Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No big storm

If this commercial had aired in America, a storm of protest would have ensued and James Dobson would have gotten on his ill-titled "Focus on the Family" show to lament the moral state of our country while, of course, ignoring actual moral issues like (1) the fact that we have and continue to slaughter thousands of Iraqis for no good reason but, apparently, our national pride or (2) that this is the only industrialized nation in the world where people regularly die for lack of healthcare or (3) women in America have the worst access to birth control and the highest abortion rates of any industrialized nation. Then, thousands of households would have removed the Heinz mayonnaise from their fridges and attempted to shatter them in public ceremonies (failing only because Heinz has largely switched from glass to plastic packaging in our market) and a congressional representative from the Southwest would introduce an "obscenity" bill to outlaw such advertising (while retaining the inalienable right of advertisers to use gyrating thong-clad women to sell alcohol).

But this commercial did not air in the United States. It aired in Great Britain, resulting in a mere 202 (or so) complaints to the government's Advertising Standards Agency.

Nonetheless, Heinz pulled it. And it has become the commercial that was seen 'round the world.

Here's an article and some commentary for your reading pleasure.

To all ye scoffers

I have been subjected to endless mocking from family and friends for my habit of eating 5 or 6 slightly green bananas a day (the only thing that keeps me from eating said amount of bananas is running out of them by eating, say, 7 or 8 instead), but when they read this they will see the error of their ways.

Photo by Sharon Mollerus, used under an attribution-only Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Today's rant

A while back, The Onion rain the headline "Christian Science Pharmacist Refuses to Fill Any Prescription."

(No, the story isn't true. In my experience, today's Christian Scientists generally lack that certain religious zeal that drives people to force their beliefs on individuals outside their immediate families.)

You may not be surprised to learn that I have little sympathy with pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, tell customers where the condom aisle is, or dispense Plan B. I agree that these individuals have the right to oppose contraception but, dude, if you oppose some of the most commonly prescribed medicines, maybe you should pursue a different career.

I'm not asking them to do anything I wouldn't do. For example, it has crossed my mind once or twice to become a police officer. But I'm a pacifist and therefore wouldn't be willing to shoot someone or use bodily force in situations where protocol might deem it necessary. Therefore, I consider it a no-brainer that a career as a police officer is not for me. I'm not going to go to police academy and just "forget" to mention my position of conscience. Same for signing up for the military -- it would be, plainly put, stupid.

This article in The Washington Post talks about a "pro-life" pharmacy opening in Chantilly, Virginia, that will not offer any form of contraception. (The "pro-life" is in quotes because pregnancy and childbirth carry a much higher risk of death to woman and fetus than contraception does. No, unlike some of the pharmacists quoted in the article, I don't subscribe to the position that refusing to facilitate the creation of a life is the same thing as ending an existing life.)

The article also mentions a "pro-life" ob/gyn clinic that offers no services involving hormonal birth control, barrier methods, or sterilization. It is generous enough to offer "natural family planning," since it's consistent with the Catholic Church's teachings. But I'm wondering if any of you have ever been confused by the Church's position on natural family planning. I certainly have. The point, after all, of natural family planning is to PREVENT CONCEPTION. So why, exactly, is it okay, when other methods of preventing conception are not?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

8.7 miles

My sister called on Monday to see if I was dead, since I haven't posted anything in more than a month. Also, she thought the thunderstorms and flooding might have gotten me, but I missed those, as I was in Louisiana.

When I was biking along Starkweather Creek on Tuesday, I noted that the creek overflow has created spots quite reminiscent of Louisiana bayous. Alas, no alligators.

I promised my sister that soon there would be way way way too much to read on the blog, and too many pictures to look at, and possibly links to videos on You Tube, as I took about 700 pictures and 25 videos during my 11 days down south.

I biked to work this morning, knowing that it would thunderstorm, but I stupidly neglected to cover the seat with a plastic bag, and now the sky has just burst open, and the seat is getting soaked.

Not like I'm going to sit on it again today. I'm taking the bus home. I like biking in the rain, but this is not rain. It is Victoria Falls.

Post script: Here is a funny commentary on rising gas prices. Here is a link to my fundraising page for ACT 6, a fundraiser for the AIDS Network. Give early and often.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Barataria, not Bavaria

We got up early and arrived at Bataria Nature Preserve (south of New Orleans) before the ranger's office opened at 7 a.m. We walked along a boardwalk and heard lots of birds and were nagged by many horseflies, the latter of which I was glad not to have experienced since living in Virginia.

Anyone know what kind of tree this is?

And is this related to buckwheat?

A frog.

A dragonfly.

A salamander.

A scene.


I spent early Saturday evening weeping because we'd been in the car for 6 hours and I had not seen any alligators. I'd been trying to schedule a canoe swamp tour with a local guide, but I had the wrong phone number and e-mail address for him until Saturday night, when it was too late to schedule anything. So I broke down and paid for one of those motorboat tours. Not the loud 60-mph kind, but a motorboat nonetheless.


Afterwards, we went back to Barataria Preserve to look for wild alligators. Here's a pretty spot.

And N insisted on taking a picture of me with my sunbrella.

N spotted this baby alligator.

I first saw only the tail and thought it was a snake.

Isn't it cute?

It was smaller than a dachsund.

And here is a much bigger alligator:


In the lower left corner you can see the jerky wrapper left from a couple of yahoos who had taunted it and were old enough to know better:

The gator tried for a while to snap up the wrapper, but luckily its poor day vision and the lazy current prevented it from doing so. (Check out that back claw on the mid-right side of the picture.):

This is my favorite swim stroke, too!:


N thought it was funny, how fascinated I was with geckos. They are a Louisianan version of squirrels:

Even ants like to eat crab legs:

And then we went to the airport. Boo-hoo. But we saw this on the way:

ADVISORY: This entry is dated by when the events discussed occurred, not by when it was written.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Back in Bavaria

ADVISORY: This entry is dated by when the events discussed occurred, not by when it was written (June 21, 2008).

Last night we stayed in a bed and breakfast that featured a jacuzzi and an electric fireplace. It has two options (besides off): one for fire with heat, one for without. N thought it was hilarious, given that it's 80 degrees and humid outside for much of the year. I defended the fireplace, saying that since no one has central heating in Louisiana, the electriv fire with heat would come in quite handy on chilly days in winter. You know, when it drops to 50. He conceded that I had a point.

After all that, I of course had to have him pose for a picture in front of the contraption. The tabloid-size publication he is reading is not a newspaper, it's a road atlas. He calls it a "gazetteer." It's unclear to me how much statistical and geographical information an atlas must have before it technically meets the definition of "gazetteer," but "gazetteer" does certainly trip off the tongue more than "road atlas."

I insisted on taking full advantage of the suite's amenities by bathing in the jacuzzi before we checked out. This idea did not hold as much appeal for N, who preferred to spend more time with the gazetteer, ostensibly to plan our route to Baton Rouge, but really because he thinks that reading maps is fun.

This is where we stopped for lunch. Bavarian eats was not exactly what I was expecting in Ponchatoula, but they were pretty tasty. I told N, "When we get back to Wisconsin, we'll have to go eat Cajun food in New Glarus." (Yes, I know New Glarus is Swiss, not Bavarian, but you get the idea.)

It serves breakfast until noon every day, which we found out because we got there at 11:52 a.m. and the host informed us that we could choose whether to use the breakfast menu or the lunch menu, but we could not order from both. If the host had known me, he would have known not to give me the option, because I have to of course ruminate over such a weighty decision for at least 15 minutes, and we had only 7 minutes to decide. And when I'm hungry, it takes me even longer to decide anything.

The breakfast menu looked better because it had apple pancakes on it, but we chose the lunch menu because if I had that much sugar I would not be able to sit still in the car. I have a habit of fidgeting even without sugar, as my sister can attest, because back in our halcyon days of youth, she would always have to yell at me "STOP SHAKING THE CAR!" when she was drove me anywhere because I'd be bouncing up and down in my seat, which I called "dancing to the radio."

Here are some things we saw while driving:

I don't suppose I should think such things, but when I saw these crosses, the first thought that popped into my mind was, "Who are they planning to kill on those things? Giants?"

George and Buddleia

ADVISORY: This entry is dated by when the events discussed occurred, not by when it was written (June 23, 2008).
In Baton Rouge, we visited N's old school, St. George's. He showed me his old haunts; I told him how just about every other Christian Palestinian guy from the city of Bethlehem is named George.

Butterfly bushes grow a lot bigger down south. In Wisconsin, they die back to the ground every year and don't have much time to go to seed, which has prevented them from becoming an invasive weed as in much of the rest of the country.

I felt rather discouraged from sliding down any of the slides at St. George's.

These here are blossoms on a mimosa tree. Much nicer than orange juice and champagne, don't you think?


These trees are all over southern Louisiana. I don't know what they are. They seem like the southern answer to lilacs, except they have no discernable odor. We left Baton Rouge and wanted to find alligators or a place to stay.

We stopped at this park, the site of an old lock that had connected to the Mississippi (just over the horizon). The chamber of commerce, next door, had already closed for the day, and the park visitor's center was about to close when we got there.

I was so excited to spot a Sonic drive-through that I made N turnaround so we could order something there. I am not usually excited by fast food, but this seemed iconicly Southern to me. (I have since been disappointed to discover that Sonic is planning to expand into Wisconsin.) I ordered an iced mocha because I was getting cranky. It was exceedingly sweet, but did the job.

These little egrets are all over the place, at least wherever cows are to be found. A park ranger later told me that the birds flew in from Africa a few years ago and decided not to go back. They like cattle on their home continent, too.

I don't think the artist intended for this to remind me of an Advil commercial.

We encountered these chicken-duck-vulture crosses by the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center (also closed) in Thibodeaux.

And this turtle. Moss grows on a moving turtle.

By nightfall, we were both starving and exhausted and couldn't agree on what to eat. We checked into a hotel south of New Orleans and went searching. Driving down Bataria Boulevard, we both spotted this place and, for some reason, we both wanted to try it. Unusual fortune, since N generally thinks that any restaurant labeled "family" is unlikely to serve decent food.

N ordered fried catfish. Look at that crispy breading!

And this was the sauce, which was as thick as the stew and had little crayfish in it and was also very tasty.

I had the best fried chicken and cornbread and collards of my life. I couldn't believe how many collards they gave me -- that's a dinnerplate, not a sidedish one.

The cook saw me taking pictures and came out to talk to me because no one had ever taken pictures of his food before. The pictures do not do it justice.

And then we said farewell to the best meal ever ...

And went back to the hotel.

Friday, June 6, 2008

German graves, tornado video, and the only hippie town in Louisiana

We spent the morning meandering around a cemetery. Here are some doors I saw on the way to and fro.

The cemetery revealed that there was an influx of Germanic residents to the area in the 1800s. As you can deduce from the markers, use of German by these families had pretty much died out by the end of the century.

On the way back to the B&B, there was another Germanic relic: a building called .

I took the requisite picture of one of the many bead-bedecked trees on the street outside the B&B.

Then we ate lunch at a place called The Grocery on 2854 St. Charles Ave. N had a Mufaletta panini and I had some panini without meat that was very good. I also had a brownie, which they said was made onsite. After eating C.R.A.P. at the trade show all week, I wasn't going to get it, but it looked really good. It was, indeed, amazing.

It was time to leave New Orleans to explore the great beyond. We went to Abita Springs to visit the UCM Museum Mystery House. We saw the curator pedaling off on his cruiser bike as we approached, so we knew we were in a good place.

The main exhibit hall features a mini town. Push the buttons and the people move. Here are some the scenes. As you can hear, I found them greatly amusing.





We played pinball and a crank organ. I fell in love with a gecko.


I never wanted to leave but, alas, visiting hours ended.

We checked into our big fancy B&B in Covington and then went to Fontainebleau State Park to take a walk before the sunset.


We came back for dinner after dark at Del Porto Ristorante. I forgot to bring my camera, so I have no evidence that I ate softshell crab, but I did. Okay, I ate about one leg's worth. It tasted good, but it was much too rich. N said that's how it's supposed to be. I guess the soft shell absorbs all the butter in the pan. So he ate the rest of the crab and I gorged on antipasti and lasagna. It's a hard life, I know.

After dinner, we took a stroll and concluded that we had serendipitously chosen to stay in the only hippie-artsy town in Louisiana.