Showing posts from April, 2018

Solar by Ian McEwan: A review

Let's admit right up front that Michael Beard is a thoroughly unlikable, even despicable, character. He is selfish, self-absorbed, insincere, apparently incapable of honestly caring for another human being. When we meet him, he is on his fifth marriage and every one of them has been marked by his constant infidelities which were the causes of the endings of the first four.  Uniquely, in his fifth marriage, when his wife learns of his philandering, instead of screaming and crying and demanding a divorce, she cheerfully takes that knowledge as a license to take her own lovers. Which she does. And, of course, Michael cannot tolerate that. What's sauce for the gander is most definitely not sauce for the goose in his world. Michael Beard was at one time a world class physicist. He had even won the Nobel Prize for his work. But that was years ago. These days he's simply coasting on his reputation, delivering speeches for pay and lending his name to be used on letterheads of

Poetry Sunday: The Mosquito by Rodney Jones

Here's more proof that a talented poet can make poetry out of anything. Even a mosquito. In the late afternoon in my backyard, the mosquitoes are fierce. I see nothing poetic about them. But Rodney Jones did - "the mosquito kneeling on the soft underside of my arm, kneeling like a fruitpicker, kneeling like an old woman with the proboscis of her prayer buried in the idea of God..." The "proboscis of her prayer"! Good stuff.   The Mosquito by Rodney Jones I see the mosquito kneeling on the soft underside of my arm, kneeling Like a fruitpicker, kneeling like an old woman With the proboscis of her prayer buried in the idea of God, And I know we shall not speak with the aliens And that peace will not happen in my life, not unless It is in the burnt oil spreading across the surfaces of ponds, in the dark Egg rafts clotting and the wiggletails expiring like batteries. Bring a little alcohol and a little balm For these poppies plante

This week in birds - # 301

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's grosbeak season. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Blue Grosbeaks are passing through. They have been reported and photographed in the area, but I haven't seen any in my yard yet. I took this picture of a visitor to my garden in a previous year. Gorgeous bird! *~*~*~* BirdLife International has released its State of the World's Birds 2018 report and, as you might expect, the news is not very good. The report provides a comprehensive look at the health of bird populations globally and it has found that the extinction crisis has spread so far that even some very well known species, such as the European Turtle Dove, are now in danger. *~*~*~* A photographer in Florida snapped a picture of an Osprey in flight with a small shark in its talons. That would not be so noteworthy except that the shark has a fish sticking out of its mouth ! The photo has gone viral. *~*~*~* We humans are very sel

A good guy without a gun

We've all heard and read the mantra of the National Rifle Association and their rabid supporters that says that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the implication being that the good guy with a gun will shoot the bad guy with a gun. Crisis over. Not necessarily. James Shaw didn't have a gun when he rushed and disarmed a man with an AR 15 rifle who was shooting up the Waffle House in Nashville. The man had killed four people and seriously injured others. Who knows how many might have died if James Shaw hadn't had the courage to act? Maybe I've missed them but I haven't seen or heard any statements from the NRA or the usual suspects, including the tweeter-in-chief, lauding Shaw for his courageous action. Perhaps it's because once he got the gun away he didn't use it to shoot the attacker. Or maybe it's because he just doesn't fit the profile of the "heroes" in the fables they tell themselves. 

The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr: A review

"When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it." - Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett Dashiell Hammett was the master of noir and Philip Kerr seemed determined to follow in his footsteps. But his series featuring gumshoe Bernie Gunther is set not on the mean streets of LA but on the meaner streets of Berlin in the era when National Socialism held sway. This second book in the series is set in the fall of 1938, the period leading up to the terror of Kristallnacht.  I read and reviewed the first book in the series, March Violets , in 2012 and I had intended to read more but just somehow never got around to it. Then I read last week that Kerr had recently died, although he was only in his early 60s. That was just the nudge that I needed to get back to Bernie Gunther and see what was happening wit

Poetry Sunday: Remember by Joy Harjo

I was actually looking for a poem for Earth Day when I ran across this poem and as often happens, it spoke to me. It said, "Pick me! Pick me!" And so I did. I had frankly not heard of this poet, but I was struck first of all by the fact that she was born on my father's birthday, May 9, and secondly by the fact that she is a Native American woman. Some of the most evocative and meaningful (to me) poetry that I've read in recent months has been written by Native American women. Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, and is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. In 2015, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given for proven mastery in the art of poetry. Here is her poem that spoke to me. Remember by Joy Harjo Remember the sky that you were born under, know each of the star’s stories. Remember the moon, know who she is. Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time. Remember sundown and the giving away to night. Remember

This week in birds - #300

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's warbler season again and here's a Wilson's Warbler , a regular visitor to my backyard on spring migration. *~*~*~* Pity the poor Texas hornshell, a sleek green-grey mussel that once thrived in the Rio Grande watershed, its habitat stretching from southern New Mexico down into the arid Texas borderlands. Unfortunately for the hornshell, its habitat happens to overlap with rich deposits of oil and gas. Amid a long-term decline in its range, the Obama administration in 2016 proposed to declare the mussel an endangered species. Upon taking office, however, the current administration changed tack. A top Interior Department official, Vincent DeVito, has delayed federal protections for the species at the behest of fossil-fuel industry groups, one of several examples of this agency's willingness to prioritize the needs of petroleum industries with business before the government over the needs of thr

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley: A review

Having recently finished reading N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy which featured stone humanoid creatures called stone eaters, I was well-prepared to meet Natasha Pulley's Peruvian markayuq, humanoid creatures that give every appearance of being stone statues. Gradually it becomes apparent that the markayuq are actually capable of movement and that they are guardians of a sacred forest. They are treated like Christian saints by the villagers in the area where they exist. The villagers bring offerings to them and pray to them. But all of this is far along into the story told in The Bedlam Stacks . The beginning is something else altogether. It is 1859 when we meet Merrick Tremayne on the family estate in Cornwall. He is - or has recently been - an employee (actually a smuggler) of the East Indian Company until he was caught in the middle of the Opium Wars in a battle near Canton where his leg was injured so badly that he almost lost it. Now, he's back home with his br

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2018/Poetry Sunday: A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost

A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost OH, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year. Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid air stands still. For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil. ~~~ Robert Frost certainly appreciated the pleasures of spring - the flowers, the happy bees, perfect trees, and the darting bird. Including the hummingbird, that "meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, and off a blossom in mid air stands still.&q

This week in birds - #299

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A trio of Wild Turkeys that I photographed at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. *~*~*~* Planting native plants instead of exotics in the garden has become something of a movement among gardeners in recent years and there are good reasons for it. As far as the gardener is concerned, a native plant is adapted to the environment and is more likely to survive and do well. But native plants also are more likely to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects and those insects in turn attract birds, amphibians, and reptiles that feed on them. It's a win, win, win. You can't beat that!  *~*~*~* If you were attending - or watching on television - the Minnesota Twins opening day game against the Seattle Mariners, you might have gotten more than you were expecting when a Bald Eagle landed on the shoulder of Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton. If you just saw the picture without the