Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Blog List


It's New Year's Eve and unlike most years, we are actually going out this evening. We usually stay home and spend a quiet evening in front of the fireplace, enjoying a drink of wine (or two). This year we're getting together with a group of friends who live nearby in Mount Airy for dinner and some conversation.

As the year-end approaches, the close of the year also brings forth the annual List of favorites (movies, songs, books, etc). My List for last year was a List of Lists. See Tis the Eve.

In trying to pick this year's list, I noticed that the finalists for The 2008 Weblog Awards has been posted, so I thought that for my annual List, I would mention my favorite blogs who are Finalists.

There are many wonderful, interesting, provocative bloggers out there in never-never land, toiling on a daily (or so) basis to provide food for thought. It's nice to be able to give a hand of thanks to them for their efforts.

And it's nice to know that many of the blogs that I read daily (or thereabouts) are on the list. I obviously have good taste:

Best Blog:
Huffington Post

Best Individual Blogger:
field negro

Best Humor Blog:
Jon Swift

Best Comic Strip:
Town Called Dobson
xkcd

Best Liberal Blog:
Hullabaloo
Blue Gal
Crooks & Liars
Talking Points Memo

Best Political Coverage:
FiveThirtyEight

Best Technology Blog:
Engadget

Best Law Blog:
How Appealing

Best LGBT Blog:
Pam's House Blend

Best Science Blog:
Pharyngula

Best Major Blog (Authority over 1001):
The Moderate Voice

Best Very Large Blog (Authority between 501 and 1,000):
Pandagon

Best Midsize Blog (Authority between 201 and 300):
Suburban Guerilla

Best Up And Coming Blog (Authority between 51 and 100):
Connecting the Dots

I skipped the categories where I don't know or have a particular favorite. And in two cases, Best Comic Strip & Best Liberal Blog, my favorites tied. Of course, Blue Gal also blogs for Crooks & Liars, so it's all good.

Voting for the winners begins January 5th, so check them out. Rewards are few & far between for all of the hard work & effort, so recognition is a small token, but well-deserved.

Happy New Year.

(Update 1/1/09: I missed one of my favorites for Best Liberal Blog, Talking Points Memo, making the final choice all that much harder.)

Cartoon of the Day


David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Never Again or Yet Again?

I hate to say it, but I really believe that Israel's attacks in Gaza is taking the War on Christmas meme a bit too literally.

Sarcasm aside, the latest offensive by Israel in the Gaza strip is yet another reminder that, notwithstanding its avowed constitutional tenet of Separation of Church & State, the United States seems to be forever linked to two extremist religious groups. Although neither is a religion per se, both politico-religious zealots -- the evangelicals and Israel -- manage to exert a controlling influence over the politics of this country.

The fealty accorded to the evangelicals by the GOP is bestowed by both parties with respect to Israel. As Glen Greenwald notes, in George Washington's warnings and U.S. policy towards Israel, an accepted truism (along the lines of the Bush Administration's if the President does it it must be legal), that if Israel does it, it must be OK:

The degree of mandated orthodoxy on the Israel question among America's political elites is so great that if one took the statements on Gaza from George Bush, Pelosi, Hoyer, Berman, Ros-Lehtinen, and randomly chosen Bill Kristol-acolytes and redacted their names, it would be impossible to know which statements came from whom. They're all identical: what Israel does is absolutely right. The U.S. must fully and unconditionally support Israel. Israel does not merit an iota of criticism for what it is doing. It bears none of the blame for this conflict. No questioning even of the wisdom of its decisions -- let alone the justifiability -- is uttered. No deviation from that script takes place.

By itself, the degree of full-fledged, absolute agreement -- down to the syllable -- among America's political leaders is striking, even when one acknowledges the constant convergence between the leadership of both parties. But it becomes even more striking in light of the bizarre fact that the consensus view -- that America must unquestioningly stand on Israel's side and support it, not just in this conflict but in all of Israel's various wars -- is a view which 7 out of 10 Americans reject. Conversely, the view which 70% of Americans embrace -- that the U.S. should be neutral and even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally -- is one that no mainstream politician would dare express.

For the Israel apologists, whether the justification is, as Steve Gimbel notes, that we must teach them a lesson or more along the lines of Marty Peretz' "don't fuck with the Jews" message, the result is the same for the victims of the violence.

Moreover, there comes a point when the stark facts call out for comment, if not condemnation. The recent attacks may warrant this, as Greenwald explains, in Marty Peretz and the American political consensus on Israel:
Opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are so entrenched that any single outbreak of violence is automatically evaluated through a pre-existing lens, shaped by one's typically immovable beliefs about which side bears most of the blame for the conflict generally or "who started it." Still, any minimally decent human being -- even those who view the world through the most blindingly pro-Israeli lens possible, the ones who justify anything and everything Israel does, and who discuss these events with a bottomless emphasis on the primitive (though dangerous) rockets lobbed by Hamas into Southern Israel but without even mentioning the ongoing four-decades brutal occupation or the recent, grotesquely inhumane blockade of Gaza -- would find the slaughter of scores of innocent Palestinians to be a horrible and deeply lamentable event.
Along with many on the left, I myself have been guilty of mostly maintaining silence on the subject of Israel, despite my overall belief that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is defined by the disheartening maxim that the Oppressed become the Oppressors. The parties merely trade sides as to which is which at any given time, in a never-ending dance of death and destruction.

However, there does appear to be a small crack in the unquestioning, lockstep support of Israel, which has permitted a few words of criticism to creep in, as noted by Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, The Third Rail of “Israel” Cools in the Blogosphere. See also, Today I end my support of Israel and Peace Is Possible.

With a change in Administration, perhaps this is the time to continue that discussion. As Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House notes, in The Only Thing Israel Is Good For Anymore Is Chest Thumping. That Has To Change:
The U.S.-Israel relationship desperately needs a drastic overhaul. And while I hope that the new administration has the cojones to shake things up, I'm not optimistic that it will because the Israel lobby is so adept at pushing buttons in Washington, or when that fails screaming anti-Semitism.

The first thing that Obama and Clinton need to do is to make it clear to Netanyahu -- the likely successor to Ehud Olmert in the February elections -- that Israel has to begin rolling back to its 1967 borders.

This will entail removing most of the settlers from the occupied territories, including the West Bank, where the settler population has doubled to over 270,000 since 1995.


* * * *
The next several days will follow an all-too-familiar pattern of pointless finger pointing and messages sent but not received: Arab states will pile on Israel. Washington and a few other Western governments (certainly many fewer than in the past) will rush to Israel's defense. The price of oil will spike. The radical Palestinian leadership will bury their dead but determinedly not learn from the errors of their ways while their people sink deeper into hopelessness.

And the Israelis, who long ago squandered their moral superiority by building settlements while oppressing the Palestinian people, will revel over their big dicked but small-minded chest thumping.

Otherwise, we will continue to play our bit part in the saga of Israel, which was expressed by Jon Stewart during the election as only he could:




















"Oh, I forgot. You can't say anything remotely critical of Israel and still get elected President."

And we already know where that has gotten us -- no peace in the Middle-East.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What a Tripp

A "shocking" study was released which showed that abstinence promises often get broken. In Study: 'Virginity pledges' are ineffective, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report was published in the journal Pediatrics, which noted:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."

They could have saved a lot of time & effort. Growing up Catholic in the age of abstinence, I can attest that many teen followers of virginity pledges were often called mommy. I lucked out, but many of my friends were not so fortunate. As they say, love (and lust) conquers all.

Instead of reading the report, just see the latest example of Exhibit "A" -- Bristol Palin Baby Son Tripp Born. The Huffington Post reports that that font of all the news that's fit for gossip, People Magazine, is spreading the word:

Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, gave birth on Sunday to a healthy 7 lb., 4 oz., baby boy in Palmer, Alaska.

This is a case of first comes love, then comes the baby carriage. So, any bets on whether marriage follows after?

Cartoon of the Day


Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune

It's Christmas Time Again

One of the nice thing about families being spread about is that it can extend the holiday season a bit longer. Visits to and from relatives out of town allows for Christmas to be celebrated all over again as the family gathers together.

We are back from a trip to visit my husband's family in Pittsburgh. We had our Christmas dinner on Saturday, followed by our annual Christmas gift exchange. I got to open my antique moonstone bracelet all over again, with oohs & aahs (since it was also a present from my mother-in-law, among others).

The long week-end was made even merrier by the fact that DavePhilly, who is a big Steelers fan, got to enjoy a big win with his Pittsburgh friends and my daughter, an Eagles fan, likewise enjoyed a victory ( and both teams managed to make the play-offs). And, of course, I'm happy because they both were.

This weekend my brother & his family visits, so we get to do it one more time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus


As I was doing my holiday shopping this year, I stopped in my favorite antique jewelry store in Narberth, looking for a Birthday/Holiday present for a close friend. Of course, I knew that it was a dangerous endeavor and, as I feared, I saw something I fell in love with for myself. I may have mentioned a few times before how much I love jewelry. Seeing how conflicted I was, the owner entrusted the bracelet to me, to take home and think about (can you guess that I'm a very good customer). Just what I needed. Having it in my possession for a week or two, to have & to hold. Oh, and I did manage to find a gift for my friend.

Last Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to do some last minute shopping, I decided to return the bracelet. After all, I had others to think of, PhillyAngel's tuition for next semester coming due and the bad economy all conspired against keeping it. Before I left, over coffee my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I voiced the usual -- I don't need anything, I own everything I want (& more) -- all true. Then, as I got ready to leave, I had a thought.

I told him about the bracelet and said it was the only thing I really wanted. Would he just contribute whatever amount he would otherwise spend towards purchasing it? He offered to pay for it, but I said that it was way more than we usually spend on presents. It was definitely a "Don't ask, I won't tell" item. I then showed him the bracelet, which he liked, so we had a deal. His mother also had me in family pollyanna and she had called me to say that, during my craft show wanderings, I should pick something out from her. I figured I could add that to the bracelet. My parents also give me money for Christmas, so I could contribute that as well. It could be a "family gift," which would make it more memorable.

Last week, during my trip to Scranton for the funeral of my aunt, I stopped in my brother's office when I arrived in town. He left his cell phone on the table and was in the other room when it rang, so i picked it up. It was a physician friend of his that I had done some legal work for last year. He mentioned that I never billed him for the services and I said to forget about it. He then said that he wanted to give me something, but I said that I was heading right back to Philly. I figured that he wanted to send me a gift basket or something. Then, on Monday, I received a Christmas card with a check from him for the holidays. I said, "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"! Obviously I was meant to have this bracelet (or so I justified it to myself). I can't tell you how excited I was. This unexpected gift would be yet anther contribution towards the now friend & family gift.

Along with all of my other jewels, I have a moonstone collection. And my favorite jewelry is from the art deco period. So this platinum bracelet, with carved moonstones, surrounded by small diamonds and sapphhires, was just perfect addition to my collection.

Me on Christmas morning, sporting my new gems:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Meaning of Life & XMas

The Independent tackles those important questions about the meaning of Christmas -- from Santa & his reindeer to Christmas trees to mince pies.

In The Big Question: What's behind Christmas traditions – and just how traditional are they?, they ponder the answers to those questions about the holiday you always had:

Tonight you will put up the stockings, Santa Claus will arrive on his sleigh drawn by reindeer to slide down your chimney in his trademark red suit with a sack over his shoulder, and tomorrow you will open presents under your decorated Christmas tree, eat turkey and mince pies, and promise yourself that next year you won't leave it until the last weekend to write your Christmas cards, because it is Christmas, and it is traditional. But do you know how old these "traditions" actually are? Some are ancient, some are newer than you think.


In the end, like believing in Santa & the spirit of Christmas itself, there are no answers:

So should I believe in Father Christmas?

Yes...

* If he doesn't exist, why did parents riot when a pilot recently refuse to fly them to Lapland?

* What about the letter to S. Claus from Inland Revenue, querying his claim for travelling expenses?

* There are 300,000 living organisms yet to be classified – couldn't one be a reindeer that can fly?

No...

* Santa would need to visit 896 homes a second to fill all the stockings

* Only Kathy Staff, the actress who played Nora Batty, really knew how to fill a stocking, and she has just died

* When Chico Marx was told to sign a clause that would prove he was sane, he rightly said: "You don't fool me: there is no Sanity Clause"

Oh boy. Bill O'Reilly (and Mandy) better stay clear of this one. It'll be the start of another War on (against) Christmas.

Traditions of the Eve


Christmas Eve, with all of its traditions. The holiday music playing, the fireplace blazing, the presents all wrapped under the tree. And, wonder of wonders, I actually finished -- rather than started -- the wrapping at 2:30 a.m.

I've mentioned before that in my family, Christmas Eve was the start of the Christmas Holiday. Twas the Night Before Christmas. For us, it rivaled Christmas itself in importance. My Italian grandmother always had the Feast of the Seven Fishes, La Vigilia. A feast for all -- except me. Didn't like seafood, still don't. However, I did -- and do -- like the tradition of gathering together friends and family.

Of course, as special as it was, it still didn't mean that we were allowed to open presents before Christmas morning. After all, traditions are traditions.

And this year, there's a very special present under the tree for me -- and a special surprise for our daughter, PhillyAngel as well.




In honor of the holiday season, we also lit the Menorah that I received from my in-laws. See Oy, Humbug.





And finally, as we celebrated Christmas eve, we lit the Baberry Candles, a Christmas Eve tradition from my husband, DavePhilly's family.







Here's the Bayberry Candle Poem:


This bayberry candle comes from a friend
so on Christmas eve burn it down to the end.
For a bayberry candle burned to the socket,
will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Virginia, This Christmas


Virginia This Christmas - The Sweetbriars

To put you in the spirit (sort of), here's a little Christmas Ditty from my blogger buddy, Earl Pickens.

I posted a music video of his Obama Everywhere, USA, as well as a Pennsylvania version of his Obama song, Obama Everywhere.

You can also hear this and some of their other songs at their MySpace page, The Sweetbriars.

As Earl said, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a stash in the trunk!

Cartoon of the Day


Matt Davies, The Journal News

The Year of Living Palin


Last Friday, the LLWL Gang had our Holiday Lunch and, as part of our luncheon tradition, we had our Secret Santa exchange. I suppose it should come as no surprise that my gift was delivered by Santa in a Hanukkah gift bag. That was not the end of it though.

Yesterday I received another gift from one of the LLWL Gang -- a special surprise. A 2009 Sarah Palin Calendar (pictured) -- from the member who bet that, like the energizer bunny, Palin will still be ticking next year. Despite appearances, the calendar is not a Palin Parody, which makes it even better. I now have the Ides of March (the day our wager comes due) highlighted on the calendar, which is the day we determine the winner of whither Sarah contest. As I've mentioned before, our contest is whether Palin is a lasting phenomenon or a short, spurt of tough fluff. My wager is that she's a goner, sooner rather than later. The loser has to buy the LLWL gang pizza from Old Forge (which I have insisted, for years, is the best ever). See Dough rising in Pizza Capital of the World.

For a while there, things were looking good for me. Palin had paled. However, with the arrest of the mother of Levi, the father of the yet unborn child of her daughter Bristol, Sarah has managed staying power.

And now, to compliment the calendar, via Steven Reynolds of All Spin Zone, I learn that Palin has been named, by Human Events, the Conservative of the Year: Sarah Palin. As Reynolds said:

But maybe the decision to name Sarah Palin “Comservative of the Year” is a bit appropriate. After all, this is the year conservatives lost the White house, lost seats in both the house and the Senate, and also the year conservative policies came home to roost with the biggest economic crisis since the great depression. Conservatives have tasted disaster this year, and now they’ve got a nitwit for “Conservative of the Year.”
No less luminary than that wacky transvestite* Ann Colter has penned the tribute to Sarah. And the main criteria for bestowing the award to Sarah? Colter explains:
Sarah Palin wins HUMAN EVENTS’ prestigious “Conservative of the Year” Award for 2008 for her genius at annoying all the right people. The last woman to get liberals this hot under the collar would have been … let's see now … oh, yeah: Me!
At least, if Sarah must be with us for a bit longer, she still provides lots of laughs. But, as I've said before, I still think I'm gonna win this one.
______________
* I'm sorry, but there is absolutely, positively, just no way that she's not.

A Papal Blessing

I suppose the Rick Warren brouhaha has lingered as long as it has because we're in the holiday news lull. It certainly has continue to dominate the news. For my somewhat contrarian view on the matter, see The Purpose of Life.

I does, however, make one wonder: what if Obama had scored Pope Benedict to deliver the inaugural invocation instead of Rev. Warren. Would the reaction have been the same? I would be greatly surprised if it were. I think it would have been greeted as a coup by the public and the media, and would have been hailed as fitting for this historic occasion that the Pontiff was providing the inaugural prayer.

Yet, the Pope's views on gay marriage, and gays in general, don't differ much from that of Warren, even if the Pope's latest remarks on the gay scourge has an environmental-friendly flavor. In Gay groups angry at Pope remarks, BBC News reports:

Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was as important as protecting the environment.

* * * *

Pope Benedict made the comments in an end-of-year speech to senior Vatican staff.

Defending God's creation was not limited to saving the environment, he said, but also about protecting man from himself.

It was not "out-of-date metaphysics" to "speak of human nature as 'man' or woman'", he said. It came from the "language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans".

Gender theories, he said, led to man's "auto-emancipation" from creation and Creator.

"Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection but the human being... does not deserve it less," he said.

Who could argue against protecting rain forests? The analogy is priceless.

Once you look beyond the nice words that dress up the same bigoted sentiments, it brings to mind the fact that, along with the Mormons, the Catholic Church was in the forefront of the Prop 8 propaganda war. Black Churches weren't far behind. The reality is that Warren was a bit player in that battle. See, e.g., God Is Not Gay and Wedding Bell Blues.

So the real question should be, who could Obama pick in the religion department that doesn't have issues with gay rights -- assuming, of course, that the mix of Church & State belongs at the inauguration at all. Maybe, in the end, that's the appropriate answer (not that it's going to happen anytime soon).

The Miffed Contest

What's made up of five women, four African-Americans, three Latinos, [no Jews and one Maronite Lebanese], two Republicans and two Asians, including a Nobel Prize winner?

The answer: President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet.
So says CNN, in Why some women's groups are miffed at Obama. Not wanting the gays to have the exclusive on Obama Anger, Disappointment & Dissillusionment, along with Liberals who are upset over the number of moderate picks, women's groups have voiced their ADD over the paltry number of Cabinet positions given to women by the Obama Administration. As CNN reports:

Obama is taking the big-tent approach to governing and wanted a Cabinet that stretches the tent wide.

"I think people will feel that we followed through on our commitment to make sure that this is not only an administration that is diverse ethnically, but it's also diverse politically and it's diverse in terms of people's life experience," Obama said December 16.

It might be diverse, but not everyone is happy. Some women's groups are disappointed. Among Obama's strongest backers during the election, they now say they don't have enough seats at the table.

That's because of Obama's 20 announced Cabinet-level posts, five went to women: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary, Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Rep. Hilda Solis as labor secretary, Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency chief.
Sounds impressive. So what's to complain about?

Amy Siskind, co-founder of the nonpartisan group New Agenda, accuses Obama of taking "shocking steps backward" and said "this constituency does not matter to the president-elect."

Obama has said he's picking people for their skills and not pandering to special interests.

"In this case, we have seen Obama emphasize credentials," said Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post. "I think they obviously knew they would get a lot of bang for their buck, so to speak, in appointing Clinton, but at the end of the day, the numbers really aren't any more impressive than any previous president."

Oh, how could he! So, they'd rather a female Sarah Palin rather than a well-qualified male of any race or creed? He may be post-racial, but we don't want any of that post-sexual stuff, now do we? But, it's not just women who are moaning and groaning, as CNN observes:

But it's not just women who are angry with Obama's choices. Other factions in the Democratic Party are, too.

Many gay and lesbian supporters are irate over Obama choosing Pastor Rick Warren to lead the invocation at the historic January 20 inauguration.

Warren, one of the most influential religious leaders in the nation, has championed issues such as a reducing global poverty, promoting human rights and fighting the AIDS epidemic.

But the founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has also adhered to socially conservative stances -- including his opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights -- that put him at odds with many in the Democratic Party, especially the party's most liberal wing.

* * * *
Some progressives, meanwhile, are also disappointed that Obama has tapped moderates for key positions.
I have complained many times about Republicans, calling them the Stepford Party because they do not brook dissent of any kind. I certainly wouldn't suggest that the Democrats adopt such a philosophy (not that they would/could anyway), but sometimes it seems that all Democrats do is complain and disagree -- with Republicans and Democrats alike. Liberals apparently never learned how to pick their battles or prioritize. Unfortunately, the constant naysaying merely serves to diminish the influence of left, which also reduces the ability to garner support over the important issues that matter. That, of course, causes more complaining by the left -- about being ignored.

And the reaction of Obama to all this kvetching?
Obama's team privately says wait and see. They feel it's too early to criticize his choices before they've even had a chance to be sworn in.
Good luck with that!

____________________

"Two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim,"

- Barack Obama, president-elect.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Mike Luckovich, The Atlanta Journal Constitution

What's In & Out


Matthew Yglesias observes, in No Jews:

It seems Barack Obama is giving us a cabinet with no Jewish members. Plenty of Jews in non-cabinet top spots (Axelrod, Summers, Orszag) so I guess we’ll have to just run things from behind the scenes.

* * * *

And of course you can add Rahm to the list of influential, but not in the cabinet, Jews. Basically, it’s a chock full ‘o Jews White House staff and a non-Jewish cabinet.
But who does rate a Cabinet post? Ray LaHood, who is Lebanese. See Obama chooses Illinois Republican as Transportation secretary. As the Chicago Tribune notes, Barack Obama reportedly picking Ray LaHood for transportation chief:
A product of Peoria's large Lebanese-American community, LaHood is Catholic and one of the few Arab-American members of Congress. He is the first Arab-American to be chosen for Obama's Cabinet.
Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice


Philly greeted the Winter Solstice with an overnight ice storm. My bamboo trees felt the same way I did about the longest night of the year and the winter frost. Cold, sad & droopy. Winter has arrived.

At the Huffington Post, Dr. Judith Rich offers a few thoughts on Winter Solstice: A Paean To The Pregnant Darkness.

And, in keeping with the 6 word story, my thoughts:

Winter Solstice's here.
Christmas is near.


As always, for Mandy

Words To Speak & Be Remembered

The National Constitution Center has joined with Smith magazine to solicit a few good words -- Six Words to Inspire a Nation.

As the Inquirer reports, In a nutshell, advice for Obama:

Six little words can speak volumes.

Nothing to fear but fear itself.

Franklin Roosevelt said that.

To bind up the nation's wounds.

That was Lincoln, at his second inaugural, with the end of the Civil War in sight.

Pay any price, bear any burden.

Kennedy.

Of course, like his predecessors, Barack Obama will employ hundreds if not thousands of words when he addresses the nation upon being sworn in as president on Jan. 20. But between now and Jan. 5, the National Constitution Center and SMITH online magazine are asking Americans to offer the next president an idea, a turn of phrase, a slogan, some guidance - and to do it in a half-dozen words.

"A little haiku of citizenship," said NCC president and CEO Joseph Torsella. "We've been surprised by the things we've done from time to time that touch a nerve - this has been one of them."

Six words is not very long. Only as long as this sentence.

But so far more than 1,800 people have logged onto www.constitutioncenter.org and posted their reflections to "Address America: Six Words to Inspire a Nation." The best entries will be delivered to Obama's speechwriters.

As noted by the caption & as I've said before, I love the 6 word story & have penned a few words on my life several times, see The Mini Memoir.

This time, my contribution to the six-word aphorism to inspire the next president:

On the precipice. Change required.

Cartoon of the Day


Holbert, Boston Herald

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Purpose of Life


A number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are outraged over Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren, a so-called minister in the evangelical church, to give the invocation at his inauguration. See e.g., On Rick Warren and Praying for Realignment. Like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, Warren is one of those people who believes that God hates the poor, disenfranchised and those who don't fit the mythical notion of a traditional family. He's not a big fan of gays either (to say the least), and was a vocal proponent of Prop 8, which has precipitated the brouhaha over his participation.

As Mike Madden explains at Salon, How the hell did Rick Warren get inauguration tickets?:

Except that Warren, by this point, isn't just the purpose-driven friendly face of evangelical Christianity anymore. He took sides, very publicly, in favor of California's Proposition 8, which overturned the state's gay marriage law. 'About 2 percent of Americans are homosexual, or gay and lesbian, people,' Warren said in a widely circulated video (and in a virtually identical e-mail to his congregation) before the election. 'We should not let 2 percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not just a Christian issue, this is a humanitarian issue.'

* * * *

But Obama was determined to defend his pick Thursday, and he set out the pro-Warren talking points himself, when a reporter brought it up at his now all-but-daily press conference in Chicago. "A couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion," he said. "Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about -- that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

Translated out of press-conference-speak, though, that basically means: "I know you're upset. Too bad." Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama's inauguration committee and a senior advisor during the campaign, told Salon later that picking Warren "was not a political decision," which is usually the surest sign that something was exactly that.
Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House shares my sentiments on the pick, The Pastor & The Great Liberal Letdown:
Nevertheless, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma:

The purity test to which some liberals insist on holding Obama as he cobbles together what is shaping up to be a welcome contrast from the Bush administration is silly and smacks of right-wing self-righteousness. Still, the selection of Warren is difficult to swallow.

I never thought that Obama walked on water, but I can understand the feelings of betrayal among those who did. Then there are the gays and lesbians who expected more from a civil-rights president and better damned well get it once he takes the oath of office.
I don't believe that this is a situation where, as Matthew Yglesias says, in Symbolic Politics, "it’s very easy for a person who isn’t part of the minority group that’s being symbolically dissed to dismiss someone else’s concerns as merely symbolic and not that big a deal." It is a big deal for those who are gay to be subjected to the hate-filled screed of Rick Warren and I fully support their views. Yet, in the end, I just can't get excised over Warren's involvement in the ceremony.

Don't get me wrong. As far as I'm concerned, through his televangelism nonsense, Warren pedals the religious version of a pyramid scheme, with his ploy for money and his sugar-coated bigotry. In my opinion, he's an aw, shucks, not too bright, con man who shouldn't even merit any consideration. As Field Negro said, something about the guy creeps me out.

However, as I said with his Cabinet picks, I'm not sure it's fair to criticize Obama for this. This is not a change from what he preached during the campaign; rather, it is an example of his philosophy. After all, he's doing precisely what he promised -- reaching out to those who oppose him or are the enemy. Not my style, but for those who can do it, it sometimes works.

Liberals say that they allow other points of view, yet it sometimes seems that it's only permissible if it's within a prescribed range of opinion. Bob Casey, the Senator from Pennsylvania, is a good example. He's conservative on many social issues, such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Yet, he holds other positions that are laudable, such as his pro-labor positions. He was an early supporter of Obama and took a good bit of flak in scrappy Scranton for favoring a liberal. Senator Byrd -- once a KKK member, is proof that an evolution of ideas is possible. Yet, it can only happen if people continue to debate and discuss opposing positions.

And the reality is, it epitomizes the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans require -- no, demand -- adherence to the cause, while Democrats let just about anyone into the tent. The range of opinions allows an Obama to share a seat at the table with a Warren, much as they may disagree on most issues. During the course of the campaign, I objected to the concept that Obama should be responsible for the views of those he knows, such as Reverend Wright, and that same view leads me to believe that we should not impugn Obama with the vile bigotry of Warren, merely because they interact.

And frankly, if we're looking for a range of viewpoints, as Obama is, it's sad that Reverend Wright rather than Warren isn't the controversial pastor who will be on the dais. See Why Are Rick Warren’s Views Acceptable And Jeremiah Wright’s Not?

Finally, once again, it is especially unfortunate that the focus has been centered on the controversy and it is only that aspect that has garnered all of the media attention. Sam Stein at Huffington Post aptly notes, Rick Warren, Obama Invocation Choice, Causing First Real Rift With Progressives:
Indeed, lost in the hubbub about Warren, is the fact that the man tasked with overseeing the benediction is a icon within progressive politics. Rev. Joe Lowery, a hero of the civil rights movement and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King famously called out President George W. Bush during Coretta Scott King's funeral. He also is a supporter of same-sex marriage. But he is not garnering the same attention as Warren for his inauguration role.


(Cartoon via Tony Auth, NYTimes)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Robert Ariail, The State

The Santa Garcia



Based upon the dire economic conditions we're in this year, I figure it's a Garcia Santa kinda year for the annual seasonal fridge art.

(Updated photo)

Seasonal Sadness

It may be the season to be jolly, but the season has also had it's fill of sadness. A dear Aunt died (the mother of one of my closest cousins), as well as the mother of a dear friend and colleague (one of the LLWL members).

I spent two days in Scranton this week, attending the funeral of my Aunt Mary. She was a lovely, kind lady who lived to be 92, so the funeral was really more of a celebration of her much-loved life. And her life was not an especially easy one. Her husband, my father's brother, was killed by an electrical wire that fell after it was struck by lightning. My newly married aunt, who was also pregnant at the time, moved back to her mother's home in Pottsville after my uncle died. At that time, single women (widowed or otherwise) did not live alone. Also, Pottsville was considered far away from Scranton, yet she made sure that her daughter was a part of her father's family. They always came to visit for holidays and family events.

I also lived with my cousin in York the two years that I worked in Harrisburg between college and law school and we've remained close since then. She was like a sister to me & she's the one who taught me my love of shopping. Before her, I spent my time in the world of books, so I had little interest in clothes or jewelry. For those who know me today, that would be a shocking revelation, since I am known for my attire & jewels.

Because she lived a long, full life, the funeral was not as sad an occasion as it usually is. However, there were a few weird moments as we bid farewell to my aunt. That is, I have to say that the picture of the family, standing around at the funeral home, laughing and reminiscing alongside the open casket of my aunt Mary, was a snapshot of a truly bizarre tradition.

This was the Lebanese side of the family, so the ceremony was infused with Arabic music and traditions. After the viewing, we enjoyed a repast of Middle-eastern food that was delicious. I even got to eat one of my favorite Lebanese dishes -- Kebbeh Nayyeh (raw lamb meat) -- a dish that is definitely not for everyone. That was fine with me. It just meant that there was more for me to eat.

Then, of course, there was the Catholic funeral mass. The Priest at the Maronite Church is not my favorite, as I mentioned when he served mass at our family reunion this summer. This guy definitely has serious issues with power and control. He managed to make a time of mourning the loss of a loved one even more stressful.

For example, he would not permit my cousin to have a eulogy during the funeral mass ceremony. The No Eulogy Rule is not one ordained from on high; rather, it is a rule imposed by Father Tyrant. What is a funeral without a eulogy you might ask? Just a mass with a lot of people and a casket, which occurs during services held during the week. During his sermon, Father did include a few words about my aunt, whom he acknowledged he had met once.

Father Tyrant also nixed a request by the family for the choir to sing "Silent Night," one of my aunt's favorite Christmas songs, during the service. No reason given -- just no. Imagine the delight of those in attendance when the choir began singing Silent Night, Holy Night, as the mass ended and the casket began its procession down the aisle of the Church. The Choir director, a relative, decided to defy the good father. After all, it's a bit difficult for the priest to stop the choir, as they're playing the organ and singing in the loft of the Church, from his position on the altar. That alone made my attendance at the mass worthwhile.

In contrast, the ceremony for the mother of my colleague was a memorial service held at her home, where friends and family spoke about Sylvia, a delightfully funny and feisty woman who will be greatly missed. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, because it was the same day as the service for my aunt. My luck -- it was the one concession to Jewish tradition that the family followed -- that the burial occur within a day of the death. However, luckily for me, the Sylvia stories will live on in our memories & remain part of the lunch lore of the LLWL Gang.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tis the Season






My absence from blogging has been due, in part, to the usual hectic holiday doings. Of course, I'm not exactly complaining that fun times and partying have intruded in my life.


My daughter, PhillyAngel, arrived home from college Friday evening. She managed to cart her laundry all the way from Miami, along with the rest of her stuff. The clothing requirements due to the weather differences between Philly and Florida didn't seem to sink in. I've also been trying to explain to her that in the age of airline charges for checked bags, this has to be the most expensive laundry cleaning ever.





Once she was all settled in, I also got the tree, decorated the house and Christmas music now fills the halls. I have officially declared the start of the holiday season in the JudiPhilly household. I also got together with some old friends over the week-end and went to my first Holiday party.

As always, I got a nice big, fat tree (although its actually smaller than my usual selection). The Santa collection is scattered though the house. And my antique ornaments (mainly from my grandparents) are displayed in the breakfast room.

I've also added the annual slideshow of Christmas pictures through the years.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Steve Kelley, Times-Picayune

Oy, Humbug

It's that time of the year. As I've mentioned (many) times before, Christmas is my favorite time of year. Truthfully, I'm a summer person and I hate winter -- the cold, the snow and all that. But, as I've said before, I do love Christmas. I love the music, the decorations, the tree and the spirit of the season.

I'm just adding my Holiday Playlist to my iPhone (all 357 songs) and if it ever stops raining, I plan to buy the tree and start decorating the house this week-end, with all the trimmings. And, like my extensive collection of Christmas music, I have a correspondingly voluminous collection of decorations.

In contrast, there is one member of the LLWL Gang* who is especially bothered by the emphasis (or, over-emphasis, as she sees it) on the Christmas part of the holiday season. A Jewish version of Bill O'Reilly, if you will. For example, our office Scrooge has been resisting participating in the "Secret Santa" gift exchange because of the nomenclature used to describe the Pollyanna.

On this particular issue, I am a sore disappointment to her. Of all people in the office, she expected me to support her in her disdain for all that is Holly & Jolly about the Holidays. One of the other Jewish members of the LLWL Gang is no help either, since she actually decorates a small tree in her office with ornaments and is a fan of the wreath that we hang on our door. See No No Noel.

Like her, the holidays know no bounds for me. My Santa collection includes a black Santa or two and I have a Kwanzaa decoration as well. In fact, this year my mother-in-law has added yet another piece to my holiday collection. A package was waiting for me when I arrived home from work yesterday & to my surprise she had sent me -- a Menorah (with candles). She thought it was only fair that I cover all aspects of the holidays. True that.



In line with this way of thinking, I think I have found the perfect answer to our office Bah, Humbug & her Christmas quandary.

In a piece discussing the objections raised by a Jewish mother to inclusion of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at her child's school holiday show because it has the word Christmas in it, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic observed, in Rudolph the Jewish-American Reindeer:

Of course, the song 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' was written by a Jewish-American songwriter, Johnny Marks. He also wrote 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.' Also written by Jews: 'I'll be Home for Christmas,' 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,' 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),' and of course, the mother of all Jewish-written Christmas songs, 'White Christmas,' by Irving Berlin. Why, you could almost say there's a conspiracy by Jews to dominate the Christmas-jingle-writing industry!
I think I'll be playing of few of these songs at the office tomorrow, as I pick out her Secret Santa for her. And if she dares to complain, it's an Oy, Humbug to her!


(LLWL = Lady Lawyers Who Lunch a/k/a my officemates)

(Via The Daily Dish)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Bruce Plante, Tulsa World

What's The Right Thing?





















And the media wonders why it is on the verge of failure. Perhaps journalists and reporters should watch Jon Stewart as he interviews Mike Huckabee on the issue of gay rights and gay marriage to see how it's done.

No twisted pretzels trying to cover both sides of the issue, even when the facts show there's only one side. No gotcha journalism. No sensationalism. Just sincere, piercing questions, asked in a respectful manner, with an admitted point of view on the issue.

Some transcript snippets from Pam's House Blend:

"You write that marriage is the bedrock of society...Why would you not want more couples to buy into the stability of marriage. Why would you want to precluded for an entire [group] of people."

Huckabee responded with a series of standard points, including "Marriage still means one man, one woman, life relationship. I think people have a right to live any way they want to, but even anatomically -- let's face it -- the only way that we can create the next generation is through a male/female relationship."

In a point that Stewart would press him on later by suggesting that his history is a bit skewed, Huckabee asserted, "For 5000 years of recorded human history that's what marriage has meant."

Huckabee: "30 states have had it on the ballot, and in all 30 states, it's passed -- even in states like California, that nobody would suggest are social conservatives..."

Stewart: "30 states had Mike Huckabee on the ballot and they voted for John McCain. You can't trust those voters. The voters don't know."

My favorite line:
Stewart: You write in your book that all people are created equal and yet for gay people you believe that it is corrosive to society to allow them to have the privileges that all humans enjoy.
The interview is a must see.

See also Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News

It's No Contest

The Sardella Saga continues.

In the latest installment, Mia Sardella has pleaded nolo contendere to the charges still pending against her.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Woman pleads no contest to killing infant:

Mia Sardella, the 20-year-old Drexel Hill woman charged with killing her newborn son, pleaded nolo contendere today to involuntary manslaughter, abuse of corpse, and concealing the death of a child.

She faces up to 10 years in prison.

It's taken nearly 2 years for the case to reach the point where Sardella has actually conceded the facts of the case -- without acknowledging guilt. KYW explains, in ''No Contest'' Plea in Case of Dead Newborn Found in Car Trunk in Delco:

Her attorney, Arthur Donato, explained that it's slightly different from a guilty plea:

'In a guilty plea, the defendant admits the facts as alleged. In a nolo contendere plea, the defendant is not contesting the facts as alleged. Other than that, there is no difference.'

* * * *

Judge Jenkins accepted the plea and set sentencing for January 22nd.

Sardella could face up to ten years in prison, although she is likely to get far less. Her attorney, Donato (at left in photo), said he would be presenting mitigating factors during the sentencing hearing.

Sardella remains free on $250,000 bail, in the custody of her grandparents.

In other words, she doesn't challenge that the facts are true, she just doesn't accept responsibility. Ahh, the age of George W. Bush lives on.

In one final irony about this case, January 22nd is an auspicious date for the sentencing. It is the 2nd anniversary of the date the infant was found in the trunk of her car.

Admittedly, this case is a tragedy all around. I have followed the case from the beginning, see, e.g, Different Strokes for Different Folks, Momma Mia and Mini Mia. Yet, I'll repeat what I've said before, One More Time:

So what's left? 3rd degree manslaughter and 'related charges.' And what are the chances that Sardella will end up going to trial or serving time in this case based upon the reduced charges? While pondering the odds, think about this: Of course, politics would never enter into the equation in Republican Delaware County, when dealing with the granddaughter of the CEO of Glenmede Trust.

Well, I was right about the no trial part. Now, we'll have to see if she ends up serving any time. Stay tuned.

(Thanks to PK)

Hate Trumps Art


The Mormons have come under a considerable amount of flak because of the substantial financial and related efforts put forth by the Church to enact the recent Gay Marriage Ban, via the Prop 8 Ballot in California. See Wedding Bell Blues.

In order to prove the depths of their religious bigotry, Brigham Young University has entered the fray by censoring a Fine Art Portrait Project submitted by a student, which subtly touches on the issue of homosexuality.

Michael, the art student, explains his Fine Art Portrait Project:

These portraits are of students of BYU who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them. With all of the dissenting views regarding this topic in the past few months I have felt very strongly about this project. The portraits will be shown in pairs. The idea is that there are gay and lesbian individuals not only in the Mormon culture, but also at BYU. I also chose to photograph someone who is a support to this person. This could be a family member or friend. This support person may also identify themselves as homosexual and both people may provide support to each other. I am not telling the viewer who identifies themselves as homosexual, because I hope the viewer will realize that placing a label with the portrait only creates divisions in our society and furthers stereotypes. It is my hope this body of work can be a vehicle for tolerance, support, love and change.
In addition to the one above, his poignant portraits can be seen here and here.

Unfortunately, hate -- unlike beauty -- is not just skin deep. Hatred and bigotry permeate to the core of one's essence, especially when it is based upon religious beliefs.

In proving the truth of this philosophy once again, BYU removed the artists work from the program, without even discussing it with him beforehand (or afterword, for that matter). Michael describes the disrespectful manner that BYU handled the situation, Censorship Sucks...:
Apparently the topic of homosexuality is a bit much for the BYU audience and my part of our Fine Art Classes show was taken down today. It seems that censorship is favored over support and love. This really saddens me. I found out because a friend of mine went to the show and said that my peices had been removed and the show had been rearranged. While I knew this topic would be controversial (in fact I expected that this would ruffle some feathers) I never thought that they would bring it down. Also I wish that they would have asked me to remove it, or at least had the courtesy to ask that I remove it or discuss it with me prior to its removal.
Unlike Michael, I wouldn't have expected anything else. After all, sanctimony knows no bounds or limits. As I noted in God Is Not Gay: "Rather than staying true to their mission of faith, and spreading god's word, these churches have bastardized Christianity, making religion a mockery of the fundamentals of faith. I somehow don't think God is too happy -- or gay -- about how he has been co-opted in this way."

On an unrelated note, I must admit that the portraits have sorely challenged my Gaydar!

(UPDATED: Fixed links)
_______

Artist's statement for the Project:

“Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that category has no one left in it.”
- Howard Winters

(Via AmericaBlog)

Pass the Silver Polish

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court has opted not to further tarnish its image by getting involved in the electoral process again. That is, the various frivolous claims regarding Barack Obama's birth have once again been rebuffed. See The Birth of a Citizen for my previous post on this issue.

As the SCOTUSblog reports:

In a brief order, the Court, as expected, turned aside a New Jersey voter’s plea for the Court to determine if President-elect Barack Obama was qualified to run for the White House — that is whether he was a “natural born citizen.” The stay application came in the case of Donofrio v. Wells, Secretary of State of New Jersey (08A407). This marked the second time in recent weeks for the Court to turn aside such a challenge; the first came on Nov. 3, in Berg v. Obama (08A391). The Court, in neither instance, gave reasons for turning down the applications. In neither case did the Court seek a reponse, thus indicating it had little interest in either or had found them to be completely without merit.
In other words, as Gawker explains, SCOTUS Refuses to Deny Secret Muslim the Presidency:
Sad news for crazy people: the Supreme Court decided not to hear an emergency call to intervene to stop Barack Obama from assuming the presidency, on account of how he's secretly not a citizen.
Or as Wonkette says:
Having lost pretty much everything else, forever, the wingnuts have focused all of their intellectual firepower on a single foolproof argument: Barack Obama cannot be president, because they say he’s a scary African. Somehow this important issue has come before the United States Supreme Court, twice! And so far, our communist Highest Court has refused to even consider the crucial situation! Today, the justices again spit on the legal efforts of Real Americans.
See Libtard Supreme Court Will Let Alien Monster Barack Obama Be President!

Rather than merely mocking these nuts, as I am wont to do, The Anonymous Liberal takes a more reasoned approach, and actually addresses the claims more seriously, in A Question for the Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theorists, inquiring as to the point of their challenges:
To these folks, I ask a simple question: what is your endgame? Suppose (purely for the sake of discussion) that you're right, and there is something technically deficient about Obama's claim to natural born citizenship. Maybe he was born overseas and his mother smuggled him into Hawaii just after birth. Maybe he floated into Pearl Harbor in a bassinet like Moses, from origins unknown. Maybe he descended from Krypton in an escape pod. Whatever the case, let's imagine that something like that happened and that you could somehow prove it. What then?

Obama was elected president by a large margin. He has approval ratings in the 70s. Most of his cabinet has been selected. The transition is well underway. And the country is in a very precarious state. Do you really think that a federal court is going to declare Obama ineligible to be president and plunge the country into chaos? Can you imagine the repercussions? Talk about "judicial activism." We would have a constitutional crisis of epic proportions. We would have riots in the streets.

Let me save you the suspense. That's not going to happen. Not in a million years. Even if you managed to get your hands on ironclad evidence that Obama was born somewhere else (which you won't), the courts will not entertain your claim. They will find some grounds (likely lack of standing) to dismiss your case. Trust me.
Finally, Arianna Huffington discusses the matter with Keith Olbermann on Countdown:



What all of this means is that Yes, Virginia, Obama is going to become the President of these not always United States.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cartoon of the Day


Nick Anderson, The Houston Chronicle

Cartoon of the Day


Dwane Powell, The News Observer

The Team of Readers



Although there was a split of opinion about the selection of the month, it did engender a lively discussion among the members of my book group.

Beforehand, we chuckled over the book club piece in this week's Style Section of the NYTimes, Book Club Trouble Often Has Little to Do With Books. Sad to say, our book group doesn't have anywhere near the drama depicted in the article. We've certainly have had our share of lively discussions over various books, as well as book picks, but it's all good-natured. We also tend to veer off into discussions of politics and life (above cartoon personifies us, sans TV), but we all seem to be similarly inclined, from a political and philosophical perspective.

In fact, my law partner refers to my book group as my Jewish Book Club (even though she's the one who's Jewish, not me). Although only half of the group is Jewish, a significant number of books we read tend to be written by Jewish writers or focus on stuff like the Holocaust. Not so much with the chick-lit.


Continuing the theme from last month, this month's selection was The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. It's another book that probes the Holocaust from viewpoint of Germans who lived through the war, rather than victims of the Holocaust. As described by The Boston Bibliophile:

Bernhard Schlink's meditation on guilt and accountability is set in post-World War 2 Germany, as a young man named Michael Berg embarks on a sexual affair with a mysterious, 30ish woman named Hanna who lives alone and works on a trolley. She is passionate but curiously withdrawn- and then one day she is simply gone. When she reappears, she is on trial for crimes Michael never could have imagined- and she has a secret.
The Reader received critical acclaim and a few members of the group loved it. There is much to praise. The complexity of the issues is aptly pinpointed by Suzanne Ruta's description, in a review for the NYTimes, Secrets and Lies:
Learning that the love of your life used to be a concentration camp guard is not part of the American baby-boomer experience. No matter. This offbeat novel, by a German writer born in 1944, about a high school kid in love with a woman formerly employed at Auschwitz, leaps national boundaries and speaks straight to the heart. Spare and direct, it follows a pair of star-crossed lovers across the decades, with the kind of transparent yet mysterious, even outre, narrative line that you find in the 19th-century German novellas of, say, Heinrich von Kleist or Kafka's favorite, the Austrian Adalbert Stifter.

* * * *
In Germany, one often hears the doubtful phrase ''the lucky late-born'' for those too young to be held accountable for Nazi crimes. But what's so lucky, German writers wonder, about having to ask, ''What did you do in the war, Daddy?'' What's so lucky about loving your suspect parents and feeling complicitous in their crimes? Or, alternatively, hating your suspect parents and losing your humanity in ''swaggering self-righteousness''? Recent history complicates family relations in Germany in ways that are hard for Americans to imagine.
Notions of guilt and shame are explored in various ways, between the characters and the generations, throughout the book. The moral issues involved in the book, as experienced by those who confronted the reality of Nazi's during the reign of Hitler are thought-provoking, to say the least.

Yet, I thought the detachment of the characters -- to each other and the reader -- is the very thing that allows the type of environment that happened in Germany to occur. Ironically, Schlink mentions a book written by a holocaust survivor in the novel, saying "that it is the book that creates distance. It does not invite one to identify with it and makes no one sympathetic," which also describes the detached observer of the narrator in his novel. And, it is this very distance that creates the situation where a group massacre can happen. I'm sure that was his point, but this very distance precludes an affinity with the characters, which could lead to the kind of undertsanding that can help avoid a similar result in the future.

Echoing that sentiment, in the second section of the book, where Michael is a law student watching the trial of his former lover, Hanna, he travels to a concentration camp during a break in the trial. On his way, he engages in a conversation with the taxi driver, who wryly says:
"Ah, you want to understand why people can do such terrible things. . . . What is it you want to understand? That people murder out of passion, or love, or hate, or for honor or revenge, that you understand?"

I nodded.

"You also understand that people murder for money or power? That people murder in wars and revolutions?"

I nodded again. "But..."

"But the pople who were murdered in the camps hadn't done anything to the individuals who murdered them? Is that what you want to say? Do you mean that there was no reason for hatred, and no war?

I didn't want to nod again. What he said was true, but not the way he said it.

"You're right, there was no war, and no reason for hatred. But executioners don't hate the people they execute, and they execute them just the same. . . . No, I'm not talking about orders and obedience. An executioner is not under orders. he's doing his work, he doesn't hate the people he executes, he's not taking revenge on them, he's not killing them because they're in his way or threatening him or attacking him. They're a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not."
I think that is the part that disturbs me most about this book. Even though it is no doubt an accurate reflection of the reality of the time, the fact that the Holocaust, when all was said and done, was such a mundane part of life during the Nazi regime, is the true horror of it all. That and the fact that Hanna's secret -- her illiteracy, is a source of greater shame to her than her role as a guard at Auschwitz and the other war crimes she participated in. That her inability to read equates with her role in the Holocaust, is in fact so repugnant to her that it seals her fate in the trial. That is, her silence results in her conviction of war crimes, as Richard Bernstein notes, in his Times review, Once Loving, Once Cruel, What's Her Secret?:
What is striking is that Hanna refuses to defend herself, even though she is being made a scapegoat by the others. As Michael soon understands, she has been falsely accused of primary responsibility for the worst of the atrocities committed against the inmates of the camp. The truthful Hanna is sentenced to life imprisonment while the mendacious, opportunistic others get briefer terms.

Suddenly Michael understands that Hanna has a secret unrelated to her wartime activities that prevents her from defending herself in court. It would be unfair to reveal that secret here. But it is a secret that makes a whole of Hanna's life and it changes, not everything, but a great deal, for Michael and for us as we attempt to judge the degree of culpability that should be put to Hanna's legal and moral account.

Although some members of my book group could understand the depth of self loathing intertwined in being illiterate, I -- as well as a few other members -- found this particular aspect of the book to be unrealistic and overshadowed my view of the story. I think my opinion is best expressed by The Literary Wombat:

This book = eh.

I’m [not] really sure how much I liked it. I know that I DID like it, but I suppose I just didn’t find it as compelling as a lot of other reviewers do. The book starts out explaining a meeting 15-year-old Michael Berg has with an older woman when he becomes sick walking home from school one day. She finds him and helps him. After he recovers, he tracks her down to thank her and eventually forms a sexual relationship with her. Later on, she leaves him behind, he grows up and becomes a law student and the next time he encounters her it’s in a trial that he is watching for a seminar.

The story is well done. The characters are interesting and unique. The writing, though not complex (actually very simple) is appropriate to the story and it IS well-written. However, I just wasn’t able to get very emotionally involved in the story. I understand the parallel Michael and Hanna’s relationship is at with the gap between pre and post-WWII German generations, and I find that interesting and all. I just don’t know.
We didn't realize it when we selected this book, but a movie version is coming out this week. See Translating Love and the Unspeakable. Not sure that I'll see it.