Showing posts from September, 2011

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell: A review

Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander is a real sad-sack. His interpersonal relationships are a mess, totally unsatisfying. He's middle-aged and overweight and his heart often races with the slightest bit of exercise, leading him to fear that he's having a heart attack. Perhaps worst of all, he's come to doubt that he is any good at his job. He seems indecisive and unable to find and follow up clues to their logical conclusion. He suffers from serious bouts of depression. His life seems to be going downhill fast. Then, it gets worse. The time is April 1992 and in peaceful, democratic Sweden, a female estate agent disappears. Her husband reports the disappearance to the police and Inspector Wallander is on the case. He feels, instinctively, that the woman will never be found alive, but he doggedly pursues the clues that he has. However, nothing seems to make any sense, and, finally, when her body is found and suddenly a house nearby explodes, the case gets murkier and murkier


I came across an interesting entry on Daily Kos this morning, by way of their contributor who goes by the moniker "The Great State of Maine."  The piece takes several bits of conventional wisdom that are routinely reported by mainstream media sources, or are parroted by the all-knowing pundits from the inside-the-beltway exclusive club, and it busts them for the myths that they are, with links given as references.  I can't resist reproducing the busted myths and the references for the truth about them here:    > Ben Bernanke is the most inflationary Fed chairman in recent memory.        (Except  he's not. ) > Cutting taxes is a magical, mystical sure-fire job creator! (Except  it's not. ) > Allowing voters to register on election day results in widespread fraud. (Except  it doesn't. ) > As the Koch brothers' net worth rises, so does employment at their companies. (Except  it doesn't. ) > American companies are overregulated. (Exc

Wordless Wednesday: "I'm watching you!"


Put a little color in your life

It's fall, the Time of the Leaf Peepers.  It's the time when travelers spread out across the country to stare at deciduous trees and get drunk on the kaleidoscope of their brilliant changing colors. Up East, many of the prime leaf peeping areas, in places like Vermont and New Hampshire, were hard hit by Hurricane Irene and will have their normal big season of tourism disrupted by the damage that the storm did. In Texas, which is not a prime leaf peeping area and not really known for much fall color, a lot of the color in the forests this fall is like this: And this: The forests, including this small area behind my backyard, are full of dead trees. Thousands of dead trees.  Here, brown has become the color of autumn. But, in  other parts of the country , the changing of the colors has already begun and will continue and intensify in coming weeks.  In case you can't get away to enjoy those colors, here's a 60 second video just to give you a taste.  Enjoy!

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks: A review

Geraldine Brooks has a knack for taking a tiny thread of true historical fact and weaving it into a fine and intricate pattern that gives a clear picture, though fictional, of the period about which she is writing. She's done it again with  Caleb's Crossing . In this case, the slender thread is the graduation from Harvard in 1665 of its first Native American student, a member of the Wampanoag tribe from Martha's Vineyard. Brooks has imagined a biography  for that young man that vividly explores what life was like for both the Puritans and the Native American tribes on the islands off Massachusetts in that period. The story is told through the voice of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a minister, a good man who does his best to live his hard faith and to bring a healing message of salvation to the tribes. When we meet Bethia, she is a young girl, living with her father and mother and her older brother. Theirs is a hard life and Death constantly sits on their shoulders. One aft

Who are these people?

We've now had three debates of the Republicans candidates for president and it's the audiences at those debates that have made the most news. In the first debate, the audience cheered wildly when one of the questioners prefaced a question by pointing out that Rick Perry, as governor of Texas, had overseen some 234 executions of prisoners.  The audience really, really liked that.  They really like capital punishment. In the second debate, a question contained the scenario of a young, healthy man who chooses not to get health insurance and then suffers a catastrophic illness that puts him into a coma for six months.  The question was about whether the man should be treated or allowed to die. Some in the audience shouted that he should die.  It's all about personal responsibility, you see.  You refused to buy health insurance, so you must suffer the consequences.  And if you couldn't afford to buy health insurance?  Well, then, you are just out of luck.  If you had ins

Three thoughts for Thursday

(1.)  I wonder if President Obama will have the intestinal fortitude to continue to press hard for the "Buffett tax" in the face of intransigent Republican opposition.  Every poll that I have seen shows that the public is strongly in favor of his plan to require the super-rich to pay their fair share of taxes.  Obama has a populist wave of support at his back if he has the will and skill to use it.  Meantime, the Republicans complain that there is a large percentage of Americans who pay no income tax.  I assume they are not referring to their friends the corporations and rich people who manage to leverage tax breaks into a zero tax bill.  No, they are talking about the poor who Michele Bachmann screeches must pay something "even if it is only a dollar."  What apparently has not occurred to these people is that the poor who pay no income tax do so BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH INCO M E TO REQUIRE A TAX!   On   the other hand, they pay a disproportionate amount

Two deaths

" Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends .” ― J.R.R. Tolkien , The Fellowship of the Ring Two men are scheduled to be killed by their respective states tonight.  In Georgia, Troy Davis is scheduled to die for the death of a police officer 22 years ago.  In Texas, Lawrence Brewer is scheduled to die for the horrific killing of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas in 1998. Many people, including myself, have taken up the cause of Troy Davis and have petitioned Georgia to stop his execution.  Davis has steadfastly maintained his innocence and investigations over the past 22 years have cast considerable doubt on his conviction.  At least seven out of nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony and one of the remaining witnesses may very well be the actual murderer, according to some evidence. St

Missing by Karin Alvtegen: A review

One of the nice things about joining the local Mystery Book Club has been that it has introduced me to some authors who were unknown to me and whose work I probably would never have picked up except for that impetus. Karin Alvtegen is another one of those. A Swedish writer of mysteries/thrillers, she does not seem to have found as wide an audience in this country as Stieg Larsson (Who has?) or Henning Mankell, but she's good and perhaps her time will come. Alvtegen's protagonist, Sybilla, called to mind Larsson's Lisbeth Salander in some ways and so I looked at the publication dates. Alvtegen's book was originally published in 2000 in Sweden, while the first of Larsson's trilogy was published in 2005. He must have been familiar with Alvtegen' book and one wonders if he was at all influenced by it. Sybilla and Lisbeth do share some parallels. Both are anti-social loners and both had horrific childhoods that have marked them for life. Both reject society but u

Did you ever just want to blow something up?

Anyone who has read very much of this blog will be aware that I am an admirer of Paul Krugman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist, Princeton University professor, and New York Times op-ed writer.  And inveterate blogger.  I particularly love his blog where his humor has free rein, unlike in his Times column . Krugman has spent years now, at least back to the early 2000s when I started reading him, pointing out the errors of political and economic policy.  For his trouble, he's often excoriated and almost never listened to by those he calls the Very Serious People, the people who hold the reins of power.  The fact that he has been right so often over the years seems to make the VSPs even more frenetic in their attempts to discredit him. One has to wonder what effect this has on him personally, what kind of a toll it takes, and whether it doesn't sometimes just leave him frustrated to the point of incoherence or just wanting to blow something up. Well, he does have that N

Thank God for Gail Collins

I'm so glad Gail Collins is back from her book break and writing her regular columns for The New York Times once again.  I have missed her clear-eyed and often humorous view of the world over the last couple of months.  Heaven knows I could have used that view during that period. Often when I am at my wit's end over the latest tea party outrage or the latest stupid thing said by John Boehner/Sarah Palin/Michele Bachmann/Rick Perry, I'll click on Gail's name in the online Times  and find that she has written a column about it, but instead of letting herself be frustrated to the point of apoplexy about it, she has found the essential humor. She explores the hypocrisy and the egotism that are often a large part of the public persona of individuals, without losing sight of their humanity.  She is able to make fun of the idiots in public life without ever seeming mean-spirited.  (Maureen Dowd should take lessons!) And now that Gail is back from her break and all is aga

Pirate King by Laurie R. King: A review

Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered it a few years ago. The thing that I have enjoyed most about it is the relationship between young Mary and the great Holmes. I found the growth of the relationship from beekeeper's apprentice to partner and wife to be thoroughly believable and thoroughly entertaining. The problem that I have with the latest installment in the series,  Pirate King , is that there simply isn't much of that relationship here. Early on, Mary is sent away from Sussex and Sherlock on a supposed mission for Inspector Lestrade. She is to be an undercover agent embedded in a company of silent motion picture actors. Lestrade allegedly suspects that something nefarious is going on with the band of thespians. Illegal drugs? Gun running? It's never made quite clear and apparently Lestrade doesn't really know. Nevertheless, Mary is supposed to sort the whole thing out. Mary very soon suspec

Climate reality bites

Texas has set another unhappy record.  It has become the hottest state on record .  During June, July, and August of this year, the state had an average temperature of 86.8 degrees.  Temperature-related energy demands in the state were more than 22 percent above normal for this period.  That is the largest increase since record-keeping of energy demands began more than a century ago. Combine the fact of our record-breaking heat with the fact of our record-breaking drought and you've got a real disaster.  Add the fact that much of the state is on fire and you've got a catastrophe.  Wildfires have so far consumed an area that is the size of Connecticut.  The Texas Forest Service which has primary responsibility for fighting the fires (and which has had its budget cut drastically by our prescient state legislature and governor) issued a statement last week which said in part:  "No one on the face of this earth has ever fought fires in these extreme conditions." Cl

Wordless Wednesday: A hint of autumn


Good riddance to "Entourage"

The HBO show "Entourage" had been on television since 2004.  This was its last season.  Its last episode showed on Sunday night . I never watched the show, except for a stray episode here and there, until this year, but certain members of my family had watched it faithfully, and since this was my last chance to find out, I decided to watch and see what appealed to them and what caused this show to continue being renewed for seven more years past its initial season.  I watched every week of this season's shows and I still don't understand. Okay, it's a male bonding fantasy.  A group of not very smart, not particularly good looking, lazy young men get very, very rich while exerting practically no effort.  They live in a huge and extremely tacky mansion and drive hot cars and take beautiful young women to bed, again, while never breaking a sweat.  Literally.  I can see how that would fulfill the wildest fantasies of some men.  Maybe all men.  Just as "Sex an

The games dwindle down to a merciful few

It's official.  The Houston Astros have tied the worst loss record of their history.  They have now lost 97 games this year with only 16 more to play.  They have the worst record in all of Major League Baseball.  Their next three games will be against the team with the best record in Major League Baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies.  By the time the Phillies leave town at the middle of the week, the Astros loss record could well stand at 100. Their sorry won/loss record does not tell the whole story though.  Many, if not most, of their games have been interesting.  That is especially true of the last couple of months in which they have featured a team of mostly rookies, and very young rookies at that.  These guys have been fun to watch with their enthusiasm and their energy.  Moreover, they are a talented group and they do know how to play the game.  They show great promise for the future and give their loyal fans, like me, hope that we won't have to wait until we are old a

Nothing is the same

I turned on the radio this morning and heard a speaker at the 9/11 commemoration intoning "...They killed our citizens, but they could not kill our citizenship."  No, I thought, we did that to ourselves. We killed our citizenship by accepting without question the lies we were told about what had happened.  Saddam Hussein was responsible.  There were weapons of mass destruction just waiting to be deployed against us.  And so we allowed our young men and women to be sent to invade a country which had done nothing to harm us and there we killed thousands of innocents among its citizens.  Many more than the terrorists killed on 9/11. We killed our citizenship by allowing the suspension of civil liberties and by denying that basic human rights applied to our enemies.  And so we closed our eyes and ears while torture was committed in our name.  We looked the other way while people were thrown into secret prisons and denied legal representation or visits from human rights groups

Parrying the truth

Did you watch the Miss Republican Beauty Contest Wednesday night?  No?  Neither did I. Consensual self-torture is not my thing. Since the event though, I have read about it and have seen some of the comedians' takes on the performance of the various contestants.  The pundits and the Republicans in attendance at the Reagan Library were all slavering over the appearance of Rick Perry in his first debate.  He did not disappoint them, which is to say that he said a lot of crazy things that don't stand up to scrutiny but are the kinds of things that tea partiers love to hear. I was bemused and appalled by the observation that the strongest applause line of the night was when one of the questioners - I forget which one - started to ask Perry about all of the executions he has overseen as governor.  More than 200 men have died under his watch.  When that number was read out in the introduction to the question, the Republican crowd broke into wild applause!  It's likely that at

Tracks by Louise Erdrich: A review

Reading this book reminded me of trying to work a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the box top picture. You begin to wonder if these pieces REALLY fit together or have you forced them. Will there be a recognizable picture when you finish or will it just be a splatter of dots that mean nothing? One doesn't expect Louise Erdrich to tell a linear story and she certainly doesn't in  Tracks . It is a thoroughly non-linear, stream-of-consciousness kind of tale, an Ojibwe tale. Her storytelling has been compared to Faulkner's and one can clearly see why in this book. Erdrich employs two narrators, Nanapush and Pauline. Nanapush is an old man who is telling stories to his granddaughter, Lulu. He is telling her about her origins and how she came to be who she is. Pauline's story is her own - a story of how she came to be a bride of Christ - but tangentially, her story also touches Lulu through Lulu's mother, Fleur. Fleur was a woman of power. Her community ascribed

Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry: A review

If one created a word cloud for the Anne Perry's latest book, Acceptable Loss , the biggest cloud that would float to the front and center would be "humiliation." Close beside that cloud would be "fear" and "pain." All three of these emotions are perceived through the various characters' eyes, so "eyes" would have a major place in the cloud-orama as well. I've always liked Anne Perry's writing for its social consciousness and its evocation of the period in which it is set, in the case of the William Monk series, the Victorian period in England. Perry is really excellent at describing the horrors of that period, in particular the atrocities committed against women and children while a privileged upper class simply chose to remain oblivious. Indeed, in some instances, the atrocities committed were for the pleasure and amusement of that privileged upper class, as is the case in this book and the previous entry,  Execution Dock . Bu

Texas is burning

As the Great Texas Drought continues unabated, many Texans are facing another horror arising from the drought.   Wildfires are raging right across the state and more than 1,000 homes have been lost.  More importantly, at least two young lives, a mother and her baby, have been lost. The worst of the fires have been in the Hill Country around Austin, but here where I live in Southeast Texas, we are being touched by the flames as well .  Montgomery County (where I live) and adjoining Grimes and Waller Counties have been hit by big fires in the last couple of days.  The fires were made worse by the strong winds that we received as a result of Tropical Storm Lee.  All we got was the wind - no rain. Although climate scientists continually warn that we should not ascribe any single weather event to the phenomenon of global warming, it is very difficult not to conclude that our more than year-long drought is not at least exacerbated, if not entirely caused, by the heating up of the plane

Jobs trump deficit

On this Labor Day, Americans are feeling very insecure about jobs.  Furthermore, they don't understand why politicians are not as concerned about the unemployment rate as they are.  In poll after poll, they have expressed their feelings loudly and clearly.  They want their leaders to stop obsessing about the deficit and focus their energies on creating more jobs. ( Click on the graph to see a larger image .) This is fairly typical of those polls.  Voters from all across the political spectrum and in every region of the country believe by a margin of more than two-to-one that politicians should be working to create more jobs, rather than talking about the deficit 24-7. And it is not only average voters who think this way.  Knowledgeable economists, some of them with a Nobel Prize on their mantel , have warned for years that we are spending too much time dithering on the deficit.   The problem is jobs, lack thereof .  If we improve the economy and put people back to work, the de

Savage Run (Joe Pickett #2) by C.J. Box: A review

Joe Pickett may be one of the last honorable men in Wyoming. Everyone else in Savage Run , the second in the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box,  seems to ruthlessly pursue his/her own goals, and usually those goals involve the destruction of anyone who opposes him/her. Who knew the wild, wild West was still quite so wild? The book begins with a cow being blown up and, along with the cow, a famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) eco-terrorist and his new wife. They were out that day busily spiking trees when the cow exploded nearby. It turns out that the eco-terrorist was an old friend/lover of Joe Pickett's wife, Marybeth, from high school days and soon Marybeth starts getting mysterious phone calls from someone who says he is that long-ago lover. But isn't he dead? Well, his body was never actually found - just bits and pieces. Meantime, while all this is happening, Joe is confronting a local rich hobby rancher about the giant trophy elk head hanging on his

Rain, rain, please come my way!

Tropical Storm Lee moved into our area tonight, offering the best chance we have had in months for some substantial rainfall.  I'm just to the left of that large mass of green and yellow and so far I haven't benefited from all those rain clouds, but hope springs eternal.  It's a slow-moving system so perhaps before the night is out, Lee will actually grace us with some of its moisture. I'm trying not to get my hopes up. I've been disappointed too many times before in this interminable drought. UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 4:    Not a drop.  Not a friggin' drop!  The drought continues...

A straw too many

This might just be the straw that broke the camel's back for me. What could be a more important job for a government than protecting the air that we breathe, making sure that it is safe to breathe and will not make us sick?  Apparently, for the Obama administration, it is more important to curry favor with the industries that pollute the air and cause untold misery to those who breathe it.  And so, Obama has decided to overrule his E.P.A. which had followed the advice of its scientific staff in setting tougher standards for air quality. Industries, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had lobbied the White House non-stop to withdraw these standards.  Republicans had complained that the standards would be "job-killers."  Of course, they would like to see the E.P.A. shut down altogether, and if they ever have the power to do so, it will be.  Public health be damned! One would hope that one's president would have the strength to stand up to such pressure.  One wou

September Song

A song for the season and for the September of our years... September Song by Maxwell Anderson/Kurt Weill Well, it's a long, long time From May to December. But the days grow short, When you reach September. And the autumn weather Turns the leaves to flame And I haven't got time For the waiting game. And the days dwindle down To a precious few September, November And these few precious days I'll spend with you. These precious days I'll spend with you. © 1938