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February 19, 2006

Katrina Devastation Bus Tour: 'Gray Line's Hottest Ticket'


That was the headline of yesterday's front–page Washington Post Style section story by Linton Weeks.

I wrote about these tours last month, just before they began.

They seem to have caught on.

Weeks took the tour himself (above, a photo taken from a tour bus) and reported on the experience, with as much implied ambivalence about its existence as most people feel when considering the subject.

Read his story yourself.

    A Bus Tour Of Hurricane Hell

    Katrina's Wake Is Gray Line's Hottest Sightseeing Ticket

    The Katrina devastation tour is Gray Line's most popular sightseeing experience here in the city.

    Our guide this afternoon is Sandi Smith.

    She lost the roof of her home in Algiers Point.

    Her husband is a certified public accountant who now has to work in Houston.

    Her son flies Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq.

    She knows something about the fragility of life.

    A dozen curious people -- some wrestling with the moral questionability of paying a private tour company to roll past destroyed homes and lives -- pony up $35 apiece and board the boxy bus with large windows near the corner of Toulouse and Decatur streets in the French Quarter.

    Standing up front, Smith, 58, is upfront about her own misgivings.

    She says she and her boss debated the pros and cons of putting together a Hurricane Katrina tour and profiting from the disaster.

    They decided that the right thing would be to take tourists out to the rubble and ruins to show them that New Orleans is still hurting.

    In a similar vein, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D), realizing that many of her state's legislators could not comprehend the scope of the tragedy unless they witnessed it, organized bus tours for elected officials.

    "We need you people here desperately," Smith says.

    She has a pleasant Southern accent and is refreshingly honest for a tour guide.

    Smith notes the bad places to eat as well as the good.

    She recommends one bar with $2 martinis.

    This is, after all, New Orleans.

    Smith points out that some of the city is 14 feet below sea level.

    "We are the City Below the Sea," she says.

    "We have three times as many canals as Venice," she says.

    She speaks in the present tense.

    As the bus passes the city aquarium, Smith says rescuers saved the penguins and a giant old sea turtle.

    However, thousands of fish have died. She points to a shopping mall that was looted and an upscale store that was burned.

    The driver eases the bus through downtown streets past landmarks of Katrina -- the Superdome, the convention center, thousands of abandoned and worthless cars and that heat-zapped stretch of Interstate 10 where people lived for days.

    There are still FEMA trailers in the parking lot of Mother's Restaurant on Poydras Street.

    In the New Orleans Municipal Harbor, boats that lost their moorings are up on docks, crashed against other boats.

    "That boat," she says, pointing to a white one with blue trim, sitting wampy-jawed on dry land, "that boat belongs to my ex-husband, who insisted on getting it in the divorce proceedings. So you see, ladies, there is justice in the world."

    Humor on this tour, but not too much.

    Tour participant Rob Linkenheil, 50, and his wife, Yvonne, 48, have come from San Diego.

    "It's a little morbid," he says. "But it is amazing to see the scale of the destruction, the scope of it."

    Linkenheil makes a living investing in stocks and real estate.

    He looks around at all the closed businesses and fallen structures, saying it will take a decade to bring things back.

    Eleanor Bankston, 68, from Baton Rouge, La., is taking the tour with Verne Green, 71, her sister from Atlanta.

    The devastation so far, Bankston says, is "really bad."

    Green says, "I thought it was going to be worse."

    Soon it gets worse.

    In the Gentilly neighborhood, Smith points out the fluorescent orange spray-painted X's and other markings on house fronts -- shorthand symbols for when a home was searched, who did the search and how many dead were found.

    There are square holes cut in many roofs -- chop outs -- where people escaped from the rising waters through their attics.

    A yellow house, lifted up and set down by the powerful floodwaters like a rubber duck, is still smack in the middle of a street.

    "This is what I was expecting," Green says to Bankston.

    Someone asks about visiting the Lower Ninth Ward -- famous for its devastation -- and Smith says city officials asked the tour company to steer away from there. (Asked about this policy, City Council President Oliver M. Thomas Jr. says that he thinks the council should reconsider. "We need the exposure," he says.)

    In fact, no tour guide is necessary to find catastrophe in the Lower Ninth Ward.

    It is everywhere.

    Holding up a plastic bag of prepared food, Smith says, "This is an MRE: a meal ready to eat."

    She says MREs were distributed by relief workers.

    "The Red Cross is still feeding people."

    She says that Gray Line donates $3 from every ticket to charity.

    She may be explaining what the point of this tour is when she says: "We are not exclusive."

    Meaning, catastrophes can occur everywhere.

    She adds, "We want you to see what is going on in our lives here."


Tell you what: if I'm President of the United States, I am on Air Force 1 along with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and then on board one of these Gray Line tours along with some ordinary people who were standing in line for tickets.

Give me a regular guide, and let's see what's out there without the distancing.

I guarantee you that at the conclusion of that trip, rebuilding New Orleans would be declared domestic priority number one.

Talk about building trust and good–will: you could not find a better way to do both and do good at the same time.

But alas, I'm just me.

February 19, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Microplane Box Grater


Microplane makes world–class graters.

Originally shop tools, they were adapted by individuals for use in the kitchen until the company finally twigged to this huge new potential market.

Now Microplane works with experts from the kitchen space from the get–go, and the result is tools like this new device meant to end the knuckle–bloodletting that oftimes accompanies furious grating.

From the website:

    Using this innovative box grater is fast, easy and safe, making it indispensable for countless prepping tasks.

    The design features two expansive, razor-sharp cutting surfaces: a fine blade for grating hard cheeses, nuts, nutmeg, ginger, garlic and chocolate; and a coarse blade for soft cheeses, fruits and vegetables.

    A removable sliding attachment protects fingers from accidental mishaps while ensuring maximum control; it fits on either side of the grater and slides along the stainless-steel cutting blades with an easy up–and–down hand motion.

    5" x 4.25" x 10.25"H.



February 19, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What's wrong with charging for email?


The enormous uproar over Yahoo and AOL's plan to charge businesses for sending commercial email to their subscribers made me start thinking about the problem of spam, which Bill Gates, a couple years ago, promised would be solved by now.

And he might well be right – in the Bizarro World.

Anyway, if all of a sudden it was decreed that it would cost, say, one–tenth of a cent to send an email — to anyone — and that this would be true for everyone everywhere in the U.S., I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

I send maybe 30 emails a day, times 30 days/month = 900 emails a month = 90 cents month.

Big deal.

But the small charge would eliminate spam.


So what's wrong with charging for email?

It can't happen soon enough.

February 19, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

100% Whole Grain Chips Ahoy — It's true what they say: the first cut (that would be whole grain Fig Newtons) is the deepest



And you can quote me.

February 19, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Dance for the Athlete' — By far, the most popular class at Glen Burnie High School


That's the good news.

The bad news: Unless you're a student there or at a few other high schools in Anne Arundel County in Maryland, you're out of luck: it's offered nowhere else.

Eli Saslow wrote about this über–popular course in a story which appeared on the front page of the January 28 Washington Post Metro section.

Above and below, photos taken during class.

Saslow noted that when the course was first offered ten years ago, dancing was so stigmatized that no boy signed up: girls in the class trolled school hallways until they found four boys willing to take it.

Fast forward a decade: this year there are 14 sections of Dance for the Athlete, each filled to its 25–student capacity.

Athletes unable to get in audit it for no credit; many take it every semester.

Dianne Rosso, the dance director at Glen Burnie High who created the course, said that some students take multiple classes during one term.

Here's the article.

    Steppin' Stone for Athletes

    Dance Class Improves Their Footwork, Agility

    Other students who waited backstage bit their fingernails and chattered nervously, but Tim Dash looked just like he always did: confident and unbothered, almost apathetic.

    The quarterback of the Glen Burnie High School football team, Dash had earned school-wide popularity for his unflappability.

    He reacted to jeers and cheers with similar indifference.

    During some Friday night football games, he suffered a half-dozen crushing hits from linebackers, only to walk through school halls Monday morning like he'd never been touched.

    For almost four years, Dash had built his high school reputation on a simple philosophy: stay cool.

    He reminded himself of that mantra now, as he readied to dance to Aerosmith and Barry Manilow in a school production.

    Then the curtains slid open.

    The music started.

    A spotlight hit his face.

    The quarterback felt, he said later, like throwing up.

    "I've never been that nervous in my life," said Dash, who performed flawlessly nonetheless.

    "I couldn't help it. The crowd just got to me. Football never gave me anything like that."

    It's a sensation that has practically become a rite of passage for athletes at Glen Burnie, a public high school in Anne Arundel County that has fused team sports and dance with unparalleled success.

    Each year, about 350 Glen Burnie students take "Dance for the Athlete," a class that teaches swing, Latin, hip-hop, ballroom and Broadway dancing before culminating each semester in a performance in front of 1,400 in the school auditorium.

    It is Glen Burnie's most popular class, but it's offered at only a few other schools -- and nowhere outside out of Anne Arundel.

    Dance and boys' sports -- two activities once diametrically opposed in high schools -- are symbiotic at Glen Burnie.

    Athlete participation fuels the state's largest dance program; dance classes improve athletes' footwork, agility, balance and composure under pressure.

    But Glen Burnie's program also is the latest manifestation of a shifting perception among male athletes at the school.

    Dancing, once taboo for macho sports stars, has become cool.

    "These big jocks are figuring out that dancing is no girly activity," said Dianne Rosso, dance director at Glen Burnie.

    "This class makes even our best players better athletes and more confident performers. They can't get enough of it."

    It's a popularity Rosso hardly anticipated when she wrote the curriculum for the first Dance for the Athlete class about a decade ago.

    Back then, Rosso said, dancing was so stigmatized that no boy signed up for her first class.

    Girls in the class combed schools halls, desperate to recruit male dance partners.

    Even then, they only found four.

    "But those guys loved it," said Rosso, "and they spread the word to everyone."

    What resulted at Glen Burnie became a demonstration in exponential mathematics.

    Eight boys signed up the next year.

    Then 20.

    Then almost 50.

    This year, Glen Burnie will offer 14 sections of Dance for the Athlete, each filled with about 25 students.

    The class counts as an elective, and students are allowed to take it as often as they please, so long as they also fulfill their core requirements.

    Some students make the class a fixture of their schedules each semester, Rosso said.

    It's not uncommon, students said, to take multiple Dance for the Athlete classes during one term.


    Grading revolves largely around attendance and improvement and, while students unanimously regard the class as fairly easy, everyone gets nervous for the final exam.

    The end-of-semester performance draws more people than the school's homecoming football game, at a cost of $7 per ticket.

    Rosso hosted the last show on Jan. 12.

    The following day at school, administrators said, dozens of students went into the guidance office and begged counselors to change their schedules for the following semester.

    They all wanted into Dance for the Athlete.

    Some students who don't get into the class decide to go anyway.

    Ricky Chilipko, the school's best soccer player, took the class this winter for no credit.

    Instead of going home at the end of his school day, Chilipko walked to the mirrored dance studio on the school's second floor and spent another 80 minutes in class.

    "I've lost track of how many times I've taken it," Chilipko said.

    "It's definitely in the teens. You might think that sounds crazy, but all the big, popular guys at this school get in this class and love it. It's the coolest class here. It's not what you think of as dancing."

    Chilipko usually shows up for class in sweat pants and a baggy Glen Burnie T-shirt.

    When he gets there, he dances to the type of music that he'd usually blast from his car speakers: Usher, Aerosmith and blink-182.

    For the most recent performance, Chilipko and four friends choreographed a dance to a song by boy-band *NSYNC.

    Athletes who arrive suspicious at the beginning of the semester end up dancing without even knowing it.

    Rosso borrows moves from Glen Burnie sports practices -- side-to-side shuffles and cross-stepping agility drills -- and puts them to music.

    "Before you know it," senior basketball player Erika Jones said, "you're moving to the beat."

    Progress happens like that, Rosso said -- in baby steps.

    The instructor turns good players into good dancers, she said, by forcing them to rely on the tenets of athletics: balance, coordination, agility, muscle memory and, yes, even endurance.

    In a typical Dance for the Athlete class, the group runs through a full song routine up to six times.

    By the time the bell rings, students said, half the class has collapsed on the floor.

    "It gets you in amazing shape," said junior Kelly Leary, a pitcher on the softball team.

    "Out of all the sports I've played, this might be the best workout. After class, we can hardly move."

    When they can move again, though, they do so more capably.

    Dash, the quarterback, said the class improved his balance, leaving him better able to recover from near tackles.

    Jones, the basketball player, improved her post-up moves, because a swing-step combination reminded her of a drop step.

    TaRonce Stowes, a senior point guard, credits Dance for the Athlete with making him one of the best boys' basketball defenders in Anne Arundel.

    "I'm way better now at changing direction," Stowes said.

    "You know how people talk about breaking your ankles? Well, that doesn't happen to me anymore."

    "That class really helped him," Glen Burnie basketball coach Mike Rudd said.

    "I tell all of my players, 'Get in that class.' It's something different than just regular [physical education]. The kids who do it come away with something pretty unique. Plus, they get a ton of confidence."

    Since the show on Jan. 12, Stowes has heard about little other than swing dancing, he said.

    He walked into basketball practice a few days after the performance expecting some good-natured teasing from his teammates.

    Instead, they asked for an encore -- and group lessons.

    Chilipko, the soccer player, has been overwhelmed with similar requests.

    He's repeated his *NSYNC routine "hundreds of times," he said.

    When people ask how he perfected it, he points them to Rosso's already overflowing class.

    "I walk through the hall and people I don't even know are talking to me about that dance routine," Chilipko said.

    "I'm probably more known at this school for being a dancer than a soccer player. That's kind of scary to think about. But actually, I'm cool with it."


Want more?


Here's a link to video footage of the final exam, a live performance in the Glen Burnie High School auditorium in front of the entire 1,400-strong student body.

It's like watching and listening to footage from the Beatles' first U.S. tour: the crowd goes insane, standing and shrieking and generally berserk with joy.

Only now, years after the fact, have I come to realize that both my undergraduate and medical school years at UCLA would have been far more fun had I signed up for ballet and stayed with it from the beginning.

When I replay, for sure.

Belly up to the barre, indeed.

February 19, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Foxgloves — World-class gloves for the garden


Created by a landscape architect and professional horticulturist who could not find a garden glove that fit well yet was comfortable enough to wear all day.

Out of frustration, one day she tried a pair of women's dress gloves from the 1950s and found they worked beautifully as garden gloves, but quickly wore out.

She then recreated the fifties glove using Supplex nylon and Lycra spandex for four–way stretch and voila — washable Foxgloves (above and below).


$25–$30 here.

February 19, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



Tell you what let's do: let's get Julia Roberts, Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson to all star in a new film.

While we're at it, how about Sean Connery as their leading man?

That's the equivalent of what "2046" has done in terms of the megawatt actors who combine to make this movie the equivalent of a wonderful waking dream.

Of course, Pedro Calderón de la Barca's epigram*, "Toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son," posits that it's all a waking dream — albeit not always wonderful.

But I digress.

This is a movie that wants to be watched at home, where you can stop it every now and then and close your eyes, get up and walk around or do whatever it is you do when a movie seems to slow down to the point of making you restless.

The great thing is that instead of looking at your watch and wondering how much longer, you can press "pause" or "stop" and come back when you're more in the mood.


Maggie Cheung?

Gong Li?

Ziyi Zhang?

Tony Leung?

Be still, my heart.

But what's it about, joe?

Does it really matter?

Did you read what I wrote above?

And you're still bugging me?

Go away.

*All life is a dream, and dreaming as well.

February 19, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Carabiner Mug


From the website:

    Virtually indestructible camp mug

    This double–walled stainless–steel mug can take a ton of trail abuse and still keep coffee hot or water cold.

    Welded-on carabiner handle clips to your pack; different colors show which drink is yours.

    Weighs 2 oz. (empty) and holds 8 oz.

    Mug itself is 3.25"H x 2.75"D.

Red, purple, green or blue.



February 19, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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