Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Does reading improve character?

I am what might be fairly described as a voracious and eclectic reader. I'm always reading at least one book and occasionally two. But does all that reading make me a better person?

This came to mind because of an article by Laura Miller that I read in Salon.com today. It's title was "Does reading great books make you a better person?"

Miller was, in fact, writing about a new book by William Deresiewicz, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things That Really Matter. Deresiewicz's theory, which is made clear by the title of his book, is that great books can make you a better person. Miller disagrees, saying that she knows many well-read people who are real jerks. Personally, I'm on the fence here. I'm not sure who has the better argument.

I am in a unique position to judge the Jane Austen theory though, because, in the past year, I read all six of her famous books. I don't know if they made me a better person. They did increase my understanding of certain human emotions and frailties and perhaps, in that sense, they did improve my character. But was that strictly because of the books. or was it because I happened to be at a stage in my life where I could appreciate their wisdom?

Good writing has many positive effects on its readers. Even bad writing can be positive in that it helps us to appreciate even more the good writing that we encounter. But can any writing actually improve character? I don't know the answer to that, but I think I'll keep reading just in case it does!

And one thing that I think I'll read is that Deresiewicz book. It sounds really interesting.

Monday, May 30, 2011

They have no shame

The notorious Westboro Baptist Church was at it again this Memorial Day, the day when we honor the memory of all who have died in defense of our country. They were out to demonstrate in front of Arlington Cemetery, carrying their signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers."

As has often happened at Westboro's demonstrations in recent months, they were met by counter-demonstrators who attempted to block their view of the cemetery and to shout them down when they yelled out their slogans. Interestingly, one of the groups countering Westboro today was a klaven of the Ku Klux Klan! I never thought I would find myself in agreement with anything that the KKK did. Just goes to show that wonders will never cease I suppose.

Various courts have held that the Westboro Baptists have a legally protected right to do what they do, but just because one has the legal right to make heinous, hurtful statements and acts does not mean that one has the moral right to do so. I wonder where Westboro believes that it gets the moral authority for the atrocious acts that it commits against grieving families and their communities. Surely it can't be from the Bible, from the Jesus who admonished his followers to love their neighbors as themselves.

But then "Christian" haters of all stripes - whether the object of their hate is women, homosexuals, another race, another religion - have always been able to find some verse in their Bible to support their hate and the acts that stem from it. I wonder what Jesus thinks of all this. I think that another Bible verse might sum up his reaction - the one that says, "Jesus wept."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mourning Gloria (China Bayles #19) by Susan Wittig Albert: A review

The herbalist and amateur investigator China Bayles has a knack for getting herself involved in sticky situations. In Mourning Gloria, she happens upon a house fire just in time to hear a woman trapped inside screaming for help. China calls 9-1-1 and tries to get in to save the woman but the heat drives her back. The investigation of the event by fire marshalls and police reveal that it was no accident and that the woman had been shot and tied up before being left to die in the flames. Who in the peaceful town of Pecan Springs would possibly be guilty of such a gruesome act?

One who tries to piece the story together and find the solution to that question is a young woman intern-reporter at the local newspaper. Jessica Nelson tracks down leads and clues to the story, but then she suddenly disappears. Did she find the murderer and will she meet the same fate as the first victim?

Her friend, China Bayles, is on the case and sets out to track her down, find out what has happened and save her, if it is not already too late.

One of the most interesting things about the Bayles series for me is the herb lore that is woven into the stories and the yummy-sounding recipes that are included. This entry is no exception.

This was a well-plotted story that moved along without any draggy parts. Susan Wittig Albert is an experienced writer in full command of the art of the mystery, who knows how to keep the reader interested in turning those pages and who fills her stories with sympathetic characters. That's why each of the China Bayles mysteries is such a pleasant read.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When does a series of "coincidences" become a pattern?

Scientists warn us that we should not try to relate any one weather event to the phenomenon of global warming, but what about a whole series of weather events? When does a series of "coincidences" become a pattern? Consider these coincidences:

* The Amazon has just emerged from its second hundred-year drought within the last five years.

* There have been unprecedented floods in Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan in the past year.

* The Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years.

* Last month was the most active April in U.S. history for tornadoes. And looking at the Midwest this week, it appears that record of activity is continuing into May.

* Texas and the adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico are drier than they've ever been. The drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl years. To make matters worse, much of Texas is being devastated by wildfires.

* This year's record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest have resulted in record flooding along the Mississippi.

* The grain harvest is Russia failed last year because of a record heat wave.

* At the same time, Queensland's grain harvest failed because of its record floods.

* France and Germany are currently suffering drought-related crop failures, as is Texas' winter wheat crop.

* Midwestern farmers have been unable to plant their corn because of their sodden fields.

Of course, all of these crop failures could not have anything to do with record food prices, could they?

And we have the assurance of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that we don't need to worry about the planet heating up because, as they stated in a recent filing with the Environmental Protection Agency, "populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations."

No, we know that nothing is really happening here, especially not global climate change, because this spring the U.S. House of Representatives voted 240 to 184 to defeat a resolution which simply said that "climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare." Our Congress would not mislead us, would they?

Remember that bold denial by Congress when the next wave of freakish weather hits and ask yourself: Are these really coincidences or is there a pattern here? And are we causing or at least contributing to that pattern?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell: A review

In Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell has created a seriously flawed but ultimately sympathetic character. This book, published in Swedish in 1991 and in English in 1997, is the first in the series featuring Wallander and I will be interested to see how the character changed and grew as the series progressed.

Wallander is a police inspecter in Ystad, Sweden, and in this introductory book, he has a particularly violent and seemingly senseless crime to solve. An elderly couple have been brutally murdered in a remote farmhouse. Before she died, the woman uttered the word "Foreigner." Is that a clue to the identity of the killer or killers or was it just a meaningless sound from a dying and delerious woman?

The murders occur on a cold night in January and the bleak cold of the Swedish wintry landscape permeates the story.

Wallander assembles his team and they begin to work the case, but soon they are distracted by another murder. Information about the dying woman's final word has leaked, and then a Somali refugee is murdered, seemingly at random, after anonymous phone calls that there will be retribution for the murders of the two elderly Swedes. It seems that there is strong anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden and the refugee's murder may have had its origins in a Nazi faction within the country. But is it in any way related to the first murders?

Wallander and his team work doggedly to solve both crimes while Wallander himself struggles with a series of personal calamities. His wife has left him and wants a divorce. His daughter is estranged. His elderly father is very confused, perhaps the beginnings of senility, and he must find some way to care for him. Meantime, he finds himself attracted to a beautiful (married) prosecutor who will be responsible for handling the cases of the murderers - if the police ever manage to arrest them. Wallander makes a total ass of himself in his early dealings with the woman and must find a way to make amends if he ever hopes to have the relationship blossom into anything.

I don't read Swedish and so I had to read this book in translation. I found the language a bit stilted and awkward and occasionally off-putting. I suspect if I could have read it in Swedish, it would have been a much more graceful reading experience. Still, it kept my interest and I do look forward to reading more in the series.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Israeli interests do not equal American interests

Frankly, I am sick of Israel dictating the Middle Eastern policy of the United States. The leaders of Israel, most egregiously Benjamin Netanyahu, show a fine contempt for the government of this country. They seek to control the government through their influence with Republican legislators and the powerful lobbyists at AIPAC. In fact, in his meeting with President Obama this week, Netanyahu did not even seem to attempt to contain his disdain for the man. He is looking forward to being able to address the U.S. Congress next week where he will, no doubt, rally the Republicans, his natural allies, and appeal to rich donors and fund-raisers to put their money on the line to oppose Obama's efforts at a more even-handed policy toward the various countries of the Middle East.

President Obama's speech on the Middle East earlier this week showed a good bit of political courage in facing down the Israeli lobby by telling them the truth which they did not want to hear. Israel is an occupying power. Brutal domination over their neighbors and refusal to bargain in good faith for a peaceful two-state solution has lost them the respect of the world. Israel has become nothing more than a colonial power dealing in the humiliation of a subjugated people. This is not a basis for the lasting peace which they claim to want. Keeping the Palestinians "in their place" does not recognize the essential humanity and dignity of the Palestinian people, but it is corrosive to the Israeli character, as well.

The thing is, I feel quite sure that the majority of ordinary Israeli citizens are more than ready to find a solution that allows their neighbors to live in dignity and peace. It is the militaristic government of Israel that refuses to take that step.

Bejamin Netanyahu grew up in the United States and he is essentially a Republican. He is not happy with the current government here and seeks to undermine it at every turn, another good reason for not allowing him and his allies to dictate our foreign policy.

On the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He seems a sensible man working for peace. He has eschewed violence as a tactic and has patiently worked to improve the conditions of his people without allowing the grievances of the past to dictate terms for the future. He is the kind of person that the Israelis could work with as a partner in peace, if they wanted such a partner, which, frankly, it doesn't appear that they do.

No wonder George Mitchell resigned from his position as mediator for a peace between Israel and Palestine. Until Israel acknowleges the reality of its precarious position in the world, mediation between the two seems impossible. And it seems unlikely that it will acknowledge that reality as long as it is blindly supported by American money and power. I think that both the United States and Israel would benefit from more of a separation. Let Israel, finally, stand on its own.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why do these people deliberately try to annoy me?

So I'm watching "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" on Planet Green and Josh says, "Maybe it would be best for Brent and I to spend some time apart."

Brent and "I"? Really, Josh?

And it's not as if this were an isolated incident. Later in the same episode, he made the same grammatical mistake again. I don't remember the exact quote (I've blocked it from my memory) but it was something like, "He gave it to Brent and I."

The misuse of subjective pronouns as objects is probably the pettiest of my pet peeves, but it is so commonplace on television now that whenever I sit down to watch, I am in danger of being in a constant state of annoyance.

It's not as if it is uneducated people who are making these grammatical mistakes. On the contrary, they are highly educated and smart people. People who were apparently not paying attention to their seventh grade English teachers when they explained the difference between the use of objective pronouns and subjective pronouns.

A subjective pronouns acts; an objective pronoun is acted upon. "I" is a subjective pronoun; "me" is the correct objective pronoun. Josh's sentences should be, "Maybe it would be best for Brent and me to spend some time apart" and "He gave it to Brent and me." What is so hard to understand about that?

And yet, one hears the incorrect usage of the subjective "I" more and more, not just on television but in real life as well. When someone I am speaking with uses that construction, it is all I can do to bite my tongue and keep my hands from reaching out to curl around their throats as I gently and smilingly correct them.

Thus does the world try my patience every day. I tell you life is hard for those of us who are perfect.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When will we begin to hold corporations accountable?

Remember April 5, 2010 when an explosion in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine near Montcoal, West Virginia killed 29 miners? In the aftermath of that explosion, various inquiries and news stories reported that the Massey Energy Co. which operated the mine had a woeful record of adhering to safety regulations. It was evident even to casual observers like myself that their number one priority was making money any way they could regardless of the danger to their employees.

Now an independent probe, which released its report today, has pretty much confirmed what we long suspected. Massey didn't give a fig about the safety of its workers. It was only concerned with corporate profits.

Haven't we heard this story before? Over and over again?

Here in Texas, one of the prime offenders has been BP which has repeatedly had fatal "accidents" at its refineries and has repeatedly been cited for violations and fined. And yet it seems to have no effect on their corporate culture. They continue to put concern for workers' safety somewhere far down the list of their priorities. For those of us who have paid attention to these stories, it was no surprise at all that the deep water oil platform that blew up last year in the Gulf, killing eleven men, was one of BP's.

And yet we continue to let these companies and others with equally deplorable records operate virtually unimpeded. And workers, desperate for jobs to support themselves and their families, take their lives into their hands every day when they report to work in these unsafe environments. But heaven forbid that these companies should actually be held accountable and forced to pay for their indifference to safety! That would be "regulation" and it is common wisdom that regulation kills jobs.

But common wisdom is not actually very smart, and the truth of the matter is that LACK of regulation kills workers. Corporations will not be good unless laws force them to be good.

Protecting the lives of its citizens is one of the jobs that we hire government to do. It is high time that government actually did its job and held corporations accountable for their bad behavior.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Neutering Newt

I never seriously thought that Newt Gingrich would actually run for president. I mean, why on earth would he put himself and his family through that? He has so many skeletons rattling around in his closet that it is really hard to even hear him speak above their sound. But I underestimated his hubris and his capacity for self-delusion.

So, yes, he's running, but there is not a snowball's chance in hell that he will get the Republican nomination, because now he has gone and done the unthinkable: He has criticized the House Republicans' plan to kill Medicare, calling it "right-wing social engineering," and by implication he has criticized the new Republican god, Paul Ryan, and you just can't do that and be considered "serious" in his party.

The party wasted no time in responding to his remarks on one of the Sunday television news talk shows. Republicans everywhere have been rushing to microphones to register their outrage at Newt. The leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, has said that there is no explanation for what Newt has said. Even if Newt apologized - which he probably will - and bowed to kiss the rings of Limbaugh and Ryan to reaffirm his "faith," I seriously doubt that it would be enough. Newt has effectively been neutered by his own kind.

Not that he ever had any chance of being president anyway.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: A review

When Freedom came out last year, all the reviewers went into orgasmic paroxysms of delight over it. I was bemused by all the hoopla, remembering Franzen's last book, The Corrections, and the big kerfuffle that was caused when Oprah chose the book for her book club and Franzen seemed to diss her readers, opining that his "lit'rature" was much too high-brow for such low-brow readers. (No, of course, he didn't actually use those words! I'm paraphasing and interpreting.) Oprah subsequently de-selected the book and moved on. I figured it was probably too high-brow for me, too, and I never got around to reading it.

But then came Freedom with a picture of the beautiful Cerulean Warbler on the cover. How could I, as a birder, resist it?

It turns out that the Cerulean Warbler is an integral part of the plot of the book. Walter Berglund, a lawyer who works for 3M in outreach and philanthropy, has a strong environmentalist streak. Environmentalist causes become his life's work which he will pursue with messianic fervor. One of those causes is establishing safe havens for the Cerulean Warbler. This part of the plot (as is much of the story) is taken from real life. There is an actual Trust that works to establish sanctuaries for the bird in this country and in its wintering grounds in Colombia.

During the course of the novel, Walter's wife, Patty Berglund, spends a summer reading Tolstoy's War and Peace, something I, myself, did one summer long, long ago in another lifetime. Perhaps it was that power of suggestion but this book reminded me a bit of War and Peace.

To state the obvious similarity, they are both very long books, but it's a bit more than that. There are the multi-layered characters and an intricate plot that unfolds almost organically, in a rather stream-of-consciousness way that must have taken painstaking planning. There's the underlying theme of the brutality and, in many cases, the stupidity of war. There are the misplaced passions of characters who fall in love with the wrong people.

This book is about Patty and Walter Berglund, their family, friends, neighbors, and enemies. They are nice people of strong character from Minnesota (although Patty is originally from New York). They meet in college. Both of them are from dysfunctional families with problematic fathers and irritating siblings who never seem to grow up in the thirty years or so covered by this novel. Walter and Patty have two children of their own and vow not to make the same mistakes with them that their parents made. To some extent, they succeed, but it is hard to resist the gravitational pull of becoming our own parents as we grow older.

This is an extremely rich work of fiction the setting of which is the social history of the Bush years. The Berglunds are liberals in a reactionary and jingoistic society. There are many journalistic touches to their story, references to the events of the times, particularly after they move from the Midwest to Washington, D.C.

Their children grow up and suprise them, as children have a way of doing. Their marriage grows cold and they grow apart and still the Berglunds persevere until...

This is a page-turner of a book about very interesting, if not always lovable, characters. I wished several times that I could just sit and read the book through to its conclusion at one sitting. I wanted to see how it would end. But I have a life that precluded that and so it took me a few days. I was glad to discover that it really wasn't too high-brow for me after all. Maybe now I'll give The Corrections a chance. Franzen really is a terrific writer.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A note about comments

Because of a glitch in the Blogger software, a few recent comments from readers have been deleted from the blog and there doesn't seem to be a way to restore them. So if you notice that a comment that you had made here is no longer visible, I just want you to know that I didn't do it! I love my readers' comments - all of them - and would never delete them. Apparently, the glitch has now been fixed and it is to be hoped that no more of your interesting comments will be dropped. Keep them coming!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baseball and books

It was one of the best kinds of afternoons - hours spent browsing through book stores followed by a wonderful late lunch at a favorite restaurant. All with my favorite person.

It's one of those pleasures that may be fading away in the future as book stores struggle to stay open in the age of Internet book buying. But today at least we still found a couple of them open and full of books. Full of books that I just had to have.

I had a mental list of books that I wanted for my "to be read" list and I found several of them, but then I found another book that I didn't know I wanted until I picked it up. It was Good Poems, American Places selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor.

I picked it up and the book fell open to this poem:

Baseball
by John Updike

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop's wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball's
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It's easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody's right,
beginning with baseball.


Reading that poem, I knew I had to have that book.

My poor Houston Astros are suffering through a very forgettable season so far. They have the worst record in the National League. They are mostly young and inexperienced, in their first or second year in the big leagues. Sometimes their games are painful to watch as they fail to catch "that small black dot a city block or more high" in the outfield or they "whiff on a terrible pitch." It happens all too often.

But then there are a few games where things go right and give promise of a brighter future. Games where Hunter Pence hits a double in the ninth inning to knock in the winning run in a tied game or Bud Norris strikes out batter after batter and looks completely unhittable. "Ya gotta believe!" is the cry of the true baseball fan and you've got to believe there will be more games like that.

But even if there aren't, there's still baseball, the poetry of the game itself and a game about which it is possible to write true poetry, thus combining two of the great passions of my life - baseball and books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward: A review

Here's the premise: A writer of mysteries and a poet who were once a couple long ago but have since split up and are now friends - sort of - decide to write a comic mystery together. They will write alternating chapters of the book and will not collaborate as far as the story line and the characters are concerned. Each writer will respond to what his/her partner has written in the previous chapter and will expand on it and move the story forward. Someone actually thought this was a good idea.

But that's not all! In addition to the book that the two are writing, the emails and notes that each writes to the other, commenting on his/her partner's work, will be included in the book between chapters, providing a sort of book within a book and a running commentary on their writing process. Again, someone thought this was a good idea.

The result of this attempt at cuteness is an incoherent story and characters who are so annoying that I kept hoping that they would all somehow fall into the clutches of the serial killer who seems to be at work here. There is not a single likable character in the whole book, nor very many believable ones either.

As for all those "notes" by the authors, they are petty and unfunny. There is a lot of very unattractive passive-aggression going on here. One suspects that there are many unresolved issues in their relationship, and one could only wish they had found another way to address them - one that didn't involve innocent readers. How about dueling pistols at 20 paces?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall-Smith: A review

I generally enjoy the writing of Alexander McCall-Smith. I've been a follower of two of his mystery series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series featuring Precious Ramotswe and the Sunday Philosophers' Club series featuring Isabel Dalhousie.

I vacillate in my opinion of the Isabel Dalhousie character. In some of the books in the series, I find her rather sweet and charming, but in others she is altogether insufferable and irritating. This entry in the series has to be placed in the latter category.

The story here is that a school in Isabel's Edinburgh is looking for a new headmaster and has narrowed its list of candidates down to three, but an anonymous letter has been received indicating something scandalous in the background of one of three. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't say which one. Isabel is asked to investigate "discreetly" and let the school's board know who the scandal-ridden candidate is.

This just seems unbelievable on the face of it. Why would the school asked a philosopher, which is what Isabel supposedly is, to investigate? Why not ask a professional investigator? Surely there are some in Scotland. But Isabel accepts the assignment with few questions and little hesitation and the rest of the book finds her bumbling her way through an "investigation."

The thing is, Isabel doesn't really investigate. She takes one offhand stray "clue" and jumps to immediate conclusions about a person. This seems highly unprofessional and incompetent for either a philosopher or a detective.

Not only that but it seems that Isabel is so obsessed with her relationship with her much younger lover, the father of her son, and so insecure in that relationship that she spends all of her time thinking about it. When does she ever find the time to edit her philosophy review or to investigate candidates for headmaster or for that matter to be a mother to her son? The answer seems to be that she really doesn't. I can't see that she spends much time doing anything except thinking about her wonderful Jamie and what a gentle, beautiful YOUNG man he is and how lucky she is that he loves her. But does he really love her, Isabel wonders, or is he having an affair with that fellow musician who is dying and for whom he feels sorry and, therefore, to whom he must make love? After all, she is dying and she is attracted to Jamie and he is so gentle and kind that he just can't reject her...

This is all just a bit of a mishmash really. The story wanders all over the place with very little to hold it all together. By the end, I was ready to reach through the pages, grab Isabel by the shoulders, give her a good shake, and say, "For heavens' sake, woman, quit philosophizing and just get on with it!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mood Indigo

Today, the bird I've been looking for all spring finally showed up in my yard. Yes, the Indigo Buntings are here!

I was able to photograph one of the birds, a brilliantly colored male, feeding under my blueberry bush in the backyard. He was not very cooperative. Whenever I tried to get in closer for a better shot, he flew up into the wild hedge along the back fence. I also had to contend with a large flock of White-winged Doves that were feeding in the area and tended to walk in front of the bird just as I was about to snap the picture. Still, I was able to get a few usable pictures.



Whenever I have Indigo Buntings in the yard, I almost never see them actually eating from my feeders. Normally, they are on the ground under the feeders or in the area of the feeders like this bird.



I find, also, that these birds tend to be wary. They are always on the alert for danger and any sudden move will send them flying for cover.



In this back shot, you can see some of the black markings on the wings and tail.



There's that pesky dove, walking in front of my bird just as I got him in focus!


If the birds will just stay around for a few days, maybe I'll get a chance to get some better pictures.



Meantime, I'll just have to be satisfied with what I've got.

Usually, the Indigo Buntings show up in my yard in early April, so you can understand why I was beginning to wonder if they were coming at all this year. They are just about a month late. Other birders in the area have reported other spring migrants being late as well. I'm not sure why that should be the case, but no doubt it has something to do with the weather. Perhaps the drought has limited food availability and has delayed some birds. I'm just glad that these particular little birds have arrived and I hope they'll linger for awhile.

(Cross-posted from Backyard Birder.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is global warming affecting food prices?

A new study published in the journal Science today explores the effect of global warming on the agriculture of the world and whether or not it is affecting the price of food worldwide. The researchers found that in many parts of the world the warming of the earth is already having a profound effect on agriculture. For example, wheat yields in Russia are down by about 10% in recent years while also declining by a few percentage points in places like India, France and China. Likewise, corn yields are down in many of these places.

On the positive side of the ledger, the researchers noted that the excessive carbon dioxide that we are pumping into our atmosphere does act as a fertilizer to encourage plant growth and this offsets some of the losses from higher temperatures. Plants can only adjust to higher temperatures to a certain extent, though, and may quickly reach the point of diminishing returns, or even the point of no return. Indeed, as temperature increases are expected to accelerate in coming decades, the likelihood is that such a point may be reached fairly quickly.

A very interesting finding of the study was that so far the effect of global warming has been negligible in North America and researchers point out that this may be one of the reasons why many here deny that such change is taking place. If it's not happening to them, it doesn't exist, they believe. But all over Europe, in large parts of Asia, and in some parts of Africa and South America, the detrimental effects are already being felt, causing crop losses and accounting for price increases of about 6 percent in food prices. Moreover, this is happening in some of the poorest parts of the world where people are least able to afford the increases.

Although we haven't been affected that much yet, we cannot expect our luck to hold out. In fact, the current state of weather in this country - including the drought here in Texas - argue that our luck may have already run out.

But even if our good luck continues, don't we owe something to the rest of the world that is suffering from our unwillingness to do anything about our massive amounts of greenhouse gases that we are sending into the atmosphere? Ethically, morally, the answer is clear to me. We don't have a leg to stand on and we would be convicted by a jury of our peers.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Scrap Medicare? Not us," say Republicans

The Republican House of Representatives voted for the radical Paul Ryan budget plan which would destroy Medicare as we know it, and then they went home for their spring break where a strange thing happened. They got yelled at by their constituents who were not at all happy with what they had done. This was not what they had voted for when they elected these people.

Now Congress is back in session and the Republicans are safely back in Washington and no longer getting yelled at, but even the fawning inside-the-beltway press and pundits have begun to question the wisdom and even the seriousness of the Ryan plan.

Republicans are just not used to such treatment and they've been trying to regroup and reform their lines. Today, we saw the result of that rethinking and reformation.

Quietly, obviously hoping that no one will notice and that everyone will quickly forget what they tried to do, they are dropping their Medicare reform plan.

At the same time, today, the Republicans voted once again to continue subsidizing Big Oil, the most profitable companies in the world which continue to report record profits each quarter.

They trust that we will forget all this by next year. Their votes are on record though, and let us hope that their Democratic opponents in next year's election will not forget that and will not let the voters forget: This is what you get when you vote for these radicalized Republicans - ripping up the social safety net and pouring more public money into the coffers of Big Oil. (And let's don't even talk about social and public health issues like abortion and the availability of safe contraception for poor people.)

Is this REALLY what American voters want their representatives to do?

Monday, May 2, 2011

The "Deathers"

Now that Osama bin Laden has been tracked down and killed, I expect that we will start to hear a new conspiracy theory from the kooks that claim so much media time in this country. I fully expect to hear that this was not really bin Laden, but perhaps someone surgically altered to look like him and then killed. Yes, I can hear it now: "Where is the death certificate, Mr. President? The LONG-FORM death certificate?"

When Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and their ilk start spouting their nonsense and spinning their conspiracy tales, remember: You read it here first.