Showing posts from February, 2013

Equal opportunity sexism

To those viewers, like me, who were offended by Seth MacFarlane's gross "We Saw Your Boobs" musical number on Sunday's Oscars show (not to mention all the rest of his misogynistic schtick) here's a bit of payback. Equal opportunity sexism!

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill: A review

It seems that these Dr. Siri novels have become an addiction for me. As soon as I read that a new one had been published, I immediately requested it on my Kindle so that I could read it right away. I was not disappointed. It is another romp through 1978 Laos with Siri and his posse of oddball family and friends. Siri has finally managed to achieve his long desired goal of retiring from his post as the national coroner of Laos, but three months into his long awaited retirement, the 84-year-old doctor is called on again by his government to perform a service for them. The backstory is that a clairvoyant has told a Lao general that she can locate the remains of his long-dead brother so that they can be given a proper ceremony. The general is convinced to give her the opportunity and requests the pathologist's presence to verify the identity of the bones when they are excavated. But, back to that clairvoyant. Allegedly, she became clairvoyant and able to communicate with the dead by

The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw: A review

Heft this book, open it at random, and your first reaction might be, "Ah, a coffee-table book." And it could well be, but this is much more than just a coffee-table book, even as birds are much more than just their feathers. The birds in Katrina van Grouw's astonishing book have been defeathered, often skinned and disassembled right down to their musculature or their skeletons, but they are always fully recognizable as birds.  Their unfeathered selves are real specimens that are posed in the act of flying, walking, or standing, even as they would have in life.  Ms. van Grouw has rendered them in monochromatic drawings that are remarkably detailed and absolutely mesmerizing.  The author hastens to assure us that "no birds were harmed" in the production of the book. She has taken specimens that were already dead and prepared them for her drawings. If that were all there was to this book, it could pass as a beautiful art book, but it is really much more than

Why is the Oscars show such a godawful mess? Or, we have seen Seth MacFarlane and he's a boob.

Did you watch the Academy Awards show last night? We recorded it and I watched it later and zoomed right through all the commercials and the often interminable acceptance speeches that I didn't care to hear. I actually watched the "entertainment" portion of the show. I should have zoomed through most of that also. I did not know who Seth MacFarlane was and I'm willing to bet that a significant portion of the audience was in the same quandary as me. I read later that he created "Family Guy," another show which I've never watched and never will. Apparently, he is considered young and hip and edgy, none of which describes the demographic to which I belong, so perhaps it was not surprising that I found him rude, repellent, and unfunny in equal measures. Joan Walsh says I shouldn't blame him . I should blame the producers of the show who knew what they were getting when they hired him and who approved his execrable script in advance. Well, there's p

Poetry Sunday: Let America be America Again

In honor of Black History Month, and, indeed, in honor of all our nation's history, here is the famous poem by African-American poet Langston Hughes. Written in 1935, first published in 1936, it still resonates today for all those for whom America is not yet the America of our hopes and dreams. Let America be America Again Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed- Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There's never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") Say, who ar

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin: A review

"M-I-Crooked letter-Crooked letter-I- Crooked letter-Crooked letter-I-Humpback-Humpback-I" was the refrain used in a certain era to teach kids how to spell Mississippi. Tom Franklin borrows from it to title his book set in the small southeastern Mississippi community of Chabot. The title seems wholly appropriate. I think that Franklin must have spent some time in such a place when growing up because he has got the description of it word perfect. I grew up in a similar community in northeast Mississippi and I do recognize these people. The group dynamics, the relations between the races, the everyday language of his characters all seem spot on to me. Franklin's is a Southern Gothic mystery built around two characters, one black and one white. Silas Jones is a black constable in the town. Larry Ott is the town weirdo, known to locals as Scary Larry. But twenty-five years before, these two men's lives were intertwined in a way that will have long-term and long-dela

And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to...

Sunday night brings the presentation of this year's Academy Awards. The greatest suspense over the Oscars this year is which movie will win the Best Picture award. So far, "Argo" has won just about every award in sight and so has its director, Ben Affleck. But the history of the Oscars is that movies rarely win the top award if the director has not been nominated for the Best Director award, and Affleck, unaccountably, was not nominated. So will the picture break tradition and take home the prize, or will "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty," (whose director also was not nominated), or any one of the other fine films in the running pull an upset win? At this point, I think any other film winning would qualify as an upset. Whichever film wins, it will be the 85th movie to do so. How many of the other 84 can you name? Well, here's your chance to try. Nelson Carvajal has put together a video with a scene from each of those movies, along with, at the end,

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: A review

Is  A Visit from the Goon Squad  really a novel or is it a collection of linked stories? It is extremely hard to classify or to summarize this convoluted exercise in story-telling. In the end though, I think the category hardly matters. Whatever you call it, it's a great read. These are stories about the passage of time and how our lives never seem to work out the way we thought they would. "Goon," in Jennifer Egan's lexicon, means time. We all receive visits from the "Goon Squad" every day, every year, even if we are oblivious to those visits. One of the many quirky things about this book is its portrayal of time. The action takes place over a period of forty years or so, but the narrative jumps forward and backward with ease and without warning. When you start reading a chapter, it isn't always clear at first just what time period you are in, but just keep reading. Eventually you'll get it. A second quirkiness is the long list of protagonists who

Wordless Wednesday: Spring beauties


The best show on television

Sunday night is my big television viewing night. For the last several weeks, of course, there's been "Downton Abbey" on PBS to provide us with enough angst to last until the series returns next winter. Then there is HBO's "Girls," the hot show these days, the one that gets all the critics slavering. "Girls" is sort of a non-airbrushed version of "Sex in the City," four twenty-something friends shown with all all their warts, freckles, anxieties, and cellulite intact. It is in many ways a maddening show, but I can't seem to stop watching it. But the best half hour on Sunday night is HBO's "Enlightened," the creation of Laura Dern and Mike White, who also star in it. This is "Enlightened's" second season, like "Girls" which it follows in the Sunday lineup. It may have suffered from its association with "Girls" which seems to sort of suck all the air out of the room. But for those of us

The most religious state

The Gallup pollsters periodically query the nation on a number of different issues. One of them is the question of religion. Their purpose is to determine the importance of religion in the lives of Americans and to  rate the various states on their religiosity .  To that end, they have interviewed thousands of people across the country, at least a thousand in every state except two and in the District of Columbia. The results of their latest surveys were  published last week. So, what are the most religious states in the country? State                                                           % report religion very important Mississippi                                                                    58% Utah                                                                             56% Alabama                                                                       56% Louisiana                                                                      53% Arkansas

Poetry Sunday - Love and Life: A Song

In honor of Valentine's Day just past, here's a love poem - of sorts. Love and Life: A Song BY  JOHN WILMOT, EARL OF ROCHESTER All my past life is mine no more,          The flying hours are gone, Like transitory dreams giv’n o’er, Whose images are kept in store          By memory alone. The time that is to come is not;          How can it then be mine? The present moment’s all my lot; And that, as fast as it is got,          Phyllis, is only thine. Then talk not of inconstancy,          False hearts, and broken vows; If I, by miracle, can be This live-long minute true to thee,          ’Tis all that Heav'n allows.

Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison: A review

While I was reading this book, the news broke of the 101st self-immolation of a Tibetan in Nepal since 2009. The self-immolaters are protesting the Chinese occupation of their homeland.  It was a sad reminder that, even though these books are fiction, they are based on very real events; namely, the sixty-year-long effort by China to subjugate Tibet and obliterate its culture and religion. Of course, for the traditional Tibetan, culture and religion are very much the same thing. Evidently, that is what the Chinese state finds so offensive. But, as this book makes clear, it is not just the Tibetans whose culture is under attack by the Chinese government. The other ethnic minorities in the western China borderlands suffer from the same efforts at repression. The Kazakhs, the Uighurs, and the Tadjiks, as well as the Tibetans have a sad history of interaction with the giant to their east. And all of these peoples play a part in the story told in this second book in the Inspector Shan ser

...Because, you know, it's all about the cats!

How are your single cats spending Valentine's Day? Happy Valentine's Day to you and your cats. Oh, what the heck, dogs, too!

Best in show

What a face! Banana Joe, Westminster Best-in-Show winner.  (Photo from New York Times .) I am a cat person, but one of my guilty pleasures is watching dog shows on television, especially the Westminster Dog Show which happens at this time every year. These animals are the very best of their breeds and they are beautifully trained superb athletes who mostly seem to truly enjoy their time in the ring. They are just a joy to watch and I always look forward to spending time with them. Unfortunately, this year I was otherwise engaged and didn't get to watch any of the show, but I was delighted to look at the New York Times online later and learn that an affenpinscher, sometimes called the "monkey dog," had won the big prize . Banana Joe, or Joey as he is called, was the first of his breed ever to win the Westminster Best-in-Show, and it is always fun to see a new breed win. There have been enough poodles and beagles carrying home the prize. Time for some new blood.

Bye, bye, Pope!

So, for the first time in over seven hundred years, a pope of the Catholic Church is voluntarily giving up his crown, red shoes, and scepter . Truly, we do live in amazing times. As a total outsider, a non-Catholic with only a passing knowledge of how the Catholic Church works, I have to say that I think this may be the best decision the man has made as pope. His time in office has been marked by one scandal after another, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say that any of the scandals are Benedict's fault, my observation is that his instinct has always been to obfuscate and cover up rather than to get at the root of the corruption and clean things up. This attitude has most obviously permeated the church in its reaction to the sexual abuse of children by priests. The institution's primary concern has always been for the welfare of the priests rather than the welfare of children. Of course, this is an institution which continues to deny that women are equal to men and

Get ready to count

Yes, it is just a few days now until the annual  Great Backyard Bird Count   begins. Are you ready to count? It's easy - and free - to participate. You just go to the website and sign on. Then count the birds in a specific area - it can be your yard or a public area like a park - and report them on the site. Then watch the map fill up with reports from around the country, and, this year, from around the world. In the past, the bird count only included the United States and Canada, but this year it is going global. I am really excited to be able to see those counts from all over the world. But really the ones that excite me most are the ones from my neighborhood and state. It's always interesting to see what other birders in my area are reporting. Scientists can determine much about the health of various bird populations by analyzing the data from the bird count from year to year. Even a layperson like myself learns about the movement of birds in her area by looking at those

Poetry Sunday: Talking Back to the Mad World

When I read this poem in this month's Poetry magazine , I thought, "Finally! Someone has written a poem about my philosophy of gardening!" Yes, I admit it. I am a lazy gardener. I love the way my garden cultivates and arranges itself - with only minimal interference from me. Talking Back to the Mad World BY  SARAH C. HARWELL I will not tend. Or water, pull, or yank, I will not till, uproot,   fill up or spray.   The rain comes. Or not. Plants: sun-fed, moon-hopped, dirt-stuck.   Watch as flocks of wild phlox   appear, disappear. My lazy, garbagey magic makes this nothing happen.   I love the tattered camisole of nothing. The world runs its underbrush course fed by the nothing I give it.   Wars are fought. Blood turns. Dirt is a wide unruly room.

Sunny, sunny Germany

Fox News does it again, spreading disinformation to its vast audience of gullible souls. It is part of their remit, of course, to be totally opposed to any source of energy which does not pollute the atmosphere, so we should not be surprised that they scoff at the whole idea of solar energy. You can't depend on the sun, they say. Some days it is cloudy. When it is pointed out to them that other countries are moving ahead quite successfully with solar energy projects, their "experts" will explain that it is because those countries are much sunnier than the United States. Sunny, sunny Germany , for example.   When asked why Germany is doing so much better than the United States in this field,    Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi explained,  "They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do." He went on,  "The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna hav

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: A review

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao  racked up most of the major literary awards when it came out in 2007, including the Pulitzer. It was hailed as a  tour de force  by most critics. Now that I've finally gotten around to reading the book, I have to agree. It is an amazing work. This was Junot Diaz's first novel. Of course, since then he's written another greatly acclaimed book,  This Is How You Lose Her . I'm putting it on my "to be read" list. We meet Oscar as an amazingly sweet-tempered, grossly obese teenage geek who lives in a fantasy world of gaming, anime, comics, and  Lord of the Rings  with his rebellious older sister and his Dominican mother in Paterson, New Jersey. Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. Most of all, he dreams of finding love. He falls in love repeatedly, usually with the most highly inappropriate females, but his sentiments are never returned. He's never been kissed. Things are not easy for this immigrant Dom