Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Superb Counterprotest Against Racists

...is detailed in this post from Ed Brayton.  Laughter is the best medicine and sometimes a great weapon.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day: Me!

"If upholding your religion means lying about a lot of things, maybe it isn't a religion worth upholding."  Me, in personal correspondence, 11/29/2010.

And yes, fundamentalist Christians, I mean you.  It came up in the context of lies Michele Bachmann tells, and I brought up the lies told by intelligent design proponents in the Dover, Pennsylvania ID trial.


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Ed Brayton: Social Conservatives Getting Stronger in the Tea Party

Many libertarians, and there is a strong Libertarian element in the Tea Party, focus on ecnomic issues and are for few restrictions on individual liberty.  They may be in the process of getting muscled out of the Tea Party by the religious right social conservatives.


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Mother Jones: 8 Electric Car Myths Busted

Nice article including a comparison table of the Honda Civic (conventional), the Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt, and the Nissan Leaf.  The article first examines myths about electric vehicles, including that it will bust the electric grid.


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More on GOP Congressmen and Their Anti-Climate Change Viewpoint

These are not the Congress people we need in a time when climate change is getting perceptibly worse.


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Heroes

In my post on heroes I forgot to mention great humanitarians like Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa, and more recently Greg Mortenson and Paul Farmer.

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Book Review: My Dream of Stars

Title My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer
Author Anousheh Ansari
Rating ****1/2
Tags non-fiction, memoirs, autobiography, iran, women, astronauts, business women, x prize 

What a wonderfully inspiring story! Anousheh Ansari was born and grew up in Iran. She loved the sight of the stars as far back as she can remember. Life in Iran was difficult, particularly after her father left, and during the Iran-Iraq war. She came to the U.S. in the eighties and finished high school here. She had some thoughts of becoming an astrophysicist, but ultimately decided on electrical engineering. She found the love of her life, Hamid Ansari, and they went into business together, building it from nothing to an important company. When they sold the business they became sponsors of the X Prize, for the first commercial launch of two trips into space within two weeks. Doing so she made the contacts that enabled her to be a space entrepreneur, train with the Russian space program and make a week long trip to the International Space Station.

Ansari is quite a woman. She combines vision with practicality and persistance, which allowed her to get degrees in a field not always friendly to women, develop the skills to manage a successful business, yet never give up on her dream. I really like that though she had the self-confidence to do all these things, she was always mindful of those people in her life who helped her and shaped her, and she gives them credit.

Give this book to every adolescent. It may help them find and realize their own dreams.


Author – Hickam, Homer
Publication Palgrave Macmillan (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 256 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0230619932 / 9780230619937

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Watched today bonus materials from the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, and even these were inspiring and thrilling.  Made me meditate on heroes and heroism.  What is a hero?  To me, it is someone who inspires, who makes me believe I can be a better person, that we all can be.  It requires, I think, a persistance of vision, a willingness to endure hardship, an ability to share the vision with others.  It does not require a person to be wealthy or powerful, and indeed those things may be handicaps.

Who are your heroes?  I have, literally, more than I can name.  Right now, after watching From the Earth to the Moon, it is once again astronauts, as it was when I was a child.  But not only the astronauts,  It was mentioned in the miniseries that 400,000 people were involved in the space program.  Only 24 of those went to the moon, only 12 of those walked on it.  Those who worked hard to make it happen were heroes too, who worked for a dream whose ultimate expression they could only experience vicariously.

I've also read a number of books on the Civil Rights movement, and it was also a story of too many heroes to name.  Mastin Luther King, of course, who was the movement's prophet, but so many others who came before and after.  Fanny Lou Hamer is one of my favorites, a sharecropper, virtually illiterate, who endured beatings and more to help create equality for her people.  My Congressman, John Lewis, is another, and I recommend his memoirs of the movement, Walking with the Wind.  Other great books include Taylor Branch's trilogy and David Halberstam's The Children.

In religion, my heroes are Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu.  For women, there are the suffragettes.  Another woman hero of mine was Margaret Sanger who fought for the right to use birth control, and to educate about it, after being a nurse and watching too many women die, and too many condemned to poverty, from having too many children.

There are a lot more.  In science they include Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein.  In the arts, so many whose writing and art contribute to making life worth living.  In politics, the Founding Gathers of the U.S. and Nelson Mandela.

What about you?  Who are your heroes?  What does thinking about the make you feel, or what dreams do they inspire in you?


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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Doctor Who and Craig Ferguson

Two of my favorite things that went well together.  Last night's Late Late Show was all about Doctor Who, including having Matt Smith, the newest Doctor, as a guest. I haven't seen any of the Matt Smiths yet since I don't get BBC America, but he showed a great sense of humor as a guest.  Maybe I'll forgive him for taking David Tennant's place.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Operation Circle Care Sending Yule Packages to Pagan Soldiers

To all the Pagans among you:  Operation Circle Care sounds like a great charity to support, sending care packages of books, calendars, magazines, music CDs, and more to U.S. soldiers deployed overseas who are Pagan.  I can imagine these things are difficult for the soldiers to get hold of.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: Stork Raving Mad

Title Stork Raving Mad (Meg Langslow Mysteries)
Author Donna Andrews
Rating ****
Tags mystery, series, meg langslow, humor, pregnancy, twins 

This is the twelth in Andrews' series about Meg Langslow, blacksmith by trade, married to actor/drama professor Michael. The enormous old house Meg and Michael bought and are fixing up is as full as it can hold, as it is housing a lot of students from Caerphilly College whose heating plant is not working. Meg is 8 1/2 months pregnant with twins, so not getting around that much, but there's always people around to help her out. The head of the English department comes to tell one of the drama grad students that his dissertation proposal has been rejected along with another professor who is part of the administration. Dr. Wright, the English chair, is alone in the library while waiting for a meeting with the student and his advisers. Meg finds her dead, and with about 50 people in the house, including a Spanish playwright, there is no lack of suspects.

Donna Andrews writes interesting characters and usually hilarious stories. This volume was not as laugh-out-loud funny to me - though maybe I'm just getting too used to her style. But the story is as well-plotted as ever. If you haven't read any of this series yet, run, don't walk, to get hold of it.

Publication Minotaur Books (no date), Edition: First Edition, Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Publication date no date
ISBN 0312533683 / 9780312533687

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Daniel Radcliffe Does Tom Lehrer's The Elements

...and considers Lehrer great!  If you don't know Tom Lehrer, he was a mathematician who did some of the funniest satirical music ever.  Thanks to Mark for the tip.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review: Fire Raiser

Title Fire Raiser
Author Melanie Rawn
Rating ****1/2
Tags fantasy, series, witchcraft, holly lachlan, gay fiction, human trafficking 

This is the first book I've read by Melanie Rawn, and it will not be the last. I bought it not knowing it was the second in a series, so I'm particularly anxious to read the first one, Spellbinder.

Holly McClure is a novelist, married to Sheriff Evan Lachlan. She hasn't been writing much since her twins were born a couple of years ago. They live in Pocahontas County, Virginia, which has more witches per capita than anywhere else. Holly isn't one of the more powerful witches - her power is that of binding and making more powerful other witches' spells. Her cousin Cam comes home after spending a lot of time abroad as a constitutional lawyer helping newly-formed countries write their constitutions. He sees again Jamey Stirling, now the DA in PoCo. Cam and Jamey had been in love in law school but Cam was unable at the time to accept living a life as openly gay.

Evan and the family must attend a campaign event at the Westmorland Inn, a place that leaves the witches feeling twitchy. They are about to discover why.

Rawn gets inside her characters' heads and presents them to us better than any writer I know except maybe Jane Haddam. The only thing to dislike in this book was that it meandered a while before getting to the plot. Overall, however, excellent, and a new author whose books I'll happily read.

Publication Tor Fantasy (2010), Edition: First Edition, Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0765354373 / 9780765354372

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron

Title Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being A Jane Austen Mystery
Author Stephanie Barron
Rating ****1/2
Tags mystery, series, jane austen, byron, brighton 

This is the tenth volume in Barron's series with Jane Austen as the narrator and sleuth. Jane's brother Henry has just lost his beloved wife Eliza. Jane suggests he visit one of the coastal towns as a balm to blunt the edge of his grief. He decides to go to Brighton if Jane will go with him. She had thought one of the quieter towns like Lyme, but sees that Brighton, made fashionable by the Prince Regent, would better suit Henry's disposition. On the way to Brighton, they find a young lady bound and gagged in a carriage who has been abducted by George Gordon, Lord Byron. They rescue her and return her to her unpleasant father, and Jane gets to know the girl somewhat better in Brighton. So when the girl's body is found sewn into a sail from Byron's boat and dumped into Byron's bed, she feels compelled to find the killer. Is it Byron, so prone to passion? Is it Lady Caroline Lamb, whose passion for Byron is more inflamed the more he spurns her?

This book is one of the best in a good series. In a sense, it does a violence to history, as the real Jane Austen would have never, could have never, been involved in such things. Yet it works because the reader believes that the author has captured the essence of Austen's character. She makes one understand Byron's magnetism, even though one feels Austen and Byron did not have much in common and would not have liked each other. Caro Lamb also comes to life, a creature about whom the term "drama queen" might have been invented. Highly recommended.

Publication Bantam (2010), Paperback, 352 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0553386700 / 9780553386707

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Book Review: Hamlet's Blackberry

Title Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
Author William Powers
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, technology, philosophy, thought, internet 

I started this book rather in the mood of a sullen child told to put away her toys, for that is to some degree the message of the author. His thesis is that our now current state of constant connectedness via computer and mobile phones leads to shallowness of thought, an inability to focus and concentrate. The author gradually won me over by his arguments, however, as it is a sensible argument hard to refute. I especially enjoy the last half of the book where he discusses seven philosophers or technologists who have wrestled with the problem of a world too much with us and how to provide one's self with time free of distraction and able to ..."strike a healthy balance between connected and disconnected, crowd and self, the outward life and the inward one". (p. 210)

Powers also talks about the experience of his own family in going disconnected on the weekends and how it has deepened what they do together. He is concerned that we be aware of the need for balance now, before the habit of times devoted to such balance is lost. A book worth reading.

Publication Harper (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0061687162 / 9780061687167

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pulp Science Fiction Magazine Cover of the Day

View them and subscribe to the feed at http://pulparchive.com/.


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Great Quote of the Day: the Battle for the American Mind

Thanks to Ed Brayton for the post:

"For everything that's happened in the past two years, "The Daily Show" is how we cope," said one of the tea bags, a 40-year-old from Anchorage named S.J. Klein. "The battle for the American mind right now is between talk show hosts and comedians," said Alex Foxworthy, a 26-year-old doctoral student from Richmond, Va. "I choose the comedians."

Me too.



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Copyright Resources

Internet Public Library has a nice post on the web and copyright.  Very timely given the recent Cooks Source brouhaha.


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Mysterious Book

Fascinating... a book written in an unknown language, possibly in the first half of the fifteenth century, with images of herbs and zodiac signs.  Given the language, including alphabet, is unknown, I wonder if the author was J.R.R. Tolkien in a previous life.  ;-).


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Climate Scientists Plan Educational Campaign

One of the most worrying aspects of the recent election is that so many of the conservatives elected are climate change deniers.  If you have children, global warming should be the number one issue concerning you, IMHO.  The U.S. must make changes to improve the problem which will be very difficult with the conservatives in office.  So the climate scientists are planning an educational campaign on the issue.


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Disco - Lolcats 'n' Funny Pictures of Cats - I Can Has Cheezburger?

Another Great Anti-Westboro Baptist Church Rally

...by the citizens of a town called Weston, Missouri.  They heard that Fred Phelps and his group were going to protest at the funeral of soldier from the town.  In a town of only 2000, a very large proportion showed up early, took all the parking spots near the funeral site, and surrounded the family with patriotic music and flags.  They did not interfere in any way with the free speech rights of WBC, just exercised their own.  Brilliant!


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Beautiful Digital Book

....called The Grammar of Ornament.  Published in the late 1800s and early 1900s, this is a massive book about design and ornamentation.  Some truly beautiful plates in the book, which has now been digitised.  This is going on my list of stress revliever sites, along with lolcats.




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Sunday, November 7, 2010

From the Earth to the Moon Miniseries

I've just finished seeing all 12 episodes of this miniseries produced in the 1990s.  It is the story of humanity's greatest adventure, told beautifully.  Each episode is a great story on its own, each with its own theme and mood.  Episodes 5 and 10 should be shown in grade schools to teach kids about engineering and science - episode 5 is about the engineers at Grumman who designed and built the lunar module.  Episode 10 is about teaching the astonauts geology, so they could recognize the rocks that would best tell the story of the Moon, the Earth, and the solar system.  Episode 11 tells the story of the astronaut's wives, and the toll of absent husbands risking, and sometimes losing, their lives.

The acting is superb.  Not movie stars, for the most part, but actors one sees in lots of roles, always excellent at their craft.  Dave Foley did a lovely job at one of the lighter roles, astronaut Alan Bean.  Tim Daly had one of the meatier roles as Jim Lovell, while Ted Levine, a favorite of mine, was wonderful as Alan Shepard.  Stephen Root as Chris Kraft and Lane Smith as fictional journalist Emmett Seaborn were terrific as well as so many others.

One of the characters quoted something similar to Yeats' "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."  This story lights fires of the mind and the soul, which is to me the definition of inspiration.  Teech this to children and maybe they can create a world in which humans are on fire with invention and creativity.  That soldiers give their lives for ideals is admirable, but what a wast of lives and resources war is.  As a species, we can do better, and have.  When the tale of humanity is told, it won't be the soldiers who will most be rememberd.   It will be the Shakespeares and the Van Goghs, the Socrates and Einsteins and Darwins... those who lit the fires of knowledge and creativity.

Thank you, Tom Hanks.  You done good.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010


Ambiguous statements, such as Two sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout counter.


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stewart/Colbert Rally and Social Media

Some interesting stats about how interested people were in the rally.  Haven't seen comparable stats for other events, don't know how this rates.


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Sesame Street: There's an App for That

Bouncy little video.  Short, about a minute long.


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Republicans Like that River in Egypt

This article points out some problems the Republicans are causing.  In the short term, in my opinion, their economic policies are wrong and will make the job situation worse.  In the long term, I'm most concerned about their denial of climate change and the lack of will to do anything about it.  We're killing the planet and they stand in the way of changing that.


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Monday, November 1, 2010