Archive for August, 2009

Obama in the Law Library

President Obama is a noted reader. The press recently reported on his heavy duty August vacation reading list which included such hefty tomes as David McCullough’s new biography of John Adams and Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded.  The New York Times ran an article in Jan. 2009 on the books that shaped his life.

If you haven’t read Obama’s own autobiography, Dreams of My Father,  I highly recommend it. Dreams is a lyrical, moving account of Obama’s search for his father, his family history, and, by extension, his own identity as a man.


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I always know when fall time is rolling round as I become more enamored of reading in the evenings. In much the same way that squirrels collect pine cones for the winter, I begin hauling in books that peak my interest.

Here are a few of my recent reads and reviews thereof:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This literary classic is much improved by the addition of some ultra-violent zombie mayhem.  Not only do I heartily approve the addition of brain-hungry hordes of the undead and sword-swinging Ninja action to this wheezy tome, but I can only hope that it will lead to other cross-over stories. Charles Dickens’ novels could badly do with an injection of killer robots, for example. Seriously, if you have never been able to get into Jane Austen before (like me), try this volume and see if you don’t enjoy the story that much more.  I am greatly looking forward to “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” which should be out in September.


From zombies to politicians–some folks would say that’s not much of a stretch.  However, if you are looking for a good,non-fiction, political page turner, I can highly recommend “The Thumpin’: How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution”.  I’m not generally interested in election stories, but I was definitely intrigued by Chicago Tribune reporter, Naftali Bendavid’s, coverage of the 2006 election.  Bendavid’s portrait of the election process and the personalities behind it is both riveting and compelling. Literally, I couldn’t put this book down once I started even though I obviously knew the outcome.

One small nitpick: it would have been nice to have described the duties of a campaign manager in more detail. If you don’t have experience trying to coordinate a large event like a campaign, I’m not sure that you can really appreciate Rahm Emanuel’s position as he essentially manages not one, but fifty separate political races–at the same time.

So what were the ideas Rahm Emanuel and his posse of Democratic challengers campaigning on? “The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America” by Emanuel and Bruce Reed outlines the three major points of the Democratic platform: 1) universal education, 2) universal healthcare, and 3) universal service.  A word of advice: the universal healthcare plan Emanuel and Reed advocate is not the same as the current plan under discussion.

Get the paperback version of this book with the new foreword written in 2008.  The authors make clear in the foreward that The Plan is about their ideas and doesn’t reflect the views of the staff and management (e.g. President Obama).

The book opens with an entertaining account of the difference between hacks (professional politicians) and wonks (policy experts) and the importance of keeping an even balance of power between the two. It then moves into a discussion of the authors’ proposals for education, health, and volunteer service.

The healthcare policy changes they propose are much more conservative than anything currently being discussed in Congress (or at least that was my read of Emanuel and Reed’s ideas).  I didn’t care for their idea of a volunteer service corps either. I’ve heard similar proposals before and I dispute the idea that my fellow Americans are somehow falling down in their citizenship duties.  It’s the government that should do more, not the citizens who are going all out just to keep their heads above water.  I did like President Obama’s plan–which is just a footnote in the universal service section–that high school and junior high students could earn money for college by doing community service.

The idea that held the most promise for me was universal education. In this section, the authors talk about making a college education free for everyone which I rather like.  In Arnor, we have a similar program where high school seniors at the top of their class get a four year, full tuition scholarship to the state university.

Nancy Pelosi

One of the outcomes of The Thumpin’ was that Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House. “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters” is the book she co-wrote with Amy Hill Heath. If you are looking for a definitive autobiography, however, you will be disappointed. The book is really the text of a long, inspirational speech in hardback. If, on the other hand, you are just looking for the highlights of Nancy’s life, then you will enjoy this book.

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“Snot doctors”.Bob, my co-worker, proposing his name for eye, ear, nose and throat specialists.

“Wouldn’t they be called  ‘boogermen’?”–me

Librarians, engaged in edifying conversation, at your library–not (or snot as the case may be) …. 🙂

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Putin Tank Top

When I saw this picture of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, I immediately thought “hubba, hubba” and then I was promptly horrified. To understand why I was shocked by my own reaction, you have to remember that I grew up when the Cold War was still a go. While I don’t live in Osgiliath and therefore can’t see Mordor from my house, the presence of our ominious neighbor was always with us. Hobbiton was actually a second strike target due to the extra-long airport at the nearby Gwaihir Air Force Base. [The extra-long airport means that fighters with nuclear missiles could land and take off or so I was told. The Gwaihir airport is also an alternative landing strip for the space shuttle. The shuttle has yet to land there, but I keep hoping].

Back to the special horror, in my day, Soviet Russia was run by old guys in heavily decorated uniforms or ill-fitting dark suits who–and this is important—KEPT THEIR CLOTHES ON at all times.  When I saw pictures of Leonid Brezhnev, I didn’t say “whoa, he’s a hottie”, I said “is he alive or have they just reanimated his corpse?”


What is the world coming to, darn it?! Are we going to be trading military parades in Red Square for pose-offs across the Bering Strait? Are we going to have to oil up the President so he can flex his American biceps on Nome’s beach? Fortunately, we are in the Obama years and therefore can make a respectable showing in the “Shirtless World Leader” department. Although I would have to caution the President that the mosquitos on the Seward Peninsula are more bloodthirsty than right wing protesters at a health care forum so if he’s going to grease up with anything, it should probably be mosquito repellent.


Okay, Obama and Putin make for some major eyecandy, but it can’t end well. Sooner or later other world leaders are going to want to get in on the act and then …well, let’s just say that if North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il starts stripping to the waist, a lot of innocent people are going to have to claw out their own eyes.

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Mother Method and I were at home, kippering slowly in the hot and smoke-filled house, when she directed my attention to a small animal in the backyard. I came to the window expecting to see a snowshoe hare or a squirrel. Instead, I saw something that I would have never expected to see in any backyard in Hobbiton–a marmot!

“I can’t believe it,” I said. “That’s a freaking marmot.”

Marmots (or groundhogs or whistle-pigs or parka squirrels) typically live at much higher, alpine-type environs. Why one would be hanging down in Hobbiton is a baffling question.

Asking around at work, however, I discovered that marmots have indeed been seen around our happy valley of late although they usually confine themselves to the slopes, not to the flatlands. Which again begs the question–what is the varmint …er. . . marmot doing in my very flat backyard (apart from nibbling my dandelions and delphiniums)?

Several weeks ago there was a big set-to at the mall just a couple of streets over from where I live. A marmot, apparently looking for a coffee and bagel, scurried into the mall bagel shop which is under construction, sending screaming patrons clambering up onto their teeny-tiny cafe tables. Hobbiton’s finest responded in force and shooed the disconcerted marmot back out into the field behind the mall.

So I can’t help wondering if this is the same Marmot Mall Invader or a different one altogether. Admittedly, the chubby-cheeked little guy would have had to cross some major highways to get to my neighborhood, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Beware, my friends, beware of Marmots from the Mall! (Coming to your house sooner than you think). Watch the ground! Watch the ground!

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