Showing posts from September, 2012

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje: A review

“There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feel it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life.” -  The Cat's Table Michael Ondaatje insists that this novel is not autobiographical and why should we doubt him? Even so, the intimate and poignant tale certainly  feels  autobiographical and Ondaatje admits that the story has parallels with his own.  The central event of the book, an eleven-year-old boy's voyage on a big ship by himself from Colombo in what was then called Ceylon to England in 1954, was a journey that the writer himself made at that age. In the end, I suppose the argument could be made that all fiction is autobiographical in that it springs from the writer's imagination and that imagination is a product of his/her experiences. Discerning the autobiographical bits becomes a circular and rather pointless exercise, I think. Bet

A little Saturday music

Here's something to end our week on a positive note.  The singer is Mary Black, with Emmy Lou Harris on harmony. Enjoy. By the time it gets dark lyrics - By Sandy Denny Baby, every cloud has a silver lining Baby every dog really has his day And it matters to me to see you smiling Why don't we blow all your cares away ? Yesterday is gone and will be forgotten And today is where every new day starts Got to be free as the leaves in Autumn You may be sad but it never lasts. And maybe, by the evening we'll be laughing Just wait and see All the changes there'll be By the time it gets dark. We could go walking out in the sunshine Look at all the people out in the street Hurrying away to a business luncheon Waiting for a taxi for aching feet. Light up your face, baby, let's get going Want to see a change in those weary eyes We'll have some fun, take a boat out rowing Why on earth should life be so serious? And maybe, by the evening we'

The rational approach to handling teen pregnancies

At my book club meeting yesterday, the conversation veered off-topic as it often does, this time into the charged arena of teen pregnancy and contraception. One of the attendees commented that she had read that schools in New York were giving out condoms to students. Another member remarked that they would let them have condoms but wouldn't let them have "Big Gulp" soft drinks! At which point someone said, "Yeah, their priorities are a bit skewed." And I thought, but did not say, "No, I'd say their priorities are about right." The rate of  teenage pregnancies has been falling in this country as a whole, but it is still a very serious problem, especially in the most conservative states in the country. States like Texas. Or Mississippi. A map showing the rate of teenage pregnancies in the various states very clearly shows this. The map shows the rates as shades of red ranging from near white (15 or less births per 1000 women aged 15 to 19) to dark

The new Know-Nothings

I was reading a story about Bill Nye, the Science Guy , a couple of days ago when I came across a sentence that literally made me groan out load. It said, "In June, a Gallup poll revealed that 46 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago." So much for science and the fossil record. So much for critical thinking. These people prefer to accept the Bible as their scientific and historical text and not worry their little heads about any more complicated explanations. Oh, well, I guess we should just be relieved that the percentage wasn't even higher. As the story pointed out, the United States stands alone among modern industrialized states in this Know-Nothingism. It's only in the most backward and theocratic places on earth that you would find such a high percentage of people who refuse to acknowledge evolution as settled science. The same disheartening assessment can be made regarding human-caused global warmi

Wordless Wednesday: The Willet


The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory: A review

As a child, Margaret Beaufort of the House of Lancaster was obsessed with Joan of Arc. She was convinced that she was called by God to be England's Joan. In the War of the Roses, the cousins' war, she was devoted to the cause of the Lancasters because, obviously (to her child's mind), they were the ones anointed by God to rule. The Yorks were usurpers who were to be resisted unto death. But, of course, it wouldn't  really  be "unto death" because God was on the Lancasters' side and so they would, without a doubt, prevail. Margaret's dream was to devote her life to study and the worship of God. At the age of twelve, her mother disabused her of that dream by informing her that the only purpose, the only duty, of a Lancaster girl was to breed a Lancaster heir, a boy who could sit on the throne. And so, Margaret would be married to Edmund Tudor and she would live in Wales and there conceive and bring forth the next generation. Margaret's marriage to

An appreciation of Treme

Treme  returned to the HBO schedule last night, giving me a new reason to look forward to Sunday night television. This is the show's third season, and it was announced today that its fourth half-season will be its last . This David Simon show about New Orleans in the aftermath of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has never gained the viewership of HBO's most popular series such as The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, so I guess, in a way, it will be lucky to last three-and-a-half seasons, but, as one who has come to love the series, I see its short run as a shame and just another indictment of the taste of the American television viewing public. I admit that it took me a while to get into it also. It's a show with a lot of different and very diverse characters. The story lines attempt to do justice to each of them and so we get lots of scenes of just a minute or so of exposition for each story as the camera jumps back and forth among the characters. I think it is easier

The amazing shrinking penis

Have you heard the latest scientific theory from the great mind of Rush Limbaugh ? It seems that men's penises are shrinking, according to an Italian study on sexuality, and Rush knows why! It's those darn "feminazis"! They strike again. But listen to the master speak: I have a story, it's from Philadelphia, CBS News, CBS Eyeball News. "If size matters, male private parts are shrinking, according to a new Italian study on sexuality. [...] The study’s leaders claim to have bona fide research that says the average size of a penis is roughly 10 percent smaller than it was 50 years ago." And the researchers say air pollution is why. Air pollution, global warming, has been shown to negatively impact penis size, say Italian researchers. I don't buy this. I think it's feminism. If it's tied to the last 50 years, the average size of a member is 10% smaller in 50 years, it has to be the feminazis. I mean, the chickification, everything else. Give

Frank Capra's America

Frank Capra's movies always exhibited a unique view of society, mostly hopeful, but he didn't shy away from the dark side either. Perhaps his iconic movie is It's a Wonderful Life.  Something about this week - I can't imagine what it was - made me think of that movie and particularly of this scene. Two philosophies of life that could hardly be stated any more clearly.

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark: A review

I may have read a Mary Higgins Clark book at sometime in the past, but I honestly can't remember what and when, so I don't know if this book is typical of her writing. She's been very successful with her suspense novels over the years and one frequently sees her on best-seller lists. Indeed, this book was on  The New York Times  best-seller list for a while (and may still be), but it's really hard to understand why. It is a particularly bland and simplistic piece of writing.  Simple declarative sentence follows simple declarative sentence  ad nauseum  and we get to see the story from the perspective of virtually every character in the book. A bit fewer perspectives would have given a cleaner and more readable book, in my opinion, and a few more complex compound sentences might have brought more variety and interest to the reading. Oh, well... While I was reading the book, news broke that a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School had decoded a fourth

Jon Stewart must love Mitt Romney!

As usual, the most cogent commentary on the latest Romney debacle comes from Jon Stewart. The Daily Show Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , The Daily Show on Facebook Meanwhile the Rush Limbaugh/Fox News brigade is urging Romney to own his out-of-touch statements and not back down. It looks like Romney is heeding their advice . There will probably be even more fodder for Jon Stewart very soon. He and all the other late night comedians must bless the day that the Republicans nominated Romney.

That's it! No more Ms. Nice Blogger!

I am beginning to be thoroughly pissed off by Mitt and Ann Romney and their rich friends. This latest debacle with the video secretly shot when Mitt thought he was among his own kind and could freely speak his mind is just one more example of people who are so divorced from the real world that the rest of us live in that you have to wonder just why the man would ever condescend to even want to be president of a people that he so thoroughly despises. Oh, I forgot - it's the power and the opportunity to make even more money for himself and his friends. That's all it's ever about with him. There is no bottom line except the bottom line. The most appalling thing about this video is that it reveals that this is what he really believes!  It's not just red meat for the base. He was speaking off the cuff and apparently from the heart so we have to assume that he really believes that 47% of the citizens of this country are worthless moochers . Where does one even begin? W

The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill: A review

There is a serial killer loose in peaceful Buddhist Laos.  (Yes, in 1978 the government was nominally socialist, following the revolution that overturned the Royalists, but the country's soul was still Buddhist.)  It is still a poverty-stricken country struggling to make its way in the world and provide better lives for its long-suffering people, but progress is dismayingly slow. Even with all its problems though, people had been able to trust each other on a personal day-to-day level, but now a wolf is loose in the peaceful fold and all of that may be changing. Not if the national coroner 73-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun can prevent it!  The killer comes to Siri's attention when the murdered body of a beautiful country girl is delivered to his morgue in Vientiane. She had been tied to a tree and strangled, but she had not, as the doctor had expected to find, been raped. However, her body had been violated in a particularly sickening fashion, enough to make Nurse Dtui and Mr.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill: A review

Whenever Dr. Siri Paiboun gets called out of town for one of the interminable conferences he is expected to attend as Laos' national coroner, things seem to start popping at the Vientiane morgue where he works with his nurse Dtui and helper Mr. Geung. This time is no exception. While Siri is listening to boring lectures in the north of the country, a booby-trapped corpse is delivered to the morgue and only Nurse Dtui's quick wits save them all from catastrophe. Moreover, as soon as Siri left town, two auditors moved in to go over his records. But then the auditors are found dead at their posts, having eaten some poisoned cashew cakes that were meant for Siri and/or his staff. What is the meaning of this? A few months earlier, Siri had foiled a coup aimed at toppling the new Communist government of Laos. It seems that the attempts on his life may be the way that the instigators of the coup have chosen to repay him.  Meantime, the conference that the good doctor was attending b

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory: A review

I got the feeling early on that this book really wanted to be a historical bodice-ripper, but the narrative voice of Elizabeth Woodville is so laconic, so lacking in passion, that it never quite made it. The lack of passion is especially surprising in a woman who was twice married and mother to about a dozen children. In fact, it seemed that about half her life was spent being pregnant. Woodville was a widow with two young sons at the time that Edward IV came out on top - at least temporarily - in the cousins' war known to history as the War of the Roses. Her husband had fought and died for the Lancasters, the faction that was also supported by her family, the Riverses. Edward was, of course, a York, the other side in the war. But as the newly crowned king rides by her family's holdings, Elizabeth the Lancasterite stands by the road and asks the assistance of the Yorkist king in regaining her dowry lands that have been taken from her. Elizabeth is a beautiful woman and the

A profile in stupidity

Mitt Romney may be an absolute whiz when it comes to making money by shutting down companies and outsourcing jobs, but when it comes to understanding the way the real world works, he's an idiot. That's the only explanation I can see for his behavior in response to recent events in the Middle East. Moreover, not only is he an idiot, he is a craven political opportunist willing to make "profit" from capitalizing on the deaths of devoted American public servants who put their lives on the line every day to protect and defend the interests of this country. In that sense, not only is he an idiot and an opportunist, he is unpatriotic. I can write that last paragraph because we have freedom of speech in this country. It is a concept that is sometimes hard for people in other parts of the world to fully understand. So when they see or hear of an offensive anti-Muslim film like the one that was used as an excuse to incite the riot in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of

Wordless Wednesday: The Rockies in autumn


Moment of Truth by Lisa Scottoline: A review

This represents a bit of a twist on the usual plot of legal thrillers, in that an innocent man sets out to frame himself for the murder of his wife. I confess this is the first Lisa Scottoline novel that I've read so I don't know if unusual plot twists are a trademark of her work, but, for the most part, I think she pulls it off. A Philadelphia civil law attorney named Jack Newlin arrives home for dinner and finds his wife murdered in their kitchen. Their teenage daughter was supposed to join them for dinner on the night of the murder and Newlin immediately jumps to the conclusion that the daughter Paige, who is absent from the house, must have killed her mother. He determines to protect the daughter at all costs by confessing to the murder himself. He sets the scene to make it appear that he was the murderer and then calls 911. After being arrested, Newlin makes a statement to the police and is videotaped confessing to the murder, but in mid-confession, he realizes he is ma

Another perspective of the conventions

Jimmy Fallon sums up the Republican and Democratic conventions by channeling James Taylor. Yeah, that just about says it all.

Summing up: On to November!

So the Republicans' and Democrats' quadrennial celebrations of themselves are over, and now it's time to get serious about the election. Less than two months left until that fateful date. Did I hear you say, "Thank God!"? I didn't watch any of the Republican convention in real time. I only read and watched some of the news reports afterward and I did look at the platform which they adopted. From such a perspective, one could only be struck by what a hate-filled, angry, pessimistic, narrow-minded, misogynistic, and downright unpatriotic congregation it appeared to be. The theme seemed to be, "I've got mine, Jack, and f**k you!" A perusal of the faces of the delegates, mostly white and white-haired, seemed to confirm that impression. I truly don't mean to be unkind or unfair to them, but that is just the way they seemed to me. Perhaps if I had watched more of the actual convention, I might have had a somewhat more sympathetic view of the gro

Live long and prosper

In honor of the 46th anniversary of Star Trek, here's an excerpt from my current favorite nerdy television series. Live long and prosper.

Vladimir Putin, bird conservationist?

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder .) I've written here (in Backyard Birder ) many times about the project to help save the endangered  Whooping Crane  by   developing an eastern migratory flock  that flies between Wisconsin and Florida twice each year. Young birds are taught the route by training them to fly with an ultralight aircraft. The project has had some success - and some tragedies - and the flock is slowly growing. Of course, Whooping Cranes are not the only members of that long-legged family that are endangered. In fact, many cranes right around the world are seriously endangered. Our own  Sandhill Crane  is a notable exception, probably because of that bird's adaptability and willingness to utilize a variety of foods in its diet. Another critically endangered bird is the  Siberian Crane,  part of whose range extends into Russia, and it turns out that Russian conservationists also have a program based on use of the ultralight to escort the young birds on their f