Yesterday on the Chattanooga Goofy Trip

Playing Bells at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga

A good time was had by all. Sugar’s BBQ has a new location downtown on Broad. The food is better than ever and the new restaurant is great. Definitely get the ribs. They’re big and falling off the bone. I’m a big fan of the potato salad – it’s a little different, but amazing. Melissa got a salad so she could try the roast okra, and it was great.


Word of the Day: Wong

Chinatown, New York City. 2006

Wai Ng informs me that “wong” in Chinese means “yellow.” Jeez. Thanks for ruining a bunch of perfectly good jokes, Mister Know It All Chinese Guy. 🙂

Previous WOTDHanlon’s Razor

Thom Hogan had a bad time in Chile

He and his photo class students were used as hostages and pawns by a local group that wanted government subsidies for heating oil. If you didn’t hear about it, you’re not the only one. Story here.

  • Why wasn’t this an International news story? I fed all the information and photos to the New York Times from the very beginning, and they didn’t write one word about 3000 stranded tourists, 3 Chilean ministers resigning, 2 deaths, a Chilean Air Force airlift operation, or any of the other details that happened. Not a word. CNN? Anderson Cooper doesn’t seem to be interested in the story (I got a form letter reply). The only International news agency that even began to cover the story was the BBC. They got it late (1/15), they got it wrong (several completely inaccurate bits that seem to have come from government or official sources, who appeared to be trying to downplay the situation), and they had no on-the-ground reports. If you really think that you’re getting “news” from your news outlets, think again.
  • Why didn’t the embassies issue a travel advisory? Apparently, a couple did for a brief time. I’m still trying to track that down. But the US embassy did not despite knowing that not only were there stranded US tourists, but more US tourists coming. The best spin I can put on this disturbing inaction is that there was negotiation between the US embassy and the Chilean government that resulted in a quid pro quo: the US wouldn’t say anything if Chile evacuated the stranded tourists. While I said the State Dept. did its job earlier, this is one aspect of their job that they failed at, as you’ll see in a bit.
  • But I have a special warning that’s much more specific. During the whole time we and other stranded tourists were trying to get out of Chile, we kept meeting people coming in. In particular, all of my group seemed to meet people at the ticket counters in Santiago where LAN Airlines was not warning people who were trying to get boarding tickets to Punta Arenas that they would be flying into an airport where they would be stranded! I encountered 14 such people over the course of two days, and I know others in my group that encountered many more. Every time we’d tell them that they didn’t want to fly to Punta Arenas, they’d say “but LAN says everything is fine now.” Well, LAN, everything was not fine until something like 17:00 on 18 January. Yet you were flying planes of tourists on the 15th, 16th, and 17th. That’s morally corrupt. And probably legally actionable well beyond the “refund my ticket” level. So, given that observed behavior, I’d also have to say: Boycott LAN. Don’t use them, ever. And, of course, since LAN is the primary carrier into the region, that just makes my Boycott Chile statement even stronger, I think.

Read the whole thing.

BP oil spill nowhere near as bad as claimed

The Daily MailDisaster that never was: Why claims that BP created history’s worst oil spill may be the most cynical spin campaign ever:

According to Dr Ed Owens, the veteran British oil spill expert who runs the SCAT teams, there are several reasons why the Gulf appears to have escaped so incredibly lightly.

First, the type of light oil that leaked here dissipates far more quickly than the medium crude that pumped from the Exxon Valdez, particularly in these warm waters.

Second, powerful currents from the enormous Mississippi Delta swept much of the oil away from the shore. In addition, there is the undeniable success of the clean-up effort, which is far more sophisticated and effective than those used to tackle previous disasters.

The combined result of these factors is clear from the statistics. Although more than 9,000 miles of shoreline lies within reach of the Deepwater Horizon rig, just 369 miles have been oiled – and only 53 of them with what are classed as ‘heavy’ deposits.

Compare this with the Exxon when, though the spill was 20 times smaller, the oil was so persistent and spread so widely that more than 2,000 miles of coastline were hit – and even today lumps of tar are occasionally found trapped between the rocks.

The environmental impact was overstated by politicians, interest groups, and Polyannas, which had a big impact on the Gulf economy:

Ask Pensacola’s fretfully quiet seafront traders why the tourists have all stayed away and they angrily recall one chaotic day back in late June.

Then, hungry for dramatic TV footage to support Barack Obama’s announcement, that the BP – or, as he preferred, ‘British Petroleum’ – oil spill was ‘the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced’, news networks descended on their town.

Having a drama queen for a president is a bad thing. Obama likewise stuck a knife in the back of the Las Vegas tourism industry by preaching against glitzy conferences in that town when they were already hurting from an economic downturn and crashing real estate market.

If you’re looking for a vacation this fall, visit the Gulf coast. They’ll appreciate the business and you’ll get a great deal.

PreviouslyDon’t Rule Out a Gulf Vacation

Don’t Rule Out a Gulf Vacation

Rex HammockMaybe you shouldn’t cancel that gulf coast beach trip, after all:

After talking with my brother, I saw where Mobile native Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney and others are doing a free concert in Gulf Shores on July 1 for the specific purpose of raising the awareness that the oil disaster may not have necessarily affected the stretch of beach where you were planning a vacation. And while I am in no way suggesting that the disaster caused by the idiocy of BP and your & my addiction to oil is not devastating to nature, wildlife and the economic well being of hundreds of thousands of people, what I am saying is this: our misunderstanding of how local areas are affected differently could be adding to the problem rather than helping.

And I’m also saying, it’s a rare opportunity when helping people make it through a disaster means getting great deals on a cheap trip to the beach — eating and drinking cheaply at restaurants and bars, and then attending a free Jimmy Buffett & friends concert.

The environment is going to suffer on the gulf coast, but business and people are suffering right now because travelers are staying away. Don’t automatically cancel your plans for a gulf vacation. Most areas in Florida are still unaffected and almost every hotel is offering deep discounts.

Three weeks ago we spent our long-planned vacation in Panama City Beach. As the date got closer we kept checking the oil spill maps. The oil wasn’t anywhere near the Florida panhandle where we were staying. Our destination, like most, offered free cancellation if the government closed the beach due to oil.

In return for not panicking and changing our plans we got a great deal. Instead of paying the $220 a night our beach-side condo usually cost we only paid $110. The next week the condo starting offering buy five nights get one free. The last we checked it was buy three get one free. And with fewer people going to the beach it’s less crowded.

We didn’t see any oil, but we did see dolphins and manta rays and deer wandering around St. Andrews State Park. Do a little research and you can still go to the beach this summer.

Where’s he flying? The pelican ain’t telican

Couple photography notes. That last picture is interesting. It works in spite of the fact that most of the bird is out of focus, and the reason it works is because the eyes are in focus, and the eyes are what counts. It’s like Tom Geisler said – for pictures of people and animals make sure the eyes are in focus because that’s the first thing our brains are hard-wired to look at.

The other interesting thing is that I was shooting with a polarizing filter. It pretty much lives on my 70-300 zoom lens. I never take it off. As I was panning across the sky to shoot the pelican the polarizer’s angle relative to the sun was changing, which meant that the degree of polarization was changing. That’s why the blue of the sky looks different across the frames. If I ever set out to shoot a sequence like this again I’ll need to remember to remove the polarizer.

Urchin you to enjoy your family vacation

Fish you were here

Bleg: Where’s a Good Place to Stay in the St. Petersburg Area?

My wife is planning a summer beach vacation with my outlaws. St. Petersburg is this year’s destination. She’s having trouble finding a place she likes. The basic criteria is an oceanfront, kid-friendly condo, beach house, or suite between Clearwater and Sarasota..

Any advice?

Li’l Taste of Europe

Music videos from Chris Byrne and a curry wurst recipe from Marko Kloos.

Destin, FL 2007

This year we took our family vacation in Destin, FL. Katie was here two years ago, though she was too young to remember it.

Click any picture to enlarge and enter the slideshow.

Katie, who’s almost three this time, liked the beach, but was a little afraid of the ocean. Natalie was fearless, as one year olds tend to be. Katie has become afraid of some things (like Santa Claus) that didn’t bother her before. I think it’s a phase she’ll grow out of and soon she’ll be back to her fearless self.

Destin has nice sand and beaches, and we could walk out of our condo right onto the beach, so the girls got to go to the water three times a day. It’s a clean town, and very quiet. A little boring, to be honest, but for a trip with kids that’s not a bad thing. Melissa’s parents and aunt came with us and stayed in a condo on the same floor, so everyone got to spend some time with the kids.

Destin is pretty generic. Judging from the few original buildings that are left, Destin obviously used to be this quaint little beachtown. Then money poured in, all of the original property owners sold out, and now it’s miles of immaculately-manicured brick and concrete chainstores and franchises. It’s a place that looks like it was built last week. It’s the story of a lot of Florida towns.

We’re looking for another beachy town for next year. Something with more character, more places to walk, maybe a boardwalk. Any ideas? It doesn’t have to be in Florida as long as there’s good beach access for the kids.

Also, I always thought it was crazy to go to Florida in July and August, and this trip didn’t change my mind a bit. It was hot, bubba. The heat wasn’t too terrible mornings and evenings (and it was actually cooler there than in Knoxville), but it discouraged you from wandering far from the swimming pool.

There’s also the potential hurricane problem, which is more acute in those months. Because of Hurricane Dean we went down two days early and came back two days early to avoid any problems. Next year we’re shooting for a May trip.

Note to Self

Note to self. When you’re groggy in the morning and you reach into the shaving kit remember that the can of shaving cream looks an awful lot like the can of deodorant.

P.S. – I just realized what a nice word deodorant is, relative to the possibilities. We could all be using destinkifying spray or armpit cream. Deodorant actually has a nice ring to it, all things considered.

Study Links Air Travel, Flu Spread

New study:

Scientists have found what they call the first real evidence that restricting air travel can delay the spread of flu — a finding that could influence government plans for battling the next influenza pandemic.

Air travel has long been suspected of playing a role in flu’s gradual spread around the globe each year, but yesterday, Boston researchers said they finally have documented it: The drop in air travel after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks seemed to delay that winter’s flu season by about two weeks.

“This is the first time that a study has been able to show a direct link between the numbers of people traveling and the rate of spread of a virus,” said John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Children’s Hospital of Boston, who led the research.

I haven’t read the study, but I tend to believe it based on the number of times I’ve gotten sick immediately after flying.

Four Broadway Shows: Chicago, The Color Purple, Doubt, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

While Melissa and I were in Manhattan this spring it occurred to us that for the first time ever we’d have a reason to watch the Tonies. I’m finishing this post while we watch the Tony Awards on TV.

The Color Purple


Winner of five Tonys including Best Musical, “Oprah Winfrey Presents the Color Purple” is a big name, big stage production at the gorgeous Broadway Theather (which has the most comfy seats of any theater we nestled our butts in). Disclaimer: I knew nothing about the story, but Melissa had read the book and seen the movie. She said it differed quite a bit from the movie and was closer to the book.

It’s a complex story that spans a lifetime, from adolescence to old age. The lead actress, LaChanze, does an amazing job of managing the role at all of the character’s ages, and is an energetic fireball. (Tragically, her husband, a bond trader, was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center while she was pregnant with their second child.) LaChanze won two Tonys, for Favorite Leading Actress in a Broadway Musical Favorite Diva Performance.



The cast featured big name draws John O’Hurley (best known for his role as J. Pederman on Seinfeld) and Robin Givens (best known for her role as Mike Tyson’s ex-wife). We loved the movie so much we bought the DVD when it came out, but this production was the one disappointment of our trip.

The cast wasn’t up the challenge. Amra-Faye Wright as Velma was the only lead with star power. O’Hurley and Givens were OK, but this was the Broadway debut for both of them and they haven’t magnifed their mannerisms for the stage. Speaking of scale, the Ambassador Theater’s stage seemed too cramped for this show. I was shocked to discover the show has had four thousand performances at the Ambassador. It can’t be that hard to find theater space in a decade’s time.

Even with a different theater and cast, the production had too many big musical numbers, each with a beginning, middle, and end. All the pause for applause kneecapped the momentum.


2006-04-01-02-New-York-0094-1.JPGA young priest (Ron Eldard) shows too much interest in a young boy, and draws the attention of the hard-nosed nun (Eileen Atkins) who runs the school. She’s suspicious of him and nis new ways, but as a nun she doesn’t have standing to question a priest. This was a compact drama, with only four cast members, and with a stunning performance by Eileen Atkins.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Starring Jonathan Pryce and Norbert Leo Butz. This was our favorite play, and Melissa thought it had the best music of any of the shows we saw (with Color of Purple having the best singing). The show’s a knee slapper, and is even funnier than the movie.

The set was easily the best of the four, and I was disappointed it wasn’t nominated. There were big elements, but the small elements were especially impressive. In an early scene a croupier rides a bicycle with a roulette table for a front wheel. Combined with two smaller pieces it becomes the centerpiece for a casino scene. The scenery was expansive, but airy, as if two stagehands could pack the important parts of the set in a tractor trailer in a couple of hours and put the show on the road.

The New Sunglass Hotness in Manhattan

Everywhere we went in Manhattan women were wearing these sunglasses with big lenses and thick frames, Breakfast at Tiffany’s style.

2006-03-30-New-York-0090.JPG 2006-03-30-New-York-0080.JPG