Monday, January 31, 2011

Walkability Score for Your Neighborhood

Put in your address and get a rating and map of your neighborhood, with distances to a variety of kinds of destinations.


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Squee Spree: Back Rub! - Daily Squee - Cute Baby Animals

Humor: Library Bumpter Stickers

Some mildly amusing bumper sticker ideas relating to libraries.


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Videos on Books

This is a fairly cute video:


But I still like better this oldie but goodie:


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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

William Rivers Pitt on Keith Olbermann

Article that expresses well what I feel about Keith Olbermann, including my dislike of 24 hour news channels and pundit shows... but also how much Olbermann's commentaries meant to me in the years of W, when it seemed the government was insane.


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There's Discrimination, and Then there's Discrimination

Interesting article.  I don't agree with all of it, but it makes an interesting argument that should be a topic of open discussion.



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Heavy Costs of our Prison System

Ed Brayton is a major voice on the issue of our broken justice system.


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

Mashable: Where to Watch the State of the Union Online

Good list with annotations on the features of each site.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

it’s rainin’ - Loldogs, Dogs 'n' Puppy Dog Pictures - I Has A Hotdog!

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

Rainbow Finch - Daily Squee - Cute Baby Animals

GAO Gives the Costs in Dollars of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)

Now that it has been repealed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) gives the cost of enforcing DADT.  Another great reason to celebrate its demise.


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Public Policy Polling - What News Outlets are Trusted?

Interessting results.  This is only the 2nd annual poll, though, so it will take a more years to establish a trend.


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7 Strangest Things in Space

A Week for Celebrating Interfaith Harmony the first week of February.  Nice article on it here, I particularly like this paragraph:

"There will always be many different religions in spite of efforts by various faiths to convert the world to their theological position. In fact, new religions continue to emerge, for example, the Baha'i Faith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the19th century, the Unification Church and Wicca in the 20th. Even in any one faith there are differences in belief and practice, such that there are an estimated 30,000 Christian denominations worldwide. So we will need to live and work together to heal the world despite our most profound religious differences. Religious misunderstandings have caused bigotry and violence for the past 2,000 years. Dialogue and cooperation, by contrast — along with academic instruction about the world's religions from middle school through college — can promote respect and cooperation."

So if anyone wants to post on this topic, who are your favorite religious books/authors?  For books about Christianity, I am very fond of John Shelby Spong and Bart Ehrman.  For books on Pagan ethics, I really like Robin Wood and Marion Weinstein.








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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paul Krugman on Political Divisions

I wholeheartedly support calls for more civility in public discourse.  Krugman here, though, is right IMHO in pointing out that we are a deeply divided nation, with two utterly opposed philosophies of government, and it is unlikely that division is going away anytime soon.  That seems an important reality that we have to deal with.


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Ed Brayton on Vitriolic Political Commentary

As is so often true, he says what I think and says it much better than I would.


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Truth about Defense Spending "Cuts"

Great quote and good stats.  Other stats I've seen over years show that the U.S. government spends more on defense than most of the other countries in the world COMBINED.


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Not Slytherin… - Lolcats 'n' Funny Pictures of Cats - I Can Has Cheezburger?

High School Graduation

Humor: Bookshelf Fail

Health Care Plan Costs finds that both Republicans and Democrats are wildly spinning the budget figures on the health care reform act.  The one figure that I have constantly in my mind, though, about health care reform is 40,000 - the number of people in the U.S. that have died every year because they lack health care insurance.


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eeriness Defined

See this photo essay on Pripyat, a city near the site of the Chernobyl disaster which was completely abandoned.  I love the stained glass window pictured, but then I'm a sucker for stained glass.  Anyway, what an eerie, lonely experience.  Thanks to Mark for the link.


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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Bury the Chains

Title Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves
Author Adam Hochschild
Rating *****
Tags non-fiction, history, slave trade, slavery, abolition, england, british empire 

This kind of book is what led me to get two degrees in history. It is an absolutely fascinating story, compellingly told, with a sweep of several continents and an idea that shook the world.

Hochschild does an excellent job of setting the scene, of telling us what it was like to be English in the late 18th century. Slavery was the norm. It had been a part of society since the beginning, and the majority of the world's population were slave or serf. In addition, much of the wealth in England came from the sugar trade, which depended heavily on slavery. And yet, in the course of only a few years, a movement to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself became overwhelmingly popular. The author devotes himself to explaining how that happened, and no detail is too small for him to uncover...yet it is all told in a way that is as thrilling as any fiction.

It started with a committee of about 12 men in the late 1789s. Most of them were Quakers, but their backbone was Thomas Clarkson, who was Anglican. It was essential, since England was officially Anglican, to have spokesmen of that faith. Clarkson traveled enormous distances both raising funds for the campaign and gathering testimony about slavery and the trade.

One man who eventually joined the campaign was John Newton, who was a highly influential Anglican clergyman and author of many popular hymns, including Amazing Grace. Newton had been involved in the slave trade for many years as a trader and captain of slave ships.

The campaign took off in part because of both words and imagery. A diagram of a slave ship, showing exactly how appalling the conditions were, became a poster seen by much of the British population. Two books were particularly important. One was the memoirs of a former slave, Olaudah Equiano. Equiano traveled nearly as much as Clarkson to sell his memoirs, and in him the British public saw an intelligent and impressive spokesman for his race. The other important book was a condensation of hearings before Parliament about the conditions of the slave trade and of slaves.

All of this information was percolated through newspapers and the coffee houses where people gathered and read news and shared information. As a result, abolition of the slave trade became a popular cause, even leading many to give up sugar.

However, most Englishmen had no right to vote, nor did any English women. One additional element needed for the campaign to be successful was a forceful speaker in Parliament, and the movement found such a man in William Wilberforce, who on many other topics was a conservative. He gave his passion to the cause of abolition of the slave trade, and was eventually successful, with abolition of slavery coming many years after that.

Hochschild mentions, but doesn't emphasize as much as I'd like, the wild ferment of ideas about individual freedom that changed the world in the 18th century. I know that "thinking outside of the box" has become a terrible cliche, but I think the Enlightenment proves that once ideas occur that are out of the box, people start questioning on all sorts of related topics. If government gets legitimacy through the people, then why can't more men vote? Why shouldn't slaves be free? What about women? And so on, and on. this is why the Enlightenment is one of my favorite periods in history.

Bury the Chains is a marvelous work, highly recommended.

Publication Mariner Books (2006), Paperback, 496 pages
Publication date 2006
ISBN 0618619070 / 9780618619078

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Book Review: Spy Glass

Title Spy Glass (Glass Magic)
Author Maria V. Snyder
Rating ****
Tags fantasy, magic, glass, glass magic 

This is the third of the Opal Cowan Glass Magic series. I read it without having read the first two books in the series, and that turned out to be a bad idea. The story is very much dependent on what goes before.

Given that, it was still a fascinating read. Opal's world is unique. Magic exists, with different people having different magical talents. Opal's talent was blowing glass with magical properties, especially the ability to communicate instantaneously across distances. But when attacked and tortured, Opal was forced to drain her magic and now has none. The upside to this is that she is immune to the magic of others. For now she must figure out what she is going to do with the rest of her life. She also finds out that some of her blood is missing. If she can find it, it might restore her magic. It is a danger to her, however, in the hands of anyone else, who might be able to use it to control her.

Very intriguing book, but read the first two, Storm Glass and Sea Glass, first.

Publication Mira (2010), Edition: Original, Paperback, 432 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0778328473 / 9780778328476

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Book Review: Warmth of Other Suns

Title The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Author Isabel Wilkerson
Rating ****1/2
Tags blacks, africa-americans, migration, south, new york, chicago. los angeles 

This book has been receiving well-deserved rave reviews and been on several lists of best books of the year. It is a marvelous work of scholarship, yet well-written enough to appeal to the lay reader.

The book tells the story of the great migration of blacks from the American South to the North and West. It lasted from around World War I up to the seventies, when conditions for blacks in the South began to get better. The migration was partly in hopes of better economic opportunities, but primarily to escape the harsh rule of Jim Crow with its strict segregation and a caste system maintained through violence.

Part of the book gives the facts and statistics about the South and about the migration. At its core, however, is the tale of three people, told in alternating chapters. One is George Starling, who left Florida after death threats when he tried on a small scale to organize labor to ask for better wages. He went to New York an became a baggage handler on the railroads, never able to use his brain and some college education to get a better job.

Second was Ida Mae Gladney, who married young and lived as a sharecropper in Mississippi. She and her husband moved to Chicago.

Third was Robert Pershing Foster from Monroe, Louisiana, a doctor who married the daughter of the President of Atlanta University, who moved to Los Angeles where he hoped to be able to achieve more as a doctor than he could under the limitations on black doctors in the South.

Wilkerson does a masterful job of weaving the strands together, combining oral history with material from primary documents. It is not a book for white Southerners seeking to prove the South under Jim Crow was not that bad - Wilkerson shows in detail how bad it was. She manages to tell the individual stories so that each chapter tells of parallel experiences, even though each story is unique. It is a long book but holds the interest of the reader throughout. Highly recommended.

Publication Random House (2010), Edition: 1St Edition, Hardcover, 640 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0679444327 / 9780679444329

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Book Review: Dark Road to Darjeeling

Title Dark Road to Darjeeling (Lady Julia Grey)
Author Deanna Raybourn
Rating ****
Tags mystery, historical mystery, lady julia grey, nicholas brisbane, india 

Lady Julia Grey is one of the ten children of the Earl of March, most of whom tend toward eccentricity. Julia's eccentricity lies mainly in her penchant for solving mysteries and her love for Nicholas Brisbane, a half-Gypsy inquiry agent. It is 1889, and Julia and Nicholas have been married a year and been traveling the world on a protracted honeymoon. They are thinking of going home, but Julia's sister Portia asks them to go with her and brother Plum to Darjeeling, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Portia's former lover, Jane, left Portia in hopes of a normal family life. Now she is widowed, pregnant, and suspicious that her husband's death was murder.

The dead husband's family owns a tea plantation near Darjeeling. If Jane's baby is a boy, he will inherit. If not, the late husband's brother will inherit, and has been the manager. Could he have killed Freddy, and is Jane and her baby in danger?

There are a small number of neighbors, including a kindly old man living in a former Buddhist monastery, and the local vicar. The vicar's family is unusual. His wife is a free spirit raised in a commune, his daughter is resentful, and his son mad for natural science. Their governess is a beautiful and poised Indian woman. So was it murder, and who had motive?

This is the fourth in the Lady Julia Grey series. Recommended for a well drawn plot and interesting characters.

Publication Mira (2010), Edition: Original, Paperback, 400 pages

Publication date

ISBN 0778328201 / 9780778328209

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Music of the Gods?

My friend Mark sent me the below video of someone playing a Zeusaphone, which is a high frequency Tesla coil.  One of the more unusual musical instruments ever - of course it first appeared at a science fiction convention:


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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

Muslims Act as Human Shields for Egyptian Christians

What a lovely story of solidarity!  After one attack in Coptic Christians that left 21 dead, many Muslims came together to shield a Christmas celebration.  Thanks to Nark for the link.

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How Old is Wicca?

Interesting article on a Pagan blog about how old Wicca  is as a religion.  It sums up my feeling about the topic quite well.  Those who insist it is an ancient religion are wishing something that just isn't so.  No coherent Pagan religion survived centuries of Christian domination.  What did survive were folktales and folk customs, some mythologies, but nothing cohesive enough to be a religion.  But when we draw on those folk ways, when we celebrate the cycles of nature and connect to Mother Earth under the Moon and stars, we do connect to something ancient, and an awareness of our environment and the interconnection of all things which is sorely needed today in humanity's rush to ecological disaster.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mark Twain and the N-Word

Someone on facebook shared this post, which links to others, on a new edition of Huckleberry Finn that removes the N-word and the I (for Injun) word.  I agree they are hurtful words, and would not use them myself (the I word above spelled out for clarity).  I must admit that removing them from the book shocks my historian and librarian soul to the core.  Changing evils in a society requires, for me, understanding and not whitewashing the past, and my study of history, I believe, has shown me some of life's grittier realities and innoculated me againt nostalgia, while allowing me to appreciate life's more beautiful realities as well.  I passionately believe that only an informed and engaged citizenry can keep democracy alive, and whitewashing the past serves only to doom us to fail to learn from it.  The poster who argues that we should teach Huckleberry Finn, but to students of an age to understand that it is a part of history and to discuss society's changes, good and bad, has my support.

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75 Excellent Science Fiction Illustrations

Some really marvelous art here, though I am perturbed the artists weren't named.


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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Way to Treat Poverty

Great column in the New York Times on conditional cash benefit programs in various countries around the world.  It is helping children stay in school longer and be healthier.  I just love innovations that seek very practical ways to help people.  They may not all be successful, but one learns from failures, too...and it is nice to have something being done.  It is too easy to get overwhelmed with the scale of problems in the world and do nothing.

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