Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday rant

You know what pisses me off about the 2016 presidential campaign? A lot of things, actually. But there is one thing in particular that I feel the need to rant about today.

Throughout the campaign, I've heard and read journalists considered (at least by themselves) to be knowledgable about such things describe the election as a choice between "the lesser of two evils." Thus do they normalize a completely unqualified and clueless candidate the likes of which this country has never before seen and - please God! - never will see again.

Not only do they normalize him, they set this man who is the worst that America has to offer, a man who personifies misogyny, racism, privilege, and anti-intellectualism, on the same level with a candidate who is intelligent and qualified, perhaps the most qualified candidate who has ever sought the office, at least in my lifetime. This is a woman who has spent her entire adult life working to make the world more just, equal, and caring for people who have been marginalized by society, and she is opposed by a narcissist whose entire life has been spent in a bubble of privilege where his only goal has been to accumulate more personal wealth. He is a person totally lacking in empathy who has whined, mocked, belittled, bemoaned, and chided his way through the campaign and has never taken responsibility for anything.

THESE TWO CANDIDATES ARE NOT EQUALS! The media do a grave disservice to the country when they pretend that they are. 

They will tell us, of course, that they are just trying to be fair and to give equivalent coverage to each party's candidates. But when one of those candidates is incapable of telling the truth, it is the duty of journalism to point that out. For more than a year, while a demagogue bellowed and blustered and ran roughshod over the other candidates of his party and appealed to the worst of the deplorable base of that party, the media just went along for the ride and the ratings and pretended that this was just another normal campaign. Only very recently have a few media outlets begun to fact-check him and call him out on his lies. 

However one might choose to accurately describe this campaign, it is most definitely not a choice between the lesser of two evils. There is only one evil here and let us hope that he will soon be tossed into the dustbin of history where he belongs and that our long national nightmare will be over. 

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In the Woods by Tana French: A review

How is it that I have never read Tana French? Time to remedy that oversight.

I recently read in The New York Times online a review of French's latest book, The Trespasser. It sounded fascinating and I wanted to read it right away, but then I digested the fact that this is the fifth book in a series and my reader OCD kicked in. Of course, I could not start a series at the end. I am constitutionally unable to do so. One has to start at the beginning. And that's how I came to pick up the first entry in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods.

This book won all kinds of literary awards when it was first published in 2007 and, from my perspective having now finished reading it, all the awards were well-deserved. It is a marvelously well-written book that tells a powerful story through the actions and relationships of interesting if imperfect characters.

The story is told in first person voice by Detective Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad. He introduces himself to us by saying that he is a seeker after truth and that he lies. It's a description that it is important to keep in mind throughout.

Ryan is hiding a dark secret. Twenty years before, when he was known as Adam Ryan, he was at the center of a mystery involving three children who disappeared one summer evening in woods in a Dublin suburb. Ryan was later found, his body pressed tightly against a tree with his nails dug into the bark. His shoes were full of blood and he was in a near catatonic state. He could not remember what had happened. The two other children were never found and the mystery never solved. Ryan still maintains that he cannot remember what happened and he keeps the secret of his past from his associates and superiors on the Murder Squad. All except his partner and best friend, Detective Cassie Maddox.

Now, a 12-year-old girl's murdered body has been found in those same woods and Ryan and Maddox are assigned to the case. The new murder once again raises questions about what happened in that long-ago case. Could there really be two child murderers in this small town or are the cases somehow related? How and why? These are some of the questions that Maddox and Ryan have to answer.

The girl's body was found in an area where an archaeological dig is taking place in advance of a new roadway being built through the site. Some locals are protesting against the building of the proposed roadway there and it turns out the murdered girl is the daughter of the leader of the protest against the roadway. The detectives must consider the possibility that the murder may be a warning to the protesters.

Weeks go by and the diligence of the Murder Squad has yielded no results. Everyone's nerves are frayed to the breaking point. French does a chilling job of conveying the strain, particularly the strain on the relationship between Ryan and Maddox that heretofore had been rock solid.

When the break finally comes, it is due to an insight by Ryan and yet it seems that he can't see the forest for the trees. (Ach! Please forgive the woods pun! I couldn't resist.) The truth turns out to be even more horrible than anyone - except Maddox who suspected all along - could have imagined.

French's plotting and exposition of this crime fiction/psychological thriller is just brilliant. Her writing shows the skilled hand of someone who one would swear was a much more experienced writer, and yet this is her first book. She set the bar very high for herself. I intend to investigate whether she has lived up to that standard in her succeeding books.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The joy of reading long books

Do you like to read lengthy novels, tomes that could double as a doorstop? Do you have the patience? Or do you prefer brief, pithy works that just get on with it and don't tease you along for four hundred pages before delivering a (sometimes unsatisfactory) conclusion? 

There's something to be said for both and I am on record as enjoying both the long and the short of it, when it comes to novels. I stand by that. The book I most recently finished, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, was a brief, polished gem, as most if not all of his books are. The one I'm reading now, In the Woods by Tana French, is more than twice its length, but just as polished in its own way. Every word counts.

And that, in a nutshell (pardon the reference), is what I like in books: Every word needs to count. There should be no extraneous, superfluous meandering. Meandering is fine, but the writer needs to have an end in mind and know where she's taking us.

I was led to consider this by reading a recent interview with librarian and author Nancy Pearl in which she extolled the joys of the long book.  She speaks of getting lost in a big book that gives you a long vacation from your own life. I would add that it gives the reader a chance to "live" another different life through the characters that exist on the page. One can become so entranced by such a book that we don't want it to end. That is a good thing. (Of course, carried to extremes it can become a pathology.)

Pearl also addresses the question of series of books and whether reading a series counts as reading one long book. I would tend to say yes because the story continues and the characters continue to act within those tales, but Pearl makes the distinction between certain series such as Sue Grafton's mysteries which have separate, individual arcs, and something like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series which she says simply add up to one long (very, very, very long!) book.  She says it is easier to get sucked into a series because each entry feels bite-sized, and I can assuredly attest to that since I've been sucked in so many of them and continue to be sucked into more all the time.

But I do wonder if one of the reasons that series - with their bite-sized books - are so popular today is that we have somewhat lost our ability to concentrate on the long form of work, but we still crave losing ourselves in those extended stories that go on and on. There are so many distractions in our modern lives that I think it is possible that the longer works don't get the attention that they should.

I well remember my teenage summers when I would totally lose myself in some big book and "live" there all summer. Two that stand out in my mind are War and Peace and Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. I read and reread those books until I practically wore them out and had long passages memorized. Do teenagers do that today? Well, none among my acquaintance anyway. Is that a good or bad thing? I've no idea.

It was interesting to read that Pearl admits to not being able to make herself read some long books. She mentions Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and I totally understand that. I read the first section, Swann's Way, but have never been able to make myself go on. For the reasons, you can refer back to my third paragraph about "extraneous, superfluous meandering." One can consume only so many madeleines before wanting to throw up.

And does Pearl ever give up on a book? She has a rule for that. She calls it the "Rule of 50."
If you're 50 years old or younger, give every book about 50 pages before you decide to give it up. if you're over 50, which is when time gets shorter, subtract your age from 100 and the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. If you're 100 years old or older, you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers of doing so.

So far, I'm not able to follow that rule. I finish every book that I start. Maybe by the time I'm 100, though, I'll feel comfortable judging a book by its cover. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Poetry Sunday: An October Garden

Yesterday we observed the monthly Bloom Day meme. Let's follow that with a poem about the garden in autumn.

Christina Georgina Rossetti wrote of a garden that is on the wane as the last rosebud uncloses to autumn's "languid sun and rain." Even that last rose, "least and last of all," is still a rose and still smells sweet.

My garden, too, has begun its slow decline into what passes for winter here. In colder areas, the decline is swifter, more sudden. But it is the natural progression of things and we welcome it because the garden and the gardener need their rest.

An October Garden

by Christina Georgina Rossetti

In my Autumn garden I was fain
To mourn among my scattered roses;
Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn's languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!
Which has not felt the sweet constraint of June, 
Nor heard the nightingale in June.

Broad-faced asters by my garden walk,
You are but coarse compared with roses:
More choice, more dear that rosebud which uncloses
Faint-scented, pinched, upon its stalk,
That least and last which cold winds balk;
A rose it is though least and last of all,
A rose to me though at the fall.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2016

What's blooming in my zone 9a garden on this October Bloom Day? Here's a sample.

Convolvulus 'Blue Daze' has been in bloom all summer and now well into the fall.

 'Molineux,' a David Austin rose, is at its best in the fall.

Red cypress vine, an old-fashioned plant that is a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.

This purple porterweed is being visited by a Long-tailed Skipper butterfly.

Bronze Esperanza is still in bloom.

As is its yellow cousin, popularly known as "yellowbells." If you are guessing that this plant is a member of the very large pea family, you are correct. The family resemblance is right there.

'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendrum.

Tithonia, aka Mexican sunflowers, are visited almost constantly throughout the day by butterflies like this Gulf Fritillary.

The blooms of the almond verbena are not particularly showy but their heavenly scent permeates the part of the garden where the plant lives, especially in the late afternoon.

Well, they aren't blooms but the fruits of the ornamental peppers are colorful.

Duranta erecta, golden dewdrops, continues to bloom.

'Lucifer' canna blooms bring a bit of fire to their spot in the garden.

Butterfly ginger, more blooms that perfume the garden with a wonderful scent.

Cephalanthus occidentalis, aka buttonbush, a native plant much loved by butterflies.

Cape honeysuckle offers its orange blossoms to migrating hummingbirds.

'Black and blue' salvia is a favorite of mine.

And I do love the weird little blossoms of the shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeeana.

Firespike is an autumn bloomer that is coming along a bit late this year. So far, it only has buds. Its long-lasting flowers should still be with us on November's Bloom Day.

The Justicia 'Orange Flame,' though, has been in bloom all summer and continues to send out its "flames."

The blooms of Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, are triggered by rainfall, and it doesn't take much. Earlier this week, we got a brief shower of a few hundredths of an inch. Next day the shrub was covered in these flowers.

My old species canna continues to send out blooms regularly.

The purple beautyberries await the attention of the mockingbirds and robins that love them.

 Pink coral vine graces this garden fence with its blooms.

A few cosmos blooms continue to brighten their corner of the garden.

But on the muscadine vines, the grapes are beginning to turn color, confirming that autumn really has arrived and many of this month's blooming plants will soon be ready for a rest.

Don't forget to visit our host, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, to see the list of other bloggers participating in this Bloom Day and thank you for taking the time to visit my garden.

Happy Bloom Day!

This week in birds - #227

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Glossy Ibis


One of the many depressing facts about the presidential and vice-presidential debates this year has been that there has literally not been one single question about the biggest challenge facing our planet, the challenge that could ultimately make the place uninhabitable for human life. That, of course, is climate change. Meantime, in September, carbon dioxide passed the symbolic 400 parts per million, never to return below it in our lifetime, according to scientists. This is a reminder that day by day we are moving further from the climate humans have known and thrived in and closer to a more unstable future.


A new study provides even more evidence that the current harsh drought in California may be only a glimmer of what is to come. Warming temperatures and uncertain rainfall mean that if more isn't done to combat climate change, megadroughts lasting thirty-five years could blight western states. 


A new type of car ornament, perhaps?

This Florida Bald Eagle, nicknamed Matthew by his rescuers, somehow became trapped in this car's grille. Almost miraculously, they were able to extract him without major injury. He was taken to a wildlife sanctuary to recover from his ordeal and is said to be feisty and his wings are working. He will soon be returned to the wild.


More good news for the endangered California Condor. This year the first chick has hatched and fledged in the wild in California's Pinnacles National Park since the 19th century. Hope is kindled.


Nuthatches are surely some of the cutest little birds around. BirdWatchingDaily offers a photo gallery of North American species in that family. I'm happy to say that I have seen all of them in the wild!


Arachnids do not have ears, but a recent study has shown that jumping spiders are able to "hear" sound vibrations made by their predators and prey. Apparently, that vaunted special "spidey sense" does exist.


There has recently been a wave of tiny birds from Asia called Siberian Accentors appearing at various places in Europe, including the first known British sighting in the Shetland Islands. Birders, or twitchers as they are called there, are euphoric!


Florida Scrub-Jays often exist in very small and scattered populations but conservationists have found that these groups are very important to maintaining diversity and to the continued survival of the species. 


According to NOAA records, last month was the ninth warmest September across the contiguous 48 continental United States. This is based on records that go back to the 19th century.


The Alaskan bumblebee has not been extensively studied, but scientists are currently attempting to rectify that. They believe that these bees may hold clues to the effects of climate change on bees everywhere.


The first fossilized voice box (syrinx) of a prehistoric bird has been discovered by a paleontologist in the Antarctic. The bird was a 66-million-year-old waterfowl called Vegavis iaai and its intact syrinx indicates to scientists that it probably honked or quacked much like modern waterfowl. 


There is substantial evidence that one in eight species of seabirds and songbirds worldwide are now in danger of extinction. And here in North America, one in five of our land bird species need urgent action to stem population declines.


Lesser Prairie Chicken, a bird once abundant on the Southern Plains, now numbers about 29,000. 

The voluntary Rangewide Plan for saving the Lesser Prairie Chicken was hailed by its proponents as ushering in a new era in private land conservation, but many conservationists feared that it was putting the bird on the fast track to extinction. They have submitted a petition to the USFWS to relist the bird as endangered.


A rare beetle from Florida was given protection under the Endangered Species Act last week, but, unfortunately, two other species, one from Arizona and one from Kentucky, went extinct while waiting to be listed


On a more positive note, White-tailed Eagles, or Sea Eagles, became extinct in Scotland in the early 1900s, but they have made an extraordinary comeback recently. A new study claims that their numbers could double within the next ten years