Showing posts from December, 2009

The obligatory year-end list

Here we are at the last day of the year and everybody is making a list to sum up the year that is quickly fading into history. Herewith, then, is my list - ten things that I would love to forget about 2009. They are in no particular order. Each is just as objectionable as the other. 1. The "Tea Partiers." These people couldn't even decide what they were against, but I strongly suspect what they were really against was having an African-American president. They were just a mindless herd being stirred up to stampede by the ranters on talk radio and Fox News. 2. Sarah Palin and her whole damn family - in-laws, outlaws, and hangers-on. When will these people fade into the anonymity that they so richly deserve? 3. The Houston Astros' season of ineptitude. Where have you gone, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio? 4. Birthers. These, of course, fit right in with #1. They are a subsection really. Their real problem, too, is race. 5. Joe Lieberman's whiney voice.

An alternative view of bodice rippers

My mother was a lover of romance novels, perhaps because there was so little romance in her own life. In her later years, when she finally had the time to do so, she devoured these stories of female characters constantly in trouble and usually rescued by some strong male figure. I think they gave her a lot of pleasure and entertainment. I, of course, disdained them. Romance novels, in my view, were for the unenlightened. Educated women and feminists most certainly did not read them. I thought that all romance heroines were weak and I wanted no part of that. The novels, I believed, were thinly disguised porn for women. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In view of a recent thoughtful essay on the subject in the Daily Kos , of all places, I may have to revise my view of the genre. The essay was written by Laura Clawson, obviously a very smart woman (with an Ivy League PhD) who says she is a life-long feminist - and she reads romance novels. One by one she debunks th

Is Iran imploding?

One wonders what is really happening in Iran these days. Even though journalists, for the most part, are not allowed by the government to report from there, it is clear that massive demonstrations are continuing more than six months after what seems to have been a thoroughly fraudulent election. There are reports that more than 30 have been killed in the most recent demonstrations, although the official government count is "only" eight. The people of Iran - particularly the young people of Iran - seem determined to topple the authoritarian regime that has held their country in thrall for more than thirty years and to replace it with an Iranian brand of democracy. They have put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line and their bodies on the streets in that struggle. I deeply admire their passion and their dedication. More power to them. Perhaps 2010 will be their year.

My new Kindle

I love books. I love the feel of books, the smell of books, the heft of books, the look of books - their perfect symmetry. I am, as the phrase goes, an "avid reader." I've always got at least one book going and several waiting on my "to be read" shelf, so I consume a lot of books in a year's time. I am a fairly eclectric reader, although my favorite genre is mysteries, and specifically, historical mysteries, but I read a lot of other stuff as well, both fiction and nonfiction. My devotion to the printed page has been unwavering and I've never even considered getting an ebook reader. Until earlier this year. I got a Kindle for my husband, the technogeek, for his birthday, and after watching him use it and seeing his enthusiasm for it, I decided that maybe I should try it, even though I'm decidedly NOT a technogeek. I did try it and I was hooked. So, Santa, that jolly old elf, knowing that I had been seduced by the Kindle, stuffed my Christmas sto

The woman's reporter

So, after forty years of reporting about women, Ellen Goodman is retiring. I guess she's earned a rest. It has been an eventful forty years. Ellen Goodman and I are contemporaries and I have spent much of those last forty years reading her columns and nodding my heading in agreement. Sometimes I also shed a tear or crumpled the paper in frustration, because a lot of what she had to report on was not progress. It was the story of the continued demeaning of women and women's concerns, "women's issues" - i.e., life, death, the bringing up of children, the dignity of work and the desire for equal treatment in the workplace, health care and the desire for equal treatment in that arena, as well. The list could go on and on, and it has, but it is a list that is too often overlooked by the mainstream media. We are lucky that we had Ellen Goodman there to kick them in the shins and sometimes in the seat of their pants and say, "Hey, fathead, you are overlooking

Christmas oranges

It is Clementine season and, daily, I gorge myself on these lovely fruits. They are sweet, luscious and tiny. One is just not enough, so I typically take four of them at a time from the fruit bowl. Their smooth, shiny orange skin is very easily removed, so peeling the four is fast work. Then they are quickly divided into their individual sections, fourteen or so to the fruit. Each section is just bite-sized, a sweet, tangy, seedless, juicy mouthful of citrusy goodness. They come to us at just the right time of year, from mid-November through January. At the darkest time of year, they are like a taste of sunshine. These small oranges are of the Mandarin orange family and it is really in fairly recent years that they have become popular and widely available - at least in the grocery stores that I frequent. But having once discovered them, I'm doing my best to increase demand and ensure their continued production and availability in grocery produce departments. Many fruits are n

Quiet again

All the holiday company, including dogs, have left. The house is quiet once again, and perhaps my dear cat Nicholas can regain his equilibrium. He enjoys human visitors, but he wasn't too sure about those dogs. I look forward to this time of year and to getting the whole family together for the only time during the year, but, as my daughter said today, it is very tiring having to be so nice all the time, and it's a great relief to get back to our normal grouchy, grinchy selves. It is hard for me to be too grouchy though since I made out like a bandit with Santa. From yard sculptures and books to my piece de resistance , my new Kindle, Santa was very good to me. I must have been a better girl than I thought I was, or maybe Santa was easily duped. Now, with my Kindle and with all the other paper books I have on my reading shelf, it may get even quieter around here for the rest of winter. Who needs television, radio, DVDs, or CDs when you've got books to read? So, come o

It's done

He did it! Harry Reid, excoriated by both left and right and underestimated by almost everybody except possibly his caucus which elected him leader, has done what no other Majority Leader of the Senate, even the most legendary, has been able to do. He has held his fractious caucus together through months of bickering, marching them, cajoling them, bargaining with them toward this final result - passage of a Health Care Reform bill. It's not the end, of course. Under the arcane rules of legislation, this flawed bill must now be reconciled with the House's more generous bill and then voted on by both Houses again before it can finally land on the President's desk for signature. Still, this accomplishment must not be underestimated. It is a first, a beginning, and Harry Reid has done it. Good on him!

Festivus for the rest of us

Finally, the day we have waited for all year has arrived: Festivus! So, without further ado, let's get right down to the airing of grievances. I'll start. Here are things that are bugging me this year. 1. People who have forgotten the simplest rules of courtesy that their mothers taught them, such as elected representatives who interrupt a speech by the President of the United States to shout that he is a liar. Or the "teabaggers" who spent their summer disrupting public meetings and trying to keep other people from speaking about or listening to information about Health Care Reform. 2. The mainstream media's obsession with people like Sarah Palin, Carrie Prejean, and Tiger Woods. Who cares? 3. People who don't know that subjective pronouns should never be used as objects, as in, "When I see the next National Enquirer on the newstand I expect to see a headline about Tiger Woods and I." It should be "Tiger Woods and ME." (Well...not

The best thing about Christmas

Christmas is not actually my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving holds that place in my heart. But there are many things to like about Christmas. It is the only holiday when all of our (very small) family manages to get together. There are the Christmas movies that I never tire of watching. Movies like A Christmas Carol , It's a Wonderful Life , Love Actually to name just three. There are the special Christmas foods. I will even admit to being one of those demented beings who actually like fruitcake. It brings back fond memories of my childhood and the fruitcake that my mother used to make. Then, of course, there are the gifts. Who doesn't like to give and get gifts? Well, there probably are some such people, but their hearts are two sizes too small and they are known as grinches. There are Christmas plants to enjoy, like poinsettias and Christmas cactus and, of course, Christmas trees. I especially love my Christmas cactus, again because it reminds me of my mother's

Winter Solstice

The last day of autumn here was a gorgeous one. The clear sky glowed with golden sunshine and that special shade of blue that seems to come only at this time of year. Autumn blue. Now the sun has set. The shortest day of the year is over and we are embarked upon the longest night, a time that was considered perilous by our ancestors. That is why they invented so many rituals and ceremonies involving light that take place at this time of year. They celebrated light as a way of honoring the sun, flattering it and persuading it to come back and light the world once more. They felt that there was a very good chance that it might not unless they took the appropriate actions. And so, pagans celebrated (and still celebrate) the solstice, the ancient Romans had their Saturnalia, the Jews had (and have) Hanukkah, and the Christians rather arbitrarily designated December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth. But it isn't only these groups. If you stick a pin in a map of the world and g

Meryl Streep

The first movie I actually remember seeing Meryl Streep in was Sophie's Choice . She broke my heart. Utterly destroyed me, in fact. I will never see that movie nor anything similar again. It was, in short, a great performance that didn't seem like a performance at all. She was Sophie. I've seen her in many movies since. In recent years there was The Devil Wears P rada and last year's Mama Mia . And always, whether she is playing unutterable tragedy, a thorough bitch, or singing and dancing her way through a frothy frolic, she always does it. She completely embodies the spirit of the character she is playing. She becomes that person. It wasn't a surprise to me then, when I finally got around to seeing Julie and Julia today, to see her transformed into Julia Child. By now, I am on to her tricks. But what a performance! She captured the glorious Julia in her accent, her mannerisms, her awkwardness, her love of life, her authenticity. She's already been

Winter in the garden

Winter officially begins in a couple of days as the sun hides its face from us on the shortest day of the year. But unofficially, it began here a couple of weeks ago with our first severe freeze. We don't often get temperatures that flirt with the teens here on the Gulf Coast, and so that event was a shock to the systems of both gardens and gardeners. Walking around my garden today, I was again surprised at the extent of the damage. Most of my plants are natives, or they are tried and true old Southern stand-bys like crinums. They will be back. But I had succumbed to the temptation to add some more tropical plants this year. Many gardeners in the Houston area grow them successfully, but I'm a bit farther north and the micro-climate of my yard is a bit chillier at this time of year than many of those who treasure and baby their tropical plants. I don't baby my plants. I'm much too lazy a gardener for that. So this season has already been a revelation to me - even

Rules for writers

I happened to catch Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" segment on NPR yesterday. It was William Safire's birthday and Keillor was talking about Safire's rules for writers: 1. Never split an infinitive. 2. Never use passive voice. 3. Avoid cliches like the plague! That last one made me laugh out loud. I had heard or read these rules before, but had forgotten them and had forgotten about Safire's tongue-in-cheek wit. Most writers, I think, learn rules similar to these and try to apply them with greater or lesser success to the actual craft of writing. But who can really claim to have never split an infinitive or used the passive voice? And what would our language be without its cliches? Come to think of it, the ultimate passive voice statement - "To be or not to be" - is also something of a cliche in itself. But then the immortal Shakespeare could hardly be bothered by rules concocted by mere mortals, especially one who live

George and Scrooge

Two iconic literary characters of this time of year are essentially mirror images of each other. George Bailey is the ultimate self-sacrificing good citizen. His first sacrifice is to jump into the freezing water of a pond to rescue his little brother. It seems from that point on, the trajectory of his life is determined. Whenever he has to make a choice between his desires and what would be the greater good for his family or his community, he gives up his desires and his dreams of world travel to serve that family and community. When the crunch comes, he questions all the decisions he has ever made and thinks the world would have been better off if he had never been born. Through the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence, he gets to see that alternative life - or un-life - and gets the ultimate Christmas gift of learning just what his life has meant to everyone around him. He has really had a pretty wonderful life, after all. Scrooge, on the other hand, is the quintessen

Confronting evil

I'm not a big fan of David Brooks and I admit I don't often read his column in The New York Times , but a couple of days ago, he wrote one which had a title that intrigued me. It was "Obama's Christian Realism." The gist of the column was that President Obama's thought processes are revealed by his speeches and that his public speeches, taken as a whole, have reflected a remarkably consistent philosophy throughout. It is essentially that there is evil in the world which must be confronted, and, as Brooks states it, that "life is a struggle to push back against the evils of the world without succumbing to the passions of the beast lurking inside." This is what Brooks calls the liberal internationalist approach. It is an approach that demands that we, as a nation, act in concert with others to achieve our aims. From this philosophy grew our backing of NATO and of the United Nations and of many regional alliances around the world. It is an approach

Good news comes in a small package - with feathers

With all the really bad, no-good, horrible, awful news of the day, from disarray in the climate change talks, to confusion about Health Care Reform and whether it is really going to happen, to Wall Street giving its usual obscene end-of-the-year bonuses, to more troops being sent to Afghanistan - well, it's enough to depress even the most optimistic person. Imagine my utter delight then when, today, I ran across the story of the Limestone Leaf Warbler . This tiny bird, a previously unknown species, has been discovered in the forests of Vietnam and Laos. It is a yellow and green bird that was first sighted in 1994, but at that time it was thought that it was merely a subspecies of the Sulphur-breasted Warbler, a well-documented species in the area. Now, however, studies of the bird's morphology, DNA, and vocalizations have confirmed that it is a distinct species. Not only is this a "new" bird, but unlike so many recently discovered species that have only been found w

Elections have consequences

In 2006, Democrats had the opportunity to support a Democrat who was running for the Senate in Connecticut. His name was Ned Lamont and he had won the right to make that race by beating Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. The leadership and most of the well-known names in the Democratic Party failed to support Lamont. They either supported Lieberman, who ran as an Independent, or they sat on their hands and refused to support either candidate. Ned Lamont was not exactly a dynamic candidate but he was a true Democrat and he had won his primary race fairly and squarely. He deserved to be supported by his party. Had he won the general election and had the opportunity to serve as Connecticut's senator, there is no question as to how he would stand on the current efforts to pass Health Care Reform. He would be foursquare in favor of such reform, rather than playing the obstructionist role that is embraced with such enthusiasm by the man who won the general election with the de

The dodgy emails

So, the Associated Press has done an exhaustive analysis of the emails regarding climate change research and data that were stolen from Britain's University of East Anglia, and they have concluded that what the emails show is that scientists can be just as petty and childish as ordinary people. What they most definitely do NOT show is that there is any reason to doubt that global climate change is taking place and that human activities are contributing mightily to it. Analysis by the Associated Press will, of course, not convince the deniers. Consider, after all, that some of them are the same people who do not accept evolution. Heck, some of them probably don't even accept gravity. The scientists who tried to "nudge" the data in order to present it in an even more positive light and those who discouraged any contributions from scientists who questioned the overwhelming scientific view of climate change did their discipline a disservice and they really should be as

Outsourcing our accountability

When did we decide as a country to outsource our governmental functions to private enterprise? Sure, the eight years of the Bush Jr. administration were the heyday of privatization, but the camel's nose was under the tent even before that. The argument is made time and time again that private enterprise can do the jobs cheaper and more efficiently. That might possibly be true in some cases, AS LONG AS THERE IS STRONG GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT LOOKING OUT FOR OUR INTERESTS. The problem has been that the oversight has been lacking, because our representatives in Washington have been bought by those private interests who receive the valuable contracts and they have ensured that there will be no effective policing of the contracts. And so we have situations like the murderous rampage of Blackwater (now Xe) employees killing innocents in Iraq, for which no one yet has truly been held accountable. Blackwater employees were also contracted to guard the embassy in Kabul. You cannot convin

The one hundred percenters

Sometimes I just don't get it. Liberals have been trying to bring meaningful health care reform to this country for my entire lifetime - and longer. Now we are closer than ever before to achieving that, and yet a sizable minority of so-called committed liberals rail against it. Every night on Keith Olbermann's Countdown, we hear his heated hyperbole about everything that is wrong with the Senate and House bills. THEY DON'T HAVE A STRONG ENOUGH PUBLIC OPTION!!! THEY DON'T COVER 100% OF ALL PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES!!! THEY ARE TOO KIND TO THE PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES!!! THE DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS AND IN THE WHITE HOUSE HAVE SOLD US OUT!!! THE WORLD WILL END IN 2012!!! Well, I made that last one up, but not really. Olbermann and his hyperventilating kind seem to believe that if we don't get 100% of everything that liberals wanted in this bill that there is just no hope for the Democrats in elections in 2010 and in 2012. The truth is that life is a

The winter garden

Winter came early to the Gulf Coast this year. We had our earliest snowfall on record, on December 4, and our first hard freeze came that night, about a week to ten days earlier than our average first frost. This was a shock to area gardeners, most of whom were unprepared for this strangely cold weather. (Our temperature got down to 23 degrees F.) In recent years, winter has passed practically unremarked in our gardens. Last winter, the first week in January, I had seven fat Monarch butterfly caterpillars munching away on my still green milkweed. This winter, the first full week in December, my milkweed has turned to black mush. Perversely, I actually enjoy this time of year in the garden. It may have something to do with the fact that weeding requirements are minimal, but I like to think that my pleasure is more spiritual, related to the revelation of the bones and structure of the garden. All the fluffery of leaves has been peeled away by Mother Nature and one can see through

The Uh-Oh Decade of journalism

There's been some discussion lately of just what we should call this decade that is winding down to its final days. It has been a decade of notable selfishness and lack of introspection, but the "Me Decade" sobriquet is already taken. Now, one of my favorite columnists, Leonard Pitts, has weighed in on the discussion. His suggestion is that we call it the "Uh-Oh Decade." I think the name is highly appropriate, for our country if not for the world. From the Supreme Court's ill-advised decision to stop the counting of votes in Florida in 2000, through all the lies and obnoxious swagger of the Bush years, the unwarranted war, the betrayal of American principles through the torture and humiliation of prisoners, the trashing of laws protecting the environment and public health - well, the list goes on and on. It has been one long series of uh-ohs. One of the most troubling aspects of the last ten years for me, though, has been the demise of journalism. Perha

This silent autumn

It happens every year in autumn in my yard and I suppose I should be used to it by now. A silence descends. The birds that flock to my feeding stations three seasons of the year suddenly desert me and all is quiet. No White-winged Doves crowd the platform feeders, no colorful Northern Cardinals fly to the post feeders or search the ground under them for their share of the black oil sunflower seeds. This year even the Northern Mockingbirds have abandoned my yard. I don't ever remember that happening before. If this had just happened yesterday, it wouldn't concern me so much, but it has been going on for weeks now. All of November was quiet in my yard, a silence broken only by the sound of leaves falling and squirrels squabbling. Though I understand why it happens, that doesn't make the silence any easier to bear. The birds disperse at the end of summer because food is plentiful in the wild then. It has been especially so this year. We have had an unusually heavy cro

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Last Friday, here in the Houston area, we had snow and ice, a most uncommon occurrence for this part of the world. Whenever something like that happens, it brings out the climate warming deniers here (of which there are many - this is Texas, after all) who send letters to the editor and to bloggers like me proclaiming, "THIS PROVES THAT GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HOAX!!!" To which I reply, "Tell me about it next July or August." Of course, daily weather does not equal climate. Only daily weather writ large, over the period of a decade or a century or five hundred years, can begin to equal climate. And the record for the last five hundred years is clear - the climate is changing. To which the deniers will reply, "Earth's climate is always changing and it used to be a lot hotter than it is now." Well, yes, it did, but there weren't these sensitive little critters called humans living on its surface back then. During the relatively short time that hum

What is it with these guys?

Baucus acknowledges recommending girlfriend. So now Sen. Max Baucus joins the long list of ethics-challenged United States Senators. Names like Ensign, Vitter and Craig spring to mind, along with those two sterling characters from Oklahoma, Imhofe and Coburn. What is it with these guys anyway? (And it is always guys - so far no female senators have qualified for this Hall of Shame.) I mean surely they have a certain amount of intelligence to have reached their high offices, and yet they appear to have no basic understanding of the idea of conflict of interest or the wrongness of using public policy and offices to further their personal interests. Baucus, for example, sees nothing wrong with recommending his lover for a high government position. He feels she shouldn't have been disqualified simply because he was "dating" her. Well-qualified she may have been, and based on what I have read of her, she does appear to be a very talented and capable individual, but no matter h

Another blog? Ya gotta be kidding!

For about three years now, I have been a part of the world of blogging. I currently maintain two blogs, both of them for the Houston Chronicle . I called my first blog "Backyard Birder" because that's what I am. Birds are a passion with me, but I possess no particular expertise, except as a backyard birder and so that is what I signed on to write about. Backyard birds are endlessly fascinating to me, and I'm still learning about them and sharing what I learn with my readers. My second blog with the Chronicle is called "Gardening with Nature" because that's what I do. I am engaged in creating a garden in my yard that is a seamless extension of Nature. It is a habitat garden that welcomes wildlife of many kinds, especially birds, butterflies, and bees. Working on this garden has been one of the great joys of my life and it is my ongoing pleasure. I live in a climate where gardening takes place twelve months of the year, so there is always someth