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Off to Exile Island


It's a long way to the other side of the planet. The airline announced that there were heavy headwinds and we'd have to make an unscheduled stop in Honolulu to refuel. I was all in favor of that, since I never once believed it was possible to make it all the way to Australia on a single tank of gas. My feeling is, when crossing the Pacific in a tube of metal 7 miles above the open ocean you shouldn't throw caution to the wind. Visually it's not much of a trip for mos tof the time -- it's always dark west of Los Angeles, I've discovered. Hawaii is dark. The International Date Line was completely invisible, though I squinted to see it. Eventually there was light, and all kinds of boiling clouds, and you could almost hear a choir of angels over the jetliner whine.


For some reason I found the Safety Card not very reassuring. Do planes actually float?? I don't like the little graphic in the upper left showing the plane making a very calm "water landing." I studied this thing a lot over the course of the roughly 39 hours it took to fly to Australia.


A view of Sydney Harbour (we're switching to British spelling) from out the window of the plane. The place is a little bit San Fran, a little bit Rio, with lots of neighborhoods that feel like Sausalito. In other words it reminds me of Gainesville.


Everyone makes a big fuss about this bridge (Harbour Bridge -- apparently you can hike the spans for a price), and the Opera House. Took a ferry from the zoo to downtown and had lots of snapshot-worthy views of the city. I like the sandstone buildings. Also the light -- everything is sparkling. We should experiment with clean air sometime in the States.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 4, 2008; 4:48 PM ET
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Just be careful around all the poisonous critters Joel.

Posted by: frostbitten | May 4, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Love the cloud shot, I always try to take pictures but the scratches in the window always seem to show.

Posted by: dmd | May 4, 2008 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I have a friend who has been nearly everywhere around the world, except for Australia. "I've never really wanted to spend 20 hours on a plane just to end up in Texas," he told me.

Posted by: TBG | May 4, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Remember Alexis already used the Hidden Immunity Idol, Joel. You'll have be careful out there.

Posted by: TBG | May 4, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the wonders of modern technology! Is it Monday morning there already? (I've never crossed the International Date Line, so I don't know how these things work.)

Posted by: slyness | May 4, 2008 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I will tell the ScienceKids about your trip. They will envy you. ScienceKid #1, especially, has always wanted to go Australia, *because* of the high density of horribly venomous critters, not despite it. Plus, the marsupials, and the paleontology, and the world's only venomous mammal (also a marsupial -- the platypus -- but without much of a paleontological record. Creationists might use this to argue that the platypus was created, fully-formed, on or about March 3rd, 1723). (No, that date has no significance -- I made it up. It did not exist in real life, as they skipped March in 1723, for climatological reasons). (I made that up, too). (No, really).

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 4, 2008 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I went to a conference in Brazil last year, and an Australian colleague told me that she had flown via L.A. From southern hemisphere to southern hemisphere via northern?! Apparently those were the only (comparatively) reasonable fares. After talking to her, I stopped whining about how long my own flight had been.

Posted by: bia | May 4, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Wait, ScienceTim, the platypus is venomous? I'd never heard that. How does it manage to inject its venom into whoever it wants to inject it into? With its beak? I mean, its duck-bill?

Posted by: bia | May 4, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

The male platypus has spurs (claws) on its hind legs. I do not know the nature of the venom. I believe that its toxicity is not terribly great. It's not really a hunting or defensive measure; I believe it is part of territorial tussling with other males. Perhaps kurosawaguy could enlighten us; he seems to know this kind of stuff.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 4, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I didn't know that about,, the platypus, either.

Hi to kb, on Tulsa time. Loved the cow joke, TBG.

I keep dreaming about snow. This "spring" has really traumatized me. Today is lovely - sunny, mid-60's. I planted some of my more cold-tolerant seedlings out. Still getting into the 40's at night.

Posted by: mostlylurking | May 4, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

S'Tim writes:
"I believe it is part of territorial tussling with other males."
Three possible responses:
--Haven't we all seen just about enough of this?
--Back to the 'what women find attractive in a man' discussion, I think I can speak for a lot of women when I say...not this.
-- Really...doesn't that sentence sum up the history of mankind into a nutshell?

Posted by: LostInThought | May 4, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Nice pic of Sydney Harbour, Joel. (Or Sidney Harbor as we know him in the States.) That's a huge area. I didn't realize it went so far inland. It looks like you can see the Harbour Bridge about a third of the way across the picture and the Opera House is on a jut of land to the left across the water from the bridge. At least that's my interpretation until Joel or Achenfan says I'm wrong.

Posted by: pj | May 4, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Joel for the real sky report from the sky. In Australia, you can see different constellations in the Southern hemisphere. Enjoy the time there and be safe home.

Posted by: daiwanlan | May 4, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Joel, a major, *major* word of advice: whatever you do don't fly back on Oceanic 815.

OK, when do the two hot chick babysitters show up around here?

*quickly thumbing through book of fun pranks and tricks to play on substitute teachers*

Fans of the Patrick O'Brian series (Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin et al.) will remember that in "The Nutmeg of Consolation" Maturin is clawed by a platypus and become deathly sick from it. (But of course survives.)

On the all-important t'mater front, planted six Beefmasters, one Sugar Plum and one Yellow Cherry this evening. Padouk, have you put yours in yet? Will there be a Mr. Stripey III, a much beloved progency of our dear departed Mr. Stripey (the first)? Anybody else? C'mon, pony up your tomato inventories, Boodle.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Potato Factory, good book, eventually Tasmania (Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land). Just what a 20-hour flight needs. Hefty.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Wow Joel, you were in Honolulu? Just a refueling stop I'm sure but it would have been an honor to meet you in person.

It's not always dark here, honest...

Posted by: Aloha | May 4, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

SCC: progeny

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and when I first glanced at the Safety Card it looked like it was drawn by Matt Groening. I thought Homer Simpson was one of the people sliding onto the raft.

Posted by: pj | May 4, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

I believe a quick visit to Wikipedia may be instructional:

"The bizarre appearance of this egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud. It is one of the few venomous mammals; the male Platypus has a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unique features of the Platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology and a recognizable and iconic symbol of Australia; it has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of the Australian 20 cent coin.

"Until the early 20th century it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Although captive breeding programs have had only limited success and the Platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution, it is not under any immediate threat."


"The male Platypus has ankle spurs which produce a cocktail of venom, composed largely of defensin-like proteins (DLPs), which is unique to the Platypus.[17] Although powerful enough to kill smaller animals,[17] the venom is not lethal to humans, but is so excruciating that the victim may be incapacitated. Oedema rapidly develops around the wound and gradually spreads throughout the affected limb. Information obtained from case histories and anecdotal evidence indicates that the pain develops into a long-lasting hyperalgesia that persists for days or even months.[18][19] Venom is produced in the crural glands of the male, which are kidney-shaped alveolar glands connected by a thin-walled duct to a calcaneus spur on each hind limb. The female Platypus, in common with echidnas, has rudimentary spur buds which do not develop (dropping off before the end of their first year) and lack functional crural glands.[7]

"The venom appears to have a different function from those produced by non-mammalian species: its effects are non-life threatening but nevertheless powerful enough to seriously impair the victim. Since only males produce venom and production rises during the breeding season it is theorized that it is used as an offensive weapon to assert dominance during this period."


"Venom is produced in the crural glands of the male, which are kidney-shaped alveolar glands located in the upper thigh connected by a thin-walled duct to a calcaneus spur on each hind limb. Female platypuses, in common with echidnas, have rudimentary spur buds which do not develop (dropping off before the end of their first year) and lack functional crural glands.[1] The spur is attached to a small bone which allows articulation; the spur can move at a right angle to the limb allowing a greater range of attack than a fixed spur would allow.[2] The spur normally lies flat against the limb but is raised when required.

"The crural gland produces a cocktail of venom, composed of over 250 different chemicals but with four major toxins. Of the four, three are defensin-like proteins (DLPs) unique to the Platypus. The different chemicals in the poison have a range of effects from lowering blood pressure to causing pain and increasing blood flow around the wound. Coagulating effects have been seen during experiments on laboratory animals, but this has not been observed consistently. Unlike snake venom, there appears to be no necrotic component in the Platypus' venom - although some muscle wastage has been observed in cases of envenomation in humans, it is likely that this is due to the inability to use the limb while the effects of the venom persist. It is unknown whether the pain caused is a result of the associated edema around the wound or whether the venom has a component which acts directly on the pain receptors.

"Although platypus venom has a broadly similar range of effects to snake venom, it appears to have a different function from those poisons produced by non-mammalian species: its effects are not life threatening but nevertheless powerful enough to seriously impair the victim. It is not used as a method of disabling or killing prey, and although it acts a defensive mechanism, only males produce venom. Since production rises during the breeding season it is theorized that it is used as an offensive weapon to assert dominance and control territory during this period.

Although powerful enough to kill smaller animals, the venom is not lethal to humans. However, it produces excruciating pain which may be intense enough to incapacitate the victim. Swelling rapidly develops around the entry wound and gradually spreads outwards. Information obtained from case studies shows that the pain develops into a long-lasting hyperalgesia that can persist for months but usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks.[3][4] A clinical report from 1992 showed that the severe pain was persistent and did not respond to morphine. There have been no reported human fatalities."

Man, I can't wait to use "envenomation " in a sentence.

This concludes this evening's portion of "Ask Mr. Venomous Mammal Guy."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm growing Stupice tomatoes from seed. It's an early, cold-tolerant tomato, from Czechoslovakia originally, I see. They're doing ok in the little greenhouse. I also have Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, not big enough to transplant yet. Mr Ml bought tomato plants - Celebrity and a beefsteak type. Their leaves were curling, so he showed them tough love and set them out into the cold cruel world, and got a couple more (not sure what kind), which are humming along in the greenhouse.

I have squash and basil, still in the house. I could not find sweet pepper seeds or plants in my local stores. I was looking for Sweet Banana or something similar. I had one seed of a sweet pepper called Fat and Sassy - and it finally germinated. I think it's just been too dang cold for peppers here - either that, or they get snatched up as soon as they're in stock.

Wonder what the gardening's like in Oz. I know they were having drought and fire conditions a few years ago.

Posted by: mostlylurking | May 4, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

My lone Roma has been in the ground a couple of weeks, Mudge. It really doesn't look so hot but it's growing so I have hope. It's not warm enough for it to be doing what tomatoes are supposed to do. But the forecast for this week is more promising of good tomato growing weather... I also have three sweet peppers in, a green, a yellow, and a red. The Blue Lake beans are up but haven't starting climbing the cage yet. The squash have put out a couple of tentative leaves so we'll see how they do.

I had Mr. T till a spot where he took down the white pine a year and a half ago. The soil isn't particularly good so I expect to have to work at fertilizing and watering. But it gets plenty of sun.

Posted by: slyness | May 4, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Fabulous view of Sydney. Could Washington abandon National Airport and dredge the site to create a more impressive setting?

I don't think the Florida Department of Natural Resources will allow the Paynes Prairie sinkhole to stage one of its periodic clog-ups so that steamboat service could continue and Gainesville could have a more impressive southern gateway. Just think of it--driving I-95 across a big lake, then climbing the bluff into the center of Gator Nation.

Looking at that photo reminds me that it isn't shaped like much of anything in North America, except maybe Chesapeake Bay. It looks more like an artificial reservoir somewhere around Atlanta. My inner geomorphologist says its a drowned valley. Mayhaps that part of Australia is sinking?

Off the subject, a quote from today's Post story on Obama's patriotism:

In forceful tones, he has warned against using the Sept. 11 attacks to "scare up votes instead of as a way to bring the country together," condemned the "politics of fear," and demanded an end to the "mind-set that got us into war" in Iraq.

The inevitable attack ad is obvious, so I won't provide the script.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | May 4, 2008 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Still a few weeks away from safe tomato planting here. I did start some flower and rosemary seeds in peat pots and last weekend we planted pea pods in the garden. The weather should improve this week and I'm looking forward that. This weekend was very dismal and damp. I suppose it kept me from overdoing it, so it wasn't a bad thing.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | May 4, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

I once worked with a Scotsman from Melborne on a technology transfer that like to trout fish. He told me that it is illeagl to fish with earthworms in Australia because they are the Platypi's favoriate food.

Posted by: bh | May 4, 2008 7:48 PM | Report abuse


Your playtime with the calendar is pretty good. Chunks of time (including Mudge's original birthdate, I believe) disappeared in the various conversions from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Different countries changed the calendar at various times from the late 16th century to the early 20th century. Great Britain, alas, made the switch in 1752. So parts March of 1723 couldn't have summarily vanished as 12 days in early September, 1752 did in England. Also the Brits didn't stumble upon Australia until the 1780s, which pokes another hole in the joke. Although listening to the natives, the Brits could have figured out the the platypus came into existence about 50 years before they got there, so mebbe we can make the joke work.

Posted by: pj | May 4, 2008 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Having gotten the 'maters in yet, Mudge. Too busy finishing up the remodeling from Heck. I have a theory that the mathematician who devised the concept of an asymptotic function did so after remodeling a room. For an asymptotic function is one that gets increasingly close to a given goal, but never quite gets there.

The Mr. Stripey line failed last Summer because the progeny never matured enough to produce fruit. I suspect I let them watch too much television.

I think this year I might investigate some exotic Heritage tomatoes. You know, like Black Russian or Jamaican Kali.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 4, 2008 8:00 PM | Report abuse

No plants in the ground for me, off to France tomorrow, see you all in about three weeks. Looking forward to tomato talk this Summer

Joel, my cousin lived in Australia for about ten years, loved it. Since his mother is still here in Virginia, he has moved a little closer, to the big island in Hawaii. Loves it there, too. Aloha, he lives in a house that used to be used for drying coffee beans in the attic, with the retractable roof or partial roof, or a hole in the roof, or some combination of the above three. ;-)

Posted by: VintageLady | May 4, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, pj, obviously, the platypus had to have been created significantly in advance of the arrival of the British in order that they be firly established within their duly appointed ecosystem. There had to be enough time to ensure that by the time the Aborigines and the Limeys were able to communicate, no one would still be talking about "the day those funny-looking critters with the poison ankles showed up."

Regarding the lost month of March 1723 -- it's something that the British were unwilling to talk about for the longest time. Generally, I think they were pretty certain that it had been a lengthy blackout from a national drinking binge. They chose to put that month behind them and embark on the road to wellness.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 4, 2008 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I can't remember much of 1723, either. I think I was blotto pretty much most of the time back then. The early 1700s were not my best years.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 8:14 PM | Report abuse

I thought the conventional wisdom (read: my dad's wisdom) was not to plant anything around here until May 15.

I dunno... it worked for him; we got scads of tomatoes and other veggies from him every year.

Posted by: TBG | May 4, 2008 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Those rascally Canadians...

(We actually saw some of this yesterday. "Let's get out of here; I hate anything that smells of reenactment," said one sister.)

Posted by: TBG | May 4, 2008 8:24 PM | Report abuse

The drinking binge had occurred to me, Tim. I thought that missing 10 to 12 days wouldn't be inconsistent with going off on a hard bender. And since we are talking about the Brits, that includes the Irish and the Scots so, sheesh, the sky's the limit. Anyway February is pretty dreary around here, so maybe the Brits feel the same way about March since they are further north than us. As I say, the holes can be filled in and I think we can make this work.

Posted by: pj | May 4, 2008 8:24 PM | Report abuse

I loved the article on the town-criers, TBG. As I grow ever more dispirited with this Democratic primary battle, it is so nice to hear that the town criers don't indulge in trash talk. Annapolis was the site of your sister's getaway? Wonderful!

Platypi have fur???? That just doesn't seem right and I don't know why.

4 Better boys and 2 celebrity tomato plants went in last weekend, Mudge. I can already taste that first BLT with the garden fresh 'mater.

Yes, the Sydney Harbour pic was great, I had no idea it went so far inland.

Vintage Lady - have a wonderful time. I am really jealous.

Posted by: Kim | May 4, 2008 8:33 PM | Report abuse

We once had a town crier come to our office to announce the start of year long anniversary celebrations - 320th year (yes that is true - a very old company) if I recall correctly. Until that time really hadn't thought they still existed - they do - just for hire.

Posted by: dmd | May 4, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Exile Island sounds fun. Not as fun as say, Monster Island, but still pretty fun.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 4, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Flying to Australia isn't the only long flight out there. Door to door to Vietnam was 24 hours. 3 hours to Houston, 10 hours to Tokyo and another 6 hours to Saigon plus the two plane swaps. We may have taken a little more time than we needed since we wanted a four-day layover in Japan on the way back. But I don't think the trans-Pacific routes were much shorter.

Our flight to Beijing was direct from Dulles and "only" took thirteen hours. It was a Great Circle route that took over the North Pole, Siberia, and Mongolia. We could watch our progress on the monitors. I had hitherto thought Irkutsk was just a silly name on the Risk board.

One of my favorite bloggers is an American ex-pat that has gotten naturalized as an Aussie. Pay her a visit:

Posted by: yellojkt | May 4, 2008 8:54 PM | Report abuse

On the other hand, I did finally sober up a bit later in that century, and decided a sea voyage would do me some good. I shipped out on a collier called the "Freelove," owned by a bunch of Quakers. (Well, I don't have to tell you where my head was in those days, and a coastal collier named "Freelove" made me think, well, perhaps I'd know..."lucky" in Amersterdam or someplace like that. Hey, I said I was old. I never said I was smart.) Anyway, there's this other kid on board, a guy from North Yorkshire, Jim Cook. We became friends and shipmates, and I was with him during the French and Indian War, helping him map out the St. Lawrence River so that madcap Gen. Wolfe could storm the Plains of Abraham. Old Wolfie (actually he was pretty young) asked Cook and me if we wanted to come along on the attack. "General," I sez, "my mother didn't raise no morons." (Actually, she did, but that's another story.) Jim agreed, so we watched the fiasco from the ship, and d@mned if Wolfie and his men didn't make it up that cliff face.

But I digress. Some years later, Jim and I were looking for a ship, and we happened upon the barky "Endeavour," which was looking for a skipper (technically, the "master") as well as a top-notch bosun. Well, Jim signs up for the captain's rating, and I sign on a the bosun. I wish I'd known where we was headed and how long we'd be away, but d@mme if we didn't sail to the very far side of the world. We discovered plenty of islands no European ever seemed to have sailed to before, which ain't surpring since the nautical chart of the Pacific at that time was about as blank as the stare on Alberto Gonzalez's kisser.

Anyways, the relevant part of this story is one afternoon we was sailing eastward, and I'm up in the foc'sle doing my bosunal stuff, and I happens to look up, and there on the horizon is this whopping big island. "Land ho!" I shouts back to the poop deck, where Jim was takin' his ease. Well, turns out it weren't no island after all, but what ya call yer basic continent. "Hmph," Cook snorts. "Looks like Terra Australis to me, Boats," he sez. ("Boats" is the traditional nickname of the bosun.) And he proceeds to record the sighting in the logbook. We had the choice of turning left, right, or slamming into the continent, so Jimmy tells the helmsman to swing hard a starboard, and we start sailing north, hoping to get around what we thought was this big island. The date was April 19, 1770.

It was 10 days later we actually went ashore for the first time, this nice little bay. Jim says, "Boats, whaddaya think we should name this here bay?" "Hmm, lemme think," sez I. "How about Botany Bay, on account a we got all these [fording] breadfruit plants on board." "Capital suggestion!" Jimmy sez, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Month and a half later, we're diddling around offshore on top of this whopping great reef they got in those parts. I was down below in my rack catching some winks, and d@mned if we don't run aground. So we had to the shore of Terra Australis. We beached her near the mouth of a river that later became known as the Endeavour River, and later on they built a town there they named Cooktown. Ya might note they was nothing ever got named Bosunberg, or Curmudgeon River, nooooooooooooooo... . Everything got named after my friend Jim, just cuz he was the skipper and I was the bosun. I tell ya, life sucks some times.

OK, long story short, it took us seven weeks to repair the ship, and then we sailed north up the coast and then across a big strait and wound up discovering Indonesia (major callout to Boodler rainforest) and places like that.

Anyways, we didn't get back to Old Blighty until the middle of 1771, and we were gone darn near four years. I tell ya, had I known at the beginning...well, that's all water under the keel, I guess. One day a bit later, I'm in Boston trying to keep my nose clean and out of trouble (which wasn't easy in that town, what with all the stamp act riots and suchlike). Anyways, I get this letter from Jim and he want me to ship out again on his second voyage. I sends him back a sharp reply saying if it's all the same to you, mate, I'd just as soon stay here as go muckin' about Down Under. "Suit yourself," comes his reply a few weeks later (there weren't no e-mail back then, though we had something close to Instant Messaging, which was this dingdong walkin' around town with a school bell and shouting out the news, weather and sports scores.)

So that answers the question of when and how Australia got discovered, and how I wound up getting dragooned into dressing up as an Indian one night when I was a bit too lubricated to think straight, and we went down to the docks and did something very naughty with the tea. But that, too, is another story for another day.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Here is a fun sight to play with:

It is a Great Circle mapper. A diversion to Hawaii isn't as big a deal as I first thought it would be. It only adds about 180 miles to the whole trip.

The Honolulu airport runway is in the water and makes for a pretty spectacular landing. That is if it's daylight when you do it.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 4, 2008 9:02 PM | Report abuse

SCC: sailing westward, not eastward. I remember, cuz the sun was in my eyes and I didn't have no Foster-Grants.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 9:04 PM | Report abuse

cool pics. love the harbor from the plane.

type in first paragraph:
mos tof-->most of

Posted by: L.A. lurker | May 4, 2008 9:05 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to warn you that Mooselet posts pictures of nearly naked National Rugby League players every Saturday. She also usually throws in one cheerleader or bikini clad actress for us guys. Not always safe for work, but usually close enough.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 4, 2008 9:07 PM | Report abuse

That's not a typo, L.A. lurker. Joel is just channeling Tom Lehrer's song about Alma Mahler: "Ach, zat is szhe fraulein I mus taf."

Posted by: pj | May 4, 2008 9:14 PM | Report abuse

So, mudge, at Botany Bay did you meet Prince Khan Noonien Singh, or is that another story?

Posted by: yellojkt | May 4, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm not falling for that one, yello. It was much, much MUCH later (as you well know) that I ran into Noony (as we used to call him during his salad days). I was a used shuttle salesman at the time, and put him into a nice model that featured rich Corinthian leather.

I lost track of him after that. Whatever happened to him? I heard some rumor he got involved in some eugenics war, and got sent to some penal colony.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Howdy. I envy Joel. I have always wanted to visit Australia, and the Boy does too. Beautiful scenery, an exotic history, and all those venomous critters - what more can anyone want? There is a great book set in Australia - Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan. Hard to describe but wondrous. Thanks for the pictures. Send us more!

The weekend here was beautiful but I was unable to spend any significant time outdoors. Last week, Mudge, I planted 2 Celebrity, 4 heirloom (Brandywine? something) and 2 more heirloom (Beefsteak? I forget). We'll see if (a) they survive (good so far) (b) bear fruit and (c) it isn't eaten by critters. I also planted red, green, yellow and purple bell peppers and onions. I have seeds for some beans and such and am just waiting for enough time to plant them too. I am not so much an organic gardener as a harsh-truths-of-nature gardener; I can plant a vegetable, maybe with some added nutrient soil, and provide regular water with occasional weeding but other than that the plant is pretty much on its own. Life in my garden is not for the faint of heart.

Thanks, pj, for the suggestion to turn Richard III into a musical. We're working on it. Any help will be gratefully, and graciously, accepted.

Posted by: Ivansmom | May 4, 2008 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Tsk, tsk, there you go again, yello: American ex-pat that...

Sorry, just had to bring it to your attention!

Posted by: slyness | May 4, 2008 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Here's my out the window photo. It's pretty close to the North Pole, and since it was taken in June, the sun never set.

Walking across that Sydney Harbor Bridge sounds fun. I've done the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of times and walked onto (but not across) the Golden Gate.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 4, 2008 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Be very careful with the script, Ivansmom. A lot of musical comedy writers have been unable to solve the dilemma of writing a punchy, memorable tune for folks to take into the lobby after the end of Act I during the intermission. You know the part: its where those guy murder the twin princes and stick 'em under the stairs in the tower. Always a downer. I mean, it's not Griselda in "Cats," ya know?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 4, 2008 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Your federal government at work:

Just talked to Mr. T, he got to the National Fire Academy fine. BUT...

They don't have Internet connections for students and visitors. Not WiFi, not nothing. All they allow is dialup. Who the heck does that any more?

Looks like there will be no email for him this week!

Posted by: slyness | May 4, 2008 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Ran into Medallion of Ferret over at Nicholas Kristof's blog.

If I remember correctly, wildland fire management is an information-intensive business. I'd assume that tameland fire fighting would be, too. Where's that implanted tag that satellite-tracks every baby in the country, real-time?

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | May 4, 2008 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Glad you made it safely down under, Joel.

Curmudgeon, you sound much better. Loved the stories, too. The 'biotics must be working.

Hey, we had a decent day here. Sunny and warmer and not too windy. But the cold winter and mostly cold spring have wreaked havoc on all but the hardiest of plants and grass. Such is life in these parts.

Good story on bird migration by Rick Weiss today. Bird brains don't need a GPS.

Posted by: eidrib | May 4, 2008 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Good evening, all.

yellojkt; I knew someone was going to bring Star Trek into this as soon as someone mentioned "Botany Bay."

Mudge, did you guys have any trouble with Great White sharks while repairing the ship in those waters?

Ivansmom, before you go turning any Shakespeare into a musical, you may want to watch the episode of Gilligan's Island where the castaways develop a musical version of "Hamlet:" (or not)

Um, is there any kind of territorial tussling 'mongst males that *is* attactive? And would it help if we wore poisionous spurs on our heels?

Since Austrailia is in the Future, Joel, can you tell me what the results of Monday's baseball games will be? I'm thinking about placing a few wagers on them...


Posted by: bc | May 4, 2008 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Joel may you come up a few million years from paleontology while you are down there and find out who (whom) named the critter "platypus?" It must have been one of those English guys with a stiff upper lip, wearing shorts with high top boots and a shirt with eptilapths(sp). It couldn't be Mudge because he talks like a pirate.

Posted by: bh | May 4, 2008 11:52 PM | Report abuse

I once worked for MATS (might arive some time on tuesday) in Honolulu. The runway there then was reserved for comerical in the daylight hours and military after dark. All the officers above the rank of major always wanted to fly commerical. I don't know why because on the contract carriers they got first class treatment.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 12:09 AM | Report abuse

bh -- did those officers get booze?

Posted by: nellie | May 5, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse

I tried to find that word on my word finder but I wasn't close enough for the computer to figure it out. Thanks. By the wa, from are you commenting?

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 12:14 AM | Report abuse

nellie, I don't know, they had a parition door between us in cattle car and them.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 12:16 AM | Report abuse

I got that wrong, MATS (might arrive tuesday sometime)

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 12:21 AM | Report abuse

What's with the trains jumping the tracks in PA and NY. Anyone should know you shouldn't attempt to pass two trains in Reduction!

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:06 AM | Report abuse

Can't sleep. I crossed the international date line several times between San Francisco and Shangahi and back. They were allways business class flights so with the alcohol the passing wasn't noticed.

I did cross the equator on a Coast Guard reserve cruise from Honolulu to re-establish the US claim to Jarvis Island. (Look it up) I got to kiss the Neptune's belly blind folded and sit around on the foredeck in skiveys until totalally sunburned. I have a certificate and wallet card to prove it.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:26 AM | Report abuse

WOW! Just got a Hilton's bed & breakfest ad.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:28 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, borrowing from CP's post a few days ago, "Hey there! Lady in the house!"

Posted by: dbG | May 5, 2008 2:41 AM | Report abuse

Great story, Mudge. Since you are sailing and not going very fast, I suppose your system had time to adjust, and not turned inside out after crossing all those time zones. Then again, maybe, you hadn't felt it because you weren't exactly a teetotallers.

My longest travel time was 32 hrs and that included 7 hrs lay over. I was flying from San Francisco to Singapore on Korea Airlines. Because of the 7 hrs lay over, the fare was lower, so 7 hrs it is. When we reached Seoul and everyone had gotten ready to disembark the plane, the Korean air stewardess gestured towards the exit and said, "Please, get out." We weren't a rowdy crowd. Nobody got drunk or anything. Everyone was well behaved.

Posted by: rainforest | May 5, 2008 2:47 AM | Report abuse

Hey! There is dbG up.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:48 AM | Report abuse

Ah, the HNL Reef Runway. Yes, it sits out on the water, on a reef to be exact. It's great fun to land on it at night because of all the pretty blue lights. The taxi to the terminal takes forever though. Most planes land on that runway when the winds come from the south, or we have Kona winds, as we say in this country.

I need to try planting tomatoes, you all make them sound so wonderful. I have a cousin who grows hydroponic tomatoes on the North Shore and they are delicious! Just like candy.

Posted by: Aloha, | May 5, 2008 2:52 AM | Report abuse

Hi, Rainforest. How can you fly 27 hours and not get tippsy?

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:54 AM | Report abuse

Now I got an ad to buy a Gulf Stream G650.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 2:55 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yeah, the hours are part of my job!

Posted by: dbG | May 5, 2008 2:56 AM | Report abuse

Hi Aloha, I used to live in Whymanalno (maybe I forgot to how to spell that). Anyway, I think you could grow anything over there. Rich sand soil and lots of rain. I grew lots of ferns and those leihs flowers.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 3:04 AM | Report abuse

Hi Aloha, I used to live in Whymanalno (maybe I forgot to how to spell that). Anyway, I think you could grow anything over there. Rich sand soil and lots of rain. I grew lots of ferns and those leihs flowers.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 3:04 AM | Report abuse

Well. Aloha, I must have hit the wrong key because my last response got fyied away.
Hi, dbG. Keep it up. I know what it's like to be up when everyone else is gone. I'm goimg to bed.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 3:23 AM | Report abuse

Well. Aloha, I must have hit the wrong key because my last response got fyied away.
Hi, dbG. Keep it up. I know what it's like to be up when everyone else is gone. I'm goimg to bed.

Posted by: bh | May 5, 2008 3:24 AM | Report abuse

Hi bh. I really don't need 27 hrs flying to be tipsy. Five hrs is enough to do the job. I find that flying across the pacific or simply flying east really wrecks my system. I don't feel as bad flying westward.

Posted by: rainforest | May 5, 2008 3:41 AM | Report abuse

RDP, although I'm certain you'll enjoy "Iron Man," a note of caution:

Ms. Paltrow is strawberry-tressed for this role. :-)

It IS an excellent superhero movie, I must say. *pushing down the Ed Grimley cowlick* Two thumbs up, as it were.

Mr. T's in this neck of the woods, Slyness? Jeez, we would have been happy to embarass him when he arrived at the airport if you'd told us!

Managed to catch the final few minutes of the Celtics' rout of the Hawks yesterday. I have to give props to the Garden's PA staff -- The C's had a 35-point lead with about 2 minutes left, and "Midnight Train to Georgia" came wafting from the speakers during a break. Certainly better than the typical "Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye" chant from the crowd.

And this concept annoys me, primarily for its utter pretentiousness...

*RME-but-not-so-much-that-I-get-vertigo-on-a-Monday Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | May 5, 2008 5:08 AM | Report abuse

Goodmorning all! Morning Scotty!

I began growing tomatos about 6 years ago and didn't realize it was a competitive sport in my neighborhood. The rule of [green] thumbs in NoVa is to wait until Mother's Day to put the mayters in the ground. If you get some ripe ones before July 4th, not only do you get to brag to your neighbors who didn't make it into the winner's circle, you can rub it in by giving him a bag of the crop.

Thank Heavens competetive zucchini gardening hasn't caught on!

Anyway, I grow most of my tomatos from seed. I have some better boys, celebrities, beef steak, and cherries growing up about 2 inches high out of paper cups.

Posted by: DandyLion | May 5, 2008 5:28 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle. Ah, Monday... I can go back to work and get some rest.

'Morning, Scotty and DandyLion. Dandy, I'd give you a sky report except it can be summed up here in one word: dark. Maybe later.

Not too much to report on this morning; most of the op-eds came from yesterday's Outlook. I'm not normally a Clinton fan (as you may know), but I think I gotta throw the flag on Ira Shapira's Chelsea piece. So she's different from (and possibly out of touch with) others of her generation (like Shapira). So what? What's the point? That she's somehow disqualified from stumping for her mother? That everybody is supposed to march in lockstep with him?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 5, 2008 6:00 AM | Report abuse

Happy Monday, everybody!

Snuke, sorry, I didn't think about having you meet Mr. T. That would have been hilarious! He is at NFA to evaluate grant requests and said that the bus driver didn't have their names. So he got all the students on the bus, closed the door, and called to check about the grant evaluators. Only then did he open the door and let them on. Your federal government at work!

Mudge, enjoyed your reminisces last night. Such a wonderful life you've had! Hope the leg is better and you get some rest at work.

Posted by: slyness | May 5, 2008 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Nice pics of Port Jackson. Sidney Harbour is just a tiny part of the large inlet named by Mudge's buddy Jim Cook for the Fleet's Judge Advocate General Sir George J.

The boss went to the zoo? Good for him.

The wise plant tomatoes outside during the Victoria day week-end around here. Still two weeks to go then.

The main crop this year should be Costoluto Genovese and Ox Heart (Cuor di bue), both semi-determinate Italian heirloom. I've got some a pair of Tomande and a few Juliets. I can't recommend the Juliet enough. This vigorous indeterminate bears great tasting two-bites saladette tomatoes. It produces well all summer.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | May 5, 2008 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Glad to not disappoint, bc.

Time for a quiz this morning: What Punctuation Mark Are You?

Posted by: yellojkt | May 5, 2008 7:18 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

It is Monday morning, my friends. I am the perfect example of Monday morning, dragging something awful. Probably from staying up too late. And I have not had the coffee yet, working on that.

Mudge, I hope you and the leg are feeling better this morning. Scotty, I read the article on the movie, Iron Man, and it is being touted as the big money maker. Robert Downey is one of Hollywood's best actor, even high, he does better than some of them. I read he is a changed man. Good for him.

Slyness, I was talking about your city yesterday, and the shopping centers. I had to review the Sunday school lesson, and I told the audience, God keeps me on task by providing for my needs, but not so many extras because He knows I would be at every shopping center between Charlotte and Fayetville. Love the shopping centers.

The pictures are great, JA. I hope you send us some more. And the stories to go with the pictures. It's a great way to be there, but not really there.

Vintage L, enjoy your trip, and save the details to share later.

Martooni, where are you, and good morning to all.*waving*

We are getting ready for Vacation Bible School at our church. I'm so hoping my grandsons can come to visit. They usually stay with me the whole week, but could not make it last year. As they get older, really don't want to hang with grandmother, but just maybe this time. Do any of you participate in this kind of event? I hope the gas and food situation does not impact this too much, as keeping the children away.

Have a great Monday, folks. The weather here is looking a little cloudy, but great day yesterday. And so warm.

Posted by: cassandra s | May 5, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

I saw "Iron Man" this weekend, too (ahem), and enjoyed it a great deal.

As someone I saw the movie with put it, it's solid comic-book-into-movie entertainment, right up there with the first "Spiderman" movie.

Which is, of course, the "Gandhi" of Comic Book Movies.

Cassandra, I know that VBS is a lot of work, I hope you don't have to carry the load yourself...

I'm stunned regarding the reported casualty rates for the cyclone that stuck Burma. Another terrible tragedy, and probably only going to get worse as the situatuon becomes more clear...


Posted by: bc | May 5, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Did everybody sleep in this morning?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 5, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

As a concession to my husband, I went with him to see "Iron Man" on Saturday night. It stunk; it stunk; it stunk.

It is an adult comic book flick. There are scenes in the movie that you wouldn't want children to see--Downey has an overnight tryst with a reporter and a scantily clad stewardess begins to pole dance in midflight. The supposed chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Paltrow seemed forced and contrived.

Then I saw this article last night at the NYT--says it all, the reporter could not be more perceptive. Relevant grafs below:

Summer Movies
Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?

IRON MAN, Batman, Big Angry Green Man -- to judge from the new popcorn season it seems as if Hollywood has realized that the best way to deal with its female troubles is to not have any, women, that is.

All you have to do is look at the movies themselves -- at the decorative blondes and brunettes smiling and simpering at the edge of the frame -- to see just how irrelevant we have become. That's as true for the dumbest and smartest of comedies as for the most critically revered dramas, from "No Country for Old Men" (but especially for women) to "There Will Be B1ood" (but no women). Welcome to the new, post-female American cinema.

...Nowhere is our irrelevance more starkly apparent than during the summer, the ultimate boys' club. Over the next few months the screens will reverberate with the romping-stomping of comic book titans like Iron Man and the Hulk.

...Last year only 3 of the 20 highest-grossing releases in America were female-driven, and involve a princess ("Enchanted") or pregnancy ("Knocked Up" and "Juno"). Actresses had starring roles in about a quarter of the next 80 highest-grossing titles, mostly in dopey romantic comedies and dopier thrillers. A number of these were among the worst-reviewed movies of the year, including "Premonition" (Sandra Bullock) and "The Reaping" (Hilary Swank), the last of which was released by -- ta-da! -- Warner Brothers. The days of "Million Dollar Baby," for which Ms. Swank won an Oscar, and "Speed," which rocketed Ms. Bullock to stardom in the summer of 1994, feel long gone.

LL: As far as films go, the people on Exile Island are women.

Posted by: Loomis | May 5, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse


Gotta disagree, as good as Spiderman was, Superman II was the first comic book movie to get it right.

My wife has quit even feigning tolerance for comic book movies since my son got a drivers license. Fortunately, she loves Indiana Jones (that Harrison Ford just keeps getting better with age) so that my be the only big screen tent pole I see this summer.

I always thought Tony Stark was just a drunk Bruce Wayne. Marvel has all the street cred, but so many of their character are blatant rip-offs of DC legends. Green Arrrow/Hawkeye, Flash/Quicksilver, Justice League/Avengers. Need I go on?

It also just came to me how many Marvel heroes have full face-covering masks like Spiderman and Iron Man. It makes it real easy for the artists since they don't have to draw expressions, but in the movies the writers have to keep coming up with ways to take the masks off so the actors can earn their keep.

//Geek rant over//

Posted by: yellojkt | May 5, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

New Guest Kit!

Posted by: shrieking denizen | May 5, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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