Showing posts from October, 2013

Note to my readers

To those of you who may have noticed my recent blog silence and wondered about it, the truth is that I have been quite sick. A bacterial infection has flattened me and made it impossible for me to do much of anything, including blogging. I hope to be feeling better soon and back to my normal activities. Meantime, thank you for your patience.

Poetry Sunday: Aimless Love

Billy Collins, who happens to be one of my favorite contemporary American poets, has a new book of poetry just out. It's called Aimless Love and includes a collection of his poems, both old and new, from the past several years.  Here is the title poem from the collection. AIMLESS LOVE This morning as I walked along the lakeshore, I fell in love with a wren and later in the day with a mouse the cat had dropped under the dining room table. In the shadows of an autumn evening, I fell for a seamstress still at her machine in the tailor’s window, and later for a bowl of broth, steam rising like smoke from a naval battle. This is the best kind of love, I thought, without recompense, without gifts, or unkind words, without suspicion, or silence on the telephone. The love of the chestnut, the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel. No lust, no slam of the door – the love of the miniature orange tree, the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower, the highway that cuts across Flori

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Philippa Gregory's tales about the women of the Cousins' War (or War of the Roses as it later came to be known) continues with this fourth in the series, The Kingmaker's Daughter. The kingmaker referred to was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, whose prowess on the battlefield and in the political arena made him one of the most powerful men in fifteenth-century England. He cast his lot with the Yorks in the internecine war and helped them to gain the throne, but, always, his main aim was to put his own family on that throne. He did not have any sons and so his two daughters were used as his pawns in his political ploys to achieve greatness for his family. Those two daughters were Anne and Isabel and, of course, the only use for daughters was to get them married advantageously. Meantime, he was successful in getting the York son, Edward, onto the throne where he became Edward IV. Warwick's plan was that he would be the power behind the throne,

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Common Buckeye butterfly

Common Buckeye butterfly, Junonia coenia , in three poses. The Common Buckeye is a beautiful and strikingly marked butterfly that is supposedly present in my area of Southeast Texas throughout most of the year, but I see it most often in autumn and I think of it as an autumn visitor. With its prominent eyespots and the wide white bar across its forewing tips, it is definitely one of the most easily identified butterfly species that appears in my backyard. It is a relatively common butterfly and it is resident throughout the southern states and into Mexico. It cannot long survive freezing temperatures at any stage of its life cycle, but in some of our milder winters here, I will see the butterfly around my yard into December and even January. In the spring, it moves northward quickly and colonizes most of the United States and all the way into southern Canada. It may produce two or three generations before fall adults begin their southward migration. Those arriving adul

Soulless bastards

Anyone who averts his eyes from the hopeless lives many of our fellow citizens lead and tells himself and others that these men and women only have themselves to blame, is either a fool or a soulless bastard.   - from "Bleak House" by Charles Simic, writing in The New York Review of Books  It seems to me that what is truly wrong with American society is that it is overrun by soulless bastards, people who have no concept of or empathy for what the lives of their fellow citizens who are less financially successful are like. Charles Simic writes movingly of these people in his piece that I quoted from above. They are people whose lives are totally invisible to a certain segment of society. It is unfortunately a powerful segment, this soulless bastard segment. This country that once waged a noble "War on Poverty" often seems to have waved the white flag to the bastards and has given up the battle to try to assist in making life better for millions of its less for

Poetry Sunday: Twelfth Song of Thunder (Navajo Tradition)

The Navajo culture has long interested me. Their spiritual view of Earth and of all the universe and the relationship of all things is an idea which I find particularly resonant.  The center of their belief system - at least in my understanding - is their concept of beauty. By beauty, they simply mean being in balance and harmony. They strive toward the "Beauty Way," a life based on balance and harmony. When I came across the following poem while searching the Poetry Foundation website this week, it evoked images of Nature which I find particularly satisfying and so I decided to make it my poem of the week. Twelfth Song of Thunder [Navajo Tradition] BY  ANONYMOUS The voice that beautifies the land! The voice above, The voice of thunder Within the dark cloud Again and again it sounds, The voice that beautifies the land.   The voice that beautifies the land! The voice below, The voice of the grasshopper Among the plants Again and again it sounds

Caturday: The Morris Project

Here's something different for Caturday - an opportunity to actually help cats. The ASPCA has a grant program through which they provide food and aid to cats in shelters and in need and they have established a unique way that the public can help with that program. All you have to do cat videos! Well, we do that anyway, don't we, so why not do it in such a way as to help cats? This project is called the Morris Rescue Watch , named for the rescue cat who became a television star back in the 1970s through commercials for 9 Lives cat food. Here's one of those famous commercials. All you have to do to help is go to the Morris Rescue Watch site (click on the link above) and watch the cat videos there. The ASPCA says: "The more you watch, the more hungry kitty bellies will be filled! Through our grants program, the ASPCA will be distributing the entire amount of food as in-kind donations nationwide to shelters, rescues, and other animal welfare groups tha

Die Trying by Lee Child: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Die Trying is the second in Lee Child's blood-spattered thriller series featuring his superman Jack Reacher. In this entry in the series a lot of the bloodletting is done by the bad guys rather than by Reacher. And they are very bad guys indeed. Reacher becomes involved in this adventure while innocently walking down a street in Chicago. He encounters a young woman coming out of a dry cleaner's shop with several outfits in one of her arms and an aluminum crutch in the other arm. She is struggling to manage the door, the crutch, and the clothes and drops the crutch. Reacher stops to help and as he returns her crutch to her, the two find themselves confronted by two armed men. By the curb is a car with a third man as driver. They are forced into the car by the men, the victims of a broad daylight kidnapping. The two are then transferred into a paneled van and a long trip across country begins. Since the van is closed, they have no idea which way t

The Houston Chronicle editorial board are idiots

When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November's general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation - that he follow Hutchison's example in his conduct as a senator.     - Houston Chronicle's mea culpa editorial for endorsing Ted Cruz for senator. The Houston Chronicle is not known for its courageous and incisive editorials, but it may have set a new record for obtuseness yesterday with its whining about how their preferred candidate for the Senate from Texas, Ted Cruz, has not followed their advice and lived up to the example set by former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison . Of course, then they followed that up with a weasel statement about how, no, they were not unendorsing Ted Cruz!   Way to go, guys. Way to try to have it both ways. It was never a mystery what kind of senator Ted Cruz was going to be. The campaign he ran fully revealed him as a self-serving political nihilist only concerned with advancing the cause of Ted Cr

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Bumblebees

Bumblebee on Mexican firebush ( Hamelia patens ). Bumblebees are one of the few members of the insect world that most people actually like. They are a major contingent of the community of pollinators that inhabit my garden, and I find them to be good neighbors. I've worked in and around bees for many years and I've never been stung. Queen and worker bumblebees do have stingers and the capacity to sting, but they are very reluctant to use them. I find that if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Bumblebees are large, hairy insects with a lazy buzz and a clumsy-looking, bumbling flight. Most of them, at least in our area, are black and yellow. They are members of the genus Bombus in the family Apidae . They are social insects that are found mainly in northern temperate regions. There are a few that are native to South America and some that are naturalized in New Zealand. They can range much farther north than honeybees, because they are able to regulate thei

Blind Justice by Anne Perry: A review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars Anne Perry's William and Hester Monk series is another long-running mystery series that I have read faithfully and with enjoyment over the years. In recent years, it has lost some of its spark and freshness, but it has still been of interest for Perry's unique understanding and exploration of the social ills of the Victorian era in England. This most recent entry, however, just seems stale and repetitive. I couldn't find much to excite my interest. Over the years, we've come to thoroughly know the haunted but ultimately honorable Inspector Monk and his compassionate wife, the nurse Hester. We also know well their friend Oliver Rathbone, the brilliant barrister, now elevated to the bench. Rathbone takes center stage in Blind Justice . Rathbone has only recently become a judge and he has presided over his first case with his usual brilliance. Now he is tasked with a much more difficult case, that of a charismatic minister who is adored by h

The long and short of it

I've mentioned here before that I'm not really a fan of the short story. Earlier this year I ventured into the genre to read the much acclaimed short story collection Tenth of December by George Saunders , but it, frankly, left me cold except for a couple of the stories. I couldn't really see what all the shouting was about. Still, since all the critics raved about the book, I had to consider that perhaps my disaffection for it was due to something lacking in myself rather than in the book itself. Mostly, I am not even tempted to read short stories, but, over the years, there is one short story writer that I have been drawn to and about whose writings I have been curious, even though I have to admit I've never actually read any of them. Now that that writer has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature , it becomes even more urgent that I rise above my unreasoning prejudice and read the works of Alice Munro. From what I know of Munro's writing, her

Poetry Sunday: Emmett Till

James A. Emanuel, an African-American poet who created poetry out of the scourge of racism , died on September 27 at the age of 92. His death was announced last week.   His poetry has been somewhat neglected, at least in his native country, possibly because he spent much of his long life living in Europe. At the time of his death, he lived in Paris. In addition to his work as a poet, he had served as a professor of English at the University of Grenoble and the University of Toulouse, among others. Perhaps another reason for the neglect of his poetry is that he never bothered with the trends of the moment or with political correctness. But his poetry about the evils of racism was heart-felt and powerful. Here's one that speaks to me particularly, for many reasons. Emmett Till * by James A. Emanuel I hear a whistling  Through the water.  Little Emmett  Won't be still.  He keeps floating  Round the darkness,  Edging through  The silent chill.  Tell me, please,  That bedti

Caturday (and Chickenday): Kung Fu Rooster and Black Cat

This short video features perhaps my two favorite domestic animals - cats and chickens. Guess which one is truly chicken!

Friday Fotos: Big Bend National Park - Closed for business


W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton: A review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars The first few pages of this new Sue Grafton book grabbed me, and I looked forward to one of her typically interesting and entertaining reads. But the further I progressed with my reading, the more antsy I got. The story just didn't seem very coherent. It wandered here and there to no discernible purpose. Words, sentences, whole paragraphs seemed thrown in just to increase the word count and didn't appear to this reader to be advancing the story or making the characters' actions more explicable. In the end, I concluded that W is for wordy. Too wordy by far. I've been reading these Kinsey Millhone adventures ever since A is for Alibi and, on the whole, I've always found them gripping, and, by now, Kinsey seems like an old friend. So, I was very sorry to feel somewhat disappointed and let down by this latest entry. The story here revolves around the issue of homelessness as exemplified by the homeless population of Santa Teresa, Kinsey&

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Dainty Sulphur butterfly

Sometimes you get lucky. I was sitting on my backyard bench by the pond over the weekend with my camera in my hands because I was trying - unsuccessfully as it turned out - to get some pictures of a red dragonfly. Then, Fate brought me another subject for my photography efforts. A tiny butterfly landed in the grass near my feet and I aimed the camera at it and snapped. When I looked at the picture later, I realized that it was a butterfly I had never seen before. Actually, it was so small, with a wingspread of perhaps an inch, that it is possible I had seen it before and had simply not noticed it. That's often the case of some of the tiny butterflies. We are distracted by the Monarchs and the various swallowtails, all large and showy butterflies that grab our attention, and we forget to notice some of the smaller treasures that are right there under our noses. The Dainty Sulphur certainly qualifies as one of those treasures. It is a pretty little butterfly and the smalles

The happy, happy Swiss

It's always interesting to peruse research about which countries have the happiest, healthiest, most contented citizenry, and so, when I saw this headline about Switzerland , of course I had to read the story. Switzerland is a small, landlocked central European country with few natural resources, and yet it has a strong and thriving economy and, according to all measurements, one of the happiest populations on Earth. How does it achieve this success? The answer seems to be that it invests strongly in the main natural resource which it does have - its people. According to the World Economic Forum's 2013 Human Capital Report, Switzerland invests more in the health, education, and talent of its people than any other country in the world . To determine this, the Forum examined 51 indicators of how various countries invest in their people and how they are leveraging those investments in terms of productivity and a robust economy. Their director, Saadia Zahidi, says, "Count

The Manning brothers

I am a baseball kind of person - a faithful fan of the Houston Astros through thick and thin. In recent years, it has been all thin, but never mind. Losing is part of the game. They'll win again, maybe even next year. So, I don't really pay much attention to football, except that, as I've mentioned here before , I do follow the careers of the Manning brothers. It's a legacy from my youth when I was a big fan of their father, Archie Manning. I still am a big fan of his and I've transferred that interest and loyalty to his two sons who now play in the NFL. So far this year, Peyton and Eli have given new meaning to the words "thick" and "thin." Poor Eli and his New York Giants have definitely been on the thin side. They have yet to win a game. Meantime, the elder brother, Peyton, is riding high and is right in the thick of things. He's already broken several passing and offensive records this season, but I'll bet if you asked him, h

Poetry Sunday: To Autumn

Autumn with its fog-shrouded mornings and hint of coolness in the air is finally with us. Yellowing and falling leaves and darkness which falls an hour earlier than it did just a few weeks ago. Roadsides ablaze with yellow flowers. Fruit trees bending under their ripened load. Birds gathering to make their journey south. The many joys and beauties of this wonderful season - let's celebrate them this week with a poem by John Keats.                                TO AUTUMN.                                              1.     SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,         Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;     Conspiring with him how to load and bless         With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;     To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,         And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;             To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells     With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,         And still more, later flowers for the bees,      

Caturday: Ninja cats!

In truth, all cats are ninjas...

Bring on the stupid

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act this week along with the government shutdown orchestrated by the tea party Republicans has surely brought out some of the most world class stupid reactions recently seen on our political stage. When you consider all the vast stupidity that has occurred in the political arena in recent years, you begin to get a true idea of just how insane this week's actors on the stage have shown themselves to be. I think the one who tops my own personal list - and, admittedly, he has lots of competition - is Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R. - Texas, of course!) berating a park ranger at the World War II Memorial and telling her that she should be ashamed of herself because the memorial was closed. As if she personally had made the decision to close the memorial when, in fact, it was Neugebauer and his fellow tea party posse members who locked those gates. Neugebauer and other tea partiers, like Michele Bachmann, who showed up to have their pictures taken

The Price of Darkness by Graham Hurley: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars Graham Hurley is a very effective writer of police procedurals. He has a sure feel for the way that police officers think and operate and a succinct method of writing about those things that brings them vividly to life. The setting for Hurley's Faraday/Winter novels is the island city of Portsmouth off England's south coast and its nearby rival city of Southampton. The city is known to locals by the affectionate nickname of Pompey and that is the name that is often used throughout the novels, especially in those sections that are told from DC Winter's viewpoint. It is a city that has a seafaring history - and present - and is mad about its football team. The city and its surrounding area are major characters in these stories. One can't imagine them happening anywhere else. Throughout the Faraday/Winter series, a recurring character has been the local crime lord Bazza Mackenzie. The police have tried repeatedly to bring him down but have been n

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Eastern Fox Squirrel

The utility wire that runs over the back of our property is a highway for the Eastern Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) that populate my yard. These extraordinarily nimble, agile climbers are able to use the wires to make their way around the neighborhood, even when there isn't a conveniently placed tree. Trees, of course, are their favorite ways of getting from place to place. The fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel in North America, bigger than the American Red Squirrel and Eastern Gray Squirrel both of which are sometimes mistaken for this squirrel. It can found over most of the eastern and central United States, west to the Dakotas and Colorado, but is generally not present in New England and most of New Jersey, as well as western New York and northern and eastern Pennsylvania. It can, however, be found as far north as southern Canada and as far south as northern Mexico. There are three distinct color patterns of fox squirrels in different geographical areas. In the no

Best laid plans...

We had planned to visit Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge this week for a spot of autumn birding. It is one of my favorite sites along the Texas Coast to see birds. Ted Cruz and his delusional band of bomb throwers put a stop to those plans. They've put a stop to vacationers' and sightseers' plans all over the country . Trips that people have planned, in some cases, for months, perhaps their only vacation of the year, have been disrupted by a bunch of tantrum throwers who can't accept the decisions of voters, because they don't really believe in democracy. Like a two-year-old, they are going to hold their breath until they get their way, even if it kills you! National parks and monuments and other such federal facilities are popular places for travelers, not just from this country but from all over the world. Imagine someone who has traveled halfway around the world and wants to visit the Statue of Liberty or Yosemite National Park while he is here, but when he g