Showing posts from January, 2011

Ayn-rony shrugging

This story is just too deliciously ironic to ignore. Remember Ayn Rand, heroine of the conservative/tea partier cause? She believed in individual self-sufficiency. Individuals should stand or fall on their own, based on their own efforts. It is a philosophy that essentially extolls survival of the fittest - or the richest and most ruthless. There is no social contract in Rand-world. We do not owe anything to our neighbors. Most importantly, we should not accept any assistance from the government and government, in its truest and most righteous form, should not offer any. But if you happen to contract lung cancer, all that philosophy apparently goes out the window, because, you see, Ayn Rand - yes, Mrs. John Galt, herself - applied for and received Social Security and Medicare when she became ill with lung cancer. An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand's law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand's beha

Silent Sunday: Red-tailed Hawk at rest


The Polish Officer by Alan Furst: A review

Alan Furst is an excellent writer of historical fiction whose chosen period and place for the settings of his novels is Europe from 1933 to 1945. The Polish Officer is the third of his novels that I have read, after The Foreign Correspondent and Dark Star . The first two were full of suspense and kept me on the edge of my seat so I knew what to expect from this one. It did not disappoint. Captain Alexander de Milja defends his city of Warsaw as the Germans advance in 1939, but the Germans have too much firepower. The war in Poland is over almost before it is begun. Except it really isn't. The Poles fight on by other means, implacably opposing their invaders in ways both great and small, but stealthily, indirectly, underground. Before the last shot of the direct war is fired, Captain de Milja is recruited to help carry on the indirect war. His first task is to transport the gold that constitutes much of Poland's national treasury out of the country and take it safely be

Egypt from afar

I've been following the stories of the popular uprising and demonstrations in Egypt, after the uprising which toppled the totalitarian government in nearby Tunisia. It seems that northern Africa is a hotbed of insurrection at the moment. I don't pretend to understand all the issues involved, other than the observation that in both places, masses of people are asking for democratization of their country's government. It is a widespread human yearning which has been made stronger by modern technology and the coming of the Internet to isolated regions around the world. That explains why the Egyptian government is shutting down Internet and cell phone access in their country today. Admittedly, my following of this story has been mostly on the Internet and in print. I haven't watched television news coverage of it, but I have read some of the critiques of that coverage and the one that appeared in today was particularly illuminating. Salon makes the point tha

Two news stories about guns

In Florida today, a five-year-old dropped a loaded gun in his pre-kindergarten classroom. Meanwhile, out in Utah, the state legislature is all set to make the Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol , a gun whose only purpose is to kill people, the state gun. It would be the first state to designate a state gun, but no doubt will not be the last. Can Texas be far behind? And, of course, all across the country today, 34 more people were murdered with handguns, but that hardly even qualifies as a news story any more. It is expected and we just accept it. What kind of country have we become? I am disgusted.

Wordless Wednesday: Great Egret


If it ain't broke, don't fix it! (But maybe you can make it better.)

The Very Serious People in Washington love to talk about fixing Social Security. Never mind that Social Security is working perfectly well and nonpolitical assessments of the program indicate that it will not even begin to get close to being in deficit for another 30 to 40 years. "No, no, no!" the politicians shout. "Social Security is in terrible, terrible trouble! You must let us fix it!" I would not trust most of these yahoos to fix a hangnail, much less a program I will depend on for much of my livelihood in my - ahem - declining years. For one thing, the most prominently mentioned "fix" is lowering benefits and raising the retirement age, because people are living longer its proponents argue, but the truth is they really aren't. Very well off people who have access to the best of health care and who don't particularly need Social Security are living substantially longer, but for poor and middle-class people - THOSE WHO DEPEND ON SOCIAL

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; A review

More than 2000 years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the angel Raziel is sent to ressurect his childhood friend, Biff, from the dust of Jerusalem. After Biff has returned to human form and has retrieved the "30 pieces of silver" that had bought Judas' betrayal, the angel and he sell the silver on the Jerusalem antiquities market for $20,000. With the money and Biff's newly acquired gift of tongues, they head out to America, where they land in a hotel in St. Louis. There, Biff will be required to write his gospel - the story of his life with Jesus (Joshua bar Joseph, in this telling), particularly the missing years between Joshua's debating with the rabbis at the temple when he is twelve and the beginning of his ministry when he is about thirty-years-old. In Biff's telling (in American vernacular English, courtesy of that gift of tongues), those were adventure-packed years that took him and Joshua to the East in search of the three Wise Men who had attend

Silent Sunday: Rose hips, fruit of winter


Was KO KO'd or did he KO himself?

Keith Olbermann is a prickly personality at the best of times. He is bombastic and outspoken. He has a huge ego. He's never been able to hold onto a job in television for more than a few years, probably because of those attributes. He stuck with MSNBC and MSNBC stuck with him for about as long as he's ever stayed anywhere. His nightly news and commentary show Countdown has been hugely popular among liberals. When he announced on camera during his show yesterday that that would be the last Countdown , it was a massive shock to his rabid fans and they reacted...rabidly. They blamed MSNBC. They blamed Comcast which is about to take over NBC. They blamed everybody except Keith. I certainly don't have any more information about how the split came about than what I've read in the newspapers and online today, but I suspect the whole thing is a bit more complicated than his most passionate fans may be willing to admit. Let me state up front that I'm not one of h

Houston, we have a new challenge

There are a lot of things about Houston that those of us who live in the city or its outskirts love to complain about. It is a huge, sprawling place and sometimes it seems almost impossible to get there from here. The streets always seem to be full of potholes and always under construction. The traffic jams can be monumental. The pollution is awful, although some small progress has been made in that area in recent years. The politics are often reactionary and divorced from reality. In many areas of life, the good ole boy network is still intact and that pretty much excludes the good ole girls. And then, of course, there is the weather which is hot and humid and pretty unbearable at least six months out of the year. Sometimes eight. But there is one thing here that you won't hear me complaining about - the medical care. The quality of medical care that is available here is state of the art. If you or a loved one is sick or hurt, there are few better places in the world tha

She's so over!

The first time I ever remember hearing of Sarah Palin was when John McCain selected her as his vice-presidential candidate in 2008, because he thought the Republican ticket needed some sex appeal. For that alone, he deserves to be cast into the dustbin of history, never mind his erratic flip-flops on policy and his abandonment of principles that he had previously claimed to hold dear. But back to Sarah. I may have heard of her in passing when she was elected governor of Alaska, but frankly, I don't remember it, and she certainly never did anything in her brief stint as governor to bring herself to my, or the nation's, attention. But once she had an opportunity to step onto the national stage, courtesy of McCain's all-consuming desire to be president and the good of the country be damned, she certainly has taken advantage of the spotlight. She has become a multi-media extravaganza. Unless you are willing to shut down your computer, turn off your television and radio, and

Wordless Wednesday: Ruby-crowned Kinglet


The bird massacres

Earlier this month, the sudden deaths of thousands of birds, mostly members of the blackbird family, in places as farflung as Arkansas and Sweden, caused consternation among many people. As usual in such instances of mysterious occurrences, the conspiracy theorists and apocalypticists were soon spreading their interpretations of the events, and the tabloids and their equivalents in the broadcast world were lapping it all up and regurgitating it to the waiting and gullible public. Then the news cycle spun again and the tabs and their ilk moved on to tragic human deaths and outrageous human scandals. But what about all those bird deaths? Were they really unusual? Was there something that linked the worldwide occurrences? And were they related to the other strange occurrences such as mass die-offs of fish and crabs? The New York Times has now shed the light of sober consideration and reflection on the bird deaths and their causes and have come to the conclusion that Conspiracies Don

Facts vs. Opinions

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts." - attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reviews bills that are being considered by Congress and determines how those bills will affect the budget. Since its creation, the CBO has always been accepted as apolitical and disinterested by both ends of the political spectrum. Its expertise about budgetary matters is unquestioned by any fair-minded observer. They have reviewed the Republican Congress' centerpiece, ballyhooed legislation, the bill they are calling "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," which will be considered this week. They have concluded that repealing the reform law would drive up the deficit by $230 billion over the first decade and much more in later years. And what was the Republicans' response to this review by the CBO? Did they take another look at their bill and try to come up with commons

(Not quite) Silent Sunday: White Ibis

This bird is not for sacrifice! From Wikipedia: Sacred Ibis in myth and legend - Venerated and often mummified by Ancient Egyptians as a symbol of the god Thoth, the Ibis was, according to Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, also invoked against incursions of serpents. It was also said that the flies that brought pestilence died immediately upon propitiatory sacrifices of this bird.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick: A review

This is a great time of year to read Robert Goolrick's book, A Reliable Wife , because in the book, it always seems to be winter, always cold and bleak. It is a story that is very much of its place and landscape and experiencing cold helps one to feel that story. Goolrick has an almost poetic way with the language and builds suspense beautifully in this, his first, novel. It is a very gothic tale. As I was reading it, for some reason I kept thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, and the poem of his that came to mind was Annabel Lee . Not that the stories that the poem and this novel tell are particularly related, but the cadence of the language and the use of repetition struck me as being similar. The book also reminded me of younger (much younger) days when I used to devour the novels of Daphne du Maurier and the Bronte' sisters. This book would be right at home on a shelf with those ladies' works. The story begins in 1907 in Wisconsin during a viciously cold winter. Indeed, th

From a lion to a crab

So that's what's been wrong. I've been reading the wrong horoscope! Did you see the story about how the zodiac has changed over time ? It seems that the twelve signs of the zodiac that we are all familiar with - Capricorn through Sagittarius - were established by astrologers some 3,000 years ago when astrology first began. But since that time, the earth has changed its position in relation to the sun and so the aspects which give the signs their names appear at slightly different times of the year. Astronomers now say that in addition to those twelve familiar signs, because of the earth's movements, there is now a thirteenth sign: Ophiuchus. ( Don't ask me how you pronounce that .) The consequence of this changing zodiac is that many of us who thought we were Leo the Lion now find that we are Cancer the Crab! It's been quite a shock to me, I can tell you. You wake up one day thinking you are a lion and by the end of the day you've been reduced to a c

The most armed country in the world

Earlier this week, I saw a reference to a story about the most armed countries in the world and so I went Googling to find the source. Sure enough, there it was in a Reuters story from three-and-a-half years ago. It seems that the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies had completed a Small Arms Survey of the world and had found that U.S. citizens owned 270 million of the world's 875 million known firearms. This made the United States far and away the most armed country in the world. That worked out to 90 guns for every 100 people. That was 2007. During much of the time since then, some Americans have been in a frenzy of gun-buying. I feel sure that if a survey were done now, it would show us even more out in front in the arms race - maybe 95 guns per 100 people would be more like it. Yemen was the second most heavily armed country on a per capita basis. They had 61 guns per 100 citizens. Slackers! Falling even farther behind were countries like Finland (

Wordless Wednesday: "Brrr! This water is cold!"


No one could have predicted... Except, they did.

Like many in the country I suspect, I continue to be obsessed with the story of the violence that occurred in Tucson on Saturday. In reading further today, I came across a note about this story which I may have heard about when it happened last year but I had frankly forgotten it. It seems that after the vote on the health care reform bill last year, the Democratic National Committee was concerned about the vitriol and threats that their party members were receiving and the violence that had been perpetrated against some of them and they drafted a "bipartisan" statement rejecting such vitriol and calling for civility in politics. They presented it to their opposite numbers at the Republican National Committee and asked them to join the DNC in issuing the statement. The statement read, in part: As leaders of our respective national parties, we want to speak to all Americans about the importance of conducting our political debates in a manner and tone that respects our poli

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas; A review

When I mentioned to my daughter the librarian that I needed something light to read after some of my recent reading, she recommended Firoozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America . Ms. Dumas had attended a Houston Library event within the past year and my daughter just happened to have an autographed copy of the book that she would lend me. She guaranteed that it would make me laugh. It did make me smile, chuckle, and once or twice even laugh out loud. It is a charming memoir of Ms. Dumas' family's coming to America a few years before the Iranian Revolution and the taking of the American hostages in Tehran. Her father, an engineer, was the family pioneer who had been to this country first as a college student on a Fulbright Scholarship. He loved the country and wanted to come back and eventually he did, bringing his family with him. They found a warm welcome, even though they learned that most Americans did not seem to know what or where Iran wa

The natural consequence of hate speech

Politicians and pundits are tripping over each other to pronounce themselves shocked, shocked over the attempted assassination of an elected Member of Congress and the killing and wounding of several of her constituents at a public event in Tucson yesterday. Why should they be shocked? This is just the natural consequence of the irrational hate speech that is the prevalent means of communication in a certain quarter of our political landscape these days. If you are in any doubt as to which quarter I am referring to, it is the far, far right - those people whose heroes are folks like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the multi-billionaires like the Koch brothers who finance and manipulate the tea partiers. When these people constantly urge their followers "don't retreat, reload," or admonish them to take "Second Amendment remedies," or say things like, "If ballots don't work, bullets will!", what exactly did they exp

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre': A review

Our Kind of Traitor is typical John le Carre' - intricately plotted, provocative, intelligently written and seemingly springing right off the pages of today's newspapers. In the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the onset of world economic crisis, we find a young English couple, Perry and Gail, having a vacation in Antigua. There they meet a Russian named Dima, who, it appears, is linked to the Russian mafia and who may be seeking a way to slip away from their clutches. He engages Perry to play a game of tennis, a game that is watched by Dima's extended family and bodyguards. After the game, he begins to test Perry to see whether he might be his ticket "out". He wants to know whether Perry is a spy or has any connections to the vaunted British Secret Service. No, and no. Perry, the academic, is not a spy and has no connections but he is intrigued by Dima and upon returning to England, he manages to contact the Secret Service and tell them about him. D

The mendacious Steve King boasts of Republican leaders' mendacity!

As reported by TalkingPointsMemo , Rep. Steve King never spoke truer words...and doesn't even realize it! Mendacity: –noun 1.The quality of being mendacious; a disposition to lie or deceive; habitual lying. 2.A falsehood; a lie. I'd say that pretty well sums up much of this new Republican Congress, or as they might be more rightly called this Keystone Congress. The old Keystone Cops look absolutely competent in comparison!

Broken promises already

For days now, the Republicans have been trumpeting their intention of reading the Constitution aloud on their first day in charge of the new Congress. They have also been on all the news outlets talking about their "New Rule" that any bill considered by the House must have a statement about its Constitutional authority. They tout this as something entirely different. It isn't. The old rules of the House already required a statement about the section of the Constitution which covered each bill it considered. But these are the people who revere the Constitution so much that they consider it Holy Writ, handed down by God directly to the Founders, unchanged and unchangeable. ( Just ask Antonin Scalia. But that's another rant .) So, of course, they - and we - were really, really excited about the prospect of actually hearing this sacred text read aloud in the People's House. We waited with bated breath. We're still waiting. They didn't read the Consti

Wordless Wednesday: Cutie!


Not all Minnesotans are above average

For years, I've listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio talking about his hometown in Minnesota where "all the womean are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average" and I guess I had bought the fiction that somehow Minnesotans are special and "above average". We now have living proof that that is not true. We have Michele Bachmann. The Republican congresswoman from Minnesota is following in the footsteps of her idol, Sarah Palin. (I fully expect that any day now she will be announcing that she is running for president in 2012.) Her grasp of history is certainly on a par with Palin. An article in today makes that perfectly clear. The article outlines one of Bachmann's latest fictionalized autobiographical accounts. (There have been many.) It tells how she had a Damascus Road style conversion from being a flaming liberal to being an enlightened Republican. Strangely enough, it is all Gore Vidal's fau

Resolved: No more self-flagellation

It's that time of year when everyone resolves to start eating right and exercising and to lose ten pounds. Or a hundred, as the case may be. I, on the other hand, have made only one resolution for 2011. It is, quite simply, that I will stop beating up on myself. You see, I am my own worst critic. And, yes, I can just hear someone out there - maybe several someones - saying, "Not while I am alive!" But, no, I really am. Always have been for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure why that should be true or what made me this way, but I forever criticize and second-guess myself and blame myself for failures. Failures of relationships, failures in my career, personal name it. I've agonized over it, shed tears over it, wished that I could take it all back. But I can't. My Epiphany came three days early this year. Today I finally realized the past is past. It's over. I can't change what has happened. I can only learn from it

Silent Sunday: Forster's Tern