Showing posts from July, 2012

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

Artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope is a lightning rod, attracting both passionate admiration from his supporters and passionate anger and even hate from his detractors. On the night before the opening of his exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Bassington-Hope falls to his death from some scaffolding as he prepares to hang his masterpiece. He was alone at the time. Or was he? Was it really an accident or was it murder? The police rule an accident. His twin sister Georgina isn't so sure.  On the advice of her former mentor at Girton College, Georgina enlists the aid of fellow Girton graduate Maisie Dobbs to investigate and discover the truth. As Maisie pursues her inquiries, she finds herself strongly attracted to the Bohemian lifestyle of the Bassington-Hope family, artists all, except for the eldest daughter Noelle, the practical one in the family. At the same time, Maisie's personal life is in a shambles, as she struggles to find a civil way to break off a romantic relatio

My top five

I am essentially clueless about what the readers of this blog want to read. Often I'll put up a post about something that is very important to me and that I think others might care about and...nothing. It gets no reaction and very few readers. (I know that because my friend Google helpfully tracks and reports to me about how many readers I have, what part of the world they are from, and how many of them read particular posts.) Then again I might dash off some spur-of-the-moment comment about something in the news and thousands of readers will look at it. Obviously, if I understood that dynamic better, I'd write something like that every day! Just this morning I was looking at the ranking of my most popular posts over the years and, frankly, I still don't have a clue. My five most popular posts of all time don't seem to have much in common at all. 1. Fifty shades of bad writing , posted 04/22/12 : This is far and away the most popular post that I've ever done, ma

Silent Sunday: The bee and the abelia


The vagina demagogues

“Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you said yes to both, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.” - How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran One book that I am very much looking forward to reading is How to Be a Woman by Caitlin (She pronounces it cat - lin ) Moran. You would perhaps think that I might have figured that out by now but I think this book might have a few things to teach me. Ms. Moran's book was a huge best seller last year in Britain, her home country where she is a columnist for The Times of London, and, at last, it and she are coming to the States. I've seen her in a few interviews and read reviews of the book and, frankly, it seems just what the complacent women in this country need to shake a bit of sense into them. As proof of this, there is a frequently cited survey which shows that only 29 percent - 29 percent! - of American women self-identify as feminists. What part of feminism do you suppose the other 71 percent object to?

Them Bones by Carolyn Haines: A review

I feel that I should put this book in the category of guilty pleasures. I know in my heart that it is not the kind of book that a woman about to celebrate her  mumble-mumble  birthday should be spending her time reading, and, yet, frankly, it was a joy to read! Sort of a  Fifty Shades of Grey  without all that nasty BDSM. There was a bit of hot and heavy sex but it was more alluded to than explicit, which is only proper in a story about a genteelly-bred Southern woman. Sarah Booth Delaney of Zinnia, Mississippi is not your stereotypical Southern belle though. She is over thirty, unemployed, and - horror of horrors! - unwed. She lives in her ancestral home, Dahlia House, in the Mississippi Delta. It is an ante bellum structure that has sheltered many generations of Delaneys, but now Sarah Booth is flat broke with no prospects of getting any money and she's about to lose her home, just when she's begun to understand how much she loves it. But Sarah Booth isn't alone in t

The fine art of diplomacy - Mitt Romney style

Mitt Romney goes to London, which is awash in preparations and excitement for the Olympics and also awash in hope that the Games will give the city and the country an economic boost, and he promptly rains on their parade . He called their preparations "disconcerting" and questioned the city's enthusiasm for the Olympics. He went on to say,  “The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the  immigration  and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. ” As for whether Londoners and the British public in general are really looking forward to the games, here's what Romney had to say:  “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?” he asked about the British people. “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.” Honestly, Mitt, didn't your Mama ever teach you that if you can't say something nice about someone, just don't say anything at all? And

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben: A review

Harlan Coben's creation, Myron Bolitar, is a sports agent who is just about to hit the big time with his prized client, rookie quarterback Christian Steele. But before that happens, he's going to have to do some hard bargaining with some pretty shady characters who don't mind using violence as a negotiating tool. Fortunately, Myron has as his ace in the hole his friend, Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), to watch his back. Win makes up a considerable posse all by himself. Myron and Win formerly did some top secret work for the government and they are both black belts in tae kwan do. They are very well-trained and capable of physically defending themselves against the bad guys, but defending his clients against the psychological and financial harm that can ensue when certain secrets start unraveling may be a different matter. Christian Steele receives a phone call from his former fiancee, a woman whom everyone assumed was dead, although her body had never been found. Th

Disappointing "Newsroom"

Will McAvoy is a fathead. A pontificating, holier-than-thou, blowhard of the kind of character that I love to hate. The problem is I had really hoped to love him. When I first saw the promos for the new Aaron Sorkin show for HBO, The Newsroom ,  I thought it looked interesting. The cast was well-known for their good work, the idea of a series about a cable news show seemed relevant, and Aaron Sorkin is an award-winning producer and writer ( The West Wing , Moneyball, The Social Network ), so the whole thing offered the promise of keeping me entertained on Sunday nights this summer. So far it has been a disappointment, and it is mostly because of the character of Will McAvoy. He just sucks all the air out of the room for me. Jeff Daniels, who plays Will, is terrific, as, in fact, all the actors are in their respective roles. There really isn't a stinker among them. But the words that they are given to speak are the problem. Will seems to be channeling Eric Sevareid and his co

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman: A review

George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." The extraordinarily pessimistic theme of Barbara Tuchman's book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, seems to be that we are all incapable of learning from history and so we are doomed to repeat its errors over and over and over again, ad infinitum. All of human history has been a march of folly with occasional flashes of insight and brilliance which allow us to advance a bit. Tuchman finds plenty of examples to support her thesis. Her definition of folly within the context of the book is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives. She begins with a general discussion of several examples from history and literature such as Rehoboam, a king of ancient Israel whose obstinance in refusing to listen to the just complaints of his people resulted in the loss of the ten northern tribes of Israel, and Montez

Silent Sunday: High summer


Domestic terrorism, domestic politics

David Sirota of has named yesterday's massacre in Colorado for what it is - terrorism. Our media would lead us to believe that terrorism is only the purview of dark-skinned Islamicists, but that is faulty thinking. The country is under siege and at the mercy of domestic terrorists like the Colorado murderer because we refuse to take responsibility for standing up to the NRA and passing and enforcing laws that will inhibit the gun traffic in this country. This will not change until we mature enough as a country to give up our adolescent obsession with guns and violence. Frankly, although it depresses me beyond measure to say it, I see no possibility of that happening. Meanwhile, predictably, a certain segment of our society rushes to the microphones to say that if only there had been someone else in the audience with a gun to take the shooter down, all of this could have been avoided. Never mind that the shooter was wearing full body armor and that the hero would have

Another massacre. Ho hum.

A man walks into a movie theater with a rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun, plus two canisters of gas. He sets off his smoke bombs and then opens fire, randomly, at the packed crowd. He kills twelve people outright and wounds at least 38 others, some of them seriously enough that their survival is in doubt. He is captured almost immediately. He is a white male American, 24 years old. Another day, another massacre in America. By now, our national consciousness is almost inured to such violence. Ho hum. Move along. Nothing to see here. For a day or two or three, all the politicians and public officials will offer sober words about the killings. They will talk about how their prayers are with the victims and their families. They will talk about how the perpetrator must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And then they'll go back to business as usual. The victims, their families, and their pain will be pushed to the background and forgotten. Soon enough, there will be ano

Black Ships by Jo Graham: A review

The fall and sacking of Troy and the founding of Rome happened more than 3,000 years ago and yet they still fire our imaginations. They certainly fired the imagination of Jo Graham and she decided to write a book that would be a retelling of Virgil's  The Aeneid , the story of how Aeneas, the last prince of Troy, left that ruined city and sailed with a remnant of his people around the Mediterranean until they came to a place situated between seven hills. There he founded Rome. Graham's story would be different though. It would be told by a woman. The girl-child, Gull, was born in Pylos, the Hellenic kingdom of old Nestor, after the fall of Troy. Her mother had been a woman of Troy who suffered the common fate of women in war in the Bronze Age. (Actually, not much has changed in 3,000 years.) She was captured by the victorious Achaians (Hellenes), raped repeatedly, and finally given to King Nestor as part of his share of the booty. She would be his slave. By the time she arriv

Is rape funny?

So there's this comedian named Daniel Tosh. I know nothing about him really except that I sometimes see ads for his show on Comedy Central while I'm waiting to watch The Daily Show . But he was doing his routine at a comedy club recently and apparently was riffing about rape jokes and a woman in the audience objected and shouted to him that "rape is never funny!" Whereupon Tosh responded that wouldn't it be funny if that woman were raped by maybe five guys? Surprisingly, this has caused a controversy. Many people, women in particular, agreed with that woman in the audience that rape is never funny. On the other hand, many of Tosh's fellow comedians have rushed to defend him and said that, yes, rape, just like the Holocaust or children with birth defects, is a very funny subject and a legitimate subject for humor. Anyway, First Amendment and all that! Hmm. I watched Monday's Daily Show and Jon Stewart's guest was another comedian, Louis C.K. It s

The Central Park Effect

Did you happen to see HBO's latest documentary, Birding: The Central Park Effect ? It premiered last night, but, if you care to see it, I believe it will be showing a few times later in the week or you can watch it on HBO On Demand, if you have that feature. It's worth a look if you are interested in birding or birds or even if you just have a concern about the environment and what is happening to it. I didn't see the show last night because I was watching the Astros game (Finally won one! Yay!) but I watched it today with my two cats. The bird photography and sounds were so realistic that it kept the cats' attention. In fact, it even had them jumping at the screen on occasion! The film follows a group of regular birders in New York's Central Park through a year of watching the birds there. Some of them are fairly famous (at least in some circles) - people like authors Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Rosen - but most of them are just regular people, New Yorkers wi

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

The year is 1930, more than ten years after the end of the Great War. Still, England and Europe are mired in the past. They cannot forget all that they have lost. The pain and suffering continue as they try to honor the memories of the dead, while getting on with their lives. What is true of her country is also true of Maisie Dobbs of London, psychologist and private investigator. She continues to be called on to investigate and resolve cases related to the war and war injuries and deaths. Now, she is being asked by Sir Cedric Lawton to prove that his son, Ralph, is truly dead. Ralph was an aviator in the war and was reported to have died in a fiery crash in France, but his mother never believed that he was dead. She continued to try to prove her belief through the use of mediums and spiritualists. Her obsession had finally driven her mad, but on her deathbed, she extracted a promise from her husband, Sir Cedric, that he would continue the search and finally prove whether or not

Silent Sunday: Summer gull


Lafayette, we remember!

Today is the French National Day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 during the French revolution. We commonly think of it as Bastille Day. In France, it is celebrated with parades, patriotic speeches, and fireworks, not unlike our own Independence Day. France and the United States have historic ties going back to our country's Revolutionary War when the Marquis de Lafayette, a French patriot, fought on the side of our fledgling country. It has sometimes been a prickly relationship but blood ties are strong. When the United States entered World War I on the side of France, a group of military officers with Gen. John Pershing visited the tomb of Lafayette where one of the officers - some reports say Pershing, some say one of his aides - uttered the phrase, "Lafayette, we are here!" implying that they had come to repay a debt of honor. On this French National Day, we remember again that debt and we wish our French friends and their new governm

Rep. Wackadoodle strikes again!

There really is no excuse for Michele Bachmann. One wonders what ever possessed the good people of Minnesota to elect her to represent them. Of course, the good people of Minnesota might reasonably respond with a question of their own: What possessed the people of Texas to elect Louis Gohmert to represent them? They really are two of a kind and neither of them is competent to serve in elective office of any kind, in my opinion. The two are almost always found using the same hate-filled rhetoric and chasing the same chimera that only they and their kind can see. They are at it again. This time their bug-a-boo is the Muslim Brotherhood . "The Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the country and must be stopped from forcing Sharia law on all of us!" Bachmann, Gohmert and a couple of their fellow wackadoodles have sent letters to the inspectors general of five government agencies demanding that they investigate infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood into the highest reaches of

Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill: A review

It is 1977. Dr. Siri Paiboun, the former Pathet Lao revolutionary and now reluctant national coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, has again been summoned to a remote part of his country to look at a dead body. This time it is a body - an arm anyway - that is protruding from a recently built concrete walk that leads from the President's former cave hideout to his new house. Dr. Siri's task is to disinter the arm, see if there is a body attached, and find out how the body died and how it got into the wet cement.  Dr. Siri has taken his assistant Nurse Dtui with him on the trip to help in his investigation. They have left Mr. Geung, their mildly Down Syndrome-afflicted helper at the morgue in Vientiane, to take care of things while they are gone. Unfortunately, one of Siri's enemies in the Justice Ministry sees Geung as an embarrassment and a liability and he takes the opportunity of Siri's absence to have him kidnapped by the military and sent to the n

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins: A review

I've been spending a lot of time in Mississippi lately. Last week it was Yoknapatawpha County with William Faulkner's  Absalom, Absalom! . This week I've been in Tibbehah County with Ace Atkins' Quinn Colson. It turns out that the two counties have a lot in common and the main thing they have in common is secrets. Secrets that can wreck lives, destroy families, and sometimes get you killed. The thing is, the "secrets" are often known by everybody in the county! We met Quinn Colson in Atkins' previous book,  The Ranger . He was an army ranger, fresh out of serving in Afghanistan and he had driven over from Fort Benning to attend his uncle's funeral. His uncle had been the sheriff of Tibbehah County and, in this entry, Quinn has followed in his footsteps, being elected sheriff in a special election to fill the post. He has swept the sheriff's department clean, firing most of the staff who had been involved in some corrupt practices. But Lillie Vi

National service

I don't think there is too much on which I would agree with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but in June he called for the reinstitution of the military draft and I believe I agree with him - at least in principle - on that. Back during the years when my friends were getting drafted and sent to Vietnam, I had a different view on the matter, but seeing the way things have played out with this "volunteer army" has given me a whole new perspective. Our military forces today are all volunteer and what that means in practice is that the people who end up in the military are either emotionally committed to that career or else they have no other viable choice. They are mostly poor and often don't have the option of going to college. They may join the military in hopes of later getting financial assistance for college or further training for a career. Middle-class kids with options rarely join the military. Rich kids almost never. For example, none of the sons of Mitt and Ann Rom

Silent Sunday: American Robin


Happy Caturday!

Maru the superstar cat is back!

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner: A review

William Faulkner September 25, 1897 - July 6, 1962 Long, long ago in another lifetime, I read  Absalom, Absalom!  during my "Faulkner Period." I found it to be an amazing work, but dense, complex, and sometimes unintelligible. It was, in short, a daunting read. This is the book which many critics pick as Faulkner's masterpiece. Moreover, it was greatly influenced by that other acknowledged masterpiece of the early twentieth century, Joyce's  Ulysses . An essay that I recently read about   Absalom, Absalom!  in  The New York Times  - which, in fact, impelled me to read the book again - said of the two works that "each in its way is a provincial Modernist novel about a young man trying to awaken from history." As one of the few and the proud who has actually read both books, I find that a very apt description.  In fact, Faulkner has been on my mind since we visited his home, Rowan Oak , when we passed through Oxford, Mississippi on a road trip last mo

Can the U.S. catch up to Rwanda?

The one thing that many people know about the country of Rwanda is that there was a terrible genocide there in 1994. Over 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people were killed in the awful conflict which roiled the country at that time. Since 1994, Rwanda has been ruled by one man, Paul Kagame. At first he was the de facto leader and then in elections in 2000 he was selected as the country's president. He has been in power since then. His regime is autocratic and repressive and doesn't really brook criticism from any source. He is justifiably excoriated for his record of suppressing dissent. Paradoxically, he is also considered one of the most effective leaders in Africa. His country is safe and clean and relatively free of government corruption. Per capita income has tripled in 18 years, average life expectancy has increased by 10 years ( 10 years! ), deaths of children under 5 have dropped by half in five years, and malaria deaths have dropped by roughly two-thirds. The r

Why July 4th?

How did it happen that we came to celebrate July 4 as our nation's Independence Day? The Second Continental Congress actually voted to approve a resolution of independence on July 2, 1776. After making the decision to separate themselves from England, the Congress then set about writing a declaration to set out their reasons for taking this action. They debated and revised the wording of the document for a couple of days, finally agreeing to the wording that has come down to us on July 4. But it seems that the more important date would have been the date that they actually decided on independence, July 2. John Adams certainly thought that was the important date. He wrote his wife Abigail: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almigh