Sunday, July 31, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Summer

We are just about at the high point of summer, the mid-point, the "dog days." Soon we'll be on the downhill side of this - for us - most uncomfortable of seasons, headed toward benevolent autumn. It can't come too soon for me.

Although this poem by Amy Lowell is entitled Summer, it is really an appreciation of Nature at all seasons. She catches my feeling about summer very well in this passage:
To me alone it is a time of pause,
A void and silent space between two worlds,
When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps,
Gathering strength for efforts yet to come.
Well, my inspiration has certainly lagged. But I keep telling myself that I am gathering my strength for efforts yet to come. In autumn.  

by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
Some men there are who find in nature all
Their inspiration, hers the sympathy
Which spurs them on to any great endeavor,
To them the fields and woods are closest friends,
And they hold dear communion with the hills;
The voice of waters soothes them with its fall,
And the great winds bring healing in their sound.
To them a city is a prison house
Where pent up human forces labour and strive,
Where beauty dwells not, driven forth by man;
But where in winter they must live until
Summer gives back the spaces of the hills.
To me it is not so. I love the earth
And all the gifts of her so lavish hand:
Sunshine and flowers, rivers and rushing winds,
Thick branches swaying in a winter storm,
And moonlight playing in a boat’s wide wake;
But more than these, and much, ah, how much more,
I love the very human heart of man.
Above me spreads the hot, blue mid-day sky,
Far down the hillside lies the sleeping lake
Lazily reflecting back the sun,
And scarcely ruffled by the little breeze
Which wanders idly through the nodding ferns.
The blue crest of the distant mountain, tops
The green crest of the hill on which I sit;
And it is summer, glorious, deep-toned summer,
The very crown of nature’s changing year
When all her surging life is at its full.
To me alone it is a time of pause,
A void and silent space between two worlds,
When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps,
Gathering strength for efforts yet to come.
For life alone is creator of life,
And closest contact with the human world
Is like a lantern shining in the night
To light me to a knowledge of myself.
I love the vivid life of winter months
In constant intercourse with human minds,
When every new experience is gain
And on all sides we feel the great world’s heart;
The pulse and throb of life which makes us men!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

This week in birds - #217

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

This Greater Roadrunner has just spied something that may be very tasty. Or perhaps it is Wile E. Coyote.


Huge wildfires continue to burn out of control in California. One blaze near Big Sur spanned 42 square miles and has destroyed 34 homes, forced the evacuation of 350 properties and put at least 2,000 buildings at risk, as well as causing one death so far. 


Common Cuckoos are in decline in some parts of Europe and their migration habits may be partly to blame. The birds that take the shorter migration route to and from Africa through Spain actually have a lower survival rate than those that take a more easterly route.


The populations of Gulf Coast shorebirds have seen a steady decline since the days of John James Audubon.  Nesting on the beach is a huge challenge due to coastal development, off-road vehicles, beachgoers, and pets, not to mention disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The American Bird Conservancy's Gulf Coastal Birds Program is seeking to conserve those birds.


A toxic muck of decaying algae along the coastal waterways of southeastern Florida shut down businesses and beaches and caused officials to declare states of emergency in four counties. All of this at the height of the tourist season.


Many areas of war-torn Syria are cut off from humanitarian aid. Residents in some places are attempting to grow their own food, planting urban gardens


The survival of a critically endangered hummingbird, the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest, depends in large part on the indigenous Kogi tribe, with whom it shares its habitat in the northern mountain ranges of Colombia. 


The island nation of New Zealand has a large number of unique animals that face pressure and possible extinction due to small, predatory animals that were introduced by Polynesian and European settlers. Now, the government has made plans to eliminate invasive predators by 2050, wiping out opossums, rats, and weasels. 


Animal welfare groups are lobbying the United States to classify all leopards as endangered, banning the import to the US of leopards killed by American hunters. They hope to replicate the protections introduced in the wake of the furore caused by the death of famed lion Cecil.


The Bird Ecology Study Group blog has a feature, along with some stunning pictures, on the Oriental Pied Hornbill of Singapore, a truly magnificent bird.


Need some solutions to prevent birds from crashing into your windows? The American Bird Conservancy has some suggestions for you.


The pallid sturgeon is an ancient fish that has outlived the dinosaurs, but it may not be able to survive humans and our human-built dams which block their passageways. It is estimated that only about 125 of the fish remain.


The Stresemann's Bristlefront is one of the most endangered species of birds on Earth, with only 15 known to survive. Moreover, they live in an ecosystem almost as endangered as themselves - the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.


And speaking of threatened and endangered species of birds, no place on Earth is home to more of them than Hawaii. Conservation groups are making every possible effort to provide protection for those that remain.


Biologists have long believed that evolution was a very, very slow process, too tardy to be observed in a human lifetime. But recently, they have come to understand that it can actually happen very quickly, as long as natural selection — the relative benefit that a particular characteristic bestows on its bearer — is strong. And where is this most likely to be true? In urban areas. Birds that live in urban areas may be able to evolve much more quickly than was previously thought.


And, finally, just for grins...

 Happy weekend!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ham Bones by Carolyn Haines: A review

Ham Bones (Southern Belle Mysteries)Ham Bones by Carolyn Haines
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Feeling the urge for some popcorn for the brain - or, since it is summer, perhaps a shaved ice for the brain - I turned to one of Carolyn Haines' Southern Belle Mysteries. This is the seventh one in the series. I had read the other six and found some of them diverting and others less so. There was at least a fifty percent chance that this one would entertain me.

I don't give up on books. If I choose to start reading one, I'm going to finish it, even if I don't like it. Many, maybe most, readers can't really understand this, feeling that life is too short to waste any of it on a bad book, and they have no hesitation in tossing one aside if it doesn't appeal to them. But I have this sense that I've made a contract with the writer by picking up his/her book and I need to fulfill my contract.

All that being said, I came about as close as I have in recent memory to giving up on a book after about fifty pages of Ham Bones. Although it didn't get any better after that, sadly but true to my philosophy, I persevered. Those are hours of my life that I will never get back.

So, what was wrong with the book? Well, the plot was implausible and the characters unbelievable. Moreover, the main character, who in the earlier books exhibited a kind of quirky charm, has become whiny and bitter, constantly complaining about her state in life, although most people would probably consider her state in life to be pretty privileged. After all, she is the owner of her ancestral estate, partner in an at least semi-successful private investigation business, and surrounded by scores of friends, who, for no good reason that I can see, think she is wonderful. She just comes off as spoiled and self-centered, not someone the reader can readily root for.

As for the writing, perhaps the less said the better. It is slapdash and careless at best. One example may suffice.

Early in the book, our heroine, Sarah Booth Delaney (who is always referred to as Sarah Booth, never just Sarah) is sent on an errand from her Mississippi Delta hometown of Zinnia to Memphis. As she starts home again, we get this sentence:

As I crossed the mighty Mississippi, my cell phone rang.

Carolyn Haines grew up in Mississippi, as indeed I did, and she now lives in Alabama, so she must surely be aware that Memphis and Mississippi are on the same side of the river. One would not cross the "mighty Mississippi" to go home again from Memphis.

And that pretty much exemplifies the quality of the writing.

The plot, briefly, is this: A Broadway touring company comes to Zinnia to do a week-long run of performances of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The company just happens to comprise a number of actors whom Sarah Booth had worked with during her brief stint of trying to make it as an actress in New York. One of them is her former lover. Another is a woman who hated her. Sarah Booth is drafted to be an understudy to the star of the show (the woman who hates her) and in the middle of their first performance, the star is found lying dead on her dressing room floor. Turns out she was poisoned.

But the show must go on and it does, with Sarah Booth in the role. She is a great success, winning rave reviews and no one is the least bit sorry that a woman is dead, because everybody disliked her.

There is the little matter that the woman appears to have been murdered and the person who seems to have gained most from her death is Sarah Booth. Soon the county sheriff who loves her and who she loves is knocking on the door of the old plantation home to arrest Sarah Booth for murder.

Accck!!! I can't go on. Suffice to say that it all works out in the end and it is crystal clear long before the end just what had happened. No real mystery here. Except the mystery of why I read this book all the way to the end.

I have one more book in this series, #8, in my reading queue and, at some point, when the bad taste of this experience has dissipated, I'll probably read it. But unless the quality of it dramatically improves, it will be my last experience with the Southern Belle series.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday/Wildflower Wednesday: July images - Joe Pye Weed

If it is July, it must be Joe Pye weed time. This is the month when this plant really gets its blooms going. They are very long lasting, continuing into the end of August or even into September.

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum, has begun to come into its own recently. No longer seen by gardeners as just another unwanted weed, the attractive plant has come to be appreciated for its good qualities, namely as a wildlife attractant for habitat gardens. It is especially attractive to butterflies that flock to feed on its sweet nectar.

Interestingly, the plant got its common name from a New England man who used it as a medicinal herb in the treatment of typhus fever. In addition to its medicinal qualities, the plant's flowers and seeds have also been used in producing pink and red dye for textiles.

Joe Pye weed is hardy in zones 4-9 and can be found  growing in thickets and woodlands throughout the eastern half of North America. They can grow quite tall, anywhere between 3 to 12 feet. In my garden, they stay closer to the three foot mark. They are best located at or near the back of the bed to provide focal interest. When conditions are dry, as they have been around here lately, the lower parts of the plant can drop leaves and begin to look rather spindly.

The plant will grow quite happily in full sun to partial shade. I have plants growing in both conditions, and, this year, those in full sun are suffering more than the ones in partial shade. They do prefer moist conditions, so when it is very dry, they may need supplemental water in order to thrive.

This is basically a care-free plant, which is the kind I like best. 
The plants will die back to the ground in winter but come back strong in spring. About the only care needed is to dig and divide the clumps when they get big. This is best done in the spring. 

If you are looking for a native plant to add to your butterfly garden, give Joe Pye weed a chance. You won't be disappointed.

One of my plants growing happily in partial shade.

Today I'm linking up with Gail at Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday feature. Coincidentally, she is also featuring Joe Pye weed! You know what they say about great minds... 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes: A review

Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury MysteryVertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The books in Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series often are rich in literary and film references and this one is no exception. The homage to Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo is perhaps obvious from the title, but there are also overt references to Thomas Hardy and William Butler Yeats, as well as more subtle nods to Oscar Wilde and even the Bard himself, Shakespeare. It all makes for a fun game for the reader, a kind of hide-and-go-seek, which is an actual game that plays a part in one of the mysterious deaths of the plot.

Once again, Jury is called upon to investigate a cold case, this time as a favor to a friend. Seventeen years before, Tess Williamson died in a fall down stone steps in the garden of her house in Devon. The verdict on the death was left open, as no definitive conclusion could be reached, but the inspector in charge of the investigation at the time leaned toward an accidental death due to the victim's known problems with vertigo. Her husband, Tom, is convinced that her death was murder, and, in that conclusion, he has an ally in another detective who was involved in the original investigation, Jury's friend, Brian Macalvie.

Tom is also friends with Sir Oscar Maples, another in Jury's circle of friends, and it is Maples who suggests to him that Jury might be willing to investigate the death, and it is he who delivers the request to Jury. Jury meets with Williamson at Vertigo 42, a bar in a City of London tower, hears his story, and agrees to look into the case.

One curious aspect of Tess's death is that five years before, a nine-year-old girl had also died in a fall at the Devon home, during a children's party that Tess was hosting. The victim was a particularly nasty child who was not liked by any of the other children, or, for that matter, any adults. There was suspicion that she was pushed and Tess was a suspect, but, again, there was no conclusive evidence and the verdict was left open.

So, two suspicious deaths seventeen and twenty-two years earlier, but before Jury can get very far into his investigation, another death occurs near the village where his friend Melrose Plant lives. A woman dressed in an expensive red silk dress and four-inch-high red heels dies in a fall from a tower. Did she jump? Was she pushed? How did she climb to the top of that tower in those four-inch heels? When it turns out that this woman was one of the children who were present at that party in Devon long ago when the little girl died, Jury sees a pattern and suspects that there may have been three murders.

Then, the woman's husband also turns up dead of gunshot wounds with his dog Stanley standing guard over his body. Four deaths - two in the past and two in the present - dot this intricate and compelling plot. How will Jury ever sort this puzzle out?

This is the latest entry in the Richard Jury series, number 23, and it isn't clear if there will be any more. If indeed it does turn out to be the last one, then Grimes will have ended on a fairly high note. This was a strong effort, more so than some of the recent books in which she seemed to be just phoning it in.

As usual, the plot meandered all over the countryside between Devon and London and it encompassed visits with most of the recurring characters that we've come to know and love (or hate) over the years. It had the usual quirky animals, but at least this time we didn't spend time inside the animals' heads watching their nonverbal reaction to events. There were no charming children this time around, which made for a bit of a change. But, all in all, particularly with the literary allusions, it hit all the notes that we've come to expect from Martha Grimes and it was a fun summer read.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker: A review

Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French CountrysideBruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside by Martin Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Benoit Courreges, known to everyone as Bruno, is the chief of police in the small village of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. He's a unique kind of policeman. He has a gun but he keeps it locked away. He makes every possible effort not to arrest people, preferring reasoning with them and sometimes turning a blind eye to minor infringements. His main challenge as a policeman seems to be protecting the vendors at the village market from the EU health and safety inspectors who are charged with ensuring that regulations are followed and who are authorized to hand out fines to those who attempt to circumvent the rules.

Bruno is an orphan who found his calling as a soldier serving with United Nations forces in Bosnia. Coming home, he had a mentor in one of his former commanders in Bosnia and through the efforts of that man, now the mayor of the town, Bruno became chief of police and found a sense of family at last in the people of his village. He is completely devoted to them and to the welfare of his community.

That community includes some Arabs, descendants of immigrants from North Africa. One particular family is well-known and highly esteemed by the close-knit citizenry. The village is rocked when the patriarch of that family, a man who was considered a war hero who had won the Croix de Guerre for his services in Vietnam, is brutally murdered, with a swastika carved on his chest. The murder brings to the fore hidden racial and cultural resentments and threatens to rip apart the unity and the easy-going rhythms that have long marked life in this community.

The national police are charged with the investigation of the crime, but Bruno, as the local expert, is attached to the team of investigators. It soon develops that the roots of the crime reach far back to World War II days and the role that the French Resistance played. It seems that the victim may not have always been the hero that his family believed him to be. The writer was able to seamlessly weave in details of the World War II experience in the French countryside which helped to make the story more realistic.

Throughout the investigation, Bruno continues his daily interaction with all the locals, the friends and neighbors who are a part of his circle. We get to know them all as they meet at the market, play tennis or rugby, visit the local caves which contain prehistoric paintings, and especially as they share meals. And what fabulous meals! Food is an integral part of this story. Well, it is France, isn't it?

This is the first in a series. I learned about it through one of my blogger buddies, Snap of Tales from Twisty Lane. It's a favorite of hers and since I have found that she and I often agree on reading material, I was interested to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It is well-written, humanistic in philosophy, and the characters are believable and thoroughly likable. It actually reminded me somewhat of Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana series featuring Precious Ramotswe. Moreover, I thought the plot and the pacing of the story were deftly done and, even though the story moved at the pace of country life and there was not a lot of action, it was sufficient to keep the reader interested and turning the pages to see what Bruno would do next.

I particularly enjoyed the writer's vivid descriptions of what must be a truly beautiful region. It is obviously a place that he knows well and loves, and I look forward to learning more about it in future books in the series. 

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Analysis of Baseball

I'm not a big sports fan in general. But there is one game that 
I love, that I have loved since I was twelve years old and that 
is baseball. I love the grace, the balletic quality of the players 
in the field as they go for the ball. I love the twitchiness of the 
batters at the plate as they fiddle with their gloves, adjust their 
helmets, and play for time as they try to figure out what the 
pitcher is going to throw next. I love watching the pitcher and 
catcher collaborate as they work on a plan to get this guy out. I 
love the fact that it is a timeless game; i.e., it's played without a 
clock. The only limiting factor is 27 outs - and sometimes not 
even that is enough. I love the fact that the same game can be 
played by 6'2" Mike Trout and 5'6" (maybe on a good day) Jose 
Altuve and that Jose Altuve can win, proving that size truly 
doesn't matter, except maybe the size of the heart.

I think May Swenson loved baseball, too, and she summed it up 
perfectly in this poem.    

Analysis of Baseball

by May Swenson

It's about
the ball,
the bat,
and the mitt.
Ball hits
bat, or it
hits mitt.
Bat doesn't
hit ball, bat
meets it.
Ball bounces
off bat, flies
air, or thuds
ground (dud)
or it
fits mitt.

Bat waits
for ball
to mate.
Ball hates
to take bat's
bait. Ball
flirts, bat's
late, don't
keep the date.
Ball goes in
(thwack) to mitt,
and goes out
(thwack) back
to mitt.

Ball fits
mitt, but
not all
the time.
ball gets hit
(pow) when bat
meets it,
and sails
to a place
where mitt
has to quit
in disgrace.
That's about
the bases
about 40,000
fans exploded.

It's about
the ball,
the bat,
the mitt,
the bases
and the fans.
It's done
on a diamond,
and for fun.
It's about
home, and it's
about run.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This week in birds - #216

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

Male Wood Duck.


June marked the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat on the planet. It is likely that July will be the 15th.


Osprey and Bald Eagle chicks in Florida are starving, possibly as a result of the encroachment of salt water into the fresh water areas where their parents seek food to feed them.


The "Capital Naturalist" tells us about a very interesting insect, the cicada killer or cicada hawk.


Unesco has designated the Iraqi marshlands as a world heritage site. The area includes four archaeological sites and three wetland marshes in southern Iraq.


Bird species that are able to adapt and live in different types of environments can more easily make the adjustment when faced with the challenges of climate change.


Trump's border wall would be a disaster for wildlife. The worst thing about the wall's likely wildlife impacts is that they're completely unnecessary. Even if you feel that the human rights crisis involved in international migration is best addressed by sealing the border, there are other ways to do just that, with cameras and other mid-range surveillance equipment, that won't affect so much as a single hungry javelina.


A study of Ovenbirds and Acadian Flycatchers reveals that the habitat needs of nestling songbirds and fledgling songbirds may be different.


Even if de-extinction could work and we could bring back species that have gone extinct in the past, they would not be the same as that original species, so it is imperative that we save what we have.


Ptarmigan, which live in cold ecosystems, are not strongly affected by fluctuations in seasonal weather based on two separate populations that were studied in Colorado, scientists report.


"Bourbons, Bastards, and Birds" writes about the updated list of species from the American Ornithologists Union with its most recent combining and splitting of species.


Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published this week in Global Change Biology.


Recent research has shown that the largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not simply alliances between two organisms - one fungus and one alga - as every scientist for the last 150 years has claimed. Instead, they’re alliances between three. There are actually two fungi in the group.


The "View from the Cape" blog profiles the Solitary Sandpiper.


The Dovekie, also known as the Little Auk, is one of the smaller members of the unique auk family. They live in the Arctic and recent research found that their foraging may be determined by the underwater terrain in their habitat.


Hummingbirds have a unique collision avoidance system built into their brains that allows them to perform high-speed aerobatics in safety. The agile birds, whose wings beat up to 70 times a second, can hover, fly backwards, and whizz through dense vegetation at more than 50 kilometers per hour. How they manage to avoid potentially fatal crashes has remained a mystery until now. Researchers in Canada conducted a series of experiments which showed that the birds process visual information differently from other animals. As they dart and dive at speed, they judge distance from the way looming objects appear to get bigger, and vice versa. So, to hummingbirds, size, as they perceive it, certainly matters.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting a canna blossom.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Nastiness multiplied

Courtesy of, here is some of the merchandise that was on sale outside the Republican national convention this week. Reportedly, the vendors were doing a brisk business. (Click on the photo to enlarge it for easier reading.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Rampant denialism

In 2010, I wrote this post about the phenomenon of denialism, the refusal to accept evidence or proven truths if they conflict with your personal feelings. Unfortunately, the last six years have only seen a hardening of denialism in some quarters. It has become their knee-jerk reaction to any uncomfortable truth.

I was reminded of this, of course, by the hatefest occurring in Cleveland this week. We have seen a mindless mob, calling for the incarceration - and, in some instances, the murder - of a political opponent whom they hate. They insist that their opponent is guilty of crimes related to the attack on diplomatic missions in Benghazi and the handling of her emails. 

They believe this even though TEN separate committees headed by Republicans have investigated Benghazi and determined that Hillary Clinton has no culpability for it. Moreover, the FBI, also headed by a Republican, investigated her handling of email and found no reason to charge her with a violation. But none of that matters. Truth doesn't matter. The haters FEEL she is guilty, so she must be.

Denialism. It is still rampant.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rampant denialism

These past few days, I have been laid low by a tiny, vicious bug, one that made me unable to raise my head off the pillow or drag myself to the keyboard to connect with the world. Consequently, when I finally was able to make that trek from my bed to the chair in front of my computer today, I found my Google Reader full to overflowing with posts from the blogs that I follow.

Skimming through those posts, there were a number of very interesting ones to which I need to give further thought, but one in particular caught my eye. It was an entry from Skeptical Science about a peer-reviewed scientific paper that explores the roots and the methods of scientific denialism. Here, I quote extensively from that post.

The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5 characteristics common to most forms of denialism:

1.Conspiracy theories
When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won't admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.

2.Fake experts
These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research 'junk science'.

3.Cherry picking
This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.

4.Impossible expectations of what research can deliver

The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.

5.Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a 'threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy'.

Why is it important to define the tactics of denialism? Good faith discussion requires consideration of the full body of scientific evidence. This is difficult when confronted with rhetorical techniques which are designed to distort and distract. Identifying and publicly exposing these tactics are the first step in redirecting discussion back to a focus on the science.

It is clear to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that these methods of denialism do not exist only in the world of science, although they may be most virulent and harmful there. They are certainly rampant in the world of politics and even religion in this country where it is impossible to have a rational, "good faith," discussion with a certain segment of the population which is enthralled by a web of conspiracy theories, fake experts, and cherry picking of information. For confirmation, just spend any hour of the day watching the Fox News Network.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahíyyih Nakhjavání: A review

The Woman Who Read Too Much: A NovelThe Woman Who Read Too Much: A Novel by Bahíyyih Nakhjavání

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"A woman should know her place."
- the grand Mullah, uncle/father-in-law of the poetess of Qazvin
This is a story about a woman who most definitely did not know her place, or rather, she rejected the "place" that her society assigned to her. The story is based on a real woman, Tahirih Qurratu'l-Ayn, the poetess of Qazvin, who lived and died in the mid 19th century in Persia, during the time of the Qajar dynasty.

The poetess was the daughter of a Mullah who took the unusual step of defying the strictures of his society and his religion by teaching his daughter to read and to think in philosophical terms. Literacy was something that was denied to Persian women, so this was a revolutionary act.

The poetess was beautiful and intelligent, possessed of a first rate mind, and she took to learning as a duckling takes to water. She learned not only to read but also to write, something that was completely unheard of in her day, and she ended up writing history as well as reading it.

Her learning led the poetess to refuse to accept traditional patriarchal values. Moreover, she was a pioneering woman who also taught other women to read. Although she married her cousin, the son of the grand Mullah, and produced four children with him, she continued to challenge religious orthodoxy. She dared to assume theological leadership herself and espoused independent thought. She rejected Sharia law. She scandalized men by removing her veil in front of them. That's when her troubles seriously started.

When her uncle/father-in-law was attacked while he was at prayer in the mosque and ultimately died of the wound to his throat, the poetess was blamed because she had prophesied about seeing him with his mouth filled with blood.

The religious authorities sought her arrest, but she and her maid escaped and traveled around the country, continuing to spread literacy, until she was at last captured and taken to the home of the Mayor of Tehran for imprisonment. Even there, she continued to find ways to reach out to other women, to influence them and to spread literacy. She remained a captive, along with her young daughter, for more than three years.

These were times of treachery and unspeakable violence in Persia. There seemed to be constant famine and much of the population was ever on the brink of starvation. The Shah's regime was cruelly tyrannical, marked by torture and executions without benefit of trial of those he considered his enemies. There was an attempt to assassinate him early in his rule and the regime's retaliation, masterminded by the Mother of the Shah, was indiscriminate, destroying the innocent along with the guilty.

The imprisoned poetess continued to give warnings and predictions of dire consequences for the regime's injustices. She seemed to predict the deaths of the Mayor, the Grand Vazir, and the Shah. The poetess, in fact, was not just a reader of literature, she was a reader of people and situations and circumstances. In the end, she foresaw her own death as well, but even in death, her words continued to echo and her poems continued to be passed on to others.

I became aware of this book through reading the glowing review of it that one of my blogger buddies, Judy of Keep the Wisdom, wrote. She loved the book, and, upon reading her review, I wanted to read the book and love it also. Sadly, I found that I could not like it as much as I was predisposed to.

The book is divided into four parts: the Book of the Mother (of the Shah); the Book of the Wife (of the Mayor); the Book of the Sister (of the Shah); and the Book of the Daughter (of the poetess). I very much enjoyed the last book, the Book of the Daughter, especially the poetry near the end, but I found the other three (and even this last one to some extent) to be written in very dense prose that was often murky to the point of being opaque for me. I found that I could not get a good sense of the characters.

Part of my problem, I think, was the author's choice to not give the characters names. She only identified them by their societal roles - Mother of Shah, Wife of Mayor, Poetess of Qazvin, etc. In the afterword, she explained that decision, but people are more than just their societal roles. They have identities and individualism beyond the boxes that we put them into and their names help to give them the dignity of those identities. Without names, the characters remained somewhat anonymous for me and it was more difficult to empathize with them.

It also seemed strange that there was no dialogue. There were occasional quotes from individuals, but the story was told in a third person passive voice, the outside observer, which made it seem a bit indirect and passionless for me.

Moreover, the writer did not label her story in time. I read for a considerable period before I finally figured out that the events occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria in England, which finally gave me a time reference. (If I had read the afterword first as my friend did, I would not have had that problem.)

But the writer jumped back and forth in time in the same chapter to describe events that occurred both late and early in the Shah's reign and with her meandering storyline, I found it very hard to keep up. The poetess of Qazvin's life was a fascinating story of an early feminist in an impossibly patriarchal society and I wanted to understand her. I just wish the story could have been told in a more straightforward fashion.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Still I Rise

I know I've featured this poem before, but it is a favorite of mine, so sue me!

This is for all the uppity folks who refuse to stay in the "place" that society assigns to them. May they continue to rise.

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

This week in birds - #215

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

A favorite of backyard birders, the Tufted Titmouse, pays a visit to my backyard fountain.


A cooing Tyrannosaurus Rex? A study of the vocal equipment of dinosaurs finds many parallels between them and birds. Thus, scientists postulate that many of their vocalizations may have been closer to the cooing of doves than the bloodcurdling roars that we tend to imagine.


The Republican Party's platform committee has adopted a plank of the platform that calls for selling off public lands and logging national forests. No more Yosemite or Yellowstone National Park and no more protected national forests. Turn it all over to the developers - the miners, loggers, and ranchers. The platform also specifically calls for keeping Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens and gray wolves off the Endangered Species list


The first of what is hoped to be an annual event, World Shorebirds Day, is coming up on September 6. It is an event that aims to call attention to the challenges faced by shorebirds and it will include a citizen science project, a count of the birds to be held on September 6 - 7.


The exploding white-tailed deer population in the eastern half of the country has been an ongoing concern in recent years. Now, a team of researchers has quantified the economic and social impact of bringing back large carnivores to control that population. The researchers used cougars as their case study and they found that, within 30 years, the cats could thin deer populations and reduce vehicle collisions with them by 22 percent, reducing human fatalities and injuries and vehicle damage.


Good news for birds in the Great Lakes region: A long-term study finds that most species in the area are holding steady or are increasing.


From the mind-boggling department: The new British Prime Minister has shut down the department that was charged with overseeing the government's efforts to control climate change. Those functions have supposedly been moved to another agency.


Last week, I reported on the deaths of the two captive-bred Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks in England. John Platt argues that those deaths may actually represent a victory in the conservation of the highly endangered species, because the necropsies are expected to provide valuable information which may help save future chicks. 


The good news is that a beautiful new species of orchid has been discovered in Colombia. The bad news is that it is already critically endangered. At least now perhaps it can be given protection that will save it.


On Wednesday, temperatures in the tiny town of Deadhorse, Alaska - located about 200 air miles southeast of Barrow, and just 10 miles from the Arctic Ocean - rocketed to a high of 85°F, an all-time high for the Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay area. Meanwhile, in the Houston area our temperatures struggle to get below 80 degrees at night. 


Thanks to atmospheric circulation and other factors, the mercury that we deposit into the environment tends to accumulate in the Arctic. That is bad news for shorebirds breeding in Alaska for mercury exposure can reduce birds' reproductive success and sometimes even be lethal. Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.


Is the Endangered Species Act actually helping to save birds from extinction, or is that a myth? A recent analysis suggests that, in fact, the impact of the ESA on birds has been positive and significant. Simply put, there appears to be a strong correlation between bird population trends and formal ESA listing. Given the (often limited) resources dedicated to ESA and the protections it provides, the analysis gives evidence of the success of the Act.


BP is still paying for the damage that it caused to the Gulf region with its massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. It will pay a further fine of $2.5 billion, bringing the total cost of the disaster to almost $62 billion. So far.


Ravens are very smart birds and it should be no surprise that they learn from other ravens. Living together, they gain new information from group members. Once a group member starts displaying a new behavior, it frequently spreads to the rest of the group.


Raven's cousin, the crow, is a very useful member of Nature's clean-up crew. Along with other scavengers, the omnivorous bird helps to keep the environment clean of potentially disease-causing elements.


An article in The Atlantic explores why turtles evolved their shells. Hint: It wasn't for protection.


After 300 years of surveys, almost 12,000 species of trees have been found in the Amazon region. Scientists believe there could be as many as 16,000.