Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Love triumphs

This may be the happiest story I've read all week. It seems that a runway at JFK Airport in New York was shut down for over an hour today because of lovesick turtles.

Diamondback terrapins that live in the wetlands around the airport mate at this time of year and then the females seek a sandy area in which to lay their eggs. As it happens, that sandy area is on the other side of the runway from the wetlands where they live, and so, around this time every year, they begin their trek across the runway in order to get to the nesting site. And traffic on that runway comes to a screeching halt!

Today, more than a hundred of the turtles were crossing the runway. Wildlife personnel and airport staff picked many of them up and moved them to a sandy area where they could lay their eggs. But after the egg-laying, the turtles will likely be trying to get back to their wetlands which might mean another shutdown.

Anyway, I just think that it is really cool that all those people in a hurry have to slow down and wait for a "turtle crossing." Love and Mother Nature triumph over technology. For once.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace: A review

I will freely admit that I may just not be smart enough to understand this book. I've read a few reviews of it by people who obviously are more versed in modern literature than I, and, for the most part, those reviews have ranged from mildly positive to raves. Moreover, looking at Mr. Wallace's biography, one sees that he won multiple prizes for his writing and some of them were for this book. That biography also tells us that the themes and style which he used in his writing were metamodernism and hysterical realism. I would have to say that the emphasis was more on the hysterical than the realism.

The events of this book take place in the not-too-distant future, when Canada, Mexico and the United States have come together in an organization of North American states, abbreviated as O.N.A.N. (Wallace makes a fetish of using abbreviations, often without explaining what they mean.) It is a time when vast herds of rampaging feral hamsters overrun the wastelands of the Northeast.

There is no real protagonist here, no one that the reader can identify with and pull for. The action takes place at two main sites, the Enfield Tennis Academy and the Ennet House, a sanctuary for recovering addicts and the psychologically impaired.

Enfield was run by a genius named James O. Incandenza who ultimately ended it all by sticking his head in a microwave, but he is survived by three sons, one a pro-football punter, one a severely deformed child who is filming a documentary of his world, and one (Hal) who is a tennis prodigy who is also mentally gifted. To the extent that the book has a central character, it is Hal.

At Ennet, we see Joelle van Dyne, a recovering freebase habitue', and another addict named Gately. I could never really get a clear picture of either of them.

Tennis is an obsession of many who people these pages and long, tedious passages are devoted to the minutiae of the sport.

The action switches back and forth between the two main venues and sometimes veers off into the Arizona desert and introduces other characters who never develop or seem to have anything interesting to tell us.

More confusing still for the unwary reader is the fact that time is no longer measured in numerical years like 2011 or 1985. Now, the naming rights to years are bought by companies and products. Thus we have the Year of Depend Adult Undergarment or the Year of the Whopper or the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad.

Parts of this book are beautifully written with a clarity that makes the reader long for more, but typically those passages are followed by page after page after page of what I can only describe as incomprehensible dreck. The book is more than a thousand pages long. One gets the impression that the editors were so intimidated by Wallace's genius that they were reluctant to suggest removing a single word. They did the reader no favor with their shyness.

My overall impression of the book was that it was written by a terribly confused and unhappy author. Was my impression influenced by the fact that I knew that Wallace suffered from depression and later killed himself? Maybe. But it seems clear to me - hindsight is 20/20 after all - that the seeds of his obsession with suicide are discernible here.

As I was slogging through this book, sighing and cursing with just about every page, my husband asked me, "With all the good books out there that would give you pleasure, why are you reading one that you clearly don't enjoy?" Good question. I had challenged myself to read the book and I stubbornly perserved until I had met my challenge. Or at least until I had turned every page.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hello, my name is Dorothy and I am a GOT addict

Yes, I admit it. I am addicted.

I'm not quite sure how it happened. I didn't intend it to happen. I only did it really to placate my daughter who insisted that I should. I didn't know what I was getting into. I had never even heard of George R. R. Martin before I started seeing ads for the HBO series based on his fantasy series of books about the continent of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms. But I watched the first episode of "Game of Thrones" when it started on HBO back in April, and now I am hooked.

And how do I know that I am hooked? Because I am suffering withdrawal. The last show of the season aired on June 19 and yesterday at the time that the show would normally have been on, "True Blood" started its season. No more "Game of Thrones" until next spring. At 8:00 P.M. last night, I started suffering severe depression. How will I ever survive without my weekly fix?

Admittedly, GOT does not fit the profile of my usual choice for entertainment. It is filled with blood and gore, two things which I generally try to avoid at all costs, but the original hook for me was that it had Sean Bean. He's been one of my favorite hunks ever since I first saw him more years ago than probably he or I would care to remember playing Richard Sharpe in the "Sharpe" series on PBS. Then there were lots of movies over the years, including his turn as the conflicted but heroic man of Gondor, Boromir, in that other little fantasy feature you might have heard of, "Lord of the Rings." Sean got me to sit and watch the first GOT episode, but after that, it was really the stories that kept me coming back week after week. And it's the stories that I'm missing this week.

If you haven't been watching the series, there's really no way that I can begin to summarize the plot for you. It is incredibly convoluted and involves an amazing number and variety of characters. Suffice to say that the time is medieval, there are lots of swords involved, and society is very paternalistic with the status of women being very low. And yet the most interesting characters for me are the women and the dwarf son of the House of Lannister, Tyrion, who is actually one of the more appealing personalities in the stories.

I am particularly fascinated by the younger Stark daughter, Arya. In this first season, she is a child and she is seeking to break out of the straitjacket that society forces onto women and girls. When her father Ned (played by Sean Bean) realizes what her ambitions are, he arranges for her to be tutored in the use of the sword and in self-defense. She has a sword given to her by her bastard half-brother which she named "Needle" - the sword not the brother. (In these kinds of stories when a character has a sword that has a name, it usually means that that character is headed for great deeds of derring-do!)

And then there is Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of the house of the deposed and murdered king. She escaped the carnage with her despicable brother who bargained with a band of barbarians to have their vast army back him in his attempt to retake the throne. His bargaining chip was Daenerys. He gave her to the leader of the barbarians in return for his support. But, never fear, Daenerys is a very strong woman and she is up to the challenge. After all, as she assures us, she has the "blood of dragons" in her veins. I expect we'll see a lot more evidence of that in the second season.

George Martin's series has four books. A fifth one is coming out in July. So what's an addict to do when she can't have her weekly television fix? Well, read the books, of course! I am being enabled in that endeavor by my husband. He just ordered a boxed set of the first four books. I may have to arm wrestle him for them though. Yeah, he's an addict, too.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David M. Eagleman: A review

What an odd little book this is. The book is only a little over 100 pages and in it the author presents different brief vignettes of our possible afterlives. Each imagined afterlife contains a deity, but each deity is different.

One deity is actually two - a dissatisfied married couple. Another is a microbe, too small for us to see. Others are dim-witted beings who created us to be smarter than they are. Another is too big to even be aware of us. Well, you get the idea of the diversity contained here, I think.

These short evocations of the afterlife (or afterlives) are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes just plain weird, but taken altogether, they comprise an interesting book, one that I would never have picked up if my daughter, the librarian, hadn't recommended it to me.

Reading things outside our comfort zone is actually very good for us, I think. It is a way to stretch our minds in new directions. I know this book sent my mind running in all kinds of different directions that I would not have otherwise explored. Unknown territory FAR outside my comfort zone.

I felt a bit like Lewis or Clark headed off into the mysterious West and the characters I met were every bit as strange and exotic as the ones they met.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Infinite wordiness

Last year, I wrote a post here about a list I had seen of thirteen books that everyone says he/she has read but hasn't. One of the books on that list was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. At that time, I admitted my literary ignorance of the book and maintained that I would probably never read it. I didn't even know who David Foster Wallace was. That was the depth of my ignorance.

After writing that, I felt bad. Who was I to dismiss a book and an author that I didn't even really know anything about? So, I decided to learn about Wallace and his work.

I looked him up on Wikipedia and was appalled to learn that he had killed himself in 2008. He had suffered from severe depression for many years and had only been able to function with the help of medication.

I discovered some of his essays and found them to be well-written and interesting and to express sentiments with which I could agree. To make a long story short, I decided to put Infinite Jest on my "to be read" list.

Well, now, Wallace's editor has finished with Wallace's last work, an unfinished novel called The Pale King and it has been published to glowing reviews - just as Infinite Jest was. Last week, while on the road on vacation, I heard the editor reading an excerpt from the book and it was beautiful, really more poetry than prose. I decided to move Infinite Jest up on my list and this week I started reading it.

It is a daunting reading challenge, over 1000 pages of small font type, sentences that run on to paragraph-length and paragraphs that sometimes go on for a page or more. Moreover, it has some eccentric punctuation which is really a pet peeve of mine. (And what exactly did e e cummings have against capital letters anyway?)

I'm only a few chapters into the book so far. Some of the writing that I've encountered is luminous and some is just irritating, but, my goodness, it is wordy! Don't publishers use editors anymore, or were they so intimidated by Wallace's genius that they were afraid to suggest cutting anything? Oh, well, I will slog on and in the end, I will no longer be ignorant of David Foster Wallace and his work and I will have been able to check off another of those books that everyone says they have read, and I actually WILL have!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three for Thursday

(1.) The FBI seems to be on a roll lately, having made several high profile arrests. The latest was this week's capture of one of their Ten Most Wanted, "Whitey" Bulger. Bulger had been on the lam for years, apparently with the complicity of some law enforcement people who had been paid off to turn a blind eye. Some of those folks are already serving long prison sentences and, with the capture of the man himself, it is possible that others will soon follow. Bulger, who is thought to be responsible for at least 19 murders, should be right behind them. We sometimes get the impression that our law enforcement agencies are incompetent, but the FBI is going a long way toward redeeming its reputation. It's very nice and confidence-building for the average citizen to see things working the way they are supposed to.

(2.) If Rick Perry decides to run for president, it seems that he will have a rumor problem. The rumor is that he is gay. Whether or not there is any truth to the rumor, these things just have a way of spreading and building. Just ask "Kenyan born" Barack Obama. Perry has an advantage over Obama in the rumor mill department in that Perry will NOT have Fox News and all of right-wing radio beating the drums to keep the thing going as they did with the Obama "birther" rumor. Of course, some might make the point that Perry's hair obsession reveals a gender confusion - but only those who believe in stereotypes.

(3.) My beloved Houston Astros - and their fans - are suffering through an awful season. They are currently 20 games below .500 and possess the worst record in all of major league baseball. There are a number of reasons for that. Topping the list is their youth and inexperience. They are a very young team and most games find them with a line-up heavy with rookies or second-year players. Another reason is injuries. They have been plagued with a spate of injuries that has forced them to constantly regroup and reassign people. Still, that's not to say they are a boring team. On most nights they are competitive. They play hard and with passion, and sometimes, like last night, they are rewarded. They came back from a deficit in the ninth inning of a game with their hated intrastate rivals, the Texas Rangers, and won the game 5-3. Thus, youth and justice were served. If necessary, I can live off of that for several days. Live and hope for more games like that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Havana Bay (Arkady Renko Series #4) by Martin Cruz Smith: A review

I've always enjoyed Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series. I have read several of the books out of sequence and now I'm going back to pick up the ones I've missed. Thus, I came to read Havana Bay, the fourth in the series while on vacation last week. It was a good vacation read. Smith is a good writer who knows how to move a story along. He kept me interested and kept me turning pages.

This episode in the Renko saga takes Arkady out of Russia, which should be obvious from the title. It is the late '90s and the divorce between Cuba and Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, is just about final. Renko, the intrepid and cynical Moscow investigator, received an anonymous message from someone in Havana that his friend Pribluda, who was in Havana for some unknown reason, was in trouble and needed Arkady's help. Arkady drops everything and flies to Havana, only to learn that a body on an innertube has washed up in the bay and that the body is believed to be that of his friend.

Arkady is skeptical - Arkady is ALWAYS skeptical! - and he begins an investigation even though he is not authorized to do so. He meets Cuban investigator Ofelia Osorio who insists that Pribluda died of a heart attack while out on the bay fishing and there is nothing to investigate. Furthermore, both Ofelia and every other official that he meets seem to be of the opinion that the only good Russian is a dead Russian and so Pribluda is a very good Russian.

The body was in such a state when it was found that Arkady cannot even be sure that it is his friend. He tries to find a picture that will enable the pathologist, a certified genius, to check the bone structure against Pribluda's facial features to determine if, in fact, the body is Pribluda. But somebody seems to deeply resent Renko's searches and he appears to be in danger of losing his life before he discovers the solution to the mystery. What was Pribluda doing in Havana, and what is the Havana Yacht Club, anyway?

This was a fun read. Arkady Renko is a very appealing character and his relationship with his Cuban counterpart Ofelia makes for an interesting juxtaposition of investigative methods. Overall, the picture of Cuba is a society of strong people who make do with what they have and who are still devoted to their Revolution's heroes in spite of hardships.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Minister of Soul

Listening to Bruce Springsteen's music always makes me happy. Even the sad songs have an underlying joy that always brings to mind that line from "Badlands" - "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!" That's the line that always makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance around the room. That is, if you haven't already.

Springsteen's lyrics are dependent on the music to make them live, to make them become the anthems of our lives, and for the last forty years, with a few brief pauses, that music has been brought to life by the E Street Band with Springsteen's voice finding its echo in the soulful saxophone of the man he called "Big Man," Clarence Clemons. Now Big Man, the Minister of Soul, is gone, his saxophone silenced.

Clemons had had many health problems in the last few years and last week he suffered a stroke. He died of complications from the stroke over the weekend.

It's hard to imagine the E Street Band without him. He was such an integral part of its sound. But he's not the first member of this iconic rock band to die. Danny Federici, the organist and accordion player who had been there at the birth of the band, died three years ago. The band goes on and no doubt it will go on even without Clarence. Probably the only indispensable member is Bruce, himself.

Still it will be a different band without its Minister of Soul and some of that joyful sound will be absent, at least for a while. But I feel sure the remaining members of the band will rock on. Musicians may die but the music lives forever.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Traveling

I will be traveling over the next several days and posting here will be sparser than usual.

Stay cool and meet me back here next week.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The British are not coming. Neither are the Canadians, nor the French, nor the....

The British are scared. They are frightened that their Conservative party-led government is going to blow up their long-established system of public health care and replace it with something like the American privatized system. This would not be acceptable to them and so they are worried and their politicians are having to repeatedly reassure them that no such plans are being made.

Remember the health care debate in this country a couple of years ago? Remember all the bombastic, jingoistic right-wing commentators who loudly proclaimed that America has the best medical care system in the world and that people from all those countries with inferior systems, like Britain and Canada, want to come here for treatment? Remember all of that? Well, like so much else spouted by the right in that debate, (Death panels, anyone?) it was a blatant, bald-faced lie. The British are NOT coming and neither are the Canadians nor the French. In fact, citizens in just about every other industrialized country in the world - all of which except for the U.S. have public-financed health care systems - are happier with their health care than Americans are. That goes for the British and the Canadians, too. Why would they want to come here? The myth that they do is all part of the "American exceptionalism" nonsense which is central to the fervent political religion of the right-wing. If they could remove the blinders from their eyes and see this country as others see it, they would be in for perhaps a fatal shock.

Unfortunately, the blinders are firmly in place and the stupidity goes on. People in large numbers in this country, unlike any of our fellow industrialized countries, continue to go without insurance and without needed medical care because they cannot afford it. That would never happen in Britain.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford: A review

My home state of Mississippi is one of the poorest in the country and is problematic in many ways, but one thing it has always been rich in is writing talent. Each generation in turn seems to produce at least one or two extraordinarily talented writers. Richard Ford is one of the ones from my generation.

For years, my husband had been trying to get me to read Ford's books and I finally decided that this would be the summer that I would read his Frank Bascombe series. The Sportswriter is the first in that trilogy.

Frank Bascombe is the sportswriter. He tried his hand at writing fiction but gave up after one book and took a job with a sports magazine. It's a job that seems to fit him. He likes the traveling. He likes talking to athletes. He likes meeting people who know how to be "within themselves." Frank doesn't really know how to be within himself but he aspires to learn.

The sportswriter is actually a very conventional, middle-aged, middle class white male with a wife and two children. He did have another child, but his oldest son has died a few years before. That tore his world apart and was the beginning of the end of his marriage. Now his ex-wife and children live separately and are making new lives for themselves and Frank has joined the Divorced Mens' Club and has found a new girlfriend, Vicki, who seems particularly annoying.

To be honest, Frank is pretty annoying himself. He's not really someone I would choose to spend a lot of time with and I got pretty tired of his rather complaining voice before the end of the book. But I think that was all a part of the exposition of the character. I'm not sure that he was meant to be a particularly sympathetic character. And yet one cannot help but feel a certain amount of sympathy for this sad sack of a man who seems to have no real clue of how to pull himself out of the funk he is in.

I got the impression that Ford was very, very familiar with Frank's story, that although it may not be strictly biographical, some aspects of it were rather closely based on Ford's own experiences. He tells the story in a very straightforward manner with no bells and whistles. He just lays it all out, even the uglier parts and leaves the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

I think it will be interesting to see how Frank Bascombe develops over the course of the trilogy. One hopes that he might become a little more appealing as we come to understand him better. Or perhaps he'll be more like Rabbit of John Updike's award-winning series - a character who never became especially likable but was mesmerizing nevertheless.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Palin/Perry ticket, perhaps?

The mass exodus of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign staff has led to interesting speculation that Texas' Gov. Goodhair might yet be going to enter the contest. The speculation is based on the fact that several of the staff members who quit have close ties to Rick Perry, the secessionist-minded governor, and the assumption is, I guess, that they have quit in order to go to work for Perry in his campaign. Personally, I can think of many good reasons for quitting the Gingrich campaign that have nothing to do with Perry, but that's just me.

My cynical husband has long been pulling for a Republican presidential/vice-presidential ticket of Palin/Perry just because he thinks it would have such great entertainment value, and, incidentally would go a long way towards guaranteeing a Democratic victory. If the Republicans even consider such a move, I think they should require their candidates to take and pass an eighth grade civics test before they can be nominated. That would present a problem though because I don't think either Palin or Perry could pass such a test.

Someone has said (I don't remember who or I would give him/her credit) that Rick Perry is the candidate for the voter who thinks George W. Bush was just way too intellectual. I think that sums Perry up pretty well. Come to think of it, it could apply just as well to Palin.

Maybe Palin/Perry would be a dream ticket. For sure, they would be well-matched.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I support Huma Abedin

The whole sick drama about Anthony Weiner's - um - weiner just gets scuzzier and scuzzier. Whenever I read more about it, I feel an irresistable urge to go and wash my hands, not to mention wash my eyes with saline solution.

Actually, I've tried avoiding reading about it as much as possible, but if one is connected at all to the outside world, it seems impossible to avoid it altogether. Then I saw the headline in The New York Times yesterday that Weiner's wife of one year is in the "first stages of pregnancy." It just made me want to weep for her.

Huma Abedin is a beautiful, intelligent woman. I don't know her personally, of course, but I've seen her picture, and I know she has worked for Hillary Clinton for a number of years, going all the way back to when she was a senator. She would not have survived in that position unless she had unusual intelligence and unusual toughness. She now works for Clinton at the State Department as her close adviser and unofficial chief of staff and often travels with her on her diplomatic missions. When Abedin and Weiner got married last year, Bill Clinton performed the ceremony and Hillary Clinton threw a big party for them.

Abedin is in her mid-thirties, a hard-working career woman with enormous responsibilities and now, apparently, after being married for just a year, she is just barely pregnant. And now she learns that her husband who she obviously thought was worthy of being the father of her children is a sick, self-indulgent, sex-obsessed scuzzbag.

Well, it's up to her to decide what to do with this guy and it's really nobody's business what her choice is. She may decide that his good points outweigh his bad and that he is redeemable. Or she may decide to cut her losses and move on. And, speaking of cutting things, she might decide to take a rusty carving knife and whack off the offending organ. That would be his head, of course. The one on top of his body, because that's where the sickness dwells.

Whatever Huma Abedin decides to do, I support her. She would never be convicted by a jury of her peers.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez: A review

I admit I have never read Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, but after reading this book, it is definitely going on my "to be read" list.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, a Colombian writer, has taken the germ of an idea from Conrad, his mythical country of Costaguana, and recast it as Colombia/Panama. He creates a character, Jose' Altamirano, to narrate his convoluted and non-linear tale of nineteenth and early twentieth century Colombia and Panama, a time when the French attempted to construct a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific but were defeated by Nature in the form of disease, insects, unbearable heat, and earthquakes. Finally, in the early twentieth century, Panama declared its independence from Colombia (with the encouragement and assistance of the United States) and struck a deal with President Theodore Roosevelt's government to try again to build the canal, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Altamirano's story begins in the mid-nineteenth century with his father, Miguel Altamirano, a journalist who was an idealist, activist, and booster of his home country. Most of all, he believed in the idea of the canal and did everything to support it, including turning a blind eye and ear to all minor problems that cropped up - e.g., Yellow Fever which killed thousands. But at that time our narrator did not know his father. He was being raised by his mother in Bogota'. He had been conceived in a brief encounter between his mother, a married woman, and his father and had never known the name of his father until he was a teenager.

When he finally learned who his father was, he went looking for him and, finding him, stayed with him in Panama throughout the rest of his father's life.

Vasquez/Altamirano switches back and forth in time in the telling of his tale, but the climactic moment comes when he goes to London (after Panamanian independence has been declared, leaving his teenaged daughter Eloisa behind!) and there meets Joseph Conrad who is having trouble with the novel that he is working on. Altamirano is persuaded to tell his personal life story and the story of Colombia while Conrad takes notes and that story becomes the basis of Nostromo. When the book is published and Altamirano sees it, he feels cheated because the story is not his. He goes to confront Conrad who points out to him that Nostromo is fiction!

This is a delicious novel, both humorous and sad, ironic and tragic, and very well-written and well-translated by Anne McLean. Moreover, it is a novel with a lot of actual history woven into it, enough to entice any history buff.

I had three quibbles with story.

First, as a teenager, Altamirano leaves his mother to go looking for his father. We never hear anything about his mother again. What happened to her?

Second, he kisses his teenaged daughter goodbye while she sleeps and heads off to London with hardly a backward glance. What happened to her?

Third, we never get to know the source of the narrator's income. From whence came the money that kept him and his family fed, clothed and housed all those years?

Ah, well, did I mention that the story is told in a non-linear fashion?

Mr. Vasquez is a very interesting writer and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The crotch shot heard 'round the world

If you've been watching television or reading newspapers at all this week, you probably cannot have escaped seeing the picture of a man's bulging crotch in his tidy whities that is alleged to be of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Weiner is alleged by right-wing scumbag Andrew Breitbart to have taken the picture and sent it via Twitter to a young college student. Weiner denies that he sent the picture. He says his Twitter account was hacked and he has hired a legal firm to look into what happened.

Several bloggers, doing what the mainstream media would do if it had not completly abdicated its responsibility, have investigated the matter and turned up some evidence supporting Weiner's denial. Personally, I am inclined to give the benefit of a doubt to anyone attacked by Breitbart, given his history of fabrication of scandals such as the ACORN vs. the pimp story or the tale of Shirley Sherrod's racism.

Both stories were completely false, but Breitbart and his henchmen, along with their Republican cohorts in Congress, did manage nevertheless to destroy ACORN, the advocacy group that had, for decades, worked with the poor and disadvantaged of the country to ensure that their rights were not trampled. They did not destroy Shirley Sherrod because a full tape of the speech where she was alleged to have made racist comments soon came out and proved that what she had actually said was just the opposite of what Breitbart's doctored tape had claimed.

So Breitbart is a despicable liar and we cannot believe anything that he says. I would accept Anthony Weiner's denial and give him a full pass on the story except for one thing. He says that although he didn't send the picture he cannot say "with certitude" that the picture is not of him. Really, Anthony?

So, how many pictures of your bulging crotch are out there, Rep. Weiner? Are there really so many and are they so available that you just can't say whether this one is one of yours? Or not?

And what is it with men and their penises anyway? Why are they so sure that the whole world is jonesing for a look? Or to put it another way, why do men take crotch shots? Apparently a lot of them do, although I admit that I live in such a naive sheltered world that I wasn't aware of it until this story came out.

Frankly, I'll never understand why a man, particularly a man in the public eye, would be so stupid as to do such a thing - i.e., take a picture of his penis and post it ANYWHERE electronically so that any hacker can grab it (so to speak) and distribute it to the world. Perhaps it just goes to prove once again that the hubris and utter fecklessness of male political figures know no bounds when it comes to sex. They all think they are God's gift to women - or men, as the case may be.

Maybe you just have to be a man to understand.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell: A review

This was the second book in Henning Mankell's series of police procedurals featuring the dour Swedish detective inspector Kurl Wallander.

It starts with two men on a boat. They encounter a red, unmarked life raft, adrift on the sea. Coming nearer, they see that there are two men in the raft - two very dead men.

The two live men are returning to Sweden after delivering smuggled goods to their East German contacts. They can't afford to call attention to themselves by reporting the raft and the bodies so they decide to tow it closer to the coast where the tide will take it in to be discovered. Soon, the report of the finding of the two dead men comes to police inspector Kurt Wallander and the investigation begins.

The first thing to be ascertained is who the men are and where they came from. Dental forensic analysis soon points to an Eastern European country as their point of origin, but there is no identifying information on the bodies or on the raft itself.

After inquiries through Interpol and other police agencies, it appears likely that the men came from Latvia, and a Latvian detective, Major Liepa, soon arrives on the scene to assist Wallander with the investigation. Still, the investigators make little progress. They have no scene of crime. It seems possible, even likely, that the torture and murder of the two men took place in Latvia and so the investigation is turned over to Major Liepa and the Latvian police.

Liepa returns home with the bodies and Wallander is very glad to wash his hands of the case, but soon after he arrives back in Latvia, Liepa, too, is murdered and the police there request Wallander to come over and help them with their inquiries. Curiouser and curiouser. It is in Latvia that the rest of the story unfolds.

This story seemed a bit dated to me, possibly because it took place in 1991-92 and so much has changed in Eastern Europe since that time. The language of this book did not seem quite so stilted as that of the first book. A new translator made the difference. But the last third of the book really began to drag for me. I had solved the mystery before Wallander which was satisfying in one way, irritating in another.

I do find Wallander quite a fascinating character with his unhealthy lifestyle and his unheroic loner's personality. He seems to be headed for a major illness if he doesn't mend his ways. He also seems doomed to a life of loneliness as he is unable to make connections with other people. In this book, he falls immediately in love with Major Liepa's widow, but will anything ever come of that? Will he ever even be able to express his longing for her? It seems doubtful. All of us socially awkward people can certainly relate to the way he feels. He endears himself to us by his very uncoolness.