Monthly Archives: August 2009

Books: Two by Ruth Rendell

Some Lie and Some DieNo More Dying ThenI just finished, back-to-back, two Inspector Wexford mysteries by Ruth Rendell, both in my beloved Black Lizard imprint. I had previously read two Rendell books, but none in the Wexford series. These are: “No More Dying Then” and “Some Lie and Some Die.”

I find Rendell ponderous to read. She’s not particularly wordy, and her plots are very good; in neither book did I figure things out until the final revelations. But she’s–well, she’s British. And the Brit mystery writers take it slow and serious and very literate. And there’s virtually no action. The initial murder happens off-screen. Then Wexford goes about his work, never drawing a gun or clenching a fist or hardly even raising his voice. Makes me long for Jack Bauer.

Rendell is a gifted writer. Her style just doesn’t connect well with me. I found myself looking to see how many pages were left, wanting to get the book done, even while wondering who done it. And that’s never a good thing.

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Descending into the Falsehood Gutter….

Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee sent out a “Health Care Survey” which included this question, which is a ludicrous piece of fear-mongering:

“It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration
to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP
voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a
Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility
concern you?”

Does Michael Steele really think something like that would happen in America? Would this apply only to registered Republicans? What would happen to independents? What about registered Republicans who pull the lever for a Democrat? Or Democrats who cross over? What about people who split their ballot? And would the courts, despite all the voting rights laws, remain silent? How exactly would Michael Steele’s dark conspiracy/fantasy work? Or is he just trying to scare gullible people?

I’m okay with bias. I’m okay with opposing something you don’t believe in. I’m okay with stating your opinion. It’s untruthfulness that gets my goat.

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Conversation Over a McGriddle

This morning, I took Pam’s car to Tire Barn for balancing and alignment. While waiting, I walked across the street to McDonald’s to get some breakfast. I’m a McGriddle fan. Was also impressed, deeply, with their carmel latte.

As I sat there reading in one of their comfy chairs, with FoxNews playing on an LCD TV hanging on the wall (this is not the McD of my childhood), a black guy sat down beside me with a newspaper. He was on break from JiffyLube.

A stat on the TV said according to a poll, only 7% of people think Congressmen have an “excellent” understanding of the health care bill.

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans are all saying different things. Even the Democrats don’t agree with each other about what’s in the bill.”

“I know,” I said.

“You would think the Democrats would come out with something, and lay it all out plainly so everyone can understand it,” he continued. “And then they need to be of one mind and voice. That’s leadership.”

“You’re right,” I said. “They don’t have their act together.”

“I mean,” he said, “I don’t have a PHd in Management, but this is just common sense.”

I suggested, “The President should say, ‘I’m pulling the whole plan off the table. We’ll come back in nine months when we’ve got things figured out.'”

“And I would respect that,” the JiffyLube guy said.

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Good for You, John McCain

People like John McCain restore my faith in sanity and civility.

He would have made a great president in 2001, and a pretty good one in 2009.

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The Crime of Defending Your Country

I’ve never understood the case of Mohammed Jawad. On August 4, he was released from Guantanamo Bay after 7 years of imprisonment. He returned to Afghanistan.

His crime? He threw a grenade at an American Jeep.

I’m not advocating throwing grenades at American soldiers. But hey–we invaded his country. He was a teenager (maybe as young as 14) who decided to do something. It was war, and he threw a grenade. They threw grenades at Russian jeeps, too.

It wasn’t a hate crime or a terrorist act. It was a kid taking up arms to defend his country against an invader–which we were. A totally justified invader, but an invader nonetheless.

As a result, we kept Jawad at Gitmo for 7 years. I don’t get it. Am I missing something here?

Actually, Jawad may have never even thrown a grenade. He confessed to it only after being tortured by Afghan troops, who then turned him over to Americans. Jawad is illiterate, and his confession was written in a dialect he doesn’t speak. US courts ruled out the confession long ago, but the Bush Administration still wouldn’t release him.

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Ted Kennedy on Faith and Tolerance

tedkennedy_200.jpgIn October 1983, Senator Ted Kennedy gave a speech at Liberty University, the college founded by Jerry Falwell. This was in the heydey of the Moral Majority. Falwell had been invited to give a speech at Harvard, and had been booed, something Kennedy said was not Harvard’s greatest hour. Kennedy received a more respectful reception at Liberty.

Soon after that event, I read Kennedy’s speech, called “Truth and Tolerance in America,” in the magazine Liberty. A couple months ago, I read it again. The speech refers to issues specific to a different period of history, like the nuclear freeze and Equal Rights Amendment. But the principles Kennedy states apply today.

Kennedy made four points:
1. We must respect the integrity of religion itself.
2. We must respect the independent judgments of conscience.
3. In applying religious values, we must respect the integrity of public debate.
4. We must respect the motives of those who exercise their right to disagree.

Here are some quotes:

I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?

The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk….Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.

Today there are hundreds — and perhaps even thousands of faiths — and millions of Americans who are outside any fold. Pluralism obviously does not and cannot mean that all of them are right; but it does mean that there are areas where government cannot and should not decide what it is wrong to believe, to think, to read, and to do.

People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice — even slavery — to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor.

Religious values cannot be excluded from every public issue; but not every public issue involves religious values.

Those who proclaim moral and religious values can offer counsel, but they should not casually treat a position on a public issue as a test of fealty to faith.

Where it is right to apply moral values to public life, let all of us avoid the temptation to be self-righteous and absolutely certain of ourselves.

We sorely test our ability to live together if we readily question each other’s integrity. It may be harder to restrain our feelings when moral principles are at stake, for they go to the deepest wellsprings of our being. But the more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side.

Those who favor E.R.A [Equal Rights Amendment] are not “antifamily” or “blasphemers.” …For my part, I think of the amendment’s opponents as wrong on the issue, but not as lacking in moral character

I hope for an America where neither “fundamentalist” nor “humanist” will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of goodwill look at life and into their own souls.

I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern Inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.

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Krauthammer on End-of-Life Talk

Charles Krauthammer wrote an enlightening piece in the Washington Post called “The Truth About Death Counseling.”

He begins with this: “We might start by asking Sarah Palin to leave the room. I’ve got nothing against her. She’s a remarkable political talent. But there are no ‘death panels’ in the Democratic health-care bills, and to say that there are is to debase the debate.”

He then goes on to talk about what actually happens in hospital situations when someone is near death, and the limited role of a living will. He says the section in the health bill which talks about doctors giving end-of-life counseling isn’t as benign as its defenders say it is.

He concludes, “It’s not an outrage. It’s surely not a death panel. But it is subtle pressure applied by society through your doctor.”

I’m not a big fan of Krauthammer when he’s on talk shows. But this column was very measured and informative.

Even Joe Klein liked it, saying on Swampland, in a backhanded way, “Charles Krauthammer has not been entirely unreasonable in the current health reform battle.”

Later, Klein writes this wonderful parenthetical: “It is hilarious how Republicans want to reform lawyers but not insurance companies, and Democrats vice versa.”

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Comparing US and Canadian Healthcare

A San Diego station did a special report contrasting US and Canadian healthcare. They partnered with the Canadian Broadcasting System, which contributed reports from Canada. It’s a 26-minute video, but I highly recommend it. They sought to be fair, and gave pros and cons of each system. Some of the stats they use have been debunked to an extent, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the human stories they tell.

A continuing theme is the long wait times in Canada, vs. the consequences of no care, or very expensive care, in the US.

I most enjoyed the segment, about 16 minutes in, where they went to a hockey rink and interviewed Canadians now living in the US. A concluding segment talked about how so many Americans use the emergency room as their doctor’s office, and the consequences of that.

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Book: The Prometheus Deception

prometheus.jpg

Today I finished Robert Ludlum’s 2000 book, “The Prometheus Deception.” At 650 pages, it’s the longest novel I’ve read in quite a while. But it was worth it.

I read every Robert Ludlum book up through 1990’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Then I stopped. He continued writing books, using his signature three-word titles–The Scorpio Illusion, The Apocalypse Watch, The Materese Countdown, The Sigma Protocol, and Prometheus–plus one called The Road to Omaha, which followed The Bourne Ultimatum. But I hadn’t read any of them. Don’t know why. I guess I moved on to other stuff, even though a Ludlum book never failed to thrill.

Ludlum died in 2001. Eric Van Lustbader finished four more Ludlum novels, and then started a series about Jason Bourne under the Ludlum brand which now has four books.

A couple months ago I read a book in the Covert One series, another series under the Ludlum brand but not written by him. It reminded me of how much I liked Ludlum’s novels. I decided to go back and catch up.

“The Prometheus Deception” was standard Ludlum: a lone hero teams up with a female accomplice to battle a dasturdly conspiracy, with plot twists and betrayals galore. I’m glad I rediscovered Ludlum. I’ve got some more catching up to do. Just wish he didn’t write such doggone long books!

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Atheist for a Day

Thanks to Evan McBroom for pointing me to this incredible post by a Christian named Aaron Gardner. Aaron stealthily joined a group of atheists who were touring the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kent. He wrote about how they were treated by the Christians running the museum in “Scarlet ‘A’ for a Day.”

You might call it “religious profiling.” We leap to conclusions about people based on how they identify themselves religiously, whether atheist, Islamic, Mormon, Catholic, Southern Baptist, or Pentecostal. I do it.

Anyway, read Aaron’s post. And then read the comments, which go on for many pages. A number of atheists joined in the discussion. The number of atheists and agnostics is rising sharply. Why? What are their motives? If you seek understanding, then this is a very illuminating thread.

Seriously, read the comments.

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