suffer the "software slump" syndrome in which an author's second in a series disappoints after a great first volume.

More, more, I want more!

Publication Berkley Trade (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 416 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0425225747 / 9780425225745

Book Review: Mistress of the Art of Death

Title: Mistress of the Art of Death
Author: Ariana Franklin
Rating: *****
Tags: mystery, series, historical mystery, women, doctor, henry ii, england

I have a new favorite series. Have just read this book and its sequel and am totally blown away by them. Absolutely amazing books.

This first book in the series opens with the disappearance of four children in Cambridge, England. The body of one is found horribly mutilated. The Jews in the town are blamed and two of them killed. Henry II, king of England, is concerned. The Jews pay a large part of his tax revenues and loan money for many projects. He wants the killer identified and quickly. He sends to his friend the King of Sicily for his investigator, Simon (also a Jew), and asks that he send also a doctor of forensic medicine, or, as it was known, a Master of Death. He is sent Simon, a Mistress of the Art of Death, and her Saracen eunuch protector.

Adelia was abandoned by her parents as an infant on Mt. Vesuvius. She was found and adopted by a man and wife, both doctors, in Salerno, the center of the world's medical knowledge, which did not scorn to train women as doctors. Her father was a Master of Death and so she became one as well.

Shortly after the odd trio arrives in England the corpses of the three missing children are found, also savagely mutilated. Adelia indeed does find clues from the pitiful remains, and the investigation begins to take shape. Meanwhile one of the King's tax collectors keeps insinuating himself into the investigation. Is he working for the king, or a suspect?

The book has everything I look for. Great, complex, interesting characters, nicely developed plots, and a brilliant sense of time and place.

Can you guess that I highly recommend it?

Publication Putnam's (2007), Edition: 1st Edition, 1st Printing, Hardcover
Publication date 2007

Book Review: A Little Bit Wicked

Title: A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages
Author: Rodgers, Joni
Kristin Chenoweth
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: non-fiction, memoirs, actors, singers

I've seen Chenoweth on TV, especially the weird and wonderful Pushing Daisies, and enjoyed her work quite a bit. I also had heard that she dated Aaron Sorkin, whom I admire greatly for his work on the West Wing. So I got her memoirs and am glad of it. She's a lovely person, with a great sense of humor, a unique way of expressing herself, a lot of intelligence, intense dedication to her crafts - singing, acting, and dancing. She is a Christian who has a gay male best friend and a tendency to date Jewish men, so she happily defies stereotypes.

Her memoirs make for a fun and informative read.

Other authors: Rodgers, Joni

Publication Touchstone (2009), Edition: First Edition, First Printing, Hardcover, 240 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1416580557 / 9781416580553

Book Review: The Language of Bees

Title: The Language of Bees (Mary Russell Novels)
Author: Laurie R. King
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, mary russell, sherlock holmes, mycroft holmes, cults

Laurie King is one of my favorite writers. For one thing, she had the audacity to take a beloved character, Sherlock Holmes, and use him and make it work. But she isn't perfect. I wasn't fond of the The Game, the volume in this series set in India, and this one I didn't like as well as some of ther others in the series. Perhaps I'm finding the villain who is part of an evil cult to be a bit cliched by now.

However, it does present Holmes with a previously unknown son, his son by Irene Adler. The son suffered gruesomely in WWI and fell apart. Holmes and Russell learned of his existence in 1919, when he was still a drug addict, and then he disappeared and could not be found. Now, in 1924, he shows up again, an sober artist whose Chinese wife has disappeared. It begins to look as though she was involved with a dangerous religious nut.

Worth reading, but would recommend reading the other books in the series first.

Publication Bantam (2009), Edition: 1ST, Hardcover, 448 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0553804545 / 9780553804546

Book Review: The Demon King and I

Title: The Demon King and I
Author: Candace Havens
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: paranormal, suspense, guardians

I think I've reached a saturation point with paranormal romances.

One problem with this one is that four sisters are the defenders of not just earth, but several worlds. Oh, they have lots of backup, including wealth, great technology, and lots of minions, but I just find this concept difficult to believe. No matter how super strong or fast or smart, one fighter isn't going to be able to defeat odds of say, 100 to 1. Or a thousand to 1. Oddly enough, the women's enemies haven't figured this out yet.

There's also the problem that has begun to gnaw at me more and more, the good guys and the evil nasties. The women basically automatically kill the beings from some planets, say the demons or the dragons, that go to the planets they are protecting. But as the main character finds out, the King of the Demons is not all bad guy. In fact, he seems pretty good. In fact, she falls in love with him. If that's the case, one has to assume there are other good guys, or at least not evil guys, in the groups they've seen as enemies. Seems to me that anytime one is dealing with sentience, it opens the possibility that someone considered good will choose to be bad, and someone bad will choose to be good. Or, like real life, sentient beings are complex mixtures of good and bad.

But given that weakness, I enjoyed the book. It is an intriguing universe, the characters are ok, and the plot is interesting.

Worth a read, but I don't know how diligently I'll track down later books in the series.

Publication Berkley Trade (2008), Paperback, 320 pages
Publication date 2008

Friday, August 21, 2009

Death Penalty Horrors

This post by Ed Brayton is about Clarence Thomas's dissent in the decision to grant Troy Davis an appeal, and in his dissent the question of guilt or innocence doesn't seem to matter. When we stand a chance of executing a man knowing there is a good chance that he is innocent, our criminal justice system is sorely lacking in justice.

The Christian Military

Another post passed on to Ed Brayton by Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Some people hear that name and wonder why a group would be against military prayer, so some such. The letter from a serving officer shows just how seriously bad the situation can be for non-Christians serving their country.

Jimmy Carter on the Rights of Women

In this article, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is a strong voice for the rights of women, and the benefits throughout the world of gender equality. He also speaks of a group, called the Elders:

"The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity."

The Elders are people no longer running for office, so without political pressures.

Carter brings a note of personal distress about the issue: after over six decades as a Southern Baptist, he is breaking his connection with the Southern Baptist Convention over their treatment of women"

"So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service."

It is marvelous to see this in conjunction with the piece I mentioned yesterday co-authored by Nick Kristof.

Thanks to Stephen Zendt for the heads-up.

Death Panels? Yeah, Insurance Companies

This is a terrific 30 second video ad for health care reform. It repeats what has been said as a sad joke in health care reform circles, "Sure there are death panels in the United States. They're called insurance companies." But it also provides testimony to the fact that there's truth behind the joke. We're losing the public opinion battle on health care, and we need lots more ads like this one.

Two Important Articles on the Bush Administration

Sadly, we aren't done with these guys yet. The first article is about the new book published by the first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, (Test of Our Times) and how he was pressured by Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft to raise the threat level before the 2004 election. He also talks about other frustrations with the Bush Administration.

The other article is about Karl Rove and Harriet Miers being called to testify again on the U.S. Attorneys firing. This is a case that may have criminal implications.

Does every administration break laws sometime? Probably so. But there was ushc a pervasive pattern of at least questionable actions by the Bush administration, and not prosecuting anyone for them undermines the rule of law.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Excellent Work by Nick Kristof

Today's New York Times has two excellent pieces by Nick Kristof. First is his op-ed on how seriously the U.S. is failing in its criminal justice system.

Secondly he co-wrote a lengthy feature on the status of women throughout the world, and the proven benefits of educating women and providing them with microfinance. he and his co-author offer some useful ideas for policies the Obama administration could implement.

Good work!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The West Wing

Title: The West Wing: The American Presidency As Television Drama (The Television Series)
Author: O'Connor, John E.
Peter C. Rollins
Rating: ****
Tags: essays, west wing, television, media, politics

This book is a collection of mostly academic papers on the television show The West Wing. The book was published in 2003, and the show didn't end until 2006, so it only concerns the first few seasons. It would be interesting to know how different the essays would be if considering the series as a whole, and it would also be interesting to know if the book had any influence on the direction of the series.

I love the show, so my reading is biased. Some essays are more favorable to the show than others. Of the criticisms, I agree with some and some I don't agree with. Several of the essays made the point that the characters in the show weren't subject to as much jockeying for power and position as real White House staffers are, and I think that's valid. However, I also think part of Aaron Sorkin's idea for the series is to present an idealized model that could inspire future generations of leaders.

The book is divided into four sections: Focusing on the Issues (four essays), Language and Structure in the West Wing (four essays), Perception of the West Wing (three essays), Critical Responses: West Wing Press Reviews (three essays), plus a Bibliographic Overview. There is one index for the book as a whole.

Probably only of interest if you are a fan of the show and a bit wonkish.

Editor – O'Connor, John E.
Publication Syracuse University Press (2003), Edition: 1, Paperback, 272 pages
Publication date 2003
ISBN 081563031X / 9780815630319

Book Review: Jesus, Interrupted

Title: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Author: Bart D. Ehrman
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: jesus, bible, new testament, biblical scholarship

I really like Ehrman's writings. He is a very thoughtful writer on subjects that aren't discussed much in public because they involve, for some people, a radical reinterpretation of the Bible. In fact that is one of the reasons he wrote the book: so few lay people have been taught anything about the last 200 years of Biblical scholarship.

The book is something of a sequel to his previous work Misquoting Jesus. In both he points out that a view of the Bible as literally true and inerrant has been made impossible by facts. We do not have the original Biblical texts, first of all. Secondly, there are thousands of existing copies made prior to the invention of the printing press, and no two are alike... they all contain errors, some major, most minor, some deleting text found in other versions and some adding text. The errors in all of these copies add up to more words than are in the Bible.

Ehrman points out, however, that many if not most Biblical scholars are believing Jews or Christians, that knowing the Bible is not inerrant by no means mandates a loss of faith. Ehrman is candid in revealing that he has become an agnostic himself, but says it had nothing to do with the issue of inerrancy, but rather the issue of suffering (which he addressed in a different book).

Ehrman reconstructs the New Testament (he is a Greek scholar, not a Hebrew scholar, so does not treat the Old Testament), discussing who wrote the various books, which are forgeries, when they were written, etc. He talks some about the process by which the canonical books of the New Testament became canonical. Prior to this, around the fourth century, there were many competing Christianities (discussed in more depth in his book Lost Christianities). In some Christians had to follow Jewish law, in others they were not to do so, and then there were the Gnostics, a wholly different kettle of fish. Each group had its own set of works it considered sacred.

Ehrman has an extensive discussion of the value of reading the books "vertically" (comparing the same story in different books), rather than "horizontally" (reading the books in order straight through). By doing so the unique viewpoints of the authors come out. Mark, for example, was the earliest of the Gospels to be written, and is one of the sources for Luke and Matthew. Mark's view of Jesus is that he is the one who atones for the sin of the world, and so his emphasis is on Christ's suffering.

Bart Ehrman has produced another excellent book on Biblical scholarship for the lay reader.

Publication HarperOne (2009), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061173932 / 9780061173936

Book Review: Breakpoint by Richard Clarke

Title: Breakpoint
Author: Richard A. Clarke
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: technology, politics, fiction, thriller

Clarke was the counterterrorism head for Clinton and George W. Bush, until his resignation. He has written non-fiction books on government and national security.

This book, however, is a novel, and it is one that will change your view of the world. The novel sees several technologies, including nanotechnology, biology, computer science, and cognitive science, as on the verge of creating a new world in which our conceptions of what it is to be human must change. Soon we will be capable of creating advanced humans, genetically engineered and with cyber interfaces. The book brings up that perhaps the legal and ethical issues aren't being thought through carefully. What will the world be like when the rich are a distinctly different new species, with capabilities beyond the reach of the rest of humanity?

The plot follows attacks on much of the country's Internet traffic as well as on certain researchers and research facilities. The attacks are presumed to be from the Chinese, but retaliation has to wait to be sure of the facts. Two agents are working to follow the trail of the research and who might want to destroy these particular projects.

The characters are well-done, but it is the plot that is mind-blowing in its implications. WELL worth reading for understanding where the human race might be headed.

Publication Berkley (2007), Paperback, 320 pages
Publication date 2007
ISBN 0425218635 / 9780425218631

Book Review: Oscar Wilde and A Game Called Murder

Title: Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder: A Mystery (Oscar Wilde Mysteries)
Author: Gyles Brandreth
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, oscar wilde, arthur conan doyle, robert sharard

This is the second of a planned nine in Brandreth's Oscar Wilde series. Oscar has started a gentleman's club called the Socrates club, and invites interesting people to join, so that he can have good conversation with good food. Often the meetings have a theme or a game. One night the game is to write on a slip of paper the name of the person they would most like to murder, put it in a bag, and then the names would be read out with people guessing who put in each name. The answers are rather awkward, and in the coming days people on the list start dying. Oscar has to figure out what is happening and why.

Brandreth sticks as close as he can to history. One amusing bit of it in this book is Arthur Conan Doyle talking about how he wants to be rid of Sherlock Holmes, so that he can write other things.

Well-done book, looking forward to the rest of the series.

Publication Touchstone (2008), Paperback, 416 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 1416534849 / 9781416534846

Book Review: Tall, Dark, and Dead

Title: Tall, Dark & Dead (Garnet Lacey, Book 1)
Author: Tate Hallaway
Rating: ****
Tags: paranormal, thriller, vampires, witches, lilith

First in the Garnet Lacey series. Garnet is a witch. One night when she was late, the rest of her coven was slaughtered by Vatican witch hunters. She found them, called the Goddess Lilith into herself, and Lilith kills the witch hunters. Now she lives in a new town with a new name and life. She meets a very attractive man who, sadly, is dead. He's a vampire, but has powers such that he can be active in daylight due to a formula he created. Now everyone is after his formula, including Lilith. Garnet and Sebastian are strongly drawn together.

I read this after reading a short story by the same author. It is a good start to a series. Worth a read.

Publication Berkley Trade (2006), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date 2006

Book Review: Turn Coat

Title: Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, Book 11)
Author: Jim Butcher
Rating: ****
Tags: series, paranormal, wizards, harry dresden, vampires

Eleventh in the series about Chicago wizard Harry Dresden. In this volume, there is a traitor in the Wizard's Council, and the Council thinks it is Morgan, who comes to Harry for help. He and Harry have not been friends, but Harry knows that Morgan is not capable of such betrayal. So he has to find the real traitor and, to make things worse, the real traitor draws the vampires into the fight.

As usual, Harry is fighting against impossible odds. His assets are his smarts, his skills, and his friends. All are required this time, as well as an intriguing new being, the god of the island used in the conflict.

Good reading, as always with Butcher.

Publication Roc Hardcover (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 432 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0451462564 / 9780451462565

Book Review: Dead and Gone

Title: Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 9)
Author: Charlaine Harris
Rating: ***1/2
Tags: mystery, series, paranormal, telepathy, sookie stackhouse, vampires, weres

This is the ninth in the Sookie Stackhouse series about a woman telepath who has trouble reading supernatural races. As the series has developed more and more supernatural races have shown up. In the first part of this one, the weres, not only werewolves but werepanthers, shape shifters, and more reveal themselves to the general public. They are following the example of the vampires, who came out a couple of years ago after the development of synthetic blood.

The announcement causes trouble in Bon Temps. The estranged wife of Sookie's brother, a were panther, is crucified. It inspires the members of an anti-supernatural fundamentalist group who decide Sookie should be next.

As if that threat weren't enough, Sookie learns from her faerie great-grandfather that there is a war for control among the faeries, and the danger is spilling over onto Sookie.

All of which makes for an exciting book, but I just wasn't as fond of it as of the rest of the series. I think it was that it seemed more action, less character development. Still, a Charlaine Harris is more worth reading than the best of some other authors.

Publication Ace Hardcover (2009), Edition: First Edition first Printing, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0441017150 / 9780441017157

A Large Raspberry to Good Morning, America

Americans, in aggregate, tend to be an immature people, and I say this as an American born and bred. The media far too often fosters this attitude, and I saw a really terrible example of it this morning on Good Morning, America. They have just hired Steve Harvey for the show, and he led a discussion this morning of whether men and women can be friends, with Diane Sawyer and three couples. Almost universally the answer was that no, men and women can't be friends, because men always have sex on the brain.

There were some implicit assumptions here that have really nasty implications for both men and women. The implicit assumption about men is that they are incapable of responsibly handling their sexual attractions. The implicit assumption about women is that jealousy is always the appropriate response. I'll address each, one by one.

That men cannot control their sexuality is deprecated by us when we see it in other cultures, for example when in many Arab cultures it is assumed that if a man and a woman are alone together sex is involved. But we don't see how it plays out here. Here the undercurrent is that a man, to be a real man, acts on his sexual impulses. At its worst, this leads to rape and to molestation of children. I was myself sexually abused by older boys in my neighborhood when I was five years old, and I blame this attitude towards male sexuality for it. A mature man is perfectly capable of being sexually attracted to someone while understanding that acting on that attraction would be inappropriate. And that is what the media should be modeling for American men, especially boys yet to become men.

Likewise, for the couples on the show, it was assumed to be ok for the woman to be jealous for what seemed to me to be very slight reasons. I speak as someone whose jealousy has come close to causing my suicide. I KNOW how destructive jealousy can be. How many murders in the US are caused by this emotion? Far, far too many. It can sometimes be an appropriate response, if one partner in a relationship is letting another relationship get in the way of the primary one. But a loving spouse should also be able to trust that the partner will act maturely, responsibly, and appropriately, and if they cannot do so, recognize that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with by communication and perhaps counseling.

Finally, there is one other implicit assumption that is harmful to both men and women, and that is that one's partner must provide all of one's social needs. Many relationship experts have pointed out that is unhealthy. One needs friends, as well. A person, to be well-rounded, should have social interactions with a broad range of people, people that one finds interesting, or share a hobby, or have known for a long time. Expecting one person to provide all social needs puts too much of a burden on anyone. Of course friends who are mutual friends of both partners are best, but a partner has to be open to meeting the spouse's friends and understanding what the spouse likes in that person to make this happen.

I had to leave before the show got to the phone calls expressing a dissenting point of view, so some of the points I've made may have been expressed in the show.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Role of the Media in the Health Care Debate

This excellent op-ed a friend pointed me too makes some excellent points about the media and the health care debate, calling for the mainstream media to call out those spouting racist rhetoric, and to call a lie a lie, and not look the other way when lies are told. Bravo to Nicholas F. Benton!

The same friend also pointed to this piece that calls on us to recognize that inflammatory words spoken by public figures can and do lead to violence. Here's a quote:

"I am a staunch First Amendment advocate. But let's not pretend such irresponsible words and behavior does not have casualties and consequences. We can best celebrate free speech and assembly by freely choosing not to incite or assemble irate mobs that lack control or any normal sense of inhibition."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Meditations on Fascism

Gus DeZeriga has some fascinating musings on Fascism and its current meaning. See Part 1 and Part 2. DeZeriga is by profession a professor of political science.

Medal of Freedom Honorees

TPM has this photo gallery of President Obama honoring sixteen winners of the Medal of Freedom. It is a wonderfully diverse group, both in terms of race and gender and their fields of contribution - included are scientists, civil rights leaders, sports figures, and more. What an inspiring group of people.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

APA Says Homosexuality Natural

This article is about the American Psychological Association and its declaration that homosexuality is natural, that it can't be cured, and that trying to do so may cause severe psychological damage, leading to depression and increasing the risk of suicide.

I'm Baaaaaackkkkkkk

I'm back from vacation, fresh and rarin' to go. As much as I ever get, anyway. I went to Montreal to attend the science fiction worldcon Anticipation. I mainly went to see some friends, my friend Peter from Cork, Ireland, whom I had not seen in several years, and my friend Anna who I've known for a long time but had not met in person. This was all her idea, by the way. I also saw my friend Chris. Hadn't seen him in a long time as well.

I was once an avid science fiction fan, but quit going to cons when I went into library school and couldn't afford a lot of travel. And, eventually, my reading tastes morphed from SF to mysteries, by and large. I rediscovered one of the things I've really missed about fandom: being in a large group of really bright and witty folks.

Guest of Honor was Neil Gaiman, who has written a number of good works, including Stardust, the Sandman comics, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. He was an utterly charming guest, and I went to as many of his panels as I could, including his introduction to a screening of Coraline (the movie).

Totally unexpected was that Paul Krugman, Nobel prize-winning economist and one of my favorite New York Times columnists, was at the con on Thursday and Friday. He did a panel each day and I went to both of him. Very impressive.

What a lovely, lovely, vacation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book Review: Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile

Title: Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile: A Mystery (Oscar Wilde Mysteries)
Author: Gyles Brandreth
Rating: ****
Tags: mystery, series, oscar wilde, arthur conan doyle, robert sharard, paris actors

This is the third of Gyles Brandreth's mystery series with Oscar Wilde as the central character and Wilde's real-life friend Robert Sherard as the narrator. In the first book of the series, Brandreth answers some questions about the genesis of the series. When he was a boy, he got to know a man who had known Wilde and shared stories about him, and some of his first and most favorite books were those of Oscar Wilde as well as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. He read both over and over. He was amazed and delighted to find out that Wilde and Conan Doyle were friends.

The third book in the series jumps around in time. It begins in London in 1890. Wilde, his biographer Robert Sherard, and Arthur Conan Doyle visit Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, and Sherard gives Conan Doyle a manuscript of earlier days, including the meeting and early friendship of Sherard and Wilde. That tale is the bulk of the book. It covers first Wilde's lecture tour in the United States in 1882 and his meeting with a gambler and gunslinger named Eddie Garstrang. On the ship back to London, Wilde spends much time with the La Grange acting troupe, and begins working with Edmond La Grange on a French translation of Hamlet.

After a short time in London Wilde goes on to Paris where he works with La Grange and partakes of the incredible Parisian social life. He meets Robert Sherard, only 21, and they begin a life-long friendship. Strange things happen around the La Grange troupe, and Oscar's observant eye takes it all in and, in the end, solves a series of unnatural deaths, beginning with the death of old Madame La Grange's poodle aboard ship. The dog's body was put into Oscar's trunk.

The book has a series of twists and turns, at least one of which looked at first like weak plotting but is redeemed by a later plot twist. The characters are endlessly fascinating, in part because Brandreth pulls in as much accurate history as he can. Paris in the 1880s becomes its own character, full of art, creativity and decadence. Sex and drugs they had in plenty, even if lacking the rock and roll.

Those who wish to see Wilde as a gay icon will be disappointed in this book as his homosexuality is barely hinted at. I have not read the second book in the series, but see in a plot summary that it introduces Lord Alfred Douglas, so it may go into that subject more. Brandreth plans nine books in the series, following Wilde throughout his short life (he was 46 at his death) including his disgrace and imprisonment.

Brandreth is not, to my mind, the greatest writer in the world. But the two books in the series that I have read are interesting and well worth reading. Wilde is a character that endlessly fascinates.

Publication Touchstone (2009), Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 1416534857 / 9781416534853