" /> Daily Blague: November 2004 Archives

Main | December 2004 »

November 30, 2004

Home Safe

Two minutes until December? I'm used to manipulating the dates of posts. In any case, we're home, safe and sound, rested and relaxed, and, boy, is life sweet.

November 29, 2004


A trip to Puerto Rico has never been on my wish-list. There is nothing about the Caribbean that appeals to me, and quite a lot that  - well, no need to go into all of that. Nevertheless I am here, not quite in 'the Caribbean,' perhaps, but a few miles west of San Juan, very much on the Atlantic, which is at least my ocean. And I am KathleenSheling.JPGhere gladly, because Kathleen, one of whose more monumental deals has finally, finally closed, leaving her precariously exhausted, is getting such a good rest. It has been almost perfect; 'almost,' because  I'd always been such a Crabby Appleton about holidays in the sun that she couldn't believe me when I volunteered to fly down here with her on the impromptu. Even though I actually did fly down here with her, she was so certain that I'd back out that she never believed in the trip - and now she can't quite believe that she's here. But whether or not the fact of the vacation waits to hit her on the homebound plane, she'll have had the rest.

And I'll have had a bit of a rest, too. Without the free Ethernet connection that's available at Park Hyatt Hotels (think Lost In Translation - although I've never stayed at that one), Internet access is slow and very expensive, and in any case, for the first couple of days, I had no desire to connect. But two of the books that I brought along have got the old percolator going. First, Alice Munro's new collection of stories, Runaway. I owe this pleasure to Jonathan Franzen's recent rave review - a rave for Ms Munro's oeuvre - in the NYTBR. The second is an extended essay that I don't think I'd have ever heard about if I didn't persist as a Reader's Subscription member. Mark Edmundson's Why Read? bursts with so much intelligent judgment that I can hardly get through a page without taking notes. Among other astonishing and enlightened proposals, Mr Edmundson suggests that, instead of deconstructing Dickens, say, into the terms of Foucauldian analysis, we ought to ViewPatio.JPGbe deconstructing Foucault himself, to what he has to tell us about how we should live. I make it sound merely clever, perhaps, but it's not meant saracastically. Indeed, sarcasm is quite blessedly absent from Why Read?

When I wrote that our room is not twenty yards from the ocean, I meant it. Most of the beachfront here is protected by a breakwater, but outside our small building the shore itself is littered with what I gather are fossilized dunes. Swimming is impracticable - and forbidden. Wading is probably forbidden, too, but I've been doing quite a lot of that anyway, not just because it's fun to be in the water but because it's fun to walk all over what appears to be a reef. What I don't know about reefs! But I'm fairly sure that the level, just-submarine plateau that runs near but not up to the low-tide waterline is not a block of eroding rock. It feels spongy to walk on, perhaps because it's covered with marine life. And I mean covered. I've seen submerged rock before, and it hasn't looked like this. (But then I've never been to the tropics; in any case, something to research at non-Hyatt rates!) Whatever the formation is, I did not come equipped with the appropriate footwear for walking on it, but, having found a pair of Speedo shoves in one of the shops, I did not recoil when I peered closely into one of the many tennis-ball-<Urchin.JPGsized indentations and saw the spines, then the red body, of an urchin. Nor when, having seen the one, I suddenly saw dozens.

Kathleen, who found a delicate piece of fan coral - strangely blackened - was frustrated by discovering that all the prettier shells on the beach were already taken by hermit crabs. Each of them could have fit on a quarter, but they were gallant troupers for all that, marching in their slightly lopsided way in certain pursuit.

Time to order lunch. Kathleen is so napping so blissfully that she'll be grateful to stay put - she's assured me of that.
Why go to one of the terrace restaurants, anyway? Hermit crabs and sea urchins are great to come across in their place, but the blackbirds that penetrate the netting at the restaurants are something less than charming. I have good reason to inspect my chair carefully before sitting down in it.

November 28, 2004

Sous les palmiers


I am writing in a room with a large sliding glass door that opens onto a patio not twenty yards from the Atlantic Ocean. During the day, the waves rise and fall in noisy but amiable disarray, far too modestly to support surfing. At night, nothing changes, but because the pounding is invisible, it sounds much louder, and in the room, which amplifies the racket, the constant booming and ripping make one feel quite at sea. What's odd is that, day or night, it is all immensely restful. I've often heard that sea water is great for healing little cuts and bruises. The sound of the sea is no less tonic.

Observing the sea from the south, with the sun neither in one's eyes nor at one's back, reminds me of cruising across the Pacific - something I have never done. But then I have never looked out on the sea from the south before, either. Why it should differ from looking out form the north (Long Island, Nantucket), I have no idea. Perhaps it's the palm trees.

On the walk from one's room to the main building at this once very exclusive resort, one passes little markers, planted in the small lawns in front of the beach houses. FrenchPlaque.JPG Each one attests to the presence of a G7 head of state, accompanied by an important minister, in 1976. Representing the United States, Gerald Ford had Henry Kissinger in tow. I noticed Japan's first, then Italy's - and then I began searching out the rest. Canada's was so close to the main building (and the pleasant terrace where breakfast and lunch are served - one's mind is on food, not shrubbery) that I began to fear that the G7 had begun as the G6. When I can once again access the Web without paying Hyatt surcharges, I will look into the matter: was the first of these big deals held here? That would have suited the developers enormously.

Kathleen, who's getting a real rest (and reading The Grapes of Wrath, of all things), tells me that I'm much easier to travel with than I used to be. Time was when the idea of my accompanying her on a rest break would have been oxymoronic. But things do keep breaking down. Yesterday, it was the fixture in the toilet closet. Not the light bulb, but the fixture. At the moment, two neat gentlemen are here to explore why it is that the sliding screen panels no longer stop where they should, but glide all the way back and forth like Japanese screens. No, they are gone; nothing can be done tonight. This means that we either close and lock the glass doors, and sleep in silence, or take amateur James-Bond type measures that I won't describe until after we've awaked with our throats intact.

It has begun to rain. 

November 26, 2004

Steve Winwood and my Fear of Flying


I ought to be in bed, but I can't sleep. If the Marines video (see above or below, whichever) had been set to different music (as they say in the world of the serious), I'd have been able to go to bed. But I am a Steve Winwood junkie. Talking Back to the Night will never surpass Arc of a Diver for me; "Spanish Dancer" will always be one of the perfect songs. But the video opened the window a bit. Maybe it's just that I dislike the name "Valerie" - which is a stupid thing to say on a blog, no? Maybe I really like the song. Maybe I'll be able to stop listening after fifteen replays. 

I actually had to do a Google to make sure that 'call on me' came from "Valerie." What a dinde.

But I'm not in bed because I'm terrified of tomorrow. I'm getting on a plane tomorrow, and if I survive that flight I'll have to survive the one that brings me home. This is how I see what ordinary people would regard as a fabulous weekend out of town. There is nothing rational about my anxiety. I'm not really afraid that the plane will have been improperly maintained, or that sheer statistics will dictate a crash. That's ordinary. That's the way I feel about flying as a rule. My fear of the two flights ahead of me is very different. I'm doomed because I've launched this site, and I love it - it's my baby. I can't possibly be allowed to come back to this desk, this life, this world of meaning. Can I?

It's up to American.

Marines Belly Dance


This is really all the holidays needed. "They want the ale that won for Yale, rah, rah, rah." Aerobics for Marines! Some of whom don't really need the exercise, as you can tell from the rippling washboards at the end. (All right, they're only Navy.) Are we supposed to believe that this is 'real'? (Yes, it really happened, but is it really Annapolis?) Well, if you're old enough, you remember what Baltimore used to be like. Still. I do like the girl. She is really out on a limb, but she looks like somebody's sweetheart-on-a-dare. As for the guys...  How Andy Towle got the still shot, I can't figure out; this isn't the image I would have chosen. I'd have gone with the hero in the white T-shirt, looking goofy and glorious. Or I'd have gone with the girl. You've got to love her. Although I don't think Kathleen will. 

Oh, tell 'em to go to Harvard.

Working Def's

26 November 2003: Before the public conversation about religion in America boils over, I'd like to suggest some clarifications. It has been clear to me, since the election, that some important words are being bandied about without much sense of precision. I suggest that the following clarifications articulate the wellsprings of American political virtue.

Faith. Everything that we do is prompted by faith of some kind. We trust the bank where we cash our paychecks. Our faith in an airliner may not be total, but it's strong enough to get us on board. We believe in concepts, such as truth and justice, that we have neither seen nor felt. Perhaps the majority of human beings alive at this moment believe in a reality that lies beyond mortal life, whether it is a blissful paradise, a fiery hell, or something more neutral. I myself have faith in the meaning of the universe, but I am quite sure that I will never know anything about it, and so many people would say that I have no faith at all. I certainly do not profess a faith.

Religion. The root of this word is the same as that of ligament; religions tie people together. There is no such thing as a private or personal religion - all religions are public. As a matter of convention, it is silly to speak of a religion whose focus is neither a creator of the universe nor the nature of an afterlife. Religion is the bond uniting people with the same focus of this kind; religion articulates the bond by prescribing the creeds and rules of conduct that constitute orthodoxy. It is possible to be a person of faith who subscribes to no religion, and it is also possible to be a religious person without faith. The barrier that conceals an individual's faith from public view can be breached only by the faith of another, as when someone claims to know by divine guidance (an object of faith) that someone else's religious observances are insincere. It is correct to speak of the combination of religious acts and religious witness as a profession of faith.

Politics. Political activity is a cooperation of different groups that is founded upon the understanding - I avoid the word 'belief' here - that the virtue of individuals and the groups that they constitute is not determined by religious profession. Theocratic and ideological regimes, which reject the possibility that goodness can coexist with heterodoxy, are by definition incapable of supporting overt political activity. It is possible and permissible for people engaging in politics to believe that those with other religious views are certain to be judged evil by God and damned to eternal torment. What is neither possible nor permissible is for people to refuse to engage in political activity with those whose religious differences may damn them. Such refusal signals the end of politics and the beginning of tyranny.

Democracy. Modern democracy is political self-government that refuses to privilege any constituent individuals or groups. Laws and procedures apply in the same way and with the same force to all, and are not tempered to the alleged superiority - even that of numbers - of anyone. The influence of privilege signals the end of democracy and the beginning of oligarchy.

November 25, 2004

Quote of the Day?

From Fafblog:

"What are you thankful for, Giblets?" says me.
"Giblets is thankful for this food," says Giblets, "which is a testament to the dominance of our hunter-warrior spirits over the contents of our local supermarket."

The Usual Suspects

SPDR Woman of Wall Street goes GLD         EThanksRJK.JPG

Happy Thanksgiving, mes vieux.

As you can see from these pictures, Kathleen is the better photographer. If I'd moved the glass in front of her, she wouldn't seem to be sitting in purdah. But she rolled her eyes when I suggested sitting next to her on the banquette and getting a waiter to snap the shot. So here we are.

A few years ago, cleaning up after one of our Thanksgiving feasts, Kathleen and I had a little heart-to-heart. We decided that there was nothing wrong with our recipes or our cooking techniques. We simply didn't like turkey. We didn't like it whether we made it ourselves or were eating somebody else's. Nor did we really care for anything else on the Thanksgiving menu, except for cranberries, which would be a summer dish in our house if we had room for a deep freeze and could stock the berries until temperatures climbed. After considerable meditation, Kathleen hustled us out of New York City last Thanksgiving, on an ostensible 'vacation' to Paris whose only purpose was to spare us the turkey and stuffing. This year, I convinced her that extreme measures weren't really necessary. In the event nobody pressed an invitation upon us, and all our nearest and dearest had other plans. Not that I waited. I booked a table for two at the Café Pierre in September - having called in June to find out when they'd be taking reservations for 25 November.

Because we were brought up on old-fashioned lines, Kathleen and I walk into an old-fashioned restaurant (even one as spruce as the Café Pierre, which, as I noted the other day, has been acquired by the Four Seasons chain) with feelings of comfort and relaxation. We don't feel that we have to behave in an unusual way or remember forgotten protocols. You could say that we get to be ourselves for a few hours, but that might make us out to be princely refugees from some ancien régime, which we're certainly not. I seem to recall an editorial in today's Times about suppressing desire on this day of thanks - a Puritan idea, thank you very much, that I couldn't disavow more heartily.

What did we have? There were few choices on the prix fixe menu, but we had no trouble finding good things to eat. An endive salad with blue cheese, a terrine of foie gras, truffled risotto and black sea bass on chanterelles, chocolate mousse with caramelized banana and pumpkin pie - it was all quite lovely, and not what we get at home. And to drink, a '99 Grgch Hills cabernet.

"Do you think that anybody else can tell that we're married," Kathleen asked after dessert. I omit the question mark because she wasn't really asking.

November 24, 2004

HAL 9000


Although I haven't practised law in nearly twenty years, I still rely on my legal training to keep me out of trouble. For six months or so, I've been wondering why nobody ever developed a screen saver to simulate the HAL 9000. HAL, as you must know, was the computer that really ran the USS Discovery in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was about to write words to this effect for posting here when a dim recollection of what lawyers call 'Shepherdizing' prevented my making a fool of myself. Lawyers 'Shepherdize' a case by consulting what in blogging terms would be called the comments posted to a given entry, to see what later rulings had to say about it; this is very important, because from time to time a higher court posts a comment that reads 'Overruled.' Before expatiating on the pressing need for a HAL 9000 screen saver, I turned to Google.

So you don't have to. Get your own HAL 9000 screen saver today.

In 1968, we thought that the screens were cool, even though we didn't know what they meant. Now that we have computers, they're still cool, perhaps even cooler, but we know that they're meaningless. There is no point in feeding information to a screen unless someone is expected to act on it; a genuine computer reports situations requiring response as they arrive. Still, as anybody who's worried about 'hanging' knows, it's nice to know that something is really going on inside the CPU, that it's not stuck or running in loops. That's why completion bars are so comforting (although Microsoft has, of course, screwed things up by littering their installation programs with a profusion of completion bars that renders them pointless).

There is still something to be said about a computer's thinking out loud, which is pretty much what HAL did until it got deadly. Windows used to put on a full-screen show whenever the defragmentation utility was doing its thing, and that could be fun to watch. There was nothing for you to do, but the blinking colored squares - it was squares, wasn't it - had a sort of low-grade fascination. More recently, I've found that I can stare at Cute FTP's screen whenever I'm uploading a clutch of files from my computer to the hosting server - as I had to do two weeks ago when I moved to Hosting Matters. That's what got me thinking about HAL again.

Now the only problem is that I can't sit still long enough for the thing to kick in.

November 23, 2004

Family Size

Good old Fiat Lux (at Cable/Card). Look what she found in the cupboard!

Lovely Lydia Smith

Amazon has published a top-fifty list for the year, and, scanning it, I found that I had read eight of them and owned two more. That seems about right. Anything greater than 20% would make me a slave to buzz. Looking a little harder, though, I see that two of the books that I've "read" are pictorial - Getmapping's New York City atlas, and the New Yorker cartoon omnibus. This hasn't been a good year, chez moi, for polishing off books.

I haven't said anything about the great Gilbert Stuart show at the Metropolitan Museum, although I've been to it twice. It's great in three different ways. First, by lining up various portraits of Washington that you might be forgiven for having thought of as copies of a single master, the exhibition breaks the iconic impermeability of these images and makes it possible to see them critically - to judge, for example, the different shades of the first President's character that each embodies. (I may be chauvinist, but there's no doubt in my mind that the Met owns the best of the right-facing three-quarter shots.)  Second, the abundance of first-class pictures puts Stuart squarely in league with Sir Joshua Reynolds; he is certainly no American provincial. Perhaps the most awesome is Stuart's 1823-4 portrait of John Adams. Finally, there is the picture of Bostonian Lydia Smith, who was not quite 25 when Stuart painted her in 1808-10. Lydia isn't the most beautiful girl ever to have her portrait painted, but the bright willing hopefulness of her slightly averted gaze has captured my heart, and the painting itself is terrifically fine. This picture, currently in a private collection, is not on-line, so you'll have to get to know Lydia in person, between now and the middle of January. She is a very good reason to visit New York.

The funniest thing at the show - also a Met "treasure" - is the portrait of Matilda de Jaudenes, a Philadelphia girl who got snapped up by a money-grubbing and very minor Spanish grandee. She is presented by the museum as an unwilling sitter, but I have always taken her to be quite pleased with her gaudy, goofy outfit. The doodad atop her head may make her the United States's first fashion victim.

Colorful Serendipity

Just a few weeks ago, I mentioned Chris Cobb's installation at San Francisco's Adobe Bookshop. Andy Towle has found some photos at Flickr.

Speaking of books, I've just put down an interesting novel based on Maria Callas, Ethan Mordden's The Venice Adriana.

November 22, 2004

Looney Blue

Red State, Blue State? I think I've hit on the perfect litmus test for determining which kind of state you belong in. Do you prefer Donald Duck to Daffy Duck? Pluto to Sylvester? Fantasia to "Hollywood Steps Out"? Then you're - not Blue. If you think you have no preference, it's been too long since you've watched our pop culture's seminal cartoons. I think you'll find that they're hugely different. Disney's cartoons are, well, just what you'd expect: sweet. They're 'family fare.' Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes, in stark contrast, are sarcastic, risqué, and  culturally sophisticated. Mel Blanc's vocal characterizations and Carl W. Stalling's music are as sharp and rude as Hell's Kitchen used to be - well, they've got the same tang. Kathleen noticed something else: while the Disney characters are normally gendered (Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse), the creatures at Looney Tunes fall into a rather different pair of bins: male and dim or doomed (Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Wile E Coyote) or 'other,' neither masculine nor feminine. Bugs Bunny acts like a wise guy most of the time, but he's awfully prone to cross-dressing. Daffy Duck - well, now that we're more frank about these things, we can see that Daffy Duck is a drama queen.

St Cecilia's Day

This will be very brief. I can hardly keep my eyes open. It has been a long day, hosting-wise.

When did the Pierre become a Four Seasons Hotel? I realize that that nobody really checks in and out; the billionaires have bought all the suites. But  still. That's where we'll be this Thanksgiving. That the hotel was elitist was okay. But part of a chain?

If you don't have a recording of today's Handel (yes, that  Handel), get one now. This is her day.

And let me say it once again. I'm glad to be hosted at Hosting Matters. En-slightly-fin.