May 29, 2011

Wherein I Learn To Read

Lately I've been doing something that I haven't done much of for a long time.

No, not dating. I'm reading books for fun.

As a kid- pretty much from the time I learned my ABC's- I was a bookworm. I always had a book nearby, and went through them at an unbelievable pace for my age. I was the kid who would walk out of the library with an armful of books and one already in my face. Even into high school I did quite a bit of voluntary reading, although the garbage that I had to read for school started to put a damper on my enthusiasm.

Then, I went to college. Between my engineering course load and this newly discovered high-speed internet, I had little time for reading anything that wasn't either electronic or vital to my academic survival. I stopped reading books.

Now that I'm out of school and have my time to myself for all but a modest 40 hours per week, I've started to get back into reading. In the meantime I've spent quite a bit of my free time online in various ways, so it's not like I'm unused to reading, but there's a big difference between browsing the web and sitting down with a big fat paper book.

A few months ago, as I was starting to compile a list of books I'd been wanting to read, I was directed to Goodreads - a social web app for book readers. I populated my to-read "bookshelf" with the books I had thought of, then browsed some of the user-created lists and recommended titles and before I knew it I had well over 100 books to read! The site offers a 2011 Reading Challenge in which you commit to reading a number of books for the year and track your progress. I challenged myself to a book per month, which for you non-math folks means 12 for the year. So far I've finished 3 and I'm about 2/3 through another. That puts me more than a full book behind, but I intend to catch up.

Goodreads isn't the only place where I've been browsing shelves. My local library (like many, I suspect) has an ongoing used book sale where you can buy donated books for 50 cents to help support the library. I don't know how many dollars I've spent there in the last several months, but I've already run out of room on my bookshelf. Just today I hit the jackpot:

Pictured: $4 well spent.

Those are 8 well-known sci-fi and fantasy titles that I found all at once. I couldn't believe it. The first four books of The Wheel of Time. The third and fourth books of the Dune series. The first of the Heritage of Shannara. And for the first time, my very own copy of The Hobbit. What's more, I had already picked up the second Dune book to complement my copy of the original, and two thirds of the Shannara trilogy. Not to mention several other unrelated titles from Tom Clancy to CS Lewis. I'm building a fairly complete library just from 50 cent used books!

Of course, I'm also reviewing the occasional book for Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program. (I'll say it again: I really dislike the new name.) I may post updates as I finish ones from my personal list, but for the most part I'm just reading for my own enjoyment. And also to practice for my own epic fantasy novel. But that's another topic.

May 17, 2011

'Why Did Police Kill My Dad?'

Jose Guerena was a 26-year-old Marine veteran with two tours of duty under his belt, but he wasn't killed in battle in Iraq. He was murdered while heroically defending his own home and family from armed intruders looking for drugs.

But here's the catch: the men who burst into the house without warning and fired 71 shots weren't part of a gang. They were an Arizona SWAT team.

Just days before the Indiana Supreme Court would rule to deny citizens their Fourth Amendment right to resist unlawful entry of their homes, overturning common law dating back to the Magna Carta, in another part of the country the Pima County, Arizona sheriff's office sent its heavily armed deputies to invade homes unannounced to search for evidence of drugs.

Despite no criminal records or history of drug use, the Guerena family was one of those targeted. After hiding his wife and young child in a closet, Jose bravely grabbed his rifle and prepared to protect them against who he rightly thought were criminal invaders. Seconds later he was dying. The police initially defended themselves with propaganda claiming that Guerena opened fire on them, but it was later revealed that he did not shoot and even had his safety on when he was shot. His injuries may have been survivable, had the SWAT team not then prevented paramedics from reaching him for over an hour.

Now, thanks to an increasingly out of control "war on drugs", a blatant disregard for civil rights, and a trend of government-issued violence that has gone on far too long, a young boy is left with the question "Why Did Police Kill My Dad?"

We should not take this as an unfortunate but isolated event. This kind of senseless violence has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Mexico in recent years, and now it is spreading to this side of the border. This is the kind of authoritarian terrorism that we have to look forward to unless we reign in our emerging police state.

Update: Another example, this time the victim was a 14-year-old boy.