Crustacean Placation Nation

The Swiss are worried about lobsters.

live-maine-lobster-640-2017-BOGOThey are concerned that lobsters are sentient and can feel pain.  So, if you want to eat a lobster in Switzerland, you can’t drop it, live, into a pot of boiling water, which is the preferred cooking method in Maine and other lobster-loving states.  Instead, according to this article in USA Today, you need to either electrocute the lobster, or lull it into an insensate state by dipping it in salt water — and then stabbing it in the brain.  I’m not sure, frankly, why those methods are viewed as more humane than the classic drop into a pot of boiling water approach, but we’ll just have to take the word of the Swiss — who don’t eat many lobsters in any event — that the lobsters would prefer the electric chair or a knife to the brain.

Switzerland’s constitution apparently has an “animal dignity” provision, and Switzerland is a leader in the animal rights movement.  Swiss laws enacted in furtherance of that constitutional protection say that dogs can’t be punished for barking and that anyone who flushes an unwanted goldfish down the toilet violates the law.

The logical extension of this movement is to prevent humans from eating any animals, or for that matter domesticating them, breeding them, and preventing them from roaming free and impairing their liberty.  And if humans can’t eat other animals, the “animal dignity” provision presumably would prevent one animal species from gobbling up another animal species, too.  Why should humans be restrained, when other animals get off scot free?  Bears shouldn’t be able to eat fish, for example, and hawks and eagles can’t snatch up eat mice or voles, and wolves and coyotes should be barred from eating chickens, rabbits, or your neighbor’s annoying little yapper dog.

This seems like a pretty confusing approach to the food chain.  Me, I think I’ll still enjoy freshly boiled lobster.

App-rehension

Earlier this week I was having lunch with a younger colleague in a busy airport, talking about how tough it is to juggle the demands of young children, a work schedule that involves lots of travel, and other elements of modern professional life in America.  As she noshed on her salad, she mentioned that at times she took out her phone and used “Calm” and “Buddhify” to help her reduce stress.

IMG_1092Eh?  There are smartphone apps geared toward meditation?

Yes, she explained.  They are part of the “mindfulness” segment of smartphone apps, and then she described how you can use the apps to look at calming scenes, hear soothing sounds, and select mediation routines that are specifically targeted to helping you deal with a particular scenario, like getting to sleep or dealing with stress at work.  She then thumbed through her phone app index pages in a way that made it clear that she had a lot of apps.  My younger cousins have a lot more apps than I do, she said — dozens and dozens of index pages of them.

I thought about my smartphone, with my skimpy two pages of apps, most of which came with the phone, and I felt apprehension and, frankly, inadequacy.  And as my colleague showed me some of the other apps she has on her phone — apps like TuneIn, which allows you to listen to sports broadcasts of your favorite teams wherever you are, or Happier, which helps you think most positively (UJ must already have that one), or Pandora or Spotify, which allow you to listen to lots of good music of your choosing — I realized, again, that there’s a huge world of potentially useful or enjoyable apps out there and I am completely oblivious to them.  My poor, underutilized iPhone is like what they used to say about the human brain — it’s using only about 10 percent of its potential.

But here’s the problem for me.  How do you find the good apps?  Is it primarily word of mouth?  Do people regularly have conversations about apps, and discuss which ones, in their experience, are worth it or not?  Or do people do on-line searches for app ratings and comments?  Or do they go to the app store and just look around and try things out?

I’m feeling a bit lost here.  But if I can find an app that transforms modern business travel into more of a zen-like experience, for example, I’m willing to work to find it.

Cloudy, With A Chance Of Film

Have you ever felt like you’re reenacting a TV commercial in which you’re the baffled consumer unable to resolve a curious household problem?

Frustrated woman with haunted look as she hears mocking taunts of “ring around the collar!”: “I’ve tried scrubbing them out, and soaking them out, but nothing seems to work!”

Embarrassed woman who sees a cloud of gas with images of dogs and babies in diapers inside lingering in her living room as she prepares for guests: “What can I do to give my house that clean, fresh scent?”

Mystified Webners: “The glasses that come out of our dishwasher seem to be coated with some thin kind of film. How can we eliminate the scourge of cloudy glasses and make our glasses sparkling clean?”

In the commercials, at this point some officious busybody named Madge shows up and gives the answer that allows the grateful consumer to solve the problem of ring around the collar or reeking rooms. So far, though, no complete stranger, genie, or disembodied voice has provided us with guidance on resolving the cloudy glass conundrum, and none of the additives, rinses, or other commercial products we’ve tried have done the trick.

This isn’t an earthshaking problem, of course, but it would be nice to have glasses that are transparent. And while we could pre-wash or post-wash them, that defeats the point of a dishwasher, doesn’t it?

I guess all we can do is cast our gaze skyward, say “what’s a troubled dishwasher owner to do?,” and hope for the best.

Two Dog Night

We’re keeping an eye on Russell’s pooch Betty while Russell does some work on his new building and business. It’s interesting having two dogs in the house after a few years as a one-canine concern. Betty has a sweet disposition but is a bundle of energy compared to Kasey, who’s quite content to snooze the day away. But the dogs get along, and so do we. In fact, it seems like having dogs of different ages is a positive, and they kind of complement each other.

Now, I just need to get my tennis ball tossing arm back into shape.

Can The Ban

The Duluth, Minnesota school system has decided to remove two of the finest American novels ever written from its curriculum because it is concerned that today’s students will be upset by them.

huck-finnThe two books are Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which many scholars consider to be the best American novel yet written, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which is clearly one of the finest novels written during the 20th century.  They will both be removed from the syllabus for the school system’s ninth grade and eleventh grade English classes, although the school system will allow copies of the books to remain in the school library.  The school district said it was removing the books from the curriculum because of concerns they might make certain students feel “humiliated or marginalized.”

Of course, both books directly tackle the issues of race in America, with Huckleberry Finn taking an unflinching look at slavery in pre-Civil War America and To Kill A Mockingbird focusing on bigotry and prejudice against African-Americans in the Jim Crow South.  Both books use the “n-word,” both books feature horrible racist characters, and both books involve upsetting scenes, appalling brutality, and themes that reflect poorly on the American soul.  That’s what makes the two books such uniquely powerful exercises in American literature.  And there’s no doubt that reading the books and considering the issues of slavery and racism they raise, and then talking about them in a classroom, will make students of all races and backgrounds feel uncomfortable — but there’s nothing wrong with a little discomfort along the path to greater understanding.  It’s hard for me to believe that anyone who reads either of those books could come away thinking that racism is good or that the vile, ignorant racist characters are to be emulated in any way.  I think both books in fact teach a good lesson and also have the value of demonstrating, through compelling stories, how the history of slavery and racism have stained our American character.

And, of course, removing the two acknowledged classics from the school’s curriculum sends an important, but bad, message about freedom of speech and that there are some things that are just too upsetting for students to be exposed to.

The Duluth school district’s curriculum director said that its schools planned to replace the novels with texts that “teach the same lessons” without using racist language.  Good luck with that!  How can you teach the lesson that racism is bad without exposing students to the brutality, unfairness, and ignorance of racists and their true nature?

Nut Signs

Recently I was on a plane flight and realized, within a few minutes of taking my seat, that I wasn’t going to be able to relax in view of the passenger sitting next to me.  The “nut signs” — that is, the indicators that my fellow seatmate was just a bit off — were obvious.

jc_1200x750In this instance, the guy was doing some creepy, slow motion kung fu moves with his hands, like he was Jackie Chan underwater.  At first I thought he was just stretching, but then I realized, from his hand placement and arms movements  that were invading my seat space, that he was evidently practicing some form of martial arts, just without the kicks and the hai ya! shouts.  No normal person would be performing weirdly intrusive karate poses in the close quarters of a plane flight.  Since I didn’t want him to suddenly start using the kung fu moves on me, I decided the best option was to keep a close eye on him and skip the normal in-flight doze.

Any frequent traveler has learned to pick up on nut signs.  Once I boarded a Southwest flight and started to move into an open seat at the front of the plane, when a stern-looking older woman sitting in the next seat over warned me that she had already stashed her stuff in the area beneath the seat in front of the open seat.  What?  Who in the world would do that?  The stewardess heard her and came over to instruct the woman that she couldn’t take that inventive approach to ensuring her own leg room, but since it was a Southwest flight I had the option to sit somewhere else, and I took it.  Anybody who reasoned that they could freely take the storage space allocated to the next seat is obviously a nut, and if they’re capable of doing that, who knows what other off-kilter conclusions they might reach about appropriate plane behavior?

It’s just a risk you take on any plane flight, where you’ll be seated next to some random person you’ve never seen before and you’ll never see again.  Fidgeters, weepers, people wearing those flu masks when it’s not flu season, people grimly muttering to themselves — you never know what might constitute a nut sign.  One seemingly normal guy asked the stewardess to give him four cups of water, without ice, when the service cart rolled around, and then pulled out multiple plastic jars of powdery stuff from his bag and mixed a bunch of concoctions that he then drank in precise order.  Was he a ‘roid ranger?  Probably — but I wasn’t going to ask him to see whether he showed the quick rage that is a telltale sign of steroid use.

My First Joke

When did you first hear, and “get,” a joke, and what was it?  Having a sense of humor in the modern world is so essential, and understanding what jokes are, and what “funny” means, is a crucial component of developing that important part of human character — but for many of us remembering how you learned about jokes and getting a laugh out of them is something that is lost in the mists of time.

img_5819Humor seems to be an innate characteristic of human beings.  Little kids laugh at lots of things, like tumbling puppies, and pratfalls, and playing peek-a-boo, and the sheer joy of being alive, but verbal humor is a pretty big step up from visual humor.  It’s the difference between watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon and laughing because Bugs has tied the unwitting Elmer Fudd’s shotgun into a bow and when Elmer tries to fire it the shotgun blows up in his face, and later understanding and smiling at the humor in Bugs’ wisecracks.

I’m pretty sure that the first joke I ever heard was of the “knock-knock” variety.  That’s not surprising when you think about it, because “knock-knock” jokes are about as simple as a joke can get, with their standard set-up and uniform cadence and silly plays on words.  They are the kindergarten level of humor, where you get to play with clay, and color things, and take a nap after drinking a juice box — but kindergarten is still a crucial first step on the educational ladder.  And I’m pretty sure that I remember what the joke was:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dwayne.

Dwayne who?

Dwayne the bathtub, I’m dwowning!

I’m also confident that whoever told me the joke — maybe it was UJ, maybe it was an older neighborhood kid, maybe it was an older relative — patiently explained the joke to me so I would understand, and then asked:  “Get it?”  And, after thinking about it, I realized that I did “get” it.  It wasn’t fall-down funny or anything, but it was clever in its own elementary way, and saying the word “dwowning” sounded pretty funny, too.  And I’m pretty sure that I tried that joke out on some other little kid, because learning how to tell a joke is almost as important as “getting” a joke in the first place.

Thanks to that “knock-knock,” a doorway opened, and I went through to be introduced to a world of one-liner jokes about screwing in lightbulbs and horses walking into bars and men getting no respect, and observational humor and satire and farce and anecdotal humor and situational comedy and everything else that makes us chuckle.  That little joke ended up meaning a lot.

Air Unfair

Yesterday Kish and I had one of those star-crossed travel days that make you want to grind your teeth into powder and curse the airlines with your dying breath.

The day began with a 90-minute delay of our flight from Bangor to Philadelphia.  OK, no problem — we’d wisely factored in some weather delays, given the fact that we’re in February and it is winter, and we still had plenty of time to make our connection.  We got to our gate in Philadelphia, checked the sign and saw that boarding was supposed to start in something like “42 minutes,” and found a seat and camped out.  When a plane arrived, everything was looking up.

02xp-pilots-master768Then the delay notices and announcements started.  First the flight out was delayed by 90 minutes, then another hour.  We groaned and went to get something to eat, and when we returned they’d changed the sign above our gate to show that the flight for the new time would be boarding in a new, reassuringly specific time, like in “58 minutes.”  They also made an announcement that, due to some kind of special fuel need regulation, they would have to load the plane with additional fuel and, as a result, the flight was oversold due to weight restrictions and some people would need to volunteer to take a later flight.  And, still later, a gate agent was actually giving us a kind of play-by-play about the incoming flight, to be arriving from Richmond.  First she announced that the incoming flight was at the gate in Richmond, then it had pushed back, and finally it was taxiing down the tarmac, ready to take off.

And then, only moments later and after our hours of waiting in the Philadelphia airport, American abruptly cancelled the flight.  Fortunately, we were seated near the gate, so we were able to get in line immediately, where we learned that there were no other flights out and the airline had helpfully booked us for a flight leaving Philly at 1:09 p.m. today.  (Hey, thanks, but I actually work for a living and Monday is, regrettably, a work day.)  No offer of a hotel room or a voucher, either, apparently because the cancellation was deemed to be “weather related,” even though the weather in Philadelphia was just fine.  When we left the gate agent, the line stretched back onto the concourse and was about 40 people long.  I was glad we were able to get the bad news quickly, at least.

So we bagged the flight, rented a car and drove from Philadelphia to Columbus.  Seven hours, a hefty rental car fee, and an outrageous, state-sanctioned-monopoly-gouging “toll” of more than $33.00 to drive from Philadelphia to New Stanton on the Pennsylvania Turnpike later, we rolled into Columbus shortly past midnight, bitching all the while that if the airline had just cancelled the flight right away or at least been honest with us that a cancellation was likely or even possible, rather than providing absurdly hopeful and totally misleading announcements and impending “boarding times,” we might have gotten home at a more reasonable hour.

I understand weather-related delays in winter, and that with such delays crew schedules can become bollixed and combinations of crew service regulations, maintenance issues, and other considerations can cause a legitimate cancellation.  What really galls me, though, is the lying and the misstatements.  Why can’t airlines just be honest with us?

Trying To Read The Table

The tabletops at the Harbor Cafe in Stonington make for intriguing lunchtime reads.  They’re laminated navigational maps of the peninsulas, islands, and inlets in the surrounding area.

Looking at the tabletop map, upside down, I get a dim sense of what it must feel like to be unable to read — knowing that the lines and dots and swirls and numbers must mean something important, but not having the slightest idea exactly what is being communicated.  I get that the numbers must indicate depths of the water — am I right on that? — but do all of the little dots indicate outcroppings of some kind?  Does the use of shading have some significance?  And what about the squiggles and lines that appear at seemingly random points?

One of these days, Kish and I hope to take a class that will allow us to rent and then pilot a small boat in the waters off Stonington.  When that happens, I’m going to have to pay special attention during the map reading segment.

Truly Homemade

We stopped for lunch today at the Harbor Cafe in Stonington. Everything on the menu is homemade, from the chowders to the burgers to cole slaw to the fish dinners. We ended our meal with this piece of devil’s food chocolate cake with raspberry icing that made both a bold culinary and a bold artistic statement. The cake was dark and moist, the icing was tart and chock full of fresh raspberry bits . . . and who could resist the color combination?

Living In Dropcloth Territory

We’re having some painting work done, and living briefly in the active painting zone is an adjustment. There are drop cloths everywhere, paint cans and brushes, buckets, turpentine jars, taped off windows, tarp-covered furniture, shop vacs, and general painting tool bric-a-brac scattered pretty much everywhere. And on the counter and in the refrigerator are foods and bottles of unknown provenance brought over by the painter to provide fuel during his painting day.

Fortunately, he let the place dry out and air out a bit before we arrived to see how the work was going, so rather than heavy paint fumes we’ve got the delicate scent of freshly painted rooms. It’s a smell I like.

Mainely Winter

I guess it just wasn’t cold enough for us in Columbus, so Kish and I came up to Maine for a short visit, looking for even more wintry weather.

We found it. Here in Stonington, many of the boats and docks have been pulled out of the water and stored — even if it means just placing them on the nearest rocky outcropping — and the temperature is so cold that rocks along the waterfront are sheathed in briny ice. It’s bleak and beautiful, all at the same time.

Professional Grade

Airport bathrooms have got to be among the most brutal to clean. So what, exactly, does the custodial staff at a major American airport use to get disgusting bathrooms spic and span? According to this cart, it’s a mop, a bucket of soapy water, lots of paper towels, and a cleaner called Bab-O.

Bab-O? I’ve never heard of it. But if these guys use it it must be good.

Bigfoot In Winter

Yesterday I took a bit of a tumble on my way to work.  We had gotten about four inches of snow right at rush hour, the Columbus snow plow crews hadn’t gotten the streets cleared, and as I was crossing an unplowed side street my foot skidded.  Fortunately, I caught myself on one hand and one knee, so I didn’t go completely horizontal.  It’s the first slip and fall I’ve experienced in years of walking to work during the winter.

122613122I flatter myself that this good fortune is attributed to careful walking techniques, like using the small-step penguin mode on especially icy days and looking ahead for the best place to plant your foot as you stride, and having finely honed, catlike reflexes that react immediately to any sign of a skid.  But in reality, it’s probably because I’m gifted with unusually large, almost perfectly flat feet.  Shoe size typically correlates with height, and the average shoe size for a six-foot male in America is reported to be 10.5.  I typically have to buy size 12 or 12.5, depending on the make of the shoe, and my feet have no discernible arch.

Being at the upper range of shoe sizes can make finding shoes difficult — at a recent visit to one of those huge shoe emporiums, I had a tough time finding footwear my size and saw lots of 8s, 9s, and 10s, and not many 12s — but it’s useful during the winter months.  The larger feet have a lot more surface contact with the snowy ground than the average foot and act like quasi-snowshoes, so I might experience a small skid but can catch myself before it turns into a full-blown slip and fall.

When you think about it, the advantages of large foot size in snowy conditions should be obvious.  There’s a reason the elusive Yeti has evolved to haunt snow-covered climes and is reportedly seen from time in time in the Himalaya or the mountains of the American West.  It’s why, in America, we call him Bigfoot.

Watching The Launch

When I was a kid back in the ’60s, we used to be trooped into the school auditorium at Rankin Elementary School in Akron, Ohio to watch every launch of every rocket that was taking an American astronaut into space.  Between the countdowns, and the holds, and the cryptic communications of “launch control,” and the possibility of a disaster, and Walter Cronkite urging “go, baby, go!,” rocket launches were almost unbearably exciting.  And when NASA started launched the enormous Saturn V rockets that were used to propel the Apollo missions to the Moon, which were among the loudest devices ever made by humanity, the spectacle became even more intense.

So I watched the video of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket yesterday, beginning with the rocket on the familiar Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy launchpad, heard the countdown, saw the smoke and the flames and the rocket pushing slowly and inexorably against the titanic forces of gravity to slip the surly bonds of Earth and go soaring into space, and it brought those memories all back, and produced the same kind of tingle and hairs-standing-on-end feeling that I got in those long ago days in the school auditorium.

I’m glad the launch was a success and that SpaceX was able to successfully land two of the side boosters back on Earth, although the main booster was not successfully retrieved.  It’s a huge achievement and step forward for a company that is one of the leaders of the movement toward getting us back into space.  And I’m glad that, thanks to the efforts of the Falcon Heavy thrusters, Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster and a “Starman” wearing a SpaceX uniform have been successfully thrown out past Mars, where they will orbit around the Sun forever.

But mostly, I’m just glad that I got to see a huge rocket launch again.  Deep down, I’d still love to be an astronaut.