Bastet's Lair

News, book reviews, essays, interviews, fiction writing, politics, and my view of the world

December 4, 2010

Apple Removes iPhone App for Being Anti-Gay

By Lynn Voedisch

Apps are supposed to be fun little things to put on your cell phone (or iPod, iPad or Android phone, as the case may be). They help you find restaurants, or figure out the tip for your waitress, make silly sounds to help you get off the telephone, or even simulate the flame of a lighter. They aren't supposed to inflame an entire population to send out petitions to have it removed from the iPhone.cracked iPhone

But that's just what happened in the case of the Manhattan Declaration, a fairly discreet-looking app for the iPhone that was Christian in nature. Originally, the app received a 4+ rating from Apple, meaning that it contained no objectionable material. But that usually means no porn, no hate speech (as in no Nazis or race-baiting), and no overt violence. However, in just a few short weeks, the Manhattan Declaration was pulled for being anti-gay, a designation that the Manhattan Declaration disagrees with greatly.

Here's how it all fell out: The Manhattan group sent out a brief survey to all its members. Some of the questions had to do with gay marriage and abortion. Users who replied that they approved of gay marriage or a woman's right to choose received a message that they had received a zero score and were directed to donate money to the group. This prompted an organization called to get riled up. represents the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual (LGBT) community and they were up in arms that an anti-gay app was given space on the iPhone. The group started a petition drive that garnered 7,728 signatures, many that had notes following the name citing the hypocrisy of a "loving" Christian group that would single out gays for persecution. presented the petition to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and cited "hateful and divisive" language on the app and demanded its removal. By Thanksgiving, the app was down.

For its part, Manhattan Declaration called the petition a "small but vocal protest" and decried the fact that was charging them with homophobia.

"We emphasize with great sincerity that 'disagreement' is not 'gay-bashing." Anyone who takes the time to read the Mamhattan Declaration can see that the language used to defand traditional marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty is civil, non-inflammatory, and respectful."

An Apple spokesperson defended the move to remove the app, saying: "We removed the Manhattan Declaration app from the App Store because it violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people."

The Manhattan Declaration vows it will fight on in petitions via Twitter and Facebook.

Article first published as Apple Removes App from iPhone for Being Anti-Gay on Technorati.

November 27, 2010

Norah Jones Shows Versatility in "...Featuring"

By Lynn Voedisch

What a lot of fun this musical production is!

"…Featuring," Norah Jones' latest release, is a wonderful arrangement of the songstress' tracks as she appears with numerous other artists, who are as varied as Dolly Parton and Outkast. The songs were recorded from 2001 to 2010 and cover everything from small cameos to duets to full-scale collaborations. They mirror Jones' own career over the decade, in which she has recorded four CDs that have sold more than 40 million copies altogether. Everything from jazz to country to hip-hop to ballads are represented.

Norah Jones
Almost every one of the tracks works, but some are standouts. I never would have thought that Nora would blend well with Dolly Parton, but "Creepin' In" proves me wrong. This collaboration has the two women alternating lyrics and then joining together for the refrain in a most lovely way. Dolly has a luscious voice on her own, but somehow the sweetness of Jones' pipes adds a texture that's just irresistible.

Out earlier on Herbie Hancock's Grammy-award-winning River: The Joni Letters album, "Court & Spark," still sounds like a new release. Jones gives Joni Mitchell's 1970s anthem to love and faithlessness a sound that's a bit tougher than usual for her. Hancock gives it all a jazz base that makes the song a signature one for his own album. On this CD, it's a show-stopper.

Another song that appeared on another best-of-the-year Grammy-winning album is "Here We Go Again" with Ray Charles from Genius Loves Company. I don't think the late Charles ever sounded bad with anyone he collaborated with, and this is no exception. He gives plenty of musical space to Norah, who sings playfully with him. They tease and trade off segments, pause for a long organ solo (which make you ache for the lost Charles even more), and then join together for the finale.

I'd never have put Norah Jones and Outkast in the same musical sentence, but the two blend together with ease. Outkast simply puts her out front as lead singer, and she melds with their funk as if she were born to it. The song "Take Off Your Cool" is from is another Grammy winner, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Some of the songs Jones sings are from her own bands or side projects, such as The Little Willies and El Madmo, so the songs with those groups work naturally well. She also includes songs with perfumers she's toured with, including M. Ward, Sasha Dobson (who has played with her touring band), Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings.

I was most surprised that she does well with hip-hop, for there's an area where I'd imagine her an outsider. Yet sure enough, she shines with Q-Tip in "Life is Better" and even with Talib Kweli in "Soon the New Day" (although I couldn't understand why she was interested in singing the sexist lyrics to this second song).

All in all, this is one wonderful little sampler of a CD. It's the perfect party mix with something for everyone. Or a great selection for driving: a little jazz, a little country, ballads, hip-hop, everything you might want.

The closing cut is the best. The Roy Orbison song "Blue Bayou" gets a beautiful live acoustic guitar treatment with M. Ward. It's a lovely, plaintive, untouched-by-time appeal for "some sweet day…on blue bayou."

Article first published as Music Review: Norah Jones ...Featuring on Blogcritics.

November 8, 2010

Review of The Price of Liberty by Keir Graff

By Lynn Voedisch

For Jack McEnroe, the price of liberty has nothing to do with politics or patriotism. It's based on keeping his job.

Jack works at a Red Rock, Montana, prison under construction and meant for terrorists. It's named Liberty and is funded, through some nefarious means, by Halcyon Corporation, which sounds eerily like the Halliburton Corp. of reality. The protagonist is in trouble for punching out the boss' piggish son, Shane Fetters, and has been demoted to clean-up duty, which angers him well enough. In the recent past, his wife, Kyla, left him because he spent all his time building a dream house for his family instead of spending time with her and kids. Now Kyla, who works as a secretary for the boss (and is secretly sleeping with him), has discovered that executive Dave Fetters has been double-billing Halcyon. She worries about whether she should blow the whistle.

Keir Graff
Little does Kyla know but she leaves her tracks on the computer, and Dave realizes she's been into his super-secret double-billing file. He also knows she's been querying the word "whistle-blower" on various search engines. He realizes he's in trouble deep, but doesn't want to harm Kyla. Trouble is, Shane knows too, and he's like a roaring bull moose that can't be stopped.

Jack's in the middle and has to stop Sean from destroying his family and everything else he holds dear in the name of Liberty.
It's a fine plot that novelist Keir Graff has woven in the wilderness thriller The Price of Liberty. What looks to be a book about survival in the wilds of Montana is more like a book about surviving political wiles in Washington, D.C. Senators and corporation big-wigs get handouts, everyone glad-hands, and plenty of money is exchanged. Fetters takes the big shots on fake "hunts" into the wilderness where nothing is killed, but they all retire for a venison meal at a swank restaurant and fat Cuban cigars. That's the way business is done in this version of America, the one no one of Jack's class will ever see.

Up until the double-billing is discovered, everything goes swimmingly for Dave Fetters. However, he doesn't know that a couple security folks from the feds are on to him. They have full names, but like most secret operatives, they just go by last names: Starr and Mosley. Mosley is the most interesting: a vet of the Iraq war, he seems able to slip in and out of every emergency, and track any illegal activity. He's been watching Shane. Starr has put it more bluntly to Dave; he's told Dave that his son has been identified as a security problem. What's a father to do?

It all goes haywire in a wicked and wild way when Shane cuts loose with some sort of half-baked plot to restore his honor and keep the ill-gotten loot. Rotten to the core, he's not afraid to blow away innocent gawkers along the way. Mosley quietly cleans up the mess in the name of damage control. Jack strikes out on his own doing counter-insurgency, if you will, getting friends and co-wokers to battle back at Shane. Dave's caught in the middle. I won't leak any spoilers, but his filial love could have shone in a better light.

All in all, Graff has produced a terrifically ironic look at America today, where the terrorist prisons stand in for the real-life legislators who are terrified of housing terrorists. (Although our maximum security prisons house the worst serial killers, rapists, and child killers.) The double-funding for the Halcyon Corporation mirrors the messes we've gotten into with Halliburton and now the Xe Corps. No explanation needed. Missing taxpayer money? Someone in Washington, D.C. is knee-deep in it. And even though Red Rock, Montana, is about a thousand miles from nowhere, it's a perfect microcosm of Everywhere, USA.

My only beef is that Graff's tight and almost journalistic prose (that's a good thing, by that way), tends to make Red Rock sound like a cold, barren place where no one would want to live. I doubt that was his intention, for Kyla and the kids are relieved when Jack lets them know he doesn't want to move away. Making the landscape sound less forbidding and more ruggedly beautiful might have softened the edges of the book.

But that's a tiny complaint about a first-class thriller that sweeps the reader along on a bouncy, jarring ride, almost as dangerous as the trip in Jack McEnroe's SUV. It will grip you, it will feel real, and it will make you think about American values.

Article first published as Book Review The Price of Liberty By Keir Graff on Blogcritics.

November 1, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Trips Up Mainstream Media

By Lynn Voedisch

"Calmer than you are, dude" read one sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. Saturday afternoon. It summed up the mood of the crowd—cool, comical, not at all worked up by any political message.
CBS News, which hired a helicopter to do an accurate count of the thousands of people who trooped Washington for the low-key affair put together by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, estimated 210,000 people attended the event in the Washington Mall. (Fox News, naturally, put the numbers at less than one hundred thousand.)
However large the rally was, mainstream TV seemed stymied by the event's purpose. It wasn't really political, it wasn't just a comedy show (although Stewart and Colbert did their arch comedy shtick on a stage under the Capitol building, which was beamed on many Jumbotrons).
It wasn't a rock gig (although everyone from Sheryl Crow to John Legend to Cat Stevens  - now Yusuf Islam - performed). NPR even declined to cover it, deciding it wasn't a real political event. Network execs scratched their heads. Everyone wanted to make something out of it that it wasn't.
The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" (the Fear part comes from Colbert's hilarious attempts in his pseudo conservative persona to interject fear into the midterm election precess) was nothing more than an event for the people in the political middle.
It was a chance for the actual forgotten center, if you will, to say, "stop the extremism and listen to us for a change." All about the crowd signs and costumes made the statements loud and clear: "Don't Tread on Anybody" (a clear answer to the case of a Rand Paul staffer stepping on small female MoveOn volunteer's head). "Seniors for Sanity" followed by "Slightly Perturbed." "1.No Biting, 2. No Hitting, 3.No Kicking, Kindergarten Rules 101," "I Am Afraid of People Who Carry Signs at Rallies," "War Solved Hitler," "No One is a Communist and a Nazi," "I Spell-check My Political Rants," "I Have No Idea What I Am Doing Here," "Freedom Fries, Never Forget," "I'm Pretty Sure Nazi Germany Didn't Allow Rallies Like This At All (That Should Tell Us Something)," and "Tea Parties are for Little Girls and Mad Hatters." Following that theme were a few people dressed as Mad Hatters with tea bags dangling from their costumes.
Some sidewalk hawkers had a few political wares to sell, the funniest of which was a t-shirt that had a picture of George W. Bush. It read: "I screwed you all. But thanks for blaming the black guy." Sales were brisk. But mostly people just bought shirts with the official Rally logo.
While the crowd was impossible to peg—young fans of the shows, old hippies, curious residents of Virginia and the D.C. area, dedicated "The Daily Show" fans who flew in from California—all were there to enjoy themselves, have a good time and trade quips. No one was there to press a political agenda. Well, there were a few misguided souls who were passing out leaflets for a political cause, but they were few and far between. Mostly, they were ignored.
Stewart and Colbert did a stage show about honor and fear, with Colbert comically trying to inflame Stewart with panic about killer bees, storms, robots and the like. But Stewart kept professing his belief that America was great and could overcome anything. (Sound quality was not great, and many could not hear much the show at all. My own vertical challenge prevented me from seeing even the Jumbotrons.)
The musical acts were loud and proud though, and one could hardly miss the former Cat Stevens, now a Muslim, performing "Peace Train," which Colbert challenged with Ozzy Osbourn's "Crazy Train." Back and forth the comedians went, handing out awards from most sane individuals to the most insane.
One of the insane was Mark Zuckerberg for inventing Facebook, but as Colbert explained, "He's not here because he values his own privacy more than he values yours."
crowd shot
Eventually, they came to an agreement that America was a pretty great place to live, and they sang — Stewart apologized for making people hear his singing voice. And the event ended, after Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock did a high-powered number, with an impassioned speech from Stewart that all Americans can work together instead of engaging in polarizing fighting.
"These are dark times but not the end times," he said. Later he added, "We hear every damned day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don't is here (in Washington) or on cable TV!"
It was a sobering speech from a man we think of as a cerebral comedian, but not a pundit. Yet he was making more sense than most talking heads on TV. On "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, every one on the panelists had no idea what to make of the huge crowd that gathered the day before in D.C.—and left the mall almost spotless, by the way. National Public Radio's Nichele Norris complained that the rally crowd could have been canvassing that day, missing the point that the rally participants were unaligned with a party and irritated with the whole process. They were making a statement that the process is broken and no one in Washington, it seems, heard the message at all. Maybe the candidates did. There are a lot of votes out there they could capture, if they learned to how speak nonviolently, rationally, and with moderation.
Article first published as "Rally to Restore Sanity" on Technorati.

October 23, 2010

Obama's Wars: In Afghanistan and With His Advisers

By Lynn Voedisch

The title of Bob Woodward's book is bound to confuse many readers, for one would think it refers to Afghanistan and Iraq, the two wars that President Barack Obama inherited when he took office. However, Woodward's tome hardly mentions Iraq at all. Instead, this is a close (some would say microscopic) look at how Obama deepened his involvement in Afghanistan and fought the Washington establishment surrounding him, especially the Pentagon. The plural "wars" almost certainly refers to the entrenched military and intelligence officials who were used to getting what they asked for — and found in this president someone who actually had the nerve to stand up and say no.
Woodward has never been a dazzling writer, and he doesn't exactly thrill in this volume either. Where one might expect a little Washington gossip, or at least a few little bits of information about the transfer from the George W. Bush to Obama administrations, readers get precious little. To say the book is ponderous is an understatement. I think the only surprise I learned was that Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan is bi-polar and is often described as "off his meds." Who knew?
The rest drones on with the desultory tones of a history book. If you are a political wonk and really get into who is the head of the National Security Council and who does the Presidential Daily Briefing, this is the book for you, because it has every detail about what goes on at presidential meetings, and then some. For the rest of us, Woodward just goes overboard with every conversation he could possibly log between all the major players from chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What bugs me is he throws in quotations of conversations he couldn't possibly have heard — but that's his quirk.
The problem with Obama's Wars is the difficulty with any current affairs book; it goes out of date quickly. Already, head of the NSC, Gen. James L. Jones, has resigned, leaving his deputy, Thomas E. Donilon, in charge. For those who haven't read the book that would seem a fairly benign change. However, behind the scenes, this move is bound to be causing quite a contretemps, for Donilon, a civilian, is not well regarded by the military, and Jones himself did not see eye-to-eye with Joint Chiefs of Staff head Mullen. With Rahm Emanuel out as Chief of Staff, you can bet that more personalities are clashing in Washington.

Besides being a book about egos who undercut each other or overplay themselves on the national stage, Woodward's book is about national advisers who have far too little respect for the man elected to the highest office in the land. You'd think that with his bona fides tested in the campaign, Obama, who graduated best in his class from Harvard Law School and was a former Constitutional Law professor, wouldn't be considered an easy target for a game of Hide the Numbers. But it's amazing that the Pentagon tried, along with ambassadors and national security advisors. Even after long, serious study of the Afghan situation, attended by all important parties, Obama's advisors went home, then returned and acted as if they had never heard the presentation.
They wanted 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. David Petraeus wanted a counterinsurgency program. Mullen stood with Petraeus. Jones was dead set against Petraeus. Meanwhile, vide-president Biden, who is described as so long-winded that people wince when he starts talking, had a completely different plan, for a counterinsurgency effort based near the edges of Pakistan.
Near the end of the book (which is so wearying, you wonder how Obama himself must have felt), the reader realizes that for all the advice, the president was on his own. Except for some apt advice from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, he had hardly anyone to trust and an entire country to please. Some wanted a bigger war. Some wanted none at all. He had Karzai who would love the Americans to stay and take care of all his problems. And if he listened to the military, he'd be adding even more billions to his already huge budget.
Obama didn't want a war, but he had to show that we weren't going to cave in to the Taliban or al Queda (who are in Pakistan, anyway). He set the troops number at 30,000, refused to back down when the military carped. Obama precisely dictated terms of his order down to how many cases of tissue paper were allowed to be shipped. I exaggerate, but it's almost that humiliating. When he finally ground the Pentagon back to the wall, they knew they met their match.

As Woodword tells the story, they all come out shaking his hand, saying that's the way they'd have wanted it anyway. Gates agreed to another year as Secretary of Defense (it was looking shaky before). Lots of love all around. But Obama had to push them to get there. Affghanistan head Gen. Stanley A McChrystal, was in the habit of making loose remarks, had about three chances to keep his job, most stemming from a disastrous speech he made in London in 2009, Unfortunately, Rolling Stone reported several comments that McChrystal and his men made about the civilians running the Afghanistan campaign, most dating back to the London speech. It was too much, He was out, and Petraeus was in. As far as Obama was concerned, this would be the end of the leaks and the insubordination.
As we know, the war goes on, although Obama promises a roll-out by June, 2011. We will see if that happens. It was a skirmish getting to where we are now, and far too few American appreciate the work the President did winding down the Iraq war to put the surge into Afghanistan. From the looks of things, the man has to fight every day with his own people.
If Woodward has done anything with this book, he's shown that a day in the life of a president is probably the most stressful day you could imagine.

Article first published as Book Review: Obama's Wars By Bob Woodward on Blogcritics.

October 18, 2010

Run, Rahm, Rahm! But Don't Forget Who You Are

By Lynn Voedisch
Rahm Emanuel hit the bricks in the Chicago for his "Tell it Like It Is" tour in Chicago, a sort of preview to his bid for the mayor's job. It's also called a "listening tour." That's the problem with Rahm, he's telling you things when he's supposed to be listening and he doesn't see the irony, but that's quintessential Rahm. The question is - will Chicago accept him?
If you listen to the national media, Emanuel's ascension to the mayor's seat is already a done deal. I even heard one radio announcer say, "Now that Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House to become Mayor of Chicago, what's next for the White House?" What a minute, sir, aren't you missing a step? Like an election?
While the rest of the country is sure that fast-talking (often foul-talking) Rahm is off to a blazing start in Chicago, the truth is that not many voters really know what to make of him. Sure he's a hometown boy and served as a congressman on the North Side. But was he a street-smart protege of a ward boss? That's the way mayors are made in Chicago. I can't even think of a superstar ever making it to the mayor's office. In fact, I can hardly remember when someone named Daley wasn't in the mayor's chair.
There were brief stays by Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, and even briefer shows by Eugene Sawyer and Michael Bilandic, but they were blips on the radar screen. For my whole life, it's been Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. And I'm pretty sure, it's been that way for most other Chicagoans too.
So what do we make of Rahm, who landed with such finesse straight from the White House? He's got a splashy new Web site that looks like a replicant of the Obama site, just teeming with that Macintosh slick design and the sly requests for information and stories (which are requests for your e-mail address.) Gotta give him style points on the Mac look, though.
On the Web site, he gives a humble speech that makes him look and sound as clean as a school boy. No foul language from this well-mannered young man! And the "my father immigrated here from Israel" part is a nice little reach out to the Jewish community. The rest of the site shows Rahm eating Italian Beef or going to day-care centers or otherwise interacting with everyday Chicagoans in a dopey, but friendly, way. It's all very cute but it looks rather fake.
Bring it on, Rahm! Be who you are. We all know you are the fire-breathing, foul-mouthed, Democrat who used to whip party regulars into line before the White House job. Show some of that blaze again. Even the foul language is not necessarily a bad thing. We're used to the rough stuff. The Daleys managed to slaughter every sentence they got their mouth around, and once in a while a four-letter word would fly too. Chicago's in sad shape economically, and we need someone with a little pluck. Enough with day-care visits. We need someone who can deliver cold, hard cash to the kiddie-care facilities.
Last week, on the cover of one issue of the New York Times, there was a picture of Emanuel holding out his hand to shake with a prospective voter. The caption called her "shy." I'd say she looked more like she was backing away, anxious and ready to bolt. If people know who Rahm is, they want to run the other way. "Emanuel? Isn't he the guy who screwed up the health care bill?" Or if they don't know who he is, they don't know why he's being followed by a parade of camera and sound crew workers. "Must be trouble."
In a poll taken by the Chicago Sun-Times before Emanuel left office, Rahm only scored 7% popularity with the voters, coming in below Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is besmirched by the Blago scandal. (Jackson is undeclared.)
Still, Rahmbo's about the only one out there who has a name. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was thinking of representing the Hispanic vote, decided not to run. It's pretty sad when the only name that brings up any thoughts of integrity in office is Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff, and probably only about one eighth of the voters know who he is, if that many. So, Rahm is the only name brand anyone can relate to, for good or for bad.
So, listen hard, Rahm, on your "listening tour." Then stop with the schoolboy act and be who you are. Be the guy who was elected to Congress for being a progressive Democrat. Sure, that's not playing well in many portions of the country, but it's playing just fine in Chicago. If you want to win this thing, use your advantages. It would be a shame to waste that expensive Web site.
Article first published as Run, Rahm, Rahm! But Don't Forget Who You Are on Technorati.

October 14, 2010

"Our Lady of Dreams" fails as New Age mystery

By Lynn Voedisch

This is the novel that took me the entire last summer to read. It's not that it was too difficult. At 599 pages, it's not the longest novel I've ever read (although it felt like 900 pages). Plus, I'm a fast reader, averaging a book a week. The problems with Our Lady of Dreams: A Prophecy for the New Age were manifold, but boil down to two problems. First, the book is written by an author, Chanson Duvall, who not only admits to being a rank amateur using a nom de plume, but writing is not even his main craft. Duvall ("song of the valley") lives in Phoenix, AZ. where he is a self-described mystic and teaches meditation and enlightenment to his students. Crafting a well-written novel is not his specialty, and it shows.

The second problem with Our Lady of Dreams is that it's two books in one. It purports to be a murder mystery about a young guru, John Paul Marconi, who is murdered in the Big Bear mountain area near Los Angeles. A young district attorney, Katherine Marconi, who just happens to be the victim's sister, is following the case with police investigator, Pete Hanson. Katherine discovers a diary written by the top suspect, Thomas Mattkins, who also happens to be a star football player.

It's this diary that intrudes on the whole flow of the book, becoming a volume in itself. It's really not much of a diary, although it starts out that way. However, it becomes a primer on Eastern philosophy: how to meditate, the meaning of the chakras, the lives and guises of the various gods and ascended masters, and a detailed description on how to attain kundalini ecstasy (a type of meditative perfection that very few masters have achieved). Along the way, Mattkins explains how he met John Paul, how he became his devoted disciple, and how he nearly worshiped him, but all that seems besides the point. Katherine has sworn to Mattkins that she won't divulge anything in the diaries to police or lawyers, so how can the writings help him?

The diaries really have almost nothing to do with the murder plot in this book at all. So, whenever Katherine stays up late and finds an excuse to reach for the memoirs, I put the novel aside. I knew all the action was going to disappear. Duvall was telegraphing to his readers that the fun was over and the dull New Age stuff was about to begin — not a smart move for an author. One final point about the New Age diaries: I'm fairly well-read in this area, and I found no reason for Duvall to go into such detail unless he wanted to write his own New Age series of books. If he wanted to discuss the chakras, why not bring up the subject briefly and then mention a source that Thomas would look up for further reading?

As far as the murder went, I found myself astonished at the characters' behavior. At first Katherine wants to take on the case of her brother's death when that's clearly a violation of ethics. It's a wonder she wasn't fired when her boss found out. Instead, she's merely moved to other cases. Still she finds ways to circumvent rules to keep close to the case when she's been forbidden to stay away. We're supposed to admire her pluck, but I was appalled at her cheek. Just quit the job already, and then you can stay close to the case all you want. You don't win any brownie points by sneaking around your boss and half doing your job. In her personal life, she burns the candle at both ends, living on caffeine and never sleeping — yet we are constantly told how stunningly attractive she is. She ought to be stumbling around with bags under her eyes just a few weeks into the novel.

She hooks up with Pete the lead the detective (another barely ethical issue) and within no time at all, they are engaged. None of this seems kosher, and neither do the facts of the murder case. John Paul was killed by someone stringing him up to a tree and slitting his throat. But when the police arrived at the crime scene, John Paul was dead on his stomach in a field, and the unconscious Mattkins was beaten to pulp on top of him (he later went into a coma), and no knife was found. Two bodies, one dead and one left for dead. The knife showed up mysteriously at the cop shop with Mattkin's prints on it. But how does anyone attest for the fact that Mattkins nearly lost his life in this caper? Did he turn on himself and knock himself senseless? Yet the cops and the D.A. stubbornly refuse to believe that a second person could be involved or that Mattkins is innocent. And the way Duvall explains the facts, especially in the courtroom scene, you'd think that the L.A.P.D. was filled with lunkheads who couldn't put two clues together.

I won't spoil the ending — if it is an ending at all. Many people will say it's esoteric and in line with the New Age message of the diaries. I found it a sloppy way to end the plot and, frankly, no ending at all.
I really had hope for this book. Lately there have been a couple New Age books that gave it the old college try, The Celestine Prophecy and The Da Vinci Code. Both were dogs, although the Prophecy had some good ideas hidden within all that bad writing. Maybe it's just New Age subject matter than dooms these books. Sadly, add Our Lady of Dreams to the list.

Article first published as Book Review Our Lady of Dreams by Chanson Duvall on Blogcritics.

September 9, 2010

Achy Obejas pens bittersweet novel of a revolution lost in Ruins

By Lynn Voedisch

What happens when the revolution's over? The celebration's a thing of the past and the banners are long taken down from public buildings, posters of former heroes torn and faded from neglect. One might quip that the Democrats are feeling this depression right now, but things have truly unraveled in full force for the followers of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution. They feel real pain.

Achy Obejas
Author Achy Obejas, herself a native Cuban, writes that on the island nation just about every-one has forgotten the fervor that once brought Castro to power. (Castro is now languishing and now letting his brother run the country.) People leave the country for Miami — 90 nautical miles away — on anything that will float and deal with U.S. Immigration when in the arms of loving relatives who are already U.S. citizens. To the Cubans, America is a destination, not a dangerous choice.

All this comes as a shocking blow to Usnavy Martín Levya, the bizarrely named protagonist of Ruins, Obejas' brilliant novel of bitter betrayal and lost dreams. Usnavy (named for the passing boats in Guantamamo Bay in happier times) finds himself to be a relic in Havana in a hot summer of 1994. Although he remains true to the Communist cause, working at a bodega, doling out pitiful portions of stale food to those who will wait in line, he notices that others are succumbing to capitalist ways. They're finding backstreet deals to traffic in dollars. Selling what they have of value and for cars and other luxuries.

Usnavy sneers at this degrading behavior until he sees his best friends building rafts to ride the waves to Miami. The United States? Land of cash and no soul? Sex to sell trinkets on TV? (Never mind that Usnavy's TV doesn't work.) Bling? (If Usnavy knew the word "bling," he would surely use it.) Most of all, he is sure the U.S. is ruining youth and he has a young daughter, Nena, coming of age and vulnerable to the degenerative changes going on in Havana. He feels protective and unsure.

Usnavy is beautifully characterized as a man who feels deeply but appears stiff and unbending to others. His wife Lidia and daughter Nena don't understand when he can't let them have the small indulgence of "pretend" meat (which is fairly disgusting) or let them make money in unorthodox ways. They don't want life at the co-op, and he is losing them.

But Usnavy has his own indulgence. It is a glorious Tiffany (or is it a Tiffany?) lamp he inherited from his mother. When the electricity is working, it lights up the entire apartment, and some come to share in its yellow glow. A chance encounter leads him to discover how the lamps are repaired and how they were made in America. He also discovers that his last name, Levya, marks him as a Jew whose ancestors migrated to Cuba. This shocks Usnavy, a Communist atheist, more than he can understand. He's standing on quicksand, and everything is giving way. Soon, in an attempt to authenticate his lamp, he starts to remove glass pieces. Soon he is selling them. Then in a fit of madness, he is looking in wrecks of buildings for other Tiffanies, which he never finds.

He risks it all. His beloved lamp, his wife and daughter, all his friends, just to stay stubbornly, proudly a man of principle. And that's what he is in the end: principled. Is it worth it for Usnavy? It may have to be. His pride is what he has to live on, in the ruins.

Ruins was given the Honorable Mention Award by the Society of Midland Authors in Chicago, as one of the best novels of 2009.

Article first published as Book Review: Ruins By Achy Obejas on Blogcritics.

September 4, 2010

Beck's Faith Fest Turns Up Some Crackpot Theology

By Lynn Voedisch
Things have gone way out of hand when you hear an off-the-wall comment like this one from the Glenn Beck-a-palooza last weekend at the Lincoln Memorial.
A woman was asked about her religious feelings at the event when she was speaking to a New York Times reporter. Jesus, said Becky Benson, 56, of Orlando, Florida, would not have agreed with what she called the redistribution of wealth in the form of the economic stimulus package. She said He also would not have approved of bank bailouts and welfare. The Times quoted her as saying "You cannot sit and expect someone to hand out to you."
Hold on right there. Someone Fed Ex that woman a copy of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was all about giving handouts to the poor. In fact his whole ministry was about giving healing, shelter, succor, and aid to those who needed it without any expectation of payment. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Remember that phrase, Becky? The meek don't have health insurance, either. We are expected to take care of each other, including the meek ones. It's back to Sunday school for you, Ms. Benson.Jesus
It's quite shocking how many so-called Christians have decided that Jesus, their supposed savior, would toss everyone out on the street, kick them to the curb, and say "Good luck to you; better get a good job." This is absolutely, 100% the opposite of what the Christian message is. I'm certainly not your poster child for religious piety. In fact, someone once used the term Renegade Christian, and I think it suits me well. But if I don't like the rigmarole and the fairy tales the church force-feeds so many people, I still love Jesus' message. And I simply won't have it when some Beck-crazed loony starts telling people that the gentle man from Nazareth would tell poor people they have to make it on their own.
Consider this: "See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."
We are beautiful as we are, ratty jeans and all. Jesus wasn't even into designer clothing.
Article first published as Beck Faith Fest Turns Up Some Crackpot Theology on Technorati.

August 28, 2010

Blago Brother Off Hook, Blago Retrial in 2011

By Lynn Voedisch

They're shuffling the deck in the federal re-trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Blagojevich's brother Robert Blagojevich on Thursday, saying he had less of a role in the federal corruption case. There were four felony charges against the ex-governor's brother and the jury was deadlocked on all charges in a recently ended trial.

A re-trial of Rod Blagojevich, which observers thought would take place during the run-up to the fall elections, will now take place in 2011, according to presiding judge James B. Zagel. Citing scheduling conflicts over the holidays, the judge denied the federal prosecutors an earlier start. The judge also requested a report on Blagojevich's finances to determine whether or not he is broke and qualified to receive legal help. He cut the ex-governor's legal team to two lawyers (he formerly had an entire team) and said he would appoint the advocates if it's determined that Blagojevich is in financial need.

The surprise announcements mean that the Democrats don't have as much to fret about this election season. Earlier, the party had been worried that Republicans would make hay with accusations about Democratic corruption with the Blago trial going on during election season. The truth, of course, is that Democrats have no lock on corruption, and former Republican Governor George Ryan is sitting right now in the federal penitentiary doing time for taking bribes while in office.

Although federal prosecutors complained about the 2011 court date, it gives them plenty of time to streamline a case against Blagojevich, since the 23-count prosecution clearly didn't work, ending in deadlock on 22 counts and conviction only on lying to FBI agents—a conviction Blagojevich will appeal. Look for the feds to knock off some of the lesser counts, bring in some some convincing witnesses, perhaps go for some "star" witnesses on its subpoena list such as Rahm Emmanuel, and hammer home the idea that quid pro quo cases don't always need to end up with the merchandise being delivered. If U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald waited until Blagojevich installed a new senator in President Barack Obama's old seat it would have been too late to stop the "one-man crime wave" Fitzgerald described.

As for Blagojevich's brother, it's long been considered that the case against him was small potatoes. Many considered him the "bag man," his protestations that "I have done nothing wrong" notwithstanding. Still, the prosecution loses nothing by dropping this attack.

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Article first published as Blago Brother Off Hook, Blago Retrial in 2011 on Technorati.

August 24, 2010

The Chicago Cubs Blow Their Last Game for This Fan

By Lynn Voedisch

I never thought I'd be saying it, but I'm hanging up my Chicago Cubs hat for the season, putting away the jerseys, and forgetting about any more games until next year. That's because Friday's game did me in. After so many seasons of broken hearts, this game raised so much bile and bitterness I had to go home and sleep it off for a while. After losing fan favorite and team captain Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves this week, the Cubs had to face him and the rest of Bobby Cox's hot team at Wrigley Field. It was weird enough seeing Lee at first base in a Braves uniform, and fans were uneasy, unsure how to react when he came up to bat. He was a beloved figure in Chicago and it felt felt wrong to boo him. Still when he popped out, they applauded heartily.

With so many long-standing Cubs veterans gone—Ryan Theriot, Ted Lilly, Mike Fontenot, and now Lee—the lineup looked bereft. New acquisition Blake DeWitt has done nothing to excite anyone. Starlin Castro, who got everyone pumped up in spring training has fizzled. And all those aforementioned star players were traded for AA and even single A prospects. Don't even ask about the pitching staff. My friends and I were poring over the scorecard trying to figure out who was left. However, pitcher Ryan Dempster did a fine job of making a game of it. He only gave up one home run to Omar Infante in the third and then held the Braves only one more score with run put together by a walk (one of the two he issued) by Martin Prado, who was driven home with a double by Alex Gonzalez.

On the Cubs side, they could have won. First, a group of nice small-ball hits sent De Witt home in the second inning. Then Amaris Ramirez came out of his zombie-like daze and hit a solo homer off of Braves pitcher Jair Jurgens in the fourth. Then Marlon Byrd hit a nice slice down the left field line into the territory by the foul pole for a triple and Ramirez repeated with almost the same move, driving Byrd home (although Ramirez, not as fast, only got to second). So, Cubs, 3, Braves, 2. It was looking good until the ninth inning and Dempster didn't need any relief.

Then Carlos Marmol stepped in. The good old closer we know and love. I remember asking in a Cubs story before, "what would we do without Marmol?" Well, now I know, because the man has taken the Crazy Train. Maybe he's been over-worked (there are hardly any pitchers, remember). Or maybe he's ticked off, for he struck out Lee with a vengeance. But he completely lost that steely-eyed focus he's known for. Instead he was whipping balls all over the place, over the plate, nearly at the batters, nearly to Milwaukee. He filled the bases and people started to groan. Still, he had ONE STRIKE TO GO for victory. The crowd was on its feet. The cheers started. He threw two balls in the dirt. The Braves fans started to cheer. And then the unthinkable happened. Rick Ankiel hit a triple bringing home two runners. Score, 5-3, Braves. The starch was out of the Cubs and they just pooped out.
I've never heard the crowd boo Marmol before, but they did today.

This is what happens when you dismantle a team as deftly as Jim Hendry has taken apart the Chicago Cubs. They may have started the season a bit slowly but they had all the working parts in order. Now he's sent anyone who was any good away, kept on hopeless chokers like Alfonso Soriano, has a stable of untested kids in AA, and has the nerve to tell fans, "I think you should be excited about the future of this team." Tell you what, Hendry. How about not? How about the fans giving up on your pathetic mess of a team? Lou Piniella is lucky he retired.

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Article first published as The Chicago Cubs Blow Their Last Game for This Fan on Technorati.

August 20, 2010

Will Someone Convict Blago on All Counts, Please?

By Lynn Voedisch

I suppose if you live anywhere but in Illinois, Rod Blagojevich is just another one of those funny names. He's a goofy guy with a shock of Fifties-style hair who shows up on programs like Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice and The View and makes an amiable fool of himself. So what if he was impeached almost unanimously by the Illinois legislature (the sole holdout was a relative)? What a funny guy! He even does Elvis Presley impressions.

But while he was making America snicker, he was making residents of Illinois steam. This schnook not only was taped trying to shake down a children's hospital for campaign funds, tried to sell off President Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder, but he also completely ruined the state budget. One of the things that came out of the just-ended mistrial (in which he was convicted of only one count, lying to FBI agents), was that he'd hide in the bathroom when tough decisions needed to be made. What a great governor! He handed a blown-out-of-proportion debt to lieutenant governor Pat Quinn, whom he never talked to and therefore left unequipped to deal with such contingencies. Quinn, now governor, has been scrambling ever since to try to fix the gap.

The jury in Blago's trial couldn't make up their minds on 11 counts out of 12 (and there were many more that the prosecutors hadn't even brought up yet). According to news accounts, in the case of the Obama Senate seat for sale, the jury was deadlocked at 11-1. Who was this juror who couldn't hear what everyone in the state read in transcript form? That the seat was (bleeping) golden? That if Blago couldn't get some big money for it, he'd take it himself? Was this juror crazy? Or pressured by outside forces? We'll never know.

All I know is that when the U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald released the partial transcripts and described Blagojevich as a "one-man crime spree," the people of the state went ballistic. People begged, pleaded, demanded that their state representatives and senators vote for impeachment. No matter how Blago tried to paint it as a political plot, the impeachment was a highly democratic move.

I've heard comments such as, "they've spent too much money already. In the court of public opinion, he's already guilty." Or, "He's got one count against him. He could go to prison on that."  Then there are those who comment about the "flimsy evidence" the prosecution presented. Let's get one thing straight: the evidence itself was not flimsy; the case the prosecution presented was bad. They only called two witnesses who were Blago turncoats. They could have called Rahm Emmanuel, the White House chief of staff, known to have been pressured by Blago thugs. They had a star list of people on the subpoena list. But they chose not to call them. Instead they relied on the tapes, which weren't enough—especially for the holdout juror.

We need a criminal conviction for Blago to end the talk that impeachment was a political game. We need a judge pounding a gavel, saying "guilty!" and sending the tap-dancing Blagojevich to jail to do some time and start thinking about what it means to expect money to fill a United States Senate seat. He was a horrible governor and he damaged our state's coffers and our state's already shaky reputation. Let's go through this monkey trial again, and let's get it right!

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Article first published as Someone Convict Blago on All Counts, Please! on Technorati.

August 3, 2010

Time? What's Time? by Miguel Kertsman makes head spin

The musical production of Miguel KertsmanTime? What's Time?reminds me of the expansive musical experimentation of the old radio show, Musical Starstreams, that born-in-the-'80s program featuring "space music" and later, trance music, trip hop, and all sorts of exotic music that had no category. (Much to my amazement, Starstreams and host Frank Forest are still around and available by streaming from his Internet site.)
But Kertsman is so much more than far-out noodling in space-time. The Brazilan-born artist has performed with orchestras all over the world and is at home with a grand pipe organ as he is with electronic instruments. In the lush and fantastic Time? What's Time? I was expecting Philip Glass-like play with dynamics and time signatures, but that's just a beginning for Kertsman. He's all over the place, layering tribal sounds over a bed of ambient music, string ensembles, a full symphony, baroque singing, and even pop singing with lyrics. It could have been a mess, or just a head trip. And, well, sometimes it is. But mostly it works, sending the listener on fantastic flights of fancy that are best listened to at home and not in a moving environment such as a car. I'd hate to see the accident caused by listening to one of Kertsman's involved and wound-up musical adventures. Talk about distracted driving!
I'm not at all sure the listener is going to get as much out of the album that Kertsman intends with his ambitious liner notes (If he indeed wrote them: no other credit is given.) They give a long, and fairly pretentious story of "the Masters of Vega" who live within the Universal Music. They somehow make themselves known. Gravity tunnels form and humans must choose which ones to take. (Why?) The ones who take the right tunnels prepare new worlds….blah…blah…blah. I can't go on with this stuff. Nor could I follow it with the music.
But it didn't detract from the artistry one bit. There was some very intensive musicianship on display including great jazzy piano work on "Promises, Lies, and Deception," "The Drifter" just rocks out. I thoroughly enjoyed all the ethereal musical touches, whether they were electronic or orchestra, for Kertsman avoided that drifting-off-into-space sound. However, and I may just be idiosyncratic about this, I didn't go for the vocal work. It seemed too hokey for a musical production of this magnitude. The "Masters of Vega" were operatic in sound and they grated on my nerves. Let's keep opera in opera. I've never liked the sound of traditionally trained singers fighting off electric guitar or synthesized sound. It just doesn't work.
On the whole this is an astounding work, full of musical genius, and brimming with ideas that may make your eyes pop. On the downside, Kertsman may have tried to pack too much into one album. He's done plenty in his career, having produced Four Choruses & Lullabies,AmazonicaRhythmic Fission and Gravity Tunnel, so another album is not out of the question. I'd have been happier without the vocals. As for the liner notes, if you can follow them, more luck to you. If not, I doubt the listener is missing anything.
For those with PCs, his Web site also offers a Conyclism game (for a limited time) on his Web site. There also are more videos on the site.

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Article first published as Music Review Time? What's Time? by Miguel Kertsman on Blogcritics.