Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: Midnight Rising

Title Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Author Tony Horwitz
Tags nonfiction, history, john brown, john brown's raid, slavery, harpers ferry 
Collections Your library
Rating ****
Your review The story of John Brown is interesting because he was in many ways repulsive and incompetent. yet a man of courage and one of the few white men of his time to treat blacks as equal. Not even the white abolitionists did that often, sad to say.

Brown grew up poor, one of many children, and he stayed poor while fathering a large number of children himself. He was not successful in anything he tried, mostly farming. He was deeply religious. and believed he was doing God's work in opposing slavery. When the battle over slavery was being waged so bloodily in Kansas, he and some of his sons fought on the anti-slavery side and in one raid he and his crew murdered several pro-slavery men.

Horwitz tells the story of the raid on Harper's Ferry in detail, including the months of preparation which included raising money from a few wealthy abolitionists and recruiting men. He never did manage to recruit as many as he thought he needed, nor raise enough money, but he went ahead with the plan. He believed that by raiding the Federal Armory at Harper's Ferry he could arm slaves who would rise against their masters and begin the war that wound end slavery. His plan was hopelessly unrealistic and poorly done. He didn't have much of an exit strategy. In the end, it failed dismally, resulting in a few casualties to civilians, and the death of many of his small band, including two of his sons. He was captured. and in the few months before his death impressed many in the North with his courage and burning words on the evils of slavery.

Would the war have happened without John Brown's raid? Probably. But it was one of the major precipitating factors among other things such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the fight in Kansas and Missouri, the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Dred Scott decision, etc. Horwitz raises the intriguing possibility that perhaps the raid was so poorly planned because Brown recognized that a martyr to the cause of abolition would increase abolitionist sentiment in the North.

Horwitz tells the story in a nice style that never gets in the way of the story. In the end, Brown's story makes me think uncomfortably of those who murder abortion doctors. I view slavery as the worst evil perpetrated by humans, but do not view abortion as murder. Yet I can see a similarity in those persuaded God commands them to murder to stop a great evil.

I recommend the book to those interested in a good story, or the history of the U.S. Civil War, or both.

Publication date 2011
Publication Henry Holt and Co. (2011), Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN 080509153X / 9780805091533

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Book Review: Chicago Lightning

Title Chicago Lightning : The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
Author Max Allan Collins
Tags Short stories, nathan heller, private detectives 



Max Allan Collins is one of my favorite writers, and Nathan Heller my favorite character of his. Heller is a private detective in stories set from the 1930s to the 1960s. Heller in the course of his work gets to know major historical figures and events. Some of his novels have centered around the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the death of Marilyn Monroe. When Heller begins he is in Chicago in the heyday of the mobsters, and Heller knows the mobsters, primarily Frank Nitti - who seems much more interesting than Capone - as well as Elliot Ness.

One reason Collins is a favorite of me, the person with two degrees in history, is that his books are meticulously researched. He uses as much as he can of the history, makes reasonable speculations when the facts aren't known, and uses it all in the service of a marvelous story with very human and believable characters.

Short stories are not my favorite form of literature, but I'll take all the Heller I can get, and the stories are up to the usual Collins standard of excellence. The stories show Heller at different times and places in his career. If you've never read any of the Heller books, this is a good place to start and try the character on for size. But do then move on to the novels. I envy you the beginning of a terrific reading experience.


Publication date 2011
Publication Thomas & Mercer (2011), Paperback, 398 pages
ISBN 1612180914 / 9781612180915

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Book Review: Perfect Blood

Title A Perfect Blood (The Hollows, Book 10)
Author Kim Harrison
Tags paranormal, inderland, rachel morgan, witches, elves, pixies 






In this tenth entry in Harrison's The Hollows series, protagonist and narrator Rachel Morgan has become a demon. She wears a bracelet that blocks her from doing almost all magic because without it she would become visible to the her demon mentor, Al, and she fears if he knew she was alive he would drag her into the demon dimension and she would be unable to escape.

Meanwhile bodies of witches are being found by Inderland, the paranormal law enforcement agency. Someone has been experimenting and trying to turn the witches into demons and failing, causing the witches to die partially mutated and in great pain. Inderland brings Rachel into the investigation in part because they believe she is behind it. Other evidence points to a human hate group that had been believed wiped out.

I've read all this series though I have mixed feelings about it, and always have. Rachel has guts, but she's too impulsive and does dangerous things without sufficient backup, thought, and preparation, or when she is wounded. In this book she more than once gets rid of her bodyguard and of course gets into trouble. By now she should be dead.

Another irritating factor is how often another character is her best bud or lover and then becomes her enemy, or is her enemy but becomes her ally and this happen with several characters. Even worse, it cycles through several times with the same character. It call Rachel's judgement into even more question. The final irritation is that some characteristics of Harrison's paranormal world just don't seem sensible. Any demon magic Rachel does, no matter the purpose, even if it is to save someone's life, adds smut to her soul. Meanwhile the bad guys behave horribly without such consequence.

I have kept reading, though. Mainly for some of the characters. Rachel is annoying but courageous and warm-hearted. Ivy, her living vampire business partner, is interesting as is Trent Kalamack, a wealthy elf. Perhaps most vital is Jenks, a pixie and third partner in the business. And I have a crush on a Bis, the teenage gargoyle, who, in my opinion, isn't used enough.

I would recommend this particular book in the series. Good story, not as much that irritated me as some of the other books.

Publication date 2012
Publication Harper Voyager (2012), Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN 0061957895 / 9780061957895

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Scout Report -- Volume 17, Number 47

What did happen at the first Thanksgiving?

Revisiting the feast

Plymouth Rock: More Than A Homely Boulder

Thanksgiving History: Plimoth Plantation

Dining Together

The Food Timeline: Thanksgiving Food History

Nature: My Life as A Turkey

What exactly did happen on the first Thanksgiving? What did the Pilgrims and Wampanoag say to each other? How did they interact? Perhaps most importantly, what did they eat? As Americans gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, these are but a few of the questions that curious folks might be asking at the dinner table. Well, the folks at Plimoth Plantation have been looking into such matters as of late, and they have come to a few conclusions regarding the bounty served at this historic first Thanksgiving in 1621. To begin, there were no forks, no cranberry sauce, no apple pie, and no pumpkin. The beverage of choice? Water. Many of the dishes probably contained deer heart, liver, and lung. Commenting in a recent Boston Globe article about the Thanksgiving, Plimoth Plantation's Kathleen Wall noted that the feast lasted three entire days. Food historian Alexandra Pocknett remarked that the natives would have most likely contributed stews, soups, and succotash, which consists of corn, beans, and squash. It is also likely that the activities around this feast included an intense version of football (think 45 on 45, rather than 11 on 11) and some stoolball, which is an archaic English sport akin to cricket. Even with information provided by several eyewitness accounts, there remain many more questions than answers about this rather historic event. [KMG]

The first link will take visitors to a recent news article from the Boston Globe about the research conducted by Plimoth Plantation staffers into the food of the first Thanksgiving. The second link leads to a nice meditation on Thanksgiving and Plymouth Rock from John Yemma, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. The third link will whisk users away to a very thorough site on the history of Thanksgiving, provided courtesy of Plimoth Plantation. The fourth link leads to a fun instructional film from 1951 designed to teach young people about Thanksgiving dining etiquette. The fifth link leads to a thorough timeline of Thanksgiving culinary history, courtesy of the Food Timeline website. Finally, the last link leads to a recent Nature episode, My Life as A Turkey, which chronicles a man’s remarkable experience raising a group of wild turkey hatchlings to adulthood.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Archaeology/Anthropology Mysteries

Something about mysteries I enjoy is often that they introduce me to what it is like to follow different careers and so expand my understanding of the world. Of course, law and law enforcement are the most logical and thus the most common careers for the protagonist in a mystery, but there's plenty of scope for people of other professions and there are mystery writers everywhere to fill the niche.  Forensic anthropologists, who study bones, are another natural match for mysteries.  Archaeologists are less of a natural match, but there are several good mystery series out there with archaeologist protagonists and I love them in part because I considered archaeology as a possible career as a child.  I also took exactly one class in cultural anthropology and one class in physical anthropology while an undergraduate at Duke.  Loved both of them, but didn't have time enough for other anthro classes.

I've read various series that fit this category over the years, and this year have added a couple more excellent ones that are among my favorite series ever.  So I've been deliberately seeking out more.  This is made easier by the wonderfully well-designed web site Stop You're Killing Me (SYKM).  The site is about mystery, thriller, and suspense books.  The main part of the site is an alphabetical index of authors and an alphabetical index of characters.  But there are other nifty feature such as lists of award winners, a location index to where mysteries are set, and, ta-da, a job index, which has a category for Archaeologists and Anthropologists.

Perhaps the most popular forensic anthropologist series is the one by Kathy Reichs whose main character is Temperance Brennan.  The TV show Bones is loosely based on it.  I only read a couple of these and wasn't particularly inspired to read more, but I might pick them back up later.

However ther are other series I in this category that I like far more and think deserve to be better known.  I'd like to share them with you.

Perhaps my favorite is the Diane Fallon series by Beverly Connor.  I had read a few of Connor's Lindsay Chamberlain series back in the 90s, but lost track of the series.  When I bought my Nook Color ebook reader and was looking for new books to read, I saw the Fallon series listed on SYKM and tried the first one, and was hooked.  Read the whole series through obsessively.  Fallon is a forensic anthropologist and director of a natural history museum in a small fictional town in Georgia.  Through the course of the series she winds up setting up a crime lab and is director of it as well as the museum.  The back story of the series is that she spent a few years in a Latin American country investigating mass graves for a human rights group.  While there she adopted a little girl.  While she is out of her compound one day it is attacked, several of her colleagues are massacred, and her daughter is missing.  She searches but cannot find her daughter and after an emotional breakdown for some months takes the job as museum director.  Diane is smart, extraordinarily competent, and she and her colleagues and her FBI agent significant other are richly drawn, interesting characters.  One strange thing is that all 9 books in the series are available as ebooks except the fifth one. Bizarre.

Another series I've been reading as they come out and really love is the series about Bill Brockton by Jefferson Bass.  Jefferson Bass is the pseudonym of the writing team Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.  Jefferson is a professional writer and Bass is a forensic anthropologist who founded and runs the Body Farm attached to the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  The Body Farm is a several acre facility designed to scientifically study the process of human decomposition in various environments, and has made major contributions to the forensic sciences.  Brockton is a fictionalized version of Bass.  I love the books primarily because I love the character of Brockton.  Since he narrates the books we are inside his character, that of a mature, thoughtful, intelligent, and very decent character.  We see his loves, his fears, his interactions with other well-drawn characters, his mistakes, and how he deals with them, and how much he cares.

One of the series I found this year through SKYM is the series about archaeologist Faye Longchamp by Mary Anna Evans.  Evans' degrees are in physics and engineering, interestingly enough.  We first see Faye as a student trying desperately to earn enough money to stay in school and pay to keep her ancestral home on a small island off coastal Florida.  She is half black and half white, descended from both the owners and the slaves of her home Joyeuse, and as a child was rejected by schoolmates of both races.  The only other person who lives on her island is Joe Wolf Mantooth, part Native American, who lives very much on the land.  He is almost a Noble Savage stereotype, but Evans is a good enough writer to make him a fully believable, interesting character.  Turns out over the course of the series he is very intelligent but with severe learning disabilities.  He is an expert on making flint tools and so useful to an archaeologist.  Once again it is the characters that make well-plotted books into something extraordinary.

SKYM also reminded me of another series I had really liked but had lost track of, the Gideon Oliver series by Aaron Elkins.  I have now happily caught up with this excellent series, which, according to Elkins' web site, pioneered the modern forensic mystery.  Oliver is a professor of forensic anthropology who more often than not stumbles into mysteries.  At other times he gets called into them because of his expertise. 

SKYM also reminded me of another series I really liked, the Penny Spring and Toby Glendower series by Margot Arnold.  Sadly the last of this series was published in 1995 and I don't remember a lot about them except I very much enjoyed them

The other really well-known series about archaeology is the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.  Peters is one of the pseudonyms of Barbara Mertz, who has a Ph.D. in Egyptology.  She writes nonfiction books on Egyptology as Mertz, gothics as Barbara Michaels, and 3 series plus stand alones as Elizabeth Peters.  The Peters books are notable for having strong women characters and for their humor.  Amelia is, in 1884, an English spinster whose father has left her enough money to indulge in a zest for travel.  In Rome she meets Evelyn, an English woman who is down on her luck and considers herself disgraced.  They continue traveling together and in Egypt meet archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his philologist brother Walter.  The series follows the adventures of the Emerson family into the 1920s.  Some dislike the series for the over-the-top qualities of the characters.  I have just reread the whole series and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, which is quite a lot.  In the hands of a less talented writer the series would have turned out to be a Mary Sue, but Peters is too skillful.  She creates characters who are marvelouly larger than life - and you get the impression the author knows it, is magnificently unrepentent, and invites you along for the ride.  Apparently the intellectual ancestor is the equally improbable adventures of H. Rider Haggard.

Finally I'll mention the Emma Fielding series by Dana Cameron.  I've only read the first book in the series so far, about a young archaeologist looking for any remains of a colony that predated Jamestown.  It was very good and I look forward to reading the other books in the series.


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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Political Prof Does the Debate

Excellent summary of the GOP debate from a blogger called Political Prof:

Rick Perry: Texas is good. I like Texas.

Mitt Romney: Seriously, I have a plan. And I used to work in business.

Michele Bachmann: I have crazy eyes.

Ron Paul: I am a very cranky old man.

Jon Huntsman: You get that I’m the reasonable one, right?

Newt Gingrich: I am a lot smarter than these other folks. Not that you care.

Herman Cain: I speak in clear, plain sentences to convince you that the complex is simple.

Rick Santorum: I’m over here. Hi! Hello! Woo hoo!


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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, Those Axfords!

My brother has once again strained his vocal cords and is not supposed to talk, or sing, which is like taking away his breath - well, except for the death part.  My sister-in-law just had an operation on a hammer toe and is not supposed to walk.  I have now added a partial hearing loss in my left ear, as of Friday, which compounds the total hearing loss in the right ear as of June.  So the three of us now are Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, and er, Walk No Evil?


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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Borders Sale for Harry Potter Take 2

Ok, don't know why the image didn't show up last time...


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A Borders Sale for Harry Potter

A Borders Sale for Harry Potter

Steampunk Ear Trumpet, Anyone?

Ever since I lost the hearing in my right ear back in June (sigh), I've been joking with friends that I need an ear trumpet.  Being a fan of steampunk gadgets, I was hoping someone had a steampunk ear trumpet, so I can hold it to my ear and say, "Eh?  WHAT did you say, sonny?  Speak up, don't whisper!" and really be in style.

It is a headset, not a hearing aid, but the first item in the article "12 Coolest Steampunk Gadgets"  looks very nice.  Still not an ear trumpet, though.  ;-).



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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Movie Prayers for Bobby

Some time ago I read the book Prayers for Bobby, about a fundamentalist Christian mother whose gay son committed suicide, and who came to realize there was nothing wrong with her son's being gay and became a powerful advocate for LGBT rights.  I have now seen the movie, which is also powerful.  I want to quote the major speech made by the mother, Mary Griffith, played beautifully by Sigourney Weaver:

Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuals are doomed to spend eternity in hell. If they wanted to change, they could be healed of their evil ways. If they would turn away from temptation, they could be normal again if only they would try and try harder if it doesn't work.

These are all the things I said to my son Bobby when I found out he was gay. When he told me he was homosexual my world fell apart. I did everything I could to cure him of his sickness. Eight months ago my son jumped off a bridge and killed himself. I deeply regret my lack of knowledge about gay and lesbian people. I see that everything I was taught and told was bigotry and de-humanizing slander. If I had investigated beyond what I was told, if I had just listened to my son when he poured his heart out to me I would not be standing here today with you filled with regret.

I believe that God was pleased with Bobby's kind and loving spirit. In God's eyes kindness and love are what it's all about. I didn't know that each time I echoed eternal damnation for gay people each time I referred to Bobby as sick and perverted and a danger to our children. His self esteem and sense of worth were being destroyed. And finally his spirit broke beyond repair. It was not God's will that Bobby climbed over the side of a freeway overpass and jumped directly into the path of an eighteen-wheel truck which killed him instantly. Bobby's death was the direct result of his parent's ignorance and fear of the word gay. He wanted to be a writer. His hopes and dreams should not have been taken from him but they were.

There are children, like Bobby, sitting in your congregations. Unknown to you they will be listening as you echo "amen" and that will soon silence their prayers. Their prayers to God for understanding and acceptance and for your love but your hatred and fear and ignorance of the word gay, will silence those prayers. So, before you echo "amen" in your home and place of worship. Think. Think and remember a child is listening.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

Posted by: abb3w | July 27, 2011 10:17 AM


Comment posted on this article.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hangin’ Low - Daily Squee - Cute Baby Animals

SF Gateway

Gollancz is developing the SF Gateway:

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the
launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make
thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.
Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway
will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors.
It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014.

No clue as to pricing.  See the press release for more details and list of participating authors.


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Humor: 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Contest Winners

The Bulwer-Lytton contest asks for submissions for the first sentence of the worst novel never written.


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Damn You Autocorrect (NSFW)

I don't have an iPhone so have not experienced its - er, quirky - autocorrect feature.  Here is a collection of the top 15 funniest text conversations that have been totally given new meaning.  Warning - DEFINITELY includes language Not Safe for Work (NSFW).



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Doctor Who: Books are the Best Weapons

Quotation from Doctor Who:

Ideas cause more change than most other weapons...


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Friday, July 22, 2011

James Lee Burke on Librarians

He's an author I keep meaning to get to, but haven't yet, though this quote makes me more inclined to read him:

"So where do you go to find a researcher who is intelligent, imaginative, skilled in the use of computers, devoted to discovering the truth, and knowledgeable about science, technology, history and literature, and who usually works for dirt and gets credit for nothing?

After lunch I drove down to the city library on Main and asked the reference librarian..."


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Monday, July 18, 2011

Dealing with Religions on Their Own Terms

Catherine Breyer here makes the excellent point that you can't meaningfully judge one religion using the beliefs of another.  I would add that not only do people think their beliefs are the right ones, but judge their own religion to be rational while others are irrational, and, in large part, that is because they have grown up with those beliefs and they are familiar.

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Record Number of Laws on Reproductive Rights This Year

The Guttmacher Institute is a think tank that works on reproductive rights issues.  Here's their article on the record number of laws, most restricting abortions one way or another, that have been passed by Republican-dominated state legislatures this year.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Frost Moon

Title Frost Moon (Skindancer, Book 1)
Author Anthony Francis
Tags series, paranormal, atlanta, dakota frost, tattoos, dark fantasy, vampires, shapeshifters 

Rating ****

I will be upfront and say that I read this book because my department is hosting a book talk/signing with the author at the Georgia Tech Library on Sept. 1st. So if I didn't like the book I was going to pretend I did until the program is over.

Happily, there is no need for pretense. Frost Moon is an excellent first novel centering on Dakota Frost, a tattoo artist who creates magical tattoos with herself as her best canvas. Her tattoos move, store and release magical energy, and can be transferred from herself to someone else. She works eith a graphomancer who can determine if a design for a magical tattoo is safe and effective.

Dakota gets called in to help the police and a federal agent. They show her a tattoo that has been cut from a living body that was then murdered, in hopes she could recognize the artist. So far the killer has killed 12 in different cities, and Dakota and her customers are possible targets for the killer. Dakota is also having her graphomancer evaluate a Nazi design that a werewolf wants in hopes it will better control his beast.

The plot is overall good though there were a few minor points that confused me. I've read a lot in the paranormal genre, enough to be oversaturated and pulling back from reading much more of it. There are only so many vampires and shspeshifters one can tolerate. Francis, however, has come up with a heroine whose unique talent drives the plot, rather like Sookie Stackhouse's telepathy in Charlaine Harris's series. Dakota is an excellent character, and since she is the narrator she is more fully realized than the other characters, of whom there are many, from the almost blind graphomancer Jinx to Dakota's ex-girlfriend Savannah, vampire queen, to federal agent Philip, and more. The author is particularly good at showing the vulnerabilities in even strong characters. Wulf the werewolf wants to be in better control so as to not hurt people or be so alone. Cinammon, the teenage weretiger, is all vulnerability and grows on both Dakota and the reader. Francis also uses the city of Atlanta very well, as events happen in lots of noted city landmarks. Buckhead is the ritzier part of town and becomes Lord Buckhead, a werestag who is the city's protector.

Altogether a recommended first novel and first in a series. The second book should be out by September 2011.


Publication date


Publication Bell Bridge Books (2010), Paperback, 284 pages
ISBN 0984325689 / 9780984325689

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Monday, July 11, 2011

How Morals Change

Interesting post from Ed Brayton as to how a society's definitions of morality change over time.


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Mexican Immigration Way Down

For a variety of reasons, illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico is down now to very low numbers.


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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Heart of American Ideals

A post like this is why I like Ed Brayton so much.  He talks about the Declaration of Independence and the ideals it espoused - liberty, equality, and justice, and how these are what he pledges allegiance to.  I agreee, and appreciate how much I have learned about all three from his blog.



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Humor: Onion: Kansas Outlaws Evolution

No more species adaptations for Kansas, you betcha!


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Friday, July 1, 2011

Ineffectiveness of Abstinence Only Sex Ed

According to this report, which analyzed numerous studies of abstinence only and abstinence only plus (programs which teach abstinence is the only sure prevention of pregnancy and STIs, but does teach about contraceptions as well), shows that abstinence only programs not only do not delay age of first sexual contact or number of sexual partners, but has a negative impact on the use of condoms for prevention.  Abstinence plus programs fared better.



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Analysis of Bigotry

Ed Brayton does a great job of showing the layers of bigotry - against any group, though here specifically talking about anti-gay bigotry - and by what process the culture changes to acceptance.


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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Climate Change Denial Conference

...sponsored by the Heartland Institute, which has been funding this destructive viewpoint for years.


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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Caution Tape of Books

Well, I'm off to New Orleans for the next few days for the American Library Association (ALA) conference.  Here's a graphic that seems useful for such an endeavor:


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Onion on Endangered Mature Adults

This is maybe the best article from The Onion yet.


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Mobile Books But Not a Bookmobile

Interesting article on a pilot program in Cairo, Egypt that puts books in taxis for people to read and review.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Molly Ivins Quotes

I adored Molly Ivins.  If you didn't know her, she was a liberal journalist and columnist from Texas, with a strong sense of justice and a wonderful appreciation of the absurd.  Here is a collection of quotes from her, but I strongly recommend you get hold of some of her books to get a real sense of her.  Here are a couple that struck me:

"I still believe in Hope - mostly because there's no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas."

"The United States of America is still run by its citizens. The government works for us. Rank imperialism and warmongering are not American traditions or values. We do not need to dominate the world. We want and need to work with other nations. We want to find solutions other than killing people. Not in our name, not with our money, not with our children's blood."

"I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point -- race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything."



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Monday, June 13, 2011

Saudi Arabia’s Freedom Riders

THE Arab Spring is inching its way into Saudi Arabia — in the cars of fully veiled drivers.

On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.

The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”

The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.”

Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men.

This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Koran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn’t they drive cars today? Which Koranic injunction prohibits them from driving?

Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.

That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.

These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region.

It may require decades to see an end to the Middle East’s gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable. 

The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism. 

Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across the Middle East, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.

Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement.”

My hopes are with these women.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Video on the Constitutional Case for Same Sex Marriage

The Cato Institute, which is libertarian in outlook, put out this video on the Constitutional case for same sex marriage.  Two of the speakers are David Bois and Theodore Olsen, the team of one liberal one conservative lawyer trying to overturn California's Proposition 8:


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Mobile Phones and Health in the Developing World

Great Mashable article about a couple of ways mobile phones are being used to improve health care in the developing world.  I just love this kind of ingenuity and innovation to help the least fortunate.


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New Visions of Divinity

Just read this article on Sarah Sentilles, who just wrote a book called Why I Broke Up with God.  There were a couple of passages in the article I loved:

"People assume I’m an atheist, but I’m not. I don’t know what I am, but if I had to choose a label I’d choose agnostic. When I say that people usually ask me if I think God exists, and I usually give them the answer that my teacher, Gordon Kaufman, used to give me: The question of God’s existence isn’t the right question because it won’t get you very far. It’s a question human beings can’t answer. If we take God’s mystery seriously, then we can never know. I think there are better questions that we can be answering: What does a particular vision of God do to those who submit to it and to those who won’t submit to it? What difference is my version of God making? Who is it harming? In one of his books, Kaufman writes, “The central question for theology... is a practical question. How are we to live? To what should we devote ourselves? To what causes give ourselves?” He argues that theology that does not contribute significantly to struggles against inhumanity and injustice has lost sight of its point of being."


"Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

I am hoping to do all three. I hope to help people see the wide range of possible ways to think about God. There are so many more versions of God in the Christian theological tradition than most people know about. Why has our own tradition been kept from us? And I’m not just talking about feminist and liberation and black and womanist and queer theology, which I wish everyone would read. I’m also talking about the old white male theologians who wrote amazing stuff—like Freidrich Schleiermacher and Paul Tillich. These guys wrote powerful, revelatory, life- changing stuff about God, and I feel like most theology has been lost and forgotten, or just plain ignored. Communities need to reclaim their histories. I hope to help people expand their visions for God. And I hope that will be a pleasurable experience."


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Evidently the Name Weiner is Self-Referential

I'm so angry at Rep. Anthony Weiner I could spite - and polish his, no, mustn't go there.  Anyway, he has been a great voice defending liberal ideas and pointing out some of the stupider GOP positions with passion, humor, and verve.  Now he's lost his credibility with behavior typically indulged in by teenagers and much-retired football players.  In other words, Rep. Weiner, it is immature behavior.  GROW UP.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Demo of Handheld Ink-Jet Printer

VERY interesting new technology!


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Lovely Note from Isaac Asimov about Libraries

I love the language... but didn't know Asimov was capable of writing short notes.  ;-).


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Nick Kristof: The GOP Dream Country Pakistan.  Kristof, who knows developing countries well, sees we may be headed in their direction.


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Paul Krugman on GOP Plans for Medicare

It would end Medicare and replace it with a Vouchercare, cutting checks to insurance companies.  Let's be honest, folks - if people actually want lower cost medical care, then the best way to go is a single payer system.  Medicare costs have grown, true, but is still admiistratively much cheaper than private insurance, which has to pay the heavy administrative costs for denying people coverage.  Let's also keep in mind the figure 40,000 - the number of people who die each year because of lack of medical coverage.


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NY Times: Just Drive, She Said

Interesting article on recent events driving some change in thought about women's rights in places that have been resistant to improving the view of women.


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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Drug War: A Failed Policy

The ACLU here lists a variety of reasons why the drug war has failed, and ways to improve the situation.


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decaf?! - Loldogs, Dogs 'n' Puppy Dog Pictures - I Has A Hotdog!

MI6 has a Sense of Humor? Who Knew?

Thanks Mark for the link and the title... For a good laugh, at the expense of Al Qaeda, yet, see this article.


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Eye of newt, - Lolcats 'n' Funny Pictures of Cats - I Can Has Cheezburger?


I'm about this good at cooking...

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst Idea of the Year

...or maybe the decade.  Really, really, really bad idea.


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Go, Texas!

...which is not something I say often.  But this video, found through my friend Mark and Ed Brayton, is a clip of the TV show What Would You Do? where they hired actors to play a lesbian couple with two children and a waitress who was hassling them for being gay.  Many of the observers spoke up for the family, including one, Donovan, whose note to the family had me in tears - he is a Christian living the way I believe Jesus would have intended:


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New Pyramids Found?

An Egyptologist studying infra-red images from space of Egypt has found new pyramids.  Archaelogists are excited!


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Towel Day

Raise a toast

in loving memory of Douglas Adams:



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Culture War and the Young

Interesting Mother Jones article that confirms what I've been thinking for a while - that the culture war issues dear to the heart of the religious right, are not only not resonating with young people but are actively driving many of them away.




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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Historian Richard Beeman on The Daily Show Responds to David Barton

Ed Bryton has provided the videos of Beeman on the Daily Show.  Beeman is a REAL constitutional scholar, as opposed to Barton, who has no degrees in history.  I don't know why but when I try to embed videos from The Daily Show parts of the code show up and it looks terrible.




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Monday, May 23, 2011

Ders nuttin lyke - Lolcats 'n' Funny Pictures of Cats - I Can Has Cheezburger?

Humor: Satire on Academia

Fun satire, though if it were a legitimate article I wouldn't be much surprised.


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More Christian Nation Foolishness

Not from David Barton this time - though speaking of Barton, Jon Stewart had constitutional historian Richard Beeman on his show and they discussed what Barton had said.

Anyway, Brayton quotes the Christian Nation advocate then gives some quotes from Jefferson that are apropos.  I wish people would rermember the context that the Founding Fathers wrote from.  Yes, they were overwhelmingly from Christian backgrounds.  But they were much closer that we are to the historical period in which wars of religion wrenched Europe apart and caused havoc. More, they saw the abuses of the institutiioinal church - any institutional church, and they spoke out freqently with contempt for clerics who abused their society.  And while the 16th century was the one in which a monolithic church was broken by dissent and the creation of churches who promoted reform, it was the 18th century that began to think that governments should stand apart from any specific religion in order to provide the right that each person worship as their conscience dictated, which meant that governments should be governed by principles with a secular basis.  Madison and others listed the sources of the U.S. Constitution, and they did not list the Bible or religious principles as sources.  Government simply cannot promote a specific religion while maintaining religious freedom.  I can't see why some people refuse to see that truth.


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Gingrich Rises to New Level of Absurdity

That this statement could come seriously out of any campaign staggers the imagination.  If this doesn't prove that Newt suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder I don't know what does - actually, it is the rest of us who suffer from his disease.

Stephen Colbert ramped up the absurdity of it by having John Lithgow do it as a dramatic reading - superb!



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The War in Libya

I'm very very torn about the war in Libya - I feel so for those suffering under a dictator and want to see him out of power.  But it seems clear this war is illegal, and I do feel that the U.S. cannot be the world's peacekeeper, nor should we act in a way that is unconstitutional.  These things were easy for me when a President I wholly despised (George W. Bush) did them, harder now when it is a President I like far more (though in several areas have reservations about).  There were conservative constitutional scholars such as Bruce Fein who spoke out loudly against Bush's illegal and unconstitutional actions, and now there are liberals speaking out about Obama when he upholds an imperial Presidency (main one being Glenn Greenwald).  There should be more.



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Threats to Teen Who Offered to Debate Bachmann

A teenaged woman in New Jersey offered to debate Michelle Bachmann on political issues and the Constitution.  She is trying to hold Bachmann accountable for the inacurracies she spouts.  For this, she has gotten teased, threatened, and called nasty names.  Is it any wonder we can't find that many people of integrity to run for office?



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Friday, May 20, 2011

A Tribute to Courage and Non-Violence

In this op-ed from the New York Times, Bernard Lafayette remembers a moment of nonviolence and extraordinary courage.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

NY Times on the First Book Program

...which aims to get books into the hands of low-income children.  One of the most important facts in the article: "Around the world, one thing that has been shown to be a consistently powerful predictor of academic achievement is a home library."


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Empathy and the Brain

Fascinating discussion of research going on to locate empathy to physical and/or emotional pain in the brain with fMRI scans.


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Bad Supreme Court Decision

According to Ed Brayton, a recent Supreme Court decision gives the President of the U.S. unlimited powers when state secrets are invoked.  This does sound like a bad idea and not when seems to me to be constitutional.


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Gallery of Bizarre Vending Machines

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Good Post on the Founders and Religious Freedom

Excellent post from Dave Does the Blog demolishing Bryan Fischer's arguments that the Founding Fathers meant religious freedom to only apply to Christianity.


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Article: 25 Ways IT will Morph in The Next 25 Years

Some of it sounds wonderful, some of it sounds scary.


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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer

Sounds like this might be a must-see movie, especially since I'm so fond of Abraham Lincoln. Has anyone read the book?  Is it any good?



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Christian Historians Debunk David Barton

Barton is more influential than ever, but the more visibility he has the more credible people speak out against his distortions of history.


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Quote of the Day

Found through Ed Brayton:

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
-- Marcus Aurelius


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National Jukebox

Great historical resource from the Library of Congress.  This description is from Marylaine Block's Neat New Stuff:

"National Jukebox - Historical Recordings of the Library of Congress

Right now it includes 10,000+ recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925, with the promise to add more from Victor as well as from Sony and its associated labels. Searchable. You can also browse alphabetically by genre, by playlists (early Tin Pan Alley, the Fox Trot, Sousa's band, etc.), or by composers, performers and lyricists"


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