Showing posts from August, 2011

The torturer-in-chief

Dick Cheney continues to live up to his first name.  On the rounds this week hawking his new book, the name of which I refuse to give here, Cheney insists that he has "no regrets" over his enthusiastic advocacy of torture.  Never mind that it is illegal under international and U.S. law.  Cheney obeys a higher law - that of his own selfish chicken-hawk interest. He maintains that torturing helpless prisoners is "safe, legal, and effective" and that he would "strongly support" water-boarding if actionable information could be wrung out of a prisoner.  (And just how would you know in advance that such information could be elicited, Dick?)  How are any of his actions and stated views different from the Nazi war criminals who were tried and executed for similar crimes after World War II? Torture is illegal - full stop.  There is no "debate" to be had about it.  You might as well open up for debate whether rape, murder, or child abuse are "saf

What do Americans want?

As the so-called Super Congress gets to work on a budgeting agreement, one has to wonder if they will pay any attention at all to the opinions of the vast majority of Americans.  The plain, old, every-day Congress didn't, and since these guys are all members of that Congress, even if they are now called "Super", the prospects don't seem very positive.  Still, I suppose we can hope. There is no excuse for them to wonder what Americans think about this issue.  All the poll-takers have been busily asking the questions for almost a year:  How should the debt problem be solved?  By raising taxes?  By cutting spending?  By a combination of the two?  By an astonishing majority, Americans in every single poll even the one by right-winger Rasmussen, prefer that taxes be raised or that there be a combination of raised taxes and spending cuts.  Here's a chart that outlines the findings. Click on chart to see a larger image. You can see that the average findings of al

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

I was introduced to the writing of C.J. Box through my local library's Mystery Book Club.  Open Season , the first in Box's Joe Pickett series, was the club's selection for reading in June. Although I didn't get a chance to read it in time for the meeting, the discussion of it made me curious and I put it on my to-be-read list. I'm glad I finally got around to it this week. Box has created an enormously appealing character in Joe Pickett. A Wyoming game warden, Joe is a devoted family man with two young daughters and a pregnant wife when we first meet him. He and his family are able to barely scrape by financially on the meager salary of a state employee  (Been there, done that!) , but Joe is a happy man, because he's living his dream. Being a game warden was what he always wanted to be. Not only Joe but his whole family are lovingly drawn by Box. We get to know them well and to like them and want them not just to endure but to triumph. Seven-year-old Sherid

Silent Sunday: Gambel's Quail


Re-reading "The Maltese Falcon" - It's still good

The Maltese Falcon was this month's reading selection of my local library's Mystery Book Club. I probably would not have reread it if not for that impetus. But now that I've reread this one and remembered just how good a writer Dashiell Hammett was, I feel the need to reread his other four novels as well. He, after all, was the master and inventor of the  noir  hard-boiled detective, an iconic character in American fiction. One who has many children. The first thing the reader notices on reading  The Maltese Falcon  is Hammett's amazing use of descriptive language. His characters - particularly Sam Spade - and his scenes are described in such intricate detail, right down to the minute twitch of an eyebrow or to the wind blowing through a window to dislodge the ash on a cigarette left in an ashtray, that the reader feels she has not just read the words but has actually seen the painted picture. This is really good stuff! I had forgotten just how good. I first read

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Cat vs. Dog version

Happy Friday!

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford: A review

This is the final of Richard Ford's three books featuring his character, Frank Bascombe. In the first book,  The Sportswriter , the action took place around Easter, and I found Bascombe to be a not very appealing character. In the second book,  Independence Day , the action revolved around that eponymous holiday, and I began to understand and have a bit of fellow feeling for the main character. Finally, in this book, my conclusion is that Frank Bascombe, like most of us perhaps, is as good a person as he  can  be and that he  strives  to be a good person and to live a moral life. With all his weaknesses and failures (with which I can perfectly empathize!), Bascombe seems a person worthy of our sympathies and his life has some positive lessons for the reader. We meet Frank here at a crisis in his life. His second wife has left him when her first husband, who was thought to be dead, turned up alive, and she felt that she must return to him. His two children are grown up and launche

Leading from behind

The situation in Libya at the end of its six-month rebellion/revolution is still very fluid bordering on chaotic, but it seems pretty evident that Muammar Ghaddafi has been deposed even though his current whereabouts are unclear.  The more than forty year iron-fisted rule of this very weird man has been broken and it is to be devoutly hoped that the Libyan people can now begin to live freely in a more democratic society created by Libyans for Libyans. The rebels prevailed with the help and support of international organizations like NATO. and the UN and with the blessings of neighbors such as Tunisia which was the first blossom of the "Arab spring."  The help from NATO came in the form of air support, intelligence gathering, arms, and financial and humanitarian help.  Some of that help was provided by the United States as a member of NATO, but the U.S. did not take a leading role in the venture. Our military is, after all, still a bit preoccupied with those minor skirmishe

Paying your fair share? These companies don't understand the concept.

I wish Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were my senator.  It would be nice, at least once in my lifetime, to be represented by someone with whom I am mostly in agreement and of whom I could actually be proud.  Instead, I get people like Kaye Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, defenders of oil companies and friend to all millionaires and billionaires. Senator Sanders never hesitates to speak his mind and to call out those who are taking advantage of the system and failing to live up to their civic responsibilities.  In that spirit, he has issued a press release which details what the richest corporations in our country are paying in taxes.  The bottom line is: Not much.     1)      Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. 2)      Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and rece

A sensible Republican?

It appears to me that Jon Huntsman has concluded that he cannot win the Republican nomination for president so he might as well tell the truth, rather than selling his soul to the devil for a chance to win.  I came to this conclusion because lately he has made some very sensible, intelligent statements that are bound to make him anathema to the teahadists who control his party.  Just this past week, Huntsman has stated that: 1. He accepts settled science regarding human-caused climate change. 2. He accepts evolution as an established fact. 3. He doesn't believe that Ben Bernanke is treasonous and should be "treated ugly." It does take some political courage for a Republican to stand up and say such things.  On the other hand, in the last Republican debate when the candidates were asked if they would accept a compromise that would reduce the nation's deficit if it provided for $10 of budget cuts for every $1 in raised taxes, he, along with all the other automatons

How's that "Texas miracle" thing working for you?

Our governor, Rick Perry, has been swaggering around the country proclaiming in his exaggerated drawl about how he wants to do for America what he has done for Texas. God forbid! Let's just take a look at how Texas stands in relation to the other 49 states in some areas that are extremely important to the average citizen.   Yes, it is embarrassingly true that we are first in the country in the number of workplace fatalities and in the percentage of minimum wage workers .  Those jobs that Perry brags so much about creating are mostly minimum wage jobs and are often very dangerous jobs, not the kind of jobs that most communities interested in the health and welfare of their citizens would be eager to have. Furthermore, we are number one in the number of uninsured residents .  Our emergency rooms overflow day and night with people who have waited until the last possible minute to seek medical attention because they have no insurance and cannot pay for medical care.  In additio

"We're number 64!"

Last night Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" took on the right-wing's favorite issue of "class warfare" by which they mean discrimination against the rich in favor of the poor.  If you didn't see it, you should.  It is brilliant! Part 1. Part 2. Who knew we were only number 64, on a par with the Ivory Coast, in the inequality of our income?  I would have thought we would have rated much lower than that.  Yea, we're number 64!

Three for Thursday: Two stupid and one not

(1.)  I guess by now you've heard Rick Perry's statement about how we would treat (George W. Bush appointed) Fed chairman Ben Bernanke in Texas.  He said we'd be "pretty ugly" to him. Well, last night on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert played the video of Perry saying that, then Colbert responded, "Oh, no! They're going to make him live in Houston!" That may not have earned Colbert too many friends in the big city, but it is a perfect illustration of how the nonsensical statements of Perry (or any other candidate) should be treated.  They should be made fun of.  They should be laughed at.  The idiocy of the candidate should be pointed at and pointed out at every opportunity.  For example, when Perry makes the statement that "more and more scientists are skeptical about global warming," a good journalist or even a moderately intelligent person in his audience should ask him to name one of those skeptical scientists. (2)  Meantime,

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory: A review

I've only read one other book by Philippa Gregory. It was  Wideacre  and it was truly awful, so I approached the reading of this book hesitantly and with trepidation. But people who know my taste kept telling me that it was just my cup of tea so I steeled myself and gave it a try. The verdict? Not bad. The story of the infamous Boleyn family is almost too well-known to require summarizing here. Over the last couple of years, I've read a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were set in the Tudor era - books such as  Wolf Hall  by Hilary Mantel, the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom, and  The Lady in the Tower  by Alison Weir - and that included the Boleyns as characters, but this book provides another slant, another viewpoint of the familiar story. The other Boleyn girl is Mary, the younger of the two sisters. Her ambitious family marries her off at twelve to a promising young courtier. She becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine and, inevitably, ca

Time for the super-rich to do their part

Sunday, in The New York Times , the super-rich chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, had an op-ed piece entitled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich."   The point of his piece was that the super-rich in this country have gotten that way because of coddling by the government and favorable tax policies that have allowed them to keep more of their income than the ordinary people who work for a living. He believes this is unfair and that the super-rich should contribute to the country's coffers in proportion to the advantages they hold because of our government policies. The op-ed received a lot of notice and comment.  It was reported on in other news outlets around the country including our local Houston Chronicle and the comments there were about what one would expect from the Chronicle's regular commenters.   They were along the lines of, "If he wants to pay more taxes, why doesn't he just write a check? Why does he have to impose his

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build: A review

Birds are some of the most successful architects on earth. Buried deep within the avian DNA is a set of blueprints and the urge to execute them. The primary function of a bird's nest, of course, is to protect and nurture the bird's young, and the one measure of the success of avian architecture is how well the nest fulfills that function. The wonder is that among some 10,000 species of birds on earth, there are 10,000 different blueprints for achieving that purpose. In Peter Goodfellow's book,  Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build , he fits those 10,000 designs into twelve different categories and explores iconic examples of each category. He provides us with detailed blueprints and a materials list which show how and of what the nest is constructed. We see pictures of mere scrapes in the sand that are the camouflaged nests of many shorebirds and, at the other extreme of intricacy, woven, hanging nests or tightly constructed mud nests. You might thi

Silent Sunday: Pointer rock


What if the answer to your prayer is "No!"?

"I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, 'God: You're going to have to fix this.'"                                                           - Rick Perry, Governor of Texas  Our esteemed governor has announced that he's going to announce that he's going to run for the presidency, so I think it is fair for the country to take a look at how he would handle the nation's most serious problems.  Based on all the evidence that we have, he would handle them with prayer. In April of this year, Texas was suffering from a six-month-long extreme drought and thousands of wildfires that had been brought on by that drought.  Perry decided it was time to pray.  He issued an official proclamation that the three day period from Friday, April 22, to Sunday, April 24, would be "Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas." The governor then ostentatiously prayed, publicly and often, rather like the Pharisees of Jesus' time.

Crunch Time by Diana Mott Davidson: A review

Cozy mysteries are my guilty reading pleasure and I read a lot of them.  Most of them are, indeed, pleasurable on some level, but every once in a while, I run into a clunker.   Crunch Time was such a clunker. Here are just a few things that annoyed me about this book: 1. Davidson continually uses question marks to punctuate sentences that are clearly declarative. 2. Her heroine, Goldy Schultz, draws wild conclusions based on absolutely ZERO evidence. Of course, her conclusions magically turn out to be right! 3. Throughout the book, there are numerous references to Goldy's neighbor, Jack, who is "gone." Is he dead? Has he moved to Florida? We don't know. Perhaps it was all explained in some previous book in the series, but I DIDN'T READ THAT BOOK! Would it have killed the writer to offer a paragraph of exposition to explain why Jack was gone, who he was, and why his absence was so upsetting to Goldy? 4. At least a quarter of the book is filler describing

A poet of workers

The Library of Congress has chosen a new Poet Laureate of the United States.  His name is Philip Levine.  I must confess I don't remember having heard of him before today. The fact that I had not heard of him is just more proof of my cultural ignorance because he is an award-winning poet.  He's won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among other awards.  At 83 years old, he is the oldest poet laureate ever chosen and his main topic is not one that we normally think of as inspiring poetry.  He is a poet of the working class.  He constructs poems from the everyday work of ordinary people. The bits and pieces of his poetry that I found online today were very evocative and I think he merits a closer look.  For example, there were these lines from his 1999 poem "He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do." Fact is, silence is the perfect water: unlike rain it falls from no clouds to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes, to give heart to the th

The theory that explains everything

My husband, the curmudgeon, is a bit of a philosopher.  He has a theory which he says explains everything you need to know about the human race and its history.  His theory can be summed up in three little words:  People are stupid. The theory has two corollaries: I. Americans are VERY stupid. II. Texans are even stupider.   The proof of his theory, he says, is our politics and the people that we continually elect to represent us.  We keep voting against our own economic and cultural interests and then wonder why things don't turn out the way we wanted. I am the eternal optimist in the family and I keep trying to find evidence to poke holes in his theory, but, lately, such evidence has been very hard to come by.  In fact, everywhere I look, I see nothing but confirmation of his theory.  Just to give a few egregious examples of the stupidity that abounds: 1.  The stock market.  On Monday, it was down by over 600 points.  Today it was up by over 400 points.  That's more t

Black Monday

Well, I guess I won't be looking at my 401k for awhile.  Wouldn't want to depress myself even further by knowing exactly how poor I've suddenly become.  Not that it was unexpected, of course.  After the debacle of recent weeks, financial markets all over the world were already collapsing in panic.  We probably haven't seen the end of it yet. And still our spineless and clueless politicians refuse to do anything positive to actually turn the situation around.  They are in an endless cycle of name-calling and blaming each other.  The Republicans' sole aim now is to defeat Barack Obama next year and if the economy of the country has to be destroyed to do that, well then, that is acceptable collateral damage.  The Democrats, on the other hand, as led by Obama, still seem deluded that bi-partisanship and working together to solve problems is actually possible.  When your opponent has no other goal than your total destruction, it isn't. Meanwhile, back here in Te

Silent Sunday: Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: A review

The House of the Spirits  was Isabel Allende's first novel and it placed her squarely in the school of magical realism that has been so important in contemporary Latin American literature. It is an epic tale of a family in Chile in the 20th century, living through times of change and upheaval, the rise in popularity of socialism, the election of Salvador Allende as president, and ultimately the coup which brought many years of tyranny and horror to the country. The story has its beginnings with the del Valle family, the origin of Rosa the Beautiful and her youngest sister, Clara the Clairvoyant. Rosa becomes engaged to Esteban Trueba who determines to make his fortune in the mines. He succeeds in that goal but before he can marry her, Rosa dies by accidental poisoning. The accident is that the poison was meant for her father. After Rosa's death, Esteban continues to prosper but he becomes a violent and wicked man, a serial rapist of the female tenants on the estate which h

How did we get from there to here?

Can you remember the year 2000?  The country was at peace.  The economy was booming.  As for the federal budget - it was in the black!  Yes, there was a substantial surplus, and the country could look forward to continuing prosperity and using that surplus to address problems and the needs of the population.  All of that seems long ago and far away now. Do you ever stop to think about how we got from there (big surpluses) to here (massive deficits)?  What accounts for the deficit which everyone in Washington decried during the recent set-to over the debt ceiling but which no one did anything serious (i.e., bringing in more revenue to the government coffers) to correct?  Well, here is the answer to both those questions. As you can readily see on this chart based on estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the biggest portion of the debt now and in the future is a result of the Bush tax cuts.  Another substantial layer is added by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Without tho

My Nicky

Nicholas 2001 - 2011 Ten years was much too brief a time. Best of cats. My baby. R.I.P.

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst: A review

"In Bulgaria, in 1934, on a muddy street in the river town of Vidin, Khristo Stoianev saw his brother kicked to death by fascist militia." So begins Alan Furst's 1988 novel,  Night Soldiers . It was the defining moment of Khristo's life and all the events of the next 450+ pages and 11 years proceed from that moment. The 19-year-old Khristo is recruited by a Russian for the U.S.S.R.'s intelligence service N.K.V.D. He becomes a trained intelligence operative and in the process bonds with a few of his fellow trainees. This bonding will become a very important factor in Khristo's story later on. He is sent to Spain, where he is ordered to kill his anti-Franco comrades because they are anarchists, not Communists. He runs away from his Soviet handlers, to France, where he is caught up in the German invasion. He experiences a brief interlude of love with a woman named Aleksandra, but then she is made to disappear by the long arm of the N.K.V.D. Khristo moves on a

Rancid tea

The tea party movement in this country is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers, ., money men who are the real power in the country, who bend government to their will by means of money, gifts, intimidation, and incessant lobbying.  Until the American people realize that and rise up in disgust at what their country has become, there seems little hope for political reform. But while the tea partiers are owned and financed by the Koch Brothers and their allies, the origins of their political philosophy, such as it is, have long been perfectly clear to me and, I suspect, to many people who grew up in the South.  An article in today delineates those origins in graphic form.  It traces the roots of the tea partiers' radical political beliefs to "white Southern extremism."  It's an extremism that has its beginnings in racism and intolerance for anyone who isn't "one of us."  I grew up with it and I can smell it like mendacity on a

Where is the audacity? Where is the hope?

So the debt ceiling "compromise" turned out about like many of us on the left had expected - essentially with all the "balancing" being done with cuts to the budget that affect the poor and middle-class and no new revenues coming into the nation's coffers from the super-rich.  In other words, exactly the sort of thing which knowledgeable economists have been warning against for months now. And now we'll see how it all plays out. Many say that the president got rolled - again - in his "negotiations" with the Republicans, but I'm beginning to wonder if that is really true.  I wonder if he did not, in fact, get exactly what  he wanted.  Not to put too fine a point on it, I wonder if he is not really a closet Republican.  He seems to be moving farther and farther to the right, and I don't think it's just a political maneuver.  I think it is where his heart truly lies.  I think he is channeling Dwight Eisenhower.  Without the courage.