Showing posts from April, 2012

The good old Bank of Mom and Dad

Poor Mitt Romney. He just keeps sticking his foot further and further into his mouth, repeatedly proving that he doesn't really have a clue about how average people live in this country. His latest clumsy effort at "connecting" with his audience was at Otterbein University last week where he told students,  “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business,”  In advising them to borrow from the Bank of Mom and Dad, he cited a friend of his who took out a $20,000 loan from his parents. Never mind that $20,000 wouldn't even see a student through most (if not all) public universities today, I guess if you don't have parents that are rich enough to front you the money, you would just be out of luck in Romneyworld. Students who are poor or middle class who have dreams of a college education need not apply.   When did investing in educating our young become considered poor social policy and po

Breaking news! Ryan repudiates Rand!

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand."                                                                                        - Rep. Paul Ryan (R - Wisconsin) This Paul Ryan quote came from a 2005 gathering in Washington that honored the author and libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, the woman who he acknowledged had had an enormous impact on his life and his career. The woman whose philosophy had, in fact, inspired him to go into politics and to try to remake the world in her image. Ryan was famous for requiring his interns to read Rand's magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, and for giving the book as a Christmas present every year.   In countless interviews, he was very open about her influence on his life. Accordingly, as the Republicans' point man on budget matters, he wrote budgets which were completely draconian in their punishment of the powerless poor and middle class and their distr

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips: A review

The Greek gods of Olympus are alive in the twenty-first century but they are not well. Their powers are waning because nobody believes in them any more. They all live together in a cramped rat and roach-infested town house in London and they are seriously getting on each other's nerves. Marie Phillips has imagined a world in which the Greek gods retain their essential characters but must find ways of getting along in a world of humans. Thus, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, is a telephone sex worker, when she isn't getting it on with her fellow gods - or, sometimes,  while  she's getting it on with her fellow gods. (She has mastered multi-tasking.) Apollo, god of the sun, is a television psychic, and his sister, Artemis, the goddess of hunting, is a professional dog walker.  The house where the gods all live is slowly succumbing to rot and it is filthy because nobody ever cleans. Artemis decides to do something at least about the filth problem and she hires a cleaner named

A moment in Nature: Gulf Fritillary on milkweed


Cat's Claw by Susan Wittig Albert: A review

Occasionally, it is good to be able to read a book that is totally undemanding, one that doesn't require the brain to exert itself overmuch but can let it figuratively relax and enjoy the ride. That's what books like those in Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles herbal mystery series are like for me.  Cat's Claw  is the twentieth in that series and I confess that I have read and enjoyed them all. They speak to several of my interests - gardening, native Texas plants, herbs and herbal lore - and they are set in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, among my favorite spots in the state. Picking up one of her books is a bit like putting on my favorite robe and slippers and sinking into my favorite chair. It's all about comfort. That being said, the last few books in this series have grown a bit stale, stodgy and predictable, and the character of China Bayles seems a lot less fresh and interesting to me than she was ten or fifteen volumes ago. Maybe Albert was feeling that w

The Shakespeare debt

The exact date of William Shakespeare's birth may not be absolutely known for sure, although there is a record that he was baptized on April 26, 1616, but we know it was around this time in that year. This is the 396th anniversary of his birth, and the debt that our language owes the man continues to accrue interest.  It is virtually impossible for an English speaker to get through the day without quoting him in some fashion. This was neatly illustrated in a meditation by Bernard Levin that I happened to come upon today, repeated here for your edification: If you cannot understand my argument, and declare 'It's Greek to me' ,  you are quoting Shakespeare;  if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning ,  you are quoting Shakespeare;   if you recall your salad days ,  you are quoting Shakespeare;  if you act more in sorrow than in anger ,  if your wish is father to the thought ,  if your lost property has vanished into thin air ,  you are quoting Shakespeare

Fifty shades of bad writing

“You beguile me, Christian. Completely overwhelm me. I feel like Icarus flying too close to the sun.” - The virginal Anastasia speaks to Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey   One of the more interesting and puzzling phenomena in the world of books recently has been the popularity of the soft porn book - often referred to as "mommy porn" - Fifty Shades of Grey . The book, first in a trilogy, shot to the top of the New York Times combined e-reader and print fiction best-seller list and it was quickly followed by the other two parts of the trilogy.  The books have stayed there now for six or seven weeks. If news of this latest reading rage that seems to have lots of horny women panting for more hasn't reached your ears - or eyes - yet, let me tell you what I know about it. It will have to be second-hand, because, frankly, I haven't read it either. I've just read lots about it. The author, E.L. James, apparently conceived of the books as a bit of Twilight

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman: A review

I saw a reference to this book recently in something else I was reading and thought, "Oh, yes, I remember reading that book." But then I took the book down from the shelf to look at it and realized that I hadn't read it at all. I think I may have started and stopped. After all, it was published in 1978 which was an extraordinarily busy time in my life, so I may simply not have had the energy for it. It is a dense and long book. I'm so glad that I picked it up again. The world has turned many times since its publication date more than thirty years ago, but when you get right down to it, not much has changed about human nature. Indeed, not much has changed since the 14th century about which Tuchman was writing.  Europe - specifically France and England - in the 14th century was beset by an incredible series of catastrophes. There was climate change (the Little Ice Age), the Hundred Years War between England and France, the papal schism, the last Crusades, pillaging

Climate change affecting the weather? Ya think?

Headline in The New York Times today: In Poll, Many Link Weather Extremes to Climate Change . The story under the headline relates how  a large majority of Americans believe that this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming. And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years. Can this really be true? After years of being in denial despite climate scientists' best efforts to make the case that human-caused climate warming is happening and that we need to try to slow or reverse it, is the public finally ready to accept the truth of climate change? “Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” said  Anthony A. Leiserowitz  of  Yale University , one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

Close but no cigar

Did you hear that the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday and, for the first time since 1977, no prize was awarded for fiction ? That seems pretty curious in view of the fact that there was some pretty darned good fiction released within the past year. The only three books in the fiction category that were finalists in the nominating process for the prize were Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Train Demons by Denis Johnson, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I have not read any of the three - yet. (To be perfectly honest, I'd never even heard of Johnson's book, but now that I have, I'll look it up and see if its something I might have an interest in reading.) But I did read several books published in 2011 that I certainly think were worthy of Pulitzer consideration and I blogged about all of them here: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach; The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, to na

Game of Thrones' second season

Last night I saw the third episode in this second season of Game of Thrones on HBO. Having now read all five of the books, since the end of the first season of the show, I can state unequivocally that those involved in the production of the series have done a terrific job of translating it to the screen. With its huge number of characters that are important to the story, not to mention the many varied locations where the action takes place, it would seem to me to be an absolutely daunting task and yet they've passed the test with flying colors. My understanding of the books and of the television series has been deepened recently by the book that I'm currently reading, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. Indeed, The Game of Thrones could easily have been set in the Europe of the 14th century with its constant wars, its religious conflicts and schisms, the intermarrying for political reasons of the great families of the time, the utter brutishne

The faux mommy wars

I'm sure you've heard of the big manufactured political brouhaha of the week that was generated when Hilary Rosen, a political pundit on CNN, in talking about Mitt Romney getting his information about women's issues from his wife, made the statement that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. Well, when the Republicans and Fox News heard that, they wet themselves in glee. Soon the Fox Newsies were falling all over themselves decrying liberals' war against moms and tying the Obama campaign to Rosen's statement, even though she has no connection to the Obama campaign and even though an Obama spokesman immediately distanced the campaign from the statement and even though Rosen herself apologized for her choice of words. Soon, the Romney campaign was sending out fundraising emails lambasting the Obama campaign's disrespect to stay-at-home moms and asking the recipients to stand with Ann. What utter nonsense! But then this is the state to which political disc

Wild Horses by Dick Francis: A review

There was a time in my life - maybe 20-25 years ago - when Dick Francis was actually my favorite author. I looked forward to his new book every year and rushed out to buy it as soon as it was in the bookstores. Eventually though, all of his plots and all of his characters took on a sameness and it became hard to distinguish one book from another. Moreover, I got older and my tastes in literature changed. In the '90s, I stopped reading him altogether. In fact, I think  Wild Horses  was one of the last of his books that I read before I dropped him. This month it was the selection for my local Mystery Book Club and so I re-read it, because I really couldn't remember anything about it.  It all came back to me slowly as I read. In this one, Francis' hero is a film director who was once a jockey until he got too big. Now he's directing a movie about the racing world, specifically about the hanging death of the wife of a trainer some twenty-six years before. The mystery of t

The New American Landscape edited by Thomas Christopher: A review

The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening was published last summer. I reviewed it at that time for my other blog , Gardening with Nature, but it is a book that I have turned to time and again since first reading it for inspiration and for information about best gardening practices.   It is a book that is invaluable for any gardener seeking to achieve sustainability in his/her gardening practices. This book features chapters written by a diverse group of knowledgeable horticulturists and gardeners on a variety of subjects such as the new American meadow garden, balancing natives and exotics in the garden, landscapes that welcome wildlife, the sustainable edible garden, gardening sustainably in a changing climate, and on and on. There are eleven chapters in all, edited and introduced by Thomas Christopher, who has been reporting on gardening and environmental issues for more than twenty-five years. The thing that ties all these various chapters

Women and caterpillars, unite!

Last week, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Campaign Committee Chairman, was interviewed on Bloomberg Television by Al Hunt and was asked about all the anti-women initiatives that his party has sponsored right across the country over the past fifteen months. Priebus rejected the idea that Republicans are waging a war on women and then he made the following jaw-dropping statement: “If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars.   It’s a fiction. ”    So, let me get this straight. It's all the Democrats' and the mainstream media's fault that Republicans are being accused of a war on women. It has nothing to do with mandating unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, limiting access to birth control, rescinding equal pay laws, writing bills that would charge women who have miscarriages with murder, forcing women to produce wr

Silent Sunday: 'Molineux' rose


Take me out to the ball game

It's the first weekend of the new baseball season and my team, the Astros, are at .500. That means they are on a pace to win 81 games this year. That's after losing a record 106 and winning only 56 last season. Winning 81 games this year would be a miraculous improvement. Of course, this is a very, very young and inexperienced team and probably no one, except maybe their mothers, really expects them to have a winning season, but stranger things have happened in baseball. Stranger things happen every day in baseball. That's one of the reasons the game never gets boring - except to boring people. The Astros are playing the Colorado Rockies at home in this first series of the season. In the first game of the season yesterday, their youth and inexperience showed. They made four - count 'em, four - errors. You can't win a major league baseball game when you make four errors and give up four unearned runs, and the Astros didn't. They lost 5-3. But at least they d

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Richard Dixon, translator): A review

Oh, my God, this book made my brain hurt! Actually, reading any Umberto Eco book makes my brain hurt. Even  The Name of the Rose , which I loved, and  Foucault's Pendulum , which I liked, gave me pains when I was reading them. I think the problem may be that Eco is so far beyond me intellectually that I have to struggle to keep up with him. Even so, I probably miss a lot of his references. Somewhat paradoxically though, I do enjoy reading him. I enjoy the challenge.  This book is the fictionalization of the creation of an actual work of fiction, the notorious  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion . This is the anti-Semitic screed that had its origin in the 19th century, being based on what was apparently intended as a political satire. In the hands of those who hated Jews and who sought justification for oppressing and ultimately eliminating them, it became the excuse for the instigation of extreme evil.  Eco takes us into the middle and late 19th century in Italy, France, an

Petal & Twig: Seasonal Bouquets with Blossoms, Branches, and Grasses from Your Garden by Valerie Easton: A review

My husband sometimes surprises me with books that he thinks I might like. Since I am a serious gardener, this one jumped right out at him when he saw it mentioned in a  New York Times  review and so he got it for me. Sweet husband. And sweet little book.  It is a little book, only 115 pages, and is easily read in one sitting. The author, Valerie Easton, is a garden writer based in Seattle, who enjoys bringing nature into the house with bouquets of flowers and foliage from the garden and, in this book, she shares her enthusiasm for that art.  Her philosophy of flower arranging is that simple is best. She is not interested in creating elaborate floral constructions. She prefers to keep it informal and as natural-looking as possible, maybe a handful of daisies or of interesting limbs and twigs from the garden stuffed into a simple vase. This is an art of flower arranging that even I might be able to master!  For those interested in growing plants for cutting and arranging, the au

A poem provokes outrage!

I could hardly believe my eyes as I read the story in the Times today about Gunter Grass' recently published poem . The poem has provoked anger and outrage in Germany and other parts of Europe and in Israel! What? People are up in arms about a poem? Who gets so emotional about a poem? Who pays attention to poetry anyway? Well, apparently when it is a poem by Gunter Grass and it concerns Israel, a lot of people do. This is not just any poem about moon and June, flowers and puppy dogs. In this poem, Grass expresses the opinion that the main threat to peace in the Middle East today is Israel. He alludes to Israel's nuclear arsenal - the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons - and to its saber-rattling approach to relations with Iran. This plus its continuing refusal to make any accommodations to the Palestinian people, Grass opines, is enough to make the militaristic state a time-bomb waiting to explode and engulf the Middle East in flames. The title of th

The civilizing influence

"Must women 'civilize' men?" Joan Walsh asks in her column today in . After all, it is the position of many conservative thinkers (See Charles Murray) and politicians (See Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, et. al.) that this is the role of women in society. That it is the only role they should play in society. They must stay home, tend the fires, raise the kids, and be there whenever their husbands want them. This is the basis of all human civilization and when women seek to play any other role, that civilization begins to break down. In this worldview, all the problems of our society today can be traced back to women trying to break out of the mold that genetics put them into, and everything would be fine again if women would just shut up and fit themselves back into that mold. And why should it be women's responsibility to provide that civilizing influence? Are men such wild and base creatures that they have no instinct for civilized behavior on their ow

Dispatches from the war on women

The website iVillage has been compiling data about the condition of women's lives in the United States here in the second decade of the 21st century. They researched such sources as the 2010 U.S.Census, the National Women's Law Center, National Partnership for Women and Families, and the National Network to End Domestic Violence. What they found makes for appalling reading. They ranked the fifty states according to their protection of women and families and of women's rights. The assault on women's rights is a nationwide policy objective of the right-wing to "put women in their place," and there are few bright spots in the data that they found, but five states were particularly bad. According to iVillage, these five are the very worst of the worst:      5. Kentucky  Over 77% of the women  in the state  live in a county without an abortion provider and nearly 20% of the women live in poverty. Not even a quarter of the women in the state have a college

April is Poetry Month

April is Poetry Month, so let's celebrate it with a poem. Poetry is not necessarily an easy endeavor for a writer, a fact which Erica Jong recognizes. She gives some hints on how the aspiring poet can capture the words and make them purr. The Poem Cat  by Erica Jong Sometimes the poem doesn't want to come; it hides from the poet like a playful cat who has run under the house & lurks among slugs, roots, spiders' eyes, ledge so long out of the sun that it is dank with the breath of the Troll King. Sometimes the poem darts away like a coy lover who is afraid of being possessed, of feeling too much, of losing his essential loneliness-which he calls freedom. Sometimes the poem can't requite the poet's passion. The poem is a dance between poet & poem, but sometimes the poem just won't dance and lurks on the sidelines tapping its feet- iambs, trochees- out of step with the music of your mariachi band. If the poem won't come, I say: sneak up on it. P