Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Carry on, Munna Bhai!

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the facts and law as determined, it seems sad for the world to be deprived of the talents of Sanjay Dutt for six years. We saw the second Munna Bhai at the movies right here in Austin and recently found the first one at the library. We read recently that Indians protesting a sudden proposed change in USA visa regulations followed the Gandhian example found in the second Munna Bhai movie and brought bouquets of flowers to US embassies and immigration offices.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Springtime survivors

There are still some delphiniums blooming; they're few, but it's astonishing to see any. With all the rain that we've seen, the hyacinth beans are keeping one step ahead of the grasshoppers. Lettuce has reseeded itself and is flourishing. We're enjoying a morning glory or two most mornings. Milkweed in pots never quits, and I'm seeing butterfly eggs of some short on them and on many other plants. Fennel is rebounding. Tomato plants, chile plants, and nasturtiums are blooming again. What we've enjoyed most is the cutback on lawn din. Back when people did their own mowing, it occurred much less frequently, and edging was less frequent still, so even use of power mowers and blowers was on a much smaller scale than torments us today. Let us be thankful for the rains.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Modernity versus utility

A Hummer is pitted against a Model T. Guess which wins on all the points that matter. Even today, a 1925 Model T Ford in working order is reported to cost about $7,500. The article's called "Muscle Car" and appears in the August 13 issue of Forbes (sign-in is required, but it's free). The article reports that, of approximately 16 Model T vehicles produced between 1908 and 1927, 250,000 are estimated to survice and at least 60,000 are in drivable condition.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fascinating factoid of the day

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, hears more patent cases than any other venue in the nation. I learned this when I picked up the December 2006 issue of the Texas Bar Journal (69 Tex. B.J. 2006 [1045], byline Michael J. Smith). This issue has the fabulously homely 2006 (bur somehow endearing) Capitol holiday ornament on the cover, which is a reminder that it's been a long time since we've visited the gift shop in the old Land Office Building.

Friday, July 27, 2007

My kind of platitude

"Applaud effort, but reward performance." Others know it as "applaud effort, but reward competence."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nothing is chopped

It's all "minced" these days. When did that happen? File this under "words, fancy-pants." Is it more dainty to mince than it is to chop? And, if so, is that supposed to be a plus? What's with this? Just wondering.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

But these are essential

In a list of fifteen kitchen items that are claimed to be seldom used and therefore candidates for disposal are these: pizza wheel, grapefruit spoons, and waffle iron. I couldn't do without any of these. The pizza wheel, apart from being a quick way to make wedges in a pizza, is great for dividing cookie and other dough. Grapefruit just doesn't taste the same and isn't as pleasant to eat when any utensil other than a pointed grapefruit spoon is employed. And we make waffles frequently in order to use up milk that's just a bit gone by. For some reason, waffles are a much greater treat than pancakes are. Our waffle iron is not an electric one. It just sits atop the stove burner. It's decades old and was much cheaper than what's in the link, although it's the same except for having a small thermometer next to the handle. The other items on the trash-it list are things never seen in this household: fondue pot, turkey roaster, breadmaker, garlic peeler and press, crepe-maker, ice-cream machine, vegetable juicer, lobster cracker, egg slicer, apple-corer, and bagel-slicer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Justifying the subscription, great for reading aloud, and sparking many memories

In this week's Texas Observer, Dick J. Reavis pays tribute to his Volkswagen, new many years ago ("Made to Last," July 27). Even after that blankety-blank person ran a red light and pushed the center post practically to the gear shift, our great 1967 ran until we got tired of climbing over things to be able to drive and ride in it; otherwise, we'd still have it. Reavis reports that Kenny Hill solved a longstanding mystery for him. There is no sweeter sound than the combination purr and sewing-machine tick of a Beetle.

Monday, July 23, 2007

When there's no user's manual

The stupid anti-virus program that came installed on a computer that I use a lot is a big pain. It permits uploading of photographs to various sites (Flickr, Picasa, e.g.) but, when I go out to the C-prompt in a DOS window and try to upload using FTP commands, I can't upload anything unless I turn off the firewall for the little bit of time it takes. If the firewall isn't temporarily turned off, everything is blocked. And it took me a while to figure this out. Sign me peeved and vexed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

An acquisition long deferred

I saw one in the library once: a young woman had a device that raised her laptop computer screen to a higher level. Hers could be adjusted by turning a (toothed?) knob. I didn't know what it was called and she din't know what it was called, and I hadn't seen one since. At OfficeMax, though, I thought to ask the same young man who's been at the store practically since it opened, and he knew at once what was wanted. It turned out, in this specific instance, to be a Fellowes laptop riser, a very simple device, not a docking station, and with no port replicators. This one operates on the same principle as an outdoor chaise longe, with a stand fitting in various notches or slots to alter the height of the screen. A simple ledge keeps the laptop from sliding off the raised surface. Since I'm burning the useful life of an older laptop rather than buy the desktop that's preferred, this simple device is certainly worth the investment just for the ergonomic improvement. I'm using a not-new separate keyboard angled on hind legs and placed at the proper level for the safety of hands and wrists and elbows; now the screen's where it should be as well. I did not pay the price shown on the Fellowes link, but I would gladly have done so.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

With all this rain

You'd think there'd be more rain lilies, but they seem to need a day of sun to appear. This is something we'd never known or noticed before, but observations of our yard and of other places where rain lilies proliferate lead us to this conclusion. Oddly, although we've seen some fungal items for the first time ever (for instance, snowy white large crystalline ruffles on trees), various other fungi have not appeared.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Another application of the flash drive

Perhaps others are doing this, but this is the first time I've noticed it. The State Bar of Texas, at its annual summer meeting in San Antonio this year, gave to registrants (it was included in the fee) a flash drive containing a library of materials for the 70 hours of continuing legal education programs that were part of the meeting. Provision of the flash drive and its contents was underwritten by the State Bar itself and by the bar's family law section. I'm always surprised when people don't know about flash (key, thumb, etc.) drives. I think that many people learn about computer-related items at work and that the infotech people are not eager to have employees using these items and perhaps compromising the security of the workplace's systems. Something else that amazes me about these items is how much cheaper they're becoming, almost day by day. The program material for the annual meeting bills the innovation of the flash drive as a saver of paper, which it is. Here's what the meeting program said: "Materials for all CLE programs at the Annual Meeting are included on the flash drive. Hard copies of the CLE materials are not available. However, attendees may purchase and print copies at a 40-percent discount at the UPS Store located in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Young hopeful

We heard this expression a lot when we were kids. The application was to the callow or somewhat disappointing male offspring of others. Our most recent sighting of "young hopeful" is in Doctor Thorne, now being reread, to describe Louis Phillipe Scatcherd.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The Texas Observer has published a wonderful article about Plyler ("A Lesson in Equal Protection: the Texas cases that opened the schoolhouse door to undocumented immigrant children," byline Barbara Belejack). People forget so soon, and the Supreme Court ruling was in 1982, so short a time ago. It's too bad that one of the photographs accompanying this article, of Plyler himself, doesn't appear on line, but all the text does. The article also points to the Oyez site, which seems to be unknown to many people. I look forward to checking out the sound files one of these days, on a faster connection.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It's been a while

Fay Weldon has published several books since the last time I read one, so it's time to look them up. Her Auto da Fay, a memoir of her life up to about the time she became a published author, is great for picking up and putting down, since each portion is divided into small bits, and these are often very entertaining read-aloud material. Despite her candor, she's really very kind to and understanding of the people met along the way, even those who wouldn't seem to deserve any such treatment. I enjoy her sense of humor and the precision of her writing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fresh factoid about freshness

In this humid weather, a multivitamin tablet taken out of its package and left out in the household atmosphere will be moldy within hours. The color? Speckles of blue or green or both. It must be those nutrients.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On an ever higher note

I finally remembered all the lyrics to this song, which goes to a higher and higher pitch with each repetition, until the singer can go no higher:

Had a little dog,skinny as a rail;
Had a lot of fleas all over his tail.
Every time his tail would flop,
The fleas on the bottom would hop on top.

Melodically, the flea song resembles another, probably much older, song that uses the same raised-pitch device. This one has never been in any part forgotten:

Have you ever been in the land of gin
Where the river of rum flows by,
And the little gin rickies grow in the trees
And the highballs grow on the ground.

At least, that's the way I learned it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Princess seams and bracelet sleeves

When I was thinking about First Lady wardrobes yesterday, I realized that Laura Bush is usually seen these days in a wonderful uniform, which varies little, the only major difference from one appearance to another being whether the jacket tops trousers or a skirt. The jacket is customarily worn without a blouse visible underneath, if there is one at all. The sleeves are three-quarters in length or at least cut very short. Some say that a three-quarters sleeve stops at the elbow and that one that stops between the elbow and the wrist is properly called a bracelet sleeve. A uniform saves so much time. I personally dislike beiges, pastels, and strong, unmixed colors. I think that people in public life are urged to go for the brights for photogenic and telegenic reasons, but more subtle colors are more attractive.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Belgian shoes and shirtwaists

Nobody seems to have written about Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson as a style icon, but it's been fascinating to look at all the photographs from differing eras. At a certain point, Lady Bird Johnson settled on a hairdo and stayed with it until the end, although there came a time when the black was permitted to fade to a more natural color and then to what Nature had made. Perhaps her hairdresser and Queen Elizabeth's were cousins. Her clothing was beautifully, although unobtrusively, tailored. Photographs from the 'Sixties and 'Seventies show that dresses were shortened to the "ladylike" length that, although quite short, was not mini and was favored by conservatively stylish ladies of a certain age. Shirtwaist dresses, although fairly difficult to find these days, with their fitted waists and sometimes darts, truly never go out of fashion, and she wore them often, and very becomingly. After the return to Texas, photographs often depict her wearing a hat with a brim and often in trousers, not a skirt, where the occasion permits. In these, her feet are frequently seen to be neatly shod in Belgian Shoes. Other female occupants of the White House may have spent more and been more often touted as models of fashion, but, for my money, when it comes to fashion and style Mrs. Johnson stands way out in front of all the other post-WWII women who occupied her position. Most wardrobe items appear stylish and classical and there's not much that even approaches the ridiculous as we look back in time. The same can't always be said for others.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Free market in parking spaces

Off-street parking is limited in parts of Manhattan, to one parking space for every five dwelling units. Such parking costs a lot, as it should. Austin is stupid for mandating as much off-street parking as it does. Except on major holidays, I've never seen any parking lot anywhere of any sort in this town come close to being full, yet parking requirements are premised on conditions that seldom, if ever, occur. If the City were serious about becoming more "green," it would offer many fewer parking spaces for its employees and, except in true cases of need, they would be assigned by lottery. Parking is never "free." ["For Parking Space, the Price Is Right at $225,000," byline Vivian S. Toy, NYT, July 12]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eleven years ago today

It was hot. The stupid Diesel generators had been throbbing and spewing fumes around the clock for days. Every time we'd go outdoors to sit to hear a ball game or listen to the radio for any reason, they'd pay us money to turn off the radio and sometimes to go back indoors. But it was hot, very hot. It was the summer of Jennifer Pena's first big hit, "Ven a mi." The hordes of people attracted to the filming were all pretty creepy. For years afterward amidst the shrubbery we'd find empty cans and bottles that once held small-brewery beer or ale. At least we had made the outfit filming pay us for running cable through the yard and got a payment for our elderly next-door neighbor on the other side, similarly inconvenienced. We'd been offered a free hotel room while the filming continued, and continued, and continued, but we had thought it wise to be on hand to prevent depredations, and we were wise, preserving a lot of landscape that would otherwise have been sacrificed. Nobody else seemed to be interested in the very beautiful vintage LaFrance pumper that was going to make rain for the set, but we did a lot of talking to the owner. He made rain for us in our yard that night; our yard was s-o-o much cooler afterward, and so were we. I never remember the date, but for K. it's a very important anniversary.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Novena candles usually return to selling for 95 cents after major religious holidays, but it never happened after Christmas or after Easter. I think that their high price must be a reflection of the high cost of petroleum products these days. Good old Reed Candle of San Antonio has been making these "nine-day candles" since forever, and they're so much cheaper even now than fancy tapers or what's sold as emergency candles. Makers of soap and detergents use tallow as an ingredient. Now they're forced to turn to coconut oil, which is more expensive. Why? Corn is going to make ethanol, so cattle feeders are using tallow in its place. This is also just plain gross, since it's another case of giving herbivores meat products for food. Tallow is the rendered fat of cattle or of sheep. Popcorn is also rising in price, because acreage once devoted to this specialty crop is now being sown with the kind of maize that goes into ethanol. This should all be filed under "handbasket" and cross-referenced "hell."

Monday, July 09, 2007

In re figs

Ours keep swelling and swelling. The creatures test their readiness every day. I was very entertained to read in the recent obituary of a woman who became a lifelong educator that at some point she said something along these lines: "I'm not going to say home and make fig preserves."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Talk about down-home celebrations

I love it that one of the activities planned to commemorate the centennial of the establishment of the Gila cliff dwellings as a national monument is this one, scheduled for June 23, from 7 to 8:30 pm: "Try your hand at copying Mimbres pottery designs. Paper plates and black magic markers will be provided." This is according to New Mexico magazine. The Gila cliff dwellings and that little valley are favorite places. Almost any walk in the vicinity will bring you to places where the ground is carpeted in Mimbres shards. I never picked up any to take them away. It's against the law. That doesn't stop people, though. It's just a good thing that this part of the world is so little frequented or the spell might be broken.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Down the road apiece

Sometimes San Antonio seems so far away, but it really isn't. The new Alameda Smithsonian branch is something we want to visit soon. I can't remember in which magazine I saw the picture of a red and yellow Q and Q fideos, supersized along the lines of a Warhold Brillo-box sculpture, and I can't find it on line, either, but I think it's a funny idea. There was a time when our H-E-B devoted more shelf space to fideos than to pasta of any other kind, including elbow macaroni and spaghetti. I find that most of the on-line mentions (and there seems to be a paucity) of sopa de fideo speak of chorizo and not ground beef. This may require more research!

Friday, July 06, 2007


Our old force cups had become brittle from the heat. When the kitchen sink refused to drain, we made an emergency run to Breed & Co. for two replacements. Plumbers' advice has always been that mechanical methods should be tried before chemical ones, especially with old houses. Whew!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Blossoming bluebonnets

Discovered today were red bluebonnets. When did they even germinate? This is news. Untended cyclamen in pots is blooming again. We're still seeing a California poppy or two every day. Leaf lettuce and a couple of hyacinth beans have germinated out in the middle of the grass in Mack's yard. There will be a new flush of bloom on the roses of Sharon. I found butterfly eggs on some of the potted asclepias. Here we are with this weather, and there's Santa Fe, "enjoying" temperatures in the mid-nineties.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Music for the holiday

It was funny to hear on KMFA that the national anthem is "Amber Waves of Grain." Apparently the announcer was all but deluged with calls saying that "America, the Beautiful" is not the national anthem. We played a lot from our vinyl Footlifters album and our vinyl set of all the Sousa marches.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blogging the nabe

I try to keep tabs on Austin neighborhood listservs and Web sites. I'm interested to find that Allandale has gone to a blog (using Typepad). I haven't noticed other neighborhood associations doing this, but, then, I haven't had much spare time for noodling around. Subject categories and archiving by the month make for easy finding.

Monday, July 02, 2007


The vaunted fact-checking and copy-editing at The New Yorker aren't what they used to be. In a personal reminiscence focusing in large part on home carpentry and joinery, it was surprising to see "rabbit joint" when a "rabbet" is one of the elementary forms. This is the piece: Shalom Auslander, "Save Us," July 2, 2007, page 36.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

June's over

How long has it been since another like it? We haven't watered anything but pot plants that are in the sun. The roses of Sharon are going crazy. We still have a few California poppies and Drummond phlox and quite a lot of delphinium. The pride of Barbados is coming into its own and the flowers are attracting the first hummingbirds we've seen since the first couple of sightings weeks ago. There are still gazanias in pots, although the violas finally gave up a few days ago. I noticed for the first time that nasturtiums tilt just like a tilt-top tea table of the eighteenth century when the sun is hot and bright; in other words, their leaves forsake the customary horizontal, lilypad position to turn at complete right angles, all but parallel to the stems, thereby exposing the least possible amount of leaf surface to the direct rays of the sun. Now we're seeing larger grasshoppers. Ponder Lee, our timeshare cat, pounces on the proliferating crickets; whether she ingests them we don't know. Both colors of milkweed are blossoming again after the first wave of seed pods. We found a giant tomato hornworm on one of the potted plants; they are strong and don't want to let go, but this one is now housed a tomato-less yard elsewhere in the neighborhood. We still have black-eyed Susans and quite a few firewheels. The cassia (or senna plant), despite being in the grasshopper zone, is blooming for the first time in a few years, and profusely. Ruellia is flowering now, and so are the wild sunflowers. We're very happy to see that more and more people are leaving these sunflowers unmolested. I'd like to see them become identified with Austin. They grow where nothing else does, even in cracks in parking lots, and withstand the worst heat of summer, always blooming, and their seeds provide food for a great many creatures.