Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Out of Africa

Title Out of Africa (Modern Library)
Author Isak Dinesen
Rating ****
Tags autobiography, isak dinesen, africa, natives, kenya 

Read this for my book club. I have a vague memory of seeing the movie years ago, but don't remember much about it. I think it was the love story of Dinesen and Denys Finch-Hatton, so that was what I was expecting the book to be.

Dinesen ran a coffee farm in Africa, a few miles away fron Nairobi. The book is almost entirely about Dinesen's relationships with the Natives she lived with. It is a little frustrating to read, because she has something of the colonial attitude of superiority, but not enough for her to not see the Africans as individuals and appreciating them in many ways. It is, however, a picture of the dealings of people with very different cultures and habits of mind. And in many ways I agree that Western culture is better, but not in all ways, and certainly colonialism had its extremely dark side. Dineson mentions casually that the African's weren't allowed to own land!

Dinesen's descriptions of Africa are lyrical, and one feels how much of a tragedy it was in her life for the farm to fail and for her to be forced to leave Africa. She does talk about Finch-Hatton and his untimely death.

An impressive work i was glad to read.

Publication Modern Library (1992), Edition: Later printing, Hardcover, 416 pages
Publication date 1992
ISBN 0679600213 / 9780679600213

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Book Review: Not a Creature Was Stirring

Title Not a Creature Was Stirring: A Gregor Demarkian Holiday Mystery
Author Jane Haddam
Rating ****1/2
Tags mystery, series, fbi, gregor demarkian, philadelphia, main line 

I started with the latest book in this series, Living Witness, which I really liked. So I am starting to read the series in order.

Not a Creature was Stirring introduces retired FBI profiler Gregor Demarkian, a 3rd generation Armenian American. His beloved wife died two years ago, and he retired to take care of her. Now he has moved back into his old Armenian neighborhood. The new priest passes on a strange invitation. A very rich man of an old Main Line family offers the priest $100,000 if Demarkian will come to dinner at his mansion, the Engine House, on Christmas Eve. Gregor agrees, but arrives to find that the rich man, Robert Hannaford, had been murdered and the money, if it existed, is gone. Because security is so tight in and out of the estate, it had to be a member of Hannaford's family, his wife or one of the seven grown children, or a servant.

Haddam in this first book in the series is already a remarkably sure writer, with a great plot and excellent characters. I'm anxious now to read more in the series.

Publication Doubleday (1993), Hardcover
Publication date 1993
ISBN 0385470363 / 9780385470360

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Book Review: Ruby's Diary: Reflections on All I've Lost and Gained

Title Ruby's Diary: Reflections on All I've Lost and Gained
Author Ruby Gettinger
Rating ****
Tags weight loss, women, body issues, non-fiction, journals 

Ruby Gettinger is the star of her own series on the Style Network. At her highest weight she weighed over 700 pounds. At the time this book was published she had lost half or more of that, and she has done it with diet and exercise rather than surgery. She has good reasons for her choice. First of all, she is terrified of going under anesthesia. More importantly, she doesn't think the surgery would teach her anything about how to live more healthily. It is remarkable that she has kept her determination, despite times of great stress, such as the death of her beloved father.

Becoming diabetic and having it so badly out of control the doctors told her it could kill her anytime scared her enough to be able to change her life totally. Part of learning how to live more healthily is keeping a journal, and the book is a compilation of some of the journal entries that have meant the most to her and to her readers.

Ruby is not only fearless in making such radical changes in her eating and exercise habits, but in facing up to the psychological factors that led her into such horrific weight gain. She remembers little of her childhood, but had great relationships with both of her parents. She is convinced there was some trauma in her childhood, but hasn't yet been able to remember it. I suspect she is right, she has many symptoms of someone who has been abused. I also suspect, given the amount of pain she went through over the breakup of a relationship, that she has borderline personality disorder, which I also have. It makes her journey even more remarkable.

The book is a short, easy read, but a remarkable story of a courageous journey. It also has a good though short list of resources in the end. I read it hoping it would inspire me to make similar changes in my own life. It hasn't yet, but I still have hope the inspiration will come. It may come by watching her show, which I've never seen.

Highly recommended work for those dealing with weight issues.

Publication William Morrow (2009), Hardcover, 192 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061924601 / 9780061924606

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Book Review: Benjamin Franklin

Title Benjamin Franklin
Author Edmund S. Morgan
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, biography, benjamin franklin 

Morgan has spent a long time reading all of Franklin's writings and letters, which, when completely published, will comprise 45 or so volumes. His picture of Franklin that emerges is that of a man with immense talents, but who knew that he would have more influence if he listened more than he talked. He was also immensely curious about everything, including his fellow humans, no matter what gender, religion, or class. For example, he was a friend of the preacher George Whitefield, though he had by then developed his philosophy of moral virtues and had left any formal church.

I've always found the Founding Fathers pretty remarkable, but this book brings into focus how amazing it was that they had the variety of talents needed to make this unprecedented event happen. Franklin, because of his scientific and other accomplishments, had the respect in other countries that made it possible for him to negotiate in France for the money, arms, and men that made the American victory possible.

The years Franklin spent in England were also important. Franklin had an image of a British empire in which the focus was equally on the Amercan continent. He could see that in population, territory, and every measure the colonies were going to surpass England, and he thought the English would recognize it and deal more fairly with the colonies. But he was in the forefront to realize this wasn't going to happen, and it moved him to ideas of an independent America.

This book overall is a remarkable picture of a remarkable man.

Publication Beck C. H. (2006), Hardcover, 303 pages
Publication date 2006
ISBN 3406535089 / 9783406535086

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Book Review: Ghost at Work

Title Ghost at Work (Bailey Ruth Mysteries, No. 1)
Author Carolyn Hart
Rating ***1/2
Tags mystery, series, bailey ruth raeburn, ghosts, paranormal, cosy mystery 

This is the first in Carolyn Hart's Bailey Ruth series, about a woman who has been in heaven for several years, and has volunteered to help those on Earth. She is sent to help her great niece who is coping with a body on her back porch. Kathleen is the wife of a pastor in the Arkansas town Bailey Ruth lived in all her life.

Given that it is a corny premise,the execution of the book is quite good, as I expect from Hart, who is an experienced author. Hart has two other mystery series, the Death on Demand series about a bookseller on a South Carolina island, which is also a cosy series. The other series is the Henry O. series about an older widowed journalist. That's my favorite of Hart's series. The first Bailey Ruth is a lot of fun, and I will read the others.

Publication Avon (2009), Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0061745340 / 9780061745348

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Jane Eyre on Twitter

I was slightly startled this morning to get a message that Jane Eyre is following me on Twitter.  I didn't know that fictional characters, especially 19th century ones, had Twitter accounts.  By the way Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels.  Just recently saw on TCM a movie called Devotion which is about the Bronte family. It was enjoyable.

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Help an Animal Shelter Win a Contest!

I mentioned the Animal Rescue site (and its related charities) recently.  Now it is sponsoring a contest.  Vote once a day for your favorite shelter and they may win $20,000 or one of 70 grants of various amounts.  Click on the button on the Animal Rescue Site and then on the "vote today" button.  I've been voting for Good Mews, the no-kill cat shelter in Metro Atlanta.


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Banned Books Week Resources

This week is Banned Books Week.  Resource Shelf has put together a nice list of resources on the subject.

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Unusual Action Figures

All of us librarians know about the action figure of librarian Nancy Pearl, posed, of course, in the act of shushing.  Ed Brayton points to another line of action figures which seemed designed to appeal to a right wing audience, that include Michelle Bachmann, Rod Blagojevich, Joe the Plumber, a talking Joe Wilson, and my favorite, a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (sporting a t-shirt that reads "Let them eat yellow cake").


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The Science Behind Torture's Failure

Another post from Ed Brayton about a scientific article that shows that torture doesn't work.  Unsurprisingly, torture produces a level of stress to the body that impairs cognitive functioning and memory.


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U.S. Iran Relations - History

Ed Brayton here talks about the widow of the Shah of Iran presenting her version of history and pointing out the flaws in her discussion.

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Ten Funny Twitter Parodies

Article from Mashable.



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Monday, September 28, 2009

Frank Rich on Afghanistan

Frank Rich is another treasure from the New York Times, and this piece on Obama and the decisions he has to make on Afghanistan is thougthful and informed.


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More on Climate Change from Paul Krugman

Another good post from Krugman.  Friday he talked about the economics of climate change, now he talks about the politics, and why this disaster is as bad as it is and why it is not the most burning political issue, though it should be.

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Background of the National Prayer Day

This post from The American Muslim gives an excellent background on the controversy over the National Day of Prayer.  Evengelical Christians have expressed dismay over Obama's treatement of that day, but he is only bringing it back into line with what former Presidents did.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

Sex Offender at Fourteen?!

This post from Ed Brayton details something I had no idea was happening.  There are teenagers being labeled sex offenders for having sex with other teens, and once that happens, their lives are hell.  The sex offender registries make sense when applied to sexual predators, but not to teens experimenting with sex.  Appalling - including one young man who was murdered after being placed on a sex offender registry for having sex with his girlfriend.


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New Saudi University will Admit Women

See this L. A. Times article.  It is an advance.  Not as much of an advance as one would like, but an advance.


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Paul Krugman on the Costs of Going Green

Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman talks about the next big legislative fight after health care: the Waxman-Markey bill on climate change.  Krugman is trying to defuse the lies that will be spread in opposition to it before they get started.  That global warming is a fact is not as often disputed as before.  Now the argument is that attacking climate change will cost more than we can afford, and Krugman shows that that is also a lie.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Percentage Still in the Closet at Work

This article shows a majority of LGBT folk still hide their orientation at work.  I find this sad, that people still don't feel able to be themselves.  There's a difference in not letting one's private life spilll over into one's professional life and being afraid to come out because of the negative consequences.  People having the courage to come out has been the deciding factor, I believe, in the change of attitudes of the general population in favor of LGBT rights.

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Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre Fiction Generator

Build your own fiction story!  Hilarious! Select one from Column A, etc. to build your own steampunk or other genre story!

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Click to Give!

Wanted to mention, again the several charities that fall under the umbrella of the Greater Good Network.  One of the charities is the Animal Rescue Site.  Go to the site and you see a button you can click on to give food to animals in shelters, paid for by sponsors.  At the top are buttons to get to the other charity sites, for hunger, child health, literacy, breast cancer, and the rainforest.  Each has a button you can click on to donate money to that cause.  It is simple, easy, and the sites are nicely designed.  There is also an associated store, and whenenver you buy anything more is donated to the causes.  I've bought a number of things there and been pleased with them.  It is a great place to find gifts, as they get unique items from all over the world.


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LGBT folk in Australia and Religion

This article is about a census of gays and lesbians in Australia and their attitude towards religion.  A much higher number than in the general population have no religious affilliation, and a higher number than average belong to an alternative or Eastern religion such as Paganism or Buddhism.  Given the attitude of many Christians toward LGBT folk this is not at all a surprise.  Rather that so many are religious testifies to the hunger of most humans for spiritual meaning in their lives, and to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of rejection.


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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ingenious Photo

See the Atlanta flood/Kanye West mashup photo here.

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Bad Eddicashun

Another post from Ed Brayton, this one on a survey of public high school students.  Anyone still wondering why there is so much worry about the U.S. educational system?  I didn't think so.


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Drug Arrest Every 18 Seconds

Post from Ed Brayton on the number of drug arrests in the United States.  We can't afford our outrageously bad drug policy anymore... we have more people in jail than any other country.


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Gays in Iraq: the Horror Goes On

This article from the Guardian shows that the horrible conditions for gays in Iraq continue, with many being murdered.


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The History of Political Anger

Interesting article that talks some about the history of political anger in the U.S.  So the vitriol we are seeing now is not new, but while in the past it has dissipated after a few years, this time it is sustained by TV shows that stoke the anger and people who only watch those shows.



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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Costs of Health Care

This article does a good job of laying out the current costs of U.S. health care as compared to that of other nations.


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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Putting the Health Care Debate in Perspective

See this article for estimates on the number of preventable deaths due to lack of health insurance.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Brilliant Health Care ECard

See this   Seen from a friend's facebook page.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Muslim Creationism

Oh, boy.  The delusion that is creationism has now spread to Islam.  The person who is promoting it also seems to be the classic example of a cult leader.


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Domestic Abuse as a Pre-existing Condition

This makes me ill.  Several states and several insurance companies have denied claims for medical treatment on the rationale that domestic abuse is a pre-existing condition.

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Summary of Opinions on Al-Qaeda's Current Threat Level

This New York Times article summarizes current estimates of the threat Al-Quaeda poses at this time.  They differ quite a bit, but there is a lot of useful information.


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Racism, Republicans, and Obama

I can't decide how I think on this issue.  I know people who are radically anti-Obama and not racist.  On the other hand, it can't be denied that his opposition is overwhelmingly white, and that there were a lot of Confederate flags at the recent tea-party rally in DC.  I think there are a lot of people in this opposition who do not consider themselves racist, but are afraid because whites like themselves are becoming more of a minority... and that fear, is, to me, at its core racist.  Below is a video of Jimmy Carter, himself a white elderly male Southerner, discussing the issue:



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Muslim Dislike of Al-Qaida Growing

This post reports the approval rating for Osama Bin-Laden and al-Qaida.  It is still higher than I'd like to see, but the numbers have dropped remarkably, and more Muslims are speaking out against him and against suicide bombing as a tactic.  One of the best things we could do to make the numbers drop farther is to encourage Israel to treat the Palestineans better.


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BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Bank urges climate 'action now'

If the often conservative World Bank says global warming is a major issue that must be addressed, then it really, really is.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Congressman Responds

Do you get the feeling a lot of Congressman are getting tired of the anger at their meetings?  What a great response.


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Please Help Repeal DOMA!

DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Act.  Several Congressmen, including my own John Lewis (one of my heroes) have introduced a new bill called the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA.

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Werewolves and Wikipedia

This post makes a serious point about finding appropriate sources in a fun way.


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Sage Advice

From an email that was sent to me today:

Handle  every stressful situation like a  dog.
If  you can't eat it or play with it,
Just pee on  it and walk away. 

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Incredible Artistry!

This is a video of a Ukranian talent show, and the young woman is doing sand paintings.  I thought it was a joke when I saw the description, but it is one of the most fabulous things I've ever seen.


<div><br />Amazing Sand Drawing @ Yahoo! Video</div>

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Darwin Moive Fails to Get U.S. Distributor

See this article.  This really infuriates me.  It is cowardice, and it is pandering to ignorance.  I was looking forward to seeing the movie, and I do hope Netflix gets the video when it comes out.  Once more the U.S. becomes the world's laughingstock, and deservedly so.

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Whoops! Wrong Picture of the Tea Party Rallies

See this post about the picture shown on many sources that claimed to be of the recent tea party rally and was instead a old picture of Promise Keeper's rally.


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A Tribute To Darrell McClure

He was concentrated sunshine.  The radiant smile, the kind words, often thoughtfully encouraging, the fist bump that made me feel my day had, whatever else happened, started right.  Darrell McClure, security guard at the Georgia Tech Library, died over the weekend at age 54.  All of us who worked there are stunned... he was working and seemed fine last week, and then he was gone.  All of us are finding out that we thought our relationship with Darrell was special, but he was that way with everyone.  The library staff and the students he greeted are in shock, and all feel it is impossible to imagine the Library without his steady and happy presence.  I can't imagine the loss his family is going through, and they should know what a difference he made in so many people's lives.

It is easy to get into the habit of thinking only the rich and powerful have an affect on the world, and one despairs because their effect is often harmful.  But it isn't true.  Darrell is a role model of what a life should be, the person who made everyone's day brighter.  Blessings to you, dear man.  We will miss you.


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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Living Witness

Title Living Witness: A Gregor Demarkian Novel (Gregor Demarkian Novels)
Author Jane Haddam
Rating ****
Tags mystery, series, fbi, gregor demarkian, evolution 

This is the twenty-fourth in the Gregor Demarkian series by Jane Haddam, and the first in the series that I've read. I picked it because I saw a summary that made it clear it is set against a backdrop of a battle over evolution in schools similar to the one that actually took place in Dover, Pennsylvania, which is a big interest of mine.

Demarkian is a second-generation Armenian, who lives in an Armenian neighborhood in Philadelphia. He is a retired FBI agent who now consults with police. He is called into the small town of Snow Hill, Pennsylvania where a 91 year-old resident, Annie-Vic Hadley, is in a coma after being viciously beaten. She is on the school board, and one of the plaintiffs in a case against the rest of the school board, who voted to include stickers in the public school biology textbooks that say that some people don't accept evolution and for more information see a particular book that advocates intelligent design.

As Gregor investigates, another plaintiff is found murdered.

Demarkian finds a town divided. It is not simply fundamentalist Christians against those who support teaching evolution. Snow Hill is on the edge of Appalachia, and the hill people, a slightly less pejorative term for hillbillies, are despised by the townspeople. The townspeople, in turn, are mostly despised by the people in the "development", people who are not native to Snow Hill and for the most part want the town to change to be less provincial and to provide the kind of education tht will get their children into Ivy league schools.

Haddam creates fascinating characters and shows some of their thoughts, and in this way illustrates the differing sides in the turmoil. Some fulfill the stereotypes, such as a couple of the school board members who are willfully ignorant and proud of it; or, conversely, the school principal who is a native of the town but knows evolution is a fact and does not want to dilute teaching that fact. Others are less expected, such as the Holiness preacher who is a hillbilly who loves books, and not just those that come from Christian publishing houses. He has started a church school and is determined that the children of the hill people get a good education in an environment where they are not so despised. Then there is the police chief, a former Marine who calls in Demarkian because he, himself, is a suspect, and who has an act of superhuman bravery in his past.

I've always believed that fiction can tell psychological truths in a way that non-fiction cannot, and Haddam does a good job of proving it. By giving voice to the people of the town, she humanizes the viewpoints of people whose beliefs span a broad range. It isn't always comfortable - for example, she shows that people with my viewpoint can be as fanatical and irrational as those with the opposite view. But it IS enlightening. Haddam, in the after note, explains her own views on the controversy. She believes that evolution is a fact, just as gravity is a fact, even though the mechanisms by which both of these work are not yet completely understood. She is, however, concerned that there is an increasing view that everything that is not science is superstition, and that this view throws out not only what may be good in religion, but in the arts as well.

Did I like the book? Well, I've ordered the first in the series from my local library. You be the judge.

Publication Minotaur Books (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 400 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0312380860 / 9780312380861

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Book Review: My Word Is My Bond

Title My Word is My Bond: A Memoir
Author Sir Roger Moore
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, memoirs, roger moore, actors 

I've always liked Roger Moore, and could not resist a book with such a pun in the title - which refers, of course, to the fact that Moore played James Bond in several movies.

He tells his story light-heartedly, for the most part, with a view to entertaining. He got his start as a teenager, married once quite young which only lasted a few years. His second wife, Dorothy Squires, was a famous British singer 12 years older, and through her he got to know many folks in the entertainment business. That marriage lasted many few years, but the two of them were traveling so often, and often living on different continents, that they drifted apart and it ended when he fell in love with his third wife while shooting a film in Italy. His third marriage again lasted many years and produced his three children whom he clearly adores. Eventually that marriage ended in the late 90s and he married his fourth wife and soul mate.

In the early 90s, Audrey Hepburn persuaded him to become involved in UNICEF, and it is in the stories of what he has seen in his travels for that organization that the book acquires depth and meaning. The work he did for them led to his knighthood by the Queen of England.

There are lots of stories of celebrities strewn through the book. He promised that if he did not have anything nice to say about someone, he wouldn't mention them. He breaks down a few times, and his stories of Glen Ford and Grace Jones, in particular, are not flattering. However, for the most part, he tells stories of people he liked, and some that he cared deeply for, including David Niven and his producer on the Bond films, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli.

Given the later reactions of some Bond actors, it is interesting to see that he is entirely grateful for the Bond experience. He was equally happy with the earlier seven-year run of the TV series The Saint. Both brought him fame and fortune, and he has nothing but good things to say for the people, including the crews, of both.

All in all, an enjoyable read, like having a visit with a charming raconteur who has led an interesting life, and in the end, worked hard to give back to the world. The last part of the book is a quick summary of some of the many countries he has visited and his experiences there.

Well done, Sir Roger.

Publication It Books (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages
Publication date 2008
ISBN 0061673889 / 9780061673887

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Book Review: The Locust and the Bird

Title The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story
Author Hanan Al-Shaykh
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, women, lebanon, family 

Hanan Al-Shaykh is a Lebanese woman who has written several successful novels. In this book she tells the story of her mother, and, in the preface, herself. Her mother abandoned Hanan and her sister to marry another man, and Hanan was so hurt by it she had little to do with her mother, Kamila, for many years. Once adult and with children of her own she reconnected with her mother and agreed to tell Kamila's life story.

It is an amazing tale. Kamila grew up in the 30s and 40s. She was abandoned herself by her father, who paid no child support for her and her brother. They often came close to starvation, sometimes living on what was left after harvesting in the wheat fields nearby. At age eleven, she was betrothed to the widower of her half-sister, though she did not at the time realize that was the meaning of the event. At age fourteen, she fell in love with a young man named Mohammed, but against her will her family married her to her betrothed. She was a mother first at age fifteen, then three years after had Hanan. Meanwhile, she saw Mohammed as often as possible (amazingly often, actually). Their affair lasted through the years of Kamila's first marriage, and Mohammed came close to suicide at times over how much he wanted Kamila as his wife. Finally they approached Kamila's husband and she was divorced and married Mohammed. They rapidly had five children.

The book continues the tale of Kamila's life until her death at an advanced age. Throughout, we are seduced by her charm. In many ways she is superficial and selfish, but she is one of those people who is vibrantly alive no matter what circumstances life throws at her, and who has an incredible core strength, and a great deal of love for her family and others.

The book is well-written, but more, provides us with a picture of a time and place not well known to most Americans.


Publication Pantheon (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0307378209 / 9780307378200

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Gordon Brown's Apology for the Treatment of Alan Turing

This post quotes from the text of Gordon Brown's apology for the way Turing and other gays were treated by the British government.  The author of the post points out that this is a sign that things are changing, when political lsaders can speak this much sense on the subject.  Thanks, Anna, for the tip.


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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Roger Cohen on Social Media and Journalism

In is recent New York Times column Roger Cohen talks about Iran and twitter, and whether one can cover a story without being on the ground where it was happening.  His answer is no.  There's a lot of attacks on social media from the mainstream press, and this is one, but he has a lot that is valid to say.  I don't care whether news survives in the medium of paper.  I do care about quality coverage, and for that there has to be a way to support having professional journalists out where the stories are.  But I also think that bloggers do add a lot of value, because for one think I think the mainstream media does not sufficiently challenge those in power and we need alternative voices.  Sturgeon's Law holds (90% of everything is ... human waste products), but the best bloggers provide reasoned, informed comment on the news.


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The Fifteen Biggest Wikipedia Blunders

This article not only makes a good point, it is funny as well!  


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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Japanese Health Care

One of my friends shared this on her Facebook page:

"Check this out, from my friend Jon: "I`m American. I live in Japan. Japan is a democracy. Japan is capitalist. My wife and I pay moderate taxes. We have national health insurance. Japan has high-quality medical care. We can choose our doctors. W...e can choose our hospitals. We don`t have... long waits. Why can`t America do the same? Stop the fear-mongering.....please post and pass this on." Why not indeed?!?"

Thanks for the post, Liz!

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Polarization: More on Van Jones

This New York Times article looks at posts from all sides of the Van Jones issue, and illustrates so clearly to me the current level of political polarization.  It is like the left and the right inhabit different realities, different planets, but are forced to face each other in a bizarre place called America.


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What's Behind the Attacks on Van Jones

Van Jones was Obama's Green Jobs coordinator, and he was attacked harshly and resigned.  According to this MoJo article this is one of the opening salvoes in the war against climate change legislation.  The planet is in serious danger, people, and meanwhile idiots are spending millions to prevent any change in how we treat the environment.


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Who is More Efficient, Civil Servants or Private Contractors?

Good article in Mother Jones about this issue.  A lot of what used to be civil service jobs have been contracted out to private companies, and private companies pay their employees better than the government does, so costs go up.  This seems to be a part of the rise in the Pentagon budget, where so much has been contracted out.


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Matt Taibbi on Vladimir Putin

Well, indirectly about Putin.  Directly the story is about GQ dumping a story for its Russian version about Putin's rise to power and questions as to what happened.  Putin is, in my humble opinion, a dangerous man, and not a friend to democracy in Russia.


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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mashable: What Type of Nerd are You?

Amusing post that classifies the types of nerds into geeks, dweebs, and dorks:

"Now a viral Venn diagram whizzing around the web claims to settle the issue once and for all: dweebs combine social ineptitude with intelligence, geeks combine obsession with intellect, and dorks lack both intelligence and social skills."

Well, I have for a long time considered myself a geek wannabe, but that doesn't fit the chart. ;-/.


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Great Post on Lessons from the Obama Speech to School Children

This is a great post on Obama's speech to school children.  It summarizes some of the speech, but I really like the last part of the post:


"If you choose to keep your children home from school tomorrow, I would ask that you make sure you understand the lesson you are really teaching them.

Are you teaching them that they should respect authority as long as it is authority you agree with?

Are you teaching them to enjoy the authority they earn in life, but to be a sore loser when they are edged out in a hard fought contest?

Are you teaching them that it is only important to listen to and learn from only those you already agree with?

If you didn’t have the same objections when President Bush spoke to school children, are you teaching them to find unique facts about similar situations to justify selective outrage?

One of the biggest red flags we continue to point out in the Peach Pundit community is when we see politicians proclaim they are acting “for the children”. Watching politicians insulate themselves from criticism for an often indefensible position under the cover of kids is unseemly. Watching parents use their own children for the same purposes is pathetic.

If you are removing your children from school tomorrow, please don’t pretend it’s about them. It’s all about you."


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Amusing Buffy/Twilight Crossover Video

A little long, but overall quite an amusing crossover video.



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Massachusetts and the Divorce Rate

Remember how gay marriage was supposed to destroy traditional marriage?  That argument never made ANY sense to me at all.  But, anyway, we now have six years worth of data from Massachusetts, the first state in which gay marriage was legal.  Their divorce rate has DROPPED, and it was already the best in the country.  I have seen before that Bible Belt states actually tend to have the highest rates of divorce and teen pregnancy.


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Environmental Aspects of Paganism/Wicca

This post points out that one of the strengths of Wicca/Paganism as a religion today is its focus on the natural world and the environment.

By the way, saying Wicca/Paganism is analogous to saying Baptist/Christian.


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Stock Markets in Plain English

Common Craft got its start explaining social networking applications, such as "RSS in Plain English", etc.  Now they are branching out.  Their videos are all simple visuals with a narration, which is, as advertised, in plain, easy-to-understand English.  Here is their video on the stock market.  For fun, see their video on "Zombies in Plain English"..

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Mashable: How to Do Good on Facebook

Mashable is having a series of articles on supporting good causes with social networking.  This one is on causes on Facebook.


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Monday, September 7, 2009

Best Geek Pick-up Line

Ed Brayton relays the best ever geek pick-up line:

               "If I were an enzyme, I'd be DNA Helicase so I could unzip your genes."

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DiZerega's Second Post on Modern Conservatism

See part two here.  I must admit I'm stretching to understand this one, but I do find it interesting.


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Krugman on Economics

Paul Krugman, in this lengthy New York Times article, attempts to summarize the history of economics since the Great Depression, and to do it in terms a lay person can understand.  I found it outstanding, but then I'm biased in his favor.


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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book Review: True Detectives

Title True Detectives: A Novel
Author Jonathan Kellerman
Rating ***1/2
Tags mystery, series, police procedurals, alex delaware 

This is loosely tied to Kellerman's Alex Delaware series, about a psychologist who consults often with the police. In the last book in the series, Kellerman introduced two new detectives, Aaron Fox and Moses Reed.. They are brothers with the same mother, but different fathers. Aaron, the older, is the son of a black cop, and Moe is the son of a white cop who was the black cop's partner. The brothers do not get along. Reed is a policeman while Fox is a private detective.

Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis, the main characters for most of the series, almost don't show up in this novel at all. It is all about Reed and Fox. They wind up on the same case of a college student who has been missing for a year and a half. Their antagonism is sometimes put aside for the sake of solving the case.

The story is a good one, though perhaps a little overlong. The new guys are good, and one of the best characters is their mother. But I miss both Alex and Milo.

Publication Ballantine Books (2009), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 480 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0345495187 / 9780345495181

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Book Review: Blind Trust

Title Blind Trust
Author Barbara Boxer
Rating ***1/2
Tags novel, thriller, senators, women, politics 

This is the second novel by Barbara Boxer, who is in real life a U.S. Senator. The main character in the novel is also a Senator, Ellen Fischer Lind.

As the novel begins it is the new year and Lind is enjoying the holiday with her husband, Ben, who has just retired from Congress. While in Congress, like most, he put his money in a blind trust, meaning he did not know in what companies the money was invested, so that ethical conflicts will not arise while serving the public.

News breaks that Lind, and so the Senator, have benefited greatly by investments in stocks of energy companies with whom the Senator has done battle over the environment. This is viewed as a betrayal by many of her supporters.

The timing is suspicious, as the Senator is about to hold confirmation hearings on the appointment of an old enemy of hers to be the Secretary of Homeland Security. The Vice President wants him and has been working on security issues for the past six years.

Lind weathers one storm only to have another come at her. Can she prove her political enemies are behind them? Can she prevent the executive branch from from exercising power the Constitution never meant it to have?

The writing style started out rather trite... too many cliches and unhandy descriptions. It either got better or I got better at ignoring it. The plot is ok. Characterization is good, I particularly liked the Senator's chief of staff, Darelle Simba. It was also interesting that her power-grabbing VP character does what he does from genuine love of country... that seems to be the consensus on Dick Cheney, as well, on whom Boxer's VP candidate is obviously loosely-based.

Not a great book, but a good one, and worth reading to see what Boxer has to say about Washington.

Publication Chronicle Books (2009), Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0811864278 / 9780811864275

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