Showing posts from June, 2018

This week in birds - #309

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Looking something like a creature from Jurassic Park , an Anhinga rests on a downed branch over a lake at Brazos Bend State Park. The Anhinga has many common names, among them Water Turkey and Snakebird, the latter because when the bird swims only its head and a bit of neck are above water and it looks a little like a snake swimming. *~*~*~* The Deepwater Horizon disastrous oil spill may have faded from the news and from the consciousness of most people but it hasn't faded from the Gulf . Lingering oil residues have altered the basic building blocks of life in the ocean by reducing biodiversity near the site of where four million barrels of oil gushed into the water. Unfortunately, the environmental policies of the present administration in Washington have removed safeguards meant to prevent such disasters, making oceans around the world more likely to have such events in the future. *~*~*~* The state of C

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler: A review

A recent Google doodle commemorating the birthday of Octavia Butler served to remind me that I had intended to read the second of her "Earthseed" books. I read the first one, Parable of the Sower , earlier this year and was fascinated by her apocalyptic vision of America in the 2020s. That book was published in 1993, but it seemed utterly prescient in some of its visions of how a combination of global warming, political demagoguery, a suspicion of science and education, and an all-consuming selfishness on the part of the rich and powerful were all coming together to tear apart the fabric of society. In 1993, one would probably have thought that could never happen here, but Butler could foresee such a catastrophic outcome and today it does not seem so far-fetched. Parable of the Talents was published in 1998 and carries the story forward from 2032 until 2090. Suffice to say that in the short term at least things do not get better. In fact, they get very much worse. In 2

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly: A review

Harry Bosch can be a grade A jerk at times and he continues to solidify that reputation in The Wrong Side of Goodbye . In this instance, where he is working as a part-time reserve officer for the police force in the small town of San Fernando, his jerkitude is shown by his refusal to abide by the rules of the department by signing in and out. Apparently, he does it for no better reason than that he doesn't like the captain and wants to irritate him. Yeah, he's a jerk. His saving grace is that he is also an excellent and dedicated detective. He is driven to solve major crimes, especially murders, and to bring justice to "his" victims. He identifies with those victims and will never rest until those who have hurt them are behind bars or dead. Being a detective is who he is. It is part of his DNA. So, it was a bit of a hiccup in his life when he finally had to irrevocably leave the LAPD. He was forced to retire for the second time and this time there is no going

Poetry Sunday: Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen

I've been in a Leonard Cohen frame of mind over the last few days. I've listened to his music over and over again.  One song in particular keeps popping up and has embedded itself in my brain, becoming my latest earworm, and now I pass it on to you.  "Everybody Knows" is perhaps one of Cohen's darkest, most pessimistic and cynical lyrics. This from a man whose default sentiment often seemed to be pessimism. The song was released in 1988 but somehow it seems to fit the times in which we live: "Everybody knows that the boat is leaking..." But if everybody knows, why don't we do something about it?  Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen  Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Everybody knows the fight was fixed The poor stay poor, the rich get rich That's how it goes Everybody knows Everybody knows that the boat is leaking Everybody k

This week in birds - #308

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The American Kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon in North America and also the cutest in my opinion. I photographed this one at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.  *~*~*~* Increased artificial lighting in the world is a cause for celebration in some previously dark areas as it signifies increased prosperity and better living conditions, but too much of a good thing can be very bad indeed, both for humans and animals. A survey has rated the brightest metropolitan areas in the world. Some of them might surprise you. *~*~*~* The Arctic sea ice inexorably continues melting and that has potentially serious implications for the world's weather. It may seem counterintuitive but the sea ice actually has a moderating effect on weather. What will happen when it is gone? *~*~*~* Preserved specimen of male Carolina Parakeet. 2018 marks the centenary of the death of the last of North America's

A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon: A review

The political corruption and public moral depravity faced by Commissario Guido Brunetti as he attempts to do his job of maintaining law and order in his beloved city of Venice are utterly disheartening and demoralizing. Even just reading about them is disheartening and demoralizing. The depths to which human beings eagerly sink in order to gratify their desires or to enrich or empower themselves is, quite simply, horrifying.  At one time in the not too distant past, I could have read these stories with more dispassion and objectivity. But today a society's descent into moral turpitude where the rich and powerful are able to befoul the water, air, and soil and to use defenseless fellow human beings in whatever way they choose just hits a bit close to home. Consequently, although I am as charmed as ever by Guido and his family, I found this fourth book in the series difficult reading. The plot revolves around human trafficking. A group of powerful and influential men in Italy a

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje: A review

Warlight refers to the dim lights that were used for emergency vehicles' navigation during blackouts in London in World War II. Michael Ondaatje's new novel takes place mostly in London in the years after the war. It is a story hidden in murkiness, camouflage, and intrigue with only the dimmest of lights to guide us through.  The atmosphere is obviously intentional. The first hundred pages or so are all about atmosphere and it is there that the tone of the book is set. The plot moves with glacial slowness as Ondaatje builds his character studies and begins to hint at the drama to come. The story begins in 1945 when two children, 14-year-old Nathaniel Williams and his older sister, Rachel, are left by their parents, who are supposedly going to Singapore, in the care of two men. One of the men is the family's upstairs lodger called (by the children) the Moth and the other is his friend, a former boxer known as the Pimlico Darter. The Moth and the Darter thus effectively

Calypso by David Sedaris: A review

David Sedaris is a misanthrope and I'm okay with that; I am sympathetic to the impulse.  At the same time, Sedaris is fascinated by people even as he is repelled by them. They are, after all, the stuff out of which he has constructed his living. His stories of his interactions with quirky people, many of them members of his own family, have now filled the pages of nine essay collections and made him a very wealthy man. Sedaris is a master at making us laugh out loud at some of the crazy antics he and his family get up to, as well as his interactions with people that he meets at his book signings and on publicity tours around the country and the world. He does it again in Calypso . My daughter and I listened to the book, narrated by the author, on our recent road trip and at times we laughed out loud until tears rolled down our cheeks. But this book also contains some poignant tales, particularly those featuring his mother, who died of cancer, and his sister, Tiffany, who comm

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins: A review

I found this book to be a bit of a hot mess and something of a disappointment after The Girl on the Train which was fairly meticulously plotted. Into the Water , on the other hand, is all over the place with more than a dozen different narrators with their own points of view. Scattered hardly begins to describe it. Part of the problem may have been due to the fact that I listened to the audio version of this book while on a road trip. Perhaps I would have been able to understand the transitions better had I seen them on a printed page, since I am more of a visual learner. As it was, I found jumping around from narrator to narrator every few minutes confusing and hard to follow.  Into the Water is set in the small rural town of Beckford, England, a place with a long history of very bad treatment of its women, beginning with drowning troublesome women as witches back in the seventeenth century. The town is built on cliffs beside a river with a bridge and a "drowning pool.&qu

No words are adequate


Travels with Susan

I'm off on the road again. For the next week, my older daughter and I will be traveling to visit family and friends and paying our respects at cemeteries where family members are buried. It's an annual June ritual for me but my daughter has not made the trip in several years. She's substituting for her father who elected to stay behind this year. (I think he's been looking forward to a break from me!)  While we are traveling, I will be absent from this spot and from the internet in general, but I'll see you here again, I hope, in about a week. Meantime, stay cool! 

Kudos by Rachel Cusk: A review

I had been looking forward to this third entry in Rachel Cusk's Outline series. I found the two earlier books, Outline and Transit , to be remarkable works that were thought-provoking reads. With the release of Kudos , one can see now that all three are pieces of a whole and they fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces in the narrative that Cusk has constructed. Cusk's story-teller once again is Faye, a middle-aged writer divorced from the father of her two sons and now remarried, although that marriage seems to play a very small role in her daily life. Faye travels - a lot it seems. She's always on the go to conferences or literary festivals or publicity tours that her publisher has arranged to promote her latest book. And in her travels, she constantly meets people who want to talk to her, who want to tell her the stories of their lives and their innermost secrets. Faye reports these mostly one-way conversations to us unedited and there is something almost magical in

Poetry Sunday: The Afterlife by Billy Collins

If I were pressed to name my favorite poet who is writing today, I think it might be Billy Collins. I like the way he thinks and the way he expresses himself. Most of all I like his puckish humor and the fact that he manages to see that life on Earth, even in the worst of times, is not all doom and gloom. And neither, perhaps, is the afterlife. The Afterlife   by Billy Collins . While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth, or riffling through a magazine in bed, the dead of the day are setting out on their journey. They're moving off in all imaginable directions, each according to his own private belief, and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal: that everyone is right, as it turns out. you go to the place you always thought you would go, The place you kept lit in an alcove in your head. Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors into a zone of light, white as a January sun. Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who s

This week in birds - #307

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Black-crowned Night Heron thrusts after a fish in the duckweed covered waters at Brazos Bend State Park. *~*~*~* A contributing factor in the recent disastrous 1,000 year flood in Maryland was the amount of paving in the area that prevented the rain from soaking into the ground. This, of course, is a problem in most urban areas and could intensify future flooding.  *~*~*~* As the federal government reduces, or ceases, its efforts at combating global warming, states and cities are stepping up to attempt to fill the vacuum of leadership. *~*~*~* Controlling rodents or other pests with poisons has always been problematic, but there are alternatives. One of them is to encourage the presence of raptors , those clean and efficient killing machines. Erecting perches for the raptors and nest boxes that some owls will use make the birds welcome in an area and they pay their rent by eating the rodents.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner: A review

The Mars Room of the book's title is a strip club in San Francisco where the book's protagonist, Romy Hall, gives lap dances. Suffice to say, it is not a high-class joint. Romy, who often exhibits a dark humor about life in general, describes it thusly: "If you'd showered you had a competitive edge at the Mars Room. If your tattoos weren't misspelled you were hot property. If you weren't five or six months pregnant, you were the it-girl in the club that night." Romy ekes out a living for herself and her young son with her work at the club. Life is not exactly good but it is bearable and the love of her life is that son, called Jackson. Romy is in her twenties, having survived a chaotic childhood that was marked by drug use and sexual licentiousness. Her father was gone and her mother was not a strong presence in her life. Predictably, that life went off the rails. Romy spent a few years working in the Mars Room, but during most of the time that we