To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday with Wharton. This bit is from The Age of Innocence.

The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered, hospitable and witty. He had come to America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson Mingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily made himself an important position in the world of affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had the most distinguished house in New York. No one knew exactly how the miracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive, the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growing younger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr. Beaufort's heavy brown-stone palace, and drew all the world there without lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing people said it was Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef new dishes, told the gardeners what hot-house flowers to grow for the dinner-table and the drawing-rooms, selected the guests, brewed the after-dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to her friends. If he did, these domestic activities were privately performed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a careless and hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing-room with the detachment of an invited guest, and saying: "My wife's gloxinias are a marvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them out from Kew."

...I previously posted a blurb from this book, about the Beauforts, back when the Madoff thing was happening. Here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This is the Weekend to Get Outside
Published: Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 8:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 8:25 a.m.

If you've been waiting for the weekend to get outside, today is the day.

There's only a 10 percent chance of showers and the temperatures may even hit the low 70s. Not what the average for this time of year is - 72 to 74 - but better than the 30s Polk County had earlier this week.

Sunday is good, too, according to Bay News 9 forecasters but all good things come to an end.

There's a 60 percent chance of rain on Monday and another cold front headed this way.

The birds read the newspaper Saturday.

This bird has the most delicate feathery veil that extends past the more sturdy tail feathers. As with all of these, you can click to enlarge.

The pelicans get bumps on their beaks during breeding season, apparently.

Sometimes we just like to stand around on one leg.

In the background, you can see the black swan nesting. In the foreground, you can see the mate shooing us away.

It's hard to see here (I didn't want to get closer and disturb them) but two of these storks are sitting on the ground with their knees bent and their feet stuck straight out in front. I have not seen this before.

Turtles were loving the sun.

This really doesn't look like an urban lake, does it? But it's right downtown.

Gratuitous swan pic, with cygnet in the background.

Another gratuitous swan pic

Then today (well, yesterday now) we went to Clearwater. It was a bit cooler than Saturday, but lots of people at the beach.

Here's a pirate ship.

You can't see here how pretty the colors of the sea and the sky were.

And we saw dolphins, for the first time. I first saw something big come out of the water and go back down, and told R and pointed. We watched until it happened again - there were two or three of them surfacing together. Subsequently we saw them a few times, mostly in the wake of a boat. It seems they like to follow boats around; the wake feels good to them or something. If you maximize this video and look real hard, at about 26 or 27 seconds you can see one.

Pretty good weekend. Now back to earth.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday night music.

Excessively cool.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tribalism. It's what happens when people turn their brains off. That's my opinion, anyway.

I find that I baffle people from time to time when I don't fit myself into a pigeonhole. Several months ago somebody turned up on the Volokh Conspiracy and left a comment that included the word "Oduma". I remarked that when I ran across that word I put everything else that person said on automatic scroll-by, and he subsequently referred to me as a liberal. Whereupon one of the regulars with whom I'd butted heads a few times said, "if Laura is a liberal, then, geez, I must be somewhere to the left of a hippie in a Che t-shirt playing hacky sack at a 'save the whales' rally."

But I can't find a pigeonhole I'm comfortable with. I'd be a libertarian, except that the way that plays out, it seems that the strong and powerful people are able to bully everybody else, and they reject thought-experiments in which government intervention is ever needed to keep other people from being run right over. Privilege is one thing, I guess, and total disregard for the fact that one is privileged in ways that others aren't is something else again. It's either a lack of respect for people not like them, or a lack of imagination -> lack of empathy, or both.

OTOH, I don't trust the government to do any more micro-managing than absolutely necessary. I think we need regulating bodies like OSHA and FDA and EPA. We don't need paternalistic meddling that leads to learned helplessness. One problem I see with the point of view I'll call left-wing, for lack of a better word, is that as long as one's motives are pure, the outcome must be good. It's a heart-over-head approach and it can lead to tragedy. See, for instance, this awful story; or closer to home, the war on poverty's no-man-in-the-home rule that probably contributed substantially to the breakdown of the family. There is most definitely something to be said for "first do no harm".

Anyway, one of the problems with tribalism is that it causes people to excuse things on their own side that they'd never tolerate in the other. And that interferes with those people being held accountable. It also causes people to be overly optimistic about politicians on their side. I read about people expressing frustration about President Obama not ending DADT, and I understand their distress. But there are those who are disappointed that he hasn't done anything about same-sex marriage, totally ignoring the fact that he specifically said he favored a one-man-one-woman definition of marriage; or stating that they assumed, when he said that, he was only placating the troglodytes. It's the same kind of confirmation bias that has led the climate "scientists" into the sloppy habits and wrong conclusions that are now coming to light.

Another problem with tribalism is that people are hypercritical of those they perceive as being on the other side. I think it's counterproductive to be so polarized that we reject allies on issue A b/c we differ with those same people on issues P and Q. It doesn't promote the kind of unity I think most of us would like to have - where we have diversity of thought and ideology (so that we don't go over a cliff on left or right) but we also have common goals and can work toward them together, generally wish each other well, and have an atmosphere of civility and respect.

I wrote here about different kinds of political moderation, and here about a deliberate attempt I made to set aside my bias when I read the text of one of President Obama's speeches. I think it's also important to be aware of the bias of people who report that public figure X said this or that. To look for transcripts of speeches instead of relying on second-hand reports, summaries, or characterizations, especially when the speaker is a person we are predisposed to disapprove of. I actually avoid reading some news sites that I think are biased the way I already think because I don't want to be confirmed in my own biases.

And bias shouldn't be another word for conviction. I've written before, a few times, about how I came to be pro-life. That is a conviction I came to after thinking about the issue of abortion, and that I've confirmed for myself by revisiting my thought processes a few times over the years and finding them still valid. There are pro-lifers among the Democrats, of course, and pro-choicers among the Republicans, and I assume that these are people who also thought through the issue and came to their own conclusion. But I fear that there are people who pick their opinions like the old-fashioned voting booths set up for illiterate people, where you could just select the donkey or the elephant at the top of the list of candidates, and go on. Brain turned off.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Well, a week has passed since I last posted, and once again I have stuff going on that I don't want to blog about - work, mostly. Again. It's probably a good thing that I've started doing Wharton Wednesdays b/c otherwise this poor blog might get a bit neglected.

Well, I did call my dad this evening to wish him a happy birthday - his 78th, which is quite respectable.

Here is a bit from The Glimpses of the Moon. Wharton had a thing about the children of the rich being physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually neglected; and perhaps overly aware of material things.

When she woke the next morning the sun was pouring in between her curtains of old brocade, and its refraction from the ripples of the Canal was drawing a network of golden scales across the vaulted ceiling. The maid had just placed a tray on a slim marquetry table near the bed, and over the edge of the tray Susy discovered the small serious face of Clarissa Vanderlyn. At the sight of the little girl all her dormant qualms awoke.

Clarissa was just eight, and small for her age: her little round chin was barely on a level with the tea-service, and her clear brown eyes gazed at Susy between the ribs of the toast- rack and the single tea-rose in an old Murano glass. Susy had not seen her for two years, and she seemed, in the interval, to have passed from a thoughtful infancy to complete ripeness of feminine experience. She was looking with approval at her mother's guest.

"I'm so glad you've come," she said in a small sweet voice. "I like you so very much. I know I'm not to be often with you; but at least you'll have an eye on me, won't you?"

"An eye on you! I shall never want to have it off you, if you say such nice things to me!" Susy laughed, leaning from her pillows to draw the little girl up to her side.

Clarissa smiled and settled herself down comfortably on the silken bedspread. "Oh, I know I'm not to be always about, because you're just married; but could you see to it that I have my meals regularly?"

"Why, you poor darling! Don't you always?"

"Not when mother's away on these cures. The servants don't always obey me: you see I'm so little for my age. In a few years, of course, they'll have to--even if I don't grow much," she added judiciously. She put out her hand and touched the string of pearls about Susy's throat. "They're small, but they're very good. I suppose you don't take the others when you travel?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Volokh Conspiracy has a feature called Saturdays with Stendhal.

I've not read any Stendhal.

But I thought I might take a leaf from their book, and have Wednesdays with Wharton.

Here's a bit from The Custom of the Country.

Mrs. Spragg, once reconciled--or at least resigned--to the mysterious necessity of having to "entertain" a friend of Undine's, had yielded to the first touch on the weak springs of her garrulity. She had not seen Mrs. Heeny for two days, and this friendly young man with the gentle manner was almost as easy to talk to as the masseuse. And then she could tell him things that Mrs. Heeny already knew, and Mrs. Spragg liked to repeat her stories. To do so gave her almost her sole sense of permanence among the shifting scenes of life. So that, after she had lengthily deplored the untoward accident of Undine's absence, and her visitor, with a smile, and echoes of divers et ondoyant in his brain, had repeated her daughter's name after her, saying: "It's a wonderful find--how could you tell it would be such a fit?"--it came to her quite easily to answer: "Why, we called her after a hair-waver father put on the market the week she was born--" and then to explain, as he remained struck and silent: "It's from undoolay, you know, the French for crimping; father always thought the name made it take...."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I took some pictures of F's cats when they were with us last week.

Turtle had arranged herself on a cushion that happened to be on a chair I happened to want to sit on, so I moved both cushion and cat to the floor.

Perhaps Turtle's coloring could be a bit more felicitously arranged.

Tomato, on the other hand, is gorgeous. I couldn't really get a pic of her b/c she would not be deterred from trying to catch the cord dangling from the camera.

For a while there, Turtle was a very cuddly kitty but Tomato would bite you if you looked at her. F paraphrased Elizabeth Bennett to say that one cat had all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it. But Tomato has mellowed upon maturity.

F worked part of the day Monday, all day Tuesday, and missed today. Her boss wants to put her on desk work only for a while. I wish there was some way to know how long it will take her to get her strength back. One of her coworkers told her that when he had mono his doctor told him to double up on the vitamins. I told her that certainly would not hurt. (She takes Flintstones with iron.)