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As promised, more on New Orleans...

Monday, January 28, 2008
First of all, the food was fantastic. Not cheap, but fantastic. We went to Palace Cafe, Mr. B's, Acme Oyster House, and Mulate's - all great.

Not so great? The weather. We got unlucky - it was mid-40s and raining for most of our trip. Pretty miserable.

Even worse? The Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and United Airlines. Let's begin at the beginning: we were flying United from Richmond to Dulles, then Dulles to New Orleans (for some reason, this was $200 cheaper than just flying on the same flights from Dulles to New Orleans). When we arrived at the Richmond airport, we found out that our first flight was delayed, so we wouldn't make the connection. Instead, they put us on an American flight that connected in St. Louis...which would've been fine, except the second flight was delayed. In the end, we got to New Orleans about 4 hours late...

...which would be no big deal, except that the Hilton Riverside had run out of non-smoking rooms, because they were overbooked. The woman at the desk even tried to convince me that I had actually booked a smoking room, despite the fact that I had my reservation confirmation printout showing "Non-smoking King Confirmed." I explained to her that I could not sleep in a smoking room, that I have migraines and cigarette smoke is one of the triggers. She went back to talk to her manager, and returned with a solution: 50% off the room rate!

Sigh. I explained that a discount did not solve my problem - in fact, since my employer was paying for the hotel, I didn't care how much it cost, I just had to sleep in a nonsmoking room. I asked to speak to her manager. When I finally spoke to the manager, Pat, about 20 minutes later, she did not apologize. She was not nice, or helpful, or sorry. She informed me that they were overbooked and it's first-come, first-served (despite the fact that they've had my money for two months). I did let her know - not nicely at this point - that their being overbooked was not my problem. Then, finally, she offered to put us on a rollaway bed in the parlor room of a suite (the living room, basically).

Pat did not offer us anything to make this right, other than the useless 50% off. When I called their customer care line the next morning, hoping to talk to someone more useful, they connected Pat. After much difficulty, I finally spoke to someone who offered us a free breakfast and an apology. I guess that's something.

The next day they said they could switch us to a regular nonsmoking room (you want two double beds, right? Sigh.), just stop by between noon and 3:00. The new room, they assured us, was really nice, a really nice room. So imagine our disappointment at 4:00 - when the room was finally ready - to find that it wasn't a really nice room. I guess maybe if you've never stayed anywhere but a Motel 6, it might be, but otherwise....ugh. The carpet in the 16th floor hallway looked like it had been flooded by Katrina...last week. The mirror frame in the bathroom was peeling and cracked. The laminate bathroom counter was ugly and the sink had a chipped chrome faucet. The walls were paper-thin, so we could hear every word spoken in the room next door. The minifridge they delivered REEKED and made everything in it smell bad.

But, finally, we left! Our return flight to Dulles was nice and uneventful. We arrived at Dulles airport around 11:00am, so we had plenty of time to make our connection (which, according to our boarding passes, would board at 12:18 and leave at 12:38). We sat down at Five Guys, about 15 feet away from our gate, and had lunch. We heard lots of announcements, including other flights leaving from our gate. At 12:20, we walked over and heard the person at the desk say "Last call boarding to Richmond" (aloud, not on the PA).

What? Last call?

We hurried up and handed them our boarding passes - and were greeted by the woman with "Where have you been? We've been boarding for a while! We've been paging you!" I apologized, and said that we'd been right there at Five Guys and hadn't heard anything. "You can't hear from there! You have to wait at the gate! You can't hear any announcments from there, and you can't wait there!"

Well, now I wasn't sorry. I explained that we'd heard lots of announcements, just none for us. She held our boarding passes so that she could continue: "No, you can't hear our announcments from there, you can't wait over there, we've been waiting for you, we were going to leave!" I can't convey this with typing, but her tone - you'd think I'd personally beaten up her grandmother or something. I have never been spoken to as rudely and angrily by any employee of any company, ever. I was furious. The calmest reponse I could manage - to avoid being detained and not allowed on the flight - was to take out my cell phone, look at the time (12:20), and say "I sure hope you wouldn't leave 20 minutes early without 5 of your passengers" and then keep walking. For God's sake, we WERE listening, and we arrived at the gate at the scheduled boarding time.

So...I'm glad to be home. I've written to United about that woman, but don't expect a response. It doesn't really matter, because I won't ever fly United again.

Sorry for the long rant. The food was really good, though.

New Orleans

Saturday, January 26, 2008
To sum up, although there will be more later: &#@$ United Airlines, and &#@$ the Hilton Riverside Hotel.

Good food, though.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Frostette the Snowwoman
Originally uploaded by avpjack
Nuff said.

Apple Juice Life Lessons

Monday, January 14, 2008
An interesting consequence of having extended family help around the house: stuff gets done differently, and your kids notice. Davis, at three years old, spends a lot of his time learning about how the world works, where things belong, and the right way for everything to be. He has discovered how to ask "why." He has not discovered how to stop.

Davis enjoys apple juice. He has recently taken to calling it ape-l juice, and delights in the notion that one must squeeze an ape to produce it. Since a single cup of AJ could provide Davis with more than 100% of his daily sugar intake, Mrs. Z and I dilute it to 50% strength. Still, he goes through a lot of it, so we buy it in the largest size available at the grocery store, which is roughly a barrel. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but I think I saw Davis doing AJ keg stands the other day while his infant sister chanted "Chug! Chug! Chug!"

But I digress.

The AJ keg is difficult to pour in small amounts, so for months we kept a smaller half-gallon AJ container in the fridge, filling it halfway with straight AJ and then topping it off with water. That would keep us going for a few days, and then we'd wash it, refill it, and repeat.

This system went fine for a while, and then Sara was born, and Grandmother came to visit for a week. Grandmother was an enormous help, and kept Mrs. Z and I sane by doing everything that needed doing while we sat on the veranda and sipped juleps. (You missed a spot there, Grandmother.) Grandmother reached the end of the half-gallon apel juice container and, having recently discovered the location of our recycling bins, recycled the container. Like a sane person.

An hour or two later, I was in the kitchen filling a Davis-sized order for juice, and could not find the AJ container. After brief consultation with Grandmother and a short period of mourning for the lost bottle, I wrestled with the keg and poured half a small-sized cup of apple juice.

The apple juice container now unavailable, Grandmother had a brilliant idea: premixed, diluted apple juice doesn't have to be in a container marked "Apple Juice;" any container will do. So that's how, Saturday afternoon, I would up pouring Davis a cup of apple juice from a bottle clearly labeled, "Simply Orange." Of course, Davis noticed the change:

"May I have some apel juice, pwease?" (Davis has trouble with "l" and "r.")
"Yes, you may." [Removes OJ container from refrigerator.]
"What's dat?" (He's not so good with "th," either.)
"It's apple juice."
"No, no, no — it's owange juice!"
"It's apple juice, but it's in an orange juice container."
"But, but, but ... " [Splutters.]

Here I paused. Was I really about to say what I was about to say?

"Davis, listen to me. I know the container says orange juice, but this is apple juice. It's not the container that matters. It's what's on the inside that counts."

I'm not sure what lesson I imparted there, but I can think of three possibilities:
1. What's on the outside and what's on the inside are two different things, so you can't judge the inside by how the outside looks.
2. You can't trust what authority figures say something is; you have to experience it yourself to really understand it.
3. Apple juice is yummy, and no one gives a crap what the bottle looks like.

I hope he gets at least some measure of all three.

I love my car like a pet, but...

Thursday, January 10, 2008
the weirdest stuff happens to it. Last month, we noticed that the BMW logo had worn off of the front of the car. "Not a big deal," I thought. "It's just a sticker." It's a $35 sticker attached to a piece of metal. Why can't I just replace the sticker?

The car keeps telling me that I need to check my coolant level. There's no coolant leak and it hasn't been that long since it was serviced. After a brief googling of "e39 'check coolant level'," I learned that it's probably a sensor gone bad and not a real coolant issue.
I'll pile this one on top of:Max conquers Germany while playing with the new toy (by avpjack)

  • new brakes
  • new tires
  • new battery
  • broken cup holder
  • the Inspection 2 service
  • a new headlight
  • "check fog lamps"
  • and my favorite, "washer fluid low."

If I didn't like to drive it as much as I do, I'd hate it. This is why warranties are nice.

Happy Zeroth Birthday, Sara!

Monday, January 07, 2008
Pictures of Sara Patricia are now online.

Note the crazy spelling: we're leaving off the aitch.

An Announcement

I know my brother-in-law can't call EVERYONE, so I just want to say: Welcome to the world, Sara Patricia!

My sister had a healthy baby girl this morning at 6:12 AM. She's 7 lbs, 14 oz, and 19 inches long. I'm sure there will be pictures soon...

Unusually Warm Weather We're Not Having ...

Friday, January 04, 2008

From the Washington Post ACCUWEATHER FORCAST, which despite all evidence to the contrary, I can only assume means "accurate weather" forcast. I'm sure my cat will be happy to know that despite the fact that her water bowl is a frozen solid block of ice, the low tonight will only be 66.

U.S.-Lakota Relations

Wednesday, January 02, 2008
If you've been living under a rock, or just preoccupied with the holidays, you may have missed the news that a portion of the United States in the middle of the country is no longer part of the country. To catch up, start by remembering your U.S. history — in particular the parts of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries where invading hordes of syphilitic, pox-ridden Europeans ran the indigenous peoples of North America off of their native lands and destroyed the basis of a developing economy. For the Lakota Sioux nation, a seminal event in the history of American aggression was the December 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, in which American Cavalrymen killed at least 150 Lakota Sioux, 62 of the women and children. By the mid-20th century, indigenous government of all tribes had been restricted by treaty and acts of Congress to minimal, often undesirable, tracts of land dispersed throughout the country in the reservation system.

Flash forward to February 1973, when members of the American Indian Movement occupied the town of Wounded Knee, and the United States laid a 71-day siege that ended more or less peacefully, but not without casualties. AIM leadership was protesting then-current president Dick Smith of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, whom they claimed was more closely aligned with the interests of the United States than the Lakota Nation. Then, last month, an AIM-led political coalition announced the Lakota withdrawal from all treaties with the United States and an intent to establish a new Lakota nation which would issue its own passports and seek diplomatic ties with foreign governments. This action cuts a hole in the northern part of mid-west America.

The Oglala Lakota face serious problems: the vast majority (more than 95%, by some estimates) of the population on the reservation have incomes below the poverty line, and unemployment is rampant; medical care is scarce, but the Lakota have higher than average rates of diabetes, obesity, and alcoholism; life expectancy on the Pine Ridge reservation is 48 years for men, 52 years for women. These are overwhelming crises which scream for intervention, and it is easy to think of the Lakota in only those terms; it is easy to think to oneself, "Oh, those people. They're poor, and life is hard for them." One often follows that sentiment with the subtly racist, "they're going to need our help if they're going to get better."

Indeed, recent events have brought these thoughts to the forefront. Here's an excerpt from a column in the Edmonton Sun:
Among them [i.e., conditions justifying secession from treaties] are high mortality rates among Lakota, skyrocketing drug and alcohol abuse, high rates of incarceration, disturbing disease rates, shameful poverty, low rates of housing, high unemployment and, finally, threatened culture.

These are all serious issues that need to be addressed.

The problem is sovereignty is not the answer and the American government is not responsible for many of the problems, although colonialism likely created the conditions. In fact, separation might exacerbate them. Just as in Canada, a sudden withdrawal of federal assistance to indigenous communities would make many social problems worse.

And later:
Once individuals are empowered, they can bring respect and dignity back to their families and communities.

While the author isn't entirely wrong, he rather misses the point about cultural poverty that Ruby Payne, in her book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," makes clear: poverty is relative, and those in generational poverty must reject cultural norms and give up, at least temporarily, their relationships in favor of wealth building. This columnist suggests tacitly that the poor in Pine Ridge lack respect and dignity, which tells us something about the columnist. To the extent that this columnist is speaking from a middle-class cultural background, it tells us something of the middle class, as well.

The problems facing those living in Pine Ridge arose over the course of centuries, and likely won't be resolved in anything less than several generations. Importantly, although the United States helped create the conditions that caused the long-lasting economic depression among indigenous North Americans, these problems can't be solved by unilateral U.S. action, nor is it clear that U.S. help will ever be fully accepted. Centuries of history have taught them to fear Americans, even bearing gifts.

Instead, we should do what we should have done centuries ago, and start treating the Lakota and other native American nations as truly sovereign, independent nations. It is true that the U.S. and Lakota nations are not, and likely will never be, true equals; the U.S. has a larger population, wealthier economy, superior military, and far greater global political presence. However, these same things could be said of the comparison between the U.S. and Viet Nam, the U.S. and Belgium; the U.S. and Ecuador; the U.S. and Israel; the U.S. and Kenya. This dignity and respect we think is missing in the Lakota is, in reality, missing only in our view of the Lakota, and will be restored when we acknowledge the respect and dignity the Lakota deserved long before the United States was born.