Sunday, March 29, 2009

Springtime in Texas, II

This is the continuation of the previous post:

Springtime in Texas, I

Despite a "Jack Frost" (local term for a frost) the past two nights, we have the following springtime scenes. The antique show here is at Warrenton, part of the Antique Fortnight along Highway 237 and nearby roads that ends around April 4. The first image is a typical back road before the antiquing began.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Slow and Easy

I’ve been thinking about the slow food movement and wishing that we could extend its main precepts to other realms of human activity. It’s a cliché that older people find the world moving too fast for them. I am certainly aware of the many reasons for that sensation. Interestingly, however, it appears that the world is moving too fast for everyone, at present.

Some examples:

• The effect of the 24/7 news cycle on the news media;
• The effect of the internet on the well-being of newspapers;
• The effect of the 24/7, digitally enhanced, world financial market on almost every nation’s financial well-being;
• The way an accelerated speed of communication allowed hasty judgments to multiply in a geometric progression as investment bankers and hedge fund operators raced to keep up with the creation of new money-making instruments;
• The way the accelerated speed of communication allows for hysterical responses to each new piece of economic or political news;

The seduction of the “breaking news report” in general, and “news” in one’s specific area of expertise on a smaller scale, distracts both the writer and reader. We are hard-wired as a species, in fact, to prefer breaking news. It gave us an edge on survival. The saber-toothed tiger is eating people, village by village. Run!

What is being lost is the opportunity for reflection, not just by the purveyors of information, but by its consumers, and all of us suffer as a result. The writers of the news stumble over themselves trying to keep their breaking stories updated. There’s no time for fact-checking or digging a bit deeper. There’s no lag time between the arrival of information onto the writer’s desk and its launch into the public arena, where the public panics and inundates Congress with email.

One really good example involves the AIG bonus debacle. It ought not to have become public knowledge within minutes of the moment the Obama Administration heard about it. Instead of hysterical headlines, leading to panicky and angry action by Congress, there ought to have been judicious jaw-boning on the part of the Obama administration, resulting in the voluntary refusal of the controversial bonuses by their recipients.

Even a few years ago the scenario for this mess would have gone down like this: Treasury Secretary Geithner would have been informed by staff of a rumor that AIG was about to hand out huge bonuses to the bozos that created the risky instruments that caused the world-wide financial melt-down. He and the President and other economic advisers would have had a few hours before the news hit the first newspaper editions during which time they could explain to AIG that this would be a disaster of monumental proportions and must not happen (jaw-boning). And it would not have happened. Honestly, this has been the way a number of near-disasters have been averted in years gone by. It’s a technique of governance that we no longer have at our disposal in this 24-7 news hungry world.

And it’s not going to get better, I’m afraid. Newspapers, which are the originators of most in-depth news coverage, are down-sizing with dizzying speed, in size of the paper format, in complexity and amount of material covered, in accuracy of the speeded up coverage, and most importantly (since this affects the quality of coverage) in size of staff.

You have to look carefully to ascertain the degree to which the diversity of print media is vanishing across the country, since the individual papers affected often carry only vaguely worded stories. Daily papers decrease to 3 days a week; some go out of print altogether; no major daily has the same staff they had 6 months ago. Floods of talented, experienced journalists—people who had perspective on what they were covering—are out of work, or working in fields where their valuable understanding can no longer be used for the public’s benefit. Instead, we have young reporters learning the ropes on internet editions. We have many, many blogs, some by people with a broad and deep knowledge of their subject area, some just with bloated opinions. We have lost the middle-man, the filter, who could help us see the larger picture.

What we are experiencing as a result is the rise of democracy in place of the representative system of government our forefathers created. They gave us representatives for a reason: reflection; distance from the whim of the masses. Now the passions and fears of the masses have become the governors of us all and our representatives in Washington have become their prisoners instead of their leaders.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Falling Sky

Every year about this time, the sky falls into pools of blue all across Texas--this was the way a writer described our annual bluebonnet season. Some years, the blues are mixed with scarlet Indian Paintbrush and/or Pink Evening Primrose. This year, however, the blues pretty much have the fields to themselves, so far at least.

The highway department seeds bluebonnets, a form of lupine, so that highway verges throughout central Texas and parts of the Hill Country seem carpeted in blue flowers for several weeks. They seed other wildflowers, too, part of Lady Bird Johnson's wonderful bequest to all of us.

I love those flowers, of course, but what really pleases me are the old fields where the bluebonnets are nature's way to nourish poor, farmed out soil.

But don't think of that. Just enjoy the show. And yes, the blue is really that intense.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Black and White

We just returned from a retrospective at the Copper Shade Tree and Gallery at Round Top of photographs made by Alfred Black. (A benefit for the Round Top Library.) Most of them are black and white, made with a 70mm Hasselblad (sp)large format camera. This is the type of box camera where you get under a hood and compose the photograph on ground glass, upside down. The result in the hands of a competent photographer--and Black was much more than competent--is gorgeous. Blacks like silk, whites burning with intensity. I was searching the internet for examples of his work, but I couldn't find any. Black worked as a petroleum landman for much of his career, making photographs in the places where his work would take him. Seeing those beautiful, hand-developed pictures just makes me ache again for the skill, the patience, the equipment, necessary to render light so seductively.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Show Biz

Yesterday was my son's birthday, and I treated his mother (me) to a Broadway play while he was at work. Inexplicably to some people, my idea of a Broadway play does not normally involve music. (Although now that I think of it, I might have liked to see South Pacific, if it's still on.)

The play I saw, in matinee, did feature music, however, in the form of a piano playing snips from Beethoven's 33 Variations, also the name of the play. It was sold out, but the reason has less to do with Beethoven than with the star, Jane Fonda.

The story was about a mother and daughter, really. The mother is an academic working on her last paper, tracking down the mystery of why Beethoven composed his 33 variations. Sut she's dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). The daughter who has never quite measured up to her mother's high expectations opposes the European trip her mother wants to make for her research. And there you go. Tom Hanks's son plays the mother's nurse and the daughter's boyfriend. I thought it was quite good and very affecting.

I had cause later to think about the theatrical dynasties I'd been watching at work, namely, Fonda and Hanks, when I learned of the tragic death of Natasha Richardson, a member of the distinguished Redgrave family. When someone so lovely dies in such a freak accident, we all feel sadness, I think. This death was particularly upsetting because its cause seemed so trivial. Everyone falls when they're learning to ski, and quite often thereafter. To sustain a mortal injury and not know it or show any signs for an hour is a concept quite shattering to consider.

One thing I gleaned from the coverage of this sorrowful event is that guarding against this eventuality is the reason why medical personnel choose to keep people with head injuries "under observation" for a time after the event. I had never thought of that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Ach and begorrah! I'm in New York on Saint Paddy's Day. But I missed the parade. At least the official parade. I did get to see the folks winding their way home when it concluded. A gaggle of Korean-looking people on Park and 60th, in full Irish regalia, a gaggle of people in from the boroughs, decked out similarly, lots of walkers with bits of green here and there--and a beat cop in full uniform crossing Lexington carrying a long plastic trumpet.

Son Will's birthday is tomorrow so I bought him a wee present (is wee Scots, or is it Celtic enough for SPD?) I bought a sandwich at Starbucks (I was desperate and there wasn't any line); I bought water at Duane and Reade (if I got the name right; I bought a pair of shoes with wee heels so I could wear the warmish pants I brought which are too long for flats. (I had left the proper shoes back in Houston.)

Had dinner tonight at Union Street Cafe, which is a great restaurant I'd never been to before, and it lived up to the kudos.

And so to beddy-bye.

What I missed in Winedale was the slate mantel falling off the wall in the living room during some repairs further up the wall. Fortunately no one was hurt. Poor Hale is having to deal with getting this repaired, and I bless him.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Green City Pause

I'm back in Houston for a couple of days and we have had rain (here and back at Winedale, thank heaven), together with a formidable cold snap. The sky from my gray apartment is fluffy shades of gray, and every other living thing that's visible shines brilliant green. I have all the shades up as dusk gathers. (The photo was taken yesterday not long after dawn. Too dark, now.)

This visit has re-inforced a lesson I've learned before but always forget immediately. And that's the importance of pacing. My tendency is to cram my days in Houston with activities. At the same time, on a given week, I press to minimize the days away from the country place and LH. Result: overload. I had scheduled events yesterday practically to the minute, not concluding until I drove into the garage at 9:30PM, exhausted. More for today. There were a number of results, none salutary.

The best of them, however, is my decision to wait until tomorrow to return to the country. Meanwhile, to rest. I wonder whether many of us in our wired, electronically connected world have figured out the right time to stop. Temporarily. Is there a reminder string we can mentally tie around our schedules to sound an alarm before we plunge into overload? Unfortunately, I always receive the reminder one day too late, as I recover.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Up Early

It's the neither fish nor fowl season, if you ask me. The countryside here in central Texas looks half asleep, much of it still in the wintry mode of leafless trees, stark against the sky; some of it flowering into spring. Our lop-sided pear tree is one of the latter, as is the red-bud up by the gate, its fog of magenta bloom a welcome respite among the desert-y expanse of former pasture. The pasture remains a casualty of the drought, which continues. We are in the worst-hit part, as rain clouds drift upward often from the south, only to part as they near us to rain somewhere else.

Daylight savings time began again today. So I awoke at 3:15 AM instead of 2:15 AM with a recurrence of my headache. I think the culprit is switching from coffee to tea, although both have caffeine. I had been drinking about four shots a day of espresso, so maybe 2 large cups of black tea can't compete. I succumbed at 4AM to a single shot of espresso with milk and am feeling much better, although I should be asleep. I'm saying that just to show my inner self that I know what it needs, even if I can't supply it.

When I'm up in the middle of the night I always wake up one of the computers, too, and read in an undisciplined fashion, like a car careering across an empty parking lot. (It's a heady feeling to ignore all the lines telling you where to go.)

This morning I read Frank Rich who was talking about Thorton Wilder's Our Town, a play we did in summer camp that is enjoying a revival on Broadway now. My twelve year old self, playing a bit part, found it an upsetting play, with its great compaction of the joys and tragedies of life, precisely at a time my life when was starting out. An odd choice for girls 8-16 I thought then, but it has become a high school staple.

Then I went back to looking at maps of France. For some absurd reason that makes me happy. I love the place names, which sound familiar to me either from multiple visits over the years or from innumerable map porings like the one a few moments ago. I saw the website for the 4 Seasons Resort in the Var, east of Marseille(s) and north of the Riviera. Nothing about it but the view says "this is France." There is another place and time, I guess, called Four Seasons where you can feel as though you've never left the States, although the view around you changes like slides on a surrounding screen. Not why I go to France, at least. (More about that another time.)

Bon jour, mes amis.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Lovely Blue World

Last night for the first time I resisted the nightly news. What a relief! Then this morning I read Thomas Friedman and now I'm going to ignore the unhappy weight of that by focusing on the box I wrote about several posts ago.

The bluebirds are back, both of them this time--just as PJ predicted!

All day yesterday, the female evaluated, as the male went in and out. She's got the same russet breast and bright blue tail, but her back and wings are grayish.

Finally, she decided to check it out, too. She'd no more than got her shoulders partway in than a large male Cardinal, red as flame, landed on the roof of the box inches away from her head. Instantly she flew at him and he swooped into the nearest tree, where he stayed. (The male Cardinals are newly aggressive this week, in preparation for mating season, I believe. All the birds were exceptionally active yesterday.)

And this morning the blue duo are at work, flying back and forth. It remains to be seen whether they will stick and build their nest, but if they do it will be wonderful to watch from my attic workspace. In the hopes of decreasing bird and squirrel traffic, Hale thinks he should stop putting seed on the adjacent fence posts, where we have been putting it for many years. But I'm wondering whether the bluebirds might actually like the activity, somehow. It was active when the male selected it, after all.

Anyway, I took all this as a good sign, and in late afternoon I received an all clear on the first of my medical tests. Whew! One to go...