Thursday, October 30, 2014

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole: A review

Every Day is for the ThiefEvery Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I first clapped eyes on the title of this book, I had no idea what it meant. Now that I've read the book...I still don't know.

The author says that it comes from a Yoruba proverb which says, "Every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner." Well, that clears things right up, doesn't it?

I suppose it must refer to the fact that Nigerian society, as explored by Teju Cole, is a miasma of thievery. There seems to be no such thing as an honest policeman, government bureaucrat, taxi driver, shopkeeper - you name it. In Cole's telling, the entire country is corrupt and a system of extortion and bribery is what makes it work even as well as it does.

This book was first published in Nigeria in 2007, but it has recently received some notice in this country. His other book, Open City, which I have not read, was the winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, as well as several other literary awards, and it was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Cole was born in the United States but raised in Nigeria. This book, as well as his other one, is classified as fiction, but it reads like a memoir and one gets the feeling that many of the incidents recounted here may have their basis in events of the writer's life or that he has observed in others' lives.

The tale begins with a Nigerian living in New York going to the Nigerian consulate to get his papers in order for a visit to that country. He finds inefficiency, disorganization, and consulate employees who expect one to bribe them in order to get the papers they need. He had expected to encounter such corruption in Lagos, but to experience it in New York was a shock.

That is our first introduction to the truth of the idea that "Every day is for the thief."

The unnamed narrator of the book does manage to get what he needs and takes his flight to Lagos. It is his hometown and now he sees it from the perspective of both a foreigner and a native.

During his weeks-long visit, he will reconnect with some of the friends of his childhood. As he wanders the streets of Lagos, he introduces us to many of the tableaus of life there. He encounters the teenagers who perpetrate their e-mail frauds from internet cafes. He sees a woman on a public bus reading a book by Michael Ondaatje and he longs to connect with her. He visits the woefully impoverished National Museum and compares the pitiful artifacts of Nigerian archaeology that he finds there with the gleaming exhibitions of them in museums in New York and other major cities. It seems the history is unappreciated at the place of its origin.

The narrator compares the Lagos of his memory with that which exists today and finds that it is not only the city that has changed. He has changed also.

I have not traveled to Lagos, or indeed to Nigeria, and I'm certainly not competent to judge whether this is a factual portrayal, although it does seem to comport rather closely with the Nigeria that we read about in today's newspapers and internet news sources. Teju Cole is a talented writer and perhaps an accurate reporter.



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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Little green treefrog

Sitting on my patio the other morning, I happened to spy a spot of green where there shouldn't have been any green. I looked closer and here is what I discovered.

It's a little green treefrog! Surely one of my very favorite backyard critters. He was pretending that the leg of one of my patio chairs was a tree trunk. He was sure that he was wearing his cloak of invisibility and that I could not see him, so I went for my camera and started recording his visit.

Here is a side view that shows that wonderful eye and his white lateral stripe. Isn't he adorable?
Green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) are typically 1 1/4 to 2 1/4 inches in length. I think this one was about 2 inches. They are usually bright green, like this little guy, but their color can be variable. 

Their range includes most of the southeastern part of the country all the way to the middle of Texas and right up the Atlantic Coast all the way to Maryland and perhaps beyond. 

In our area, they are known to breed anytime from March to October, so it's possible this one was looking for a mate. If so, I hope he (she?) finds one. The world needs more little green treefrogs.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

VOTE!!!

Have you?
Early voting in Texas and many other states runs through Friday, October 31, Halloween. How appropriate is that? Failing to vote this year is the really scary thing. So make sure you exercise your constitutional right to cast that ballot.

My vote may not change the outcome of the election. In fact, in the congressional district that I live in, I can just about guarantee that it won't. But it does ensure one thing - I will have a right to complain when the bastards who DO get elected screw up! I plan to fully exercise that right.

The illustrated news of (cable) America

Sometimes the most sensible way to view the world is through a cartoon. Hat tip to Daily Kos where this Tom Tomorrow cartoon first appeared. It sums up quite succinctly the response of a certain segment of this country to its (perceived) threats, don't you think?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fade Away by Harlan Coben: A review

Fade Away (Myron Bolitar, #3)Fade Away by Harlan Coben
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit this series is actually growing on me. After reading the second book in the series, I was ready to swear off it forever, but a year and a half later I finally read number four (out of sequence) and liked it. So, I decided to go back and pick up number three, Fade Away, and once again I found the book was not awful. In fact, I quite enjoyed it as a diverting read.

This time, the sport is basketball, which was Myron Bolitar's game before his knee was injured in a terrible smash-up with another player. That injury changed the course of his life and he went to law school and became a sports agent instead of a professional basketball player

Now, several years later, he is established in his profession and he has a promising romantic liaison. Everything seems to be coming up Myron.

Then he receives a blast from the past when the man who was responsible for drafting him with the Celtics all those years before contacts him and offers him a job. He wants him to make a comeback with the team that he presently owns, but he has an ulterior motive. It seems that one of the stars of the team, Greg Downing, has disappeared and the owner wants Myron on the team so he can pick up any clues as to where Greg might be. His real job will be to find Greg.

This is complicated because in his basketball-playing days, Myron and Greg were rivals. Not only on the basketball court but for the affections of a certain woman as well. Greg ultimately married the woman, but at some point, she was unfaithful to him. With Myron.

So Myron has all this guilt in regard to Greg and he accepts the commission, both to play on the team and to try to find the missing player.

It turns out that Greg's disappearance is related to the fact that he has lost a lot of money - in fact just about all he had - to gambling. At the same time, he is going through a nasty divorce and is faced with the prospect of losing his children. In order to find him, Myron has to sort out the tangled web of his life and figure out who among his associates may have a clue to his whereabouts.

When one of those putative associates turns up murdered, it seems that Greg may be number one on the list of suspects.

Meanwhile, those professional gamblers to whom he owes all the money are looking for him as well, and they think Myron may know where he is. That does not bode well for Myron's state of health. Fortunately for him, his friend and partner, Win, has his back.

The body count of the sociopathic Win is lower than usual in this book - only one that I can remember. Although, we are left with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end with some indication that that count might be about to go up to two.      

Yes, on the whole, it was a satisfying read and I'm glad that I gave the series another chance. I suspect I'll be adding it to my long list of series to follow.



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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poetry Sunday: The Raven

In just a few days, it will be Halloween. For Halloween week, there's only one poem that will do.

The Raven

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This week in birds - #131

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

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently did a poll to determine its most popular migratory bird and the winner, perhaps surprisingly to some, was the Sandhill Crane. These cranes return by the thousands to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico each fall and the FWS has been posting pictures all week of the birds coming back to their winter home. The wildlife refuge hosts its "Festival of the Cranes" in November each year to celebrate the birds. I wish I could be there for it this year, but anyway, I have my memories. We visited Bosque in the fall a few years ago in late October and that is when this picture was taken. There were hundreds of the birds, along with many geese, already there with many more to come.
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So, apparently this memo went out to all Republicans some time back, and it said that if anyone asks you a question about what should be done about climate change or even if climate change is a real thing, you are to answer, "I'm not a scientist..." They all do it. No freethinking here. (Unfortunately, that doesn't stop them from giving their opinions about other scientific matters - e.g. how to fight Ebola.)

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"eBird" is an invaluable citizen science project and website for many reasons. Most recently, it is helping California conservationists to identify areas of critical shorebird habitat in the Central Valley of California.

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Phragmites australis is an invasive reed that is wreaking havoc in areas of the eastern United States and Canada. Land managers there have waged an ongoing fight against it for the last 30 years, but so far it has been a losing battle. Now, however, they have gained a new ally for the "coalition" - one that might actually be able to make a difference. The new soldier in the war? Goats! Apparently they have a taste for the stuff and a herd of them can wipe it out right down to the ground.

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It's a finding that seems counterintuitive, but then scientific discoveries often are. Researchers have found that House Sparrows roosting in large groups are less likely to contract West Nile virus than those roosting individually or in small groups.

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Have you read the story about "puppy spiders" making the rounds on the internet this week? It seems there are these spiders that weigh as much as puppies. Virtual Shelobs! Be afraid. Be very afraid. Well, as usual, it's an exaggeration. The spiders are big but not as big as, say, a St. Bernard puppy. Maybe as big as a smallish Chihuahua at birth.

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Australia is a dry land at the best of times and so it is to the advantage of any animal trying to make a living there to be able to follow the rains that do occur. One bird seems to have perfected the ability to predict rain. The Banded Stilt often shows up en masse in areas where rain occurs within a few days. Scientists are studying how the bird is able to do this.

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September was the hottest September on record and April through September were the hottest six months recorded in 130 years of tracking. NASA's Earth Observatory explains where this data comes from and why it is important.

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Birds that migrate between Europe and Africa have suffered extreme declines in population. Some show a reduction of as much as 70 percent since the 1980s.

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Recordings of birdsong made in California forests reveal how the populations of birds there have changed over a ten year period. The forests have gotten quieter. You can listen to some of the recordings at this link to hear the effect for yourself.

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"Camel crickets" are not true crickets, according to "BugEric," and their spidery appearance freaks some people out.

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The Sage Grouse is threatened by a constantly receding habitat as the areas that it  favors disappear beneath human developments, but a new study finds that it is possible for the grouse and oil drilling to coexist amicably. I'm skeptical, but I guess we'll see.

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Sparrows, in general, have to rank as among some of my most frustrating birds - frustrating because so many of them are so similar and difficult to distinguish. One birder writes about his obsession with sparrows. Specifically an obsession with finding Nelson's Sparrows. Spoiler alert: He was successful.

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Around the backyard:

Many of my hummingbirds disappeared this week, moving farther south with the season, but I still have at least three hangers-on. This week, though, marked my first sighting of a "winter" bird. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets have arrived! Well, at least one of them has. I first heard him in the shrubbery on Tuesday.

This isn't him. It's a picture from last year. But he looked just like this!