Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy faces

We're going into the Labor Day weekend after a week of hot air filled with blatant lies swirling around Tampa. Hurricane Isaac may have done a lot of damage in Mississippi and Louisiana, but Hurricane Romney/Ryan has certainly done more damage to our body politic. Not to mention the truth.

Oh, well, let's forget all of that for the moment. We need something to make us smile. And here it is. If this doesn't make your edges of your lips twitch upward, there's probably no hope for you.

Happy Labor Day weekend! Be safe.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The speechifiers

I haven't watched or listened to any of the Republican (Tea Party) National Convention this week. Frankly, you couldn't pay me to - it would just be too painful. But I have followed the convention, faithfully reading the reports in the news outlets that I follow daily and listening to summaries on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. My overall impression of the event is that I cannot remember any convention in my lifetime or any presidential campaign in my lifetime that has been so clearly and profoundly built on lies. The candidates themselves seem unable to open their mouths without uttering bald-faced lies.

As for the speakers at the convention, they have been, to put it as kindly as I can, a bit irony-challenged.


Let's consider Ann Romney, for example. She spoke on "Women's Night," which is a totally ironic concept in itself for this anti-woman party. Her challenge was to make her listeners love Mitt Romney and to convince women that the Republican Party really does understand them and really does take their concerns seriously. So, how did she go about doing that? Here is just part of what she said, but I think it is fairly representative of her speech. (The emphases are mine.)

And if you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It's how it is, isn't it?
It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.
It's the moms of this nation—single, married, widowed—who really hold this country together.
We're the mothers, we're the wives, we're the grandmothers, we're the big sisters, we're the little sisters, we're the daughters.
You know it's true, don't you?
You're the ones who always have to do a little more.
You know what it's like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report, which just has to be done. 
You know what those late night phone calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see how they're doing.
You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.

And on it goes. What she is saying is that sexism exists. She is acknowledging, among other things, that women must work harder for less pay and less respect. And she's saying that that's just the way it is, ladies. Nothing we can do about it.

I guess when you've got a billion dollars in your bank account, fighting against injustice doesn't seem quite as urgent as when you are a single mother trying to raise a child while working minimum wage jobs.

This is supposed to make women want to vote for Romney?


Another woman who spoke at the convention this week was Condoleeza Rice. She was there to lecture the Obama Administration on foreign policy and to tout Romney/Ryan's expertise in that arena. Irony, indeed, thy name is Condoleeza!

This is the woman, who as a national security adviser, totally ignored warnings that Osama bin Laden was preparing an attack on the United States in the summer of 2001. She is also the woman who supported an unnecessary war against a country that had done nothing to harm us, thereby being complicit in the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Americans. She is the woman who carried the water for the disastrous foreign policies of the Bush Administration around the world. And she has the chutzpah to lecture anybody on foreign policy???

In fact, as an article in rightly points out, the Obama Administration has been very successful in its foreign policy initiatives and is respected by countries around the world. 

According to a recent survey by the Poll Research Center, 53 percent of British citizens had a favorable view of the United States in 2008, the last year of Bush’s presidency. Today the figure is 60 percent. In France, the figure rose from 42 percent to 69 percent; the Czech Republic, from 45 to 54 percent; Germany, from 31 to 52 percent; Japan, from 50 to 72 percent; Mexico, from 47 to 56 percent. Only in the Arab countries (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan) has the rating declined (and do the Republicans really care much about that?).
Another Pew Poll, released just this week, about global attitudes toward President Obama as a leader makes Rice’s concerns seem ridiculous. As summarized by CNN, 87 percent of the Germans, 86 percent of the French, 80 percent of the British, and 74 percent of the Japanese have confidence in Obama—in each case, more confidence than they have in their own leaders. More striking still, 92 percent of the French, 89 percent of the Germans, 73 percent of the British, and 66 percent of the Japanese want Obama re-elected.

President Obama, who Rice excoriates, is the one who got Osama bin Laden and who has decimated al-Qaida, actions which she and her beloved George W. failed to do in their eight years in office. But I guess she forgot that.


Lastly, we have the Paul Ryan speech which, as far as I can tell, was nothing but a tissue of lies from beginning to end. did some fact-checking on the speech. Here's what they found:

  • GM plant —  Ryan: blamed Obama for the closing of GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. Truth: One of the biggest whoppers of the night; the plant closed before Obama was even sworn into office. His position also contradicts the Republicans’ position of opposing President Obama’s auto rescue.
  • Stimulus — Ryan: “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.” Truth: The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus created 3.3 million jobs. Four out of five economists agree. Ryan himself wrote letters requesting stimulus money, then lied about it.
  • Medicare — Ryan: “Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.” Truth: As we’vepointed out many times, Obamacare doesn’t raid Medicare and Ryan’s plan would do a lot more to ruin Medicare. One of the biggest lies of the campaign.
  • Obamacare — Ryan: “You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover…” Truth: Politifact called the “government takeover” of healthcare meme their “lie of the year” in 2010.
  • Jobs — Ryan: “We have a plan for a stronger middle class, with the goal of generating 12 million new jobs over the next four years.” Truth: An almost impossible goal.
  • Debt — Ryan: “The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government.” Truth: A false choice. There is no evidence suggesting that decreasing the size of government would grow the economy; in fact, it may hurt by killing government and contractor jobs. And much of the debt is due to Bush policies that Ryan voted for, like the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Simpson-Bowles commission — Ryan: “He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” Truth: Ryan sat on that commission, and, as chairman of the Budget Committee was a leader on it. He voted against the commission’s recommendations, bringing all the other Republicans along with him.
  • Credit downgrade — Ryan: Obama “began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America.” When Standard & Poors downgraded the country’s sovereign debt rating in 2011, they said that it was becauseRepublican lawmakers had taken the nation’s debt ceiling hostage (something Ryan supported doing) and because “the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues” (another position Ryan maintains).
  • Poor — Ryan: “We have responsibilities, one to another — we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak.” Truth: About two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budget proposal come from programs the benefit poor people, such as food stamps. Meanwhile, he calls for tax cuts for the wealthy.
As I said at the beginning, there may have been a more dishonest campaign somewhere along the way, but I don't remember it.


Finally, I can't end my wrap-up of the convention without including this from The Daily Show - correspondent Samantha Bee's interviews with actual Republicans at the convention.

Irony-challenged doesn't even begin to cover it. These people truly don't have a clue.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen: A review

The famously cranky writer Jonathan Franzen, who once dissed Oprah and her book club, has published this book of essays which gives some insight into some of his crankiness, how his mind works, and how he thinks about writing - his own and that of others. It is an eclectic collection of essays ranging from such subjects as modern technology to birding and ecology to literary criticism. I found myself most often agreeing with him about the things that annoy him and I was very interested to read of the fellow writers whom he championed here, most of whom I had never read and of some of whom I had never heard. After reading this book, I'm adding several of them to my "to be read" list.

I share with Franzen a passion for birds and birding and so the most interesting essays for me were the ones related to that subject, although, often, they are not only about that subject. The essay which gives the book its title, "Farther Away," concerns Franzen's trip to a lonely island off the coast of Chile called Masafuera (literally, Farther Away). He carries with him a copy of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and a small box containing some of the ashes of his friend, the writer David Foster Wallace, which he will scatter on the island. He will be alone on the island for a few days and he hopes to be able to see the Masafuera rayadito, an endangered native songbird. He ruminates about being alone, about writing novels and the value of reading novels, about the impact of invasive species on the island, and he tries to come to terms with the loss of Wallace to suicide. He writes of his friend:
He was a lifelong prisoner on the island of himself... Fiction was his way off the island, and as long as it was working for him - as long as he'd been able to pour his love and passion into preparing his lonely dispatches, and as long as these dispatches were coming as urgent and fresh and honest news to the mainland - he'd achieved a measure of happiness and hope for himself. When his hope for fiction died, after years of struggle with the new novel, there was no other way out but death. If boredom is the soil in which the seeds of addiction sprout, and if the phenomenology and the teleology of suicidality are the same as those of addiction, it seems fair to say that David died of boredom.
Interestingly, he writes of his efforts to get Wallace to care about and find pleasure in the world of Nature and particularly of birds, but Wallace couldn't be bothered. He seemed unable to get out of himself long enough to appreciate such a world. A bit further along in the essay, Franzen tellingly writes "A funny thing about Robinson Crusoe is that he never, in twenty-eight years on his Island of Despair, becomes bored." He may have been trapped on a desert island, but he was never a "prisoner on the island of himself."

"Farther Away" was my favorite of these essays, but a close second was "The Chinese Puffin," the story of his trip to China and of meeting birders there and learning about the nascent ecological movement in that vast country. It was a sad and frustrating tale to hear of how so many birds - and other animals - are being hounded into extinction by a dirty environment and rampant industrial development, and yet it was also hopeful in that there is a small cadre of people who do care deeply about the natural world and are fighting the good fight to save the remnant of it that is left.

More difficult for me to read - I had to hurry past some sections - was "The Ugly Mediterranean" which is about the cultural tradition of slaughtering songbirds on migration. It's estimated that a billion of the little birds are trapped and slaughtered each year as they make their way from Africa to their summer range in Europe. 

I don't want to leave the impression that these essays are just about birds. A good number of them are about fiction. "The Greatest Family Ever Storied" is about Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, which is highly praised by Franzen. (Never heard of it or her.) "On The Laughing Policeman" is about the writing of the Swedish authors Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, a happily married couple who wrote a series of ten books about their policeman, Inspector Martin Beck. I'd heard good things about this series before and it is actually already on my TBR list. Now, maybe I'll move it up a few notches.

There are also essays on Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening (again, never heard of it or him), James Purdy's Eustace Chisholm and the Works, the short stories of Alice Munro (He's a big fan.), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Paula Fox's Desperate Characters. Throughout many of these essays, the ghost of David Wallace looms as Franzen struggles through his sadness and anger over the waste of his death. One of the essays included is his eulogy given at Wallace's memorial service.

Much of Franzen's crankiness can be traced to technology and the misuse or abuse of technology. "I Just Called to Say I Love You" is about the rudeness of people who use their cell phones in public and insist on inflicting the most intimate details of their lives on those around them. He remarks upon the fairly recent phenomenon of these people ending every conversation with "I love you" or more often "Love you." As a fellow sufferer, I found myself nodding in agreement.

Well, I could go on. The twenty-two essays in this collection cover a very wide range of subjects but all are written with a lucidity and straightforwardness and are often autobiographical and revelatory of Franzen's private life and thoughts. I came away from them feeling that I understood the man and his writing much better. I read Freedom and enjoyed it. I think perhaps now I am ready for The Corrections. After all, Oprah liked it. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Lysistrata Strategem

Aristophanes wrote his play, Lysistrata, about a Greek woman who was so disgusted by the Peloponnesian War that she persuaded her fellow Greek women that they should withhold sexual relations from the men of Greece until they agreed to negotiate a peace. It was a comedy.

It's not clear whether the men of Togo are laughing these days as women in that country have determined to use the Lysistrata strategy to try to effect political change there. They are trying to force the president of the country to resign. Moreover, their action is being supported by an opposition coalition of political parties, civic groups and movements in the west African nation. The family of President Faure Gnassingbe has held power in the country for decades and a discontented populace believes it is time for him to go. The Togolese women were inspired by a similar strike by Liberian women in 2003, who used it to campaign for peace in their war-torn country.

Of course, the Lysistrata Stratagem is not only used for political purposes and to secure peace. It has long been a weapon of last resort for women everywhere in the Battle of the Sexes. Until a lasting peace is achieved in that age-old battle, it most likely will continue to be used - sometimes even successfully!

Meantime, I wish the women of Togo well in their campaign. From this distance, it certainly seems that a change in political leadership for their country is probably a worthy goal. Perhaps President Gnassingbe will choose to do the altruistic thing and ease the suffering of his fellow Togolese men by abdicating. Hmmm...I wonder if his wife is participating in the strike.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Moon Man

I remember so well breathlessly watching on my parents' black-and-white television as this incredible event unfolded in July 1969.

R.I.P. Moon Man - Neil Armstrong, hero of my youth.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Winterkill by C.J. Box: A review

C.J. Box is a good story-teller. He keeps it simple - good guys vs. bad guys. The only reliably good guy in his stories is Game Warden Joe Pickett. Most everyone else is venal and indifferent to the lives of others. 

The worst of the bad guys are always federal employees, usually those who work for the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and occasionally, as in this book, the F.B.I. Those who believe that individual rights are paramount and must never be infringed upon by a government representing a larger society are always portrayed very sympathetically.

In this story, for example, we have a group of survivalists who have arrived in the Bighorn Mountains from all over the country and are camping on federal lands. Many of these people are refugees from the firestorms of Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Montana Freemen. They hate the federal government.

When a local forest service supervisor is killed, suspicion falls in the direction of those who hate the government, but then a local recluse, a falconer who is also a renegade former Special Ops for the hated feds, is found to have the kind of bow and arrows that were used to kill the man and he is arrested for the crime.

Soon, though, another local federal employee is lured into an accident and left to die in a heavy snowstorm. He gets free and wanders onto the road where he is accidentally hit by Joe Pickett in his truck. Joe takes him to the hospital with serious injuries both from the earlier assault and from his collision with the truck.

The falconer who was arrested for the original murder uses his one phone call to contact Joe. He is convinced that Pickett is a man he can trust and he asks two favors of him - one to take care of his birds and, two, to find out who actually killed the forest service supervisor and free him from jail. Joe finds that he believes Nate the falconer's story and he sets out to fulfill his promises.

Meantime, a special federal investigative unit has arrived in town to look into the "murder and assaults" of federal employees. It is headed by an insanely evil woman who is assisted by a couple of psycho F.B.I. agents. You know right away that nothing good is going to come of this.

Joe also learns that the birth mother of his and wife MaryBeth's foster daughter April Keeley is with the survivalist group in the mountains. He and MaryBeth had been trying to adopt April who has lived with them for three years. Now they are afraid that the irresponsible mother who abandoned her in the first place will try to take her back.

All of these family concerns weigh on Joe Pickett's mind as he goes about trying to do his job and trying to bring justice in a place where it often seems that political concerns about what will advance the careers of local, state, and federal officials take precedence over everything.

Box's narrative is a real page-turner. At a certain point, I found that I just had to know how it all turned out and so I read straight through, even though there were other things that I needed to be doing. In the Pickett family, he creates characters that we care very much about and that we want to see happy, but we strongly suspect that that just isn't going to happen. This creates the tension that keeps us turning pages.

As a reader, although I enjoy the books in the series, I could wish that his portrayal of some characters, the federal employees, for example, was a bit more nuanced. My experience of federal employees is that generally they are members of the community who usually share the values of that community and are just doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Narratives like Box's feed into the demonizing of those people which is, unfortunately, a popular blood sport in some segments of our society. I find it unworthy of a fine writer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian: A review

This fourth entry in the Aubrey/Maturin naval historical series finds Jack Aubrey in the uncomfortable position of being stranded ashore. He has married his beloved Sophie and they have twin daughters, who absolutely flummox the captain. Also in the Maturin household is the mother-in-law and a young niece. So this man's man is stuck in a household of five women, not to mention the servants who are also women. He has never been so lost at sea or so miserable.

Into this domestic scene comes his friend Stephen Maturin with secret orders for Aubrey. He is to take command of a frigate under a commodore's pennant and will sail around the Cape of Good Hope and mount a campaign against the French-held islands of Mauritius and La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. This part of the book is based on an actual campaign that occurred during the Napoleonic War. Patrick O'Brian's note says that he kept close to contemporary accounts including Admiralty records in telling the story, although the characters are his own creations.

In conducting his campaign, Aubrey must contend with conflicts and jealousies among his captains, particularly the pleasure-loving Lord Clonfert and the sadistic Captain Corbett whose extreme punishments of his men lead them to the brink of mutiny. Aiding him in the campaign, as always, is Maturin, who continues to work the political part of the struggle, communicating with the locals and turning them to the English side. 

Maturin, too, continues his own studies of Nature and of exotic human culture at all their stops along the way. His delight in birds, particularly, is one of the things that endears the character to this birder/reader.

One of the great attractions of this series is the dry humor which pervades it, particularly in the conversations between Aubrey and Maturin. Here is a typical exchange, one of my favorites from this book.
(Jack is speaking.) "...This coffee has a damned odd taste."

(Stephen) "This I attribute to the excrement of rats. Rats have eaten our entire stock; and I take the present brew to be a mixture of the scrapings at the bottom of the sack."

"I thought it had a familiar tang," said Jack.
Although I have to admit that my eyes sometimes glaze over at the intricate descriptions of the naval battles, I always perk up again at the Aubrey/Maturin conversations. It is their relationship that really makes this series the wonderful reading experience it is for me. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

He's not an outlier; he's the mainstream

But for crying out loud, what the hell is happening to our country? We now have a party with elected leaders who think child labor laws are unconstitutional (Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah), who would repeal the Civil Rights Act (Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky), who think climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (Republican Sen. James Inhofe).  
 - Sally Kohn, writing in today 
Some wag once said that a political gaffe is when a politician says what he really thinks. By that definition, Todd Akin's statement about the female reproductive system having some kind of magical barrier that keeps it from getting pregnant when it is "legitimately raped" certainly qualifies as a gaffe, because there is not a single iota of doubt that this is what the man really thinks. Moreover, it is not just Akin that thinks this way. He's right in line with the base of his party, probably the majority of his party. He is not an outlier; he is swimming in the sludgy mainstream of today's radically extremist Republican Tea Party.

As soon as the fateful words were out of Akin's mouth, his party started going bananas. It's all well and good for them to think like this, but they are not supposed to say it out loud. They are not supposed to give away the game or give more ammunition to those who claim the party is waging a war on women. (Where in the world would we get such an idea?)

Soon members of his party started calling for him to get out of the Senate race. Super-PACs and other committees were announcing that they would pull their financing from the campaign in an effort to force him out. His buddy Paul Ryan, with whom he has repeatedly introduced legislation in the House that would deny women access to abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest, called him up and suggested that he might want to get out of the race for the good of the party, i.e., for his and Romney's good. After thinking it over for 24 hours and testing the winds of public opinion, Mitt Romney decided that he was "offended" by Akin's remarks and that a Romney Administration would have provisions to allow for access to abortions for women who are raped!!! (This, of course, is a complete flip-flop from his previous position that a fertilized egg - any fertilized egg - should have the same rights as a human being and that there should be a constitutional amendment to that effect.)

And today, in a dazzling display of poor timing and disingenuousness, if not downright hypocrisy, the Republican platform committee approved a plank for the party's platform on a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no exceptions of any kind. As The New York Times reported:
Even as the Republican establishment continued to call for Representative Todd Akin of Missouri to drop out of his Senate race because of his comments on rape and abortion, Republicans approved platform language on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
In other words, they are codifying in their platform exactly what Akin said. They are advocating the "personhood" amendment which would give the fertilized egg the same rights as a human being. Actually, the egg would have more rights than a human female in this twisted way of thinking, because the life of the egg would be protected at all costs whereas the life of the woman would not. If there is a choice to be made between the life of the egg and the life of the woman, the egg wins every time and the woman is sacrificed.

This is exactly the Akin/Ryan bill that passed in the Republican-controlled House and that Mitt Romney told Mike Huckabee he would sign if he were president, even though he NOW says he would allow an exception for women who are raped. What will he say tomorrow after the Akin brouhaha blows over, as it certainly will?

This, in fact, is just what the country has to look forward to should Republicans win complete control of the government, as they might. This is a profoundly anti-science, anti-women's rights, anti-minority's rights of any kind, anti-21st century party, and Todd Akin is the face of it. He has actually shown more intellectual honesty than those hypocrites in his party who are running away from him after he accidentally blurted out what he really thinks.    

UPDATE: Maureen Dowd pretty well nailed it today.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: A review

This is a very hard book to categorize. It is part thriller, part paranormal romance, part survivalist family saga, but mostly it is a coming-of-age story. The three Bigtree children, Kiwi, Osceola, and Ava, come of age in various ways in the pages of the book.

The Bigtree children and their parents live on an island in the Florida swamps which the patriarch of the family, the children's grandfather, named Swamplandia. They have a kind of theme park there to entice the tourists and they are hanging on to solvency by a thread. Their shtick is wrestling alligators and the star of their show and their family is the mother of the family. 

We meet them as tragedy strikes. Their star, the anchor of the family, falls ill from ovarian cancer and dies. The Bigtrees are bereft and at a loss as to how to cope. The theme park flounders under the loss of its star and competition from a rival park called The World of Darkness. It is what Ava calls "the beginning of the end."

The Bigtrees' story is revealed through the eyes of Ava, the youngest child, and Kiwi, the oldest. We don't hear much from Osceola (Ossie) and yet it is her actions and her fate that are the impetus for much that happens here.

Kiwi leaves the family, running away to the mainland, after stealing money from his father. He gets a job with The World of Darkness - or The World as its employees call it - but his main goal in life is to make enough money to save his family's theme park.

The head of the family, Sam, called Chief, leaves the park to go to the mainland "on business." He leaves teenagers Ossie and Ava alone to care for the alligators and their home.

Ossie leaves the family in another way - mentally, psychologically - as she becomes "possessed" by the ghost of a dredgerman named Louis Thanksgiving. Eventually, she runs away to "marry" him. 

Ossie's departure in the middle of the night leads 13-year-old Ava to follow her into the swamps to rescue her. In this she is aided(?) by a mysterious character known as the Bird Man. What Ava endures in the swamps as she tries desperately to find Ossie - and maybe her dead mother as well - tests the very limits of her physical and mental strength. 

This is a beautifully written book, full of magical realism, and it has a poetic voice and a joy of life that even in its darkest moments - and there are some - make for an uplifting and heartwarming story. Some might find the ending unsatisfying. Not all the loose ends are tied up neatly. Not all sinners are punished, at least as far as we know. But the swamp holds many secrets and I prefer to believe that one of those secrets is the just fate of the biggest miscreant of all.

This is a vividly entertaining book. Easy to see why it was one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for 2011. Hard to believe that it was Karen Russell's first novel.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where are the editors?

I'm reading Swamplandia!, last year's acclaimed first novel by Karen Russell that was one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize which ultimately was not awarded to any of the year's many fine books. I had just started the book and I was reading along, enjoying the language and the descriptions when I come across this sentence:
"But one night, the eve of their tenth wedding anniversary, she woke my sister and I and made us come out to the museum."
"Nooooo!" I screamed. That sentence hit me right in the solar plexus. It represents what is easily my pet peeve among grammatical sins - the use of subjective pronouns as objects. It's something that one hears all the time on television now and sees more and more in print, even in print that should know better like this book published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House.

Would any writer worth his/her salt or any halfway reputable punditizer on TV or even a writer of an inane television show ever say "She woke I"? Surely not! Then why would they say "She woke my sister and I" and think it is correct? It is wrong, wrong, wrong! And utterly annoying to some of us. Especially those of us who were taught high school English by Mrs. Rubenstein.

Of course, this is just one example of the sloppy editing which is an epidemic in the world of letters here in the year 2012. The Internet is the worst offender. Not to pick on - it just happens to be something I look at every day - but here are two egregious examples that I found in the online magazine just in the last week.

I was reading a review of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild where I came across this sentence:
"Bakunin, on the other hand, championed the revolutionary potential of the 'uncivilized, the disinherited, the miserable, the illiterate' who would eventually throw off the yolk of oppression through violent revolt."
At which point I fell on the floor laughing. I imagined the yellow part of an egg pressing down messily on the unfortunate downtrodden people and I wondered what happened to the white of the egg. Now, to Salon's credit, they did finally notice the error and when I looked at the article again just now to create the link, I found that they had corrected "yolk" to "yoke."

Maybe they will eventually catch the second error as well. It was in an article by Daryl Johnson, the author of the Department of Homeland Security's 2009 report on domestic right-wing terrorists, the one that caused all the right-wingers to go apoplectic. That article contained this interesting sentence:
"DHS’ silence on the matter exasperated the situation." 
One pictures "the situation" heaving a big sigh and being thoroughly "exasperated." Now, the rule is that people can be exasperated; things cannot be. Things can be exacerbated and I know that's what the author really meant.

Well, we all have brain cramps from time to time. But editors are not allowed such brain cramps. I know because I am married to one and he assures me that real editors never make such mistakes and never allow them to slip by their steely gaze.

So where are the editors? Have they abdicated their positions? Are they so exasperated by the situation of ungrammatical writers that they have exacerbated that situation by throwing up their hands in defeat? I have a feeling that those blows to my solar plexus are going to become even more frequent.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday is for the birds!

Here are just a dozen of the feathered visitors to my yard this week.

Blue Jay

Carolina Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker (female)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male)

White-winged Doves

Red-bellied Woodpecker (male)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)

Northern Cardinal (male)

Rufous Hummingbird (female)

Red-headed Woodpecker (juvenile - yes, that head will be red when he's grown!)

Mourning Dove

Rufous Hummingbird (male)

I hope that you will make at least part of your weekend "for the birds" in your yard or neighborhood. Even the most common species are endlessly fascinating. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Buried Bones by Carolyn Haines: A review

Seventy-six-year-old Lawrence Ambrose, a chip off the Truman Capote block, was once a celebrated name in the Southern literary world, but his heyday is long gone and he is mostly forgotten and ignored. All that may change though when his "biography" - actually an autobiography - comes out. He is writing the book but an ex super-star model's name will appear as the author and the word is out that the book will blow the lid off of several well-kept secrets of Ambrose's friends and running mates.

As the year draws to a close, Ambrose invites all his friends and acquaintances, including one Sarah Booth Delaney, to a holiday dinner party where the tension among the guests is thick enough to be sliced by a knife. As it turns out though, it is the host who gets sliced. Sarah Booth finds him stone cold dead in a pool of blood the morning after the party. Moreover, it seems that the much-dreaded manuscript for Ambrose's tell-all book is missing.

Soon, the woman who had loved Lawrence Ambrose for many years hires Sarah Booth to find out what happened. Specifically, she hires her to prove that the bitchy ex-model killed him.

As Sarah Booth begins her snooping - er, investigation of the case, she finds that many of the people who might have had answers to the questions that keep popping up are dead and, mostly, have been dead for many years. Will she ever be able to solve the mystery(ies), find the manuscript, and, most importantly, will she be able to earn her way as a private investigator in the little Delta town of Zinnia, Mississippi?

Meanwhile, as Sarah Booth is pursuing her lines of inquiry, Jitty, the antebellum ghost with whom she shares her family home, Dahlia House, is pursuing her single-minded obsession of getting Sarah Booth safely married and impregnated so that the Delaney bloodline is secure. Unfortunately, her task looks even more hopeless than that of Sarah Booth becoming a competent and successful PI.

This series is a bit of a light-hearted romp and it is fun to read, but I am one of those readers who can be distracted and irritated by little things. Things like rechristening the home of William Faulkner as Rowan Oaks. It's Rowan Oak, singular. And then there's Sarah Booth's hound which figures prominently in this story. The dog is repeatedly described as a red tic hound. I kept imagining a big red dog with a nervous twitch. There are Red Tick (or Redtick) hounds and Blue Tick (or Bluetick) hounds, but, as far as I know, there are no red tic hounds. An editing problem maybe, but an annoying one.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's good to be the Honey Badger

Any woman who goes into politics, regardless of her political party or philosophical leanings, must know, unless she's a total idiot, that she's going to be a victim of the double standard. The media and quite often the voters as well will look at her and the first questions that come to mind will be about her appearance.

Is she pretty?

Who does her hair?

Where does she buy her clothes and what designers does she use?

Is she maybe just a little bit pudgy?

Not to put too fine a point on it, is her butt too big?

Does she have wrinkles in her face?

Does she ever appear to be tired?

After all that, if there's any time left, they may consider what her stands are on "women's issues." Heaven forbid that she should have any opinions on the larger issues that face the country and the world! I can only imagine how very frustrating that must be for a serious woman with serious and informed opinions and well-reasoned views about the world. A woman like - oh, I don't know - Hillary Clinton, for example.

Clinton, throughout her career in public life, has been a lightning rod for haters who love to excoriate her for her hairstyles, her pantsuits, her figure, and anything else about her appearance that doesn't meet their strict definition of beauty. But, while this might have been hurtful to Hillary at earlier points in her life, she has now reached a point - an age - where she really doesn't give a crap what you think about her appearance! Mary Elizabeth Williams had a nice column in today that made that point very well.
“Would you ever ask a man that question?” Hillary Clinton gave that reply two years ago, when an interviewer in Kyrgyzstan innocently asked the secretary of state, “Which designers do you prefer?” But when the Boston Review posted the exchange on its site Wednesday, it became a viral sensation — and just the newest example of how much kicking butt and taking names Ms. Clinton is doing lately.
For those of us who admire the woman, as, clearly, I do, it is really nice to see her able to relax and enjoy herself, enjoy her role as Secretary of State, and concentrate on the things that are important to her, not on what she will wear or how she will style her hair tomorrow. She looks like a 64-year-old, hard-working, well-traveled woman, a woman who has important things to do and accomplish for herself and for her country. As Williams says in her article, Clinton has become the Honey Badger who is just going to be herself no matter what you think.  Yeah, it is really, really good to be the Honey Badger.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

88 books that made us who we are

The Library of Congress has a new exhibit called "Books That Shaped America" and to celebrate and publicize it they have issued a list of eighty-eight of those books. These are all books that were written by Americans. They date from 1776 up until 2002, and they are a very mixed bag.
There are fiction and nonfiction books, poetry and prose, cookbooks, biographies, philosophy, books for adults and books for children. A quick perusal of the list will convince you that the books were not necessarily selected for their literary quality, although some of them certainly are of highest quality. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, said in his press release, "This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books -- although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not. We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world."
One way the Library hopes to spark a national conversation is by encouraging feedback and input. On their website, they have a survey form that readers can complete and they are encouraging us to nominate other books for the list. Apparently the only real requirement is that it has to have been written by an American.
I wouldn't be much help with adding books to their list. While I enjoy looking at and critiquing other people's lists, I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to creating my own. I couldn't even tell you what is my favorite book or the book that has influenced me most in my life. How could I possibly choose just one from thousands?
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's the Library's starting list of 88 books. How many of them have you read? 
 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, 1884
Alcoholics Anonymous, anonymous, 1939
American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 1796
The American Woman's Home,Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1869
And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts, 1987
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, 1957
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965
Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1970
The Call of the Wild, Jack London, 1903
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss, 1957
Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
Charlotte's Web, E.B. White, 1952
Common Sense, Thomas Paine, 1776
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, Benjamin Spock, 1946
Cosmos, Carl Sagan, 1980
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible,anonymous, 1788
The Double Helix, James D. Watson, 1968
The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams, 1907
Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Benjamin Franklin, 1751
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
Family Limitation, Margaret Sanger, 1914
The Federalist, anonymous, 1787
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin, 1963
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown, 1947
A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1783
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Harriet, the Moses of Her People, Sarah H. Bradford, 1901
The History of Standard Oil, Ida Tarbell, 1904
History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark, Meriwether Lewis, 1814
How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis, 1890
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936
Howl, Allen Ginsberg, 1956
The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O'Neill, 1946
Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures, Federal Writers' Project, 1937
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1966
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952
Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer, 1931
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1855
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, 1820
Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, Louisa May Alcott, 1868
Mark, the Match Boy, Horatio Alger Jr., 1869
McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic Primer, William Holmes McGuffey, 1836
Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Herman Melville, 1851
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass, 1845
Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940
New England Primer, anonymous, 1803
New Hampshire, Robert Frost, 1923
On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957
Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1971
Our Town: A Play, Thornton Wilder, 1938
Peter Parley's Universal History, Samuel Goodrich, 1837
Poems, Emily Dickinson, 1890
Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth, Benjamin Franklin, 1758
Pragmatism, William James, 1907
The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D., Benjamin Franklin, 1793
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, 1895
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett, 1929
Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey, 1912
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, 1962
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats, 1962
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner, 1929
Spring and All, William Carlos Williams, 1923
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert E. Heinlein, 1961
A Street in Bronzeville, Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams, 1947
A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America, Christopher Colles, 1789
Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
A Treasury of American Folklore, Benjamin A. Botkin, 1944
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith, 1943
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader, 1965
Walden; or Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau, 1854
The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes, 1925
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, 1963
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, 1900
The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez, 2002