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Showing posts from June, 2010

The next generation is here

I came home from my trip last week to find a yard full of young birds. Fledglings were everywhere it seemed, and their voices resonated from every tree and every likely perch. When we had left on our trip, the Red-bellied Woodpecker babies had just left their nest. They were still very dependent on their parents to find food for them. A week later, I returned to find very competent young woodpeckers visiting the feeders on their own and feeding themselves without any instruction or assistance from parents. Before we left, I had seen one or two young Northern Cardinals following their papa around, but now everywhere I look in the garden there seems to be a cardinal with a dark beak marking it as a youngster and they are feeding themselves and obviously are on their own. It's hard to count just how many there are, because, of course, they move around a lot, but I feel certain there is more than one family here. Cardinals tend to be somewhat less aggressively territorial than

More summer reading

There aren't any movies out right now that I really care to see. There's not much on television that I want to watch except for my Houston Astros and they are doing so poorly that it is often painful to watch them. It's too hot and miserable for outside activities except for the absolutely necessary ones in the garden and I'm not really into knitting, so that leaves me with reading as my summertime leisure activity. Fortunately, there is no shortage of good books to keep me entertained. I've just finished another one. Remarkable Creatures , the title of Tracy Chevalier's book, could refer to the fossils found by Mary Anning along a rocky, windswept English beach or it could refer to Anning herself and her friend and champion Elizabeth Philpot, for these were, indeed, extraordinary women. At a time - the late 18th and early 19th centuries - when women were only allowed one honorable role in life, that of wife and mother, these two women carved their own pla

Conflict of interest

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We like to feel that our justice system is superior and above suspicion and we tend to look with disdain at some countries with obviously biased and corrupt judges. This week we learned that we may not have so much to feel superior about. It seems that two Louisiana judges who have rendered decisions on the government's attempt to place a moratorium on deep-water oil drilling until the causes of the BP catastrophe in the Gulf can be determined have financial interests in keeping the drilling going. Can you guess what their rulings were? That's right. The moratorium was ruled illegitimate. Now both of these judges may be honorable man and they may not have stopped to consider their own financial interest when they were making their rulings. But how will we ever know? These men own stock in drilling companies and in companies that service oil drilling companies. Is it really possible that they didn't even think about that when they were considering the facts of the

Rude people

I spent some time in a doctor's office waiting room today waiting for my husband. During much of my hour-and-a-half there, the room was very crowded with strangers. I had brought my Kindle and was trying to read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. It's a novel of manners about the way people treat each other and about their expectations of each other. It reminds me somewhat of Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. It has the same gentle, meandering feel to it. Anyway, I was trying to concentrate on my book, but at some point, it just became impossible. On the opposite side of the room from me several rather elderly - that is to say older than me - people were seated, and, as always seems to happen in these circumstances, one of them, a woman, had a loud and abrasive voice and manner and she insisted on telling the others her life story and especially her medical history. A couple of other people there entered eagerly into the spirit of th

What would Truman do?

Stanley McChrystal has proved himself again and again to be a loose cannon. He has been in trouble before and been called on the carpet before for things that he has said and actions he has taken that have called into question the plans and orders of his superiors. This is not what we expect of a member of the military services, and especially not one who has reached the rank of general. McChrystal is a checkered character in many ways. There was torture and mistreatment of prisoners under his watch while in Iraq. He's never been called to account for that. He was also at the center of the cover-up regarding the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman, the former NFL star, in Afghanistan. The Tillman death was presented to the world as a heroic death in battle, whereas, in fact, it was a result of a series of errors. A lie was created because the administration in Washington needed a hero to sell the war. McChrystal was complicit in constructing that lie. And yet with all that

Wordless Wednesday: The sunflower and the bee

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Note: This blog will be wordless for about a week while I am on the road. Meet me back here around the middle of next week and we'll continue the conversation.

Swallow-tails and Pileateds

I tend to tune out the Blue Jays these days. Since their young ones have fledged, there seem to be about twenty of the birds in my yard at all time. Well, I'm exaggerating just a bit. There are probably more like ten, but they are so loud they sound like twenty. Or thirty. The birds always seem to be raising a ruckus about something, often about the Cooper's Hawk pair that nest in the neighborhood and that frequently hunt in my yard. Well, it is the jays' duty to warn the other birds, so I can't really get mad at them for raising a fuss, but, for me, and maybe even for the birds, they are like the little boy who cried "Wolf!" once to often. After a while, I just tend to ignore them. So, I wasn't paying much attention when they started their alarm yesterday, but it went on for so long that I finally looked up from my task and saw a beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite lazily circling over my yard. Apparently this lovely creature was the source of the ja

A great summer read

Ian Rankin's Detective Inspector John Rebus is a non-formulaic, vivid and complex character. He actually reminds me a great deal of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. Not that the characters are really alike, but that they are both unforgettable and unique, each in his own way, in the world of detective fiction. Each is a creative thinker. Their creative thinking sometimes leads them to wildly incorrect conclusions, but they always get to the right answer in the end, often with the help of their faithful assistants. Strip Jack is the fourth in the Rebus series and it shows the growth of Rankin as a writer. He becomes more sure-footed in each book. In this one, the mystery involves a Member of Parliament, the Jack of the title. Gregor Jack is caught in a raid on a brothel and Rebus begins to suspect almost immediately that he has been set up. Then, the MP's wife turns up dead - murdered - and the mystery deepens. As Rebus digs into the life of Gregor Jack and his "Pac

Get real!

The latest storyline out of the Gulf oil spill is about how it is polluting relations between the United States and Britain. It seems that our "special relationship" hangs in the balance because Americans are mad at Britain over the spill. Really? BP may be "British" Petroleum but actually the company is as much American as British. I heard a newsman on BBC earlier this week in all seriousness ask his guest if Americans disliked BP CEO Tony Hayward because of his very Britishness. Well, no, it's not his Britishness that we dislike. It's all that oily stuff spilling all over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That's what we don't like. It wouldn't matter if Hayward spoke with a Russian, a Venezuelan, or an American accent. We just don't like his oil killing our Gulf and we want it to stop. Truly, Hayward is a public relations disaster for his company which compounds their oil spill disaster, but it's not because of his accent.

And another thing...

There's another rant that I need to get off my chest before I leave the subject of pundits. All year long we've been hearing from these looney tunes, tone-deaf guys and gals about how this election year will be come-uppance for incumbents. You see, according to them, Americans are mad as hell at incumbents and they are not going to take it any more. This will be the year when they throw the bums out and bring in new blood, according to the narrative of the punditocracy. Especially new tea party blood. The pundits really, really love the tea party, because it says and does outrageous things and gives them fluff with which to fill up their 24-hour news cycle. So what has been the record so far of incumbents in this year of "throwing the bums out"? Well, roughly 99% of them have won their races. Only about four have gone down to defeat and two of those were turncoats who had switched party in mid-stream - one from Republican to Democratic and one from Democratic

First, get rid of the pundits!

I am sick of pundits. I am especially sick of the ones who have been blathering on almost since the awful oil spill began about how the president isn't showing enough emotion about it. He needs to get angry, shake his fist, spit fire, punch somebody. This is what the pundits live for - something that makes good theater. Something that helps them fill their three minutes on live television. If I were the president, I'd definitely be angry about a lot of things, but perhaps the thing I'd be angriest about is the damned pundits who don't seem to have a clue about the real world. Theirs is the virtual world of the 24-hour news cycle and the "conventional wisdom" of the "inside the beltway" clan. The rest of us, including the president, live in quite another world. I'm not interested in a president getting angry and putting on a show for the 24-hour news guys. I'm interested in a president who is competent, intelligent, and thoughtful abo

Random acts of voting

Yes, Americans are committing random acts of voting around the country today. Twelve states are holding primaries and they promise some interesting and, in some cases, downright entertaining, results. For example, will the "chicken lady" win in the Nevada Republican primary for Senator, or will she be defeated by the "prohibition lady"? Will the "queen of the birthers" Orly Taitz win the race for the Republican nomination for Secretary of State in California? I know I'm pulling for her! And what about South Carolina, that bastion of sobriety and marital fidelity among its politicians? Will the accused adulterer receive a majority of the vote to defeat her three opponents in the race for the Republican nomination for governor, or will she be forced into a runoff? At this hour, it is looking like the latter. And why, oh why, are the Republican primaries so much more entertaining than the Democratic ones? The Democrats are positively buttoned-do

How to help

One of the many by-products of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been the sense of inchoate rage that is building, not just on the Gulf I believe but throughout the country. This rage is further inflamed among many of us by the sense that this tragedy should never have happened. If the government agencies that were supposed to be monitoring and providing oversight of energy companies had not been in bed with those energy companies (literally, in some instances) and had been doing an effective job of policing, permits for this deep well drilling would never have been issued. It would have been obvious to an objective observer that the technology was inadequate and that there was no credible plan for what would be done in case of an accident. One of the most appalling things in this whole appalling affair has been the fact that BP did not really have a clue as to how to stop the spill, other than by drilling relief wells which takes months. They've been inventing st

Silent Sunday: Blueberry season

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Help! I'm being squashed!

As a vegetable gardener, I am very familiar with that time every summer when the garden suddenly is bursting with produce of all kinds. It comes quicker than it can possibly be used, but so much effort, sweat, and backaches have gone into the production of the veggies that the gardener is loathe to let even one fruit slip through the cracks. And so the search is on for recipes and ways to use up or to preserve the produce. This week in my garden, it's been the squash, especially the zucchini, that has been coming fast and furious. Anyone who has ever grown zucchini will understand very well what I mean. The fruits come on in a rush and they can grow to gigantic proportions almost overnight. In some years the squash borers, an insidious insect that destroys the stalk of the squash plant and thus its life, get to the plants before they have a chance to produce very much - or sometimes, any - fruit. But, for whatever reason, perhaps our colder than usual winter, the squash bo

That girl

When I finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo earlier this year, I felt I needed a break before I went on to the next book in the series. It had been a hard book for me to read when I reached a certain point because of all the violence against women. What had started out as a financial thriller had suddenly changed course and turned very dark. I liked the book. It was well written and had an interesting, if somewhat farfetched, plot. But most of all, the two main characters caught and held my empathy. I wanted things to turn out well for them, especially for Lisbeth Salander, but that book ended on a down note for Salander and so I was anxious to see what would happen to her in the second book. Well, in the second installment of Stieg Larsson's series, The Girl Who Played With Fire , things go from bad to worse. Lisbeth is accused of three brutal murders and a nationwide hunt for her begins. The only one who seems to have any doubts of her guilt is Mikael Blom

The un-perfect game

"Nobody's perfect." - Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers, in response to a reporter's question about the umpiring mistake that cost him an offical perfect game. He said it with a smile. Perfect games in baseball, THE perfect game, are scarcer than hen's teeth. And yet there have already been two official perfect games this season and one unofficial one that is destined to be the most famous of the three. Last night in Detroit, in the game between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, Armando Gallaraga of the Tigers faced 26 batters from the Indians and set them down one after the other. Then he faced the 27th, Jason Donald. Donald hit the ball to the first baseman Miguel Cabrera who fielded it between first and second base and tossed it to Gallaraga who was covering first. Gallaraga, with his foot on the bag, closed his glove on the ball a moment before Donald's foot touched the bad. The first base umpire Jim Joyce called him safe and Gallara

The woeful Astros

It's tough being a Houston Astros fan, especially this year. Last year, as well. Before that time, there was often disappointment for fans of the team but there was never embarrassment. The team always played hard and played well and even when they lost, they could hold their heads up. And so could their fans. Now through a combination of stupid decisions by the owner and his managers, the team has fallen on very hard times and the worst thing is that they make far too many errors on the field as well, really boneheaded moves that a professional baseball team with professional coaches just shouldn't make. They are just no fun to watch any more. That's not to say they don't have any good players. They do. Michael Bourn is certainly one of the premier center fielders in all of baseball. Hunter Pence may have fallen off a bit this year, but he is still a very good player. The two young pitchers they have in their rotation this year, Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris

Where's that "big government"?

One result of that awful oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is that we are no longer hearing much from the "small government" crowd. People like Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, who just a year ago was decrying the growth of the federal government and its interference in the lives of states, corporations, and individuals, are now complaining that the federal government is not doing enough fast enough to get the spill stopped and cleaned up. In the face of all the damage done to the economy along the coast, not to mention to the ecology, Jindal and his fellow "small government" governors in that area are begging for more federal money, more federal action, more federal interference to clean the mess up. Of course, they were, and for the most part still are, dead set against any kind of regulation or oversight that might have prevented this catastrophe. But now that it has happened, they expect the federal government to make everything whole again. And to do it