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Showing posts from July, 2010

The kids are all right

My beloved Houston Astros are five years removed from their lone World Series appearance, and, in those five years, the team has fallen on hard times. For fans of a team that was once respected for its professionalism and hard-nosed play, it's been painful to watch. There are signs though that that era and our frustration may be coming to an end. This week, the Astros traded their last two ties to their winning era, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. In return, they got some young and very promising players. All of a sudden, this formerly old team has gotten a lot younger. They have rookies or very young players at nearly all positions. These kids bring their enthusiasm and excitement with them to the game and that is very exciting to their fans. Suddenly, their games are fun to watch again. I know that they have a lot of learning to do and there will probably be some rough spots in the road ahead. Well, the Astros' road this year, as well as last year, has been mostly one

"Divorced from reality"

So it seems that Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, believes that two wars are just not enough for our military forces to contend with. He believes that we should also attack Iran and North Korea, the two remaining points on George Bush's "Axis of Evil". At least that is the message he gave to the American Enterprise Institute, the right-wing think tank, this week. He recommends this for a military that is already stretched thin, almost to the breaking point, a military that has seen many of its members serve multiple tours of duty in the war zones that are Iraq and Afghanistan. A military that is dealing with increased suicides from members stretched beyond the breaking point by the stresses of war. Of course, Mr. Gingrich has never been in a war, has never been in the military even. He is another of those chicken-hawk politicians who never saw fit to serve themselves but feel perfectly comfortable and happy sending other people's chil

Good news!

Sometimes you just need to read a happy story in the news. Especially in the middle of a summer beset with oil spills, tea partiers, unemployment, disappointing politicians, journalists who only know how to report what Fox News tells them is important. Oh, I could go on, but I would only depress myself. No, I've been searching assiduously lately to find some light at the end of the tunnel, some bright spot on the horizon. It turns out Gail Collins has been searching, too, and she expounded on what she has found in her column in today's Times . Now, I always read Collins' columns because she is of my generation and has lived through the history that I have lived through and has come to some of the same conclusions about that history that I have. It's always satisfying to read someone that you agree with. It reinforces your beliefs (prejudices?) and makes you feel smart. Especially when that writer has the intelligence and wit of Gail Collins. Anyway, today in he

Wordless Wednesday: Reflections

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The arc of the art and of life

Listening to the morning news programs on NPR over the weekend, I was interested to hear two separate interviews with the actor Robert Duvall. Duvall, who is 79, has a new movie coming out called "Get Low". In it, he plays a hermit, Felix Bush, who has lived the life of a misunderstood exile in a cabin in the woods for some forty years. Now he has come out of the woods to contact the local funeral director, played by Bill Murray, to plan his own "funeral party". The film is actually based on a real-life story of a hermit in Tennessee. The events took place in 1938. In both of the interviews that I heard, Duvall made the point that there is a direct arc between his first role in the movies, Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird", and that of the hermit Felix Bush. Boo Radley was a shy, sensitive, emotionally fragile man who was not able to deal with society. Felix Bush is, apparently, almost an older version of that man - a loner, a man who cannot b

We are all cooked

The title of Paul Krugman's column today was "Who Cooked the Planet?" And the answer is we all did. There was a bill before the Senate this year that would have allowed us as a society to start work on reversing the effects of human-caused global climate change. It certainly was not a perfect bill. That doesn't exist in our world. But it would have encouraged the transition to "greener" forms of energy and changed some of the ways in which we continually subsidize dirty forms of energy like oil and coal. It looked like this might be the year when something finally got done on these issues. As usual, the House did its work and waited for the Senate to join it at the finish line. And waited. And waited. And waited. In the end, the Senate declined to even get out of the starting gate. It's the same old story we have heard so often in this session of Congress. The Republicans - 100% of them - refused to support the bill. The Democrats, inclu

My hero, Elizabeth Warren

The financial reform bill that was signed into law this week provides for the creation of a consumer protection agency. The consumer advocate who foresaw the need for such an agency and who wrote an article proposing it in 2007 was Elizabeth Warren. Since that time she has campaigned indefatigably for her idea. Her common sense and empathetic approach to the needs of consumers has made her the go-to person for television news shows that have bothered to cover this aspect of the financial meltdown. Thus, her face has become very familiar to viewers who have watched any of these shows over the last couple of years. Now that the bill has become law and her brainchild is on the verge of becoming reality, the time has come to choose someone to lead the new agency and many of us can conceive of no one else other than Warren filling that role. The problem is that she would need to be confirmed by the Senate which, in the current practice of that body, would mean 60 votes, and it is unli

The race problem

I don't often find myself in complete agreement with one of Maureen Dowd's columns. In fact, most of the time I find her pretty annoying, especially when she writes about the Clintons, which she often does. She seems to have an unreasoning hatred of the pair, not unlike many in the right-wing noise machine. She can be particularly shrill and unreasonable when writing about Hillary, so when I see that the Clintons are the subjects of one of her columns, I manage my blood pressure by simply not reading it. But today, I have to admit she has a good point and I can only hope that the current occupant of the White House might pay attention to her. The theme of today's column is the White House's race problem and her point is that Obama needs more black people in the White House. Specifically, he needs more black people from the South, people who have experienced the worst of racism and have overcome it. In other words, he needs people like Shirley Sherrod. Obama'

Daniel Schorr, newsman

Daniel Schorr has died at age 93 . He had a long and eventful life and was active right up to the very end. According to his obituary, he died after an illness of a few days. That's certainly the way to do it if you can manage it. Schorr worked for many news organizations during his long and storied career, most famously probably for CBS where he was one of Ed Murrow's boys. But for the last quarter century of his life, he worked for NPR as a commentator. I looked forward to hearing his take on the week's news on the Saturday morning Weekend Edition show. As a newsman, Schorr was famous for his integrity and for standing up for his principles. That integrity earned him a place on President Nixon's "enemies list" back in the 1970s. He said that being on that list was one of the things he was proudest of, even prouder than he was of the Emmys that he received. Daniel Schorr was an old-time newsman, one who took the role of the journalist in society ser

Listless

I am a sucker for lists. Ten best this, ten worst that, just give me an article with a list in it and I'm almost guaranteed to read it. I'm particularly fond of lists of books. I check the various New York Times bestseller lists - fiction, nonfiction, paperback, trade paperback, etc. - at least once a week. Then there are those lists of "1001 books you MUST read before you die" and similar lists. Today, while tooling around the Internet, I came upon one of those lists. It is the Modern Library's 100 best novels . It is not just one list but two. The first list is the Modern Library board's list of the best 100 and the second list is a reader's list, apparently compiled from a survey. I went through both lists to see how many I had read. I found that on the board's list I had read 27 of their favorites, while on the reader's list, I had read 22. It's interesting to compare the two lists. They have some titles in common but overall th

Shirley Sherrod, another victim of the right-wing noise machine

By now, unless you've been asleep for the last few days, I'm sure you have heard of Shirley Sherrod, the former head of the Department of Agriculture's rural development office in Georgia. She is the "former head" because a right-wing hack put together a highly edited video of her speaking to a group in which she talked about something that happened back in the 1980s when she worked for a non-profit group in Georgia. She was asked to help a white farmer who was about to go bankrupt and lose his farm. She reflected on all the times that black farmers had been in similar circumstances and had not received help and she considered whether she, an African-American woman, should do her best for this white farmer. In the end, she did, and she helped him save his farm and his way of life. The right-wing operative edited the video to make it appear that Ms. Sherrod was saying that she did not help the farmer because he was white. Fox "News" (of course!)

Direct stimulus for the economy

Finally, the Democrats in the Senate have managed to cobble together 60 votes to get out of the limbo of filibuster the bill providing an extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work for six months or more. The bill should now easily pass in the Senate and should be on the President's desk for his signature before the end of the week. Very soon thereafter the first checks to these long-term unemployed citizens should be in the mail. Soon after that, the proceeds of those checks will be used by these people to pay their bills and to buy things they need for themselves and their families. As the money is passed along to shopkeepers, mortgage-holders, and providers of services, those businesses will be using them to pay their own bills and buy new stock or even hire new employees to handle their increased business. Perhaps some of the new employees who are hired will be some of those long-term unemployed who started the ball rolling by paying bills with their unemploy

Conventional Wisdom just doesn't seem very wise

Everywhere I turn these days, from radio, newpapers, television to online news sources, (and not necessarily in that order) all the pundits are telling me that this election year is going to be a debacle for Democrats and they might even lose control of both the House and the Senate, and it's all because the electorate has gone off President Obama. They just don't like him anymore. And on what do they base these opinions? Well, there are some polls that are not all that clear if you really look at them, but mostly what they base it on, from my perspective, is their conversations with each other. One of the "respected pundits" introduces this line of reasoning and Fox News picks up on it and expands and tweaks it to fit their agenda and they repeat it endlessly 24 hours a day. It feeds back into the loop of information that makes the rounds in Washington and, suddenly, all the pundits are talking about it and repeating it. It has become "conventional wisdo

Silent Sunday: Hmmmm...

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I'm walkin', yes, indeed...

In this hot and humid corner of the world, the best time for walking for exercise this time of year is very early in the morning. Later in the day, even late in the afternoon, the heat makes the experience most unpleasant if not unbearable. And so, I've been trying to do my walking early in the morning, and seven o'clock this morning found my husband and me at a local park hitting the trails for the next hour. Even at that, I was drenched in sweat by the end of the hour and had to go home and change my clothes. But as I was walking, I was thinking about walking and its place in our lives. Mostly we do it for exercise. We don't do it to actually go from one place to another or as a normal part of our daily routine. We have to make the effort to walk, and often, like this morning, we have to first drive somewhere in order to do our walking. How different from the custom that exists in much of the world, even in this era of the automobile. In many if not most countr

The church of man

The Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws on Thursday making it easier to discipline sex-abuser priests, but caused confusion by also stating that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia. - New York Times story A lot of the reading I've been doing this summer has been set in the Middle Ages, particularly in the 12th century and 14th - 15th centuries. One of the things that has struck me about all of the books I have read is the attitude toward women during these periods. That attitude could be pretty well summed up by saying that the prevailing opinion seems to have been that women were less than zero. The average woman had no power and was completely at the mercy of men. If she was lucky enough to have a man who valued and respected her, she was lucky indeed, but if she lost him, she lost everything. With attitudes like that, I guess it should be no surprise to us that an institution of the Middle Ages like the Catholic Church would still

The day the oil flow stopped

Finally, some good news from the Gulf of Mexico. It seems that the latest device put in place to stop the oil gushing from the runaway well is working. The oil flow has stopped , at least temporarily. That is not to say that the problem has been fixed. Apparently, the only way to stop the spill permanently is with the relief wells. Work continues on them but they are still weeks away from being able to do what they are designed to do. In the meantime though, it is a happy thing to be able to see that live picture from under the sea with no torrent of oil gushing into the water. Of course, the relief wells and the temporary or even permanent stoppage of the oil flow doesn't do anything about all that oil and all the other chemicals that have been poured into the Gulf waters this spring and summer. All of that poisonous goop is still there in a place where it never should have been and it is still doing its damage to the food chain and to the environment of both animals and p

The summer of magical thinking

There are certain groups in our country who seem to honestly believe that if they say a thing is true, no matter how outlandish it is, that makes it true. That, I believe, is clear proof of a faith in magical thinking that bedevils our national discourse this summer. You might also think of it as the "Tinkerbell philosophy." If I close my eyes and believe real hard and clap just as loud as I can, then I can make it true. Thus we have highly placed members of the Republican Party claiming with a straight face that reducing taxes for the richest people in the country will not increase the nation's deficit and that it will stimulate the economy. They make these statements in spite of the fact that all empirical evidence points to the conclusion that any tax reductions received by these people go straight into their own savings. They have no effect on the economy at large - except to depress it by increasing the deficit. Furthermore, it is self-evident to anyone who i

The owner we loved to hate

He was probably the most hated of all owners of baseball teams. Nobody was ambivalent about George Steinbrenner. His was one of those larger than life personalities that demanded attention at all times. His personality was so large that sometimes it even overshadowed his team, perhaps the most storied of all sports franchises, the New York Yankees. Not an easy thing to do, but Steinbrenner did it. I grew up as a Yankee fan, mostly because of Mickey Mantle. I idolized him. I even named my dog after him. So I followed the Yankees during their glory years of the late '50s and '60s. After Mantle's body gave out and he retired, I gradually lost my allegiance to the Yankees and shifted to the St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves. After all, they were both closer to home. But I always retained a bit of a soft spot for the Yankees and their traditions. That soft spot hardened up considerably after Steinbrenner bought them in the early '70s. He really was in man

Taxing credulity

Do you ever wonder if certain people in government have even a basic understanding of budgeting? That is, the amount of money that comes in minus the amount of money that is paid out equals either surplus or deficit. In the case of government, the money that comes in is otherwise known as taxes so the budgeting formula can be stated very succinctly, thusly: Taxes - Expenditures = Surplus/(Deficit) You would think that anyone who has made it to the halls of Congress as an elected representative of the people would at least understand that very basic concept, but apparently, you would be wrong. Exhibit number one of this fallacy is Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. This is what he said on Fox News Sunday yesterday: "You should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes. Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to -- if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increas

Jeff Bagwell: Hitting coach. Really???

My beloved Houston Astros have had a really pathetic offensive attack this year. They are near the bottom of the National League in all categories of hitting. Their pitching has been more than adequate to compete in their division. Both Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers have pitched about as well as anybody in the league all season. Lately, Wandy Rodrigues has been rounding into form, and their two young guys, Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris, show great promise if they can just manage to stay healthy. Their "old reliable" Brian Moehler is, well, reliable. He knows how to pitch. Those are the starting pitchers. The bullpen, meanwhile, has been adequate and sometimes more than adequate. So the fact that the Astros head into the All-Star break next to last in their division and with one of the worst records in all of baseball is not the fault of the pitching. And the defense has been okay, so the poor record can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the hitters. When a team

Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Boo

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There's been a lot of hullaballoo about the fiftieth anniversay of To Kill a Mockingbird , Harper Lee's masterwork and only work. Libraries around the country, including our own Houston Public Library , are celebrating the anniversary with special events. And well they should, for Mockingbird is certainly a significant book in the literary history of this country. It may not be a great book by strictly objective literary standards, but it is great in its message of humaneness and humanity and in its moral weight. Lee's story of the summer when Jem broke his arm and all the things that led up to that moment in a small town in Alabama is a simple enough tale of children beginning to learn what the world is all about and losing their innocence, but it is also the story of an ordinary man's moral dilemma, how he faced that dilemma and did the right thing, even when it would have been so convenient and so much more comfortable to do the wrong thing. As readers of the

We're havin' a heat wave, a terrible heat wave...

Remember back last winter when it was cold in the Northeast? There was snow on the ground and the Inhofe clan in Washington, D.C. built snowmen with messages on them like "The snow won't stop until Al Gore cries uncle." All the deniers in the Senate and the House of Representatives were having a wonderful time deriding the science of global climate change. They claimed that the cold winter, along with the stolen private emails of climate scientists that showed them being human, proved that global warming was just a myth. I even wrote a blog post about it at the time and invited the deniers to meet on the Capitol steps on August 9 - which just happens to be my birthday - to discuss this "cooling" trend. We're still a month out from my birthday, but the offer still holds. Now that the temperatures in the Northeast have hit triple digits on consecutive days and at least three investigations of the East Anglia email "Climategate" have cleared the

Chasing the Purple Gallinule

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The Purple Gallinule is one of the most colorful members of a rather uncolorful family, the rails. Specifically, they are part of the order Gruiformes , family Rallidae . It is a family with many extended relatives, including some rather famous ones like the Whooping Crane. Purple Gallinules have some much closer and more common relatives in the American Coot and the appropriately-named Common Moorhen. The gallinules share body-type and many lifestyle habits with these two birds. Common Moorhen. Note the very red bill with its white tip. The American Coot, on the other hand, features a white bill with a white frontal shield on the forehead. Both of these birds are more common in our area than the Purple Gallinule. The gallinule is more of a tropical bird, but it can be found in the eastern third of Texas and all along the Gulf Coast in summer. In recent years, a few of the birds have spent their summers at Brazos Bend State Park and they were my main reason for wa

Wordless Wednesday: Tri-colored Heron in flight

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The most happy country

If you had to guess which is the happiest country in the world, what would you say? Do you think it would be the United States? Actually, considering all the bitching and griping that Americans do, I would have thought that this country would rank somewhere close to the bottom, but, in fact, according to a recent report from the Gallup polling organization , we do rank as one of the fifteen happiest countries in the world. We are near the bottom of the fifteen, though, ranking number 12. So what are the happiest countries in the world and what makes them so happy? If you look at what they have in common, for one thing they each have a strong social safety net. They have stable governments that generally work to make the lives of their citizens better. They are all democracies of one stripe or another. They have cohesive societies where citizens take their responsibilities rather seriously. There are other factors, individual to each country, of course, but these are some of t

Happy Independence Day!

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The great Sherlock

My first literary love affair was with Sherlock Holmes. I met him at the highly impressionable age of twelve and fell instantly in love. I read every Conan Doyle story that featured him - read them more than once. Since then, I have had many loves in my life. Indeed, I have been a very loose woman, literarily speaking, but one never forgets one's first love. He is always special. A few years ago when I read a review of a book called The Beekeeper's Apprentice , I was both fascinated and a bit outraged. How dare anyone tamper with Conan Doyle's perfect creation! But in the end fascination won out over outrage and I picked up the book and read it, and thus a long ago love affair was rekindled, but this time with the added fillip that it became a three-way affair - Sherlock, Mary Russell, and me. Mary is Laurie King's unique creation who was introduced in The Beekeeper's Apprentice as a young orphan girl in Sussex who came under the sway of her neighbor, t

Republicans

Republicans in the Senate continue to filibuster against providing extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed who are unable to find jobs in this tough economy. They do this in spite of the almost unanimous opinions of economists that providing these benefits is one of the most stimulative things government can do for the economy. The reasoning is very simple: Unemployed people, for the most part, do not have money to pay their necessary bills, much less any money left over for discretionary spending. If they receive unemployment benefits, they spend that money almost as soon as they get it. Putting money back into the economy stimulates the economy and in the long term - and sometimes the short term - it creates more jobs. Having more jobs available means that more unemployed people can find work and have less need for unemployment benefits, thus reducing the need for government spending. It's a classic win-win policy. As I say, the reasoning is simple, bu