Showing posts from February, 2014

Friday Funnies: Cats stealing dogs' beds

Anyone who lives with cats can attest that the furry beasts are no respecters of personal property. They consider your favorite chair or your bed to be their own. And furthermore, that goes for the dog's bed, too... Hat tip to Jayne Wilson for pointing this out on YouTube.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: A review

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert My rating: 4 of 5 stars "In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."                                  - Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich As far as science has been able to determine, there have been five mass extinctions of life on Earth in the history of our planet. The first of these occurred at the end of the Ordovician period of the Paleozoic era about 450 million years ago. The second occurred less than 100 million years later in the late Devonian period. There followed the End-Permian extinction of some 250 million years ago, the Late Triassic extinction of 200 million years ago, and finally, the last one and the one we are most familiar with, the End-Cretaceous extinction which occurred about 65 million years ago. That's the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. (Well, almost - except for the ancestors of birds.) The best evidence seems to in

The springtime garden

Is it only me or has winter been going on way too long? It's almost enough to make me long for summer once again. Almost, but not quite. A much better alternative is spring and this week it seems as though spring is returning to my garden. And not a moment too soon! Nothing says "spring" quite like sweetly fragrant hyacinths. These bloom in a pot beside my front entry door. Well, the little Leucojum snowflakes run the hyacinths a close second in the spring department. I do love these little bulbs. One of the things that I love best about them is that they are so easy to grow. All around the garden, the shrubs and trees are beginning to put out green buds.  New growth from a mahogany Esperanza planted last year. Yellow cestrum bloomed right up until the mercury dipped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Then it lost all its leaves, but now it is putting on new growth. Soon it will be blooming again. Likewise, the almond verbena was blooming un

Where'd they go?

It was just over a week ago that I participated in the annual mid-winter census of birds known as the Great Backyard Bird Count. During the weekend over which the count occurred, my backyard and my bird feeders were covered in birds, especially our winter visitors, the American Goldfinches. It was common to see the finch feeders carrying at least thirty of the little birds in their greenish winter feathers as they gobbled up my nyger seeds. I was refilling the nyger seed feeders on a daily basis. In addition to the thirty or so on those feeders, there were even more of the birds on the black oil sunflower seed feeders and on the ground under the feeders picking up fallen seeds. A flock of more than 100 birds would fly up when I ventured too close. But a few days ago, all of that changed. I looked up one day to find that there were no birds on the nyger feeders and the seed levels hadn't gone down for a couple of days. I looked around the yard and found that there were still a fe

The most interesting hour on television

HBO's Louisiana bayou noir series "True Detective" has kept me looking forward to Sunday nights during this late winter period which has proved mostly barren for TV watching. The show features detective partners Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey), a metaphysical philosophy spouting loner, and Marty Hart (played by Woody Harrelson), the ultimate macho bearer of the sexual double standard who is a philanderer in his own right but who can't abide the thought that his daughters or wife or women in general might do the same thing. Were any two television detective partners ever more ill-matched? If you are unfamiliar with the show,  it's a bit difficult to describe the attraction - and the action. The events of the story take place over a period of about twenty years. Cohle and Hart had investigated the disappearances and murders of women and children in the 1990s and had ultimately supposedly solved the case and taken out the bad guys, for which they had r

Poetry Sunday: To Daffodils

Spring-like weather made its appearance last week. We had temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit on most days. It was a pleasure to get out into the garden once again. And a pleasure to see that the daffodils were blooming, the harbinger of spring. They are lovely while they last, but like too many good things, they "haste away so soon" as the poet Robert Herrick wrote. To Daffodils BY  ROBERT HERRICK Fair Daffodils, we weep to see          You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun          Has not attain'd his noon.                         Stay, stay,                 Until the hasting day                         Has run                 But to the even-song; And, having pray'd together, we Will go with you along. We have short time to stay, as you,          We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay,          As you, or anything.                         We die                 As your hours do, and dry

Caturday: The suitcase

Anyone who has ever tried to pack a suitcase with a cat in the room can relate to this one. Simon's Cat is truly EveryCat.

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø: A review

Cockroaches: The Second Inspector Harry Hole Novel by Jo Nesbø My rating: 2 of 5 stars It seems that Harry Hole has become the go-to guy when Norwegian authorities need to send someone abroad in connection with a criminal investigation. That strategy turned out well when Harry was sent to Australia to help track down the killer of a Norwegian citizen there in The Bat . Now, another Norwegian has been killed abroad, this time in Thailand, but it's not just any Norwegian. It is Norway's ambassador to Thailand. There may be political implications to this killing and the authorities are anxious that the whole thing be handled discretely. In other words, they want it hushed up. But is Harry really a likely candidate to accomplish that?  The powers that be seem to think so and soon he is winging his way to Bangkok. The ambassador had been found in a hotel room that was an extension of a local brothel, with a ceremonial knife sticking out of his back. The implication is that h

Rare Birds of North American by Steve N.G. Howell: A review

Rare Birds of North America by Steve N.G. Howell My rating: 4 of 5 stars Readers might at first be misled by the title of this book. Rare Birds of North America is not, in fact, about the endangered and rare species of endemic birds of this continent. Rather, it is a comprehensive illustrated guide to the birds that don't belong here but manage to find their way here anyway. These are the birds that are referred to as vagrants. They are native to some other part of the world - East Asia, Western Eurasia, Africa, the Southern Hemisphere, islands - but, for some reason, they have turned up on this continent. The book explains how and why these vagrants arrive here. The "how" is simple enough. Birds have wings and they tend to use them to fly to different places. Though they generally follow fairly well-defined routes in migration and in their wanderings about the planet, sometimes when they are in flight something might happen to steer them in a different directi

Great Backyard Bird Count 2014

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder .) How did you spend your Presidents' Day weekend? I spent mine counting birds. Yes, this was the weekend for the annual  Great Backyard Bird Count , an activity that has now gone global. Beginning last year, the Count started accepting reports not just from North America but from all around the world. When I last checked the website, reports had been received this year from every continent except Antarctica. Participants count birds in their own yards or other designated places. This year, I counted birds in my yard as I always do, and on Saturday I also did a count at Brazos Bend State Park. We had a family cookout there to celebrate our older daughter's birthday, and, of course, I insisted that we go on a bird walk after lunch. In fact, the highlight of my weekend counting came on that walk. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon and we were walking around Forty-Acre Lake when we heard two  Barred Owls  calling to each other in the woo

Poetry Sunday: O Tell Me The Truth About Love

Valentine's Day may have come and gone already but love is a popular topic for poetry on any day of the year. Here's a poem on the subject by a very famous 20th century poet born in England who later became an American citizen, W. H. Auden. It's one that I like very much. O Tell Me The Truth About Love Some say love's a little boy, And some say it's a bird, Some say it makes the world go around, Some say that's absurd, And when I asked the man next-door, Who looked as if he knew, His wife got very cross indeed, And said it wouldn't do. Does it look like a pair of pyjamas, Or the ham in a temperance hotel? Does its odour remind one of llamas, Or has it a comforting smell? Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is, Or soft as eiderdown fluff? Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges? O tell me the truth about love. Our history books refer to it In cryptic little notes, It's quite a common topic on The Transatlantic boats; I've

Alena by Rachel Pastan: A review

Alena by Rachel Pastan My rating: 3 of 5 stars "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the sentence with which Daphne du Maurier began her iconic novel Rebecca. For me, that is one of the three most memorable beginnings of all the books I have ever read. The other two? "Call me Ishmael." ( Moby Dick ) And, of course, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." ( The Hobbit) But those two are very different kinds of novels, and the beginning of Rebecca , I think, is the most memorable for me. When I was a teenager, I was under the spell of du Maurier and her books. I read them over and over again, but none more often than Rebecca . Somewhere in there I also saw Alfred Hitchcock's movie which was a wonderfully faithful realization of the much-loved book. When I heard a review on NPR's "Fresh Air" a few days ago of Rachel Pastan's new book Alena and the reviewer mentioned that the book was an homage to Rebecc

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Backyard predators

This is a busy time at the backyard bird feeders. When I step out into the yard, it is common to see a hundred or more songbirds at the feeders and on the ground around the feeders. It is no accident that February is designated as National Bird Feeding Month and that the Great Backyard Bird Count which surveys where birds are in mid-winter takes place on this coming weekend. This is the month when birds are most visible in our yards. And where the little birds gather, the larger birds that prey on them soon follow. In my yard, this means the two Accipiters , Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks. The larger of the two is the Cooper's Hawk, which is a permanent resident in our area, and I do see him around the yard throughout the year, chasing the birds that come to my feeders. Seldom do I see him actually catch one. There is plenty of cover in the yard and at the first warning cry from a Blue Jay, all the birds scramble for it. In the field, it is very hard to discer

Stupidity reigns - even in the doctor's office

One of my daughters tells a story about her friend who recently visited her doctor's office here in the Houston area. A prominent sign in the doctor's waiting room proclaimed, "WE DO NOT ACCEPT OBAMACARE!" Which just goes to prove that apparently you don't have to be very smart or well-informed to be a doctor. I'm not sure I would want to trust my life to that particular doctor. The thing about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is that the insurance is provided by private insurance companies. Contrary to the lies told by its opponents, it is not government-provided insurance. The government mandates that the insurance policies must meet certain standards and must provide a minimum of services and, in the case of some low income people who qualify, it will provide subsidies to help pay the premiums. But the insurance policy itself comes from Blue Cross or Cigna or some other private insurance company and that is what the person's insurance card wi

The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall My rating: 4 of 5 stars Poor Martin Beck. He just can't catch a break. He has just started his month-long summer vacation with his family on a small island off the coast of Sweden when he receives a call to return to duty. It seems that a Swedish journalist has gone missing in Hungary and Beck's superiors want him to go to Budapest to act as liaison to the investigation. He's told that he can refuse the assignment since he is technically on vacation. But, of course, he can't. Not really. So he packs his bag and heads off to Budapest. These books were written in the 1960s and so we find a very different Eastern Europe described here to what we would read in a novel set in the present day. But Beck is struck with the beauty of Budapest and we learn a little bit about its history and the layout of the city. Beck's investigation proceeds slowly at first, but then he meets his local counterpart and is very impressed w

Poetry Sunday: In the Park

American poet Maxine Kumin died last week . She had an illustrious and much-honored career as a poet and essayist. She won the Pulitzer Prize  in 1973 for Up Country , her fourth volume of verse.  She was the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, as the United States poet laureate was then known, from 1981 to 1982; from 1989 to 1994 she was the poet laureate of New Hampshire, where she and her husband lived for many years. In their obituary for the poet, The New York Times described her poetry as   " spare, deceptively simple lines (that) explored some of the most complex aspects of human existence — birth and death, evanescence and renewal, and the events large and small conjoining them all..." That aspect of her poetry is displayed in her poem "In the Park." In the Park You have forty-nine days between death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist. Even the smallest soul could swim the English Channel in that time or climb, like a ten-month-ol

Caturday: Cats and dogs together

Cats and dogs together - twice as funny!

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin: A review

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin My rating: 4 of 5 stars John Rebus flirted with retirement for a while but found out it didn't suit him. He went back to the Borders and Lothian Police in a civilian capacity, working on cold cases, in Standing in Another Man's Grave but that just increased his itch to get back into the fray once again. When the retirement rules were loosened, allowing old guys like him to continue to work, he applied to get back in harness. He was given a job, but since the police had no openings for Detective Inspectors, he had to take a position as a Detective Sergeant. That's all right with Rebus. For him, it's never been about the title; it's all about the work. Ironically, DS Rebus's boss is his former DS, now Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke. Together again but now in reversed positions, the two are still an effective team. Rebus is investigating a car accident where a young woman has been injured when news arrives that a cas

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: A review

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut My rating: 4 of 5 stars Slaughterhouse-Five was Kurt Vonnegut's noble effort in 1969 to make sense of a lunatic universe in which a whole city could be destroyed and 130,000 people killed, not because the city had any military value or the people posed any military threat but as an instrument of terror to discourage the enemy and bring a swifter end to a terrible war. Vonnegut had been there on February 13, 1945, a 23-year-old prisoner of war imprisoned in Dresden, the city that was the target of American fire-bombing. He had experienced the destruction of the city from a safe underground bunker, a former slaughterhouse. He was one of the few who survived and he said in the first chapter, which serves as an introduction to the book, that he had been trying to write about it ever since. In that introduction, where Vonnegut speaks in his own voice, he says that there is "nothing intelligent to say about a massacre." He solves that pr

Poetry Sunday: Two poems

Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most popular writers of his time, the Victorian Age, and he is still often quoted today.  Stevenson was a rather sickly person and, apparently, the thought of death was much on his mind. Several years before his death, he wrote this famous poem, part of which was eventually used as his epitaph. Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die,     And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea,     And the hunter home from the hill. Curiously, when the poem is quoted today, the person who is quoting it will often remember it as "Home is the sailor, home from THE sea." But in fact, in the original poem, Stevenson did not use the definite article to describe the place from which the sailor had returned. Later, the English poet, A.E. Housman wrote a poem in tribute to

Are you ready for some football?

Okay, I'm not really a football fan. I'm more inclined to watch the Puppy Bowl than the Super Bowl, but I confess I love this. It seems that two of our long-time favorite Sirs, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart are ready for some football - in all its forms. Sir Ian seems to be pulling for a Broncos victory and Sir Patrick is hoping for the Seahawks to win. Patrick Stewart          ✔ You gotta love those expressions! And even though I'm not really a football fan, as I've mentioned here before, I am a Manning family fan , so I'll be hoping that Peyton can prevail. One more time.