Showing posts from October, 2011

Nostromo, a Tale of the Seaboard by Joseph Conrad: A review

Earlier this year, I read and enjoyed  The Secret History of Costaguana  by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. That book was based on the germ of an idea from Conrad's  Nostromo . It was set in the fictional country invented by Conrad for his book. Reading that book made me curious about  Nostromo  and I added it to my reading list. I hardly knew what I was letting myself in for.  This was a very difficult read for me and it took me a seemingly interminable amount of time to finish it, but I persevered and did manage to read all the way to the end. Part of the difficulty lay in the fact that I read it on my Kindle. It might have been easier with a physical book where I could turn back and reread sections or refer to previous sections with greater ease. As it was, the story was very difficult to get into and I was fully one-third of the way through the book before I began to get a real sense of the story.  One problem that I had with the book was that Nostromo, the main character around whom

Snow-covered Rocky Mountain National Park

On Tuesday night, Rocky Mountain National Park got 18 inches of snow.  Most of the snow was still there when we visited today. Hiking in the park today was like walking through a real winter wonderland.  A quiet winter wonderland.  The silence was amazing.  I'm so glad that we timed our visit so that we could experience this snow.

Wordless Wednesday: Rocky Mountain National Park



"Mountains, Gandalf, I want to see mountains again!" - Bilbo Baggins to the wizard Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring  Bilbo and me - we both love mountains.  By the time you see this, I should be well on my way to Colorado where, I am reliably informed, they do still have mountains.  For the next ten days or so, I'll be enjoying those mountains.  During that time blogging will be sporadic if it occurs at all.  But don't forget me!  I'll be back!

Maru, YouTube superstar!

Here's your Friday kitty break! I love Maru, too.

Just one more!

Can you stand one more reference to Occupy Wall Street?  Here's proof that the movement really has spread to the far corners of the earth! Yes, even in the frozen tundra of the North, a man and his dogs have caught the "occupy" fever.  There's no stopping it now!

Occupy the world! Joyfully!

The movement that started out as "Occupy Wall Street" has now spread right around the world as people everywhere who are angry at what financial institutions are doing to society have begun to believe that perhaps they can fight back.  In most (although not all) places, the Occupiers have been peaceful even when provoked.  To see thousands of ordinary people gathered together in a peaceful protest against the depredations of the super-rich super-powerful Masters of the Universe on Wall Street and other such financial centers is a powerful thing. But the most powerfully moving and utterly joyful demonstration that I have seen took place in Madrid last week, where tens of thousands of demonstrators sang Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from his Ninth Symphony.  I've often thought of Beethoven's Ninth as the most perfect music ever written.  Surely, the "Ode to Joy" is the most perfect expression of joy in music.  The demonstrators expressed their joy w

Public support of the JOBS bill

At times it is really hard not to despair at the utter ignorance of a very large section of the American public.  For example, in regard to President Obama's proposed JOBS bill. A CNN poll recently found that there was lukewarm support for the bill among the public ; 43 percent saying they were in favor while 35 percent were opposed, with 22 percent not knowing enough to offer an opinion.  But then, when the pollsters asked the respondents about the individual sections of the bill, the picture changed completely. As these graphs from DailyKos clearly reveal, the poll showed that  support is overwhelming for the various components that make up the bill!  The least popular component, the payroll tax holiday, still had 59 percent support! Why doesn't this support show up when people are asked the generic question about whether they support the president's JOBS bill?  Could it have anything to do with the unrelenting attacks against the bill by the right-wing and negati

Where's that liberal bias?

It's a well-known fact, constantly reiterated by right-wingers, that the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, network television) in this country are strongly pro-liberal. Except that, like so many other well-known facts parroted by the right-wingers, this, too, is a lie.  Now, someone has actually quantified exactly how false it is. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released a study delineating the media's coverage of the Republican candidates for president versus coverage of President Obama over the last five months.  Can you guess which one received the most negative coverage? It turns out that Obama has received the most consistently negative press of any of the presidential candidates, with negative assessments outweighing positive ones by almost four to one.  Again, this is not Rush Limbaugh we are talking about here.  This is the New York Times , Washington Post , CBS News, etc. Pew found that only 9 percent of the p

Ghost at Work by Carolyn Hart: A review

This bit of Halloween fluff was October's reading selection for my Mystery Book Club. It was a quick and easy read - nothing to pause and ruminate over here. Bailey Ruth Raeburn is long-dead and happily ensconced in Heaven with her beloved Bobby Mac. She and Bobby Mac had their tickets punched for the Pearly Gates when they went down with their boat in a storm on the Gulf. Now Bailey Ruth is hoping to make herself useful as an employee of Heaven's Department of Good Intentions. (But, wait a minute, doesn't that road lead...oh, never mind!) Bailey Ruth - it's always Bailey Ruth, never just Bailey or Ruth - meets with the Ticketmaster Wiggins and he gives her an assignment. She is to go as an "emissary" (for which, read "ghost") to the town of Adelaide, Oklahoma, which just happens to be her earthly home town. There she is to help a local clergyman's wife, who turns out to be BR's (I just can't keep writing Bailey Ruth) relation. The cl

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell: A review

Reading Sidetracked by Henning Mankell, I found myself really wishing that Inspector Kurt Wallander would get some professional help. The man is so depressed that it makes me depressed just to read about him. Not that he doesn't have plenty of reason to be depressed. His personal life is a mess. He's still grieving for and missing his friend and mentor who died years before. He feels inadequate in his work and there are other stresses in his job as his department faces a budget crunch and possible staff reductions. There is a woman in his life and he wants to marry her, but she is the widow of a Latvian policeman who was killed in the line of duty and she's not so sure she wants to commit to a life with a  Swedish  policeman. (I can't say that I blame her.) His father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and he seems to be deteriorating rapidly. The one bright spot in his life is his daughter with whom he finally seems able to build a positive relatio

For your viewing pleasure: Simon's cat

I love Simon's cat!

The most happy countries

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released its report that measures the happiness of its member countries .  The report is titled "How's Life?" and it used surveys to measure eleven specific aspects of life that are believed to contribute to individuals' feelings of overall well-being. Among the factors measured in the surveys were such things as income, jobs, housing, health, clean environment, safe neighborhoods, and work-life balance.  While income proved to be an important factor, less obvious aspects of life, including health, safe neighborhoods, and clean environments proved extremely important, also. Here, then, is a countdown of what the OECD found to be the ten happiest countries in the world. 10. Austria 9.   United Kingdom 8.   China 7.   Sweden 6.   Norway 5.   Netherlands 4.   Indonesia 3.   Japan 2.   Iceland 1.   Denmark Interestingly, seven of the ten are European countries and four of those seven are Nordic c

Wordless Wednesday: Nature break


The patriotic eight

So did a survey of the Forbes 400 , the richest people in the country, billionaires all.  They asked them if they would willingly pay more taxes to help the country get out of its economic slump and on the way to prosperity.  Most of the 400 declined to respond to the survey.  Three unhesitatingly said no, they would not pay more taxes. Among these three was Charles Koch of the infamous Koch Brothers - no surprise there. One respondent gave an ambivalent "maybe" reply. And eight of the 400 stated that they would be willing to pay more taxes to help the country.  These eight were Todd Wagner, Leon Cooperman, Mark Cuban, James Simons, George Soros, Herbert Simon, John Arnold, and, of course, Warren Buffett.  We'll call them the "Patriotic Eight" for paying taxes is, in fact, a patriotic duty, no less than picking up a weapon and going to war when your country needs defending. As that champion of the middle class, Elizabeth Warren, has pointed out, no

These voters have some strange values

Their big weekend summit in Washington is over and the "values voters" have spoken.  The next president of the United States will be ... Ron Paul! Which, frankly, brings to mind a quote I read recently from the late and sadly missed Molly Ivins.  About ten years ago Molly said, “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”  If Molly were still here to advise us, I feel absolutely certain that she would not be endorsing either Ron Paul or that other Texan who is in the race. Nevertheless, the voters with values, as they bill themselves, indicating that other people are without values, really, really liked Mr. Paul and gave him 37% of their votes .  The other Texan got 8%.  Obviously, these voters were not at all convinced about his "values." The straw poll vote was only one of the headlines coming out of this summit and probably not the most interesting one at that.  It was revealed, for example,

Occupy Wall Street: "Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear... " (With update)

As one who has fumed impotently for years about the buying and selling of my country's government and institutions by rich, mostly rabidly right-wing corporations and the super-rich, I had frequently wondered whether Americans would ever awake from their apathy and take to the streets to demand change.  It seems that finally we may be stretching, yawning, maybe putting one foot on the floor, and preparing to ever-so-tentatively stand up for ourselves and face up to the powers that be.  That, at least, is the message that I take from the movement that has become known as Occupy Wall Street and has now spread around the country, even into Houston !   This, I think, is the most hopeful event that I have witnessed in many years. And what has been the media's response to thousands of people gathering in New York and elsewhere to protest the buying of our democracy?  Its first response was to ignore it. Literally, for days into the demonstrations, you could not find any informati

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman: A review

In this book, neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has a knack for translating complicated scientific concepts into everyday language, argues that most of the activity of the brain occurs on an unconscious level. This unconscious is hard-wired by our genetics, by our experience in the womb, our early nurturing, the various chemicals that we are exposed to in our environment, and so many other factors over which we have absolutely no control that it calls into serious question the popular idea that humans possess free will. If our brains are already bent by circumstances in one direction and our brains control our minds, our thoughts, our physical actions, both deliberate and autonomic, what is the control that our conscious can exert over our actions? Are our "choices" not already predetermined by all the factors that have gone into our hard-wiring? And, this being the case (and it's very hard to argue that it isn't), how can anyone ever be truly "blamed" for

How will Palin separate them from their money now?

Poor Sarah Palin supporters.  For months now she and her political action committee have been teasing these benighted people with the possibility that their darling Sarah would run for president.  They were constantly besieged by mailings from the PAC urging them to send her more money, the implication being that if they could only manage to contribute enough money, Sarah would end their suffering and become a candidate.  And, of course, if she ran, she would be sure to win!  After all, she is "The Undefeated."    (Except, of course, when she was.  Defeated, that is.) But now, their hopeful bubble has been burst.  Sarah is not running. Most of us had figured this out a long time ago.  Even most Republicans had figured it out.  Her favorability ratings among them are in the toilet.  The great majority did not want her to run and wouldn't have supported her if she had.  Ah, but the faithful few clung to their hope and continued to send her their money. With Sarah, i

Inventors of the modern world

One of the headlines that I read online today in regard to the sad passing of Steve Jobs was that he "invented our modern world."   That might seem like typical journalistic hyperbole and yet, if you think about it, there's more than a grain of truth there.  The world is a very different place because Steve Jobs lived among us.  He packed a lot of innovation into his short 56 years. When I came into the world, the reigning "world genius" was still Albert Einstein.  He was nearing the end of his stay on this planet, but he was still very much with us.  In his lifetime, his theories and insights had transformed our world.  Things could never go back to the way they were before Einstein.  He changed the world forever and he was gifted with a long life to see the results wrought by some of his accomplishments. When I think about other "world geniuses" that have been present on Earth during my lifetime, two names spring readily to mind:  Jim Henson and

Wordless Wednesday: Autumn butterfly


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: A review

Ann Patchett had me at the first scene in her novel  State of Wonder . The heroine of her story, Dr. Marina Singh, is a 42-year-old research scientist for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, who works, with her research partner Dr. Anders Eckman, in the rather unexciting field of cholesterol. But Eckman has been sent by the company to Brazil and as the story opens, Marina's boss and lover, Mr. Fox, appears in the doorway of her lab with an airmail letter informing the company that Dr. Eckman has died of a fever. Marina feels as though the world is collapsing, folding in on her. Eckman has left a wife and three sons and Mr. Fox and Marina go to the home to break the tragic news. Mrs. Eckman is unable to accept that her husband is dead. She believes she would feel it if he were gone. She wants Marina to go to Brazil and find out what has happened. And this, as it happens, is exactly what Mr. Fox wants as well. Eckman had been sent to Brazil to locate Dr. Annick Swenson, a rese

My magic bar of soap

No doubt you have heard of a condition called restless leg syndrome .  You've probably seen commercials on television for products that are supposed to cure it.  You might even think it's one of those made-up imaginary diseases designed to make money for someone who has come up with a "cure."  Well, I'm here to testify that it is not imaginary.  I've suffered from it for years and it has cost me countless hours of restful sleep. At times it is simply an annoyance, but at other times it is a serious problem, causing insomnia and making it difficult for me to function after a sleepless night of tossing and turning.  I've tried any number of remedies over the years - exercises, massages, pain pills, analgesic ointments, various mineral supplements - and some of them even work, at least temporarily, but I've never found anything that really worked to permanently relieve the problem.  Enter the world of folk remedies and white magic. From time to time,

Banned Books Week

Today is the last day of Banned Books Week , an event sponsored each year by the American Library Association to draw attention to the issue of intellectual freedom and especially to the freedom of one to choose what one will read.  I can't let the week pass without making note of it here. Each year the ALA publishes a list of the books that have had the most challenges during the past year.  A "challenge" just means that someone tried to have the book removed from library shelves or made unobtainable by certain groups of people.  The ten most challenged books of 2010 and the reasons for their challenges are an interesting mixture.  This is not the first year that some of the books have appeared on this list. 1.    And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell:  This is a perennial favorite of those who want to ban books - the story of a same-sex penguin couple and their son.  It was challenged because of homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuita