Showing posts from August, 2010

The American Taliban

The Taliban first came to my notice, and that of most Westerners I suspect, when they were doing their best to destroy the culture of Afghanistan, particularly as it allowed any freedom and independence at all for women. Then, of course, there was the episode of them destroying the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan because they could not tolerate such a concrete expression of another faith or way of thinking. Later, much later, I read Khaled Hosseini's novels about that period in his homeland and shed tears for the stupidity and injustice that ruled that society and especially that made women's lives as hard as possible. In recent years, I've been appalled as I've watched the growth of the radical right in my own country and have recognized in them much the same attitudes as observed and read about from afar in Afganistan. And now, Markos Moulitsas, the proprietor of the political website, Daily Kos , has written a book which details some of the similarities between the two m

Hottest August on record? Who cares?

In just about another 36 hours, August will end. It will almost certainly (unless we get a sudden unexpected Arctic blast) be the warmest August on record for Houston and this area. By my records, we've only had three days where the temperatures have reached 100 degrees or above and we have had other Augusts where we've had more above-100 days. The reason that this month has been so much hotter is because the increased greenhouse gases hold the heat in at night and the earth cannot cool off. We've had very warm nights this August and that has tilted the record. A front page article in the Houston Chronicle by science writer Eric Berger explained all of this today, but his article ended on the depressing note that public opinion is still divided on the issue of global warming and unwilling to do anything about decreasing the human-created greenhouse gases that are heating up our world. In fact, in this part of the world, public opinion is not closely divided at all. I

Science Sunday: Beautiful pollinator

You can see the grains of pollen on the wings of this Gulf Fritillary butterfly as it visits a hibiscus blossom. It will deliver this pollen and pick up more as it visits other blossoms on the shrub. It's important that the pollen be delivered today because the hibiscus blossom only remains open for one day.

Saturday bird watching

We are in the middle and nearing the peak of Ruby-throat Hummingbird fall migration here in Southeast Texas. These little birds are very territorial and have a downright curmudgeonly nature that belies their gorgeous appearance. They are normally solitary creatures and do not tolerate others of their kind. The females even go so far as to opt for single motherhood, building the nest, laying the eggs and caring for the young on her own while the male goes on his merry way. In late summer and in autumn, as wave after wave of the birds that have spent their summers farther north wing their way south, they encroach on established territories and battles ensue. Hostilities never cease. The War of the Hummingbirds is never ending. Right now there are five or six of the birds contending over my half-acre yard. There are birds of both sexes and all ages here. This is the adult female that nested in my yard this year and raised her young here. She loves these blossoms of the flame acanth

What is it about August?

What is it about August that makes many ordinary Americans lose what common sense they may possess? Last August we had the town hall screamers, the people who shouted down any attempt to talk sense to them about the Health Care Reform bill. The year before that, we had the "birthers" who attended political rallies during the presidential election campaign and loudly proclaimed that Barack Obama was not born in this country and that he was a Muslim to boot. Now, this August we have the anti-Muslim shouters, the people who don't want a mosque built in New York City, even though the elected representatives of the people there have approved the building. For that matter, they don't want a mosque built anywhere. Tennessee, too, is apparently too close to the destroyed World Trade Center. (On the other hand, the fact that there is a Muslim prayer room in the Pentagon which was also attacked on September 11, 2001 seems to bother no one. Go figure.) It seems a remarkabl

Ten dying cities

Do you live in a dying city? 24/7 Wall St. is out with a list of ten U.S. cities which it says are dying. No doubt all of these cities have problems related to the economy and, in some cases, to their location, but I think most citizens of them would say that reports of their deaths are exaggerated. Here's what 24/7 said about cities that it believes are on life support: 1. Buffalo In 1900, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in America. It was located on one of the busiest sections of the Erie Canal, the terminus of the canal on the Great Lakes. Thanks to its location, Buffalo had huge grain milling operations and one of the largest steel mills in the country. Buffalo prospered during WWII, as did many northern industrial cities. After the war, the manufacturing plants returned to the production of cars and industrial goods. The population rose to more than 500,000 in the mid-1950s. It is half that today. Buffalo was wounded irreparably by the de-industrialization of America.

The Libertarian view of the mosque kerfuffle

I am not a big fan of Ron Paul. Indeed, many of his ideas and much of his philosophy just seem wrong to me. But at least one can say that he appears to be intellectually honest which is more than you can say for many on the right. (Yes, I'm talking about you Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, John Boehner, etc., etc., etc.) Paul has now proved his intellectual honesty once again with his statement regarding the Islamic center to be built in New York, about which so many of his fellow travellers have their knickers in a twist. Paul came out with the strongest, most coherent, and unequivocal statement that I have seen or heard in support of the building of the center and his reasoning is firmly based in his political philosophy. He said in part: "The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the build

Sense and Sensibility: A book review

I've been doing a lot of reading this summer because, often, it's too hot to do much of anything else. These last few days I have been deeply immersed in the early nineteenth century world of Jane Austen. What can I possibly say about Sense and Sensibility that hasn't already been said a hundred times before? The story is too well-known to even require a synopsis. Although I had never read the book, I have seen the Emma Thompson movie several times and it is fairly faithful to the book. I loved that movie and it is firmly entrenched in my brain, so much so that, as I read the book, I heard the dialogue spoken in the voices of Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, etc. It made for an interesting experience. One reads Jane Austen for her keen observations of human nature, her humor, for her exposition of the role of women in the society in which she lived, and especially for the beauty of her language. As that language flows over one's consciousn

Silent Sunday: Too darned hot!


Another list and this time we're on it!

The editors of are out with a list of the most underrated cities in the country, and whaddaya know? We're on it! Houston might not be thought of as a prime travel destination except for people in the oil business, but, in fact, as the editors point out, there is a lot here to attract a great diversity of people. "Houston is proof that everything is indeed bigger in Texas. While better known for its big business and energy interests, this sprawling city also hosts top-notch orchestra, opera, and ballet companies, a dynamic theater scene, great museums, and the world-renowned NASA Space Center. Shopping reigns supreme here--you'll find a huge concentration of shops and above-par outlet malls--and its cosmopolitan restaurant scene expands upon the state's traditional Tex-Mex offerings . " In addition to all that, I might add that it has wonderful parks and several National Wildlife Refuges within easy driving distance for birders and other nature-

The 50 sexiest men? Really?

So, I've been looking at Glamour magazine's poll of the 50 sexiest men in the world, and, to my chagrin, I realize that I have no idea who at least two-thirds of them are. The Jonas Brothers? Justin Bieber? Really??? Of course, the sexiest man, period, in this poll was Robert Pattinson, who plays a vampire in one of those phenomenally successful bloodsucker series that teenagers and wannabe teenagers love. I've seen his pouty, artfully disheveled visage in several publications over the past several months, so I could pick him out of a line-up, but I don't really know who he is. But many of the other "sexy guys" I couldn't even pick out of a line-up. I think the names and faces on the poll tell us more about those who voted in it than about who is REALLY sexy and who isn't. I suspect the average age of the voters was around 12. In my experience, 12 year old girls, and I assume all the voters were girls, have a very naive concept of sexiness. Yes

Mets vs. Astros: Now that's baseball!

The New York Mets, AKA the Hated Mets, came to town this week to play a four game series with the Beloved Astros, and three games into the series, it has been just about all fans of either team could have hoped for. The games have been vastly entertaining. They have been marked by good pitching, good defense and just enough hitting. All the games have been close. Moreover, these games are being played by two teams that are going nowhere this year - "somewhere" being the playoffs - and yet both teams seem to be enjoying themselves, having fun with the game. You see lots of smiles and lots of energy from both teams. Both of the Mets and the Astros are in the process of getting younger and it shows in their attitudes. They are not worrying so much about winning the World Series just yet. They are happy to be playing in the major leagues and living their dreams. The Astros hitters have been hot lately, raising their batting averages and their runs per game since the All-St

Wordless Wednesday: Cooling off



More on the demagoguery regarding the building of the Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York just because it makes me so damned mad! Would it be an insult to the memory of the innocents who died in the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City to have a Christian church built across the street from the former site of the building? After all the perpetrators of their murders were "Christian" in the same way that the perpetrators of the murders of people at the World Trade Center were "Muslim". (And let us not forget that there were innocent Muslims who died in that building as well. What about the insult to their memory?) Should we not allow the building of Buddhist or Shinto shrines at Pearl Harbor because some of those who attacked on December 7, 1941 may have been adherents to those faiths? Would that be an insult to the memory of our citizens who died there? And what about the insult to the m

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler: A review

In what now seems like another lifetime, I lived briefly in Baltimore. I was just out of college and had my first post-graduation job there with the Social Security Administration. I soon decided that Baltimore was not for me and moved on to other cities, but whenever I read one of Anne Tyler's novels, I always get nostalgic for the place. I know the people that she writes about. They are people whose plans for their lives did not go quite as expected and I can relate to that. Liam Pennywell is another one of those characters. Liam is entering the seventh decade of his life and he has just lost his job through "downsizing". He finds that he's really not too upset about that. He didn't like the job anyway. He was a fifth grade teacher at a second-rate private school and he thinks maybe losing the job will be an opportunity to take early retirement and just do what he likes to do. But what is that? He has no hobbies and no particular interests. The idea of just sitt

Kudos... the president for fulfilling his oath and standing up for the Constitution and for religious liberty by defending the right of Muslims to build their community center and mosque on private property in New York. He could have remained silent. There is certainly no political advantage to his speaking out on this issue because he will be relentlessly excoriated by the demagoguers for his stand. Of course, he is already relentlessly excoriated by them and accused of being everything from an alien to a secret Muslim so really that will be nothing new. Nevertheless, in spite of the potential political cost, he chose to take a stand on the side of the Constitution and morality and common human decency and it is very refreshing to see my president on that side. So, I say "Kudos, Mr. President, and thank you for doing what is right."

Repellent Republicans

The Republicans want to repeal the 14th amendment to the Constitution, the one that promises equal protection under the law and the one that confers citizenship on anyone born in the country, regardless of the status of the child's parents. Of course, the Republicans have only themselves to blame for the existence of the 14th amendment. It was an initiative of their party after the Civil War. It was meant to protect the status of newly freed slaves and their children. It was also used to rehabilitate those who had rebelled against the United States. Confederate soldiers and sympathizers were able to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and they were essentially "reinstated" as citizens with all the protections that that conferred. Yes, this was an initiative of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans of the 1860s to heal the sundered Union. Today's Republicans would evict him from their party. Not only do the Republicans want to repea

Eat, Pray, Love, Write about it

I guess most of the female population of America and much of the world has read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love . It is Gilbert's memoir of her failed relationships and of her decision to travel in order to heal her resulting depression and sadness and to seek spiritual awareness. The book might be summed up briefly, and unkindly, as "Rich American divorcee spends a year weeping through three countries beginning with the letter 'I' while searching for God." It is prophetic that the three countries she decides to visit on her quest all begin with the letter "I" - namely, Italy, India and Indonesia - because that seems to be where all her problems and unhappiness begin as well. I, I, I. I (there's that letter again) found it hard to warm up to Gilbert at first, mostly because I've known so many women in her situation who were not able to take themselves off to exotic places in order to confront their demons with the help of a guru.

Wordless Wednesday: Trees


Gingrich family values

Newt Gingrich gives sleazeballs a bad name. If there is any more hypocritical, narcissistic, arrogant, and completely un-self-aware individual on the public scene today, I don't want to know about him. Even Sarah Palin pales in comparison. I've known this and I guess most of the sentient world has known it since at least the 1990s, but it has just been confirmed for us again by his second wife . You remember his second wife, don't you? She was the woman that he was having an affair with while his first wife suffered from cancer. He asked that first wife for a divorce while she was in a hospital bed being treated for the disease. This behavior was occurring during the time that Gingrich was excoriating President Clinton for his affair with an intern and leading the charge for his impeachment over that affair. He was on the television news every night talking about "family values" and how important it was for political leaders to uphold them and be a moral e

Pity the poor First Lady

Yes, pity her, I say. Her detractors can't decide whether she's a Marxist fist-bumper or Marie Antoinette , but they know whatever she is, it ain't Amurican . Honestly, these people get their knickers in a twist over the weirdest things. Now they are complaining because she's taking a private vacation to Spain with her younger daughter and some friends and their daughters. The vacation is paid for by the Obamas' own private funds. Of course, the Secret Service went along and they are paid by us, but they would have gone along if she had gone to Little Rock. It's part of their job to keep her and her daughter safe wherever they go. With all the crazy and violent people who would love to do them harm, I'm very glad the Secret Service is there. But the right-wing blogosphere is appalled and outraged. Predictably. Remember how they were also appalled and outraged when President Bush and his family spent a third of his presidency at his Texas home with h

Follow doctor's directions - until you die

Are you one of those unfortunate individuals who has been prescribed some "miracle drug" by your doctor and taken it in good faith only to find out years later that it will probably kill you? Been there, done that. Got angry. But who does one direct one's anger toward? Not my doctor, I think. She's been my doctor for 20 years and I'm sure that she prescribed the medicine in good faith. The Food and Drug Administration? Well, it is a mere shadow of its former self. There was a time when it barred the gate against dangerous or unproven drugs, but in recent years, as the big pharmaceutical companies have bought their way into the halls of power in Washington, many of the FDA's functions have been stripped and people have been appointed to it who are in the pockets of Big Pharma. These days they often seem less interested in protecting public health and safety than they are in protecting the profits of the drug companies who seem to own them. And what abo

9/11 ain't what it used to be

Remember when it was treasonous, in fact downright sacrilegious, to be against anything related to 9/11? That, after all, is how George Bush and the neo-cons sold their bogus war in Iraq, so that people wouldn't dare oppose it. It was all to do with 9/11 - and weapons of mass destruction - except that there was no link between Iraq and 9/11; we would have been more justified in attacking Saudi Arabia. And the weapons of mass destruction didn't exist. But I digress. These days, though, it seems that 9/11 just doesn't carry the cachet that it once did. The House of Representatives has just proved it . When the attack on New York came on that perfect late summer day in 2001, it wasn't only the emergency personnel in the city who responded. People from all over the country - some of them even from Texas - dropped what they were doing and went there to help. Some spent weeks or even months there amid the toxic air and debris combing through the rubble to recover bodi

Wordless Wednesday: High summer


The bogus crime wave

Have you heard about the crime wave in Arizona, especially along the border with Mexico? Have you heard that Arizona is under attack from illegal immigrants and thus had to pass their own immigration law to deal with it? Well, if you have been listening to the Republican elected officials from that state like the senators, John Kyl and John McCain, and Gov. Jan Brewer, then you have certainly heard that. Endlessly. But - and it's a great big but - that is a lie! In fact, according to reports released by the Arizona Department of Public Safety , crime is down right across the state, following the nationwide trend. It is even down along the Arizona/Mexico border. For example, the rate of property crimes in the state has plummeted by 43% since 1995, but violent crimes also are down. The claims that Arizona is facing a crisis in crime increases and that people are afraid to walk the streets is simply not true. The claims that illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave are com

The Pro-Defamation League???

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States The Anti-Defamation League's leaders have been shocked and appalled that many people who normally support them have been shocked and appalled at their stance opposing the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Their statement on the proposed construction of the mosque includes the following: Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in th

Silent Sunday: Green Heron hunting