Showing posts from January, 2014

Happy Year of the Horse!

It is New Year's Day of the year 4712 in the Chinese calendar . It is the beginning of the Year of the Horse. So happy New Year! The Chinese calendar is an interesting way of perceiving and reckoning the passage of time. The month is determined by the phases of the moon. Each month begins with a New Moon, the darkest time of the moon's passage. Last night saw a New Moon and so today begins the New Year. Chinese New Year festivities are not just a one day or one night affair. They start on the first day of the month and last until the fifteenth, when the moon is full and at its brightest. Traditionally, the Chinese people might take weeks to prepare for and celebrate this holiday, and, in some places, they still do. One of the most interesting things - to me - about the Chinese calendar is the concept of naming each year after an animal and attributing to people born in that year the supposed characteristics of that animal. Those born in one of the Years of the Horse, for

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly: A review

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly My rating: 4 of 5 stars This third entry in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series begins as a courtroom thriller. Four years before, Harry had killed a man believed to be the Dollmaker, a serial killer of women. Now the man's wife is suing  Harry for wrongful death in the case. She is being represented by one of the premier civil rights lawyers in Los Angeles, a woman who is not used to losing. Harry is being represented by a city attorney who is not in the same league with her. His chances do not look good. At the time Harry had killed the man, it was believed that he was responsible for the murders of eleven women, but at the beginning of his civil trial, evidence becomes known that seems to indicate that two of the later victims may actually have been killed by someone else. And now a third body has been found that follows the pattern of the other murders - a woman who was killed at least two years after the death of the Dollmaker.

Climatologists explain it all

Some parts of the country continue to be hit by some pretty freaky cold winter weather. How can this be happening if global warming is for real and not a hoax as the right-wing deniers claim? Well, very easily actually. Here's a short film that was put together with input from several meteorologists that explains it all rather succinctly.

Pity the poor billionaire

There has been a lot of comment about the letter from billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins that the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal thought was important enough to give space in their newspaper recently. Oh, you haven't heard about this? Well, in his letter, Perkins compared today's "progressive radicalism," by which he apparently means having the richest one-percent among us pay a fair share in taxes, to Nazi Germany's persecution of the Jews.  Specifically, he made reference to the Nazis' attack on Jews and Jewish businesses known as Kristallnacht. The final paragraph of his letter seems to sum up his thought processes: This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?   Of all the comments that I have seen on this, I think it is best answered by Jen Sorensen in a cartoon in today's Daily Kos . (A cartoon does seem

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley: A review

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley My rating: 3 of 5 stars Alan Bradley's eleven-year-old (almost twelve, as she constantly reminds us) budding chemist/detective, Flavia de Luce, is a charming creation in one of the most innovative of recent cozy mystery series. In the sixth entry of the series, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches , Flavia is still charming, but the plot seems a bit contrived and strained, and by halfway through the book, I just wanted to get it over with.  Overall, I still rather enjoyed it - if I could give it two-and-a-half stars, I would, but since I can't, I'll opt for the more generous three stars - but it definitely was not one of my favorites. There are two related mysteries for Flavia to solve this time. First, who pushed the man under the wheels of the moving train in the English village of Bishop's Lacey? Or was he pushed? Did he simply stumble and fall? Second, the reason that all the village had turned out at the train station

Poetry Sunday: People Who Take Care

We recently watched what I thought was a brilliant comedic series on HBO called "Getting On." The setting is an extended care facility for elderly women in a hospital in California. The series focuses on the stories of the ill and often confused patients and the overworked and underpaid staff, their relationships and interactions. The stories are told with great humor but with an underlying compassion and a real empathy for the people in this facility. I loved the series - which probably means it will never make it to a second season, but we'll see. I mention this show because I just came across a poem this week which perfectly expresses the spirit of "Getting On," and so, it had to be my featured poem of the week. People Who Take Care   by Nancy Henry People who take care of people get paid less than anybody people who take care of people are not worth much except to people who are sick, old, helpless, and poor people who take care of people are not impo

Caturday: The cat is sat

We're planning an out-of-town trip soon which means that the cat sitters will be making an appearance. Fortunately for our cats, their sitters are much more competent and empathetic than the buffoon that poor Henri has to deal with...

How and where do birds sleep?

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder .) There's a really  interesting piece in  today about the way that birds sleep. It seems that a lot of people have misconceptions about that. They think that birds sleep in their nests. But the sole purpose of nests is to provide a place to hold eggs and chicks, and once that purpose is fulfilled, that nest is so nasty that no self-respecting bird is going to want to sleep in it. The main concern of a bird looking for a bed for the night is to find a place that is safe from predators. A second concern may be to have some protection from the weather, but first and foremost is always the fear of predators. The predator problem is such a threat to birds' survival that they have evolved a brain that will help them to meet it. They are essentially able to sleep while one-half of their brain stays awake and alert for danger. This technique, called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS) allows the bird to have one hemisphere of the

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian: A review

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian My rating: 4 of 5 stars Two years ago, I started reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series after years of prodding by my husband who insisted that the books weren't really war adventures - which I would hate - but were more about the relationships of the men on the ships. Finally succumbing to his persuasion, I found that hubby was right. Again. In fact, I do like this series very much. I've been reading it now at a rate of about five books a year, more or less, and if I continue on that pace, I should have at least two more years of good reading ahead. So far, I have not found a stinker among the books and this tenth one is, I think, my favorite of all that I've read. The bromance between Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin continues in The Far Side of the World . Aubrey is still captaining the Surprise which, much to his distress, had been designated to return to England to be decommissioned and p

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

An infrequent but always welcome winter visitor to my backyard is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Just this week, I have observed my first one of this winter.  This medium-sized woodpecker spends its summers in the far northern parts of the United States and in Canada, but in fall and winter, it wanders south and some of them make their way to the Gulf Coast and even farther south, into Mexico and Central America. The bird prefers mixed woodlands for its habitat. It nests in such places and is especially fond of aspens. In winter, it also prefers woodlands for its home, but is not so picky about the kinds of trees it contains.  Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling small holes in the bark of trees from which they sip the sap and also feed on the insects that are attracted to the flowing sap. Many other birds, including hummingbirds, make use of the tiny holes to extract sap or catch insects. Some of the insects attracted to the holes include flies, butterflies and

Trees at mid-winter

(Here's a favorite post from the archives of my other blog Gardening With Nature , while I enjoy the day set aside to celebrate the life of a great American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote just before he went off to serve in World War I, where his life ended. His poem lives on, and no one has ever better described the mystical hold of trees on the human psyche. At all seasons of the year, trees have a kind of beauty and poetry and majesty of their own. In mid-winter, as at every season, they are the anchors of the garden. Live oaks, of course, are much the same at all seasons. They never get fully undressed, although they do shed their leaves in spring as new leaves are being produced. In winter, their leaves offer shelter and sanctuary for birds who need a safe haven from predators or from the weather. The same can be said of the magnolia trees, a favorite roosting place for many b

Poetry Sunday: In Texas

If you've ever traveled the roads in the vast empty spaces of West Texas, this poem may resonate with you. In Texas by  May Sarton In Texas the lid blew off the sky a long time ago So there's nothing to keep the wind from blowing And it blows all the time. Everywhere is far to go So there's no hurry at all, and no reason for going. In Texas there's so much space words have a way Of getting lost in the silence before they're spoken So people hang on a long time to what they have to say; And when they say it the silence is not broken, But it absorbs the words and slowly gives them Over to miles of white-gold plains and gray-green hills, And they are part of that silence that outlives them. Nothing moves fast in Texas except the windmills And the hawk that rises up with a clatter of wings. (Nothing more startling here than sudden motion, Everything is so still.) But the earth slowly swings In time like a great swelling never-ending

Caturday: The cat in the box

Another year, another visit from Simon's cat, and nothing has changed. A cat's best toy is still a cardboard box.

Watchers of Time by Charles Todd: A review

Watchers Of Time by Charles Todd My rating: 3 of 5 stars The action in this fifth entry in Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge series begins only a few weeks after the end of the last, which left Rutledge seriously injured and lying bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. Rutledge has recovered enough to return to work but is not yet able to resume his full duties. When a Catholic bishop contacts Scotland Yard and asks them to oversee the investigation of the murder of a priest in the little village of Osterley, it seems an ideal assignment for the inspector. All he has to do is consult with the local police and make sure a full and appropriate investigation of the crime has taken place. But the reader knows well from the previous four books that the role of overseer is not one that Rutledge can easily fill - especially when he suspects that a miscarriage of justice is taking place. He arrives in Osterley to find that the police have arrested Matthew Walsh, an outsider, fo

Hugging the Shore by John Updike: A review

Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism by John Updike My rating: 4 of 5 stars I've been periodically dipping into this book for months now and finally I feel as though I've read, if not every word, at least enough of them to have formed an opinion. Although I must say that writing a review of a book by John Updike in which he reviewed and offered criticism of the work of other writers is a rather daunting prospect. Updike was, of course, a famous reviewer of books, especially for The New Yorker , in his day. This particular collection was published in 1983 and it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism that year. Sometime after that - I don't remember when - I purchased it at Barnes and Noble and it has languished on my bookshelf ever since, waiting to be read. Last summer, I decided it was time and so I began and now in the new year I am prepared to mark the book "read." Updike explains the title of his book as an allusion to the critic

Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin: A review

Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing, and Crafting with 100 Easy-Care Varieties by Debra Lee Baldwin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Succulents are described as the plants that drink responsibly. Requiring very little water in order to thrive, they are the perfect kind of plants for areas where water is a scarce commodity and must be conserved. There are likely to be many more such areas in the future. It is good to know that even in these circumstances, there are plants that we can grow successfully. Debra Lee Baldwin has written a book that is a useful introduction to these trendy, low-maintenance plants. In Succulents Simplified , she gives advice about how to choose the appropriate plant for the site or the indoor project that you have in mind. She gives step-by-step instructions that can help the reader whether she has an acre to plant or is intent on filling only a few windowsill pots. I enjoy succulents and have several pots around the house as well as a few in the garden.

The best comedy series on television???

Last Sunday night provided an embarrassment of riches for television watchers. Or at least more than the usual interesting choices for watchers. You had "Downton Abbey," the new HBO show "True Detective," the premiere of the new season of the old HBO show "Girls," and the evening-long Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted "Golden Globe Awards Show." So, what to watch? We solved the conundrum at our house by watching HBO and recording "Downton Abbey" and the awards show. "True Detective" looks interesting and promising. "Girls" was not nearly as irritating as it sometimes is. We saved "Downton" and watched it yesterday, but we watched the Golden Globes, or at least most of it, Sunday night. Recording awards shows so that you can zip through the commercials and the boring or embarrassing speeches is about the only way I can tolerate watching them. It was fairly entertaining, watched in that way. I admit tha

Poetry Sunday: Death Is Not As Natural As You Fags Seem to Think

American poet Amiri Baraka, born Leroi Jones on October 7, 1934, died this past week. He was a controversial and profane poet, but his poetry drew praise from many critics and fans for its originality and honesty. I never really was a big fan of his poetry, perhaps because I just didn't understand it, but anyone of my generation was certainly aware of Baraka and his work. He was a cultural icon for many. Reading through several of his poems recently, in search of one to feature on this Poetry Sunday, I came across this one, which seemed both ironic and very appropriate, given the circumstances.    Death Is Not As Natural As You Fags Seem to Think BY  AMIRI BARAKA I hunt the black puritan.                             (Half-screamer in dull tones of another forest. Respecter of power. That it transform, and enlarge    Hierarchy crawls over earth (change exalting space    Dried mud to mountain, cape and whip, swirled    Walkers, and riders and fl

Poverty in political discourse

There's been a lot of talk about poverty in America this week. The impetus for all the talk was, of course, the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of a War on Poverty. A lot of the talk has been scoffing at the whole idea of a War on Poverty and of the various programs that were first implemented in the '60s to try to help the poor. There is a segment of our population and of our political thought that believes that any attempt to help the poor to pull themselves out of the downward spiral of poverty is doomed to failure. Indeed, any such efforts will just make the poor lazy and rob them of the desire to better their lives. On the contrary, the people who subscribe to this line of thought believe that government should aggressively institute policies that will benefit the rich and make them even richer because this is obviously good for society! This is the kind of thought that has dominated a large part of our politics for many years. It is

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: A review

My rating:  5 of 5 star s The book begins with a bedtime story. A horrifying bedtime story for Abdullah, age 10, and his sister Pari, age 3. They beg their father for a story and finally he gives them one. It is the tale of a  div , a supernatural being who lives in the mountains of Afghanistan and periodically comes to take a child from their village. In the story that the father tells, there lives a family of a man and woman and their five children in a village. They are very happy. The man loves all his children but the greatest joy of his life is the baby of the family, his youngest son, a three year old boy. One night, the most dreaded terror of all occurs. The div comes to the village and, of all the village families, it chooses this happy family and tells the parents that they must give it one of their children. They must choose which one. They have until morning to make the choice or they will lose all. The anguished parents cannot decide, but finally, in desperation,

Backyard Nature Wednesday: The goldfinches

The most recent book that I finished reading, just a few days ago, was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt . The MacGuffin of that book is a small painting of a pet European Goldfinch that was painted in 1654 by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. It seems coincidental and somehow appropriate then that the stars of my backyard these days are the American Goldfinches that visit us in the late fall and winter. The goldfinches arrived in my yard several weeks ago, around the end of November. As soon as I saw the first ones in the area, I filled my nyger seed feeders and hung them in the backyard. They continued to hang there unutilized until this week. Finally, this week as the extreme cold hit our area along with most of the rest of the country and as the wild food for the birds began to be depleted, the goldfinches have started visiting my feeders. Even though the nyger seed feeders were waiting for them, the first feeders the finches visited were those filled with black oil sunflower s

Stupid human tricks

The polar vortex evidently is messing with some people's minds and making them even more stupid than usual. Maybe their brains are frozen. It seems that there is this idea abroad in the land about throwing boiling wate r into the cold air and watching it turn into snow. I'm not sure just how it got started. Probably has something to do with Twitter. Apparently a lot of people are trying it and not all of them are drunk at the the time. They toss the boiling water into the air and the utterly predictable happens. It falls on them and burns their heads or arms or whatever parts of their bodies happen to be in the way. Many people have been painfully burned. The lesson here is that the laws of physics are not repealed by the polar vortex. Boiling water is more likely to burn you than to turn into snow in the few feet that you are able to toss it into the air - regardless of how cold that air is. And if there is wind, as there usually is these days, you may just get the whol

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars Donna Tartt's latest is a doorstop of a book at almost 800 pages long. It was also one of the books of the year for 2013, the book that all the critics raved about and many of them put at the top of their lists of the best books of the year. I read several of those rave reviews and I was interested and excited to read the book myself. Perhaps I am overly suggestible but I find that I usually am in agreement with those reviewers whom I respect, so The Goldfinch shaped up as a very pleasurable read for me. But, in truth, I found that I couldn't love it quite as much as all the enthusiastic professional reviewers. It seemed over-long, over-wordy, and told me much more than I wanted or needed to know about the conservation and reproduction of fine furniture. That is not to denigrate Tartt's talents in putting together this tale that has been described by many as Dickensian. The comparison is apt, both as to the length of the book and the complex

Poetry Sunday: The Snowfall Is So Silent

It's winter and snow is falling over much of the northern hemisphere and so we need a poem about the snowfall on this first Sunday in January. As the white stuff blankets much of the country, let us celebrate the silence of the winter snowfall, so unlike the boisterous rainstorms of spring and summer. The Snowfall Is So Silent   by  Miguel de Unamuno translated by  Robert Bly   The snowfall is so silent, so slow, bit by bit, with delicacy it settles down on the earth and covers over the fields. The silent snow comes down white and weightless; snowfall makes no noise, falls as forgetting falls, flake after flake. It covers the fields gently while frost attacks them with its sudden flashes of white; covers everything with its pure and silent covering; not one thing on the ground anywhere escapes it. And wherever it falls it stays, content and gay, for snow does not slip off as rain does, but it stays and sinks in. The flakes are skyflowers, pale lilies from the clouds, t