Showing posts from March, 2012

How To Be a Better Birder by Derek Lovitch: A review

Birders, even non-competitive backyard birders like myself, are always looking for something that will give them that extra edge as they pursue their winged quarry for the purposes of identification and listing. Because, let me tell you, birding is hard. Birds almost never cooperate. They flit around, constantly in motion, as you try to follow them with your binoculars, and just when you get focused in,  zip ! They're gone. Frustrating little critters. Warblers are the worst.  But help is on the way. Derek Lovitch has written a book which is useful for birders at any level of proficiency from the beginner to the obsessive lister.  It is a short book, only 179 pages in the edition which I read, and very accessible. He explores best practices and gives tips on advanced field identification, birding at night, birding and habitat, geography, and weather. He writes about how to anticipate vagrants, those birds that show up in wildly out-of-range places where they really shouldn't be

Splattered Blood by Michael A. Draper: A review

Would-be writers are always told to write about what they know. Perhaps that is why Michael Draper chose as the hero of his first mystery novel a mild-mannered insurance agent. Draper works in the insurance field and obviously knows it well and, in the course of his work, we are told that he has developed relationships and contacts with law enforcement personnel. He draws on all of that experience in plotting his tale of amateur detectives trying to solve a murder case.  The murder case itself starts out as a putative suicide. Johnny Kelly, the chief of internal security for a professional basketball team, the Highlanders, is found dead in his office. There is a suicide note and at first everything seems straightforward, but when the grieving widow gets a look at a copy of that note, she points out several anomalous and suspicious facts which convince her that her husband wrote the note under duress and wrote it in such a way as to alert her to that fact.  The widow, Roseanne, has

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian: A review

The blurb from  The New York Times  which graces the front cover of this book says, "The best historical novels ever written." Well, I haven't read  all  the historical novels ever written, so, far be it from me to judge, but so far, I've read two of the books in the series and, yes, I rate them very highly. This one even more than the first,  Master and Commander .  The first book established the relationship between Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's doctor (Not "surgeon" as I once called him. Terrible  faux pas .) Stephen Maturin. Aubrey is the enthusiastic somewhat overgrown child, not really as mature as his rank might suggest. Maturin is the more complicated character, a man of many parts who plays many roles.  Post Captain  finds the two ashore at the beginning of the book, ensconced in a cottage on the Downs and keeping company with some young ladies of the area - one Sophia Williams and the widow Diana Vil

Wordless Wednesday: Bluebonnet time


Noise-loving hummingbirds reduce the number of trees in the forest

Scientific research often turns up unexpected findings. Consider a recent study about how noise pollution impacts forests in the Southwest. Previous studies had shown that the Black-chinned Hummingbird seemed to have a high tolerance for areas with extreme noise pollution, while another bird, the Scrub Jay, was sensitive to noise and avoided noisy areas. Now, Scrub Jays are known to prey on the eggs and young of the hummingbirds; therefore, the conclusion is that the hummingbirds choose to frequent areas which the jays avoid. In other words, the hummers are using noise pollution as a defense against the jays.  The latest study now shows how this dynamic affects forests. Hummingbirds feed on the nectar of flowers and, in so doing, they pollinate the flowers and help to increase their numbers. Scrub Jays feed on pinyon pine cones and, in so doing, they spread seeds of the pines and increase the number of trees. But in areas of excessive noise, the number of flowers are increasing

The slooooow cooker

We had a family luncheon on Sunday to celebrate my husband's birthday. I'm very far from what anyone would honestly call a great cook - or even a good cook - but I'm the one who usually winds up preparing these meals, so I'm always looking for the easy way out so I won't embarrass myself and my family. Of course, the easiest way out would be to get someone else to do it or have it catered or just take everybody out to eat, but since I usually can't do any of those things, the next best solution that I have found is the slow cooker. The crock pot is a great invention for people who really don't have much time to cook, those who are working full-time, maybe raising a family, and commuting to and from work, as well as ferrying kids to their various activities. Been there, done that, and have the wrinkles to prove it. Now, I have the time to cook, but I really prefer to spend that time doing other things that I enjoy more, so the crock pot is still one of

Seeing ourselves as others see us

If only we had the power to see ourselves as others see us, how might it change our opinions of ourselves? How might it change our behavior and perhaps make us more forgiving of the foibles of others? Or maybe it would just needlessly depress us...                                               To a Louse   by Robert Burns (On seeing a louse on a lady's bonnet at church!) Ha! whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie! Your impudence protects you sairly: I canna say but ye strunt rarely Owre gauze and lace; Tho' faith, I fear ye dine but sparely On sic a place. Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner, Detested, shunned by saunt an' sinner, How daur ye set your fit upon her, Sae fine a lady! Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner, On some poor body. Swith, in some beggar's haffet squattle; There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle Wi' ither kindred, jumpin cattle, In shoals and nations; Whare horn or bane ne'er daur unsettle Your thick plantations. Now haud ye there, y

A wonder of Nature

The migration of animals is one of the true wonders of Nature, and none of those migrations is more wondrous, bordering on the miraculous, than that of the Monarch butterfly. Each late summer and fall the colorful orange, black, and white butterflies from all across the North American continent head south toward their winter home in Mexico . For such a fragile creature to make such of journey seems incredible, but it happens to be true. And when winter is over the butterflies head north again. An individual butterfly may not necessarily make the entire journey. The female butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants along the way and succeeding generations of the species then continue the trip until they reach their final destination. Some of them go all the way to Canada. There has long been speculation about what percentage of the butterflies actually fly the entire distance and what percentage are born along the way. Now there has been some research done which has given answer

This man is an idiot

Geraldo Rivera said Friday he would “bet money” that Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been fatally shot if the teenager hadn’t been wearing a hoodie.... “I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies,” Rivera said on “Fox & Friends.” “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Wow. You think that you've seen and heard it all and then along comes Geraldo Rivera to blame an innocent teenager's murder on the hoodie he was wearing. I suppose if the young man had been a young woman and that young woman was wearing a short skirt, then Geraldo would expect that she would be raped and it would be all because of the skirt. Just another instance of totally clueless commentary by one of the most utterly clueless so-called pundits on television today. Now, I wear a hoodie when there is a chill in the air. It doesn't happen too often here in Southeast Texas, b

The Rope by Nevada Barr: A review

In sixteen previous Anna Pigeon mysteries, author Nevada Barr has given us occasional glimpses of her background and of what led her to the life of a park ranger, but we've never had the full story. Until now.  In this prequel to the series, we learn about Anna's first experience as a 35-year-old seasonal employee with the Park Service at the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. Anna was running from the heartbreak of her beloved husband's untimely death in New York and running also from her self-destructive reaction to that death. She looked for something different and far away from her life in New York and accepted the first job she was offered.  On arriving at her post, she was assigned to assist an educational/interpretive ranger in cleaning human waste from the beaches in the park. She was literally on shit detail. It was hard physical labor but it turned out to be just what she needed.  Anna came slowly, very slowly, to appreciate some of the wonders of Nature in t

Lousy choices

Yesterday was the primary day in Illinois and Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary going away. Last night I listened to his victory speech and Rick Santorum's non-victory speech after the race was called. My reaction to both speeches can be summed up in two words: How lame. Admittedly, this is the first time I have really listened to a speech from either of the candidates all the way through from beginning to end, so I don't know if this is typical of their message to voters, but from what I gather from previous snippets that I've heard and from reading about the campaigns, I suspect the speeches were typical. They seemed to carry all of the themes that I have heard about in past coverage. Their watchword, of course, is "freedom." Yes, this generation of Republicans really, really believes in freedom. - Freedom of corporations to rape the land and sea and pollute the atmosphere and continue to heat up the earth until it is unlivable. - Free

When you're in a hole, stop digging

It is axiomatic that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. But some people never learn. High on the list of those who have trouble learning to put down the shovel are politicians. It seems to be deep within their DNA to believe that if they just keep on shoveling the same old BS that eventually they will fill the hole up and be able to climb out on top. It never works. The latest example of this is Rick Santorum . Over the weekend, Santorum appeared at right-winger Tony Perkins' home church where he was introduced by a pastor named Dennis Terry. Pastor Terry, in his introduction, went into a long rant about how this is a Christian nation and there is no room for anyone who isn't Christian. All liberals, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, in short anyone who doesn't accept Jesus as a personal saviour should "Get out!" When he finished his rant, Santorum applauded him and he's been trying to explain that applause

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens: A review

Hmmm...A super intelligent gender ambiguous female, who was born in Central Africa to indifferent parents, ran away to a gunrunner and his gang when she was a teenager and became a tough, butch member of the gang earning the respect of all those brutal customers. Haunted by an abusive, tortured background, she grew up to be an emotionally crippled, socially inept adult whose super gifts (which included speaking 22 languages!) allowed her to construct a whole world for herself - a world where she was the unrivaled ruler. The character sounds vaguely familiar, like someone we may have met in a best-selling trilogy not so very long ago.  This, however, is not Lisbeth Salander and the writer is not Stieg Larsson. Taylor Stevens wrote this book and it is her first. One gets the feeling that she has definitely read  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  and has lifted the plot right down to the missing and presumed dead heiress and transferred it onto a Texas and then African landscape.  There

One daffodil does not a spring make

One daffodil doesn't make a spring in our wintry hearts. It needs a leucojum, too. And maybe a butterfly or two. But for the poet, William Wordsworth, all it took was a crowd of daffodils to rouse him from his lonely state and make him rejoice in being alive. And that is the very essence of spring. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud BY  WILLIAM WORDSWORTH I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little though

Oh, no, Danny Boy!


At long last - a commitment to truthtelling

NPR has announced a new editorial policy which consumers of news can only hope will set a new standard for other news organizations. They have committed themselves to eschew "he said, she said," or more often, "he said, he said," reporting in favor of actually reporting the truth. What a concept! As journalism critic Jay Rosen wrote, in reporting on the change: NPR [now] commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism.  It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,”  which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute. Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…”

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: A review

I read this book during a time when the right-wing's war against women in this country was heating up to boil over and the mainstream media was finally beginning to take notice. Thus, I experienced the book through the prism of modern events. Not exactly what the author had in mind, I suspect, but unavoidable under the circumstances.  I read the book with rising feelings of anger and frustration as I realized that the story that Alice Hoffman was telling about a religion and culture from more than 2,000 years ago would fit right in with the world view of fundamentalists of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths today. This was a religion and a culture in which women had no value. They were strictly expendable throw-away people. Again, I don't think this was the message the author hoped to impart, but it was driven home again and again as she introduced us to the four dovekeepers of Masada.  The myth of Masada is a persistent one. Masada was a fortress built on a mountain

One snark-free column doesn't make a trend

Well, will wonders never cease? Maureen Dowd has managed to write a column about Hillary Clinton that seems to be completely snark-free. Dowd had become notorious over the years for her hatred of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Whenever she mentions either of them in a column, it is only to damn them. Her inability to give them credit for anything good has been just one of the symptoms of a columnist who has lost her perspective and has become more and more irrelevant. I mean, who even reads her anymore? But when I happened to read the first two sentences in today's column, I thought, "Hey, this is something different!" Dowd had written: Hillary Clinton has fought for women’s rights around the world. But who would have dreamed that she would have to fight for them at home?   She goes on to quote from Clinton's impassioned speech at the Women in the World summit that took place last Saturday in New York. Clinton said,  “Why extremists always focus on women remains a my

And the stock market goes wild!

Wow! How about that stock market? The Dow closed well above 13,000 today at 13,177.68, up 217.97 points since yesterday. That's the highest it's been since back in 2007. It seems that somebody out there must be optimistic about the way the economy is headed. A few more days like this and I may be able to bear to look at my 401(k) balance once again!

A few interesting poll results

The polling organization Public Policy Polling has been busy in Mississippi and Alabama ahead of this week's Republican primary there. What they have found is that there is a virtual tie among Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney . That's probably bad news for Gingrich since this should be his natural territory. The poll-takers have been asking questions besides candidate preference, as well, and some of their findings are really interesting, if not particularly shocking for those of us who lived a good portion of our lives there. On questions involving President Obama's religion and the respondent's belief about evolution, this is what they found. Alabama Republican Primary voters: Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure? Christian:  14 Muslim:  45 Not sure:  41 Do you believe in evolution, or not? Believe in evolution:  26 Do not:  60 Not sure:  13 Mississippi Republican Primary voters: Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian o

Thoughts for a rainy day


You like grits? Really?

One of the funnier things in the political news of the week has been the sight of Mitt Romney trying to cozy up to Southerners as the Republican primaries move to Mississippi and Alabama next week. Romney has been talking about how much he likes grits and about how he's learning to say "y'all." Of course, he's already tried to woo NASCAR fans, talking about how some of his best friends are NASCAR team owners. I'm sorry to tell Mr. Romney that the real test of being able to employ true Southern-speak is not being able to use "y'all" correctly. (Non-Southerners almost always make the mistake of using it as a singular noun, when any true Southerner knows it is always plural.) No, the true test is being able to use the catchphrase, "Bless his/her heart!" convincingly. "Bless his heart" is the phrase used by Southerners, Southern women, in particular, to indicate that no ill will is intended by what is being said - even if it

Conspirata by Robert Harris: A review

In the Rome of 63 B.C.E, there occurred a series of incidents which were to cast a shadow over the remaining days of the Republic, and indeed, to lead almost inevitably it now seems to its destruction and its remaking into the power that bestrode the ancient world as its master. At the center of these events was a man named Catalina, a populist who stood against the power of the Senate and sought to supplant it with the "power of the people." With him, of course, at its head.  There was a vast conspiracy, involving many men of wealth and power, members themselves of the Senate, as was Catalina. There was a suspicion that among the conspirators was one Gaius Julius Caesar, although that was never proved. He was certainly friends with many of the conspirators, but then Caesar's political friendships were always opportunistic. He was always willing to make common cause with anyone who could further his aims.  Cicero certainly believed that Caesar as well as Crassus and Pompe

Wooing the media

The Republican campaign for the presidency has mostly been hostile to the press. Santorum and Gingrich routinely slam the "elites" of the "liberal media." At times you would think they are running against the media rather than against Romney or even Obama. Romney has not been as outspoken in identifying the media as the enemy, but neither has his campaign done much to woo the media. Apparently, all that is changing . According to Politico , the Romney campaign is on a "charm offensive" to try to cozy up to the reporters who are following their candidate around the country. Even the standoffish candidate himself is said to be making himself more available to reporters and trying to interact with them on a human level. Of course, interacting on a human level is not something that Romney is noted for, so I'm not sure how much help that will be to his campaign. Politicians and the reporters who cover them are supposed to be in an adversarial relation

Wordless Wednesday: Apple blossom time


Bluntly speaking, it's a little late for regrets

Remember the notorious Blunt-Rubio amendment that the Senate voted on last week? If you've erased it from your memory chip already, let me just remind you: It would have allowed employers to exclude insurance coverage for any type of medical procedure from their group policies for employees if they had "moral objections" to that procedure. Thus, if an employer objected on moral grounds to some doctor poking around in the butts of their employees, they could have excluded coverage for colonoscopies. Of course, colonoscopies were not the target of Roy Blunt and his gang. Their target was women and contraception, but the amendment was written so broadly that it could have applied to anything. When the amendment came up for a vote, every single Republican in the Senate, with the exception of Olympia Snowe, voted for it. (Snowe had just announced a few days earlier that she was retiring. If she had been running again, I'm guessing that she, too, would have voted for it

Ready for another war?

The drumbeat on the right has been increasing in volume for months now. The same people who talked up the unnecessary war in Iraq that has killed and maimed thousands of people, many of them Americans, are now panting to start such a war in Iran . What is it about these people anyway? Why is their only way of dealing with the world to start a war? Iran is no threat to us. Even if they had a nuclear capability, they would be no threat to us. Furthermore, they have more than enough problems to deal with in their society. Why should they be looking for another one? In fact, as far as I can tell from my reading, Iran is not looking for a war with anybody, least of all the United States, no matter what the right-wingers here and in Israel may be saying. The United Nations sanctions against the country seem to be working. Why would we not simply continue those and seek diplomatic solutions to any problems or disputes? Why would we want to jump in and kill thousands of innocent Iranians a

The birds

The following words are a meditation by Terry Tempest Williams called "I pray to the birds." They express my feelings about birds and Nature very well. The pictures are birds from my yard, except for the Great Egret, which I photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward. I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day~ the invocations and benedictions of the Earth. I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.