Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost and Lost

My brief stint of jury duty actually is providing me with several days worth of blog posts, just not about jury duty. While I was in the jury assembly room, we received several handouts: one about jury duty itself and others that were advertisements from places to eat lunch plus a map of the area. We were also able to get our parking garage tickets stamped, so as not to have to pay for parking. I folded up all my loose handouts in quarters so as to be able to fit them in my purse. Then I decided to take my garage ticket out of the unzipped outer compartment of my purse and put it in the zipped compartment on the other side. I laid the folded handouts on top of my coat on the next chair while I dealt with the parking ticket.

The problem was, I could not find the parking garage ticket. I ended up taking everything out of my purse while looking for it. “Everything” included several months worth of debit card receipts, three emery boards, about ten pens, (which was odd because I can never find a pen in my purse when I need one) a half empty pocket pack of Kleenex and no ticket. Several of the items I did find wound up on the floor, to be patiently picked up by a young man seated behind me.

Having run out of options, I decided to look among the folded handouts on the seat beside me, all the while thinking that surely I would not have been stupid enough to put the ticket in with them so that it could just fall out. The bad news is, I am that stupid. The good news is, it meant I found the ticket.

So, since jury duty was cut short, the first order of business Tuesday was cleaning out my purse. Since that was going to mean sorting papers into piles to file, shred, recycle and toss, I decided to go through my growing stack of mail at the same time. 

One of the items in the mail was from the government agency that deals with Medicare, telling me I can set up an account online to view my Medicare information, and including a temporary password. I’m not actually eligible for Medicare until June 1, but since I am on Social Security I have been automatically signed up and issued a card. Once my purse had been restored to its pristine condition, I decided to take care of the online sign up before I forgot. I needed my Medicare number, which was on my card, which I had of course filed in the “Health” folder in my file cabinet.

What was in the health folder turned out to be the booklet I received with the card, and a copy of the card, but not the card itself. I was able to use the number from the copy to sign up online, but I was worried about the missing card. I thought I may have given it to my husband to file in his folder of insurance information, but asking would mean letting my husband know I couldn’t find the card.

My husband has this ridiculous idea that I always lose things. In the 24 years we have been married, I have lost a few items, but who hasn’t? I lost my purse (but we both agree it was really stolen), my wallet twice (it was returned both times, once with the money in it, and anyway he only knows about one time), my car keys on a trip to South Carolina (but they were at the gas station when we stopped again on our way back) room keys twice, both unfortunately on that same trip to South Carolina, library books that turned out not to be lost as I discovered after I paid the library for them (they gave me a refund), a jacket, a nightgown, my prescription sunglasses and the first pair of cheap clip-ons I bought to replace them, the Palm Pilot he gave me for my birthday, and my passport. The Palm Pilot, as I had insisted all along, was in my car, not lost. When I took the car to a new carwash two years after I had replaced the Palm Pilot with my iPhone, they found it and left it in my cup holder for me. The passport was only missing for a few minutes in the Roman ruins at Bath before someone picked it up and found me by the picture. So really, that’s fewer than 24 things in 24 years. I don’t know where he gets this “always” from.

Still, I was having a Lucy and Desi moment when I finally had to ask John’s help with the Medicare card. He obligingly looked in the insurance folder, but found only the copy he got from his Office of Group Benefits showing they had seen the card. “You told me you put it in a safe place,” hubby grumbled.

It was the word “safe” that jogged my memory. I have a metal box, about the size of a shoebox, that I keep in my closet to hold important items. I’ve had it since I was in college, a leftover from a former roommate or boyfriend. There, right on top, was the Medicare card.

I thanked hubby profusely. Even though it was inadvertent, it was his use of the "safe" word* that led to my finding the card before my first act as a Medicare enrollee was to ask for a new card.

“Say what you will about my mother,” hubby reflected later, “She never lost her Medicare card.” I refrained from pointing out it wasn’t lost. It was in a safe place just like I said.

I do not lose things. 

*You saw what I did there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Conversation

Half of a conversation, anyway. As I was leaving the courthouse yesterday to head home after my shortest term of jury duty ever, I heard a man on a cellphone, apparently an attorney, having this conversation:

Attorney: I was told they had obtained a search warrant last week, but that it was never executed.


Attorney: Well then how did they get in your house?


Attorney: Did she sign a Consent to Search?

(Pause. Short sigh.)

Attorney: Well, that explains it then.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wait! That's It?

This morning began my week of jury duty. Yesterday evening I began my preparations: making sure my jury summons was in my purse and my pocket knife was out, setting my alarm fifteen minutes earlier, and laying out an outfit that was comfortable but polished. My dark taupe chinos, white cashmere pullover, and denim jacket with a dragonfly brooch pinned to the lapel were supposed to indicate sufficient respect for the court while not irritating me all day long. 

When I arrived at the door, I ran into problems. I had to remove my belt, jewelry, and everything in my pockets and put them in a small box to be scanned along with my purse. I managed to set off alarms anyway and had to be hand scanned. Since I was wearing my raincoat on top of everything else, I had forgotten the brooch on my lapel, but more importantly, I realized two hours later, I had forgotten the ten metal buttons on the cuffs, pockets, and placket of the jacket itself. I made a mental note about tomorrow’s outfit: no belt, blazer with plastic buttons, keep my rings and watch in my purse until I go through security. 

The last time I had jury duty, it was in the old courthouse. The new courthouse opened in 2010. It has a first floor area called the Jury Management Office, with a reception area, a large Jury Assembly Room and a smaller room called the quiet room next door. A few hundred of us gathered in the Jury Assembly Room for orientation. The first order of business was a welcome from Judge Fields. The next order of business was a review of what qualifications were necessary to be a juror. One prospect who had not resided in the parish for a full year was excused. So were several full-time students and one person over the age of 70 who did not want to remain, although two other 70-somethings elected to stay. The next group to be dismissed were convicted felons, persons under indictment, persons with physical or mental impairments that would affect their ability to serve, and people with hardships. They were all called up at once so the rest of the group would not know which people fell in which group. That didn’t stop me from playing “guess the felon” with the man in the next seat. Four or five people got sent back to sit with the rest of us, so I guess their hardships didn’t pass muster.

Courthouse under construction in 2009

Rendering of the courthouse from 2009

After getting our parking tickets validated, we got to watch an educational video about jury service. Before showing it to us the jury coordinator told us that the video made reference to being able to wait in the public library, but they don’t allow jurors to do that anymore. According to her, a homeless woman who hangs out in the library had spent so much time watching the coordinator talk to jurors that one day she was able to convince all of them they were being sent home.  

I love that story. I don’t know if I believe that story, but I love that story.

Once the orientation was done, we still had about an hour before lunch. A movie was being shown in the main room, so I escaped to the quiet room with my Kindle. Around 11:45 we were called back to the main room.

“If I call your name, you may leave for lunch and return at 1:15,” the coordinator announced. She called several dozen names, none of which were mine. I hoped the next group wasn’t going to have to wait until 1:15 for our turn at lunch.

The next group, it turned out, was being thanked for their service and sent home for good. I listened as the coordinator reeled off a list of names, none of which was mine. Then I heard my first name, for the first time that day. When she started spelling my last name*, I realized that was it. I was done for the week. I was done for the next two years, actually, because one thing made clear in orientation was that no matter how short your service, if you got a summons and showed up, that counted just as much as serving the whole week.

So my week of jury service that was going to provide several blog posts is over, just like that. The thanks of a grateful nation, well, grateful city-parish, are mine, along with a promised twelve dollars plus mileage. “Must be nice,” said my husband, who had to stick it out for a whole two and a half days.

I don’t know. I’ve been called for jury duty three times and have yet to serve on a jury. I was looking forward to it, largely because I would not be allowed to listen to my husband discuss the local news for a whole week. 

Maybe it’s the way I was dressed?

*Nobody knows how to pronounce my last name. No two people in my family say it alike.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Turf Wars in New Orleans

Tuesday was Mardi Gras. Three years ago my friend D found out about a group that organizes bus tours from Baton Rouge to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The bus leaves from our large mall and parks at Le Pavillion hotel, from which it is a two block walk to the parade route stands at Lafayette Square, across from Gallier Hall. Included in the package are tickets to the stands and a late buffet lunch at Le Pavillion. For the past two years, John and I have been going along with her. 

John grew up in New Orleans, so up until the year after Hurricane Katrina, we usually went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. While his mother lived there, we stayed at her house the night before and went to the big potluck lunch at the house of a friend who lived just a few blocks off the uptown parade routes. For two years, we paraded ourselves as members of a small crew who owned a float in one of the truck parades. After Katrina, we began going to Lafayette for Mardi Gras instead. 

Since we had always been uptown for the parades, I had never seen the Zulu parade. From our vantage point near Napoleon and St. Charles, we could see the Rex parade and the truck parades. I had actually attended two Zulu balls back when I lived in New Orleans during my first marriage, but never seen the parade. I know there was always a lot of grumbling on the part of members of our Mardi Gras crew about our parade getting off to a late start because the Zulu parade kept holding up Rex. The truck parades follow the same route as Rex immediately after. Zulu starts off at another point, but uses the same route as Rex downtown, which means Rex can’t start until Zulu is out of their way.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is the outgrowth of of a Benevolent Aid Society, a group of theater goers called “The Tramps”, and the Mardi Gras culture of New Orleans. They first paraded as Zulu in 1909 and first used floats in 1915. As the story goes, many of the floats were sponsored by local bars and the parade had to stop at each of these bars and mingle with the drinkers, leading to the parade having a somewhat chaotic and unpredictable route. It wasn’t until 1968 that they began parading on St. Charles and Canal Streets. 

The Krewe of Rex is an older and more privileged organization. Rex was first organized and paraded in 1872, in honor of the visit of Russia’s Grand Duke Alexis Romanov. A song written for the Duke’s amusement, “If Ever I Cease to Love”, is the Rex theme song to this day and played by His Majesty’s Calliope, the last float of the parade. The first ball was held in 1873, presided over by the first Queen of Rex.

Aside from the obvious racial and social differences between the two groups, they also embody two different sides of Mardi Gras. Zulu is raucous and inclusive. You can pay your way onto a Zulu float. This year's Zulu parade took 3 and a half hours to pass the viewing stand where we were camped, more than long enough to leave everyone feeling “enough already”. So far as I know, no one stopped at bars, but there were a lot of floats, bands, and groups of other kinds, like the Buffalo Soldiers. Zulu projects the attitudes of “Yes, we do have all day” and “Join us up here, why don’t you.” The Zulu Mardi Gras is Mardi Gras of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

King Zulu 2012

The only way you can ride with Rex is to join Rex, and the only way you can join Rex is by birth or marriage. This year’s queen of Rex, or as they put it, Queen of Carnival, is Ella Monstead Bright, the great, great, great niece of the 1879 King Rex, William Mahle. Her cousin was queen last year. King Rex is always a rich old white guy distinguished member of the business community. The queen is a debutante. 

The insularity of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras krewes led to the formation of two super krewes, Endymion and Bacchus in the late 1960’s. Endymion parades the Saturday night before Mardi Gras and Bacchus on Sunday night. They are known for their innovations in float design and for selecting celebrities for the reigning monarch. Endymion and Bacchus represent new blood and new money, as opposed to Rex’s old blood and old money or Comus’ old blood and no money. Comus used to hold the last parade on Mardi Gras night but stopped in the 1990’s.

The Rex floats, while not as expensive or expansive as those of the newer super krewes, are beautiful to look at and always tell a story. This year, it was Ancient American Lore. Fifty years ago, it would have been “Indian Legends”. The Rex parade is Mardi Gras by the right people, of the right people, and for the tourists. In the minds of not only Rex, but those tourists and the citizens of  New Orleans and the surrounding area, the Rex parade is Mardi Gras.

Rex Float

For those of us with no blood and no money, there are the truck parades. Sponsored by the Elks Krewe of Orleanians and the Krewe of Crescent City, the truck parades comprise individual truck floats decorated and staffed by small krewes or social clubs, organized under one umbrella organization which purchases insurance, sets the rules for how floats are decorated and how riders are costumed, and otherwise keep things organized. The two oldest parades in Baton Rouge, the Southdowns and Spanish Town Mardi Gras parades, are truck parades. Like Zulu, they got longer and longer until the city-parish government finally set a limit to how many units each parade could have.

John and I spent two years riding in the Elks Krewe of Orleanians parade with a krewe that unfortunately collapsed the third year when most of the elderly members either retired or died. Being in the streets on Mardi Gras is fun; riding on a float is even better. I got a phenomenal rush of power watching all those people in the streets begging for the cheap plastic beads in my hands. It also gave us something to do with all the cheap plastic beads we collected from the parades leading up to Mardi Gras. My usual parade experience consists of trying to catch everything within reach and plotting long, hard deaths for the people who catch the beads that were headed for me, and then two hours later asking myself, “What am I going to do with this crap?” Turf wars are not just for the krewes.

So it was with trepidation that my husband noticed me perusing the “Ride with Zulu” link the other day. “Why are you reading that?” he asked. “I was just trying to figure out why the parade was so long. If you don’t have to be a member to ride, that may be why.”

He seemed content with my answer, but it only took me three years to get him to accompany me to Antarctica. New Orleans is a whole lot closer. I’m biding my time.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making Tracks

If you go to this link, you can see a huge, searchable image of ancient elephant tracks laid across what is now a desert in the United Arab Emirates. They were made at least 6-8 million years ago, while the land was watered by a river, not the dry wasteland it is today.

According to Discover Magazine

There are many fossils of prehistoric elephants that show how their bodies evolved from smaller ancestors. But elephants are much more than just tusks and trunks. They have rich social lives, full of empathy, and their behaviours haven’t fossilised as well. We know that some elephants, like the mammoth and mastodon, spent some of their time in groups, thanks to the occasional trackways and mass graves.  But the Mleisa 1 site offers much clearer evidence.
Studying it wasn’t easy. The site is too massive to photograph from the ground, but the individual prints are too small to show up on satellite images. To accurately map the trackways, Nathan Craig from Pennsylvania State University attached a small pocket camera to a kite and snapped a set of overlapping images from above. He stitched the images together into a single large mosaic, which you can see on Gigapan. By calibrating the aerial mosaic with measurements taken on the ground, the team could study the herd’s footsteps from the air. also has an article on the elephant tracks.

One day, sometime around seven million years ago, a herd of bizarre, four-tusked elephants crossed the desert that stretched over what is now the United Arab Emirates. Thirteen of the behemoths plodded along together, perhaps moving towards one of the wide, slow rivers which nourished stands of trees in the otherwise the arid region. Sometime later, a solitary animal trudged across the herd’s path in another direction. We know all this because paleontologists have found the tracks of these massive animals.
Scientists were not the first people to wonder about the fossil footprints. The huge tracksite – which stretches over an area equivalent to seven soccer fields – had been a source of speculation among local Emirati people for years. Dinosaurs and even mythical giants were thought to have been responsible for the potholes. It wasn’t until the spring of 2001 that a resident of the area, Mubarak bin Rashid Al Mansouri, led researchers from the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey to the immense fossil field.
Dinosaurs had not created the tracks. The snapshot of time represented by the trace fossils came from the Miocene, sometime between six and eight million years ago — all the gargantuan non-avian dinosaurs had died out over 60 million years previously. Based upon the geological context and what had been found in the area before, fossil elephants were quickly identified as the trackmakers. The site was named Mleisa 1.
If the world had had to wait for me to think of using kites to make aerial photographs of the tracks, it would have been waiting still. I think it’s the most creative use of a kite since Ben Franklin and his key.

It’s amazing what the tracks themselves can tell us about elephant behavior. Elephants travel in herds organized around a matriarch. When the males hit puberty, they set out on their own until they find another group to join. The lone tracks in this picture were made by such a male, not at the same time as those of the herd.
I’m grateful for the scientists who know how to give us these snapshots of long ago. Our lives are measured in decades rather than centuries, and we can’t run as fast as some of our fellow mammals, swim as well as fish or soar like birds, but thanks to the curiosity and inventiveness of some, we can look back over billions of years of history and see out for trillions of miles.
What could be cooler than that?

Monday, February 20, 2012

You Turkey

For the last half dozen years or so, we’ve been eating Thanksgiving dinner at the house of a friend. Christmas we spend at John’s sister’s house every three years or so. When we’re home, we are more likely to cook roast beef or pork than turkey.  So it has been several years since we’ve had a roast turkey in the house. Last week I woke up craving turkey, and since it was my turn to grocery shop anyway, I added turkey breast to the list.

I was actually able to find a fresh one (or possibly a previously frozen and then thawed one), which meant I was able to cook it for dinner. It was small, just under 6 pounds, but a 6 pound turkey breast is still a lot of turkey for two people.

Half of it I froze to use later in making chili blanco. A friend of mine substitutes turkey for the chicken and I’ve been wanting to try it. (Usually I substitute pork tenderloin for the chicken.) The ribs and breastbone of course went to make soup, one-third of which we had for a lunch, one-third of which is in the refrigerator for later this week, and  the last third of which is in the freezer for another time when we are not sick of turkey.

I made turkey hash for lunch today, and half of that is in the freezer. There is still a large chunk of turkey left.

So I’m thinking of turning it into a turkey pot pie casserole to donate to St. Anonymous, which keeps a freezer of casseroles to donate to those who are sick, just had babies, or are facing other family emergencies which interfere with cooking. I can find a disposable baking pan. What I can’t find is a recipe I like. The classic turkey pot pie recipes I find are made to cook in a ten inch pie pan with crust on top and bottom. The casserole recipes I can find either call for prepared biscuit mix toppings or seem extremely complex. I want to make something that tastes good, which rules out the recipes that are essentially “toss diced turkey together with one can of soup and two cans of mixed vegetables and top with biscuit mix.” The recipients are already under stress; they don’t need bad food on top of it all. On the other hand, my main criterion for a good recipe is that after one or two go-rounds, I should have it memorized. (IOW, the only thing written by Julia Child I have around my house is My Life in France).

I would just improvise, but I need to include instructions for baking time and temperature with the casserole and while I’m perfectly happy to improvise those when I cook for myself, I want to make sure I give other people reliable information.

Maybe I should just make some more turkey soup.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Congratulations to Per Ahlberg

Belated congratulations to Dr. Per Ahlberg on his having been elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Per Ahlberg is a paleontologist and Professor of Evolutionary Organismal Biology (stop sniggering and read that s-l-o-w-l-y; it means as opposed to molecular biology) at Uppsala University, Sweden. He also has a wicked sense of humor.

Dr. Ahlberg is not a personal acquaintance of mine, but I know of his election because we both post on TalkRational. Dr. Ahlberg posts things like, 

Tiktaalik is correctly dated as far as I can judge. The best constraint on the human-zebrafish split is Guiyu oneiros, a lobe-finned fish from the Silurian of China described by Zhu and colleagues last year. Guiyu is a basal member of the coelacanth + lungfish + tetrapod lineage, and must thus postdate the human-zebrafish split. It is 419 million years old. The Polish trackways show that the tetrapod line had separated from the lungfishes and coelacanths by 395 million years ago. 

I post things like, “It’s a house band that had a small cult following in the mid-90’s" in answer to questions like, “What is evo-devo?”* 

So despite that nasty little incident in which Dr. Ahlberg called me a marriage wrecker, I decided to be the bigger person and offer him my congratulations anyway, here on my blog where he won’t read it, along with pretty much the rest of the population of the earth, including Sweden, wherever that is. Somewhere cold, is my understanding. Somewhere where having published a few (dozen, hundred, whatever) seminal papers on tetrapod evolution is considered reason enough to elect someone to a society that probably doesn’t even have fancy hats like the Swedish Chef Institute.

Seriously, though, Talk Rational is a fascinating place, especially the Life Sciences (formerly Evolution and Origins) board and the Physical Sciences message boards. Per is not the only working scientist to post there, although as most of them post under screen names, I tend to get the physicists confused with the geologists and the biologists. Since the whole point of Talk Rat is spirited discussion on a number of topics (science, politics, religion and secularism, mathematics, philosophy, history) plus more community oriented boards for discussing games, sports, media, pets, family and whatever, and since the moderating policy is fairly loose, the science boards tend to draw a number of cranks who are certain they can upend all of modern science by referring the resident scientists to badly mangled versions of the second law of thermodynamics, quantum physics or outlier statistics from poorly done experiments, or to the work of other cranks. The discussions that ensue tend to be highly educational for those of us who are really there to learn. As for the cranks themselves, they follow a derived set of laws that have been described as follows:

First Law: All evidences for [standard science theory] are speculative. All speculations for [crank preferred theory] are evidential. 
Second Law: One may escape intellectual responsibility on any issue merely by stating an intent to pursue it. 
Third Law: If you have an objection to any point I’ve raised, I’ve already addressed it. No, I won’t tell you where. 
Fourth Law: Unanswerable questions are invisible. 
Fifth Law: The truth of all previously established facts and conclusions are subject to their being convenient to the argument I am presently making. 
Sixth Law: Any claim  . . . post[ed] on a new discussion board invalidates the refutations of the same claim . . . already seen and acknowledged on previous discussion boards. 
Seventh Law: No matter how transparently pathetic . . . any [such] claims may be they can always be followed by something even more pathetic . . .  
Eighth Law: Any thread where I'm getting my ass handed to me on the original topic can be prolonged indefinitely by the introduction of tangential diversions or an abnormal focus on meaningless minutiae.  

These laws in their original have a particular poster’s name attached to them, i.e, “Poster Name’s Seventh Law”, but my experience is they apply to a number of people.

It is fascinating to me to see how often the credentialed scientists will post for pages on end patiently dismantling farfetched claims that they have seen numerous times before, even after it becomes obvious that they are talking to persons who are not arguing in good faith and operating on most, if not all, of the above laws. They do it for the lurkers, they say, and I am glad they do. I’ve learned a lot. 

So again, congratulations to Per and a thank you to all of the scientists who see public education as one of their tasks in the face of the perverse determination of some folks to remain, blissfully or not, ignorant.

*In case, you are wondering, it’s not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

It is fashionable every February 14 for people to complain that Valentine’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday” and totally commercial and that they can show their love for their dear ones on other days. To which I say (although generally under my breath) “So what?” Chocolate tastes good. Flowers look pretty. Cards are cheerful. Go take your hipster disdain for happy-making things someplace else, thank you very much.

Three years ago, hubby and I were on an Antarctic cruise on Valentine’s Day. I bought him a large Valentine’s Day card before we left, and carefully kept it hidden and unmangled for close to a week before giving it to him on the day. He was thrilled and sent me belated flowers when we got back.

The day the flowers were to be delivered, I had a migraine and left work early. Hubby called work to find out if the flowers had been delivered, only to find out I was at home. He called me there and fessed up about the flowers. Meantime I was feeling better, and didn’t want to miss my flowers, so I called work to tell them I would be back in the afternoon. “You can’t come back,” said our panicked receptionist. It turned out they had told the florist to take the flowers to my home.

You don’t have that kind of delicious romantic mix-up in your life if you spurn Valentine’s Day. 

When it comes to Valentine’s Day meals out, however, hubby and I have stopped going to restaurants on the actual day. We generally go a day or two later, when the wait staff is not rushed off its feet. This year’s plan is to go have lunch at Houmas House tomorrow, at the Cafe Burnside. We have eaten there before, and it is the perfect Valentine’s Day (or thereabouts) kind of place, plus the weather should be nice enough for us to stroll around the extensive landscaped grounds.

The crawfish pumpkin bisque at the cafe

Houmas House

I did give hubby his gift this morning, though. He buys most of his clothes at JC Penney, and ever since they instituted their new marketing plan, he has missed the $10 off coupons he used to get in the mail. So I bought him a gift card. He of course got me flowers and chocolate. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Like Molasses in January

Hubby and I managed to make it to St. Anonymous this morning to find out that Dr. J was preaching on the topic of repentance. It seems like Lent comes earlier and earlier. I wish people would at least let us get through Mardi Gras before crying “repent”.

It turns out, though, that the reason for the sermon was that back in August, when Dr J had requested suggestions for sermon topics, “repentance” was one of the many topics someone had asked for, and this was the first chance she had to address it.

Toward the end of her sermon, Dr. J used a historical incident as a metaphor for sin, the Boston Molasses disaster of January 15, 1919. I dimly remembered having heard about it before. Briefly put, as the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution was steamrolling to ratification, liquor manufacturers were trying to produce as much as possible before being shut down. Since rum is a component of molasses, the Purity Distilling company also stepped up its production of molasses, and its huge storage tank was just about full.

Then a freak warm spell hit, causing the tank to split and a flood of hot molasses to hit the streets, where the warm weather had lured people outside. Twenty one people were killed and many others injured. It resulted in one of the first class-action lawsuits in Massachusetts, and ultimately the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, which had bought out Purity, paid $600,000 in damages (worth over ten times that amount today). 

Dr J likened sin to that molasses. It damages all in its path and you don’t know where it will go. Furthermore, you can’t get rid of it on your own. You need Jesus to wash you clean. In support of that latter point, she told us that the only way they could finally get rid of the molasses was to spray the area with water from the harbor. According to Wikipedia, though, “The cleanup took only about two weeks because of the large number of helping hands, more than 300 (Puleo, p. 132-133). It took over 87,000 man-hours (roughly the number of hours in ten years for one person working "24/7") to remove the molasses from the cobblestone streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes.”

To me, that seems to undercut her point about not being able to get rid of sin on your own. If the molasses had stuck around until a gully washer of a rain storm hit, it would have been much better for her case, but it sounds to me like human technology, not to mention elbow grease and persistence, finally got rid of the molasses.

Furthermore, Wikipedia claims that the story about the tank being full to make rum before Prohibition took effect is an urban legend, and that Purity distilled the molasses for industrial alcohol and never made rum. I don’t know that this matters to Dr. J’s argument.

At the end of the sermon, we were each given little bottles of molasses which we are supposed to keep out during Lent to look at every day and remind ourselves that God forgives our sins.

The molasses behaves as if it's been watered down.

“What are the bottles for?” my husband asked me later. “We’re supposed to look at them during Lent,” I began, but he interrupted. “No, what do they manufacture those bottles for?” I have no idea, actually. They are a little over four inches tall and look like they might have a use in medicine or chemistry. I doubt they were made for the specific purpose of handing out molasses in church.

My husband has a plan for the molasses, and it’s not to use it to dwell on his many sins (that’s what he has me for) or redemption. He’s going to use it to make the cinnamon syrup he puts in his coffee.

Sermons are wasted on us.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jury Duty, the Sequel

Remember when I wrote about my husband’s week of jury duty, and concluded “I know if I were ever charged with a crime, I’d want a jury that was serious and motivated to do a good job and not wishing they could be with their son at college or worried about being fired. Now that I’m retired, I could be that juror”?

Be careful what you wish for. This afternoon I received a summons to jury duty the same week my husband reserved us a cabin for an overnight stay in a state park. “You have to call right now and get them to change it,” he said, speaking of the jury duty, not the cabin.

“Can’t we just change the reservation for the cabin?” I asked.

“No, we can’t. We’ll lose our money.”

I dutifully call the court and am told I should fax them a letter saying I had already made vacation plans, and fax any proof I had that we had done so. So hubby hands me the email confirming the reservation, which clearly states that we can cancel or transfer the reservation for a $10 fee. 

“But you have to do that months ahead,” he states, erroneously. The email says 15 days. The reservation is something like three weeks away. (To be fair to hubby, he is struggling with our income tax and a little distracted.)

So I change the reservation, paying the extra $10 with my debit card. The customer service representative is apologetic, but the rules are the rules. I suspect they have had too many experiences of people making reservations and changing their minds or just not showing up.

The summons is interesting. It is a mix of archaic and modern language: “Bring this summons with you herein.  Fail not, by order of the court” preceded “No shorts, no tank tops, no flip flops, no exceptions.” Newspapers are not allowed, but cell phones and laptops are. Nobody has ever been known to read the local news on a cell phone. It's not like they have an app or anything.  I guess this means I can bring my iPad or e-reader, though.

It also says in bold print, “Any and all self defense weapons brought into the courthouse must be surrendered and WILL NOT be returned.” It’s not a self defense weapon, but I need to remember to leave my little Swiss army knife at home. I’m also not allowed to bring a camera, video camera, tape recorder, work tools, or chemical spray. That makes sense, except maybe the “work tools” part. I can understand them not wanting you to walk around the courthouse with a screwdriver or sledge hammer, but is a protractor a “work tool”?

I will have an account of my week of service when I am done. If this time goes the way the previous two did, it will be a very boring account.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Foot

Most women, when they spend $250 in a shoe store, wind up with something they are excited to wear on their feet. Maybe they buy a pair of knee length boots, or some peep toe pumps, or sexy sandals, or a pair of platform stilettos that would have Carrie Bradshaw in paroxysms of delight. (There was another word I was going to use there, but I try to keep a certain tone here.)

When I spend $250 in a shoe store, it’s to buy clodhoppers. Well, to be fair, clodhoppers plus orthotic inserts for the clodhoppers*. In this case, two pairs of orthotic inserts because I have another new pair of shoes that needed them, too.

The second pair of shoes at least look like something I actually wear on purpose. Back in the fall, I saw a pair of oxfords in a J Crew ad that looked perfect for my new corduroy jeans. I was fairly sure my podiatrist would not like me wearing a pair of J Crew oxfords (unless perhaps he is in the market for a new boat), but I decided to see what New Balance’s sister brand, Aravon had in the way of similar shoes.

What they had looked an awful lot like my SAS Free Time shoes, shoes you have no doubt seen on your hairdresser, nurse, or dental technician at some time or other. Not exactly the sassy, casual look I was going for, but since I was reminded of SAS, I decided to look into what they had available.

What they had wasn’t bad. Their Take Time shoes aren’t quite as fashionable looking as the ones I had originally seen, but they don’t scream “orthopedic shoes” either. I tried them on in both a 7 and a 7 and a half, and decided I needed the 7 and a half.

When I say “try them on”, I mean one size on each foot. The size I needed was a display model and the clerk could not find the other shoe. No problem. They would just order them for me.

Weeks went by, and no word. I actually forgot about the shoes, and by time I remembered, it was December and I needed my spare cash for gifts. In January I called about the shoes. They had never ordered them, but promised they would. Two weeks later, I called again. A shipment had arrived, but they hadn’t opened it yet. They promised to call. 

The next day I was in Lafayette. I found their SAS shoe store, and the shoes, in my size. I grabbed them while I could.

The shoes are extremely comfortable, but the built in arch support isn’t sufficient for my flat feet. (Nowadays, they say “flexible arches”. It figures that the only flexible part of my body is the part that I would prefer not to have flex.) No problem, I figure. New Balance makes very nice arch supports, thoroughly approved by my podiatrist. So that is what I was doing in the New Balance store today, buying arch supports for my new shoes.

Once I was there, however, I realized I might just as well go ahead and replace my sturdy, if unexciting, athletic shoes. They have been redesigned, I am told. They are lighter yet provide more support. They feel fine on my feet in the store. I am a little disconcerted to see when I get home that the one review of the new model on their website is from a disgruntled nurse who hates them and went back to wearing her old shoes; however, I know from experience that I have one month to take them back if they aren’t suitable.

The inserts I may be stuck with, but that’s okay. Sooner or later I’ll be in the market for another pair of shoes.

*The clodhoppers are New Balance Motion Control running shoes, in which I do not run. For some reason, the NB people advise me to buy them a size larger than my normal shoe size, but they refuse to throw in a red nose and orange wig.

Monday, February 6, 2012


This morning I came across this link in a discussion on another blog:

State Sen. Shadrack McGill [of Alabama] defended a pay raise his predecessors in the Legislature passed, but said doubling teacher pay could lead to less-qualified educators . . . 
McGill said that by paying legislators more, they're less susceptible to taking bribes.
"He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. ... Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you're paying education, you know what's going to happen? I've heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education's going to go up.' That's never proven to happen, guys.
"It's a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher's pay scale, you'll attract people who aren't called to teach . . . 
"And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It's just in them to do. It's the ability that God give 'em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn't matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.
"If you don't keep that in balance, you're going to attract people who are not called, who don't need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance."

I am not making this up, seriously. Check the link. I posted it on my Facebook page with the comment, “Where do they even find these people to elect them?” A friend replied, “Come to Utah and I’ll show you.”

I live in Louisiana; I don’t even have to go that far.

Here’s something Senator McGill hasn’t considered. What if low paid teachers are susceptible to bribes, too? Some mediocre student whose parents have deep pockets might wind up getting admitted to Harvard, taking a place that rightfully belongs to an eighth generation legacy with a trust fund.

That would be awful! Raise those teachers salaries, I say.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Like A Dog

I’m not really a dog person. My husband and I are cat people. We’ve had up to five at a time living with us, although only two are right now. But when I saw the book How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends at our local library, I thought it sounded interesting enough to take home and read.

I found it slow to get into, not because it wasn’t interesting but because the author, Mark Derr, covers a lot of territory. The book is not only about the evolution of the dog, but of the evolution of the human as well, beginning in the late Pleistocene era when both were members of what Derr calls “The Guild of Carnivores”. It is also about the sciences that allow researchers to trace the evolution of the dog from the wolf. The book is not exactly a cozy read, but I kept at it because I found the information fascinating, and as Derr was careful to build on information (and repeat as necessary from chapter to chapter), it became easier to read as I went along.

Looking at dogs from the perspective of a person born in the late 1940’s, I have always known dogs as companion animals who did no work and lived under the supervision and control of humans. Leash laws are a comparatively recent event in my life time, and some dogs, owned and stray, did roam around our suburban neighborhood, but most dogs were kept in the house or the yard and walked on a leash. The few people I knew well who had dogs (we never did) actually had purebred dogs, but I couldn’t have named more than 5 breeds: collies, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles and German Shepherds.

Reading Derr’s book broadened my view. After discussing fossil finds and theories on the evolution of the dog, Derr takes us back to the end of the latest ice age, with packs of wolves and communities of humans traveling and hunting together “to meet the constant needs for company and security”. He suggests that humans (and pre-humans) and wolves observed each other at the hunt and may have learned from each other. As people began to settle down in communities, socialized wolves and dog wolves found it safer to give birth and raise litters within or near the confines of human communities, especially as humans would often help with raising the pups.  Humans were able to take advantage of the now evolving dog as workers and sometimes food. The author traces how dogs spread out across the world, sometimes with humans and sometimes not.

By the time of the Romans, guidelines were promulgated for the kinds of dogs best suited for different tasks. Large, stout  black dogs, Molosians,  were preferred for protection, and long, lean swift white “cattle dogs” for herding.

By the Middle Ages, small dogs were being bred as lady’s companions. Derr reveals rigid class rules for dog ownership: large hunters and small companion dogs were the province of the nobility, but yeoman were allowed medium size dogs for farm work and protection.

Of course, Derr discusses dog breeding and how the goals of producing desired traits in dogs often leads to health problems being bred in. He also contrasts the lives of dogs in less developed nations, where it is possible for dogs to associate themselves loosely with a given human family and still largely live, roam and breed on their own, with that of dogs in developed countries. As Derr puts it, in discussing  tests of dog’s attention to a human handler, 

“The underlying supposition is that the dog exists in a healthy fashion only within human society, but that is a limited view that denies the dog its true niche in the border zone where the human meets the natural. . . Attempts to make the dog a milquetoast who waits all day in a steel crate for the objects of its desire to come home at the appointed hour and take it to the dog park, following the daily drill, deny the dog its freedom. Producing purebred dogs with known debilitating diseases and disorders disrespects dogs and people.
The impetus behind scientific breeding was the desire to improve upon nature. Arguably, it has failed to meet that goal, which should be rethought. People crossbreeding dogs, searching for animals with intelligence, with ability and desire to learn and act - whether to play Frisbee or ball or search for victims of disasters or explosives or otherwise devote their talents to a satisfying task - present the outline of a different approach to breeding and raising dogs, one that seeks to honor and set right our ancient relationship.”

If you like dogs, or like history, or like learning about evolution, you will probably like this book. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Darn! I Don't Live in Canada

Usually, I don't envy people living in Canada at this time of the year, when it's 75º here in Baton Rouge and 39º in Toronto. But tomorrow this move is opening in Canada, and while it will be playing soon (if not already) in a handful of cities in the US, none of them are near me.

I guess I’ll just have to wait for the DVD.