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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea:

Written by the son of Senator Patrick Moynihan, this book was submitted as an assignment to Paul Horgan’s writing class, promptly forgotten, and then resurrected by his mother after his untimely death at forty-four from a reaction to Tylenol. John had signed on an as ordinary-seaman on a tanker for a voyage that became much longer than he had anticipated. His father, who had served in the Navy, thought it was a bad idea; his mother thought the contrary, having a more naive and more glamorous view of the sea - perhaps much as I do. (Whenever I took those blasted career tests, they always came out librarian or ship captain. Then again they were pathetically easy to manipulate. I guess the reality was I wanted to sit around and give orders while reading.)

John worked on a supertanker. The bow was a quarter-mile from the stern and to walk from one end to the other took about 5 minutes at a brisk pace. They never walked briskly since the five minutes were like an additional break. “And always carry something like a wrench to make it more like work,” he was advised. Obtaining the job through connections his father had with the Seafarers Union, he was not popular with the crew who saw him as taking up a job someone else needed. That most of them spent their time trying not to work was beside the point. As an ordinary seaman, he had to be taught everything until he can make a contribution. His description of his first turn at the wheel is lyrical: The first sensation was the immediate contact with the shudders and tremors of the ship. Between the grinding vibrations of the all-powerful engine room and the pounding of the sea at her unyielding steel sides, the ship was an animate mover. She pushed her way through the ocean, raising her bow with every swell and hurtling back down with a deafening crescendo. I could feel the movement, the huge screw in the back working to propel her forward. The horizon became less of a definition between sea and sky than a tangible object that could be sought, reached, left behind.

The union, the officers, the company are all to be derided. Contrary to Coast Guard rules, they have to repair a crack in the superstructure by welding and John is the only one (in his ignorance) willing to stand in the empty tanks with a fire extinguisher in case sparks start a fire. I hadn’t realized it, but when a tanker is light, the danger of igniting volatile fumes is at its greatest. Our captain, it suddenly occurred to me, was not only violating Coast Guard law by welding on deck, he was sending us down into vapor-filled tanks with an open flame. It also came out that the radar on the bridge had gone out the first full day at sea, and instead of stopping off in South Africa to have it repaired we were going to wait until we got to Japan. It didn’t matter that we’d be going through the Straits of Malacca in typhoon season: Business is business, and the insurance will pay off anything that might go wrong. . . I did take out my silent revenge on Texaco and the Seven Sisters by pissing in the tank, hoping that somewhere, six months later, some stockholder’s Cadillac wouldn’t start as a result. The tanks had been washed out first, a task that must be done between each loading. Again, on the high seas, the rules were routinely ignored. It is not difficult to tell whether a tanker is cleaning its tanks. Having washed, buffeted, and generally rinsed out the tanks, we could see the dirty water discharged from the side of the ship through the manifold. For hundreds of miles we left an oily slick on the surface of the ocean without thinking twice about it. Anywhere in the Atlantic, Indian, or Pacific Oceans the residue of tankers can be seen. At one point we followed the course of another tanker that had left a trail of pollution across several latitudes.

The yearning to avoid work was understandable. The peculiarities of their contracts made it difficult for seaman to reach retirement age since they needed twenty years of duty to make their pensions: twenty years of sea time which meant actually they needed forty to forty-five years of working before qualifying.

Monyihan does have his lyrical moments. In between the monotany (it would get so bad that scrapping paint was to be looked forward to) he did learn to appreciate the sea: In the absolute still of the morning watch, in the rapt hour before the dawn when the only light was the dull glow of the electric compass and the useless pulsings of the broken radar, in the foaming seas of another hemisphere and on another side of the planet, I relished the thought that all those fuckers back there at the university were scratching one another’s eyes out with the same old bullshit. There was none of that here. None you could get away with, anyway. This was life and death with every turn of the compass. It was real. It was a strangely comforting thought. On the seventh the clouds began to gather. Monsoon season...

The book goes off the rails somewhat after the ship arrives in Japan and it becomes a quasi journal, e.g., bummed around Nara, went to a bar, looked for a place to sleep, had a beer, etc.

Note: I believe the Rose City was delivered to the Navy and became the hospital ship Comfort in 1987. Here’s a picture of her engine room. It looks like something from a space ship.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Goodreads | This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

This is one of those books where the reviews were so disparate that I just had to try it for myself. I downloaded a sample, and I was hooked.  I loved this book.  It's funny, poignant, thoughtful, and uses humor in just the right way.

Judd, coming home early from work one day, to surprise Jen, his wife, on her birthday with a big cake, walks in on her screwing his boss. The his father dies, not unexpectedly, but who leaves surprise request.  He wants the family to sit shiva for him (a ceremony I was not familiar with despite having had numerous Jewish friends in high school.) The family sits on special chairs, lower to the ground, in honor of the departed, and then talks about the dead relative with each other and friends and neighbors for a period of seven days. For someone like myself who finds a simple viewing traumatic, I can't imagine.

Anyway, Judd's family is typically dysfunctional, exaggerated slightly to bring out the humor in the situations, but not so much as to create caricatures.  They love each other but really can't get along. Then there is the matter of the will which doesn't divide the business equally. And then Jen arrives during breakfast one morning, in the midst of a battle between Philip and Paul,   "Hello dear,” my mother says, suddenly composed. “What a nice surprise.”  These are the moments when you really have to wonder what reality my  mother is living in. She can go from casually watching two of her sons  pummeling each other to graciously welcoming the woman who ruined her other son’s life without missing a beat.  But Jen has an announcement.  And Phillip is engaged to be engaged to his therapist who is fifteen years older.

A sample: "I am going to be a father, just when I’ve lost my own. There are some  who would see a certain divine balance in that, one soul departing to  make room for another, but I’m not that guy. I don’t believe in God when I’m in trouble, the way so many people do. But at times like this, when  the irony seems too cruel and well crafted to be a coincidence, I can  see God in the details. Due to some mental hiccup I can’t explain, when I think of God, I picture Hugh Hefner: a thin, angular man with a  prominent chin in a maroon smoking jacket. I don’t know where that image came from or why it stuck the way it did. Maybe when I was a kid I was  thinking about God and I happened upon a picture of Hef in a magazine and some neurons fired and a permanent association was made. But when  your vision of God is America’s horniest senior citizen in his pajamas,  it’s probably fair to say that you’re not the kind of guy who sees miracles in the mundane coincidences fate lobs at your unsuspecting head like water balloons from a high terrace."

God as Hugh Hefner. I always wondered what the angels were for. That's an image I will treasure.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver | Political Books

Book Review: The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver | Political Books:

 "Silver breaks down the failures of prediction (it’s here that I want to note that Silver makes a distinction between prediction and forecast, but for purposes of this review I will use both loosely) into two spheres. First, there’s the human element which acknowledges that “your subjective perceptions of the world are approximations of the truth.” This is what makes it so damn hard to separate the signal from the noise, especially in a world where data grows almost exponentially. As Silver points out, nature’s laws don’t change, yet our ability to filter the data is hindered by our biases."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Establishment v Free Exercise - Redux
"If we just declare a bunch of non-religions religion, then we can stifle them in the same way we think we’re stifled! It’s absolutely fascinating how even dumb motherfuckers like these have gotten so good at doublespeak after being thoroughly trained by right wing media. But obviously, all this is about is trying to exert complete control over your child through censoring any information that would cause them to ask questions. They know in their hearts that their myths just aren’t competitive with science when the person looking at the question applies basic rationality, and so censorship is all they have. Same story with your employer taking away your health care options because he disagrees with them. Women have been exposed, repeatedly, to dogma about our bodies and we reject it. Thus the turn to force. But unfortunately, the constant repetition of the phrase “religious freedom” to mean “the right to restrict the freedom of conscience of those you already have power over” has, I think, confused the issue for a lot of people. Liberals need to get more aggressive at taking the phrase back to what it really means, which is freedom of individuals to decide for themselves without being coerced by schools, parents, bosses, or government."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny - The Washington Post

Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny - The Washington Post:

 "Then-defense secretary Robert M. Gates stopped bagging his leaves when he moved into a small Washington military enclave in 2007. His next-door neighbor was Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, who had a chef, a personal valet and — not lost on Gates — troops to tend his property.

Gates may have been the civilian leader of the world’s largest military, but his position did not come with household staff. So, he often joked, he disposed of his leaves by blowing them onto the chairman’s lawn."

If I had been Gates, I would have done a lot more than blow leaves on the general's lawn.

"The commanders who lead the nation’s military services and those who oversee troops around the world enjoy an array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards and aides to carry their bags, press their uniforms and track their schedules in 10-minute increments. Their food is prepared by gourmet chefs. If they want music with their dinner parties, their staff can summon a string quartet or a choir."

This must be how General Allen found the time to send 20,000-30,000 emails to Jill Kelley. 'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I see there are petitions garnering a lot of support in Texas promoting secession from the United States. Much like little children who want to take their marbles and go home when they don't get their way, calls like this surface both on the right and left. (Vermont has petitions like this occasionally, too. In fact, every state has some wacko group promoting secession.)

The fact is that signing a petition calling for secession is saying, "I don't want to be a citizen of the United States any more." I think we should honor all those requests. It's simple. Collect the names of those signing the petitions and cancel their citizenship. Have a hearing (due process is important) and if they stand by their secession desire, collect their passport and give them a green card (assuming they have a job.) Of course they would lose any Medicare or Social Security benefits they might be receiving, but that's what they want, right?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goodreads | Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

A fascinating, if often hyperbolic and disjointed, look at the Mississippi River and especially the communities surrounding it, not to mention the customs and eccentric characters that thrived on the river frontier.  It might also be called, the Book of Lists.

I was surprised by the importance of prostitution to communities in the 19th century frontier society. Their importance was so crucial as to be almost "structural."  Women were a rarity, often outnumbered by men 20-1, and it was common for some women who wanted to secure their financial future to marry several at once, visiting them on a rotational basis and being provided for. It was a system that suited all parties, apparently.  The institution was so crucial to the army, they were imported to all forts, respected and called seamstresses.  Brothels in St. Louis could be lavish places and held in high esteem by the community despite ostensible moral antagonism.

Religious camp meetings were immensely popular.  One such event pulled a gathering of 20,000 people at a time when the population of New Orleans was about half that.  The events became occasions of ecstatic behavior with "jerkings," falling", other kinds of physical religious behavior we would now label pejoratively as "holy rollers."  It also included orgies, the sexual component of ecstatic behavior being quite strong, and until the vigilantes moved in to put a lid on it, it was quite common for groups to move off into the woods to consummate their religious fervor resulting in a high birth rate about nine months after the camp meeting.

Corruption was endemic.  It was assumed and understood that everyone along the river would cheat, shorting the steamboats on piles of wood, counterfeiting (although very much frowned on it was helped by the number of different banks issuing money, species being quite rare and always in demand.) Con men thrived.

The story of Stewart's pamphlet and John Murrell was fascinating.  Stewart had written and published a pamphlet that purported to report on his infiltration into the infamous Murrell gang. Murrell  supposedly had revealed to him that Murrell was orchestrating a vast conspiracy that would result in an enormous slave rebellion on July 4th, 1835.  The names of many so-called conspirators who belonged to this "Mystic Klan" were fomenting the rebellion were included.  The ultimate purpose was so they could rob and pillage virtually the entire south.  Always fearful of slaves revolts, the end result of publicity surrounding the pamphlet was the formation of vigilante committees and extensive use of "Lynch Law."  Fear of slaves spilled over into antagonism toward river-town gamblers in Vicksburg and soon bodies were hanging from trees on virtually every road. Some people, after interrogation by the "committees," were lucky to get off with 1,000 lashes. Neighbors would inform on neighbors they didn't like and it must have been like scenes out of mob actions of the French Revolution.  (Tom Sawyer and Huck talk about looking for "Murel's treasure.")

Lots of really good stories and cultural history. If you are looking for information about the river itself, however, you might be better served by The Big Muddy.

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Barry Eisler on self-publishing and the politics of liberty | The Passive Voice

Barry Eisler on self-publishing and the politics of liberty | The Passive Voice:

"For thriller writers interested in realism, though, the familiar “Islamic Terrorist Villain” plotline has a serious shortcoming: terrorism, of whatever stripe, poses far less danger to America than does America’s own overreaction to the fear of terrorism. To put it another way, America has a significantly greater capacity for national suicide than any non-state actor has for national murder. If thrillers are built on large-scale danger, therefore, and if a thriller novelist wants to convincingly portray the largest dangers possible, the novelist has to grapple not so much with the possibility of a terror attack, as with the reality of the massive, unaccountable national security state that has metastasized in response to that possibility."

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Atheist group sues IRS for failing to enforce church electioneering ban | The Raw Story

Atheist group sues IRS for failing to enforce church electioneering ban | The Raw Story:

 "More than 1,000 pastors said they openly defied the IRS by telling their congregation to vote for a particular presidential candidate on October 7. The event, dubbed “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” was organized by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom in an attempt to prompt legal action over the tax code."

You know, I don't mind them promoting any candidate they want.  But they should then pay their taxes like everyone else.

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Real Piece of Work (The Dakota Stevens Mysteries)

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of A Real Piece of Work (The Dakota Stevens Mysteries):

Charming detective story.  I was not familiar with Orcut’s writing before this one, but I will certainly look him up again.  The title is, of course, a pun as it relates to several things, most obviously the painting that Dakota Stevens, ex-cop/FBI has been hired by a strange little man who appeared in his office out of a blizzard to locate. Ostensibly very valuable, it would appear the painting is a forgery.

Dakota (not Montana) is a great character and Svetlana, who speaks seven languages and is a chess master, his sidekick, a hoot.

I enjoyed the first seven-eighths of the book but lopped off a star for the ending that became the standard Lone Ranger and Tonto (albeit with a great body) stave off swarming hoards of enemy.  It's only a wonder clouds of angels weren't singing Hallelujahs from the heavens.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate some.  Let's just say my crap-detector went into emergency overload. The plot was good involving art forgeries and stolen paintings, suitably intricate;  the characters interesting,and Orcut had a chance to resolve it in a much more interesting way. But it's his first book. I'll certainly read the next.

P.S. Librarians play a central role in unraveling the threads of the mystery.

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Race Slipped Away From Mitt Romney -

How Race Slipped Away From Mitt Romney -

The WSJ blames it all on not enough money.  Typical response but they have it all wrong. I attribute his loss to three things:

1.  Message. Romney's remarks were addressed at those people who had "already built" something.  Remember his comments mocking Obama's remarks about building a business.  Well, his message was aimed at those people and the message was: "Don't let Obama tax your business."  The problem is that group is tiny since Obama's tax strategy is to tax only those who make more than $250,000. Most small business owners don't come close to that.

2.  Just who is Mitt Romney? The "I'm to the left of Kennedy" who supported abortion and gay rights, Romney?  Or the I don't believe in abortion under any circumstances, Romney? Or the debate "I'm just a middle of the road," Romney?  Did he even know who he was? No one else did.

3.  His association with Bain Capital.  Just as he's defending Bain as a great way to make moiney and rejuvenate businesses, Bain is pulling the plug on Sensata (formerly Honeywell) in Freeport, Illinois, bringing in Chinese to be trained by current workers so they can lose their jobs this December but Bain can make more money shipping jobs overseas.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Outside spenders' return on investment - Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

Outside spenders' return on investment - Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group:

Why I feel vindicated in my analysis that Citizens United probably didn't make any difference.  The link above has full details.

 "Turns out some of the smart money wasn't so smart after all when it came to making political bets. This year, the pro-business GOP Crossroads fundraising combine and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weren't as good at picking winners as the labor movement, which appears to be one of the surprise winners of Election Day."

'via Blog this'

Monday, November 05, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism:

Note.  If you don't like spoilers, don't read the book since the first chapter reveals what happens right up front. Everyone else *should* read it. Often we labor under the assumption that because things are the way they are today, it must have been ever thus.  This book will quickly disabuse you of that notion.

The extraordinary story of two heroic black lawyers who championed the case of an innocent man, a sheriff more interested in political advancement than justice, mob rule, and one of the very few times when the Supreme Court has issued a contempt citation for failure to follow its rulings, and the importance of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  To quote Thurgood Marshall: " The Shipp case was perhaps the first instance in which the court demonstrated the the Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection clause have any substantive meaning to persons of the African-American race. . . .The import of the Sheriff Shipp case on the federal court's authority over state criminal cases should not be underestimated." It also meant that Justice Harlan was to become one of my most recent heroes.

The case began with the assault on a young white woman who had been walking home from work when she was attacked by a black man and although she was never able to identify him precisely, a black man roughly meeting her description by the name of Ed Johnson was arrested.  There was another witness who swore he had seen Johnson with a leather strap in the vicinity. Johnson unwaveringly swore his innocence and had several witnesses who maintained he had been several miles away at a bar.

While Chattanooga had been a place of reasonable racial harmony for several years and had had no recent lynchings, (in fact, two well-respected local ministers, one having served with the union, the other with the Confederacy, were a strong force arguing against mob violence but they were out of town that evening) a mob formed when they heard someone had been arrested and was soon whipped into such a frenzy they began to batter down the doors of the jail.  They were only persuaded from further violence when Sam, McReynolds, the judge assigned to the case showed up and offered to prove that Johnson was not even there.  He and the Sheriff had arranged earlier in the day to have Johnson and another marginal suspect taken to another city. Finally satisfied, the mob dispersed.

Before Gideon v Wainright, suspects had few rights and were not entitled to a lawyer. Unlike most states, however, Tennessee law required that a lawyer be appointed in capital cases. Also unlike today, which practice is now forbidden, it was common for judges to meet with prosecutors to plan the prosecution.  The question was whom to appoint as the defense attorneys for John after the grand jury had returned a "true bill" of indictment.  Despite numerous efforts, the Sheriff had been unable to get a confession from Johnson who continued to swear to his innocence.

The authors do a masterful job of portraying the case. The three court appointed lawyers really did their best against a stacked deck, especially Judge Shepherd who, in an impassioned summation to the jury, ripped the judge and prosecutors for not giving Johnson a fair trial. Initially the jury was split 8-4 for conviction, but after the judge sent them home for the night, he met with the prosecutors.  No one knows what happened during that meeting but everyone feared the eruption that would occur should Johnson be found innocent or there be a hung jury. In any case, immediately upon returning to their deliberations the next morning, the jury announced they had a verdict and all four of the holdouts had changed their minds.

The trial itself had some startling scenes with a couple of jurors, in tears, requesting that the victim be brought back to testify and *they* asked her if she could swear that Johnson was her attacker.  She never could with certainty.  After the verdict Shepherd wanted to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court but three more lawyers, appointed by the court, picked in a closed door meeting with the prosecution (highly unethical behavior) and, it was later admitted by the judge, two of whom were picked by the prosecution, persuaded Johnson, and the other lawyers that *even if he was innocent* it was better to be hung in the course of *justice* rather than by a lynch mob.  When they announced their decision not to appeal the verdict, an extraordinary decision, the judge sentenced Johnson to hang, the penalty for rape in Tennessee.

They had failed to reckon with Noah Parden, whose resume alone is worth a book.  His trip to Washington where he convinced Justice Harlan to issue a stay of execution and the later decision that resulted in the federal application of basic rights to the states under the 14th amendment is riveting.  What Parden had managed to do was to persuade the Court of the need to apply the Sixth Amendment requirement of a fair trial to the states Due Process was not to mean simply did the rules get followed, but did the defendant get a fair trial.  Equal Protection had to mean that black defendants would get the same presumptions of innocence and privileges accorded to white defendants.

Unfortunately, the significance was perhaps not lost on the mob, which, horrified that the federal court might deign to dispute its cherished denial of black men's rights, decided to enforce its own brand of morality.  The Supreme Court has no enforcement powers but what they did was, I believe, never before, nor since done.  No spoilers here, read the book.

Ed Johnson lies today forgotten in a closed African-American cemetery under a tombstone on which is inscribed, I AM A INNOCENT MAN. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

Interestingly, much of the research for the book was done at Tuskeegee University in Alabama which has a detailed record of virtually every lynching.  Many of the original documents are in terrible shape and part of the proceeds of the book will be allocated to help the preservation of those materials.

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Goodreads | Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Goodreads | Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists:

My foray into Brazilian police procedurals was rewarding indeed. A terrorist kills a woman using her baby and carriage to hide a bomb which he detonates just as a policeman is about to inquire as to the baby's lack of response. Some 350 miles south, a popular candidate for political office is assassinated.

Chief Inspector Mario Silva, of the Federal Police, immediately takes charge of the investigation. Fortunately, the bomb, which had been placed under the child, had contained numerous shards of hardware and a washer had gone through the child, slowing its trajectory enough so it bent part of the carriage frame. That meant there would be some of the child's DNA available for identification. (As an aside, I had no idea there was such a thing as "post-detonation taggants." They are bomb-proof, unique particles that are added to explosives so that they can be traced back to sellers and places of origin. Interesting.

Politics being what it is in Brasilia, when the politician, a relative unknown, is assassinated, Silva must focus his efforts on that case rather than the sixty plus people who had been killed in the bombing. It soon becomes complicated, as good mysteries must, and we learn the assassinated politician, Plinio, a revered man, had several enemies, many of whom were not immediately obvious.

Lots of interesting information about Brazil and its relationships with other countries, particularly Paraguay (and most of that not complimentary.) Little snippets of historical information that some readers may find unnecessary but which I always find fascinating, e.g., re Lebanon, "Each new outbreak of violence plunged the country deeper into chaos and caused more of her children to seek new homes abroad. Many chose Brazil. By the beginning of the 1990s, there were, it was said with some justification, more Lebanese in São Paulo than in Beirut. But, before the refugees, before the great torrent of immigration began, there were a few young Lebanese upon whom Brazil exerted its attraction, not as a refuge, but as a land of limitless opportunity."

Siilva finds himself under personal attack in the form of an irate land owner who wants to kill him as well as in a battle with pervasive corruption intertwined with an increasingly dangerous radical Islamic group

A solid read.

Thanks to the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my always uninfluenced review. I never review books I don't like.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Julian

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Julian:

 "The book is told from Julian's point of view as a form of autobiography with little side social commentaries of two of his friends. The debate between the supporters of Athanasius (who finally won out) and the Arians is well explained. In the fourth century (see also When Jesus Became God, the debate over the divinity of Jesus was of huge consequence. The Arians (basing their case on John 14:25) believed in the doctrine of homoiousios: Jesus was a similar substance to God the father but created by him. The followers of Athanasius adopted that "pernicious doctrine" later codified in the Nicene Creed of homoousius (meaning that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same)."

'via Blog this'

Friday, November 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic:

In 1787, Richard Spraight wrote a friend, “If the judiciary acted as a check on legislature, then who was to act as a check on the judiciary?” Ring a bell? It would seem there are so many basic conflicts inherent in our system that we have yet to resolve. Ellis focuses on the relationship of judicial power, (basically self arrogated) to American democracy and how it developed during the formative years. He see the struggle as between political moderates and extremists rather than from the traditional Federalist v Republican viewpoint.

Typically, before the revolution, the judiciary was the branch of government that affected people the most intimately and often violence broke out when the King tampered with the system. Most magistrates (except in Rhode Island and Connecticut) were political appointees and beholden to the governor so the result was a form of oligarchy. The Articles of Confederation made no provision for the judiciary its loose structure leaving virtually everything up to the states. The new Constitution hammered together in 1787 created a national court but had them riding the circuit.

Since Washington and Adams were Federalists, they naturally used the appointive powers, to assign mostly Federalists to open judicial slots and these began making decisions which infuriated the Anti-Federalists, represented by Jefferson and the Republicans. Especially when they upheld the Alien and Sedition Acts, an early preview of the Patriot Act. Despite their professed abhorrence for political parties, by 1800, there were already well-defined partisan groups.

I remain astonished by how little has changed. Following the election of 1800, the Republican party split as they now had to administer government. “With victory secured, the problem of developing positive policies soon made it clear that the party was composed of different groups holding conflicting and irreconcilable attitudes toward the way government should be administered.” The Old Republicans, agrarian and anti-federalist saw the win as a moral victory, they had overthrown the sinful monarchist Federalists and now had a chance to undo the damage caused by the likes of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton who had accumulated far too much power in the central government. Their goal was to gain control of the judiciary, pass multiple amendments to the constitution, and assure that the Federalists would never again gain control. The other wing of the party was less concerned about strong government per se, only its misuse. They wanted to “reclaim, rather than to punish,” in the words of John Hunter to James Madison.

A fine example of the quandary everyone found themselves in is the case of the impeachment of Judge Pickering. A man who had clearly gone insane, would appear on the bench drug and making judgments everyone agreed were ridiculous, no one knew how to get rid of him. Impeachment was problematic because insanity didn't meet the definition of *high crimes and misdemeanors* so the Federalists, of which he was one, argued at his impeachment trial that since he was insane he couldn't be removed while the "Republicans were forced into the difficult position of claiming that Pickering was in his right mind.This did not please the moderate Republicans, among whom there was considerable reluctance about convicting a mental incompetent.," and they knew it was but a short step for any executive then to eliminate the opposition by a simple declaration of mental incompetence. Thus was the Constitution of no help whatsoever and the divisiveness of parties simply made things worse as allegiances hardened.

The impeachment trial of Associate Justice Samuel Chase revealed the political role of impeachment and also the invalidity of adopting an uncompromising and rigid stance on issues, positions that may yet come to haunt the current Tea Party. Chase had certainly acted intemperately, delivering clearly biased charges to the jury in cases where he used the Alien and Sedition Acts to punish Republican spokesmen, most notably James Callender. Jefferson, ever the consummate politician, realized the need for moderation and compromise and philosophically he understood the importance of an independent judiciary, a judiciary dominated by Federalists thanks to John Adams. His chief antagonist was to be John Randolph, agrarian states rights true believer, who was appalled and infuriated by the Yazoo Compromise. It was Randolph who concocted the articles of impeachment against Chase by going beyond the textual justification for impeachment in the Constitution in an effort to set a precedent for removing a sitting justice that was clearly politically motivated. He badly mishandled the case and was up against Chase, a not inconsequential jurist who hired some brilliant lawyers and they devastated Randolph in the trial presided over by Aaron Burr (who had his own reasons for not wanting to see Chase impeached - but that's another story.) Jefferson, too, had his reasons for wanting to humiliate Randolph, formerly a great supporter as he realized the importance of the mercantile economy developing in New England and he wanted to get elected to a second term.

Ultimately, "the most important explanation for Chase's exoneration, however is to be found in the struggle between moderate and radical Republicans for domination of the party. The differences were fundamental, and they left little room for compromise." Randolph's parting shot was to move for a Constitutional amendment that would permit the removal of a sitting federal judge by the president with the majority concurrence of both Houses of Congress. (Precedents existed in several state constitutions.) By this time Randolph had been thoroughly discredited and his measure went down as the House postponed it to the oblivion of committee.

I suspect the Republican Party today may be in for similar convulsions should they achieve the reins of power. (Written before the election.)

Skepticblog » When Humans Nearly Vanished

Skepticblog » When Humans Nearly Vanished: "A number of scientists have argued that the Toba catastrophe nearly wiped out the human race, leaving a genetic bottleneck of only about 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs of humans worldwide (Rampino and Self, 1993b; Ambrose, 1998). In addition to the geologic evidence of Toba’s size and atmospheric effects, geneticists have found evidence from the molecular clocks in our genomes that human populations went through a genetic bottleneck at about this time."

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Goodreads | A Good Horse Has No Color by Nancy Marie Brown - Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Amazing the books I run across. This was a delightful find, extremely well written with evocative images and pithy, humor-laden sentences: "My Icelandic was too rudimentary for that. It's a difficult language with an excess of grammar." and "The weather was classic Icelandic: forty degrees and raining sideways." There's also an amusing scene where dual meanings of the Icelandic word for ride can be endowed with sexual connotations. Shades of me growing up and confusing scatology with eschatology.

The author, who at the time was teaching at Penn State, and her husband rented a small summer home (really more of a shack) with no electricity or plumbing on the assumption it would be a good place to escape distractions and to write. Not your customary summer home. It was separated from their car, parked at the end of a cow lane, by some kind of estuary. If the tide was in, an hour was required to walk around to get to their car. If not, and a prominent rock was visible, and, to quote their son, they avoided the "sucking mud", they might reach the car in twenty minutes.

Brown had studied medieval literature (Beowulf in the original Old English drove me crazy in college) and had a professor who communicated his love of Icelandic myths. That pushed her in the direction of studying Icelandic sagas and the book is filled with links to an old Icelandic tale to illustrate a point she is making. Iceland has an interesting history and given its long winter nights and plenty of lambskin to write on, evolved a strong story telling/writing culture, proud of its independent, kingless, society, especially before the Norwegians took over in 1262. They wrote their sagas in the vernacular prose, unlike Europe where verse dominated.

Brown is also somewhat of a horsewoman and was intrigued by the Icelandic horse, a breed carefully isolated from any possibility of being sullied from outside influence. The breed has an interesting mutation that permits five gaits (tolt and pace being the extra two) as opposed to the "normal" three gaits. (Her website has an interesting explanation for the chromosomal differences and whether three or five should be considered normal. ( Most of the book describes her quest to bring home a couple of these unusual horses. The differences in riding style and requirements between what we consider to be "normal" American riding and Icelandic traditions and training were fascinating.

It's a difficult book to classify, part travelogue, part essay, part history, part memoir; but who cares. My only complaint is that you'll want to climb on the next Icelandic Air to check out Iceland and its horses. A great read, especially if you love horses. Except maybe for the part where she discusses why Icelanders eat their horses and why we don't. As with so many things, it has to do with religion (Pope Gregory III) and Norse sagas.x;">'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Found Wanting

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Found Wanting:

Goddard's book --at least those I've read -- have common theme: a rather ordinary man is thrust into a vast conspiracy through no fault of his own and must figure a way out.   In this case, British civil servant Richard Eusden is asked by his ex-wife, Rachel,  to meet someone in a train station on the continent and collect a briefcase.  He is then to take the briefcase to Marty, his ex-wife's current husband, and a former friend of Richard's.  Rachel then sort of disappears from the story, but she is replaced by a cast of thousands.  I won't even begin to sort out the plot for you because I can't.  Seems everyone is somehow involved with the Tsar and fingerprints and about two-thirds of the way through I kept wondering whatever was motivating Richard who could (and should) have bailed many times.

The plot was formidable and rather predictable, but as an audiobook it held my interest, perhaps because the shower was nice and warm.  I like Goddard but suspect this is not one of his better books.

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