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Showing posts from May, 2011

Does reading improve character?

I am what might be fairly described as a voracious and eclectic reader. I'm always reading at least one book and occasionally two. But does all that reading make me a better person? This came to mind because of an article by Laura Miller that I read in Salon.com today. It's title was " Does reading great books make you a better person? " Miller was, in fact, writing about a new book by William Deresiewicz, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things That Really Matter . Deresiewicz's theory, which is made clear by the title of his book, is that great books can make you a better person. Miller disagrees, saying that she knows many well-read people who are real jerks. Personally, I'm on the fence here. I'm not sure who has the better argument. I am in a unique position to judge the Jane Austen theory though, because, in the past year, I read all six of her famous books. I don't know if they made me

They have no shame

The notorious Westboro Baptist Church was at it again this Memorial Day, the day when we honor the memory of all who have died in defense of our country. They were out to demonstrate in front of Arlington Cemetery, carrying their signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers." As has often happened at Westboro's demonstrations in recent months, they were met by counter-demonstrators who attempted to block their view of the cemetery and to shout them down when they yelled out their slogans. Interestingly, one of the groups countering Westboro today was a klaven of the Ku Klux Klan! I never thought I would find myself in agreement with anything that the KKK did. Just goes to show that wonders will never cease I suppose. Various courts have held that the Westboro Baptists have a legally protected right to do what they do, but just because one has the legal right to make heinous, hurtful statements and acts does not mean that one has the moral right to do so. I wonder

Happy Memorial Day weekend

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Mourning Gloria (China Bayles #19) by Susan Wittig Albert: A review

The herbalist and amateur investigator China Bayles has a knack for getting herself involved in sticky situations. In Mourning Gloria , she happens upon a house fire just in time to hear a woman trapped inside screaming for help. China calls 9-1-1 and tries to get in to save the woman but the heat drives her back. The investigation of the event by fire marshalls and police reveal that it was no accident and that the woman had been shot and tied up before being left to die in the flames. Who in the peaceful town of Pecan Springs would possibly be guilty of such a gruesome act? One who tries to piece the story together and find the solution to that question is a young woman intern-reporter at the local newspaper. Jessica Nelson tracks down leads and clues to the story, but then she suddenly disappears. Did she find the murderer and will she meet the same fate as the first victim? Her friend, China Bayles, is on the case and sets out to track her down, find out what has happened and s

When does a series of "coincidences" become a pattern?

Scientists warn us that we should not try to relate any one weather event to the phenomenon of global warming, but what about a whole series of weather events? When does a series of "coincidences" become a pattern? Consider these coincidences: * The Amazon has just emerged from its second hundred-year drought within the last five years. * There have been unprecedented floods in Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan in the past year. * The Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. * Last month was the most active April in U.S. history for tornadoes. And looking at the Midwest this week, it appears that record of activity is continuing into May. * Texas and the adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico are drier than they've ever been . The drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl years. To make matters worse, much of Texas is being devastated by wildfires. * This year's record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest have resulted

Wordless Wednesday: The hunter

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Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell: A review

In Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell has created a seriously flawed but ultimately sympathetic character. This book, published in Swedish in 1991 and in English in 1997, is the first in the series featuring Wallander and I will be interested to see how the character changed and grew as the series progressed. Wallander is a police inspecter in Ystad, Sweden, and in this introductory book, he has a particularly violent and seemingly senseless crime to solve. An elderly couple have been brutally murdered in a remote farmhouse. Before she died, the woman uttered the word "Foreigner." Is that a clue to the identity of the killer or killers or was it just a meaningless sound from a dying and delerious woman? The murders occur on a cold night in January and the bleak cold of the Swedish wintry landscape permeates the story. Wallander assembles his team and they begin to work the case, but soon they are distracted by another murder. Information about the dying woman's final w

Silent Sunday: Flaunting the epaulets

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Israeli interests do not equal American interests

Frankly, I am sick of Israel dictating the Middle Eastern policy of the United States. The leaders of Israel, most egregiously Benjamin Netanyahu, show a fine contempt for the government of this country. They seek to control the government through their influence with Republican legislators and the powerful lobbyists at AIPAC. In fact, in his meeting with President Obama this week, Netanyahu did not even seem to attempt to contain his disdain for the man. He is looking forward to being able to address the U.S. Congress next week where he will, no doubt, rally the Republicans, his natural allies, and appeal to rich donors and fund-raisers to put their money on the line to oppose Obama's efforts at a more even-handed policy toward the various countries of the Middle East. President Obama's speech on the Middle East earlier this week showed a good bit of political courage in facing down the Israeli lobby by telling them the truth which they did not want to hear. Israel is a

Why do these people deliberately try to annoy me?

So I'm watching " The Fabulous Beekman Boys " on Planet Green and Josh says, "Maybe it would be best for Brent and I to spend some time apart." Brent and "I"? Really, Josh? And it's not as if this were an isolated incident. Later in the same episode, he made the same grammatical mistake again. I don't remember the exact quote (I've blocked it from my memory) but it was something like, "He gave it to Brent and I." The misuse of subjective pronouns as objects is probably the pettiest of my pet peeves, but it is so commonplace on television now that whenever I sit down to watch, I am in danger of being in a constant state of annoyance. It's not as if it is uneducated people who are making these grammatical mistakes. On the contrary, they are highly educated and smart people. People who were apparently not paying attention to their seventh grade English teachers when they explained the difference between the use of ob

When will we begin to hold corporations accountable?

Remember April 5, 2010 when an explosion in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine near Montcoal, West Virginia killed 29 miners? In the aftermath of that explosion, various inquiries and news stories reported that the Massey Energy Co. which operated the mine had a woeful record of adhering to safety regulations. It was evident even to casual observers like myself that their number one priority was making money any way they could regardless of the danger to their employees. Now an independent probe, which released its report today, has pretty much confirmed what we long suspected . Massey didn't give a fig about the safety of its workers. It was only concerned with corporate profits. Haven't we heard this story before? Over and over again? Here in Texas, one of the prime offenders has been BP which has repeatedly had fatal "accidents" at its refineries and has repeatedly been cited for violations and fined. And yet it seems to have no effect on their corporate cultu

Wordless Wednesday: King Rail

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Neutering Newt

I never seriously thought that Newt Gingrich would actually run for president. I mean, why on earth would he put himself and his family through that? He has so many skeletons rattling around in his closet that it is really hard to even hear him speak above their sound. But I underestimated his hubris and his capacity for self-delusion. So, yes, he's running, but there is not a snowball's chance in hell that he will get the Republican nomination, because now he has gone and done the unthinkable: He has criticized the House Republicans' plan to kill Medicare , calling it "right-wing social engineering," and by implication he has criticized the new Republican god, Paul Ryan, and you just can't do that and be considered "serious" in his party. The party wasted no time in responding to his remarks on one of the Sunday television news talk shows. Republicans everywhere have been rushing to microphones to register their outrage at Newt. The leader o

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: A review

When Freedom came out last year, all the reviewers went into orgasmic paroxysms of delight over it. I was bemused by all the hoopla, remembering Franzen's last book, The Corrections , and the big kerfuffle that was caused when Oprah chose the book for her book club and Franzen seemed to diss her readers, opining that his "lit'rature " was much too high-brow for such low-brow readers. (No, of course, he didn't actually use those words! I'm paraphasing and interpreting.) Oprah subsequently de-selected the book and moved on. I figured it was probably too high-brow for me, too, and I never got around to reading it. But then came Freedom with a picture of the beautiful Cerulean Warbler on the cover. How could I, as a birder, resist it? It turns out that the Cerulean Warbler is an integral part of the plot of the book. Walter Berglund, a lawyer who works for 3M in outreach and philanthropy, has a strong environmentalist streak. Environmentalist causes become h

Silent Sunday: Pink hibiscus

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A note about comments

Because of a glitch in the Blogger software, a few recent comments from readers have been deleted from the blog and there doesn't seem to be a way to restore them. So if you notice that a comment that you had made here is no longer visible, I just want you to know that I didn't do it! I love my readers' comments - all of them - and would never delete them. Apparently, the glitch has now been fixed and it is to be hoped that no more of your interesting comments will be dropped. Keep them coming!

Baseball and books

It was one of the best kinds of afternoons - hours spent browsing through book stores followed by a wonderful late lunch at a favorite restaurant. All with my favorite person. It's one of those pleasures that may be fading away in the future as book stores struggle to stay open in the age of Internet book buying. But today at least we still found a couple of them open and full of books. Full of books that I just had to have. I had a mental list of books that I wanted for my "to be read" list and I found several of them, but then I found another book that I didn't know I wanted until I picked it up. It was Good Poems, American Places selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor. I picked it up and the book fell open to this poem: Baseball by John Updike It looks easy from a distance, easy and lazy, even, until you stand up to the plate and see the fastball sailing inside, an inch from your chin, or circle in the outfield straining to get a bead on a small

Wordless Wednesday: Green bean season

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Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward: A review

Here's the premise: A writer of mysteries and a poet who were once a couple long ago but have since split up and are now friends - sort of - decide to write a comic mystery together. They will write alternating chapters of the book and will not collaborate as far as the story line and the characters are concerned. Each writer will respond to what his/her partner has written in the previous chapter and will expand on it and move the story forward. Someone actually thought this was a good idea. But that's not all! In addition to the book that the two are writing, the emails and notes that each writes to the other, commenting on his/her partner's work, will be included in the book between chapters, providing a sort of book within a book and a running commentary on their writing process. Again, someone thought this was a good idea. The result of this attempt at cuteness is an incoherent story and characters who are so annoying that I kept hoping that they would all somehow

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall-Smith: A review

I generally enjoy the writing of Alexander McCall-Smith. I've been a follower of two of his mystery series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series featuring Precious Ramotswe and the Sunday Philosophers' Club series featuring Isabel Dalhousie. I vacillate in my opinion of the Isabel Dalhousie character. In some of the books in the series, I find her rather sweet and charming, but in others she is altogether insufferable and irritating. This entry in the series has to be placed in the latter category. The story here is that a school in Isabel's Edinburgh is looking for a new headmaster and has narrowed its list of candidates down to three, but an anonymous letter has been received indicating something scandalous in the background of one of three. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't say which one. Isabel is asked to investigate "discreetly" and let the school's board know who the scandal-ridden candidate is. This just seems unbelievable on the fa

Mood Indigo

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Today, the bird I've been looking for all spring finally showed up in my yard. Yes, the Indigo Buntings are here! I was able to photograph one of the birds, a brilliantly colored male, feeding under my blueberry bush in the backyard. He was not very cooperative. Whenever I tried to get in closer for a better shot, he flew up into the wild hedge along the back fence. I also had to contend with a large flock of White-winged Doves that were feeding in the area and tended to walk in front of the bird just as I was about to snap the picture. Still, I was able to get a few usable pictures. Whenever I have Indigo Buntings in the yard, I almost never see them actually eating from my feeders. Normally, they are on the ground under the feeders or in the area of the feeders like this bird. I find, also, that these birds tend to be wary. They are always on the alert for danger and any sudden move will send them flying for cover. In this back shot, you can see some of the black

Is global warming affecting food prices?

A new study published in the journal Science today explores the effect of global warming on the agriculture of the world and whether or not it is affecting the price of food worldwide. The researchers found that in many parts of the world the warming of the earth is already having a profound effect on agriculture. For example, wheat yields in Russia are down by about 10% in recent years while also declining by a few percentage points in places like India, France and China. Likewise, corn yields are down in many of these places. On the positive side of the ledger, the researchers noted that the excessive carbon dioxide that we are pumping into our atmosphere does act as a fertilizer to encourage plant growth and this offsets some of the losses from higher temperatures. Plants can only adjust to higher temperatures to a certain extent, though, and may quickly reach the point of diminishing returns, or even the point of no return. Indeed, as temperature increases are expected to ac

"Scrap Medicare? Not us," say Republicans

The Republican House of Representatives voted for the radical Paul Ryan budget plan which would destroy Medicare as we know it, and then they went home for their spring break where a strange thing happened. They got yelled at by their constituents who were not at all happy with what they had done. This was not what they had voted for when they elected these people. Now Congress is back in session and the Republicans are safely back in Washington and no longer getting yelled at, but even the fawning inside-the-beltway press and pundits have begun to question the wisdom and even the seriousness of the Ryan plan. Republicans are just not used to such treatment and they've been trying to regroup and reform their lines. Today, we saw the result of that rethinking and reformation. Quietly, obviously hoping that no one will notice and that everyone will quickly forget what they tried to do, they are dropping their Medicare reform plan . At the same time, today, the Republicans vo

Wordless Wednesday: Butterfly time

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The "Deathers"

Now that Osama bin Laden has been tracked down and killed, I expect that we will start to hear a new conspiracy theory from the kooks that claim so much media time in this country. I fully expect to hear that this was not really bin Laden, but perhaps someone surgically altered to look like him and then killed. Yes, I can hear it now: "Where is the death certificate, Mr. President? The LONG-FORM death certificate?" When Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and their ilk start spouting their nonsense and spinning their conspiracy tales, remember: You read it here first.