Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Soul searching" requires a soul

After the recent election, there were many reports in the media about how the Republican Party was completely gobsmacked, blind-sided by the election results. They really believed they were going to win and win big and couldn't understand how they didn't. So, there began a period of "soul searching." They were going to analyze why they lost and fix the problem.

They lost because they were only able to appeal to one demographic - old white people. (Full disclosure: I am one, but I'm an exception - and there are plenty of us old liberals. They didn't appeal to us.) They lost every other demographic in the country. Their base is angry old white men and there are fewer and fewer of them. If the Republicans cannot expand their appeal, their party will die along with its base, not unlike the Whigs before them.

Some Republicans have sort of acknowledged this and have made half-hearted statements about how their party needs to embrace immigration reform and soft-petal all that talk about banning abortion and contraception and how women should be grateful for their rape babies. They give lip service to the idea that they need more diversity in their leadership. Then they actually choose their leaders and this is what we get:

These are the faces of the nineteen chairmen of committees in the House of Representatives chosen by Speaker John Boehner. There are two more committee chairmen that have not yet been selected, but the faces of the only candidates look just like the ones above. So, in the Republican controlled House of Representatives (234 Republicans to 201 Democrats), all of the chairmen of committees will be middle-aged to old white men, many of whom, quite frankly, are batshit crazy.

So much for diversity.

And so much for soul searching. Of course, soul searching first requires a soul.

'Nuff said.

UPDATE: Well that ought to solve the problem! Not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry: A review

I have been a fan of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries for at least twenty years and I've been reading the William Monk series for almost that long. So, by now, Monk and his wife Hester and their friend, the barrister Oliver Rathbone, as well as the coterie of people around them are well-known to me, old friends I might say. This is the 18th entry in the Monk series and I have faithfully read them all.

Familiarity breeds...familiarity, in this case. I know very well the way Perry's plots work, and before I was halfway through this book, I had solved the mystery of who the murderer was, although I wasn't completely clear on the motive. But I read these books not so much for the mystery anymore, as for the depictions of the social milieu and Perry's exploration of the dark underbelly lying just beneath the surface of the strictly ordered world of Victorian society.

This story takes place in the 1860s and at the heart of it is opium. In the mid-nineteenth century, opium had proved to be a godsend for relief of pain and yet it wielded a two-edged sword. That sword might cut the pain, but at the same time, if the drug was not properly used, it could open a wound of addiction that might never be healed.

The path to addiction has been made easier, by this time, by the invention of the hollow needle attached to a syringe that can deliver the pure opium directly to the bloodstream. Addiction has become a profit-making enterprise for certain entrepreneurs without morals, some of them in high government positions. 

A medical researcher has been gathering information about opium and its distribution. Victorian England has no laws restricting that distribution and this has caused uncounted misery as the drug can be easily purchased almost anywhere and then given to relieve pain, even in children. The problem - one of the problems - is that there is no guidance as to how much to give, and many children, in particular, have died as a result of being overdosed. There is a move afoot to pass a law in Parliament that will regulate the distribution of opium and this is opposed by powerful forces. 

As the researcher gathers his data, he stumbles upon a discovery regarding the use of needles to inject opium and to intentionally cause addiction. He submits his report and the government official who receives it rejects it as flawed. Then the researcher is found in a park with his wrists slit, having bled to death. The verdict is suicide, but his wife doesn't believe it.

Two months later, on the river Thames, William Monk, commander of the River Police, and his assistant discover a dead body on Limehouse Pier. It is a woman who has been horribly mutilated. The investigation turns up a link between the dead woman and the dead researcher. Are their deaths also connected? Was the "suicide" of the researcher also a murder? And is the wife responsible? 

It begins to appear that she is responsible at least for the death of the woman and Monk arrests her. On the way to jail, she asks him to contact Oliver Rathbone for her to direct her defense. Of course, the diligent Monk does so. Rathbone takes the case and we're off to the races! 

I didn't find this to be one of Perry's stronger efforts, although all the information about the rise of the use of opium in the society was fascinating, and Monk, Hester, and Rathbone, as always are very sympathetic characters. Even at less than her best, Perry is still a satisfying read.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Irony rules

Remember way, way back a few weeks ago when we learned what Mitt Romney really thought about 47 percent of his fellow Americans? "Those people" who it was his job not to worry about? In retrospect, those uninhibited remarks that Romney made to a bunch of his billionaire and millionaire supporters in Boca Raton, Florida may have been the final nail in the coffin of his doomed presidential candidacy. Once Americans learned how he disdained them, it was very hard for them to warm up to him.

So Romney lost the election.The final total of votes still hasn't been calculated, as some votes are still being counted, but today a significant and highly ironic milestone was reached. Today Romney's percentage of total votes dipped to 47.48%, while President Obama's stands at 50.8%. In other words, President Obama's rounded percentage is 51%; Mitt Romney's rounded percentage is - wait for it! - 47%.

And irony rules the day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Here's something cool

Here's something for all fans of Earth's beautiful natural satellite and it is really cool! This NASA animation shows the phases of our Moon for the entire year of 2013.

As you watch the animation, you'll notice that the Moon seems to rock back and forth, tipping and tilting over the course of every month. That action is due to the Moon's orbit being elliptical and slightly tilted with respect to the Earth's equator. The motion is called libration, and because of it we see the Moon from a slightly different angle each day
There's a lot of information here and it helps to pause the animation from time to time when you first watch it in order to take it all in.
The NASA website for the animation has much more information and details about the video, and starting in 2013, the image of the Moon at the top will automatically change every hour to represent the actual view of the real Moon. For those of us who assiduously watch and follow the phases of the Moon, this is just one more thing for us to obsess about. But it's a good thing.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King: A review

Morocco, 1924. Control of the country is divided between two European nations - Spain and France. But that control is slipping as a native revolt gains momentum.

It is not only Spain and France that maintain an interest in Morocco. Germany has mining interests there and seeks to promote and protect those interests, and England, (or, at the time, the British Empire) by nefarious means, tries to guide events into pathways that will benefit its own foreign interests. At the center of the British efforts, in Laurie R. King's fictionalized telling of the events, is Mycroft Holmes and, of course, where Mycroft spins and weaves, his younger brother Sherlock lurks in the shadows.

Sherlock Holmes and his young wife Mary Russell were already in the area in a continuation of the action which we saw in the last novel in this series, The Pirate King. They are participating in the filming of a motion picture about - yes - pirates. Sherlock breaks away from the company to pursue his own adventure, while Russell continues playing her part in the filming. Then, one day near the end of filming, Russell walks off into the desert, hand in hand with a strange child. And disappears.

Sherlock and Russell had planned a rendezvous in Fez a few days later. Sherlock waits for her but she doesn't appear. Alarmed, he begins to search for her.

Meanwhile, an injured Russell is lying in an unknown house also in Fez, although she doesn't know where she is. In fact, she doesn't know who she is. A head injury has induced amnesia, but her instincts are intact, and when French "soldiers" come looking for her, her instinct tells her to escape and, incredibly, she does, wandering into the city.

As she wanders, she gathers information, and as Sherlock looks for her, he, the ultimate gatherer of facts, also receives a tangled web of information. At first, all those bits and pieces seem disjointed and unrelated, but this is, at base, a Sherlock Holmes mystery and so everything connects in the end.

Along the way, we once again meet up with Mahmoud and Ali, brothers whom Holmes and Russell had met and bonded with during a previous adventure in Palestine, and, of course, they turn out to be at the very center of the unfolding events. It seems touch and go as to whether the four friends, not to mention that strange child with whom Russell had disappeared into the desert, will survive the brutal Moroccan political climate of 1924. But, since this is Sherlock Holmes, we have a sneaking suspicion that they will, in spite of all odds.

Laurie King's pastiche series based on the great Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective has been one of my guilty reading pleasures for years now. Sherlock Holmes was my first literary crush when I was twelve years old. All these years later, he still has the power to fascinate me. King, I feel, has caught the essence of his personality, even though she's given the confirmed bachelor a young wife, his former Beekeeper's Apprentice. Mary Russell is the focus of these stories and the narrator of her share of the tales. (Sherlock's part is told in third person.) It is from Russell's "notes" that Laurie King constructs her stories, of which Garment of Shadows is another winner.

      

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm off to celebrate my very favorite holiday of the year. There's a lot to be thankful for this year. I hope you have a lot to be thankful for, too, and that your holiday is an especially good one.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Paraprosdokians


A friend sent me this today. I guess it must be making its way around the internet. It gave me a chuckle. Maybe you'll find it amusing, too. (I especially like #3 and #14.)
Winston Churchill allegedly loved paraprosdokians which are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous. Here are a few I've collected.

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.
6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
8. They begin the evening news with 'Good Evening,' then proceed to tell you why it isn't.
9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. My desk is a work station.
11. I thought I wanted a career; turns out I just wanted paychecks.
12. In filling out an application, where it says, 'In case of
emergency, notify: ' I put 'DOCTOR.'
13. I didn't say it was your fault...I said I was blaming you.
14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut... and still think they are sexy.
15. Behind every successful man is a woman and behind the fall of every successful man is usually another woman.
16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
18. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
19. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.
20. I used to be indecisive; now I'm not so sure.
21. You're never too old to learn something stupid.
22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
23. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
25. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
26. Where there's a will, there are relatives.
And my favorite is...
I'm supposed to respect my elders, but it is getting harder and harder for me to find one!

Monday, November 19, 2012

"It's tough being a Southern liberal."

Karen L. Cox, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, had an op-ed piece in The New York Times a couple of days ago that caught my attention. She had me with her first sentence: "It's tough being a Southern liberal."  As a Southern liberal who has lived most of her life surrounded, not to say overwhelmed, by a multitude of rabid conservatives, I know the truth of that sentence only too well.

Cox was discussing the recent election results, of course, but she had an interesting point to make - a point that I had not seen made anywhere else.

Many pundits analyzing the election have made much of the fact that although President Obama won the country, Romney won the former slave-holding states of the Confederacy, except for Virginia and Florida. In doing this, they opine that this section of the country is very different from the rest of the nation. Professor Cox reveals that her analysis proves just the opposite - that, in fact, the South very much followed the trend in the rest of the nation.

She states that throughout the South, voters in many urban areas gave President Obama a majority of their votes, just as voters in urban areas in other parts of the country did. In particular, she mentions that "voters in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., and even Jackson, Miss., gave Mr. Obama substantial majorities, not because they are out of step with the rest of the country but because they are part of the same urban-rural divide that drives voting everywhere. "

She might also have mentioned Houston, Texas. The monster city just thirty miles from my doorstep, and indeed its county of Harris, gave President Obama a clear majority of votes. Meanwhile, here in Montgomery County and in many of the more rural counties adjacent to Harris, the split was more like 80/20 for Romney. Again, my blue vote was drowned in a sea of red.

I find this very interesting though and heartening for the future prospects for liberalism/progressivism in the South. As the demographics change and as the population becomes more urbanized and less wedded to and weighed down by the past, I think it is very likely that we may see that sea of red turn purple, and finally blue. I would love to be around to experience that and to feel what it's like to be in the majority among my neighbors!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

In One Person by John Irving: A review

This book about a bisexual man and his multitudinous and varied sexual liaisons contains many of the themes of a John Irving novel - wrestling, the missing father, mentions of bears, and unconventional sex.

Over the years, in his writing, Irving has explored human sexuality in all its many expressions and, here, he brings all those themes full circle as he asks his readers to accept that all of those expressions are legitimate and are merely a part of the human experience. Of all the Irving books I've read, this one reminded me most of The World According to Garp in its delineation of Irving's favorite themes.

As the narrator of this story, Irving gives us William Abbott, Bill or Billy to most of his friends. This is Bill's story. He had grown up in a small Vermont town where sexual repression seemed a way of life. He attended a local all-boys school where all the boys - at least all the ones we get to know - seemed to be homosexual.

Moreover, the town had a librarian, Miss Frost, who was transgender. She had once been Al Frost - Big Al - and was a famous wrestler at the all-boys school. Bill was not aware of this history (because this was a town that was very good at keeping secrets from its kids) when he met her and developed a heavy and "inappropriate" crush on her. Later, he has his first sexual experience - sort of - with her and learns that she has a penis, a word which Bill is unable to pronounce because it is steeped in such emotion for him. He says "penith," rhyming it with zenith.

His experience with the transgender librarian causes her to be sacked and permanently embitters Bill against his mother and his aunt who were prejudiced against the librarian from the start. Oddly, all of the male members of Bill's family seem perfectly accepting of his sexual proclivities and of Miss Frost, or Big Al as they knew her. Indeed, they are admiring of the librarian and defend her, to no avail, in the big kerfuffle that leads to her dismissal.

Bill Abbott survives his high school years, not without trauma, and heads off to Europe with a school friend. There, they engage in, what is for both of them, their first fully homosexual affair. They do "everything," the narrator tells us. By the time they return home, Bill is aware that this companion is not for him long-term, and he is eager to move on. This becomes the recurring theme in his life and sexual history. He's never there for the long-term. He's always eager to move on to the next experience, the next anus or vagina.

Humor is always a part of an Irving book and that is true here as well. The funniest bits seem to be about vaginas and about Bill's faux pas in regard to them, including a memorable description of a vagina as "not ballroom-sized" which unaccountably(?) offends its owner. Our narrator seems essentially uncomfortable with that orifice and unable to deal with the person attached to it.

Bill finishes college and begins a successful career as a novelist. He also continues his career as a sexual explorer and experimenter. His novels reflect his sexual interests.

He moves from one sexual affair to another, most of them with men, but occasionally he dabbles in women. His best friend throughout is Elaine with whom he had bonded in childhood. They try sex together but it is unsatisfying. Nevertheless, they live together, platonically, on various occasions throughout their lives.

This story is being told by Bill as he nears 70 and looks back over the decades of his life. Those decades are marked by a series of sexual affairs, but he never seems to find "in one person" that soul mate he is seeking. Or is he really seeking a soul mate? The closest he comes is with Elaine, but he is perfectly happy with his casual affairs and he will never give them up.

I was engrossed in this book for about two-thirds of its length, but then it began to feel really repetitious to me. After a while, the recitation of serial affairs began to pall. Moreover, we entered the AIDS years and much of the story began to revolve about the horrible symptoms suffered by Bill's friends who were sickening and dying all around him. Not that that isn't compelling stuff, but I needed more context for these victims. In spite of his serial sleeping-around, Bill was never infected because, as he assures us, he had always insisted on the use of condoms since 1968. Plus, he was a "top," and it seems that "bottoms" are more susceptible to infection. Who knew?

Irving wants us to accept his characters as perfectly human, perfectly normal, despite their different sexual appetites and expressions and I have no problem with that, but it would have been easier if I had found the characters a bit more sympathetic. Mostly, I got really impatient with them before the end.

A recurring sentiment is expressed by Bill Abbott in the final paragraph as he speaks to the son of a long-ago school mate who had tormented him: "My dear boy, please don't put a label on me - don't make me a category before you get to know me!" Trouble is, I never really felt I got to know him.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can't stop insulting voters

First it was Paul Ryan blaming the Republicans' loss on "urban" voters. Wonder who he could have been referring to? No doubt all those people who listen for "dog whistles" understood him very well.

Of course, Ryan neglected to mention that his ticket also lost predominately white and rural states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and underperformed in Midwestern states, but then the flimflam man has never lived in a reality-based state. 

Speaking of the state where he does live, Wisconsin, he lost that, too, AND he lost his own home town

Then along came Ryan's partner in losing, Mr. Romney. Speaking this week to donors to his campaign, he blamed the loss on President Obama giving "gifts" to various segments of voters. Here's just a snippet of his insulting remarks about "those people" who didn't vote for him; you know, that irresponsible 47 percent. Except it turned out to be 51 percent.
With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008…
You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group. 
Every word drips with disdain.

After he was caught out with his remarks about the 47 percent at that meeting of his backers in Boca Raton, he said that he had not expressed himself "elegantly," which may be the understatement of the year. He went on, of course, to assure us that he really cared deeply about 100 percent of Americans. But this latest meeting with backers gives the lie to that. The Romney who dismissed the "47 percenters" and the Romney who has nothing but contempt for "those people" who are swayed by "gifts," that is the authentic Mitt Romney. The sore loser.

Now, if Romney had been elected, you can bet he would have been passing out "gifts" left and right to his super-rich friends. Slashing their tax rates and putting in special breaks in the tax code that only apply to the very, very rich and, of course, doing away with that regulation thing and generally making the world safe for robber barons.

What a piece of work these two guys are. Real charmers. Wonder how they ever lost?

If they really want to know, they could look in the mirror. But that would probably be more reality than they can bear. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will I have to self-deport?

It seems I may have to move after all. Texas, along with several other states, is petitioning the White House website to secede from the United States. Well, to be perfectly clear, it isn't Texas that is submitting the petition; it is about 64,000 particularly benighted Texans. And the truth is you could probably round up that many Texans to support most anything, and that is just another indictment of the educational system in this state.

This particular action has gotten attention because the White House website rules indicate that if a petition has more than 25,000 signatures it requires a response. Even though equally benighted citizens in other states have sent in such petitions, apparently there aren't as many of them as there are in Texas so they haven't reached the 25,000 threshold. Once again Texas stands alone in its specialness.

In this instance, even Rick Perry, who once floated the idea of secession, has distanced himself, releasing a statement to say that he "believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it." Well, I'm glad he cleared that up.

So, if Texas secedes , then I guess I will have to - in Mitt Romney's famous words - "self-deport" to a more congenial state, one that is perhaps not quite so ignorant of the benefits that a state receives from being a part of the United States and perhaps one that is less divided by racism. Because, yes, that is what is at the bottom of this. There are still white people in this country who cannot stand the thought that a majority of the voters have now elected a black president - TWICE!!! They are so filled with hate and fear that they cannot see past the ends of their own noses. I guarantee that most if not all of these petitioners are white. Moreover, I can further guarantee you that most of them are men.

Anyway, the 64,000 signatures represent just 0.2 percent of the population of Texas, so I'm thinking that rather than having the rest of us leave, a better solution - a much better solution - would be for these 64,000 to self-deport. Perhaps they could pool their resources and buy a desert island somewhere, so that they could set up their own government and be free at last. They can build their own highways, hospitals, and schools, train and support their own first responders and their own army, navy, and air force. That might prove difficult though since they don't believe in the concept of taxation.

These crazy Texans and all those crazy people from other states who think they want to secede are out of luck. As constitutional law professor Bill Funk points out, "It's not in the president's power under the Constitution to let a state secede. In fact, it's not clear whether anyone, even Congress, could let a state secede. It might, in fact, take a constitutional amendment."  And that constitutional amendment ain't gonna happen! The fact is, this question was settled back in the 1860s and all those cranky folks might as well get used to it.

But if they really, really can't stand the thought of having a black president, then again I say, self-deport yourselves! And don't let the door hit you on the backside on the way out.

And if you do somehow manage to secede, let me make one thing clear: You can't have my house and yard! If you can secede from the United States, then I can secede from Texas and become the proud and free State of Dorothy.  


Monday, November 12, 2012

Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude: n. Pleasure derived from the misfortune or discomfort of others.

Schadenfreude is a big buzz word in liberal circles these days. Mostly it seems to be used by liberal scolds (of which there are plenty) telling us to pipe down, that we shouldn't gloat, that we shouldn't rub the right wingnuts' noses in their defeat. To which I reply, "Why not? They've certainly gotten plenty of glee from rubbing our noses in it over the years!"

My intellectually superior companions at breakfast this morning laughed at me when I admitted that the word was new to me. I really didn't know the meaning of it until it started popping up over the last several days in the blogs and online media that I read and I had to look it up. I think that probably the reason I wasn't familiar with it was that throughout much of my life I've been on the receiving end of Schadenfreude.

So, now, since I am a bleeding heart liberal, my heart is supposed to bleed for the radical wingnuts who have done - and will continue to do - their best to hijack my country? I'm supposed to be mature and magnanimous and have compassion for their suffering??? Sorry, I guess I'm just not that mature! 

On the contrary, I totally agree with Salon.com's Rob Spillman's take on subject,  that gloating, in this instance, is a patriotic duty :
And isn’t this what this election has been about, the outsiders versus the entitled? For once gays, women, Latinos, African-Americans, math geeks (hello, Nate Silver), science nerds (global warming, anyone?) and even pot-smokers banded together to win the day against the anti-intellectuals (Santorum’s boastful “we’ll never get the smart people”), anti-science (Romney jokingly saying at the convention, “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family”), anti-women (pick your insane rape statement by any number of Republican candidates, all of whom lost, not to mention Lilly Ledbetter), anti-gay (the Republican platform called for a ban on gay marriage and for bringing back Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), anti-Latino (they used the word “illegals” so often that even the notoriously conservative Cuban-Americans voted for Obama), and to top it all off there was the attempted bum rush of statistical wienie Nate Silver. Was that the tipping point? When the Fox and company bloviators went after Silver for, gasp, using math and logic, and did so in their characteristically smug and condescending manner, as if addressing the uneducated help sweeping out their dressage horse stables, this was when they were putting the finishing touches on the Schadenfreude targets.  
Oh, yes, for those of us who have long endured the condescension of the anti-scientific, anti-reality know-nothings, this is our moment and Schadenfreude is sweet! Just let us enjoy it for a few more days.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank you, veterans



Thank you to all veterans and to their families who also served and still serve. And thank you especially to my own favorite veteran.


...For all you did and still do.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thank God it's over!

We've had a few days now to absorb and reflect on the news of Tuesday's election, and thank God it's over! The sense of satisfaction that many of us feel about the results has only deepened. One of the most mendacious campaigns for president in the history of the country was rejected by voters. Candidates for the senate who appealed to misogyny, racism, and magical economic thinking were mostly defeated. In the races for the House of Representatives, some of the worst of the worst (I'm talking 'bout you Joe Walsh and Alan West!) were defeated and others (Michele Bachmann, Steve King, etc.) had close calls and suffered scares which may bode well for the future. Even in Texas, the Republicans lost their super-majority in the state legislature and will no longer be able to ride roughshod over the objections of their opponents. It is very likely that except for the gerrymandering and the voter suppression efforts by Tea Party Republican state governments, the rejection of the non-reality-based philosophy of that party by the voters would have been even more drastic.

Meanwhile, we watch, bemused, as the right wingnut pundits "analyze" their losses. They were so sure that they were in for a big victory celebration on Tuesday. They were all prepared to lord it over their weak liberal opponents and crow about their "mandate." They were going to repeal the Affordable Care Act on their first day in office, followed quickly by an overturning of Roe v. Wade, a denial of health insurance coverage for female contraceptives (But, of course, full coverage for male enhancement drugs like Viagra or Cialis!), building a 20-foot tall wall all around the country and rounding up and deporting all who can't prove their citizenship or their legal entry into the country, and, naturally, getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and removing all regulation on Wall Street. Yes, beginning November 7, they believed in spite of all evidence to the contrary that they would be entering the Randian world of their fondest dreams. They had convinced themselves that all those nasty little geeks who relied on real-world data were just skewing their predictions to make the Democrats look good. I have to admit that watching their self-inflicted combustion on Tuesday night and since has been quite entertaining. Gloat-inducing even.

In an article in New York Magazine today, Frank Rich writes about the propensity for self-delusion that is rampant in today's GOP. The title of his piece is "Fantasyland." Never was an article more accurately titled. He writes:
As GOP politicians and pundits pile on Romney in defeat, they often argue that he was done in by not being severely conservative enough; if only he’d let Ryan be Ryan, voters would have been won over by right-wing orthodoxy offering a clear-cut alternative to Obama’s alleged socialism. In truth, Romney was a perfect embodiment of the current GOP. As much as the Republican Party is a radical party, and a nearly all-white party, it has also become the Fantasyland Party. It’s an isolated and gated community impervious to any intrusions of reality from the “real America” it solipsistically claims to represent. This year’s instantly famous declaration by the Romney pollster Neil Newhouse that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers” crystallized the mantra of the entire GOP. The Republican faithful at strata both low and high, from Rush’s dittoheads to the think-tank-affiliated intellectuals, have long since stopped acknowledging any empirical evidence that disputes their insular worldview, no matter how grounded that evidence might be in (God forbid) science or any other verifiable reality, like, say, Census reports or elementary mathematics. No wonder Romney shunned the word Harvard, which awarded him two degrees, even more assiduously than he did Mormon.  
This is a party that is not going to let its policies be dictated by facts. They deny science. They deny any verifiable reality which contradicts what their gut - i.e., their prejudices - tells them is true. They live inside an intellectual bubble where they only listen to and read others who think like them. This is a formula for creating a psychosis which cannot recognize and accept the real world when it intrudes. In the days following the election, the residents of the bubble have continued to deny reality and blame all sorts of things for the failure of their party. It was Hurricane Sandy's fault. The Democrats suppressed the vote. (!!!) Mitt Romney wasn't conservative enough. It was those damn liberal pollsters and other media types. It was Chris Christie's fault. It was all those women and brown voters who weren't smart enough to figure out what was going on and were deluded by Obama.

What they absolutely refuse to even consider is that it was their policies that did it. It was their demonizing of those brown people and of women who want to control their own lives and bodies. It was their insistence that people who have worked their entire life and contributed to the funds which are the source of the country's social safety net are moochers when they retire or become disabled and begin to receive the benefits of that net. Likewise, that veterans who have given up a portion of their life and sometimes their limbs or their ability to live a normal life are moochers for expecting the assistance of the country they defended! And, perhaps most obnoxiously, their insistence that super-rich people must not under any circumstances be required to give up any of their riches - which they were able to garner because of the laws and protections of this country - to support and defend the society which has enriched them. These policies were rejected, rather resoundingly, by American voters on Tuesday in favor of a philosophy of inclusiveness and communitarianism.

Again, here's Frank Rich:
At the policy level, this is the GOP that denies climate change, that rejects Keynesian economics, and that identifies voter fraud where there is none. At the loony-tunes level, this is the GOP that has given us the birthers, websites purporting that Obama was lying about Osama bin Laden’s death, and not one but two (failed) senatorial candidates who redefined rape in defiance of medical science and simple common sense. It’s the GOP that demands the rewriting of history (and history textbooks), still denying that Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” transformed the party of Lincoln into a haven for racists. Such is the conservative version of history that when the website Right Wing News surveyed 43 popular conservative bloggers to determine the “worst figures in American history” two years ago, Jimmy Carter, Obama, and FDR led the tally, all well ahead of Benedict Arnold, Timothy McVeigh, and John Wilkes Booth.

It would be satisfying if we could just ignore all these crazy relatives in the attic room of our country. Unfortunately, they still have the capacity to create a lot of havoc and a lot of misery for the rest of us, and so we have to find a way to deal with them - to persuade those who may be persuadable and to blunt the ability of the fanatics to throw monkey wrenches into the works. It is not an enviable task. President Obama certainly has some heavy lifting to do in the next four years. May he find the strength he needs.

And may those who so successfully planned and ran his campaign start organizing now to give him a majority in the House and a greater majority in the Senate in 2014. If that happens, the last two years of this president's last term could be truly transformational.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Love Songs From a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill: A review

I am a big fan of Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series. Dr. Siri is really one of the most charming characters in all of the mystery genre and I always enjoy reading about his adventures and absorbing his gentle wisdom and view of the world. That being said, I was disappointed in this particular book. In trying to analyze just why, I came to the conclusion that it was because it tried to do too much.

These stories take place in 1970s Laos, just after their revolution, as the new socialist government was trying to find its footing. Across the border in Cambodia, a much darker tale of transition was taking place. The Killing Fields were in full production. The population and the culture of the country were being systematically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. In this book, Cotterill attempts to address that tragedy along with the more mundane events of Vientiane, if serial murders can ever be described as mundane. The contrast between Cambodia - Kampuchea - and the more benign society of Laos is stark. But the contrast is really too stark, too dissonant and disruptive and too difficult to take in. 

Cotterill's device for bringing in the Khmer Rouge story is that Dr. Siri is lured to Cambodia, along with his friend Civilai, on an all-expense-paid diplomatic mission. There, Siri's natural curiosity and abrasiveness lead him to stick his nose in where his hosts don't want it to be and he winds up afoul of the Khmer Rouge and chained and locked in a horrible prison where he is tortured and starved and where he expects to be killed.

Before he went to Cambodia though, Siri had been involved in the investigation of a serial murder case in Vientiane. Three young women have been killed, skewered by epees and with a Z carved into their thighs. There seems to be no logical connection between the three murders, and Siri and his usual posse struggle to find the solution to the puzzle. Before he is able to reach a conclusion, the trip to Cambodia interferes. The story proceeds on two tracks, in Vientiane and in Cambodia.

We know that Dr. Siri will survive his horrible experience, because the series continues, but how he does so is more than a little incredible. After all, the 74-year-old national coroner of Laos is hardly James Bond, but his escape from Cambodia seems all too Bond-like. 

Moreover, we know that he will solve the serial murder case. In this instance, the list of questions that he leaves for policeman Phosy before going to Cambodia leads to the surprising solution. But it's all just a bit too much, a bit too convenient. 

My disappointment with this book is certainly not enough to put me off the series and I'll be looking forward to reading the next entry. I just hope it is a bit more narrowly focused.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler: A review

If it's Anne Tyler, we must be in Baltimore again. 

This time she introduces us to a family publishing company, a small concern that mostly publishes vanity books. It has a line of "self-improvement" books called "The Beginner's..." which covers everything from cooking to you-name-it.

One of the editors at the company is Aaron, the scion of the family. Aaron has a crippled right arm and leg and has had to deal with an older sister who feels the need to protect him and manage his life. Nandina is unmarried and lives in the family home.

Aaron is married to Dorothy, a doctor who is very independent and outspoken. She is a plain, somewhat dumpy woman who is not interested in physical appearance or taking pains to make herself attractive. She is also not interested in taking care of Aaron or managing his life. Aaron adores her and they have a relatively happy marriage.

Then one day, the unthinkable happens. Aaron and Dorothy are at home together and they have a disagreement. Dorothy takes her things and goes out to the sunroom to work. A storm blows down a big tree which crashes into the house, crushing and killing Dorothy. Aaron is devastated.

Time passes but Aaron is no closer to coming to terms with his grief. But then a magical thing happens - Dorothy appears to him. And she keeps appearing to him, always at unexpected times and places. 

Gradually, Aaron finds that these appearances are helping him to learn to live in the present once again. He begins to feel more at peace with himself and his life.

Meanwhile, Nandina finds love with the contractor who is repairing Aaron's house, and Aaron finally notices that Peggy, one of the publishing house's employees and an old schoolmate of his, may be interested in more than just his friendship. Over time, he comes to believe that he has found a way to say goodbye to Dorothy and to get on with his life - The Beginner's Goodbye.

Anne Tyler's writing is always filled with her wise and penetrating observations of human nature and is frequently suffused with a gentle humor. All of that is present in this book as she explores the kind of "magical thinking" employed by this middle-aged man whose life was upended by the death of his wife. 

It is a pleasure to get to know Aaron and to see him begin to heal from his terrible loss as his dead wife comforts and guides him through his period of recovery. Tyler's wise and gentle stories are always uplifting and illuminating. I very much enjoyed this one.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wonder what Molly would say about Romney? Here's a clue!

Home again! Just in time for the election.

Well, actually, my election took place a couple of weeks ago. We voted before we left town for our trip to Big Bend National Park. A lot of people were voting that day. I think early voting is one of the best ideas to come along in a while in regard to our elections.

Big Bend was wonderful and more about that later, but one of the best things about it was that it sort of insulated us from the last two weeks of hysterical reporting on the campaigns which is the stock-in-trade of much of our national media. We had only limited links to the outside world and those were easy to ignore, especially when there was so much amazing beauty around us.

But re-linking myself to that outside world today, I came across a quote from Molly Ivins, possibly my all-time favorite Texan, outside of members of my family. The quote was from November 2003 and she was talking about her fellow Texan, George Bush, but, as I read it, I thought it could just as easily apply to one of the candidates in this year's presidential election.
What you end up with is a guy who sees himself as a perfectly nice fellow---and who is genuinely disconnected from the impact of his decisions on people. [...]
Okay, we cut taxes for the rich and so we have to cut services for the poor.  Presumably there is some right-wing justification along the lines that helping poor people just makes them more dependent or something.  If there were a rationale Bush could express, it would be one thing, but to watch him not see, not make the connection, is another thing entirely.  Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps---horrors, they breed dependency. Whereas inheriting millions of dollars and having your whole life handed to you on a platter is good for the grit in your immortal soul?  What we're dealing with here is a man in such serious denial it would be pathetic if it weren't damaging so many lives. (My emphasis.) 
Bush's lies now fill volumes.  He lied us into two hideously unfair tax cuts; he lied us into an unnecessary war with disastrous consequences; he lied us into the PATRIOT Act, eviscerating our freedoms.  But when it comes to dealing with those less privileged, Bush's real problem is not deception, but self-deception.
The Republican campaign for the presidency this year has been based on such a web of lies, deception, and self-deception that it would put even that consummate liar George W. Bush to shame. This is where a once great political party that actually stood for something has come to in the year 2012.

Well, tomorrow it will all be over. At least we can hope that it will be. We can also hope that the recent polling across the nation proves to be correct and that President Obama will win a second term. For as much as I sometimes disagree with him and as much as he sometimes irritates me, there's one thing about him that I am absolutely sure of: He always does what he believes is the best for this country, even if it is not politically convenient or popular. He has a moral compass. We know where he stands on things and we know what he will try to accomplish as president. We know what he has already accomplished as president. Quite a lot actually.

As for the other guy. we don't know where he stands on anything or what he would do as president, but we strongly suspect that he would rip beyond repair the minimal social safety net that this country has and that his main concern would be to make himself and his fellow .0001 percenters even richer. Even from the grave Molly Ivins understands his kind.