Sunday, June 30, 2019

Poetry Sunday: I am the People, the Mob by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was a poet of the people, writ large. He wrote of and for ordinary people, "the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes."

In this poem, he seems to decry the fact that the people, the mob, the mass do not know their own strength and that they never seem to learn from history but continue to be played for fools by those in power. He longs for a time when the people no longer "forget" but remember that they have the strength and the numbers to change history. It is a lesson that we can only hope people today have learned and take to heart.


I Am the People, the Mob


by Carl Sandburg

am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

This week in birds - #358

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


Mourning Dove image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lovely Mourning Dove is one of my very favorite birds and has been since I was a child. They are beautiful and interesting to watch, but perhaps most of all, I love their song. It's one of the first bird voices that I learned to recognize and it never fails to make me smile. I don't find the sound mournful at all.

*~*~*~*

I'll bet you didn't know that June 21 - 28 was Cephalopod Week! Yes, those octopuses, squids, and all their cephalopod cousins have a designated week in their honor. And why not? They are remarkable and intelligent creatures that have evolved a highly complex nervous system that gives their arms a mind of their own. Their unique abilities and behavior make them star attractions at many aquariums.

*~*~*~*

Four North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada in the last three weeks. That represents about one percent of the total population of the endangered whales. In fact, it is even worse than that because six of the whales have died in the last month. Before the recent deaths, the total population had been estimated at 411 animals.

*~*~*~*

Meanwhile, in the Arctic Ocean, things are beginning to look a lot more like the Atlantic. That shift threatens to upend the whole food web that was built on frigid waters. That change creates a potential threat for birds like the Dovekie that have relied on that food web. 

*~*~*~*

Coal-burning power plants are being shut down at a rapid pace across the United States. Electric power companies are thus faced with the choice of embracing natural gas or switching to renewable energy. Although many are going the renewable energy route, in some areas natural gas is becoming the preferred source.

*~*~*~*

The Tennessee coneflower, a member of the genus Echinacea.

Here's another story about the resiliency of Nature, one that gives us some hope for the future of the planet: The Tennessee coneflower, a wildflower that had been thought to be extinct for decades, was rediscovered in 1968 and steps were taken to protect it. It was one of the first plants listed on the Endangered Species List. It is now considered to have recovered and was removed from the endangered list in 2011. Nature will recover if given half a chance. 

*~*~*~*

Dozens of government-funded studies of the Department of Agriculture which carry warnings about the effects of climate change have been buried by the current administration. They refuse to publicize the studies done by the acclaimed in-house scientists in the department because they contradict this government's official denialism.

*~*~*~*

After the devastation of Hurricane Matthew on the Grand Bahama, there has been a rediscovery of a severely threatened bird, the Bahama Nuthatch. The only known population so far is two birds but it is hoped that others may be found and that the species can survive.

*~*~*~*

A plan to assist the recovery of the Monarch butterfly by raising them in captivity has run into a problem. The captive-raised butterflies lost their ability to navigate. Scientists studying the problem do not yet understand why. In other plans to help the iconic butterfly, planting more milkweed in the eastern part of the country is key. More urban gardens with milkweed could help to support the butterflies and give an increased chance for survival.  

*~*~*~*

Do we need another reason to save elephants in the wild? Frogs love them! At least they love their footprints. It seems that some small frogs deposit their eggs in water-filled footprints left behind by the great animals and their young develop there.

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Surveys conducted before and after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico found significant changes in the bird population. The most noticeable change was the disappearance of birds that relied on fruit in their diet. This may be a short-term effect and the birds could return as the forests recover.

*~*~*~*

It's good to know that some countries are still attempting to make efforts to reduce some of the harm done to the planet by humans. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have committed to addressing the problem of plastics in the oceans. This group includes some of the biggest producers of plastic waste in the oceans, accounting for half of the 8 million tons that wind up there every year.

*~*~*~*

The Great Indian Bustard is another seriously endangered bird with a remaining population of only about 160. A captive breeding program aimed at helping the bird is getting underway and eggs are being collected for the first hatch.

*~*~*~*

A plan to build a copper mine in a pristine wilderness area in Minnesota was stopped by the Obama Administration, so, of course, it has now been given the go-ahead by the current administration. I'm sure it is only coincidental that there is a business connection between members of the president's family and the billionaire behind the mining operation. 

*~*~*~*

Fifty years ago, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire. It was not the first time, but in 1969, the nation's values had changed and there was more awareness of environmental problems. The fire became a catalyst to help move Congress to act. The Clean Water Act was passed and the Environmental Protection Agency came into being. Both have done much over the last fifty years to clean up and protect the environment; both are now under attack by those who see no profit in clean air and water or the continued existence of threatened animals and plants. If you do see value in those things, please do whatever you can to safeguard our gains and make sure they continue. 


Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi: A review

I saw a review of this book and was intrigued by the summary of its plot of having a philosophy professor plucked from his safe if boring life and pushed into the world of drug-runners. It seemed to have possibilities. Moreover, it was another debut novel and my recent experience with first novels has been very good so I was ready to give another one a chance.

Oscar Boatwright is the professor - actually assistant professor making barely $20,000 a year - of philosophy in question. His school is never actually named but is somewhere on the West Coast. He teaches introductory classes as well as some more advanced ones.  He seems to be sleepwalking through his existence until one day he is shocked into wakefulness by a phone call. He is told that his mother has died on an airplane flight from Hawaii. He had no idea his parents were in Hawaii. After all, they lived in Indiana.

Oscar learns that his mother, who had suffered from lifelong clinical depression, had fallen under the sway of a self-help guru named Paul St. Germaine. She had watched all of his tapes assiduously and had followed that up by attending his seminars in Hawaii. All of this seemed to be helping her and so her husband, Lee, went along with it. They were returning from one of the seminars in Hawaii when she died.

As Oscar absorbs all of this new information about his parents, he also learns from his father that the seminars and other accoutrements of St. Germaine's "self-help" program have taken all his parents' savings and, in fact, they are now $20,000 in debt to him. When he calls his sister in Indiana to inform her of their mother's death, she is devastated, not only by the death but also by the fact that she had hoped to get some financial help from her parents. She is divorcing her successful businessman husband.

To drown his sorrows, Oscar goes out drinking with friends and meets a young woman whom he ends up taking home and to bed. When he wakes up the next morning, she is gone. Later, he is appalled when he recognizes her sitting in one of his intro classes. She is one of his students! His liaison with her could cost him his job if it becomes known.

Although he attempts to extricate himself from the situation, he finds himself inextricably drawn to the young woman whose name is Dawn. He seems unable to resist the continuing sexual relationship. Then the bill comes due.

Dawn explains that she needs his help in bringing "a shipment" in from the border. If he refuses, she will expose their relationship to the university administration. 

His mother is dead, his parents' money is all gone, his sister is in the middle of a divorce, and his meager earnings do not permit him to help anyone, hardly even himself. He is promised a big payoff if he will simply pick up a package and deliver it. How can he say no?

Of course, the pick-up and delivery do not turn out to be as simple as advertised. There are bad guys who also want that package and are willing to kill to get it. The odds of Oscar ever making it home again do not seem promising.

As Oscar's odds declined, so did the novel's. It started out promisingly enough, but by midway through, the plot was becoming a bit unraveled. Character development was minimal at best. I never really got to know what motivated Oscar. Philosophy? A belief in free will? He just seemed a sad-sack with no real passions. Dawn was just a cipher. Who knows who she really was or what she wanted? And the same was true of the father and sister. I was disappointed in it all. After all that, the ending was really just a hot mess. It was unsatisfying and didn't resolve anything. 

My conclusion is that the idea for the novel was intriguing and definitely had possibilities, but the execution did not do it justice.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars    


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: A review

I greatly enjoyed Lisa See's last novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and had looked forward to reading her latest one about the female deep sea divers on the Korean island of Jeju. I was not disappointed.

Much as she did with the previous novel where she gave us a window on the lives of the Akha hill tribe and the tea trade in Yunnan province through the relationship of a mother and daughter, in this book, we get to know the society of the haenyeo (women divers) through the lives of two girls who become friends and who are meant to be lifelong friends. Something happens along the way to sunder that friendship but the lives of the two remain connected in unbreakable ways.

The time period covered by this historical novel is one of great violence and upheaval in Korea and on Jeju. It begins in the late 1930s when Jeju is under Japanese control. It is a brutal occupation and the people of Jeju suffer greatly. Then comes World War II. At the end of the war, the island comes under American control, but that control could hardly be called benevolent. There is civil unrest as warring factions fight for control and atrocities are visited on the population, while the Americans essentially take a hands-off approach. Then comes the Korean War. Through it all, privation is the norm for the island's people, but through it all, they somehow manage to survive and the divers keep diving. The novel takes us all the way forward to 2008 and a new era of diving when the haenyeo use wetsuits and modern equipment.

We learn that the haenyeo society of the island is matrifocal. The women do the hard and dangerous work of diving and bring home the money, while the men stay home and take care of the children and the house, do the cooking and cleaning. The women also grow gardens to supplement the family diet, their main crop being sweet potatoes. 

Young-sook is a young girl when we meet her in the 1930s. She is the daughter of the respected head of a group of haenyeo divers and she is eager to begin her own career as a diver. Mi-ja is of the same age but from a very different background. She had lived with her father in Jeju City, a more urban setting. Her mother was dead. Her father was reviled as a Japanese collaborator. Then she lost her father too and was forced to come and live with an uncle and aunt in the village. These people treated her horribly and she never had enough to eat. One day as she was scrounging for food, she came in contact with Young-sook and her mother. The mother was aware of her background and took pity on the child, giving her menial tasks for which she would pay her in food. Thus, Young-sook and Mi-ja were thrown together and they became bonded in friendship.

Both the girls were trained as divers and began going out with the women. In time, they even went to other locations on "leaving-home water-work," aka contract diving jobs, in places like China, Japan, and finally Vladivostok. When the time came for them to marry, their families arranged marriages for them. Mi-ja's marriage was to a handsome young man whom Young-sook had a crush on. This was the beginning of their estrangement. Young-sook's marriage was to a local teacher, a man she had known since childhood, and though she was at first disappointed, she quickly learned to love her husband and they had a very successful marriage. Mi-ja, not so much.

The story is told through these two families, from Young-sook's point of view, and it seems at times like a litany of constant tragedies. But through it all, there is the sea and the Young-sook's love and respect for that dangerous environment.
“The sea is better than a mother. You can love your mother, and she still might leave you. You can love or hate the sea, but it will always be there. Forever. The sea has been the center of her life. It has nurtured her and stolen from her, but it has never left.” 

The world events that are the background to this story are so momentous and traumatic that it sometimes seems that the focus on the friendship is not large enough to contain them. Historical fiction, of course, almost by its nature has a political aspect to it and the politics of the period covered here are still reverberating on the Korean peninsula. But the lives of Young-sook and Mi-ja at least give us an appreciation for what the people of this region have endured and perhaps allow us to understand a little better what is happening there today.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Monday, June 24, 2019

Uniform Justice by Donna Leon: A review

I've been quite happily plowing through Donna Leon's series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, enjoying his relationships with his family and his colleagues at the Questura, and especially enjoying all the descriptions of the food and wine consumed by the Brunetti family. But all of those pleasantries cannot completely disguise the fact that this is a very dark series.

The title of this twelfth entry, Uniform Justice, could be read in different ways. The "uniform" might refer to the military which in this story comes in for a bollocking by the author. Or it might be read as ironic: There is no such thing as uniform justice; there is "justice" for the rich and a much less salubrious "justice" for the poor. However you read it or interpret it, it is a thoroughly depressing view of Venetian society and, taken in a larger sense, Western society as a whole.

This book begins with Commissario Brunetti being called to investigate the death of a cadet at an elite Venetian military school. The young man was found hanging in the bathroom of his dormitory. The scene gives every appearance of having been a suicide, but Brunetti is naturally suspicious and keeps an open mind on the subject.

When he learns who the victim was, he becomes more suspicious for he was the son of a doctor and former politician of impeccable integrity, a rarity in Venetian politics. The doctor had authored a critical report about military procurement practices and shortly thereafter, his wife had been "accidentally" shot in the leg in an area where there was hunting taking place. Brunetti learns that there was also an "accident" involving the doctor's mother who was hit by a car. The driver fled the scene and she was not too seriously injured. But now, the family faces the tragedy of a son's death.

As Brunetti attempts to investigate the death, he is met by a wall of silence from the family and from the military school. None of the boys at the school will admit to having been friends with the victim or even knowing him very well and, of course, no one has any idea what happened to him. Moreover, the authorities at the school seem particularly reluctant to provide cooperation or information. And the family, who should be crying for justice, are suspiciously quiet. Is this some kind of conspiracy, perhaps related to a coverup of the dodgy military procurement practices the doctor had documented? Will Brunetti ever be able to find a way to break the code of silence and bring justice to the victim?

Spoiler alert - the answer to that last question is a resounding "No!"

Leon has a very low opinion of the Italian military and the government and she gives free rein to her detestation of those institutions here. Justice seems a concept that is foreign to both entities. I can understand her feelings in the matter, but her expression of those opinions here comes at the expense of plot development and at the expense of those loving descriptions of homely meals in the Brunetti dining room. As a result, the book just left me depressed and unsatisfied.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Poetry Sunday: Fall Song by Joy Harjo

The Library of Congress named a new poet laureate for the nation last week. It is Joy Harjo. She will be the first Native American to serve in that post. She was born in Oklahoma and is a member of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. Her poetry is drawn from First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values. Her poems are intimately connected to Mother Earth and her cycles and seasons.

Many of her poems are quite lengthy. I looked for one that was a bit shorter to feature here and found "Fall Song." I find it quite lovely. I hope you do, too. 

Fall Song

by Joy Harjo

It is a dark fall day.
The earth is slightly damp with rain.
I hear a jay.
The cry is blue.
I have found you in the story again.
Is there another word for ‘‘divine’’?
I need a song that will keep sky open in my mind.
If I think behind me, I might break.
If I think forward, I lose now.
Forever will be a day like this
Strung perfectly on the necklace of days.
Slightly overcast
Yellow leaves
Your jacket hanging in the hallway
Next to mine.

Friday, June 21, 2019

This week in birds - # 357

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

Picture of Purple Martin male from Country Roads magazine.

Purple Martins are among my favorite summer visitors and they are very much in evidence in my neighborhood this summer. Every time I'm outside I see many of them in the skies over my yard. One or more of my neighbors have nesting boxes for them. These birds in the eastern United States depend entirely on the nest boxes that are erected by humans. Several years ago, we had a martin "mansion" in our backyard but, after it was taken over by House Sparrows and European Starlings, we finally admitted defeat and took it down. There are fewer of these pests around our area now. Maybe it would be a good time to put up another one. Meantime, I'll enjoy my neighbors' birds.

*~*~*~*

The aphorism that it is an ill wind that blows no good is proven true once again, this time by Hurricane Sandy. The big storm which hit the east coast in 2012 caused cataclysmic damage to many areas, but, for one tiny endangered bird, the Piping Plover, it proved beneficial. The sands deposited by the storm on Fire Island created valuable new habitat for the birds and since the storm the population there has increased by 93 percent.

*~*~*~*

The deaths of gray whales along the West Coast this year have gotten attention, but there is a similar die-off among dolphins that is occurring along the Gulf Coast. At least 279 of the animals, triple the normal rate, have been stranded along the southern coast this year and 98 percent of them have died. It is suspected that this may be related to the lingering effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the Gulf waters, combined with lowered salinity due to fresh water flowing into the Gulf from flooding rivers. 

*~*~*~*

In a more positive story from the Gulf Coast, endangered loggerhead sea turtles are having a comeback year off the coast of Georgia and it looks like 2019 may be a record-breaking year in terms of the number of females that nest there.

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Prothonotary Warbler image from allaboutbirds.org

For my money, the Prothonotary Warbler is one of the loveliest of all our warblers. (I may be prejudiced since it is also one of the first warblers that I learned to recognize.) A study has shown that almost the entire population of the birds winter in an area of Colombia that is being rapidly deforested. This would put the birds in a precarious position and conservationists are scrambling to try to ensure that the forests that the birds need are saved.

*~*~*~*

Residents in southern Arizona are taking a different approach to try to save jaguars. They are protecting the jaguar habitat and creating jobs in the hope that a for-profit restoration economy can be more profitable to the area than an extraction economy.

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Seabirds are some of the most majestic and beautiful of birds. They are also some of the most endangered. In some areas, though, progress is being made in protecting them, offering some hope for their future.

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The blog "awkward botany" gives us the interesting tale of "The Flight of the Dandelion."

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Since the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the environment, several states are stepping up to the plate and increasing their efforts to hold the line. Chief among them in California which has a new bill in the legislature that could drastically reduce plastic waste and boost domestic recycling.

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The Palila is a critically endangered species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Recently six of the birds were released on Mauna Kea as part of a years-long effort to save the species. Hopes are high for the survival of these transplanted birds.

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Images from spy satellites show that the Himalayan glaciers have doubled their rate of melting since 2000. The loss of the glaciers could create a devastating future for the region and the one billion people who depend on them for water. 

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This past winter was the worst on record for U.S. honeybee keepers. They lost 40% of their colonies despite efforts to stem the losses.

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A devastating forest fire in Nicaragua has destroyed a vitally important nesting and roosting site of the Yellow-naped Parrot, pushing one of the most endangered parrots in South America closer to the brink of extinction.

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The annual mating ritual of tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes in Manitoba is a tourist event! It draws thousands of visitors to view the snakes as they writhe in pits in their efforts to engender a new generation.

*~*~*~*

Forests play an important role in cooling the Earth and when deforestation takes place, things heat up and the heat bleeds into surrounding areas increasing threats to vulnerable species.

*~*~*~*

Remember Pale Male, the famous Red-tailed Hawk that, with his mate, nested on a New York City highrise? The pair got a lot of publicity back in the '90s. New Yorkers loved them and insisted that their nest be left alone. Through the years, they raised several chicks, but now the debate is whether Pale Male is still alive. Some birders insist that he is while others say it is highly unlikely that a wild bird in the city could have survived so long. He would be around 30 by now, but Red-tailed Hawks have been known to live that long. Does he still live? He surely lives in the hearts of New York birders and he and his mate(s) live through all those chicks they produced over the years. 



Thursday, June 20, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Should journalists point out blatant lies that politicians tell?

Little did I know when I wrote this post back in the fall of 2013 that the problem that I was describing was going to get so much worse in the years to come. Television news was to become a megaphone for lying liars who could not speak without lying and it would never call them out for their lies. Instead, they blast those lies at an easily led public twenty-four hours a day. Is it any wonder that the public is no longer able to recognize the truth? What passes for "truth" these days is whatever you can get the most people to believe.

I never watch television news anymore. I gave up on it in 2016. I read that some television journalists now actually do call a lie a lie. Better late than never, I guess. Not Chuck "That's not my job!" Todd though. He's still peddling the same "he said, she said," "both sides do it" shit. 

~~~


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Should journalists point out blatant lies that politicians tell?

During a segment on "Morning Joe," former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) speculated that most opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been fed erroneous information about the law. (MSNBC reporter Chuck) Todd said that Republicans "have successfully messaged against it" but he disagrees with those who argue that the media should educate the public on the law. According to Todd, that's President Barack Obama's job.
"But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it," Todd told Rendell. "They don't repeat the other stuff because they haven't even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say, 'Well, it's you folks' fault in the media.' No, it's the President of the United States' fault for not selling it."  - from TPM

What is the responsibility of an ethical journalist when it comes to reporting news on which there are two diametrically opposed viewpoints? Do they simply report "he said, he said" and let their audience decide who is telling the truth? Or, if they have incontrovertible information that one side or the other is lying and misstating facts, do they have an obligation to say so?

What passes for journalism in today's environment demands that reporters take the first option. "He said, he said" is all we hear on most broadcast news shows. No analysis, no background, no additional information provided by the reporter to help his audience discover the truth - just one argument juxtaposed against its opposite. This is a grave disservice to the consumer of news and a grave disservice to society as a whole.

Journalists are, we assume at least, in a better position to know all the facts of a story than the average Joe or Jill in the street. I certainly don't have the time or resources to research every important news story that comes along or to ferret out the truth on controversial subjects. I rely on trusted sources to provide me with information and guidance.

But what if the sources we rely on are lazy or are taking their guidance from some central authority which gives them daily talking points that they must adhere to in their reporting of the news? What if our "journalists" are unworthy of the name and instead are complicit in pulling the wool over the eyes of their audience?

Television news reporters today, and to a certain extent print reporters as well, seem to have given up any obligation they ever felt to be truth tellers. They appear to feel no obligation to do the work of finding out what the truth actually is and passing it along to their viewers or readers. Thus, they will report with a straight face a blatant lie about some subject - the Affordable Care Act is the big one of the moment - and will never by word or deed inform their audience that they KNOW it is a lie. And then, when the public is confused about the subject, they blame someone else, as Chuck Todd blamed the President for not "selling" the program.

If reporters simply reported the truth about what the program does and will do, it seems highly unlikely that "selling" would be necessary, because poll after poll shows that when people are asked about the individual parts of the law, they overwhelmingly approve of it! As Jason Linkins writes in The Huffington Post, "But informing the public is the full-time job of journalists as well. The notion that a journalist can possess the means to mitigate public confusion on any topic and pass on doing so is just unfathomable to me. In many cases, the information you need to perform that task is hard-won."

Certainly, the Administration has an obligation to help inform the public, but that doesn't relieve journalists of their obligation to report the truth and to point out obvious lies ("death panels!") to the public. Unfortunately, I don't see the Chuck Todds of the journalism world having the courage or the work ethic to shoulder that responsibility anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: A review

Some of the reviews that I read of this book described it as a comic novel. Those reviewers must have read a different book than I did. 

Admittedly there are some moments of black humor but mostly this is a story about a grieving family that is unable to reach out to each other and communicate their need for understanding and love. These are some seriously mixed up folks in the mold of characters that we've come to expect in novels set in Florida.

This one is set in Central Florida and is Kristen Arnett's first novel. It features a family of taxidermists who are tortured by a couple of tragedies from which they seem to be unable to recover and move on.

We meet the family through Arnett's narrator, Jessa-Lynn Morton. Jessa-Lynn is the child of a taxidermist. She has a younger brother, Milo, but Jessa-Lynn is the one who is close to her father and wants to follow in his footsteps. Her happiest times are those she spends at his side learning the art of taxidermy, along with the need to treat the dead animals with respect and dignity. She is assumed to be his successor in the trade. Milo is the more sensitive of the two and goes his own way.

The succession comes sooner than expected. Jessa walks into the taxidermy shop one morning to find her father's dead body on one of the tables. He had shot himself (he had been suffering from cancer) and left a note for Jessa apologizing and asking her to handle things. And Jessa does.

But before this tragedy, there was Brynn. Brynn was Jessa's best - maybe only - friend growing up. They were always close but as they hit puberty, the character of their relationship changed. Jessa was in love with Brynn and Brynn was a flirt and a tease. The inevitable happened. They became involved in a sexual relationship. That relationship was complicated by the fact that Milo was also in love with Brynn and Brynn wanted a marriage and children. At the same time, she also wanted to continue having sex with Jessa. Since Brynn usually got what she wanted, that was the way it played out; she married Milo and continued the affair with Jessa. From her perspective, the Jessa/Milo duo made one perfect spouse. But then she became discontented and, with no warning, left town with a man she had just met, leaving everyone including her two children behind. Jessa and Milo were devastated.

Meanwhile, Jessa and Milo's mother, Libby. carried on, holding the family together as best she could. She took care of her grandchildren while their father worked. Or didn't. But once her husband committed suicide, it freed her in a way that she had not experienced before. Her husband had had a controlling personality and he had prevented her from expressing her artistic talent. Once he was gone, that talent began to express itself in some unique ways. She began to go into the taxidermy shop and take some of the animals that her husband had worked on and pose them together in lewd tableaux in the shop windows. Jessa was appalled and begged her to stop. But in fact, the art was quite popular with some of the public.

As Arnett tells her story, she switches the action back and forth from past to present in a very satisfying way. It enables us to understand the motives of her characters. We might want to grab them by the shoulders and vigorously shake some sense into them, but we understand them. How she manages to resolve the issues besetting the family requires a bit of suspension of disbelief. The ending, after all the drama, was maybe a little too perfect. But that is a very tiny quibble about a hugely satisfying read.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars





  

Monday, June 17, 2019

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan: A review

In his latest book, Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan gives us a bit of alternative history, a bit of science fiction, and wraps it all up in a unique menage a trois love story featuring a fully-functional humanoid robot named Adam.

In the world of this novel, Alan Turing did not die in 1954; he is still alive in the London of the 1980s, and, having been knighted by the queen, he lives openly with his longtime partner and is contributing to the advancement of computer technology and artificial intelligence. He is a much-honored member of society whose work during World War II and later is recognized for the world-changing event that it was. And Turing is the idolized hero of Charlie Friend, one of the main characters in this story.

Charlie leads a rather drab existence in which he makes a living - sort of - by playing the stock and currency markets. He lives in a shabby apartment and pines for the woman who lives upstairs, an enigma named Miranda.

He is also obsessed with robots, and when he unexpectedly comes into some money, he decides to spend it all on one of the first "Adams" to come on the market. There are twenty-five of these robots produced, 13 "Eves" along with 12 Adams and they are fully humanoid. They breathe and they are able to learn and can make moral judgments. They are not sex toys, but they are fully capable of a sexual relationship.

Charlie brings his Adam home and makes an agreement with Miranda to share designing his personality. Charlie will answer half the questions that establish the personality and Miranda will answer half. Soon their collaboration leads Charlie and Miranda into the sexual relationship which Charlie had desired, but he is appalled when he learns that Miranda has also had sex with Adam! And furthermore, it was very good sex!

Moreover, we learn that Adam, too, is in love with Miranda and that he composes haikus in her honor. A haiku-writing robot - what could be more human?

This odd relationship is further complicated by the introduction of a young boy, Mark, whose parents are abusive. Charlie and Miranda (especially Miranda) long to adopt the boy and free him from his abusive parents and they scheme to make it so.

Meanwhile, their other "child," Adam, seems to have established a higher ethical standard than either of his "parents." Charlie had assigned him the task of doing all his investing while he concentrated on his relationship with Miranda and Adam had quickly made a fortune with the investments, but he is troubled by the accumulation of that wealth and by the need which he sees existing in the world. It doesn't seem to him that Charlie and Miranda deserve all this wealth while others have to scrimp and save and suffer and he decides to do something about it.

Charlie and Miranda are complicated characters. Miranda has a particularly horrendous backstory and Charlie is not especially accomplished at dealing with reality. Can this relationship be saved? Can Mark be saved? Can Adam be saved, or, perhaps more to the point, can Adam save them all?

This is in many ways a tragic story of all too human foibles. The characters in McEwan's tale embody noble human qualities of love and family, but also less noble qualities like jealousy and deceit. And, in the end, Adam may be the noblest "human" of them all.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Poetry Sunday: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

There are no red roses in my garden just now - only pink, yellow, and salmon-colored - but, with any luck, there will be soon. In the meantime, I'll settle for enjoying Robert Burns' iconic red, red rose. 


A Red, Red Rose


by Robert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose 
   That’s newly sprung in June; 
O my Luve is like the melody 
   That’s sweetly played in tune. 

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass, 
   So deep in luve am I; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
   Till a’ the seas gang dry. 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, 
   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun; 
I will love thee still, my dear, 
   While the sands o’ life shall run. 

And fare thee weel, my only luve! 
   And fare thee weel awhile! 
And I will come again, my luve, 
   Though it were ten thousand mile.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2019


Summertime (almost). The cicadas are serenading and the crape myrtles are in bloom. Here in hot pink.


And here in lavender.


'Cashmere Bouquet' clerodendron.


And potato vine.


'Belinda's Dream' rose.


It doesn't look very red but this is red yucca.


This was my much-appreciated Mother's Day gift from my daughters - a vitex shrub, also called chaste tree.


The blossoms remind one a bit of lilac which we can't grow here. They are much-loved by all pollinators, especially bees.


A Mother's Day gift from a previous year was this hydrangea which has been blooming its heart out this spring.


I do love its big squashy blossoms.


These blossoms are definitely not big and squashy. It's buttonbush (Cephalonthus occidentalis) and you can see how it got its common name. The blossoms do look a bit like buttons. It is a native plant, also much-loved by pollinators.


An oldie but a goodie - 4 o'clock.


This is a newer variety of 4 o'clock, planted last year.


And here's the white variety.


These daylilies have bloomed especially well this spring.


The ubiquitous salvia - autumn sage.


The rather inconspicuous little flowers of the beautyberry eventually develop into the colorful berries that give the plant its name.


'Pride of Barbados' - one of my favorite summer bloomers. Those hot orange and yellow blossoms just seem to say "summer."


Duranta erecta - aka golden dewdrop.


Oleander.


Wonderful blooms!


Justicia 'Orange Flame' has been especially floriferous this spring.


The wildflower, purple-head sneezeweed, that I showed you last month is still going strong.


Some of the purple coneflowers are in bloom.


Tropical milkweed. I haven't seen many Monarchs this spring and no caterpillars yet.


This native sunflower doesn't have the big dinner-plate sized individual blooms of the cultivated varieties but it covers itself in these saucer-sized beauties.


Jatropha.


Nearby the crocosmia is almost in bloom.


Turk's Cap lit by the setting sun.


The crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet' never fails me.


Summer phlox, always a wonderful addition to the summer garden.


And what would the summer garden be without its iconic sound effects? Here's one of those aforementioned serenaders, a cicada, resting on the ground before taking flight.

That's a sample of what's blooming in my southeast Texas garden this June. I hope you and your garden are enjoying this (almost) summer. Thank you for visiting and thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting.

Happy Bloom Day!