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Showing posts from February, 2011

The "Texas miracle"

Texas Governor Rick Perry likes to run around the country to all the conservative gatherings and brag about all the "tough conservative decisions" that he has made in order to keep the state budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the storms of the recession. It's all a lie, of course. The state actually has a budget deficit of close to $30 million, and it will be extremely hard for Perry, like other Republican governors I might mention, to scapegoat public sector unions in Texas for the state's fiscal problems, since, essentially, there aren't any. At least none that have any clout. The conservatives who run our state talk about Texas as a model of small government and, in this at least, they do not lie. Let's take a look at some of the things that "small government" has given us: - Texas ranks fifth in child poverty among the 50 states. - It ranks first in the percentage of children without health insurance. - The high school gr

Silent Sunday: "You talkin' to me?"

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The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: A review

The "naming of the dead" is a ritual often performed after some tragedy in which people have been killed. The names of the dead are read out in public ceremony as a way of remembering their lives. Inspector John Rebus, Ian Rankin's creation, feels that that is what he does in his murder investigations - he names the dead, excavates their lives, and makes sure they are not forgotten. The Naming of the Dead is the penultimate tale in Inspector Rebus' saga. Soon he will be forced to retire and give up the job which is the only life he has. It won't be a minute too soon for his superiors at Lothian and Borders Police. In July 2005, Edinburgh was a buzz of activity as it readied itself for the G8 conference to be held there. The most powerful people in the world would be meeting to decide the fate of much of the world for the foreseeable future. Police officers from all over the country had been commandeered to provide security for the event. They came from as

The big shoot-out between Utah and Arizona

Remember the shock, anger, and revulsion that we felt when the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several of her constituents, including a child, took place in January? The shooter used a Glock semi-automatic with which he was able to get off 31 shots in seconds before bystanders could subdue him. You might think that that event in Tucson would have made Arizonans leery of guns. And, furthermore, you might think that the Arizona legislature would have a very full plate considering the budget crunch, the unemployment rate, and the health care crisis in the state. Silly you! It turns out that in spite of everything that has happened Arizonans still worship at the altar of the gun and their legislature is never too busy to spend time honoring that religion. They are all set to take time away from working on solutions to the above-mentioned REAL problems to designate the Colt Single Action Army revolver as the "State Gun." I guess we should just be grateful the

The Thursday three

Here are three stories that are bouncing around in my head on this Thursday: 1. Do you watch the Sunday morning news talk shows on network television? Admittedly, I don't. I gave up on network news in all its permutations quite a few years ago. But I do read about the shows and what I've noticed in reading about them is that the people they have on as guests are almost exclusively Republicans and almost exclusively extremely conservative. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Paul Krugman, for one, has taken note of it and he's a sometime panelist on one of those shows - I'm not sure which one. He's written in his blog about the disparity in political philosophies represented by guests on the shows. But the most glaring example of that may be this: The biggest domestic news story at the moment is what is happening in Wisconsin - the protests by unions and ordinary citizens and the Democratic senators leaving town in order to deny a quorum. So you

The war against women and children - Phase 2

The House of Representatives voted 240-185 last week to defund Planned Parenthood and any other health care services provided through Title X . The Republicans pretend that this vote was to protect fetuses against abortion, but surely they are intelligent enough to know that Title X specifically prohibits funding for abortions. The bill that became Title X was signed into law in 1970 by President Nixon, and its purpose is to provide contraceptive information and services, cancer screening, STD testing, screening for certain blood disorders, gynecological exams and community outreach. By passing the bill that outlaws funding for all those services, the Republicans are now seeking to actually block access to services that help prevent the need for abortions, thus making an increase in abortions more likely. Just what they say they want to prevent. This is just one skirmish in the GOP's war against women and children. Yes, they've extended their war to include children, al

Who's the worst president ever?

I am just old enough to remember when we used to actually celebrate two presidents' birthdays in February - Lincoln's and Washington's. Though neither man was perfect, there could be no real argument that each was deserving of a holiday in his honor. There quite simply would not have been a United States of America without Washington, and there would not be a 50-state union today had not Lincoln refused to yield and held it together through the sheer force of his determination to see that this experiment of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" did not fail. Somewhere along the way, though, the decision-makers determined that two presidential holidays in one short month were just too many and so they compromised on a date and combined the two into one. To add insult to injury, they called the holiday Presidents' Day and made it an amalgamation of honor for all presidents. And yet there are some presidents - several, in fact - wh

Silent Sunday: Green anole

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We interrupt this blog...

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We interrupt this blog for this important event: Yes, it's the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count and I'll be picking up my binoculars to count the birds in my yard. Why don't you join me by counting the birds in your area and entering your information on the website? It's fun, it's free, and the information provided can help ornithologists determine how to best assist our birds. If you enjoy birds, here's a way you can help them. (You can follow my weekend bird counts at Backyard Birder .)

Madison = Cairo?

Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin, said today that it seemed like "Cairo has moved to Madison" in the wake of thousands of Wisconsinites taking to the streets to protest their union-busting governor's actions. Hmmm... So, if Madison = Cairo, then I guess that means that Gov. Walker = Mubarak and he should resign forthwith. Sounds about right to me!

Wordless Wednesday: American Goldfinch, getting dressed for spring

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Really super!

Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, in true tea party fashion, is attempting to destroy the rights of public employees in his state to collectively bargain. He has promised to call out the National Guard if necessary to enforce his draconian ideas. Hey, wait a minute! Aren't National Guard members public employees? Well, anyway, if Walker expected wide support for his idea, he must be somewhat surprised at the reaction of Wisconsinites. Students have struck in support of their teachers, who are, after all, public employees, and today support for those employees came from another source. Current and former members of the Green Bay Packers, this year's Super Bowl champions, issued the following statement: We know that it is teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great. As a publicly owned team we wouldn't have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans. It is the same dedication of our public workers every d

Calling all bird geeks

For many birders in Canada and the United States, this is the week we have been anticipating for months now. In just a few days, we will begin one of our favorite citizen science projects, the Great Backyard Bird Count . Every year on Presidents' Day weekend, thousands of birders across the continent, and across the ocean in Hawaii, take part in this four-day-long census of birds. It is a survey to find out just where the birds are at mid-winter and how they are faring. By this time, the migrants have settled in their winter homes but have not yet started their spring flight north, so this count can give a very good idea of numbers as well as the health of the bird population before it disperses to its breeding grounds. This will be the thirteenth year that the count has taken place. It has grown substantially in the number of participants each year and ranks with the Christmas Bird Count in its popularity and importance in the birding community. The GBBC is a joint project

And our new president is...

The CPAC has spoken and the new president of the United States will be...wait for it...Ron Paul! Yes, the famously prickly, so-called libertarian congressman from Texas is the darling of these right-wingers. If they had their way, he would be moving to the White House tomorrow. In their straw poll , Paul got 30% of the vote, which may not sound too impressive until you look at how the rest of the vote was divided: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney : 23% Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson (who, frankly, I'd never heard of): 6% New Jersey Governor Chris Christie : 6% Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich : 5% Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty : 4% Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann : 4% Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels : 4% Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin : 3% Radio talk-show host Herman Cain (Who???): 2% Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee : 2% Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum : 2% South Dakata Senator John Thune : 2% Former Utah Governor Jon

Timing is everything

You have to hand it to former New York representative Chris Lee. The timing of his sex scandal was impeccable , although I don't suppose he actually planned it that way. It happened at a time when everyone's eyes and ears were focused on events in Egypt. (Those few who weren't focused on Egypt were probably focused on the CPAC convention, but that's a blog post for another day!) Gawker.com broke the story on Wednesday under the headline "Married GOP Congressman Sent Sexy Pictures to Craigslist Babe." He had represented himself to this "Craigslist Babe" as a divorced lobbyist when in fact he was a married congressman with children, and, most incriminatingly, he had sent her a picture of himself, topless, flexing his muscles. And really that seems to be all that happened. The two people had some flirtatious emails back and forth and he sent her the picture to prove that he wasn't "a toad" but this so-called sex scandal doesn't

This is just the beginning

So the peaceful revolution of the Egyptian people has brought about its much desired result - Hosni Mubarak is no longer a part of their government. The man who has ruled autocratically, sometimes brutally suppressing his political enemies, for the last thirty years has left the capital and retired to his vacation home, handing over the governance of the country to the military. In many countries, the idea that the military would be in charge of the government would be a thing to be feared, but in Egypt, apparently, the military is loved and trusted by the people, and those who had taken to the streets are ecstatic at this outcome. Thus ends phase one of their revolution. It's only the beginning, of course. In order for the people to get the democracy they so ardently desire, the government and the country must be totally transformed and that will take time. I heard a commentator on NPR today saying that it took 500 years from the signing of the Magna Carta for England to ha

The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir: A review

Having read several fictional accounts of the Tudor era, including Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and the Tudor mystery series by C.J. Sansom, I thought it might be interesting to get an actual historian's take on the period. Alison Weir is an actual British historian who has had an almost life-long fascination with that era and has written widely about it. This book, The Lady in the Tower , concerns the last four months of the life of the second of Henry VIII's six wives and Elizabeth I's mother, Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn has, of course, been an iconic figure of great interest for historians, poets, playwrights, novelists, and, indeed, for ordinary people, virtually since her death by beheading in May, 1536. She was accused and adjudged guilty of treason against her king - specifically of having committed adultery with at least five men, one of whom was her own brother and of having conspired with them to kill the king. All five men were also judged guilty and beheaded.

Here's one reason American students are falling farther behind

Honestly, I do not sift through the news each day looking for stories that will outrage me. Nevertheless, as I do my morning reading, they just jump right out at me and tend to spoil the rest of my day. Often, all I can do is shake my head at the utter and complete stupidity of some people. Like some of the parents of children in the Mansfield school district in Texas. The Mansfield Independent School District had been offering classes in Arabic in a program funded by a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant. The classes covered not just the language but Arabic culture as well. This would seem to be a good use of the Foreign Language Assistance Program funds since federal agencies, including the military services, always have a shortage of Arabic speakers. But then some 200 parents showed up at a meeting about the new curriculum and some of them were irate at the idea that their children might actually learn something about Islam. Apparently, they were terrified t

The war against women

Our new Republican Congress keeps telling us that their number one priority is jobs, but their every action gives the lie to that claim. First, it was revisiting the Affordable Health Care Law. Now they are pursuing their true first priority - seeking to reverse every gain towards equality that women have made in the last hundred years. While Republicans say all the right things, offering empty platitudes about women's equality, their agenda is to legislate women into second-class citizenship. This is true not only at the national level but in state legislatures all across the country. Republicans are seeking to reverse, through legislative action, the protections of the Equal Pay Act. They insist that the law is no longer needed because the pay gap has all but been eradicated. This is blatantly false, but when were these bozos ever guided by facts? The big guns of this Republican war against women, though, are trained at women's health issues, specifically reproductive

Texas is being invaded!

They are spilling over our southern border by the hundreds. By the thousands even. More and more every day, Texas is being invaded by migrants from the south. And this is just the first wave, the leading edge of an invasion that is only beginning. Over the next few months, these numbers will increase until every tree and hedgerow is alive with these invaders as they seek shelter after a long trip. These first arrivals are already being reported by alert observers all over the state. Every day they are out there scanning for the first sighting of the first scout of the oncoming army. What the observers are looking for is a flash of black, a dark body outlined against a winter landscape. Actually, the newcomers are most often heard before they are seen. A liquid warbling betrays their presence. The experienced observer hears that sound and looks up, searching the sky for its source, an adult male Purple Martin. The Purple Martin Conservation Association maintains a website

Will we be able to afford to eat in our brave, new world?

I was perusing the science pages of The New York Times as I do every week when I came across a story about a drought in China and a resultant rise in the price of food. As I read the story, it brought to mind similar stories that I have read in recent months. There have been a number of crop failures because of extreme weather conditions right around the world. Climate scientists have warned repeatedly that the frequency of these extreme weather conditions is likely to increase as the earth continues to warm. They might as well be shouting into a hurricane. People simply are not listening. Perhaps when a loaf of bread goes for $100, it might finally get their attention. There have already been food riots in various countries around the world. The current uprising in Egypt has been fueled, in part, by the fact that food has become more scarce and expensive and people are unable to feed their families. What will happen when that circustance becomes fact in this country? Most

Heartstone by C.J. Sansom: A review

I admit it. I am a mystery series junkie. I enjoy nothing better than discovering a well-written mystery series with sympathetic characters that I can care about. I love following the development of the series and the characters. If it happens to be a historical mystery, then I have truly found nirvana. I might just OD. Probably my favorite mystery series at the moment, and it does just happen to be historical, is C.J.Sansom's Tudor mysteries featuring the hunchback lawyer/detective Matthew Shardlake. Part way through the series Shardlake was joined by an assistant, Jack Barak. The two of them together make a very effective team, a team which exhibits a humanistic philosophy in what is, in many ways, the very inhumane society that was Henry XIII's England of the mid-1500s. Heartstone is the fifth book in the series and is one of the best. Of course, I think I say that about them all. In th

Hungry birds

The birds have been especially hungry this week and more of them are coming to the feeders. They've kept me busy making sure that all the feeders are stocked. I haven't seen any unusual birds at my feeders this week. (Of course, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s, I haven't actually spent a lot of time outside observing.) I still haven't had any big flocks of White-winged Doves or any of the blackbird family, although I do get small numbers of the doves and the occasional individual Red-winged Blackbird. What I do get is unusually large numbers of my usual visitors. I had to go into town at mid-day today and when I arrived back home in the middle of the afternoon, as we turned into the driveway, a large flock of perhaps as many as 200 American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins flew up from the black oil sunflower seed feeder near the driveway. Also, these little finches are now hitting the thistle seeds hard! For most of the winter, I could fill my thistle sock fee

Why does it always have to be about us?

Like much of the rest of the world I suspect, I've been following pretty closely the news reports from Egypt over this last couple of weeks. It's a fascinating story, just on the face of it - an apparently leaderless, unorganized popular revolt against the rule of an autocratic leader. But, more deeply than that, I admit to being an Egyptophile. The long history of that culture and its people is an amazing human story that has long held my interest. I've read quite a bit and studied some about the ancient history of the culture, the time of the pharoahs, right up through Cleopatra. Indeed, one of the books currently on my "to be read" shelf is Stacy Schiff's Pulitizer Prize-winning biograghy, Cleopatra: A Life . The modern history of Egypt has, of course, been problematic on many levels and yet it retains its status as one of, if not the oldest continuous human societies on earth with all the gravitas and dignity that that conveys. With all that long

Brrr!!!

As much of the country prepares for one of the worst winter storms in decades , one is led to wonder once again just what the heck is going on in the world of weather. For example, I read a story in The New York Times recently that stated that while parts of the southern United States have had record snowfalls and cold this winter, 2,000 miles to the north in northeastern Canada and Greenland, it has been freakishly warm, both this winter and last. Their temperatures in December ran as much as 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. This has had an economic impact because bays and lakes have been slow to freeze and so ice fishing, hunting and trade routes have been disrupted. What's going on here? Is this a result of global warming? Scientists warn that it is almost impossible to link a particular weather event to the larger issue of global warming, but it is very difficult for the layperson to believe that it is not somehow related. Theories about the effects of global