A soft apocalypse is a hard read

May 5th, 2011 Comments off

Will McIntosh’s “Soft Apocalypse” is one of the most emotionally intense and harrowing books I have read in several years. Set in the near future, it is the story of one man, and his friends, as they live through the terminal decline of our modern civilization.

“Soft Apocalypse” is refreshingly different then most “end of the world” genre books – you see, this book is about you. Yes, you. You are no action hero. You don’t know how to grow your own food, and you probably aren’t a crack shot. If you were in a zombie movie, your brains would be in the digestive tract of the walking dead. This book’s author’s protagonists are all ordinary people like you and I, not action heroes.

Throughout the entire book, the protagonist, Jasper, deals with life as society slowly crumbles. He doesn’t have any grand plan, he just muddles by, unheroically, with a circle or friends, as things gradually decay. The book takes place over a decade, and through the slings and arrows of Jasper’s daily life, you get a real sense of what it is like to live through the gradual decay of civilization. If most fictional ends of the world are the sharp bite of a cobra, this one is the slow, long suffocation of a constrictor.

Our story opens with Jaspar and friends living as travelling nomads a few years after a major depression has led to 40% unemployment. While things are bad, modern life is still holding up. The power’s on, you can still find Oreos at the grocery store, and a text message is still the fastest way to stay in touch with friends. Yet, the middle class has declined, the armies of the poor are vast, and the rich live in secure privately-guarded enclaves while ostensible public servants such as the police do nothing to prevent or try to stop crime. In many ways, it is America as a third world country.

As the years pass, Jasper settles into a modicum of stability as a convenience store manager, moving in and out of various social circles consisting of old and new friends, as the world around him continues to crumble. The economy just doesn’t improve. A nihilistic tribal-ish terrorist movement called the Jumpy Jumps spreads random dadaesque violence. Strange new diseases and genetically engineered destruction accelerate the decay of both the natural and man-made environment.

There are so many fascinating and well-written vignettes here – a bowling alley during a power outage, a trip to a virtual reality speed dating service, a flash rock concert, an abandoned carnival, canine-powered taxis, browsing an abandoned bookstore, and even (a bit too sterotypical) an emergency surgery via cell phonel.

This is a challengingly violent book – brutal rapes, torture, violence against people and animals – that are frankly disturbing and in many ways reminiscent of accounts I have read from World War II. In one scene, paramilitaries are executing citizens, and Jasper spots a fondly-remembered teacher about to be shot, and all he can do is look away while the man begs for help. Even a riot which destroys a Wal-Mart is rendered in a way that is less about economic despair and more about pure nihilism. Many of the scenes of destruction are more heart-rending then other books’ nuclear wars, perhaps because those are massive, while this book is, in many ways, very intimate. As ugly as the violence is, it is never gratuitous or celebrated, and is presented as a necessary part of the plot.

There is despair in “Soft Apocalypse” – the book in many ways seems the fictional representation of the famous poem by Yeats – the center definitely cannot hold, and a bevy of antagonists tear down society while decent people – including our protagonist, can’t do much other then survive the best they can as the rudiments of civilizations gradually seep away. The book’s strength is the author’s exposition of Jasper’s essential humanity, even after he sees everything he has cared about fall away and is forced, in the end, into making a terrible choice. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road , there is no happy ending, but like “The Road” the “Soft Apocalypse” is at its best when exploring the human condition, and how humanity can exist even in the most terrible conditions.

“Soft Apocalypse” is not a fun read, but is a very good book, and has provoked hours of thought and reflection, even after I was finished. It also kept me up at night, and it has been a while since any book was able to do that.

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Top 10 cocktail party non-sequiturs

January 14th, 2011 3 comments

If you really need to end a conversation in a hurry, wait until the other party has made what they consider to be a witty or important point, and then say one of the following:

(in random order…I don’t know which one is the funniest. I don’t know if any of them are funny!)

10. “That’s fascinating, but I don’t think the Bishop would have seen things that way.”

9. “What did you do with the marmot when you were finished?”

8. “It’s amazing how the artist deconstructed the entire paradigm ontologically through the medium of inverse interpretive dance”

7. “I don’t care what your favorite data pattern is, I still like the smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies!”

6. “Colorless green ideas actually don’t sleep furiously. I know for a fact they have insomnia.”

5. “How can you say something like that in presence of Her Majesty the Queen?!”

4. “God is actually shaped like a slightly lopsided rhombus.”

3. “I am working on a theory as to how the pigs procreate, being that they are green circles lacking in both legs and external reproductive organs”

2. “The gleam in your eye definitely strikes me as that of a time traveller. Your secret’s safe with me, but tell me, how do you like things here in the 18th century?”

1. “Sixteen badgers along with four raccoons, eh? And only three pounds of kidney beans, you say? Wow, you are amazing!”

Thanks! I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your hostess.

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Review: Across the Universe

January 9th, 2011 Comments off

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

“Across the Universe” is an excellent, fairly fresh take on the generational starship theme written for teenage/young adult readers. The basic themes are familiar – a passenger in hibernation is unexpected woken up, the cloistered society of the ship has gotten really weird over hundreds of years, and a tyrannical leader rules with an iron fist (and some help from genetic engineering and drugs). However, the author deftly blends these themes together, creating believable, sympathetic characters living in an environment that is weird enough that you wonder how things really work. The story itself is fairly straightforward, told from the alternating perspectives of the two protagonists – the teenage girl unexpectedly awoken, and the son of the ship’s absolute leader.

As both protagonists discover more and more about the truth of the situation on the ship, they are faced with a bit of a murder mystery as well as threats from both the ship’s dictator, Eldest, and the various forces that are keeping most of the people living on the ship in a state of almost animal-like somnolence. For those who like the science in their sci-fi, the author is quite believable, creating a realistic shipwide ecosystem, as well as not forgetting small touches, like the fact that the accents of the people living aboard would have gradually changed over hundreds of years to be difficult for a newly-awaked person to understand.

This isn’t merely lightweight teenage reading. The author imbues even the dictator Eldest with humanity and you can really appreciate the reasons he made the choices he did, even if in the end you will probably not agree with them. No one-dimensional villains here. There’s a small amount of PG-rated romance between the protagonists, but also a few scenes of slightly less mild sexual and physical violence, but nothing outside of the scope of similar books. “Across the Universe” will appeal to both fans of dystopian young-adult literature (readers of the Hunger Games trilogy and the Uglies will likely enjoy “Across the Universe”) as well as anyone who enjoys science fiction or dystopian novels.

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2010 mostly sucked, but not entirely

December 30th, 2010 Comments off

The end of the year always brings some reminiscing about the good and bad, and 2010 is no different. Overall the year seemed pretty mediocre, but a couple things really stood out as being positive for me.

In 2010, the virtual became real, and I actually made real social engagements via the various social media services, especially Twitter. Thanks to this new “town square” I have a lot more casual friends then I have had in the past, and have made real-world friends through the various tweet-ups, get-togethers and other random events, both organized and disorganized. Of particular note, are a few close real-world friends that initially developed purely via Twitter, such as Matt and Megen here in town, as well as numerous out of town folks like Ryan, Ben, Justin, AJ and several other neat people who I never would have gotten to know at all but for a “silly” microblogging service named after the sound birds make.

I usually follow politics the same way a casual sports fan follow his or her teams – occasional moments of rapt attention and cheering/booing followed by long periods where you don’t pay any attention. In a year when the forces of intolerance were definitely on the rise, the unexpected and dramatic victory for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal was one of the most gratifying and exciting political events I can remember, especially given that it came through the sausage-making apparatus of Congress rather then the drama of a legal decision or an election. For a couple weeks in December, I paid attention to the minute-by-minute minutiae of the Senate, and followed the ups and downs, and in the end, against all odds, the good guys won, the forces of evil were routed, and a major step forward for goodness in America actually happened. That was really awesome.

And on to miscellaneous ‘bests’ and ‘worsts’ of the past year…

Favorite game of 2010: A three-way battle between Angry Birds, Worlds with Friends, and Plants vs Zombies. I have to go with the latter; that game was truly amazing fun, although I am frustrated that unlike Angry Birds, the Plants vs Zombie folks have disappeared from the planet with nary an update or sequel in sight.

Favorite album of 2010: Weezer’s “Hurley” is simple, loud, catchy, and fun. Don’t need anything more complex.

Favorite movie of 2010: After the greatness of 2009, 2010 kinda stank. Nothing really stood out. Plenty of OK movies, but nothing remarkable. So, no favorite movie. But there were some decent movies, “True Grit” being the most recent one that comes to mind.

Biggest entertainment disappointment of 2010: The “Lost” finale. Ugh. Talk about finishing with a whimper. But hey, it was slightly better then the Battlestar finale.

Best comeback of 2010:Futurama” – good news everyone, the show is as good as it was before, which is to say one of the funniest things on TV.

Crappiest sports moment of 2010: Northern Iowa. Seriously. Ugh.

Best sports moment of 2010: It’s a tie, between the first KU-KSU game where Sherron Collins single-handedly won the game for KU in the final minute, and the first quarter of the Nebraska-Missouri football game, where Nebraska went up 24-0 on Mizzou. I saw that in a sports bar filled with Missouri fans, which was quite enjoyable!

Best election result: Lawrence voters passed the library bond. How about that, a vote in favor of both literacy and progress.

Worst election result: Everything else.

2010 in one sentence: “Don’t touch my junk!”

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Coffeehouses of Lawrence

December 27th, 2010 1 comment

I drink a lot of coffee. Luckily, Lawrence has a lot of places to get coffee.
Here’s a brief overview of what Larryville has to offer coffee-wise. By the way, all the coffee places in Lawrence as far as I know have free WiFi.
This list is very subjective, and only includes places that are primarily coffeeshops where there is sit-down seating (so, no tea places and no Scooters). Also not grocery stores with coffee nooks, I want to keep this list manageable.

23rd Street Corridor

Z’s East
Vibe: Townies and commuters, pretty laid back back definitely businesslike
My thoughts: Great coffee (the house blend is superb, and they have really good mochas), good place to hit coming to or going from Johnson County. I don’t visit this location too often though.
Bonus features: drive-through, roast their own beans

Dunn Bros.
Vibe: Mix of townies and students, study and discussion groups, pretty open
My thoughts: Decent coffee (and a bonus for two shots standard in 12 oz espresso drinks), lots of good chairs and a fireplace, a good overall chain coffeehouse especially for its location. I go here maybe once a week.
Bonus features: peanut butter for spreading on bagels!


Z’s Downtown
Vibe: Grad students, professors, and townies, pretty businesslike, working and studying.
My thoughts: Good coffee (like the East location, the house blend is superb, and they have really good mochas), both brewed and mixed drinks, and great location, but seating is limited to tables. Still come here probably once a week.
Bonus features: roast their own beans

Vibe: Thorough mix of Lawrence civilization. It’s a Starbucks.
My thoughts: It’s a Starbucks. You know what you’re getting. Not very much seating, so the place will fill up quickly.
Bonus features: It’s a Starbucks

Vibe: Very laid back, students reading and studying.
My thoughts: Haven’t been here in a while, but good location on the south side of Downtown, and features lots of comfortable seating and food to go along with the coffee
Bonus features: Couches and antiques

Vibe: Mostly townies, some students, intellectual
My thoughts: Only table seating, but really good coffee and nice decor. The baristas are probably the most artistic in Lawrence with drawing cute designs on the mochas. Bonus for the awesome little bar upstairs. Downside is in the summer they have a persistant problem with flies. Probably come here a couple times a month.
Bonus features: upstairs bar, late hours

Bourgeoisie Pig
Vibe: More townies then students, casual and laid back, strong group of regulars
My thoughts: I’ve only been here a couple times, so I can’t really testify to the quality. However, the Pig is very popular and has a loyal group of regulars. They also have a liquor license and for smokers, have the most comfortable smoking porch among Lawrence coffeeshops.
Bonus features: booze, covered smoking area, late hours

Java Break
Vibe: Townies AM, students PM, very laid back, place to read, study and hang out
My thoughts: One of my favorite places in Lawrence, really good speciality and espresso drinks, several rooms with different feels, great location, and offer cereal and food in addition to coffee. I come here several times a week. Probably the best mochas in Lawrence, but annoyingly, they don’t offer a 12 oz size for any drink.
Bonus features: sandwiches and cereal, couches, open 24 hours

Signs of Life
Vibe: Artsy, mostly students, Christian
My thoughts: Good coffee and a nice relaxed intellectual vibe. Good place to work for a while. They are closed Sunday for religious reasons. They have good mixed drinks, especially like the “donkey”
Bonus features: Bookstore and art gallery

Prima Tazza
Vibe: Mixed crowd, intellectual
My thoughts: I don’t go here enough. I like their coffee a lot (especially the espresso-based drinks), but it is a very small location and there often isn’t any room to sit. Good people-watching.
Bonus features: Next door to Free State

Seattle’s Best (at Borders)
Vibe: It’s a Borders, so lots of “library” patrons and people studying
My thoughts: It’s a Borders. So, always something to read. I don’t usually go there (for coffee) because I feel awkward taking my own reading material into a bookstore.
Bonus features: Bookstore

West Lawrence

Scone Lady’s
Vibe: Very quiet, townies and grad students
My thoughts: A nice quiet place to escape to in the middle of the day to read or get out of the office. Good selection of baked goods. Never seen them crowded. Their Caramel Twist, coffee mixed with caramel (but no milk) is quite good.
Bonus features: roast their own beans

Vibe: Townies, business people, a place to get work done
My thoughts: Really good brewed coffee, and a great location, the only coffee shop on the far west area of town. I will usually go here at least once a week, a great “coffee break” from the office. The Mayan Mocha is great, a mocha with chili and cinnamon, the drip coffee is also really fresh and really good.
Bonus features: roast their own beans, kids play area

Categories: Food, Lawrence, reviews Tags:

21 for 2010: The best books I read during 2010

December 25th, 2010 Comments off

As most of my friends know, I read a lot. I make no claims to read books on every subject – I am quite prejudiced. I only read books that looks interesting to me! Being a geek, I tend towards history, science, and books on “big themes” (and for some odd reason this year, several books set on generational starships). However, part of the pleasure of browsing a real bookstore is that sometimes something completely unexpected will pass my eye, and I will discovered and enjoy a book that I never would have known about otherwise.

Below is my list of the best 21 books I read through the past year. Not all of these were actually published in 2010 (although many of them were). Why 21? Basically, I went through my catalog of books (yes, I catalog my books – I told you I was a geek!) in reverse order back to the beginning of the year, and this is what I found…

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
A great collection of thoughtful and humane science fiction short stories by the author of “The Windup Girl” (see below). The best among the bunch is the title piece, “Pump SIx” about a a guy who tries to keep civilization going as everything is breaking down and coming apart.

Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tyson’s collection of short essays covers the gamut of astronomy and physics, in a fun and enlightening style. This is one of the rare science books that would be enjoyed by any intelligent person even if they do not otherwise have much interest in science.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzon
A fascinating overview of the psychological and cultural aspects of humankind’s interaction with the animal kingdom. If you’ve ever wondered why we keep dogs as pets but eat pigs, or how owners of fighting animals can claim with a straight face that they love the animals they condemn to death, this book will enlighten and entertain you.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
A man wakes up in an enormous, frigid, ancient, mechanically unsound spaceship, and has no idea what is going on, all the while being chased by strage horrifying creatures while trying to survive and figure out what is going on. Bear takes the reader on an intense and entertaining journey that plays out like a more intellectual version of the (underrated) movie “Pandorum”

At Home by Bill Bryson
Bryson is genius at taking the mundane and peeling it like an onion, and in “At Home” he used the rooms of an average home to explore the social and cultural history of everything from why salt and pepper are our ‘default’ spices to how the modern bathroom came about. As is Bryson’s wont, he peppers his prose with a myriad of fascinating historic tidbits and stories about obscure and not-so-obscure people and their amazing lives. You will never look at your house the same way after reading this.

On the Grid by Scott Huler
Infrastructure is the sinew of our society. Without plumbing, sewers, electricity, roads, and communications, we would be living like monkeys. If you’ve ever wondered about how all these systems actually work and what it takes to maintain them, you will enjoy Huler’s book. In the best “Dirty Jobs” style, Huler goes on location investigating (and working with) the people who make our civilization operate by delivering water and power and removing waste. Entertaining and enlightening.

War by Sebastian Junger
“War” has won numerous awards, and for good reason. This is probably as close as the average reader can come to getting a feel for the emotional and physical experience of being in combat in a modern wartime environment. The author ’embedded’ with troops in an isolated firebase in Afghanistan, going into combat with soldiers, coming under fire, and basically experiencing everything except actually firing a weapon. A truly intense and harrowing read.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
Rocket engines, trajectories, and such are quite important in space travel, but what about how you go to the bathroom in space? Or eat, sleep, and of course, make love? And of course, what happens to the human body when you are weightless for months? The practical issues of “human engineering” are the topic of Roach’s book, and she takes the reader on an enlightening and entertaining trip into the lesser-covered aspects of day-to-day life in space.

Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Everyone “knows” that men naturally evolved to mate with as many women as possible, and that women evolved to be naturally picky about mating, the best to protect their precious eggs and look for a mate with the right qualities. It’s just common sense. Not so fast! The authors show, carefully, with ample evidence that many of our most cherished myths about what is “natural” human sexuality isn’t backed up by the latest research. Written in an engaging and friendly tone, never lecturing, the authors cover the latest research on human sexuality with wit and verve.

Lucy by Laurence Gonzales
Lucy is a “humanzee” – a hybrid of bonobo and human, who is adopted and raised by a woman in Chicago after Lucy’s original father is killed in an African civil war. What makes “Lucy” amazing is that the book focuses on not on the science of hybridization, but rather Lucy’s actual life as a teenager, and how she develops and socializes, as well as the political and cultural reaction once her true nature becomes known. Emotional and touching, the “Lucy” represents the best tradition of science fiction by moving tech to the background, and making us examine ourselves.

Ancestor by Scott Sigler
“Ancestor” was the most fun book I read this year, and winner of the “most likely to be made into a blockbuster movie” sweepstakes. The plot? Genetically engineered ‘organ donor’ cows give birth to…something. These somethings are isolated with researchers on a snowbound island in the middle of the Great Lakes. There is a blizzard. The animals are very, very hungry.

How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom
I never thought an evolutional psychology book on the nature of pleasure could turn out to be so interesting. Bloom covers the obvious bases, but in looking deeper at the meaning and source of ‘pleasure’ he examines sources as disparate as the fetishes of cannibals and the mechanisms of overeating along with a survey of the latest findings in a topic in which we all are self-developed experts.

Grounded by Seth Stevenson
I picked this up almost at random at the bookstore and I glad I did. “Grounded” is the travelogue of a couple who take a journey around the world while eschewing any travel by air. They take steamers, trains, busses, cars and everything in between as they circle the world in an adventure featuring exotic people and places that are unseen from the usual 30000 foot view.

Five Roads To the Future: Power In the Next Global Age by Paul Starobin
I do not read many books on geopolitics, but am glad I made an exception here. For anyone wondering about our turbulent age and what the next few decades will bring, Starobin proves to be an adept guide lucidly laying out five scenarios, all of them both plausible and refreshingly free of the posturing and wishful thinking of the usual pundits on both the right and left.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
An amazing journey into a post peak-oil world in which the genetic code of plants (controlled by “calorie men”) is the source of wealth, molecular springs are the main source of power, and civilization is adapting and making the best of things. The genius of the book is its plausibility and refusal to give into Mad Max-like scenarios of a post-oil world. The titular character, the Windup Girl, is a genetically-engineered ‘pleasure girl’ who is on the run from the law and whose movement through society ties the various threads of the novel together. Covering themes from cultural identity to the meaning of power, “Windup Girl” is one of the finest novels I have read in years.

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
Probably my surprise book of the year. I don’t read much historic fiction, and certainly not a book (apparently) aimed at female readers with a title containing the word “mistress!” However, I am glad I did. “Mistress” is a historically-accurate look at life in first-century Rome under the emperor Domitian, and about the flow of power, vengeance, and politics in that world, along with a generous helping of (very perverted) sex and gladiatorial violence. A fun read, and an interesting look into one of Rome’s lesser-known periods.

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt
Tony Judt is one of the the most thoughtful historians with a keen eye towards recent history and political trends. He passed away in 2010, and this was his last book, which was adapted from a speech he gave to graduating college students. At once both a meditation on the current (degraded) state of affairs in the modern economic-deterministic American body politic as well as a stirring call to arms, “Ill Fares the Land” is at once both disturbing, wistful, and hopeful.

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank Robinson
A starship sent from Earth has been wandering the galaxy for hundreds of years, searching for life. The captain is both immortal and mad, the ship is falling apart, and the protagonist seems to be suffering from severe amnesia, all the while someone (or something) seems to be trying to kill him, as he starts to unravel the secrets of the voyage. “Dark” contains some great action sequences, as well as a really interesting take on the evolution of shipboard culture and mores over hundreds of years that propel the story forward.

Lonely Planets by David Grinspoon
“Lonely Planets” is a great survey of all aspects of extraterrestrial life. One of the most unique aspects of this book is that Grinspoon includes a history of SETI going back hundreds of year – surprisingly, a lot of philosophers and scientist going back centuries were open to the idea of ET and actively speculated what form he might take. Grinspoon covers the modern SETI program, technologies and findings, and then goes into details with some speculation on what real alien life might be like and why we haven’t yet found it. This is probably the best overall book on this subject I have read.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds manages to do “it” again – “it” being a novel that has a relatively mind-blowing “big idea” as well as some great character development and old-fashioned action sequences that are something right out of a blockbuster movie. The “big idea” is that at some point in the distant past, something changed the nature of reality on Earth, splitting the world into various zones, each one having different physical laws. In some zones life is impossible, in other zones humans can survive but higher-energy processes don’t work, and so on. The story is about a man who is ‘drafted’ into an adventure crossing many zones to figure out the nature of the world, as well as save his city and friends from a terrible calamity.

Exodus: The Ark by Paul Chafe
“Ark” is the second book of a planned trilogy, and is far better then its predecessor (and luckily doesn’t require the reading fo the first book to enjoy this one). “Ark” is the story of life aboard a massive generational starship, and about a series of people. over thousands of years, who try to figure out the nature of their world and where they came from, and are going. The depiction of the ship itself is amazing (think something Rama-sized) and both the culture of the residents and the mechanics of the ship itself are presented in a very plausible manner weaved into a great adventure.

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Same-sex marriage on the ballot by proxy in three states today

November 2nd, 2010 4 comments

Even though same-sex marriage isn’t directly on the ballot today, there are several races flying well under the radar that will affect the rights of gays to marry in California, Iowa, and New Hampshire that bear watching tonight.

In New Hampshire, the legislature, which narrowly passed a same-sex marriage law last year, is likely to be taken over by Republicans who are eager to repeal the law. The only thing standing in their way would be the veto pen of governor John Lynch, a Democrat, who is narrowly leading in the polls. If Lynch is defeated, it means the likely forthcoming end to same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, so keep an eye on this election.

In Iowa, all of the press has gone to the effort by right-wing forces to kick out three of the judges who ruled for marriage equality in 2009. It will obviously be disheartening if these good judges are removed from office, but this will not affect their ruling. What could undo marriage equality in Iowa is one of two things. First, if the state legislature switches from Democratic to Republican control. Polls at the state level are not out there (that I could find) but several Iowa bloggers seem to think that the Senate is likely to remain Democratic. Still, keep an eye on this and check the Iowa newspapers to find out for sure. Of more concern is the ballot question asking voters if they wish to call a constitutional convention. Iowa votes on this issue every 10 years, and normally they fail by large margins. If this wins (and right wing forces are pushing for passage), then a convention could be held this year which would advance an anti-marriage amendment, passable by simple majority. Given that this is the quickest and most likely way the same-sex marriage in Iowa could be ended, I am very surprised that this has gotten no national coverage in gay or mainstream press.

Finally, California. The key races there are for governor and attorney general, the latter being most important. Currently, Proposition 8 is on the legal ropes – a big reason why is that the Attorney General has chosen to simply not defend the law. Because of this, there is a good possibility that the federal appeals court will rule that Prop 8 supporters do not have grounds to defend the law (only the state can defend the law) and Prop 8 will be history. If the Republican candidate, Steve Cooley, wins the Attorney General election in California, he has stated that he will defend Prop 8 – which would give that unjust law a new lease on life. His Democratic opponent, Kamala Harris, would not defend Prop 8. In other words, the future of Proposition 8 is quite dependent on this (relatively) obscure race, which has gotten no national coverage. Polls showed the two candidates nearly tied.

So, if you are concerned about same-sex marriage in America, keep an eye on results tonight from the New Hampshire governor’s race, the Iowa Constitutional Convention ballot question, and the California Attorney General’s race.

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Oh, Kevin Yoder, I had such hope…

October 19th, 2010 1 comment

Well, any chance that I would vote for Kevin Yoder for Congress pretty much evaporated after reading his embarrassing, evasive answers to some real softball questions asked by citizens on this Journal-World voter chat.

I am sure Yoder has experienced campaign operatives advising him to ruthlessly Stay On Message and don’t say anything controversial but his attempts to do so in the context of the simple questions asked on this forum were a joke. There were only five questions asked, none of them very difficult, and by my count, Yoder completely ignored two of them (on bipartisanship and gay rights), provided a partial answer to two of them (on drug legalization and roadway safety) , and only gave a decent answer to one question, on health care, probably because for that one he at least had a nice canned answer prepared in advance.

Yoder’s responses to the question on partisanship was a complete non sequitur; he was asked if his political philosophy had changed (he was known as being moderate to liberal in the Kansas House) and his reply – talking about the federal government spending too much money – was like he hadn’t even read the question. Yoder was later asked if he supported gay rights, specifically about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (because in the past he had been endorsed by a gay political group) and he replied with a non-answer about the Kansas marriage law that says marriage was between one man and one woman, which he said he supported (although as a state legislator he voted AGAINST an amendment on this issue). He didn’t mention Don’t Ask Don’t Tell at all, although he at least gets a D- for answering the part of the question about the Federal marriage law.

Moving down the list, Yoder’s answer to the question about legalizing drugs was buried at the end of a rant that can basically be summed up as “California, you suck!” which doesn’t strike me as being terribly relevant to the actual question, although hey, at the end Yoder does actually answer it by saying he’s opposed to drug legalization.

So, finally, at the very end of the entire “chat”, a solid unequivocal answer!

Yoder’s a young guy, but he can apparently dodge and weave like an old pro. This actually kind of stinks, because I would like to vote for an intelligent moderate with some fresh ideas who can work together with both parties and get stuff done. Apparently voters in the third district don’t have that option with either party.

Categories: Politics Tags:

Voting just encourages them…

October 17th, 2010 1 comment

It’s election season! You know, the magical time of year when, if you’re a good little boy or girl, Uncle Sam will cram something up your chimney, or something like that. This year, it’s just so hard to choose, with all the teabagging going on, not to mention our socialist communist Muslim president, who even as I write this, is forcing gay people to get married and then have abortions performed by government-controlled doctors.

Anyway, my little corner of the world is actually pretty boring. We don’t have any candidates who with pro wrestling backgrounds, nor do we have any right-wing Republican former witches or Nazis (although we do have Kris Kobach).

I think our country is in a lot of trouble, and the results of the forthcoming election are almost certain to make it worse, as we look poised to give the Republicans back control of Congress (“Today’s GOP – We’re the party that campaigns on government not working, and then we prove it once we’re elected!”)

But, all we can do is vote (and bitch – loudly). My Douglas County sample ballot had a dozen or so races, a bunch of judge retentions, and a couple ballot measures on it, and for what it’s worth, these are my thoughts on how I will be voting this year.

US Senate

Lisa Johnson is my pick here. The big knock on her is lack of experience, but she has responsible, moderate positions on the major issues, which unfortunately won’t stop her from losing by 30 points to cookie-cutter Tea Party favorite Pat Moran in the election.

Congress – 3rd District

Stephene Moore versus Kevin Yoder
This (was) the most difficult decision I have/had, and to tell the truth, I still have not made up my mind. I think retiring Congressman Dennis Moore is one of the finest legislators Kansas has ever elected, and if he were running, he would be my pick. However, he is retiring, and his wife is running for the seat. She has good positions on the issues, but has absolutely no experience (other then being Dennis Moore’s wife). Her opponent, Kevin Yoder is a moderate to liberal Republican who has a very solid record in the Kansas House, especially on social and financial issues. Yoder was a leading GOP voice against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Kansas, and in fact was a registered Democrat for much of his adult life until he realized that you need an “R” next to your name to win in Kansas. Yoder’s been mouthing tea party platitudes to secure his election, and electing him is still a vote for a GOP majority – but, we ought to also encourage socially moderate Republicans, especially when the Democrat is not a very inspiring alternative. I will probably not make up my mind here until election day, but, I was for a while leaning Yoder.

Not anymore. After seeing Yoder’s embarrassing, evasive answers to softball questions from readers in this Lawrence Journal-World forum, I can say that any desire I had to vote for Yoder has been significantly diminished. I have additional thoughts about that forum if you want the ugly details. Making it even “better” is the revelation that Yoder had a “glug glug vroom vroom” moment back in 2009. I am definitely not going to vote for him. I may look at Moore again, or perhaps even consider a write-in vote or something.


Tom Holland is a decent, thoughtful public servant. He also has an IT background, which is a plus, especially given the state government’s recent PC-related ‘oopsies.’ I don’t like the fact that Holland gave gay people the big middle finger a few years back by supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but overall, he’s a moderate guy who would keep Kansas on an even keel. In contrast, his opponent, Senator Sam Brownback is running for office on a social-conservative ideological crusade, including cozying up to pro-genocide African “Christians.” Unfortunately, given his statewide name recogniztion and the “R” by his name, Brownback will win in a landslide, but I don’t have to help him along his way.

Secretary of State

Chris Biggs is a thoughtful, responsible public servant running against an ideologue. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Biggs’ opponent, Kris Kobach, is a nasty piece of work, who has made a career immigrant-bashing (he helped write Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law) and as an anti-abortion crusader (best known for subpoenaing patient medical records in abortion cases). Biggs? Just a boring public servant who is doing the very unglamorous job of running the Secretary of State’s office. I’ll take boring but competent over ideological crusader any day. Hopefully even in 2010, Kansans will agree.

Attorney General

Steve Six has already proved himself to be a capable Attorney General who has spent his time doing things like building a consumer fraud protection division and enhancing identity theft law enforcement. The other guy’s major campaign plank is that he wants to sue the federal government to overturn the recently passed health care law – which, regardless of how you might feel about the law is just a waste of taxpayer money since a suit against the law is already underway. Once again, I prefer the competent do-er versus the ideologue.

Insurance Commissioner

Sandy Praeger is running unopposed, but I will still affirmatively vote for her, as she has done a good job of running this office and addressed several consumer-friendly improvements to insurance regulation in Kansas during her past time in office.

State Representative, 46th District

Paul Davis is also running unopposed, but I will still affirmatively vote for him. Paul Davis has always responded when I have contacted him, and is a reliable liberal voice for Lawrence in the Kansas House. He deserves another term.

Country Commissioner

I don’t know enough about the candidates running for this office to make an informed choice. I’m not just going to vote for the Democrat, because honestly, I just don’t know, and I think it is better to leave the ballot blank then vote based purely on party or by guessing.

Judicial Retention

There’s a bunch of judges up for retention. I do not have enough information to specifically vote on the merits of each judge, but I am included to vote to retain all the judges, because as seen in Iowa, politicizing the judicial selection system is a very, very bad idea.

Constitutional Question 1: Right to Bear Arms

I am going to vote yes on this (purely symbolic) amendment which makes it clear that the right to bear arms in Kansas is an individual right (versus a collective right). The amendment is symbolic since the Federal constitution already secures an individual right to bear arms (at least based on recent Supreme Court rulings), but nonetheless, expanding civil rights is a good thing. The right to defend one’s self is an basic civil liberty, the same as the right to free speech, religion, freedom from search and seizure, and so on. The repulsiveness of certain conservative supporters of this right shouldn’t nullify the right any more then the repulsiveness of certain First Amendment supporters (I’m looking at you, Fred Phelps!) nullifies that right.

Constitutional Question 2: Right To Vote for Mentally Ill

I am going to vote yes. The state constitution currently allows the legislature to strip the franchise from anyone who has a mental illness. This has never been turned into actual legislation, but that doesn’t stop it from being a bad idea, and a sign of an old stigma that should be excised from the constitution.

Local Question 1: Library Funding

I will vote yes. Lawrence’s library is overused and under-funded. Its current facilities date from when Lawrence was half its size, and it needs to grow with the town. I believe public libraries are a fundamental public good, and Lawrence should make the needed improvements in the library system. This bond issue would provide money for a much improved library building, with more parking, more books, more computer terminals, and more meeting rooms, all at a cost that for the average household is less then $20 a year in additional taxes. That seems like a damn good deal to me.

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Ahem, is this thing on?

October 16th, 2010 Comments off

Trying out Posterous. This will not replace WordPress for blogging but I want a place I can easily dump photos and videos and quick thoughts. This should post to my Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress blogs.

For kicks and grins, here’s a photo of a better America.

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