Showing posts from 2010

Happier New Year!

Let's face it: 2010 was pretty much a downer of a year. From the earthquake in Haiti at the beginning of the year to the earthquake in our domestic politics at the end, the year just didn't have a lot to recommend it. And looking ahead to 2011, one can't muster any optimism that the new year is going to get much better. Still, time and events have a capacity for surprising us and of working out in highly unexpected ways. As we stand on the cusp of this new year, perhaps we would do well to remember the Desiderata and its assurance that whether or not it is clear to us, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should... DESIDERATA -written by Max Ehrmann Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons;

Reality shrugged

The intellectual hero of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is Rep. Paul Ryan. He is hailed by the Washington media as a Very Serious Person, someone who thinks long and deeply about all things related to the national debt. He is said to have a Plan for reducing the deficit and putting the government back in the black. His Plan involves reducing Social Security benefits, gutting Medicare and Medicaid, repealing the Health Care Reform Act, in short, stripping away what meager social safety net is left to the vast majority of Americans who do not make over $200,000 a year and who do not have golden parachutes to see them through their old age. He would then give additional tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. This then is what passes for Very Serious Thinking, for Intellectualism, among our national media and within today's Republican Party. It was with some bemusement that I read the other day that Ryan's intellectual hero and muse is Ayn

Wordless Wednesday: The bottle tree


The Falls by Ian Rankin: A review

One of my reading projects for the year has been to read the Inspector Rebus series. Ian Rankin first introduced his popular detective to us back in 1987, but I came to know him long after that. I didn't complete all the Rebus books this year, but that just gives me something to look forward to in 2011. The Falls is number 12 in the series which runs through 17 books. Rankin was always a good writer right from the beginning, but over the years he has just gotten better and better. His John Rebus is a fully fleshed-out character, someone we know and empathize with, if not admire. His is a dark and moody soul that seems right at home in Edinburgh, as it would be perhaps nowhere else. The starting point of the mystery in The Falls is the disappearance of a student, one Phillipa Balfour, the privileged daughter of a prominent banker. At the beginning, there are no real clues to the disappearance and the Lothian and Borders police must dig deep to try to find some scrap of inf

Global warming is causing four foot snow drifts!

Much of the East Coast is struggling to dig out from under four foot snow drifts . Much of Northern Europe, too, has been stopped in its tracks by giant storms and in some areas people have died as a result of the cold weather. At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization has just released a report showing that 2010 will be among the three warmest years on record - possibly the warmest on record. Moreover, the decade ending with 2010 will be the warmest decade on record. How does one resolve the seeming dichotomy between the fact of four foot snow drifts and the fact that the world will be setting a record for heat this year? According to Judah Cohen, writing today in The New York Times , it is all due to the topography of Asia. The high topography of Asia influences the atmosphere in profound ways. The jet stream, a river of fast-flowing air five to seven miles above sea level, bends around Asia’s mountains in a wavelike pattern, much as water in a stream flows around a

The Good Samaritan and the Red-tailed Hawk

The magnificent Red-tailed Hawk . Red-tailed Hawks have a claim on our imagination. They are so majestic in appearance, so cool, so... Zen . Some of them have become quite famous. Pale Male , the 5th Avenue, New York City bird, for example, has his own website and Twitter account and a host of followers and fans, as the authorities found to their chagrin when they tried to move him and his mate a few years ago. The birds' nest on the side of an apartment building at a posh address on 5th Avenue was causing a mess so the owners of the building had it taken down. That resulted in a series of noisy protests and an international outcry. Those quirky New Yorkers, it seems, preferred the mess and their birds. In the end, they got them back. The Red-tails and their fans were triumphant. Another Red-tailed Hawk found recently near Monroe, New York does not have Pale Male's notoriety or fan base. She doesn't even have a name, although if someone wanted to give her an approp

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard: A review

Djibouti, Elmore Leonard's latest, may be unique in his oeuvre in that its main characters apparently do not have any criminal history. They are identifiable Leonard characters though with their super-cool, super-smart personas and their dropping of pronouns in their conversations. Much of the first half of this book is taken up with conversations betweeen those two characters, Dara Barr, a 30-something award-winning documentary film maker and her right-hand man, six-foot-six, 72-year-old Xavier LeBo, able seaman, cameraman, schlepper and somewhat of a sexual athlete as written by the 85 year-old Leonard. Hmmm... Dara and Xavier are from New Orleans and they met there in the aftermath of Katrina while Dara was filming a documentary of the catastrophe. That film won an Academy Award for them. Now Dara is interested in filming the modern-day pirates of Somalia, and Xavier, with his seafaring experience and all-round super cool, is just the man to help her. The long expository conv

Haley Barbour steps in it again

Forward-thinking Mississippians (yes, there are some) must cringe everytime their obnoxioua governor steps before a camera or submits to an interview. Even as a former Mississippian who hasn't lived in the state in more than thirty-five years, I know that I cringe. He is, in fact, one of the truly cringe-worthy governors in the country, right up there with Jan Brewer of Arizona and Texas' own Rick Perry. And now he's gone and done it again. In an interview with The Weekly Standard , he opined that he didn't remember the Civil Rights struggle in Mississippi, or specifically in his home town of Yazoo City, as being all that bad. He recollected the transistion from segregation to integration as being rather peaceful! This will, of course, be news to the families of Mississippi martyrs to that cause like Medgar Evers and James Chaney, not to mention all the people who were beaten and brutalized by police and by the Ku Klux Klan in that era. But all that passed right o

The waxwings are here!

While working in my backyard this afternoon, I heard a familiar sound and looked up at the sycamore tree just in time to see a flock of perhaps twenty Cedar Waxwings take flight. Yes, one of my favorite winter birds is back in town and had dropped in to announce its arrival. Just in time for the Winter Solstice and just in time for Christmas. What a lovely Christmas present!

I cannot like Julian Assange

The liberal blogosphere and various liberal commentators ( see Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann ) hail Julian Assange, the Wikileaks guy, as a hero who is just doing what a good journalist would do - if there were any good journalists left. They excoriate the judicial system of Sweden for insisting that Assange must face the charges of rape that have been lodged against him by two women. The charges are all political, they cry. I doubt it. I don't think women are generally thinking in a political way when they charge a man with rape and I see no reason to believe that Assange's accusers were. So what were the Swedish authorities to do? Ignore the complaints? Sweep it all under the rug? It's what happens in all too many countries of the world today with crimes against women and I'm very much afraid that it happens all too often in this country. But not, apparently, in Sweden. So Keith Olbermann has been in high dudgeon all week railing and fulminating, as he i

Watching Fox News rots your brain

I've long suspected it and now there is some independent proof: Watching Fox News rots your brain. The University of Maryland has conducted a study of consumers of news from various sources and they found that by a rather overwhelming percentage, the viewers of Fox News were the most ill-informed group that they surveyed. They polled their survey participants on a wide range of topics and found that Fox viewers were most likely to believe things that were demonstrably untrue . Overall, 90% of respondents, consumers from all sources of news, said they felt they had heard false information being given to them during the 2010 election campaign. However, while consumers of just about every news outlet believed some information that was false, the study found that Fox News viewers were "significantly more likely" to believe that: --Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely) --Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen

Wordless Wednesday: Warbler time


The owl prowl and other nighttime adventures

Do you live in an area where there are owls? Barred Owls. Eastern Screech Owls. Great Horned Owls. At this time of year, these birds can be especially active and especially noisy. Particularly those Barred Owls. I can remember well lying in my bed on December nights as a child and listening to two or more of the birds carrying on a loud conversation in the trees outside my window. It certainly sounded like more than two. It sounded like a whole convention of the birds, but it may have been only one amorous pair. If there are owls in your area, you might want to step outside well after dark on one of these clear, cold nights and listen for a few minutes. If you are lucky, you will hear the distinctive call of a Barred Owl - hoo hoo ho-ho, hoo hoo ho-hooooooaawr , which is usually rendered as " Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all ?" It is perhaps not surprising that this bird should speak with a Southern accent since it is the quintessential bird of Southern swam

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephanie Barron: A review

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron is the latest in the Jane Austen pastiche series by Stephanie Barron, in which Jane appears as the solver of mysteries. The series and this book are great fun to read. Any fan of Austen's writing will immediately feel at home in one of these books. Barron does a creditable job of imitating Austen's style of writing, even using the unique turns of phrase that often appear in Austen's books to convince us that these are, in fact, memoirs written by the Great Jane. This is the 10th book in the series, not my favorite of the lot but still an extremely entertaining read. As the book opens, we find Jane about to lose her beloved sister-in-law Eliza to breast cancer. Her brother Henry summons Jane to Eliza's bedside where she remains until the end. She then perceives that she and her bereaved brother are in need of a holiday to restore their spirits. Off they go to the glittering resort of Brighton which proves to be not very restful at all

Silent Sunday: Just passing...


Fiddling while the earth burns

The United Nations conference on climate change that was held in Cancun this week was able to close out with some face-saving modest agreements, but on the whole, it seems that very little was accomplished. While some of Earth's nations have gotten serious about tackling the issue of climate change, the United States is still lagging behind. One would have hoped that once the climate change denying Bush was gone from office some progress might have been made, but it has proved difficult because of the intransigence of the Senate which must approve any treaties. The Senate, as it has proved on this issue as well as many others over the last couple of years, is currently a hamstrung, non-functioning government entity. As long as addressing climate change depends on these people, we can expect the earth to continue to burn while they dither. Meantime, 2010 is on track to be one of the hottest years on record and the past decade is the hottest decade on record. But don't let t

The merry band of haters marches on

Brace yourself. The execrable Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are planning a new outrage. Not satisfied with disrupting the funerals of military personnel with their hate-filled signs and slogans, they are now planning to use their tactics to crash the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday. Edwards died earlier this week after a long and valiant battle with breast cancer. The "Christians" of Westboro Baptist plan to display signs saying "Thank God for breast cancer" and similar slogans. They will be shouting sentiments such as "Elizabeth Edwards is in hell" and just generally doing their best to make this miserable day for her children, family and friends even more miserable. Those who cared for Edwards are now working to organize a counter-protest that will keep these people as far away from the mourners as possible, as has been done recently in other places where Phelps' band has appeared. I can't begin to fathom what motivate

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

I've been reading Alexander McCall Smith for years. When I reached the end of the Precious Ramotswe series (at least temporarily) last year, I decided to give his Isabel Dalhousie series a try. This series is set in Edinburgh, an attractive venue, and, appropriately enough for that place, Isabel is a philosopher who edits a small philosophy magazine. This is the fifth book in the series. In this entry, Isabel, the philosopher, explores the meaning of chance and the role and effect of guilt and jealousy in human lives. Chance, of course, is a constant which we all deal with, as are, to a greater or lesser extent, guilt and jealousy. Guilt, in this instant, comes into the equation when Isabel is asked to look into a situation in which a doctor has been accused of negligence in a drug test that eventually led to the death of a man. She explores and comes to feel that the man is innocent and that there should be some way to repair the damage that has been done to him. Then she meets

Better to be his enemy than his friend

I remember during the presidential primaries of 2008 hearing some commentator on radio or television - I don't remember which or who - repeating something that had been told to him by a person who knew Barack Obama in Illinois. The person had said that it was "better to be Barack's enemy than his friend." The commentator explained that what was meant was that Obama would do anything to placate his enemies while ignoring his friends. "That's a very odd thing to say," I thought, but after watching him as president for two years, it is all too clear that that Illinoian knew him very well. So Obama has his tax compromise and his enemies who will do anything to destroy him, the Republicans, are ecstatic. His friends are seething. Though he says otherwise, I'm not so sure that this "compromise" was not what he wanted all along. He has shown little inclination to get the rich to pay their fair share during his tenure as president. From Wall

Backyard Birder report

This is one of the best times of the year for backyard birders in Southeast Texas. The permanent resident birds are settling in for the winter. The wild food is beginning to get scarce and they are turning to our birdfeeders more and more often. At the same time, winter birds are continuing to pour into the area. The flight song of the American Goldfinch is constant background noise when I'm in my yard these days, as is the chittering call note of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the "chipping" of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Any day now they will be joined by one of my favorite winter birds, the Cedar Waxwings. With this changing cast of visitors, I never know what to expect when I step outside every day, but this morning's tableau was a definite surprise. As I stepped from my back patio to the backyard, a fox squirrel jumped from the nearby sycamore tree to one of the apple tree's limbs, which made me look up just in time to see a big hawk - one of the Buteos -

Silent Sunday: Long-billed Curlew


I'm disgusted!

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the bill that would give 100% of American taxpayers an extension of the tax rates presently in place, up to a limit of $250,000 in earnings. The House did not extend the ADDITIONAL tax break that those who earn more than $250,000 now get and have gotten for the last ten years - one of the big reasons for our current astronomical deficit. Today, the Senate voted on the same measure and they voted 53-36 in favor of it! passed, right? Right? Honestly, only a fool would believe that, for in the U.S. Senate, the majority does not rule. The minority does. In order to get virtually anything passed, the bill has to get 60 "aye" votes, a 3/5 majority. Yes, only in the U.S. Senate and places like Myanmar is a majority not really a majority. So, what happens now? No doubt, the Senate will come up with a "compromise" proposal, which in reality means that they will approve the Republicans demand to extend the

The rich must not suffer!

A couple of days ago, I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition and one of the hosts was interviewing a Republican congressman. I don't even know which one it was, but it really doesn't make any difference. They all speak from the same script and say exactly the same thing. Exactly! If the word of the day is "uncertainity", you can count on every Republican to use it at least fifteen times in any conversation or interview with the press throughout the day. Anyway, the interviewer was asking the man about his vote against the extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. He mentioned that virtually every economist - except possibly ones employed by the Republican Party or Fox News - states unequivocally that one of the most stimulative things that you can do for the economy is to provide unemployment benefits, because the recipients of those benefits are certain to spend them almost as soon as they receive them. They have to in order to pay

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson: A review

I'm not sure that Howard Jacobson would welcome the comparison, but he reminds me of Philip Roth. Roth at his best, that is, because Jacobson's Man Booker prize-winning The Finkler Question is very good. It is an exploration of the Jewish identity - the Jewish (Finkler) question - laced with good humor and a comic sensibility that is accessible to any reader without respect to religious background or preference. Jacobson tells his story through the perceptions and worries of one Julian Treslove, who isn't a Jew. In fact, he is one of the few characters in this book who isn't. His two best friends, Libor Sevcik and Sam Finkler, are both Jews and Treslove is envious of them. He feels excluded from their culture and he very much wants in. Treslove has lost his job at BBC and now makes his living impersonating famous people like Brad Pitt and Colin Firth. His life is changed when he is mugged one night - by a woman! - and he comes to believe that he was attacked

Wordless Wednesday: Rosa floribunda 'Monkey Business'


I see no excuse for this

There was a time when the leaking of secret government information served a useful and even noble purpose. I'm thinking in particular of the leaking of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg , the purpose of which was to inform and educate the American people about what the government was doing in their name. It was to expose wrong-doing in the hopes that the people would put a stop to it. The event did have an effect on public opinion in those days. People were appalled that they had been so grossly lied to by their government and it helped to turn public opinion against the Vietnam War. That was back in the days of our innocence when we still were capable of being appalled. But frankly, in my opinion, Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks guy , is no Daniel Ellsberg, and no higher purpose is being served by his organization's incessant leaking of confidential information . The only goal seems to be the greater notoriety of WikiLeaks and the greater glorification (in certain qu

Silent Sunday: American Kestrel


I love this story!

Remember Fred Phelps and his band of haters? In case you are fortunate enough to have forgotten him or to have never encountered him, he is a Primitive Baptist (primitive being the operative word) pastor of a socalled church in the Mid-West who takes a hardy band of his congregation members around the country to funerals of American military service personnel to stand and shout hateful things at the bereaved families of these people. They shout things such as "God hates fags!" and "This is God's punishment!" Their theology is that the deaths of American service members in combat are the judgment of God on this country because of our "tolerance" of homosexuality. They are quite possibly the lowest two-legged scum that exists on this planet, but because our First Amendment protects freedom of expression, they are allowed to shout their vile filth and make the worst day in some grieving parent's or spouse's life even worse. If you despise thes

Where are the jobs?

The big news in the business world today is that American business had profits of an annualized rate of $1.66 TRILLION between July and September of this year. That is a record. Those are the biggest profits ever recorded by American businesses. And yet these same American businesses are constantly whining that the Obama Administration doesn't love them and that they have created an environment that is hostile to business. Personally, I wouldn't mind a share of that hostility! It was also announced today that the economy grew faster during that same period than was previously reported. The growth rate was 2.5% instead of 2%. That's nothing to shout about, but it is a clear indication that, thanks to government assistance that pulled it out of a deep, deep hole, the economy is moving in the right direction. We've now had five consecutive quarters when the GDP grew. So why hasn't this good news for business translated into more job creation? While some jobs

This is REALLY depressing!

I read Bob Herbert's latest column in The New York Times and now I'm so depressed that I just want to curl up into a tiny fetal ball and pull the covers over my head. The topic of this column - as are the topics of most of his columns - is the state of the country. He doesn't pull any punches regarding what he believes that state to be. "We're in denial about the extent of the rot in the system, and the effort that would be required to turn things around. It will likely take many years, perhaps a decade or more to get employment back to a level at which one could fairly say the economy is thriving." This is especially true since one of the major political parties in the country is not interested in governing or in trying to make things work better. Instead, they are betting everything on doing nothing and letting the country slide ever farther into decline and decay in the hope that that will limit President Obama to one term. That is their only concern,

Silent Sunday: Juvenile Brown Pelican flying


Harry Potter: The beginning of the end

My daughters have been big Harry Potter fans virtually from the publication of the first book. They grew up with Harry and, in a sense, I did, too. I read all the books and I've seen all the movies along the way so I was very interested in the opening today of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Of course, I had to see the film and so did my daughters and so we went together to wallow in the Harry experience along with other besotted fans. We saw the movie at a mid-day showing at an IMAX theater, which was a bit overwhelming actually. The theater was perhaps two-thirds full, so crowds were not an issue as they will be for later showings. If you have followed the saga of Harry, then you know that this movie is based on the last book in the series, but only part of that book - thus the Part 1 of the title. The last book was the biggest and darkest of the series and trying to fit all of the action into one movie would have made for a very long movie. Besides, dividing

This law helps a lot of people. Let's repeal it!

A friend sent me a link to a conservative blog today. Out of politeness, I took a look at it and one of the first posts that I found was a diatribe against what she and her ilk are pleased to call "Obamacare". She ended her post by saying that the Republicans have two years to repeal this socialist monstrosity and the clock is ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. She didn't address exactly how the Republicans are to do this. She and other people of her opinion and level of political sophistication seem to think that all John Boehner has to do is wave his magic wand like Harry Potter and everything will go back to the way it was. It will be as if the Health Care Reform Act never happened and that is what these people so desperately want. Yes, apparently they really do want the health insurance companies once again to be able to kick people off their insurance coverage when they get sick. They want the insurance companies to be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existin

Wordless Wednesday: Graham Thomas roses


A different and more sensible approach to cutting the deficit

After the co-chairmen of the presidential commission on reducing the deficit came out with their draconian proposal last week, it was difficult to believe that anything sane and sensible would emerge from this ill-begotten group, but, in fact, today it did! Representative Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-09) is a member of the commission and today she released her own proposal to reduce the deficit. Here are her major points: * Ending various corporate tax breaks (132.2 billion in annual savings) * Reducing defense spending (110.7 billion in annual savings) * Taxing Capital Gains and dividends as ordinary income (88.1 billion) * Passing cap and trade (52 billion) * Passing a robust public option (10 billion) * Reducing agricultural subsidies (7.5 billion) In addition, she recommends several other smaller changes that would cut tens of billions from the federal budget deficit. Her plan also focuses on $200 billion in investment spending that would help get people back to work, thereby saving the

What do Americans want?

The lame duck Congress is back in session this week, with the memory of the recent election still firmly in their collective memories and the punditocracy's 24/7 analysis of that election swirling in their heads. The pundits, though, really only listen to other pundits and they wind up parroting each other and their thoughts then become "common wisdom". In my opinion, the wisest and most perspicacious analysis of what the election means and what it shows that Americans want has come from blogger ginandtacos , from whom I quote freely here: "1. Social Security reform that guarantees my current level of benefits, alters someone else's, and cuts everyone's Social Security taxes to boot. 2. A world-class national infrastructure that can be built and maintained without tax dollars. 3. A balanced budget that doesn't sacrifice any of the government programs – especially the sacred military-industrial complex and the various old age benefits – that we like. 4. C

Silent Sunday: Future Monarchs


The big tax kerfuffle

Congress comes back into session next week and among the first things to be considered will be whether to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts. The question before the House - and the Senate - will be whether to extend all the tax cuts past December 31, 2010, including the extra added reductions for the very rich who have taxable income of $250,000 or above, or whether to eliminate those extra reductions in taxes for the rich and just keep the middle-class tax cuts. As usual, the Republicans have drawn their line in the sand in defense of the very rich and are insisting that they will refuse to compromise on the issue. The Democrats want to continue the middle-class tax cuts and let those for the very rich expire, but the White House has been distressingly wishy-washy on the issue. I fail to see what is so difficult about this for the president and his staff. Mr. Obama has said that he wants to keep the middle-class cuts and that the additional cuts for the rich are just too expensi

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald & Lillian Stokes: A review

As an avid birder, I tend to believe that one cannot have too many bird field guides, so I'm always happy to welcome a new one to my overburdened bookshelves. In that spirit, I was very excited to receive my copy of The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America last week. The first thing that one notices about this new field guide is its cover which features the beautiful Painted Bunting on the front, surely one of the most colorful and striking birds on our continent. On the back is another, smaller, picture of a Pileated Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker known for certain to still exist in North America, and one of the more impressive birds to fill our skies. Then you pick the book up and the next thing you notice is that this is one heavy book! It weighs slightly more than three pounds. It's all those pictures, for this is a field guide that uses photographs to illustrate the bird species of North America. It features 854 species of birds, including all the residen


It's Veterans' Day. That means that our younger daughter is engaged in one of her favorite rituals with her dad - doing an all-day movie marathon of war movies. They do this every Veterans' Day. It's daddy/daughter bonding time. Recently my daughter did a story for the Houston Library about their ritual. In her entry, she posted a couple of pictures of her father as a very young, very skinny soldier attached to the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. If you follow one of the links she gave (Battle of Hamburger Hill), you can read an account that that young soldier wrote about that dreadful battle. You can also follow her links to see a list of favorite World War II movies. It's these movies that make up the bulk of their movie marathon and there are some really good ones there. As for me, I don't do war movies anymore. As a young girl, I used to watch them with my father, the World War II veteran, so history is repeating itself in our household. But then I grew u

Would you trust your plumber to do your root canal?

While sitting in my dentist's chair today waiting for his recommendation on whether or not to proceed with a root canal, my mind wandered to something I had read in Skeptical Science earlier today. The blogger was discussing the tendency of some who have expertise in one area to assume that they are experts in other fields as well. Thus, you might have, to use one of his examples, a perfectly competent gardener who claims to be expert in ichthyology, even though he has never studied the biology of fish. This tendency seems very prevalent in the field of climate science. You have all kinds of people who may be knowledgeable in one field of study claiming expertise in regard to what the real climate scientists refer to as global climate change or anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. Most often, these people from other fields who bill themselves as experts on climate science are global climate change deniers. They are absolutely certain (or claim to be) that the whole thing

Brazil takes another step into the future

The U.S.A. was not the only Western Hemisphere country to hold an election last week. Far to the south, the giant of South America, Brazil held its presidential election . Like Chile and Argentina before it, Brazilians elected a woman, Dilma Rousseff, to be their new chief executive. In this, of course, they are all three more advanced and forward-looking than the United States which has yet to give that position to a woman. Brazil is an interesting story. It is a country on the move and is beginning to make its mark on the world stage. Its president for eight years has been Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and he probably would have been elected again but he was barred by term limits from seeking the office. And so he personally chose Ms. Rousseff, who had served as his chief of staff and energy minister, as his successor. He campaigned tirelessly for her. Even so, she was not able to gain a clear victory in the first round of the election in which there were three candidates. In th

The banana republic of North America

When I was growing up, the term "banana republic" was a pejorative used to deride certain Central and South American countries that had great inequalities in their societies and were constantly prey to having their governments overthrown, either from without or within. These days, most of those countries are making strides toward a more equal and just society. Their governments are elected by popular vote and, for the most part, they work toward improving the lives of their people rather than just enriching an oligarchy of corporate and military interests that spends its time raping the land and taking all the wealth without putting anything back. No, if you are looking for a banana republic today, you can look a lot closer to home. Like out your front door . In the United States today, 1 percent of the population takes home about 24 percent of the income. C.E.O.s of our largest companies earn more than 500 times what the average worker earns! During the period 1980 to