The potato king of Rio

January 11, 2021 • 2:45 pm

This video was “suggested” for me on YouTube, and when I saw this title I knew I had to watch the whole thing. Now I want to go to Rio, if for no other reason than to go to Batata de Marcehal and get a giant portion of fries and meat!

Ademar de Barros Moreira is a man who takes pride in his work, and doesn’t cut corners.

In search of lost time

December 18, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Truth be told, it’s a cold and lazy day, with one lone hen (named Soft-Serve) swimming in a half-frozen pond, and a tired PCC(E) trying to stay awake. Braining just isn’t on today, so let’s revisit some of the past—without the help of madeleines or tilleul. That is, here are a some old photos for your delectation. Click to enlarge them.

First, here’s a photo that warms my heart: Honey overseeing her 17 offspring, half of which weren’t hers but were kidnapped from Dorothy. It was a great joy for me to see Dorothy re-nest and produce a brood of her own, which she raised to fledging.  This photo was taken on June 12 of this year. Yes, Honey stole another hen’s brood, but she took good care of them, and all flew away. She’s now produced 29 ducklings on my watch.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where I spent two glorious days in July, 2011, surrounded by palatial architecture and fantastic paintings. It’s still the nicest art museum I’ve ever visited in regards to architecture and paintings (the Louvre comes second):

Throne room, with lovely inlaid floors:

You’re allowed to take photos so long as you don’t use a flash. Here’s a gorgeous Rembrandt: “The Descent from the Cross” (1634):

And what may be one of the few Leonardos in the world: it’s not absolutely certain this is by his hand: “Madonna Litta” (ca. 1495, sadly with a glass reflection). The Hermitage labels this as a genuine Leonardo. (It’s my goal to see every Leonardo painting in existence, though I can’t be arsed now to look up how many there are.)

October, 2011: Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. During the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s annual meeting, where I spoke that year, the FFRF ran a field trip to the house. (Twain was, of course, an atheist.) You can see he made enough dosh to have a big place to live! Some say it was designed to partly resemble a riverboat, which of course Twain had piloted (that’s where he got his pseudonym):

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF raffling “clean money”, i.e., currency printed before 1957, and thus lacking the “In God We Trust” motto added by Congressional declaration that year:

I traveled a lot that year. In October I spoke in Valencia, and my friends took me to the market. Such delicious raw hams for sale!

The Spanish love their ham, as do I:

Local mushrooms:

And local people waiting to cross the street:

Olives of all sorts!

Onions?

After Madrid I met a friend in Switzerland, near Geneva. Two trees on a walk:

Richard Burton’s house in Céligny, Switzerland, where he died in 1984. He was 58. Note the ducks on the gate.

January, 2012: After the Evolution Society’s mid-year officers’ meeting in Costa Rica, I traveled around a bit. This is the humble abode of Alexander Skutch, (1904-2004; a near centenarian), the great ornithologist who lived here for many years. It’s now a museum, but preserves the house as it was when he lived there:

The house is just as he left it, including his clothes, office, and books. As you see below, he was well read:

The Skutches had a beautiful garden with local and imported plants.

And of course there was a bird feeder, replenished with fruit. Can you identify these two birds?

Finally, a few photos of the famous field station La Selva, where I spent two weeks in 1974 as a grad student in the OTS Tropical Ecology Course. Here I was, back again nearly 38 years later.

Some birds (you identify them; I can’t):

Sexual dimorphism:

Some bats on the ceiling of the field station; the dots are marks put on by researchers:

And my favorite frog (besides Atelopus coynei, of course), Oophaga pumilio (I knew it as Dendrobates pumilio). There are several color morphs, and this one gives it the name “blue jeans frog”. It’s a poison-arrow frog, very toxic—as you might guess from its coloration:

I love making these posts. In a time of no travel or adventure, they bring back good memories.

The omelette maker of Delhi

August 16, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Writing about Kamala Harris reminded me of this video I had waiting in the wings. It’s about an old man who sells omelettes (an “omelette walla”) in Delhi, a place I love. And the video also exemplifies many of the things I love about India: the dedication to one’s work and one’s family, the persistence—and cheerfulness—in the face of adversity, and, of course, the love of good food. It also calls up the grinding poverty of the country, something that one must come to terms with if one is to visit. If you go to India, you will either vow never to return or will want to keep coming back. I’m definitely in the latter group.

Do watch this 7½-minute video about Balbir Singh, who sells omelettes outside a metro stop in Delhi. Although there are footnotes, I adore the lovely lilt of Hindi. Note that, like many educated Indians, the narrator speaks a mixture of Hindi and English.

By the way, the price of an omelette or half fry, 50 rupees, is about 67 U.S. cents. (“Ghee” is clarified butter.)  I hope I get back to Delhi soon, as I want to try Singh’s eggs. Make mine a half fry!

If you love the food of India, Curly Tales has a lot of videos about it. Have a look at this one, featuring pre-Independence food joints that are still around. I’ve been to three of the 15 featured in that video: the Parsee place in Mumbai, Karim’s in Delhi, and Glenary’s in Darjeeling (a remnant of the Raj; the food is British and not that great).

Now I’m really hungry!

The MS Roald Amundsen becomes a Petri dish

August 4, 2020 • 1:45 pm

Several readers informed me about the coronavirus outbreak on the MS Roald Amundsen, the ship I was on last fall as a lecturer for five weeks in Antarctica, Patagonia, and the Falkland Islands. The article below is from Ars Technica (click on screenshot), and there’s another from the BBC.  It’s a sad tale of something unspecified gone wrong, but I was informed of it by the ship’s parent company, Hurtigruten, several days ago. I was hoping against hope that I’d be invited back to the Antarctic to lecture again this year, but in light of this, there’s no way that’s going to happen. (I was hoping against hope that they’d have a vaccine by then, and, if not, even musing about whether I’d take a chance and go unvaccinated, which is how much I love the Antarctic.)

The kicker is that in the picture below, taken on November 19 of last year, I was on that ship! 

It’s not clear what went wrong (the company says it didn’t follow its procedures properly), but on a trip to Svalbard (Spitzbergen), 41 passengers (the BBC says 41, Ars Technica says 34) and crew tested positive for Covid-19, and hundreds on board are being quarantined back in Norway. Four have been hospitalized. Hurtigruten was the the first cruise line in the world to resume trips while the pandemic was still going on, and the results weren’t pretty.

Ars Technica reports:

MS Roald Amundsen is run by the Norwegian firm Hurtigruten, which in mid-June became the first cruise ship operator in the world to resume voyages amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hurtigruten assured travelers that it followed national public health guidelines and touted safety precautions for passengers on board, including social distancing, increased hygiene and sanitation protocols, and a vow to sail at no more than 50 percent capacity.

And indeed, the ship was loaded with hand sanitizing machines and we were repeatedly instructed last fall, before the pandemic hit, to keep our hands sanitized and clean. The company is, after all, well known for the scientific nature of its trips: there are no casinos, bells, or whistles: just landings ashore and science lectures, three of which were given by me. I loved it. One would think that of all cruise ships, this one would be the safest. But apparently, with the crew from East Asia and passengers from all over Europe, there would be no way to keep an infection off the ship. And so it happened.

In the wake of the outbreak, the company has suspended all cruises. Norway’s government has also banned cruise ships carrying more than 100 people from disembarking passengers at its ports for 14 days.

The conclusion may seem foregone. The pandemic kicked off with multiple outbreaks on cruise ships, leaving some vessels desperately seeking ports that would accept them while isolating vacationing passengers in their tiny cabins. The most notable was the Diamond Princess, which docked in Yokohama, Japan on February 3 and held passengers and crew in quarantines for weeks. Of the 3,711 passengers and crew originally on board, 712 became infected with the coronavirus and 13 died.

Mistakes

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that cruise ships are uniquely prone to infectious disease outbreaks because of the social nature of the ships and the fact that they bring travelers from many places together. The CDC has issued a “No Sail Order” for cruise ships that is set to last until September 30, unless it is rescinded or extended.

Still, Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldamsaid seemed to pin the outbreak onboard its ship to rule-breaking. “A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures,” Skjeldamsaid said in a statement to the BBC.

“This is a serious situation for everyone involved,” he went on. “We have not been good enough and we have made mistakes.”

Coronavirus cases onboard MS Roald Amundsen span two voyages, one that departed July 17 and another that departed July 24. There were 387 passengers total on the two legs, of which five have tested positive so far. Local authorities scrambled to track down passengers who had already disembarked, making sure that they went into quarantine and received testing.

Of the 158-person crew, 36 have tested positive. Thirty-two of the infected crew are from the Philippines and the rest are from Norway, France, and Germany. Crew were tested prior to leaving their countries, but were not required to quarantine before coming aboard.

And so it goes. They’ve canceled all cruises until at least late fall, and I suspect winter is off, too. The hope for a return to Antarctica was keeping me going, so for me this is a major downer. But not as much of a downer as for the passengers and crew who have the virus, four of whom are hospitalized. I wish them a speedy recovery. And since my experience with Hurtigruten was totally positive, so much so that I’d lecture on any of their adventure trips, I wish the company well, too, and hope it finds out what happens, ensures that it won’t happen again, and resumes cruises only when it’s (nearly) absolutely safe to do so.

Better days to come, I hope. One of my photos showing the ship:

 

Old travels

May 4, 2020 • 9:30 am

Matthew is being nice and calling me every day because he sees that the solitude is getting to me. And, in response to my telling him that what I miss most now is travel, and telling him a few of my youthful stories, he urged me to recount some of them as a form of therapy,—or at least a way to reduce the “travel longing” that plagues me.

So here’s one, and there may be more. Some of the details may be a bit hazy. It’s been a long time.

In 1973, after I had graduated from William & Mary, had entered Rockefeller University as a graduate student, and then gotten drafted as a conscientious objector, I took the government to court after realizing I’d been conscripted illegally. (From the class of 1971, nobody was drafted into the Army, but COs were still conscripted: a violation of the law. I had already worked 13 months in a hospital before I learned about the illegality of my conscription.) The federal courts decided the class action suit of Nixon et. al v Coyne et. al in our favor, and I was released from service, along with about 2500 other COs in the “class.”

The issue of graduate school wasn’t settled (I was supposed to come to the University of Chicago to study with Lewontin, but, unbeknownst to me, he’d accepted a job at Harvard), so I decided to go to Europe for a Wanderjahr. (Well, a Halbwanderjahr).

In April, my girlfriend and I flew to Athens, intending to hitchhike across Europe, winding up, we planned, in Spain. In fact, we were gone about five months, the total cost of the trip was a bit less than $600 (excluding airfare), and we did fly back in August from Madrid.

After a few days in a grubby hostel in Athens (this is a town where, after spending 3 days, you shouldn’t linger), I got my student identity card and we headed out of town. I still have that ID, and you can see that I was a longhaired hippie freak in those days, though an academic one. That card was essential in getting discounted admissions to museums and archaeological sites.

Our plan, as I recall, was to take the subway from Athens to its port, Piraeus, and get on the first ship going to a Greek island, no matter which one. When we got to the port, a ship was leaving almost immediately for Crete, and so we hopped aboard. It was an overnight journey and we slept on deck in our sleeping bags and groundsheets.

We landed in the port of Xania, and decided to hitchhike across the northern coast of Crete, going as far as we could and hoping to find some place to settle for a while and absorb some small town culture. (I had lived in Athens as a kid from age 5-7, and perhaps for that reason the language came easily to me.) I was fearless back then, and, like Neal Cassady, open to whatever lay ahead, and so we found the coastal road and stuck out our thumbs. Hitchhiking in Greece at that time wasn’t hard, and we quickly got a ride. (Traveling with a woman immensely improves your chances of being picked up.) The vehicle was a big truck carrying a huge load of oranges in its bed. My girlfriend climbed in front, while I climbed up on the tall pile of oranges in the rear. As we trundled along the coast in the morning sun with the sea to my left and the breeze ruffling my hair, I helped myself to the fresh-picked fruit, a great restorative.

I can’t remember if that truck went all the way to the end of the road, but we eventually made our way to Sitia, on the northeast coast. Here’s our journey:

Along the way we hooked up with an American medical student who was traveling, and we resolved to try to find a house together in Sitia. Back then, Sitia was a small and sleepy fishing village with a beautiful harbor, and had the three requisites for a stay: cheap and available housing, a few good restaurants, and a zaxaroplasteio (ζαχαροπλαστείο), a pastry and sweet store, for I adore Greek pastries and required a daily baklava with Greek coffee. Below is what Sitia looks like now, but back then it was just tiny hamlet with no tourists. There were few houses above the waterfront, and none atop the hill.

Yes, the water was that color.

I can’t remember how we found housing, but the three of us rented a sparsely furnished three-room house (two bedrooms and a kitchen/common room), with our share being $30 for an entire month. At some point the med student departed, and we were left to chill out for several weeks.

That’s probably the only time in my life since college that I’ve been settled for a while in a foreign town and had no work to do. But there was plenty to occupy our time. Back then I’d sleep late, and we’d wander into town to the dairy: a small, windowless room where they sold milk, cheese, and yogurt. There was also a rickety wooden table where we’d sit and have breakfast: either a huge plate of Greek yogurt with sugar (Greek yogurt is the best in the world), or a glass of warm sheep’s milk with rusks.

After breakfast it was time for a swim or a wander. We’d take long walks over the dry hills, and I still remember the scent of wild sage stinging my nostrils. At lunchtime we’d repair to the εστιατόριο (restaurant), a small family-run place. As is the custom in such places, there was no menu: you’d walk into the kitchen, lift the lids off the pots, and see what looked good. There might be stuffed cabbage, or moussaka, or pastitsio, or maybe I’d get a big peasant’s salad (horiatiki salata) with bread. It cost almost nothing.

After lunch there might be more swimming or wandering, or perhaps a sojourn at a waterside cafe to have an ouzo with the inevitable side of mezedes, the small plate of goodies that comes with every drink. It could be beans, or bread with taramosalata (fish roe), or peanuts, or whatever the taverna had on hand. It’s possible to spend hours in such a place, sipping, reading, or just watching the sea. The hours would rabbit by, and then it would be time for an afternoon visit to the zaxaroplasteio for a baklava or kataifi, with a tiny cup of Greek coffee, which I was able to order in Greek to the amazement of the waiters. (It’s either “skettos” [plain], “metrios” [a tad of sugar] or—my choice—”glykivrastos”, γλυκήβραστος [sweet and well boiled]).

There was more idling before dinner, either in a restaurant eating a big salad made from ingredients at the local market (we didn’t cook). After an evening stroll, it was time for bed.

And so a month went by, but it seemed to last just a week or two. I’m not sure I even have the ability now to relax that way, or to do nothing but cool my heels and eat for a month on end (I weighed 135 pounds back then and didn’t gain an ounce).

As the month’s lease came to an end, we had to decide where to go next. The decision was made for us, and a good one it was: there was a weekly ferry from Sitia to the island of Santorini, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. And after that, a long road ahead.

I revisited Sitia about two decades later, and was appalled to find that they’d built a huge Club-Med style resort there, the place was crawling with tourists, and there was little solitude to be had. But I had my memories.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 11, 2020 • 8:00 am

Reader Richard Bond has some lovely photos of the Kourtaliotoko Gorge in western Crete. I’ve indented his words.

A few years ago in Crete I had booked a trip to walk down the Gorge of Samaria. It was cancelled at short notice because of a forecast 50 Celsius in the gorge, so, on the spur of the moment, I took a boat trip to Preveli, where the Kourtaliotiko Gorge debouches into the sea. This is a lovely gorge, worth visiting for its scenery alone, but its really striking feature is an extensive and thriving grove of the rare Palm of Theophrastus (Phoenix theophrasti), also known as Cretan Date Palm. This was identified as distinct from the cultivated date palm only about half a century ago, partly because of its rather odd distribution in a few isolated sites: a handful of sites in Crete, four in southern Turkey, and one(?) on the Greek mainland.

Because of my lack of prior research, my photos were mere sightseeing mementos, but I submit this selection in the hope that they show enough of these palms to interest WEIT followers.

The first photo shows a section of cliff just west of Agia Galini, where I was staying (in a hotel full of cats!). To my inexpert eye, it seems to show an interesting series of distinct phases of sedimentation. At Preveli, a westerly current has helped build the beach into a dam across the stream that flows through the gorge, causing that stream to turn abruptly west at its mouth, with a lagoon behind it. (Similar features can be seen at Seaton and at Mudeford on the south coast of England.)

The second and third photos show the lagoon, with reeds and some of the palms along the shore.

The fourth and fifth photos give a closer view of more palms.

Number six is one of the pools on the stream. There were fish (trout?) 20 cm long in it, which seems to indicate that the stream never dries up.

Seven shows how the palms can cling to tiny ledges on the cliffs.

Eight and nine show part of the profusion of flowering shrubs that line parts of the banks. (I cannot identify them.)

The hilltop in ten is part of the massif, nearly 1000 metres high, that supplies the stream.

The last photo, looking back as we left, is of the mouth of the gorge and the beach.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 6, 2020 • 8:00 am

Bruce Lyon, evolutionary ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, is back with his felicitous mix of travel photography, animal photography, and natural history. I’ve indented his captions.

Argentina part III

Here is another installment of photos from my December trip to Argentina (previous posts here and here). Today there are more photos and stories from the high elevation (4500 meter) Vilama-Pululos site we visited near the Bolivian border. This region has several high-elevation lakes with the coots we were seeking, but lots of other interesting wildlife as well. In this installment I will focus on an interesting high elevation bog habitat.

Below. My Argentinian colleagues Alejandro Pietrek and Enrique Derlindati hiking through the austere and beautiful habitat en route to a lake we checked for coots.

Below: The little tin refugio (silver hut) served as our lodging for the four days we were in the area conducting surveys. The refugio is for use by the park rangers while working in this remote area and my colleagues got permission for us to stay there. We got lost on the first night: we arrived after dark and could not find the hut so we had to camp. It was not the most comfortable night and this made us extra appreciative of having a cozy shelter for escaping the elements, cooking nice warm meals, and sleeping in comfort.

Below: A closeup of the refugio:

Below: A highlight of the entire trip were the abundant high elevation bogs, called vegas in Argentina and bofedales in Peru and Chile. These bogs result from the water that seeps out of the sides of the surrounding mountains and then flows downhill to feed into the lakes, which depend on these bogs for their water. In some places the water flows quickly, forming creeks, while in other areas it moves slowly and forms the large spongy bogs. The region in general is very dry, so these bogs are magnets for wildlife.

Below: A screen shot from Google Earth showing a couple of the lakes we studied and, importantly, the bogs that feed into the lakes.  The bogs are the blackish-green stripes in the image above the two dark blue lakes.

Below: A closeup of a bog showing the mosaic of vegetation and water. Although the bogs were spongy in terms of vegetation itself being damp in many places, the dominant green plant was quite hard and somewhat prickly.

Below: A fabulous find—the diademed sandpiper-plover (Phegornis mitchellii). This unusual shorebird is only found on these high-elevation bogs in southern South America (Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina). It is a much sought-after species by birders, but is often missed, so we felt fortunate to find the bird on three different bogs.  Despite features that make this bird sandpiper-like (e.g., the beak) it is actually a plover. It is poorly studied and not much is known about it.

Below: We encountered a pair of sandpiper-plovers that acted like they had a nest (calling, flying about, seemingly trying to lure us away from an area). The birds were right beside the road so we were able to watch them from inside the truck to see if they would return to their nest (vehicles make great observation blinds). It turned out that they did not have a nest but had chicks out of the nest! Enrique suddenly shouted out that he had spotted a chick running around near one of the parents. It was tiny and we suspect only a couple of days old. Eventually we spotted a second chick. From the little information available for the species, it seems that the clutch size is typically two eggs.

Below: There were several species of waterfowl that fed or gathered on the bogs, including the crested ducks (Lophonetta specularioides) shown here.

Below. Also common on the bogs were a couple of species of seedsnipes, including this rufous-bellied seedsnipe (Attagis gayi). Although seedsnipes resemble a grouse or a ptarmigan, both in shape and plumage, they are in the order Charadriiformes, which includes gulls, shorebirds and related waterbirds. Breeding season was underway because many male seedsnipes were displaying from little knolls at the edge of the bog.

Below: Three species of ground-tyrants—ground-loving flycatchers—were abundant. This is a rufous-naped ground-tyrant (Muscisaxicola rufivertex). Ground tyrants spend most of their time foraging on the ground and have an unusually upright posture for a flycatcher, presumably something to do with being so terrestrial. Like most of the birds in the high Andes, these flycatchers have not been studied very much. I spent a bit of time watching them to get a sense of their basic natural history and was struck by how feisty they are—they spent a lot of time fighting and chasing each other even though they did not seem to be territorial. Perhaps it was mating season. Or perhaps maybe they were just being flycatchers —the ‘tyrant’ in the name tyrant flycatchers (all New World flycatchers are tyrant flycatchers) reflects the aggressiveness of flycatchers generally.

Below: My favorite inhabitant of the bogs was not a bird but a very charismatic mammal. Riddle: What do you get when you cross a rabbit and a kangaroo? It would probably look something like a southern viscacha (Lagidium viscacia), a large rodent that hops like a kangaroo and has ears like a bunny. These guys live in rocky areas (den in rock cavities) but feed out on the open bogs, grazing on the vegetation. They have small litters (one or two) of ‘preococial’ babies—that is, babies born cute and fluffy with eyes open and fully able to run around, unlike the naked, pink and helpless babies of other rodents like mice. Viscachas belong to the Histricomorpha taxonomic group of rodents that includes capybara, guinea pigs, chinchillas, all of which also have precocial babies.

Below: A group of three viscachas grazing on the bog. Viscachas are social and live in colonies—when you encounter viscachas you typically find a bunch of them.

Below: Viscachas appear calm and docile but when frightened they can move very quickly and are amazing at running up steep rock faces and even cliffs, Parkour style. Apparently, their major predator is the Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita), so their speed and agility in escaping makes sense.

Below: One last viscacha image, because they are so adorable.

Below: Last and least, a small mouse that I have not yet been able to identify. I saw a few of these running about the nooks and crannies of the bogs.

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 15, 2020 • 8:00 am

Reader Paul Hughes was a passenger on the first of my two trips to Antarctica last fall.  He took a gazillion photos, and sent me two batches, the first of which I’ll put up today. Paul’s notes and IDs are indented. (This counts as documentation of my trip, too, since we were on the same boat and in the same places. But of course Paul’s photos are better.)

Our first stop in Antarctica was at Yankee Harbour, on Greenwich Island. The harbor was used by American sealers as early as 1820, and later by whalers. Here there is a large colony of Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), the third largest penguin species.

Penguins drink meltwater from pools and streams and eat snow for their hydration fix.

Eating so much seafood means drinking a lot of saltwater, but penguins have a way to remove it. The supraorbital gland, located just above their eye, filters salt from their bloodstream, which is then excreted through the bill – or by sneezing.

Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) eat krill, fish and penguins! They will attack crabeater seals, and are known to strike at humans that come too close. This one was too bored to move however, and stayed put whilst we kayakers launched our boats only metres away.

Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) are the largest seals in the world. Males can reach 5 metres (16.6 feet) in length, and weigh up to 5 000 kg (11 000 lb) – the same as nearly 4 family cars! Females are smaller, 2 – 3 metres (6.5 – 10 feet) in length, and weigh up to 900 kg (2 000 lb) – less than a car, but equivalent to 2 grand pianos! This pup is a newborn, as it still has a lanugo of fine black body hair. It soon moults to light brown. Females nurse the pups with extremely rich milk for 23 days, then abandon them. They mate and return to sea until the next breeding season. The abandoned pups remain ashore for another 50 days, losing about 70% of their body mass, before going to sea to feed independently.

The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is named after British Captain James Weddell, who discovered the species on an Antarctic sealing voyage in the 1820s.

Whale vertebra – a reminder of the whalers who practised outboard flensing in the early years of Antarctic whaling (1906-1925).

Blue glacier ice and white pack ice in Wilhemina Bay.

Orne Harbour was our first, and only, continental landing – but what a landing! Orne Harbour is a cove, one mile wide, indenting the west coast of Graham Land along the Danco Coast on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here we saw Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica). They feed mainly on krill, taken some 32 km (20 miles) offshore, at depths of 60 metres (200 feet). These birds are so fascinating that I would like to nominate them as honorary cats!

Airport etiquette, and an example of how not to behave

March 12, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Even HuffPost can occasionally publish something useful. After all, they put up gazillions of pieces, most of them garbage, but occasionally, due to the law of large numbers, one of them might be useful. This is one example, though I already knew that the ten behaviors they singled out here were rude. Rather, I thought the piece was useful for those rude people I occasionally encounter in airports. Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s there list of ten things not to do in an airport. HuffPost’s “tips” are in bold; my comments in plain type. At the end I’ll show one example of a rude person—someone most of you have heard of.

Not Tipping At Curbside Check-In.  I rarely check luggage, but when I do (with Southwest at Midway), I give the guy two bucks. So I’m not guilty.

Holding Up Lines. What they mean is not to delay people by waiting until you’re at the front of the TSA checkpoint to get out your ID, or stand at the TSA machine, taking off your belt, shoes, etc. only at the last moment. Of course I am well prepared for this and never cause a moment’s delay. These are the same people who only get out their wallet or money at the grocery store checkout counter when they’re told the total, and fumble in their pockets or purses for loose change.

Pushing to the Front of Security. I’ve done this only once, in Calgary, Canada, when I was about to miss my plane and there was a line of roughly fifty people in front of me before security. I went to the front and asked permission of the lead passenger to go ahead. And I learned a lesson: the Canadian official said I had to ASK EVERYONE IN LINE FOR PERMISSION. So I went down the line and said loudly, “Is it okay if I move to the head of the queue? My plane leaves in a few minutes.” And, being Canadian, they all said “yes,” Ceiling Cat bless them! But I learned a lesson about Canadian politeness. That’s the only time in my life I’ve pushed to the head of any line, much less a security line. (As an excuse, Americans usually ask only the lead person, which is a cultural difference, not inherent rudeness.)

Blocking The Moving Sidewalk. This one really ticks me off: people will just block the moving sidewalk with their bodies and luggage, so I have to say “excuse me” to get by. Protip: STAND TO THE RIGHT AND DO NOT BLOCK THE MOVING SIDEWALK: LEAVE A LANE OPEN ON THE LEFT. Same on escalators.

Not Attending To Your Children.  Not a problem for me.

Getting Angry With Kids. Ditto.

Complaining About Small Things. I’ve been subject to passengers who beef and kvetch and mutter to me when lines at check-in are slow, and it makes me dislike them. Nothing is gained by such kvetching. I may feel anxious, but expressing it to others is not useful to anyone.

Swarming The Boarding Area. Another thing I don’t like. If you’re in boarding group 3, don’t hover around the boarding line when group 2 lines up. You can be alert for when your group is about to board, and try to make it to the front of the line, but DO NOT HOVER.

Blocking Terminal Walkways.  What they mean is do not walk three abreast in an airport terminal. Many is the time when I’ve been behind entire families: three or four people with their luggage, completely preventing you from passing (I walk fast). Be considerate.

Being Harsh with Airline Employees.  This is the lesson I find most important. When planes are late, or delayed, it is not the fault of the gate agent. You may suspect that they are lying to you about the reasons for delays or about estimated boarding times, or are hiding other information from you, but accusing them of that is simply rude. These people have hard jobs and are always getting yelled at. Airline counters are the one place where you simply have to be polite—if for no other reason than the agents have power to treat you or mistreat you. And when they’re especially helpful, I tell them so. Believe me: they appreciate it, for airline employees are not allowed to talk back to customers, and so must internalize their anger. Don’t be one of those nasty people like the guy below!

If you want help or information on flight delays, I’ve found it very useful to message the airline on Twitter. They’ll often help you get another flight, or give you the skinny on what’s gone wrong. And the answers come quickly—often far more quickly than from the gate attendant.

And yes, here we see a video of Young Turk Cenk Uygur—I think I posted a different one a while back—that he made after he was delayed 4 hours on an American Airlines flight at LAX.  You can watch him abuse the gate agents repeatedly, and to no avail. According to the Daily Fail (click on second screenshot below), Cenk was actually kicked off this flight after this behavior. That’s his reward for rudeness!

I swear, this guy is wound so tightly he’s going to have a stroke. . .

Cenk gets booted off (video after clicking on screenshot).  He made and posted both of these videos himself. So he’s not only rude, but clueless. This does not make him look good!

I’ve never understood why Cenk is so popular. He’s angry, rude, obnoxious, and I don’t find him at all interesting as a journalist. Perhaps, like Bill Nye, he was good back in the day, but oy, what a schmegeggy he’s become!

Remember, folks, be especially nice to those people who have tough jobs and are liable to be yelled at by the public.