Showing posts from March, 2010


A brief note to those of my readers who have been kind enough to notice my absence: My husband had what the doctors have termed a "mild" heart attack - a wake-up call. Friday night, actually early Saturday morning, we ended up at the emergency room. Bob was admitted to the hospital. Tests were run and the problem was located. Early Monday morning the cardiologist set about doing repairs and fixes. Bob is healing quickly. In fact, today he is quite chipper. We hope he will be released no later than tomorrow or next day. Once I get him back home, I'll be back here giving you my opinions and reporting on the world around me. Thanks for your concern and please continue to send Bob your positive thoughts as he recovers.

Please pardon the interruption

No post today because of a family emergency. I hope to be back at the keyboard in a few days. Keep watching this space!

Life on the high wire

It's all about maintaining proper balance...

Will the monarchy survive?

El Nino has struck hard in many places this winter and the area of Mexico where Monarch butterflies overwinter has been devastated by the effects of winter storms. This is tragic news for the people who live in these regions, but it has been a real disaster for the Monarch . Unprecedented rainfall from late January through the first week of February led to flooding and landslides that resulted in the loss of many lives and in the near destruction of the towns of Angangueo and Ocampo, the two municipalities that serve as base for tourists who visit the Monarch colonies at Sierra Chincua and El Rosario. The community of El Rosario was also hit with a major landslide that buried more than a dozen residents and destroyed much infrastructure in the region. The consequences of this disaster will be felt by the residents of this area for years to come. But it wasn't only people who were affected. The Monarch colonies were strongly impacted by the unprecedented rainfall. The final estima

The party of the hissy fit

In The Times today, Timothy Egan had an opinion piece in which he branded the Republican Party the "party of the hissy fit." It seems to be a particularly apt sobriquet. This is the party in which the most recent presidential candidate has said that he's through cooperating(!). He will not be cooperating or participating in the legislative process for the rest of the year. I'm not really clear how this is supposed to be different from what's been happening over the last year. It's a bit like a kid who loses in a playground game threatening to pick up his marbles and go home. Then we have the spectacle of Republican state attorneys general around the country rushing to file suit challenging the constitutionality of the new Health Care Reform law. I admit I am not a constitutional expert, but I would estimate that their chances of prevailing in such a suit stand at about the same as a snowball's chance in hell. But that doesn't bother this party of &

Jane in the 21st century

Who doesn't love Jane Austen? Well, actually, there probably are some curmudgeonly people who don't, but it is a truth universally acknowledged among those who read that to know her is to love her. One can sink into one of her novels and completely lose oneself in the morals, mores, and manners of late eighteenth century England. It was a time when roles in society, particularly women's roles in society, were strictly defined and limited, and social intercourse was tightly choreographed, not unlike the country dances that were so popular in the period. There has been a surge in the popularity of Jane in the past 10 to 15 years, spurred on by some truly wonderful film versions of her books and by successful books written in homage to Jane or in her style. I just finished reading one of those "homage" books. It was The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I had actually seen the movie based on this book, but evidentally it didn't make too big an impr

Oh, Canada! I think I love you.

Did you hear the latest about Ann Coulter ? It seems that she was scheduled to give speeches in a series of Canadian universities, but when some of the students at those schools heard about it, they decided to exercise their right of free speech and peacefully (It's the Canadian way.) protest her coming to their schools. Apparently, thousands of the students joined in the protest. They did not want this noted purveyor of hate speech on their campus. Now, Coulter is a bold proponent of free speech, so you would think that she would rejoice in the Canadian students exercising their rights. You would be wrong. It seems she is only a proponent of HER freedom to speech, but not if she feels threatened in any way. Apparently, she did feel threatened by the peaceful Canadian students because now she has canceled her speeches rather than face them. Of course, Coulter and her ilk were never long on physical courage. It is why you will almost never find any of them serving in any mil

It couldn't be done

Paul Krugman got it right in his column today about the passage of Health Care Reform. The column was accurately titled "Fear Strikes Out." As I followed the progress of the three votes through the House of Representatives, the old Edgar Guest poem about never quitting kept popping into my mind. I'm sure you must of learned this as a child as well. It Couldn’t Be Done Edgar Guest Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, But, he with a chuckle replied That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried. So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin On his face. If he worried he hid it. He started to sing as he tackled the thing That couldn’t be done, and he did it. Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that; At least no one has done it"; But he took off his coat and he took off his hat, And the first thing we knew he’d begun it. With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin, Without any

A Sunday afternoon in Texas

"In future time, then may the pilgrim's eye see here an obelisk point toward the sky...." — Anonymous poet The above prediction was penned in the poem: “Ode to San Jacinto”, even before the Republic of Texas became the State of Texas. Today, the world’s tallest war memorial stands at San Jacinto—15 feet taller than the Washington monument—honoring all those who fought for Texas's independence. The design was the brainchild of architect Alfred C. Finn, engineer Robert J. Cummins, and Jesse H. Jones. Construction ran from 1936 to 1939. With continued support, the San Jacinto Museum of History Association has occupied the facility since its doors first opened. Its builder was the Warren S. Bellows Construction Company of Dallas and Houston. The monument building alone—apart from its great historical significance—is worth a trip to the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. At 570 feet, this Texas giant one of the finest examples of Moderne (Art Deco) architecture


We are in the final countdown to Congress' action on the Health Care Reform bill and the opponents of reform seem to be getting more and more desperate, hysterical, and unhinged from reality and the norms of common decency. Yes, indeedy, there was another tea party at the Capitol today and the partiers showed their true colors - not that there had ever really been any doubt about their colors. They run the full range of hues from white to - um - white. These party-goers today jostled and shouted abuse at Congressional Democrats entering the Capitol to perform their duties as elected representatives of the people. Many of them carried signs with entirely heinous slogans, some threatening violence. The obscenities shouted, as well as the signs, clearly revealed the homophobic and racist tendencies of the crowd and said a lot more about the shouters than about the recipients of the verbal and, sometimes, physical abuse. At least one of the representatives was spat upon. Really?

What a lot of crap!

Have you noticed that there is literally almost nothing but crap on television these days? Oh, I know there is the occasional worthy show, but, on the whole, at any given hour of the day or night, when you pick up the remote and hit the on switch, all you will have to choose from is crap. Wasn't there a song a few years back about "200 channels and nothing to watch"? Well, if there wasn't, there should have been. Maybe I'll even write one. This wouldn't really bother me so much normally, because television and I went our separate ways several years ago. I used to be deeply in love with it in my younger days. In fact, you could hardly drag me out of its embrace. But over the years, I admit I grew increasingly unfaithful because I had met other, more interesting and satisfying loves. (I'm sitting in front of one of them now.) In the end, we had just grown too far apart. Irreconcilable differences, I believe is the term. I still tried to remain fri

Rampant denialism

These past few days, I have been laid low by a tiny, vicious bug, one that made me unable to raise my head off the pillow or drag myself to the keyboard to connect with the world. Consequently, when I finally was able to make that trek from my bed to the chair in front of my computer today, I found my Google Reader full to overflowing with posts from the blogs that I follow. Skimming through those posts, there were a number of very interesting ones to which I need to give further thought, but one in particular caught my eye. It was an entry from Skeptical Science about a peer-reviewed scientific paper that explores the roots and the methods of scientific denialism. Here, I quote extensively from that post. The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none , an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5

Is this finally it?

Is this the week when we finally get a major health care reform bill, however weakened it may be, signed into law by the president? The signs are looking favorable and yet one is almost too terrified to hope at this point. The opposition has been so implacable and so utterly devious and unreasonable, so concerned for the welfare of their corporate sponsors rather than for the average citizen. I am sure they will fight an entrenched battle right up to the very end, so it is essential that those who are trying to pass this bill stay alert and stay strong and do not falter as they near the finish. From what I understand of what will be in the final bill, it is certainly not what I and many others had hoped for. It will not provide universal health care coverage to Americans, as most countries in the industrialized world provide for their citizens, and yet it is an important step forward. It is important because it is the first step, the foot in the door, so to speak. Once the princi

Nature Sunday: Narcissus and the spider

Can you find the spider?

Adapting to change

The Houston Chronicle online has a story about the release this week of a study entitled "The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change." The state of the birds report is updated and released every year. Last year's report highlighted the fact that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in decline due to challenges such as the loss of wetlands, commercial hunting and pesticides. As the title suggests, this year's study focuses on the effects of climate change on bird populations. Changes in climate are an immediate threat to oceanic birds like albatrosses and petrels because of the changes being wrought in marine ecosystems and the rising sea levels. But, in the longer term, as we have deeper and longer droughts, more intense flooding, and, in some places, colder winters, or other phenomena associated with climate change, birds of the forests or arid regions or even suburban backyards are threatened by the chang

Apple blossom time

I remember a song from my childhood called "Apple Blossom Time." It was a big hit, I think, for the female trio that sang it, the Andrews Sisters. I thought about that song when I looked at my apple tree this morning and now I've had the tune stuck in my head all day. Although the song lyric speaks of May as being "apple blossom time," March is definitely that time here in Southeast Texas. My old Ein Schmer apple tree is sanguine about late winter in our part of the world and so it is holding back some of its buds. It will open them slowly over the next week or so, thus just in case there is a late freeze, it won't lose all of its blossoms. It will still have more buds to open when the weather warms again. The bees are very happy about these blossoms. Both the honeybees and the native bees have been busy today visiting the apple blossoms and the blueberry blossoms that are open. The blueberries are much more profligate with their blossoms, more trusting

Mississippi dreamin'

I see in the news from my home state that Mississippi is making itself notorious again. At least, the school board in Itawamba County is. It seems that they have canceled the senior prom because a lesbian student wanted to attend with her girlfriend and she wanted to wear a tuxedo. This was just too much for the sensibilities of these sensitive souls who were apparently afraid their their own kids might catch "the gay" from attending a social event with a lesbian couple. So they canceled the event and expressed the hope that some "private group" might sponsor a prom for the kids. What they didn't say but probably meant was that the "private group" should sponsor a prom for the straight kids. It's hard to believe that in the year 2010, the sexual orientation of a teenage girl is enough to cause grown-up people to behave this way. Why do they feel so threatened by this? What are so they afraid of? Do they really think that the homosexual cou

How plants do it

Olivia Judson has a great piece in The New York Times today about the sex lives of plants. Plants, just like the rest of us, have, over millions of years, worked out strategies of sex and reproduction that successfully perpetuate their kind, but, as Judson points out, the plants' sex lives come with some unique obstacles. The most obvious obstacle is that the plant can't move around to find another of its kind to hook up with and so it has to depend on intermediaries. Flowers are the plants' vehicle for delivering their sperm and egg cells to the appropriate recipients and they essentially have two ways of getting those precious bits of matter to combine and make a new plant. One of their allies in reproduction is the wind. It is a bit quirky and unpredictable it is true, but about ten percent of flowering plants do use the wind to spread their pollen. Since the wind goes its own way and is a bit unreliable, wind-pollinated plants tend to produce huge quantities of pol

The quiet yard

When I first walked outside this morning, I sensed almost immediately that there was something different about my yard. But as I stood there in my typical morning fog, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I picked up my newspaper and went back inside and it wasn't until a few hours later that I actually figured it out. I was sitting in my backyard resting from my gardening labors, and, as I usually do in these instances, I was watching my backyard birdfeeders, when suddenly it hit me. The goldfinches were gone! There was not a single goldfinch at the feeders for the first time since December. There were no goldfinches in the trees around the yard, trilling their spring song as they had been recently. The yard suddenly seemed very, very quiet. They were still here yesterday. I saw them at the feeders throughout the day, even in the rain. I understand now that they were filling up for the journey ahead of them. Sometime during the night, they packed their bags and left

And the winner is...DVRs!

People love to bash the Oscar Awards show, and truthfully, I haven't watched it in several years. The last time I watched I remember it as being interminable and interminably boring. But last night as I walked through the room where others in the family were watching, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin caught my eye and ear and I sat down to watch. I must admit, much to my surprise, I quite enjoyed it. Steve and Alec were a good team, I thought, and they struck just the right note of irony as they poked gentle fun at the high-powered Hollywood celebrities in front of them, particularly their prime target George Clooney. They actually made me laugh out loud a few times, which isn't always easy. Several of the presenters brought smiles and chuckles, if not outright guffaws, as well. Ben Stiller was a hoot in his blue Na'vi makeup presenting the award for make-up artistry and Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr. played off each other perfectly as they presented the screenwriters&#

"The science is solid"

My local newspaper, the Houston Chronicle , had an op-ed piece today that is sure to bring out the global warming deniers, of whom there are an abundance in the Chronicle's readership. The piece was authored by scientists from several of Texas' preeminent universities, namely Texas A&M, University of Texas, Rice University, and Texas Tech. All of them are specialists in atmospheric science or environmental sciences, so one can assume that they have some expertise in this area. I'm sure that won't stop their critics. The bottom line conclusion of these scientists is that the science on global warming is essentially settled: The earth is warming and humans are a very large contributing factor in that warming, especially in the unnatural speed with which it is taking place. They point out that satellite measurements show that the first decade of this century was the warmest since records have been kept. The next warmest was the 1990s and then the 1980s. Do we s

The sea around us

The Highest Tide was Jim Lynch's first novel, published in 2005. Earlier this year, I read his second novel, Border Songs , and absolutely loved it. The earlier novel isn't quite on a par with that one but it is still a very good book. Lynch seems to have a feel for oddball characters like the savant Border Patrol officer in his second novel. In this first book, his main character is a 13-year-old genius who is in love with the sea and Rachel Carson and his neighbor and former babysitter Angie Stegner, in that order. First and above everything though is his love for the sea. His knowledge of what lives there seems as big as the sea itself and when he starts discovering strange creatures in the Sound near his Olympia, Washington home, the world starts to take notice of little Miles O'Malley. He becomes a reluctant celebrity in his coming-of-age summer. This book feels like an homage to Rachel Carson. Miles has memorized long passages from her book, The Sea Around Us

Not a bad winter for the whoopers

After last winter's deadly season for the Whooping Cranes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in which 23 birds died from lack of sufficient food, there was concern that this winter might be equally problematic for the birds. Fortunately, it hasn't turned out that way. The latest aerial survey counted 263 birds. That is down by only one from the highest count of the winter, 264 on January 8. The one bird that died was a juvenile. Of the 263 birds present at the refuge, 242 are adults and 21 are juveniles. This compares to the 247 birds that survived last winter at the refuge and started the flight north in the spring. The National Parks and Wildlife officials who monitor the birds say that food availability at the refuge is improving. The salinity levels of the bay have risen and more blue crabs, which are the big birds' favorite snack, are now present in the bay. This bodes well for the continued health of the flock through the remainder of the winter and for their

Let's just chuck it all and go live in trees!

A couple of days ago, I was reading a story in the newspaper about President Obama's trip to Savannah where he had talked about the need for health care reform. As so-called journalists generally do these days, this writer had ended his story with a quote from a bystander that was meant to be an equal counterweight to everything the president had said. It's a stupid technique, because, in fact, there are not always two equal sides to every story. The truth and lies are not equal, and yet some who call themselves journalists insist on giving them moral equivalency. Nevertheless, this local man was quoted as saying something to the effect that the government has no business getting involved in health care. The only thing that government should do is fight wars, build roads and run prisons. Other than those three things, it should stay out of our lives. In this man's perfect world, there would be no police or fire departments. It would be every man or woman for his or h

Wordless Wednesday: Eastern Phoebe


More bad news for frogs

Scientists have been closely studying frogs for a number of years now, trying to figure out what is causing gross abnormalities in many of them and why these wonderful creatures may be slowly slipping away. This ancient species could be on its way to extinction. It has already been determined that pollution of their environment is one of the main culprits causing their problems. Frogs are also extremely sensitive to changes in climate, so they are being attacked by modern society on many levels. Now comes a report from the National Academy of Sciences , as reported in Discover magazine , that details how a herbicide that has found its way into our waterways can alter amphibians' hormones and actually cause them to change sexes. The potential exists that the herbicide would have similar effects on other animals, including humans. The herbicide in question is atrazine and, apparently, it is widely used in the Mid-West among corn crops and other row crops. It has been found in man

The earth moves and its axis shifts

NASA scientists are now saying that the massive earthquake that hit Chile last Saturday (Corrected from "Thursday." What was I thinking?) was enough to actually shift Earth's axis by as much as three inches. I won't even pretend to really understand how this works. It has to do with the movement of rocks in the planet's core and the actual shifting of Earth's weight from one area to another. Sort of like, over time, a person's weight may shift to the center of his/her body, causing a personal axis shift. That's about as close to an explanation of the phenomenon as I can get. It turns out this is not an unusual occurrence. Whenever an earthquake of this magnitude occurs, it is likely to cause some wobbles in Earth's rotation and changes in the axis. JPL research scientist Richard Gross computed the changes that this particular earthquake caused. He estimates that it has shortened Earth's days by about 1.26 microseconds. A microsecond i