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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Congressional cockroaches

This morning on NPR I heard a wonderful quote about congressional earmarks (aka porkbarrel politics or just pork), it went something like this: If you have cockroaches under the sink, and you have a big birthday cake down there, and then you ask, "how do we get rid of the cockroaches?" is the answer to build walls? No, you get rid of the birthday cake.

I tried to google it and this is the closest I got, a comment by Grover Norquist at Espressopundit:
We have a huge fight this spring. Well, two fights that are the same. How to limit runaway spending. How to tamp down bribery to get at that spending in Congress.

They are the same fight. Less money being thrown around means fewer "lobbyists" trying to get their hands on it. If you leave a birthday cake under the sink you will have cockroaches. If you have billions given away in earmarks, people will figure out how to get it.

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Bedbug Scourge

Extracts from's
You're not dreaming, that's a bedbug

Blood-sucking pests spreading from NYC to rest of U.S., world

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"There's an epidemic going on throughout the country, and New York seems to be the hotbed," said Jeffrey Eisenberg, a pest control expert.

Bedbugs are turning up in hospitals, schools, movie theaters and health clubs. Recent reports put them in a New Jersey college dorm and a Los Angeles hotel -- where one guest filed a $5 million lawsuit.

The current generation of exterminators has been caught unaware by these pests, which were all but forgotten for decades. They blame the comeback on several factors, primarily increased global travel and the banning of potent pesticides like DDT.

The tiny vermin avoid light and attack in the middle of the night. About the size of a flattened apple seed, they hide in cracks and crevices in furniture and walls.

They're efficient and active travelers, often hitching rides on clothing and jumping from host to host when people brush up against each other on the subway, in elevators or on crowded streets.

Fighting an infestation is a costly, time-consuming process. Belongings must be removed from the home to be thoroughly washed or dry-cleaned, followed by meticulous vacuuming, before the exterminator can even begin work. It often takes several visits.

The scourge is nearly impossible to eradicate; the creatures can go a year without feeding, they reproduce rapidly and don't die easily.

City Councilwoman Gail Brewer ... is calling for a bedbug task force. She wants a ban on reconditioning mattresses [and] separate transport of old and new mattresses. A mattress purchase often includes the removal of the old one, and several used and new mattresses mingling in a truck produce a bedbug free-for-all.

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Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Found on a bulletin board at Marsh Woodwinds. Click for a better view.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Melina visits Chinese New Year

This weekend's expedition was to Flushing, Queens, which is New York's second great Chinatown. We wanted to see the New Years parade.

The parade started off as one might expect, with the politicians:

Then, there were a lot of corporate-sponsored delegations, and after that, a lot of non-profit delegations and community groups, such as the local all-Asian chapter of the Kiwanis club, and the Korean-American Beautician Federation:

Then there was a gigantic, hundred-member marching band that played Western marching-band music and that was somehow affiliated with the always-PR-savvy Falun Dafa movement:

Indeed there were some folks who put some actual effort into their costumes:

The Korean honor guard I thought was extremely impressive:

And bringing up the rear of the parade were such mystifying delegations as:

The Flushing Mall:

The African-American cowboys:

and my personal favorite, The Giant Dog and Cat On A Truck:

We found this to be an excellent cultural experience. We marveled at the health of this immigrant community, and we were impressed by its ability to obtain corporate sponsorships, spawn non-profits and business alliances, and even to adopt hoary American institutions such as the Kiwanis Club for its own betterment.

If you're wondering, as I was, the largest single ethnic group in NYC is African-Americans at 11.5%, then Puerto Ricans at 9.8%. (then: 8.7% Italian, 5.3% Irish, 5.1% Dominican, 4.5% Chinese, 2.1% Asian Indian, 1.8% Filipino and 1.6% Korean.)

If you just look at foreign-born New Yorkers, the largest group from a single country of origin are from Dominican Republic, followed by China, Jamaica, and Russia. Or so sayeth Wikipedia.

After the parade ended, we had a big lunch, went shopping for tapioca pearls and cheap ginger candy in the Flushing grocery store, and headed home completely satisfied.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Dear Diary,

Yesterday I decided to get a lot done. That doesn't always work, of course - you can "decide" as determinedly as you want to get things done and STILL spend the day reading junky books and taking naps...

This time, though, almost everything on the list got checked off, including the line item below, which seemed so over-confident it made me laugh as I wrote it down:
  • Write a song for the gig in Greenwich!
One of the things reading the Artist's Way made me realize: I'm creative - but pragmatic to a fault. If I feel nobody needs or wants what I can create, I won't bother creating it.

I've finessed that problem recently by inventing a project which I myself need: a short kids' book in Spanish and English to read with my 2nd graders. If it's a kids' book, of course it needs illustrations, and that means I need to learn how to illustrate. So, bad paintings galore, fun without guilt, nothing is wasted...

Well, yesterday I needed a song! My bandmate Ken Bloom is coming over tomorrow; we'll rehearse for a March 5 performance at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Ct. to accompany this Ben Franklin exhibit.

Our audience will be young, and most of the Colonial songs I know are no good for children, being wordy and full of boozing, sex, politics, and/or hellfire.

Since the Bruce Museum is paying us good money to fly all the way up there and do a 45-minute show, surely they deserve a song of their own. But what?

I remembered a funny Stan Freberg routine about Benjamin Franklin annoying everybody he knew with his didactic conversational style. ("Haste Makes Waste." "A Stitch In Time Saves Nine.") His friends snarl at him to talk like a normal person...

Aphorisms! I googled Franklin's sayings, printed out a batch, turned them into five verses of a song, and set them to an old Welsh tune which I torqued and tweaked to fit.

That song happened so fast I had time to try again.

When Ben Franklin was 13 he published his first broadside, about the vanquishing of the villanous Edward Teach, called The Downfall of Piracy (aka The Downfal of Pyracy). It's cute and includes PURPLE GORE!

I made up a little tune for it, edited the text a bit, and it was done.

I can't wait to sing these for Ken. It's good to know the wheels can still turn.

  • Yiddish class with Sheva Zucker;

  • Playing Irish tunes with Bob Vasile, my long-ago bandmate, for the first time since June;

  • Getting my copy of Outwitting History ("The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books") autographed by the author, Aaron Lansky - he's presenting a talk at my temple;

  • Giving a singing lesson, baking chocolate-chip pecan cookies, and painting lousy pictures with a friend who also likes to paint. He and I enjoy parallel play; we sit at the kitchen table with our paintbrushes just like second graders...

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Illustration Friday - "Glamour"

I found this picture of a glamorous Brazilian model - sitting in what appears to be the meat and bacon department of a grocery store, holding what appears to be a giant burrito with stuff falling out of it - at Give Me Spirit Fingers, an Asian fashion blog.

My instant thought: "Honey, this was not a good gig, was it?" I sympathized with the look in her eyes.

So here's my take on the picture. The part I enjoyed doing the most was the "OFERTA" sign.

What I learned this week: A tiny brush doesn't work well with thick gucky paint on canvas.

Also, my scanner picks up about 45% of the color in the picture. Makes me wonder how much is missing from all the other pictures I see at Illustration Friday...

Peanut Brittle Disappears At Wesleyan Post Office

On December 10th and 11th I made six batches of peanut brittle (and compared them). On the 11th I mailed all the batches, first class mail.

Batches going to Los Angeles, Massachusetts, and New York City arrived at their destinations two or three days later. But eleven days later, when Zed left for home, his still hadn't arrived. His post office? Wesleyan, Connecticut.

Zed went to Israel, came back, and returned to school - a month and 12 days since I mailed that peanut brittle! He went to his post-office, which is on the Wesleyan campus, and found he had three package slips.
  1. He stood in the long line.
  2. He finally got to the front of the line and submitted his three slips.
  3. The clerk slunk into the back and was gone a long long time.
  4. He came back with TWO packages and shiftily peered around Ezra as if to "help who's next."
  5. Ezra said, "But I had THREE package slips."
  6. The clerk looked sort of surprised, as if he hadn't noticed that! Or perhaps he hadn't noticed he had put only two packages in Ezra's hands.
  7. He slunk into the back again and was gone a very, very long gone.
  8. He came back empty handed. The package was lost, somewhere there in the back of the mailroom.
Zed and I had already speculated about the Wesleyan mailroom. Other things I've sent him - including medicine - have taken weeks to arrive. We've posited piles and piles of stuff in the back room. Do the demoralized employees simply walk around the piles and pretend they're not there?

Now I see: the Wesleyan post-office is a Bermuda Triangle.

Zed had a surprising reaction. He was so curious about all this, he went right over that same day and got himself a part-time job at that very mailroom!

When the lady there got his application, she said, "I know why you want this job. You want to find out what happened to your peanut brittle."

I'm hoping Zed will share his experiences with us. To be continued...

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Telenovela Alborada, #10

First: I have to start assuming you know who these people are.

Second: If you are new to Alborada, please visit my recaps in ORDER - see the bottom of this post for information.

Third: THANKS to the people who are writing to me, and helping with various questions, and cheering me on. This project is time-consuming! But worth it!

Here is a comment from last night:

I'd just like to say Congratulations to the wimpy Asunción for finally standing up to someone! And not just someone but the ever so annoying Ada who had to go and have a hissy fit and spill the frijoles to Hipolita!!! And also Congratulations to Diego for being the crying, throwing tantrum baby that Rafael should be!!!

And an answer to my question about "de medio pelo" -

My mother-in-law said a "de medio pelo" is someone who is neither good or bad... someone unimportant... I did a search online and found the translation "mediocre"...

For those who have been asking the meaning of "Alborada" - it means "dawn" - it's a poetic word.

And finally, for those who have been asking how long the series will continue, from njmotmot:

Here's a news flash from the official Alborada website. The novela is being shown in Mexico and is about a month & half ahead of us. The final episode was scheduled to air there on Feb. 10 but the finale has been extended another two weeks that they are going to achieve not by changing the plot but by extending the scenes of what they've already filmed. In other words, they are going to pad the episodes with material that otherwise would have ended up on the cutting room floor. More recapitulations and reactions I assume. I confess though that I go to the web site to see what is going to happen in the novela. I alway peek at the end of books too. I don't like to be surprised.

OK, now on to the recap.

Wednesday: Isabel steams around telling people Diego's running her off the estate. She's not worried, just mad: "I have enough money to buy a palace!"

Doña Juana, mortified, insists to Diego that he let Isabel stay. "No, she offended me! And over some stupid girl I took to bed!" He whines and screams, again and again, "I DON'T WANT TO!!!" and throws and breaks lots of things.

Juana goes to Isabel's room and says she can stay; Isabel says, "only if he apologizes in person." Juana says, "You know he won't do that, and we don't need all the mouths yakking about us right now." Isabel cheerfully says, "Forget it, I'm out of here." She tells Marina: "He'll end up on his knees, begging my pardon."

Handsome dimwitted Andrés, in civvies, shows up at Cristobal's (Palacio de Lara) where Andrés's family (the brutal Francisco, the wimpy Asunción, and Catalina, lately sprung from the convent) has been living since Diego threw them off "Las Tunas." They're eating dinner. Andrés tells them he's been fired by Gasco. His mom snivels, "this will upset Doña Juana," and his father barks: "You'll go back there tomorrow and demand your job back." Andrés says no, he'll find other work. His father insists. Andrés leaves. There is muttering about his love for Marina and about Catalina's getting married to Cristobal. "I don't want to marry a man who doesn't love me." Asunción: "Nonsense - I did!"

On the road, night-time, torches burning ... Felipe, leaning against his son Martin's coffin and twirling a crucifix, swears vengeance against the beach people - including Victoria the Pirate Queen.

Leaning against a tree in the dark, Luis tells Hipólita: "There's something I have to tell you that you're not going to like." What a dolt he is! She gets all upset and asks: "Is it something about Rafael?" "Well, partially." "TELL ME NOW!" [TELL HER NOW, IDIOT -- ed.] "No, it's not the right time." Coward. As I used to remind my toddlers constantly, "It's GOOD to tell!"

That same night: Gasco finds Ramon and the mute in their favorite booze-hole. He asks who hired them to steal Hipólita, they tell him it was Perla and who cares anyway, he tells them "this wasn't just one of Luis's casual lovers, she's the mother of his son." Uh-oh.

We cut to Esperanza barfing in the woods. "It must be the bamboleo (wobbling) of the carriage." [A great new word for my vocabulary -- ed.] Soon, all are embroiled in a traffic jam caused by the meeting of (1) Esperanza with her brother Santiago and entourage, heading back to Guevara's estate, and (2) the wagon - carriage - horse procession carrying Martin's coffin home.

Hipólita's first view of Esperanza, and vice versa. In unison: "Who Is That Woman?"

Martin in his coffin is taken home to his mother. She screams NOOOOO! and also the first words I ever learned in Spanish, because I learned Spanish watching telenovelas: "NO PUEDE SER!" (It Can't Be!!)

Luis takes Hipólita to Cristóbal's and leaves. Hipolita rushes inside; there is a swift hug-fest with mom, sister, and maid. Then she wants Rafael. She's horrified to hear Doña Juana took him to the castle. The overwrought maid (Ada) who's been sobbing and screaming ever since she saw Hipólita get kidnapped, sobs and screams tactlessly: "That awful Don Luis tricked you! He is the man who boinked you in Santa Rita! He is the father of your child! This has all been a giant trick to steal Rafael!"

Hipólita: TILT TILT TILT. TILT!! After collapsing briefly she steams over to the Guevara estate, steams past all the guards, snatches Rafael (still completely calm) from Juana, and starts screaming about all the lies.

Luis comes up behind her in an uh-oh moment as she is cursing them all. He tries to calm her but she hisses, "Rather than leave Rafael with you, I'll kill you. It was all lies! EVERYBODY knew but me!!!!"

Esperanza sees all this and later confronts Luis. "Is she one of your lovers? I have a right to know!" "Yes, you have a right to know. She isn't one of my lovers - she's the woman I love, and that boy is my son."

Then a lot of screen time is lavished on a guy in the plaza, wearing only a barrel, being pulled along by soldiers and pelted with produce by an angry crowd. Is this significant?

Walking through the plaza, Luis tells Cristóbal: "To Hipólita, I'm a beast." They see Diego, Antonio and Rodrigo sitting at a café. Diego hails them, insults them a bit, asks about the mine. After they leave, Antonio comments: "He wasn't as you described him; I thought he'd be more carefree." Rodrigo mentions his interest in Catalina; Diego boasts: "I am her father's feudal lord [sort of], I can get her for you."

Thursday: Many scenes of people reacting to Martin's death, and many of people telling Hipólita (a) she should at least listen to Don Luis or (b) yes, he is a wretch. Also many scenes of Hipólita crying and cursing Luis while saying she loves him.

Diego tells Doña Juana she can forget installing Rafael, Luis's son, as the next Count: it will never happen. Diego's then pleased to hear that Esperanza, Luis's wife, who has had sex with nobody but Diego in many years, is pregnant. He wants a varon (male heir). Everybody else, assuming Esperanza is inventing this pregnancy, rolls their eyes.

Esperanza's in quite a pickle. Luis, who hasn't had sex with her, will know this isn't his child. Diego slithers into her boudoir and suggests she tell everybody it's a miracle conception (like that of the Virgin Mary). Esperanza later mutters she can't say she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit...

Esperanza's brother Santiago has the worst hair in the series, there must be a whole tube of mousse in those greasy strands. He finds out - from Diego - that his sister is pregnant. Diego invites him out on the town but Santiago points out he is still in mourning - for his father Agustín, murdered as you may recall by Diego's own evil henchman Gasco. (Agustín was also the hysterical Esperanza's father, and ALSO Hipólita's father.)

Diego says "el muerto al pozo y el hombre al gozo" ("the dead to the hole and man to his pleasure") and promptly walks backwards and almost falls over a chair. Was that an oopsy and they just didn't want to waste film and run the scene again?

Aunt Isabel and the no-longer-innocent Marina, dressed in black on their way to Martin's wake, stop by to see Hipólita, but she won't receive them. Her mother scolds her for her arrogant attitude and for making enemies of everyone.

Victoria the Pirate Queen comes to see her mother, La Poderosa. She tells the dwarf: "That last woman y'all sent me caused problems and I thought it was better that we get out of there." She opens the curtains on her mother's bed. "Mother!" "Daughter!" "Mother!" "Daughter!" [My daughter and I rarely have interchanges of that nature. -- Ed.]

"Mom - I want to come back. It's been years now!" "It doesn't matter - that Santo Varon still lives and hasn't forgotten the death of his brother." "But we're hundreds of miles from the capitol!" "That doesn't matter, the Inquisition has a long arm, and all it takes is one person to recognize you." "I'll stay hidden." "You're not the type to stay hidden." "But I WANT to come back." "I'll send a note to Don Ignacio and we'll see what he says." I quote this to you because I don't think we're supposed to know what it means yet - except, remember, we saw that scene of La Poderosa as a young girl witnessing the burning of a Jewish family - and her face is burned, which is why I guess she stays in bed behind the curtain all day.

There's a nice private dinner at Diego's with a string quartet and a suckling pig. Antonio rolls his eyes at Diego's gauche boasting and later tells Rodrigo: "I don't like him - he's so sarcastic and spoiled." Diego promises to introduce Rodrigo to Catalina tomorrow.

Luis goes, at night, and bangs on Hipólita's door. He tells her he still intends to provide for Rafael, and to see him - she says "Rafael is mine exclusively." "No, this concerns all three of us. He's my son too. Don't even think about fleeing, I'll be watching." I swear, this guy has the worst way of dealing with things.

Adalgisa says to Hipólita: "Either we stay and you let him take care of us all, or we leave for Panama." Hipólita: "Yes! we could work!" Adalgisa: "Well, yes, I'm a servant, but what can you do? Wash dishes?" Hipólita: "Why not?" "With that face and those breasts? You'll be boinked in the corner by the first man who sees you."

Meanwhile, the brutal Francisco will not stop hammering away on his plan to siphon funds by marrying his daughter Catalina to Cristóbal. Even during Martin's wake and funeral he nags everybody he sees. He yells at Hipólita constantly, saying everything is her fault; that she should never have been born; that, because of her, Catalina's hopes of a good marriage are wrecked; that even her mother Asunción is sick of her.

Antonio, still trying to decide whether he wants to invest with Diego, meets with old moneyman Malaquias and says he's most interested in the vanilla plantation and wants to go see it. He then goes to see Juana, whom he realizes "holds the reins."

Juana has figured out that Antonio is Hipólita's husband; she and Modesta want him to take Hipólita back to Panama, leaving Rafael behind with them! She disingenuously queries: "Are you married?" "No." "Were you never married?" "Yes, I was." "So you're a widower?" "No." "Are you divorced?" "Yes."

Friday kicks off with Martin's funeral. The parade includes quite a few people in Indian garb with drums, rattles, conch shell trumpets, and feathers on their heads. Felipe and Carmela are escorted home. "This house will be a tomb without our son."

Cristóbal and Luis go to visit La Poderosa and ask for help finding the men "who killed an innocent man with the point of a sword." (Evidently this is very cowardly.) She just says, "these things happen." Leaving without answers, they muse that she seems to be an educated woman. "Why does she conceal her face? Is it deformed? Maybe she's hiding from something or someone." Cristóbal says he'll investigate.

Victoria looked much better as a Pirate Queen - now she has a hairdo like a fluffy ginger poodle and she bobbles in one of those low-cut dresses. Her mom, La Poderosa, narrates: "It surprised me how much he (Don Luis) looked like Carlos, the previous Count of Guevara. Carlos's wife Aurora and I were friends until JUANA interfered. Juana had an unhealthy affection for her own brother (Carlos, the previous Count) and imagined that he and I were lovers... after the fire in the chalana (?) in which Carlos and Aurora died, Juana denounced your grandparents (La Poderosa's parents) to the Inquisition for being Jews. I was between life and death with the burns." "Is she (Juana) alive?" "Yes, and that's why I don't want you in Cuencas. Juana threatened me - she said if I didn't 'disappear' she'd denounce me, too. She might know your name."

Nevertheless, Victoria is determined to stay; she says if she can't live at mom's house she'll find another place.

The plaza: Antonio and Luis cross paths, and Antonio says, "Diego has invited me to invest in his vanilla plantation but since you're a partner I want to talk to you about it first." They make an appointment for tomorrow noon.

As promised, Diego brings Rodrigo to meet Catalina; though Diego hasn't seen Catalina since she was ten years old, he acts like it's natural he's come to have tea and has brought a buddy. When Asuncion nervously mentions their misfortunes - caused of course BY Diego - Diego patronizingly says: "I'll find a way to help."

In the plaza after taking leave, Rodrigo says: "With that class of woman, you have to marry." Diego: "Nah, her dad's in ruin and for three centavos he'd sell you his own wife." Rodrigo: "Nevertheless, I wouldn't be comfortable..." Diego: "Well, if you don't, I will - I like the shape of her face." (Giggles.)

Cristóbal visits his sister, who runs the convent. She tells him Catalina likes him "that way" - and suggests: "You've left the order, you could have a family of your own." He says: "It's a little soon, I'm not sure of the direction of my life." Wimp. Then he goes to see Fray Alvaro (boss of the Inquisition) to make an appointment to discuss, once again, Luis's divorce. "Is Luis's wife Esperanza pregnant?" "No." [Ha.] Alvaro: "I'll speak with her."

The brutal and now also incredibly persistent Francisco gets excited when his wife Asunción tells him about Rodrigo's visit. "If he's rich, we like him. We need to find out who has more money, Rodrigo or Cristóbal."

Hipólita realizes this is the very Rodrigo who is best buddy of her husband Antonio. She starts making plans to run away.

Doña Juana yells at Diego for making vanilla plantation plans: "You can't do this without Luis's consent." "I didn't sign anything." "You gave your word." "Words blow on the wind." "The Count of Guevara always keeps his word!" "I'm not the Count of Guevara, I'm the son of his sister and a nobody." "Your father wasn't a nobody."

Francisco is back at the Guevara's AGAIN. He's back there nagging them several times a day. This time, Juana slams the door in his face, so he talks to Diego, who laughs at Francisco's assumption that Rodrigo was brought to tea to begin possible marriage discussions. Diego says the actual idea was more a cash for goods exchange - he thought Francisco, as a "gentleman in ruin," would be glad to get some money in return for his daughter Catalina's favors. Francisco leaves in a fury and gets drunk.

Esperanza natters shrilly to her brother Santiago, he of the absolutely worst hair. She doesn't want to see her friends, they all talk about babies, they surely are gossiping about her husband's bastard son... she beats on her brother and shrieks that he has to make Luis do something. She still hasn't told Luis she's pregnant.

Aurelio (house manager at the Palacio de Lara) (1) brings to Cristóbal Juana's request that he visit her in the morning; (2) mentions the strange tea-time visit, to Catalina, of Diego and Rodrigo (which makes Cristóbal jealous); (3) moans that Aunt Isabel's papers are absolute chaos (remember, she hired him to make sense of her holdings). "There are even boxes of papers coming from Peru which nobody has ever looked at." Cristobal: "Ahh, her inheritance from her Aunt Perpetua!" [I THINK.]

Cristóbal, bucked up by his sister's info that Catalina likes him, cheerfully eats a piece of fruit in Catalina's presence, says a few halting words of no import, and walks on by. Way to go.

I post the new update every Wednesday and Saturday morning. All Alborada recaps are now listed in the sidebar to the right - below the small picture of Modesta and Doña Juana, just above the elephant. Click on the numbers (ONE TWO THREE ... ETC) to find them!

Amor Real
Entre el Amor y el Odio

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Sometimes "bug juice" really is! There are crushed cochineal beetles in our food...

On my telenovela, Alborada, the villanous Don Diego is in trouble for selling adulterated cochinilla. My commenters have said it's a tiny bug that grows on cactuses, is used for dying, and at times has been "worth its weight in gold." Somebody also said the crushed bugs were used to color foods. I didn't believe it, but here is the story from today's Wall Street Journal! Now I believe!

UPDATE: It appears the Wall Street Journal article below was in error. From my comment section:

I assume that you are a stickler for accuracy. Therefore, I must point out a mistake.

The cochineal insect is NOT a beetle; it is a scale insect. It is not even remotely related to beetles except that both are insects. Calling it a beetle is like calling a gorilla a porpoise. It can properly be called a bug, since it belongs to the order Hemiptera the members of which have the common name "bugs."

By the way, it is the females and eggs which are used to make dye. The females are wingless and have six legs. It would seem the Biblical injuction would not apply here.

M.C. Thomas, Ph.D.
Florida State Collection of Arthropods
Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Extracts from
Is There a Bug in Your Juice? New Food Labels Might Say
by Jane Zhang for the Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2006

Food makers may not want to dwell on it, but the ingredient that gives Dannon Boysenberry yogurt and Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice their distinctive colors comes from crushed female cochineal beetles.

Pressed by consumer advocates, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to ... require companies to disclose when a food contains beetle-derived colorings.

Under current FDA regulations, food labels must identify certain man-made colorings by name, such as FD&C Red No. 40. But for carmine, cochineal and other naturally occurring ingredients, companies can use terms such as "color added" or, oddly, "artificial color."

[An] advocacy group, and a small but vocal group of consumers who are allergic to the ingredients have pushed for stiffer rules.

Joining the chorus are vegetarians, who don't want to eat insects, and consumers observing kosher dietary practices. ... "There are a lot of people who will not be happy to know that they are eating products that contain dried beetle."

[The "Senior Director of Nutrition Policy" at a food-industry group objects]: "It's not part of the requirement for other animal-derived ingredients. Lard is 'lard.' It doesn't say 'pork' after it. 'Milk' doesn't say 'from cow.' 'Butter' doesn't say 'from cow.'"

Spaniards found Mexicans cultivating the red cochineal beetles in 1518. Today, the bugs are raised on farms in Peru, Mexico and the Canary Islands, where they feed on cacti.

The bodies of female beetles are dried, ground and heated, and the colored powder is filtered out. It takes 70,000 beetles to make one pound of marketable carmine.

The cochineal pigment also is used in cosmetics and textiles.

Vegetarians are rooting for the label change. A year ago, while sitting at a movie theater, Lucinda Hoffmaster first saw the word "carmine" on a box of Hershey Co.'s Good & Plenty candies. Not knowing what the word meant, the Montgomery, Ala., resident went home and Googled the word. "I was just horrified," recalls the 57-year-old Ms. Hoffmaster, the mother of two vegetarian daughters. "I am thinking, 'Why do they put dried bug carcasses in a candy marketed for children?'"

Hershey declined to comment.

UPDATE: Dustbury had a comment. He exclaimed:
Wait a minute. Bugs aren't kosher?

Leviticus 11:20-23 [ESV]:
'All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.'

Of course, "all fours" makes little sense in the context of insects, unless they're limping. But no, apparently bugs aren't kosher, and just to make sure:
'Of the "winged swarming things" (winged insects), a few are specifically permitted (Lev. 11:22), but the Sages are no longer certain which ones they are, so all have been forbidden.'

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Bat brains

Surely you saw this one?

Extracts from's
When it comes to bats, size matters
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A research team led by Syracuse University biologist Scott Pitnick found that in bat species where the females are promiscuous, the males boasting the largest testicles also had the smallest brains. Conversely, where the females were faithful, the males had smaller testes and larger brains.

The study offers evidence that males -- at least in some species -- make an evolutionary trade-off between intelligence and sexual prowess, said David Hoskens, a biologist at the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter in England and a leading authority on bats' mating behavior.

"If female bats mate with more than one male, a sperm competition begins," Pitnick said. "The male who ejaculates the greatest number of sperm wins the game, and hence many bats have evolved outrageously big testes."

Promiscuity is known to make a difference in testicle size in some other mammals. For example, chimpanzees are promiscuous and have testicles that are many times larger than those of gorillas, in which a single dominant male has exclusive access to a harem of females.

Large brains, meanwhile, are metabolically costly to develop and maintain.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Melina's bachelor evening

Yankel is working late. I had a bachelor dinner (tofu, which Yankel won't eat, toast, and bruschetta mix). Then I painted my Illustration Friday, not a minute too late, while watching CSI. My kitty ears are not so exceptional, but otherwise life is pretty excellent.

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The worst day of the year is behind us.

As a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues), I generally keep sliding downhill way past January 23 - in fact, until mid February. (For me, Valentine's Day is usually the worst day of the year.)

This year our tropical January has kept me out in the sun and things are already looking pretty good! I guess global warming has a few advantages...

Extracts from A good day for a bad mood
According to British psychologist, Monday [was] the gloomiest day of the year.
by Shelley Emling, January 23, 2006

A health psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales has devised a formula that combines personal and seasonal factors to calculate the year's emotional low point.

January is a time when people do not have a lot of events, parties or holidays to look forward to.

Many people are struggling to cope not only with bleak weather, but also with the debts they amassed by spending too much over the holidays.

It's also a time when people may be starting to feel like failures because they have broken their New Year's resolutions shortly after making them.

But Arnall said there are ways to beat the late January blues.

Instead of trying to turn over the same old new leaf every New Year's Day, he suggested, resolve to make a change in a different month, such as March or April.

"I also advise people to do the unusual every January," he said. "Go for a walk in the woods or just get out and about."

Arnall said groups of friends or co-workers could throw parties to celebrate the 23rd because being around people you like can boost your spirits.

A Los Angeles-based life transition coach agreed that January is a tough time of the year. She encouraged people to try to exercise, whether or not the weather is bad.

"Exercise releases hormones that give us a sense of well-being, and it should be seen as an antidote to feeling down or blue," she said.

On the bright side, it is only five months until what Arnall figures will be the happiest day of 2006 — June 23.

Formula for a bad day?

1/8W + (D-d)3/8 x TQ / M x NA

The variables are
  • weather (W)
  • debt (D)
  • monthly salary (d)
  • time since Christmas (T)
  • time since failure to quit a bad habit (Q)
  • low motivational levels (M)
  • the need to take action (NA)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Elephant mamas

If you use gmail, you may notice (maybe not) there's a line at the top where links are proposed, perhaps related to you in some way.

So does it mean something that Google just offered this one to me? It certainly fills me with some satisfaction, though I try very hard not to get larger, and I never stomple my daughter Melina in order to get to the bark first!

Extracts from
Elephants Respect Old, Big Females
by Jennifer Viegas

In a female elephant gang, few animals bother the oldest and biggest of the group because they know she will not put up with any nonsense, according to a new study that found age and size determine wild female elephant hierarchies.

Humans may shrink as they get older, but not elephants.

"A clear dominance hierarchy probably mitigates this risk of injury," [the researcher] said. "For instance, if two female elephants both want to eat bark from the same tree branch, the subordinate elephant will simply back off because she knows that, if she were to challenge the other elephant, she would lose."

Although the observed elephants occasionally would charge, chase, poke and push each other, generally they reserved their greatest aggression toward unrelated intruders. That is when the female group would band together to defend each other.

The most spats overall, however, occurred between mothers and daughters.

"Elephant mothers and daughters stay together in the same group and are often within a few meters of each other," said Archie. "We think this intense physical proximity is the main reason why mother and daughters fight so often. As one of my colleagues says, 'You'd fight too if you still had to live with your mother.'"

She said that, like humans, "elephants form close social relationships that endure throughout their lives."

These relationships can also extend beyond the family group to include hundreds of other individuals. Many humans associate age with wisdom, as do elephants, which seem to respect that "the elderly appear to be repositories of ecological and social knowledge."

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Telenovela Alborada, #9

Monday: After 72 hours of standing in the mine with his mouth open, Don Luis finally snaps out of it. He tells the miners he has to leave without signing the agreement they'd drafted. He says they'll have to trust him.

One of the miners knows where La Poderosa's beach hideout is - the place fugitives wait for pirate ships to spirit them away, the camp to which the kidnapped Hipólita has been taken.

Luis and all jump on horses and ride way. We see them periodically through the episode, riding, riding...

Meanwhile, Martin has been skulking behind the palm trees for 72 hours, in his bright red bandanna which blends in so well with the scenery.

My son Zed opines that the red bandanna symbolizes Martin's revolutionary tendencies, which he developed while studying in Spain.

Martin sneaks up to tell Hipólita he's there, and she assaults him with questions like, "But when will LUIS get here?", which must annoy him greatly. He says HE will rescue her, she points out there are lots of ruffians and only one of him.

At the Guevara Estate, we witness the arrival of Rodrigo de Rivera, businessman from Panama who has sued Diego for selling adulterated cochinilla, and his best friend, Antonio de Guzman - who, coincidentally, is Hipólita's husband from whom she fled (for reasons you will have to read previous recaps to discover).

More on cocchinal from another commenter:

You can find it in some natural juice drinks as a coloring. It's a beautiful fuschia color. I'll send you some if you want - it grows on cactus here in L.A. I have been told that there was a time when it was "worth more than gold."

In lieu of the cash payment Rodrigo has demanded, Count Diego's old moneyman Malaquias offers "Las Tunas," the plantation from which the brutal Francisco and his wimpy wife Asunción were recently evicted.

Rodrigo later points out Las Tunas is too far away from Panama for him to manage. Changing the subject, Diego says: "Let's go out on the town this evening!" He plans to get the new guys drunk and happy. He calls them "de medio pelo," anybody know what that means? He takes them to his favorite bordello.

In related news, this same Panamanian Rodrigo drools over Catalina, Hipólita's half-sister.

Diego tells the Panamanians that his cousin, Don Luis, is dissolving the family partnership to do other things. He says he's glad to be rid of such a cousin, an incompetent, a rebel always getting into scandals!!!

Malaquias takes Rodrigo aside and says Diego lacks, not money, but "liquidity," as a response to the Crown's having increased taxes on money but not on property. Not true! Diego is in debt, spending his last ready shekels, and doesn't really even own his own estate - it's mostly Isabel's money.

Back at the beach, we discover that the woman in charge, whom I've been calling the "Pirate Queen," is La Poderosa's daughter, Victoria.

Martin rides up through the surf on his fine horse and tells all and sundry that he, too, is a fugitive sent to the camp by La Poderosa.

The ruffians don't believe him. Victoria is suspicious too: "People of your class (with fine clothes, horses, and firearms) are not usually fugitives - their families get them off." He tells her his father rejected him because he, Martin, "stole their patron's lover away."

In a nice speech Victoria says: "We have both the innocent and the guilty here; we don't judge, that will be God's job." The next boat won't arrive for weeks. Martin trades his horse for food.

She takes his sword and gun, leaving him his "estileto" which looks like an epée, presumably because a man is at a loss without some long pointy thing to wave around. All the ruffians have them too.

Martin whispers to Hipólita (who is hurriedly stuffing hard-boiled eggs in her mouth) that he'll rescue her tonight. (A foreboding scene: Martin's mother praying to the Virgin that he be brought home safely.)

When Victoria the Pirate Queen leaves to buy food in town, the ruffians make their second attempt to rape Hipólita. Sadly for her, her palm-trunk cage doesn't lock from the inside. "The dove is ours!" As she screams, Martin comes to save her. "Let's fight for her, outside!"

Martin whispers to her, "Escape!" but she stays, bosom heaving, to watch the fight in the surf.

Martin swirls his epée with fancy ninja moves, pinky extended. He has the look on his face which is called in Russian "out from under the eyebrows." He kills Moncho, the head dude, but Moncho's buddies immediately set upon him and stab him right back! A mortal wound!

Hipólita drags him out of the surf. Victoria (back already?) asks what happened, and hearing the story says she's glad Moncho is dead. She says there's no doctor close enough to save Martin. Martin makes a lovely speech with his head in Hipólita's lap - he's always loved her and he's happy, because at this moment of dying he has her all to himself. Victoria, who has brewed an herbal infusion to stanch Martin's bleeding and ease his pain, overhears him talking about Luis and Cristóbal and realizes Hipólita has some very powerful friends.

Martin tells Hipólita: "Don Luis is a good man, he'll move oceans and mountains for you." He looks up lovingly at her and whispers that he's thirsty.

Tuesday: Anybody who's watched telenovelas knows the death of a major character precipitates a very, very long dying speech - even villains who are shot and then pushed off huge buildings onto slate patios below live long enough to give long speeches. Then, every important character gets a chance to emote with shouts, sobs, falling to the knees, etc. And so it was today. I'll give you the general idea and omit the details.

After Martin's soliloquy, Hipólita stumbles out into the sand to find Doña Victoria, but everybody is gone! The camp is empty. She sits with Martin all night. At daybreak Luis and his cronies arrive magnificently on horseback. Felipe gets to have a last scene with his son Martin, who dies in his arms. Luis sends for a coffin, a wagon, and a carriage for Hipólita. They begin the long sorrowful journey home. Luis tells Hipólita, who doesn't want to eat the nice bacon they cooked over the fire: "Each of us decides his own destiny. [I'm not sure I agree -- editor] We must live with our errors and accept them." Is he softening her up for her eventual discovery that he was the one who violated her in Santa Rita?

Back at the Guevara estate, where nobody knows what's going on at the beach, Doña Juana and Modesta actually get sort of cute with baby Rafael, whom Juana stole from Asunción and Ada after Hipólita's kidnapping. They give him toys and dress him up like a little doll. Modesta actually GIVES him the awful ukulele after banging out a few more hideous chords. He STILL doesn't cry.

Zed's comment on the zombie-like Rafael: "This boy will turn out to be a stuffed replica; the real kid will turn up somewhere else, shouting and throwing things and smearing food on his clothes like a real kid." "Or maybe he's drugged."

Doña Juana is distressed to discover that Antonio de Guzman - who is hanging out with Diego and possibly investing with him - is Hipólita's husband. Her maid Modesta thinks it's a boon: "He'll take Hipólita back to Panama and leave the boy with us." Juana says: "Nothing is that simple."

Wealthy whiskey-voiced Aunt Isabel (my favorite character, she kind of reminds me of my OWN dear aunt) tells Aurelio (Cristóbal's master housekeeper and accountant) that she needs a new "man of confidence;" her doddering previous one has died, leaving her affairs very jumbled. Aurelio says he himself will do it; he has free time now that Cristóbal is living at home.

The brutal and lazy Francisco won't stop harping on his smarmy little plans for living off the fat of the land without having to be a pig farmer. He goes to Juana and demands that she give him back Las Tunas; she replies, Diego won't do it. He then sends his unwilling wife Asunción back to ask again. This time Juana says "Las Tunas is sold, why don't you get rich ol' Cristóbal to marry your daughter Catalina?"

Francisco likes that idea and tells his wife to go right back and say yes. She says it's too humiliating and she won't do it; he hits her; she runs into the street, then meekly goes right back to Juana's with him. They ask Juana to ask Cristóbal to marry their daughter.

Catalina actually loves Cristóbal but is horrified by these machinations; she says she doesn't want to be married out of charity. Her mom says, "We have to do as your father says, and anyway why not marry a rich Godly man? At least he won't beat you." Catalina says, "Hipólita didn't obey!" and Asunción says: "Yeah, and look what happened to her!"

Ramon and the mute discover that Perla, the jealous whore who hired them to kidnap Hipólita, is gone. She's stiffed them! They scowl and grunt respectively.

Gasco tells the no-longer-innocent Marina that Diego wants to ravish her again this night. She refuses, he says: "are you crazy?" She runs away. Andrés her handsome dimwitted sweetheart rushes up and asks what's going on. Gasco tells him Marina is no longer innocent. Andrés is crushed and yells. Gasco fires him.

Marina, trying to hide from Diego and Gasco, asks Isabel if she can sleep in Isabel's room with her. Isabel finally squeezes out the secret!

Isabel goes to Diego and screams at him! He says, "Respect me!" She says, "I wiped your bottom when you were a baby!" She calls him a lot of names! He says she has to leave the estate for good! Cymbals crash!

I post the new update every Wednesday and Saturday morning. All Alborada recaps are now listed in the sidebar to the right - below the small picture of Modesta and Doña Juana, just above the elephant. Click on the numbers (ONE TWO THREE ... ETC) to find them!

Amor Real
Entre el Amor y el Odio

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This is our virtual Yankel

Ma doesn't think he looks Jewish enough, but we couldn't find that particular variable on the slider.

(See Yankl dresses himself for an explanation of this avatar.)

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Melina and Melinama: people are confused

Hi all,

I want your opinion. Is it too confusing that there are two of us writing here with names that look almost the same?

My daughter used to call herself Melina in high school. If you want to know why, you'll have to ask her. So when I began this blog last January and it asked for a name, I called myself Melinama (ma of Melina, you see).

Then people thought I'd written MELANOMA, very distressing.

Then my daughter started blogging WITH me, and now people are all confused.

They think I have a boyfriend named Yankl. Actually I have no boyfriend at all. Yankl is my daughter's boyfriend. I'm hoping she'll post his avatar for all to see...

So, do you think I should drop my pseudonym and just be Jane, as I am in real life?

Please comment!

Melinama (aka Jane)

In which Yankel dresses himself

I am laughing so hard I'm crying. For a belated Hannukah present, I bought my beloved Yankel (at his suggestion) a computer game: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06. In this exciting game, you learn how to play virtual golf on virtual golf courses etc. (Don't worry - it was cheap).

Yankel has been playing for two hours already and he has not yet played a single game of virtual golf. How can this be, you ask? Well, bundled into Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 are not only a zillion virtual golf courses, but a virtual clothing shop and a virtual plastic surgery clinic. After choosing your gender, race, and age, you can use literally 100 different sliding variables to make your golfer look like you (or like whoever you want). You can give yourself a unibrow, arching eyebrows, or straight eyebrows. You can have a triple chin or a chiseled jaw. You can have eyes tilted up or down at the corners, crow's feet, or any variation on laugh lines around your mouth.

Yankel and I have spent the last 45 minutes trying to design his golfer avatar a face that looks like him. This is very tricky work. I liked it when he accidentally slid the slider too far and gave himself gigantic ears (whose angle against your head can also be modified). We have done pretty well, I think - my only complaints about his character's current face are that he looks too old to be Yankel and he has suspiciously tight-looking eyelids. Maybe that's a given these days. Anyway, he's a little sleazy, but he'll pass.

As we remodel his face, faux-Yankel struts back and forth, preening and simpering, admiring his high-tech gloves and his biceps, and angling his jaw up toward us, examining his chin in the mirror to make sure we didn't give him too much neck fat.

Then we had to dress faux-Yankel, which is also tricky. Yankel starts the game with only $3,600 in the bank (presumably he gets more by winning tournaments), and if he drops half of that in the pro shop before he even gets onto the course, how the hell is he going to afford any golf lessons? On the other hand, Yankel finds the pleated-front pants and white belt that faux-Yankel already owns unbearably tacky.

Sports, like life, are full of tough tradeoffs. If we don't buy faux-Yankel some better-looking flat-front pants, will the other golfer avatars point and jeer at faux-Yankel's ugly clothes as he hits the links, damaging his self esteem and distracting him from his golf game? And if he gets distracted and loses the game, how will he ever afford those name-brand $300 sunglasses? On the other hand, we have no evidence that faux-Yankel has any wealthy relatives who can afford to step in if he maxes out his faux-credit card. I would feel guilty if faux-Yankel ended up having to live on the virtual golf course, particularly with his plastic surgery starting to go wrong.

All I'm saying is that this exact same software could be used to make a Design Your Own Barbie computer game, and nobody would bat an eye. But what does this say about the state of virtual-sports? Are the glory days of computer golf gone? Will Yankel ever find the time to actually play a virtual game? Also, if real Tiger Woods had anything to do with this game (which is doubtful) is he the vainest man ever to walk the earth?


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Melinama bites the bullet

I hadn't been to the dentist since before Zed got sick (2000). As part of my psychic rehabilitation, I set up an appointment - with great trepidation, knowing I would be scolded, and that there would be bad news.

I chose a new dentist because I hated my last one, and because I figured I might as well start from scratch. She took 18 x-rays of my mouth and cheerfully announced I'd have to spend $1000 on getting these teeth cleaned, then have all four of my wisdom teeth pulled, and then have virtually all my previous crowns redone ($1000 each) because my previous dentist did such a bad job.

My daughter Melina thinks I should get a second opinion, but in the mean time, the argument for losing the wisdom teeth was compelling, so yesterday I had two of them pulled.

I didn't like the paper I had to sign which said I was aware that during the course of this procedure my dentist might:
  1. Drive a piece of tooth-root up into my sinuses;

  2. Break my jaw.
I particularly didn't like these two possibilities.

She said, "Well, I guess if I broke somebody's jaw I'd probably stop doing oral surgery."

She then told me about a dentist friend of hers who, in the very first week of his new practice, didn't realize the plumbers had installed his nitrous oxide and oxygen lines backwards. He gave 100% nitrous oxide to a toddler and the child died and this dentist never worked again.

After that I was a little tense, and could have had general anesthetic, but I imagined my dad pish-tushing such a wussy choice from beyond the grave.

There was a strange sound as she "teased" (wow, what a euphemism) the teeth out of my jaw, but I didn't feel much. It's hard to comprehend what getting teeth pulled was like before they invented anesthetic.

Her last cheery warning was: don't used a straw, or swish things around in your mouth, because if the clots of blood which develop in those holes are dislodged you will develop "dry sockets" and infection can set into your bone.

I can't think of many less pleasant ways to spend money. Also, when you're done, there's nothing to show for it but bloody sockets and nobody wants to see them. I guess I'm writing this in hopes that you, dear reader, are saying "Eeeew, gross" to yourself right now.

Anyway, a few too-short hours later, I went to Collegium rehearsal and sang for two hours, but then I was woozy and it was time to go home and recap Alborada.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

My Miss America Experience

Melina here, your beauty pageant correspondent. Lucky many of my college posse stopped by to help me watch on Saturday night. They thought they were only going to stay for a few minutes, and then they would go to a bar, but they became entranced by the show and stayed for the whole time. One of them brought me a tiara to wear while I watched, which was very sweet.

the show was hosted by the plumber from Desperate Housewives, who women like because he is scruffy and non-pretentious. The Miss America producers, not understanding this, dressed him up in a tuxedo and gave him cheesy lines, which he delivered with a little bit of shame (this shame would sometimes turn into dismay when he realized that the audience didn't even *get* a lot of the awful jokes they wrote for him).

My friends were most fascinated by the talent competition, and annoyed that so many contestants were singers. "What if your talent is being a really good listener?" my buddy Jordan asked. Other talents we would have preferred to see were martial arts, stand-up comedy ("Take Miss Kentucky! ....Please!") and truck repair (since it was broadcast on the country music channel).

Instead, we got a singer, a piano player, two ballerinas, and a jazz dancer. The singer was the contestant we were had been rooting for up until that point, but it was the worst singing we'd ever heard on live TV. It was really, really bad, and we switched loyalties to the piano player (she came in first runner up). The only other really entertaining moment was when the host asked each finalist what was her pet peeve. This same unfortunate contestant, the singer, answered, "People who talk too much" and proceeded to explain why it annoyed her so much until a buzzer cut her off. Irony, safe to say, has not arrived to Miss America. they all take themselves very, very seriously, which is unfortunate. this year's actual winner I find extremely unmemorable, except that when the host asked her what food has she been craving that she would finally get to eat once the pageant was over, she said french fries in ranch dressing. which is gross, but at least she fessed up to it. that's too weird to invent.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Important Lists

From McSweeneys.Net...


Orgasmic Clusters of Searing Pain

Bran and Plump Raisins, Pregnant With Earthy Promise

Opalescent Flakes of Lonely Night

The Sharpness of a Breath of Winter Air (with real strawberries)






Fashion Into a Thick, Uniform Paste


Rend Asunder


Thresh With Surpassing Rapidity

by Kate Brown

"For us, it's about a deep respect for the herbs we share with you."

"May each cup bring us in touch with our inner faith, and may its authentic flavors remind us of the wisdom of Ganesha."

"With this, every human being created on God's spaceship Earth can evolve united."

"Discontinue use if rash or irritation occurs."

"Made with 71% organic ingredients!"

"The present never ages. Each moment is like a snowflake."

"This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration."

The Most Memorable Comments Actually Overheard During My Medical Training,
Thus Far.

by Noah Raizman, Medical Student

"Turn your head and cough please. Again. A little harder this time."

"Don't you just want to throw rocks at the Christian Scientists and say, 'Come on, heal!'"

"This is going to be the most excruciating pain you've ever felt. You can cry if you want. Mommy, you want to help me hold him down?"

"He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't had his superego soaked in Budweiser."

"He kept on trying to bite the nurse while she was giving him the Ativan, so we had to hold the pillow over his head. He's a bit more relaxed now."

"This is the medical intensive care unit, also known as the Death Star."

"Well, hello, Mr. Uterus!"

by Josh Weintraub

barbecue: the girlfriend, a beauty.

cups: sleep. Ex. "I gotta catch some cups."

dracula: something in a class by itself.

frisking the whiskers: what the cats do when they are warming up for a swing session.

got your boots on: you know what it is all about, you are a hep cat, you are wise.

got your glasses on: you are ritzie or snooty, you fail to recognize your friends, you are up-stage.

hard: fine, good. Ex. "That's a hard tie you're wearing."

igg: to ignore someone. Ex. "Don't igg me!"

jitter bug: a swing fan; formerly a person addicted to "jitter sauce" (liquor).

knock: to obtain. Ex. "I'm gonna knock me some food."

mess: something good. Ex. "That last drink was a mess."

neigho pops: nothing doing, pal.

trilly: to leave, depart. Ex. "Well, I guess I'll trilly."

unhip: not wise to the jive; an icky, a jeff, a square.

v-8: a chick who spurns company, is independent, is not amenable.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Running the world (with shiny white teeth)

Good afternoon. Melina here. Today I will be playing my favorite computer game, Civilization. My boyfriend Yankel bought me the latest version, Civilization 4, for Hannukah. I haven't played it much yet, because I have this problem that if I start I go the whole day long and Yankel gets annoyed. So in this way it was a very selfless gift for him to give me, but one not without its risks.

In Civilization, you are in charge of an entire people, from pre-history to the space age and beyond. You mastermind the movement of every peasant, horseman, and fighter jet (depending). This is a perfect game for reinforcing the psychological needs and beliefs of Type A's and control freaks such as myself. ("See? If I hadn't spent the last two hours building City Walls around all the cities on my western frontier, I *would* have been demolished by the Persians!")

When I was in college, I would always have trouble sleeping the first night I got home for winter or spring breaks. At home, there wasn't enough to worry about to wear me out during the day. So I'd always stay up until 3 or 4 AM that first night running a civilization. It wasn't fulfilling, exactly, but at least I could feel important while I was doing it.

This evening I will be enjoying a TV show that I have recently realized is also a control freaks' classic -- the Miss America pageant. As you may have heard, in recent years the pageant's overall stupidity and the rise of reality TV shows that give you better stupidity have caused viewership to drop off dramatically. Theoretically these girls are all competing for scholarships. But boy, is this the hardest way to get a scholarship ever. So you're going to med school! So get a freakin' loan already! What woman in her right mind would say, "well, let's see, how can I get money for med school -- I know! I'll diet and exercise for years, get my teeth bleached, develop a deep interest in the promotion of abstinence or diabetes awareness, learn to sing Celine Dion classics, and perform on stage for the approval of unqualified celebrity judges, all with a perky smile!"

I watch Miss America because I am in awe of these womens' chipper dedication to the cause of being Good At Everything (dieting, music-performance, ending poverty) and because it's like watching a train wreck watching all these people who have chosen a very difficult path for themselves, all for a grand prize scholarship that this year is worth a measly $30,000. Okay, so I wouldn't turn that down if someone offered it to me. But they cut it down from $50,000 last year, and I think this is the lowest blow at all - of all the millions that are being spent on putting this show on, does it really save the show's producers a lot of money to give the champ herself a 40% pay cut?

Clearly, the Misses are responsible for their own ridiculous choice to compete in this pageant - they're not anybody's victims. Judging by the careers of past Miss Americas, most of them will go on to lucrative careers in broadcasting or will start their own skin care/cosmetics lines. (I note that very few have gone on to professionally support their "Causes") However, I still have some sympathy for them, mostly because I, too, am always trying to be good at everything, and I understand what a hard job that is.

Increase wages for Miss America!


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Telenovela Alborada, #8

  • Luis prepares for his trip to the mine. He and Cristóbal must deal with the families of the dead workers. The miners are on strike, furious at the terrible treatment they've received from Diego.

  • Isabel complains to her innocent young ward: "Marina, you're as nervous as a scalded cat." Marina has been reminded by Gasco, the chief evil henchman, that tonight Diego will take her, and that she'd better not be a fool and cry in front of him. "If you reject him, he'll run Andrés off. But don't worry, Andrés can have you when Diego has had his fill."

  • The brutal Francisco, who has reluctantly been looking for work, stalks angrily through a small collection of very clean pigs in the plaza. He tells his wife Asunción: "Either Catalina is going to marry Cristóbal or Hipólita is going to [...] with Luis, because I'm sure as hell not going to be a pig farmer."

  • Hipólita tells Luis she could bake pies for a living, or maybe sew. He says decent women would rather die than work. "The poor become prostitutes - hunger is a terrible thing." "But I don't want to depend on you." "But Rafael is my son, I want to take care of him." "He isn't really your son." "I'll buy a house for him -- and pay you and Adalgisa to take care of him. He needs to live in a manner becoming to my station."

  • Closed captions: "Música de suspenso!" Night has come! Gasco, Diego's henchman, escorts poor virginal Marina into the Diego's labyrinth. She's crying.

    Diego appears in a red satin dressing gown and grabs her bottom. She cries and begs him to leave her alone. "You're a virgin, all women have a first time, better with me than anybody else" He strips, picks her up, she screams and screams. [...]

    Later she leaves, wretched and sobbing. Gasco is sitting in the dark listening. Is that a look of human compassion on his face?

    Isabel can't understand why Marina is so miserable next morning as they dress to attend the baptism. She sweetly says she loves Marina and will keep her as long as she likes.

  • The obsessed and jealous Martin stalks in and out, bad-mouthing Luis, using the formal "usted" with his dad. He visits his mom and neglects to tell her he's moving to Spain soon.

  • Catalina and Cristobal cross paths often since she is now living in his palace. She has a hat like a lampshade. They gaze at each other with suppressed adoration.

  • The morning of the baptism. Luis's jealous ex-whore Perla shows up at the Guevara estate and asks Luis for a lot of money. She spins some story about a friend in jail - but she actually needs the money to pay for Hipólita's kidnapping! Ironic, eh?

    The kidnappers she's hired are the same guys whom Diego hired to kill Luis - a botched job - and then to kidnap baby Rafael - another botched job - why do these guys keep getting work?

  • Everybody dresses up and goes to the baptism. Felipe and Isabel are the godparents. Many in the congregation are surprised to hear Luis attest, for the record, that he doesn't know who the mother is! He says he'll explain later.

  • Juana tells Diego: "Isabel will not give you Marina." He laughs: "Gasco is efficient, I've already had her. But I didn't like her, she was like a doll." Juana says she doesn't want to hear this. Diego, callously: "I never thought of you as a principled woman."

  • At the post-baptism bash, held at Cristóbal's palace, those who know Luis is truly Rafael's father make many slips and cover them awkwardly.

    Luis asks Hipólita to slip away from the bash with him: "This time, let's leave the chaperone home and go alone." They go, in a romantic carriage, to a huge luxurious house he plans to buy for her.

    They get kissy amongst the dustcovers. They stand in front of a huge crucifix as if they were getting married (it's pesky about each of them already being married to others).

    He takes her to the bedroom and they sink to the floor. [...] Then they go back to the party.

  • Antonio (Hipólita's actual, impotent husband) and his friend Rodrigo arrive in Mexico City. They get out of their carriage, coincidentally right in front of Cristóbal's palace, and not fifteen seconds have gone by when the baptism attendees pull up and Antonio looks in the direction of, but evidently does not see, his wife Hipólita enter the palace with Don Luis. Cymbals crashing!

Thursday: Don Luis doesn't want to go to the mine, leaving Hipólita for three days, especially right after he laid her on the floor and [...].

Asunción reclines, a compress on her forehead. She's had it with Hipólita and the trouble and shame she's brought upon the family, and is embarrassed by her husband Francisco, who after his distasteful visit to the pig farm has developed Plan B: to mooch off whatever situation Luis provides for Hipólita.

Cristóbal scolds Luis, who is getting deeper in love with Hipólita but STILL has not told her he is her son's father. "Don't build a house on a foundation of mud."

  • Perla's kidnapping scheme unfolds. She fires her maid, Margarita - without paying her! - so there will be no witnesses. She sends Hipólita a letter: "I have important things to tell you about Luis. Also, I want to meet your son."

    Hipólita doesn't want to go, but her maid Adalgisa says it's better to know as much as possible about the man she is committing herself to. So she goes to Perla's, taking Ada but at the last minute leaving Rafael behind with her half-sister Catalina.

    Perla tells Hipólita Luis will never leave his wife; he has many women but will always come back to her (Perla); he pays her (Perla) a monthly retainer and loves her best.

    Hipólita leaves Perla's in high dudgeon and is grabbed and stuffed into a coach which takes off pronto. Ada, left in the dust, recognizes the kidnappers as Ramón and the mute, guys from previous bad escapades.

  • Antonio is cheerfully sightseeing as his buddy Rodrigo meets with Count Diego's money man. Rodrigo submits his bill for damages caused by Diego's adulterated cochinilla.

    UPDATE: One commenter told me cochinilla were crushed bugs used to dye fabric. Yesterday another commenter disagreed and said it was metal. More ideas, anybody?

    UPDATE: Here's another vote for bugs, from Catalina:
    The red cochinilla dye, largely supplanted by late nineteenth century synthetics, is indeed made from an parasitical insect which makes its home on "tuna" plants (red prickly pear). The bugs are brushed off the plants, dried out and ground up. Don Diego's adulterated cochinilla was probably mixed up with some kind of starch to make it seem like more. The trick was probably discovered when the dye was tested on cloth.

    The "Las Tunas" farm is a valuable property because it produces both the fruit of the red prickly pear and the cochinilla or grana for dying cloth.

    Some information on "tunas": Prickly Pear Cactus have been a staple food of Native Americans for many centuries. Their large, colorful blossoms appear in yellow, pink, red or purple and grow from the tip of cactus nodules, which later ripen into delicious red fruit. Many varieties of prickly pear cactus grow wild throughout the deserts of the Southwest, but many are not native.

    Rodrigo's proposed settlement is much more expensive than Diego's accountant Malquiades had estimated. Perhaps an "arrangement" can be made... Doña Juana and Diego agree to meet with Rodrigo next day. Rodrigo asks Antonio to go, too, saying "you're better at business than I am." Antonio would prefer to visit the pre-Columbian cave paintings.

  • Adalgisa heaves herself, panting, back to Guevara's and sobs: Hipólita has been stolen by Gasco's men!

    Martin, who realizes Perla knew these guys, goes to Perla's house. He shouts: "Rafael is Luis's son, you'll rot in jail forever!" Perla, sobbing and kneeling and begging Martin not to tell Luis she did this, says Ramon and the mute are heading for a settlement of fugitives where Hipólita will be stuffed on a pirate ship and sent away.

    Martín puts a red bandanna on his head - the better to be seen by the men he is pursuing - and says goodbye to his mother, who blesses him with foreboding.

    While Ada sobs "it's my fault, she didn't want to go and I made her," elsewhere there is a meeting of team Guevara. Isabel and Juana think Diego commissioned the kidnapping; he denies it. Gasco says his guys freelance for whomever they choose.

    Aunt Isabel hits Diego and shouts in his face. He later tells his mother he's going to run Isabel off the estate. Juana reminds him Isabel is his father's sister. He doesn't care: "She leaves or I do." He pours booze on the nose of his creepy brown mask.

    Juana next decides Hipólita has been stolen for profit: "There are many white women in harems." She is supremely unconcerned and says the robbers did Luis a favor by removing her.

    Isabel sets off to drink chocolate with the regidor's wife and insinuate it was Diego who did this deed. This way of reaching the regidor's ear was very effective last time.

  • The robbers' coach hurtles through woods and over greenswards, but it must have EXCELLENT shock absorbers, because the ride is very smooth.

    Hipólita first flatters the mute ("you seem like a kind man"), then sympathizes with him - his throat was cut with a knife and that's why he can't talk - then begs him to let her go ("Don Luis is my protector, he'll pay anything") then shouts and hits him ("I have a son, don't separate me from him! Do you have a mother? Are you a stone?"). He says nothing.

  • Doña Juana arrives at Cristóbal's palace and demands Rafael be handed over to her to live at the castle, since he's obviously not safe where he is. She informs them coldly that Rafael is Luis's son "by blood - Luis is the one who bedded your daughter in Santa Rita." Frowns, astonishment, and cymbals crashing.

Friday: Juana and Modesta take Rafael back to the estate, where Modesta plays very awful ukulele music for little Rafael and even THAT doesn't make him cry. No kid I ever saw would go through even one kidnapping without screaming and sobbing.

Luis, Felipe and Cristóbal face the angry miners and work on a settlement plan through their leader. They suggest retiring all debts, payment to the families of the dead miners, more security in the mine, etc.

Aunt Isabel returns from the capital where she spent four hours and consumed 2 liters of chocolate with the wife of the regidor. Next day the regidor sends a letter summoning Diego.


Servants recap amongst themselves; Hipólita's mother, sister, and maid recap amongst themselves and profess astonishment that Luis could have been such a "ruin" in Santa Rita; Doña Juana and her son Diego remind each other they would prefer Hipólita not be found.

Diego and his mom also remind each other that Luis will supposedly stop to visit his wife Esperanza (who went home to her brothers to recuperate after the death of their father Agustín) on his way back from the mine. "Will Esperanza be pregnant?" Juana: "of course not, she made all that up about the Virgin, and Luis never touched her."

Diego, who bonked Esperanza secretly many times, titters madly behind his white mask.

Then Modesta and Juana recap together that the preternaturally silent little boy Rafael looks like Luis, and that he may be the key to undoing the damage Guevaras have done themselves in heaven with their many evil shenanigans.

Ever since she was raped by Andrés' boss Diego, Marina can't look her sweetie in the face. Andrés asks what's the matter but she just slips away sadly.

Francisco tells his son Andrés: now that we share a grand-child with Juana, she will not be able to refuse what I want. To wit: the return of Las Tunas so Francisco can continue stomping around and threatening his wife and avoiding work of any kind.

On the road, the huge mute saves Hipólita from rape but is unwilling to help her further.

She and her captors arrive at the beach encampment, where we see corpses being robbed as they lie on the sand. She is presented to the pirate queen, who says (I think) that the boat scheduled to leave for Panama has been shipwrecked (sounds like Dulles airport) she'll need money for the food Hipólita will consume before the next boat arrives. The captors complain.

Hipólita is put in a palm-tree cage. Corpse-robbing gang-rapists break in and attack her! Luckily, the pirate queen arrives in time to run them off. She has sympathy for Hipólita but says she can't help, because she's already been paid to put her on a boat to Panama and doesn't have the luxury of giving money back. Martin has arrived and is watching from the bushes. Why hasn't anybody spotted him in that red bandanna?

Marcos finally reaches the mine and shouts to Luis that Hipólita has been stolen. Long, long views of Luis as he says and does ... absolutely nothing. That's thinking on your feet!

I post the new update every Wednesday and Saturday morning.

All Alborada recaps are now listed in the sidebar to the right - below the small picture of Modesta and Doña Juana, just above the elephant. Click on the numbers (ONE TWO THREE ... ETC) to find them!

Amor Real
Entre el Amor y el Odio

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Illustration Friday - Zed's cat

Zed got back from Israel two nights ago after being awake for 26 hours straight (preceded by 2 hours of sleep, preceded by 10 days of riotous partying).

He'll be leaving for college on Sunday. Meanwhile, he joined in the kitchen table parallel play which is "Illustration Friday" around here.

Hopefully my daughter Melina will post a cat, too. I really liked the eel she did last week...

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Illustration Friday - Melinama's cat

My goal for today was not to worry and fuss about this, but just enjoy myself with Menticia and Zed. Painting as a communal activity!

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Illustration Friday - Menticia's cat

This afternoon Menticia, Zed and I sat down at the kitchen table and drew cats for Illustration Friday. We all looked at the same picture - we chose it from the Music and Cats blog.

Menticia finished first and she read to us from Redwall to us while we finished.

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Oddities from BoingBoing

I've been too busy to keep up with my rss feeds until last night. Here are some recent enjoyable BoingBoing links.


"Pardeep and I went to Dairy Queen for Blizzards. Mine was Cookie Dough, and it was so gross. There were so many pieces of Cookie Dough. After 3 spoonfuls I ate only the ice cream, leaving the Cookie Dough pieces in the cup, or spitting them back into the cup (yeah, I know, gross!). Then I wondered if it would be possible to actually make miniature cookies with the pieces of dough. ... First we washed the pieces of Cookie Dough. They were washed mainly because they still had ice cream on them."

The first comment was intriguing:
The dry bread of the Saints(home-made, maybe at some gurdwaras) is equal to all treasures.

The thirty-six tasty dishes of the faithless cynic(Dairy Queen, Burger king) are equal to poison.

Shalok(Guru Nanak Dev Jee) Thieves, adulterers, prostitutes and pimps, make friendships with the unrighteous, and eat with the unrighteous.

They do not know the value of the Lord's Praises, and Satan is always with them.

Shatner Sells Kidney Stone for Charity

LOS ANGELES - Actor William Shatner has sold his kidney stone for $25,000, with the money going to a housing charity, it was announced Tuesday. Shatner reached agreement Monday to sell the stone to, an online casino.

"This takes organ donors to a new height, to a new low, maybe. How much is a piece of me worth?" he said in a telephone interview. is noted for its collection of oddities, which includes a partially eaten cheese sandwich thought to contain the image of the Virgin Mary.

The money will go to Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for the needy.

Shatner, who played Kirk on the original "Star Trek" TV show and won an Emmy for his role on "Boston Legal," passed the stone last fall.

The stone was so big, Shatner said, "you'd want to wear it on your finger." originally offered $15,000 for the stone but Shatner turned it down, noting that his "Star Trek" tunics have commanded more than $100,000. His counteroffer was accepted.


"You'd think that this is a parody, but it's not. It's a 1946 promotional ad from the American Meat Institute. Available now as a fine-art giclee print."

At World Livestock Auctioneer Past Champions you can hear fantastic mp3s of the guys who flap their mouths with the most mesmerising celerity in the service of selling pigs and cows.

Finally, in honor of yesterday's monster posters, from
Invasion of the giant jellyfish

Vast numbers of Echizen kurage, or Nomura's jellyfish, have appeared around Japan's coast since July, clogging and ripping fishing nets.

One Echizen kurage can be up to 2 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds).

"It's a terrible problem. They're like aliens," Noriyuki Kani of the fisheries federation in Toyama, northwest of Tokyo, told Reuters ahead of the conference.

Scientists have suggested global warming might be a factor.

South Korean fishermen have been suffering similar woes, but China, where giant jellyfish are a delicacy often served dried and dressed with sesame oil, does not seem to have registered the outbreak as a major problem, Japanese officials said.

Seaside communities in Japan have tried to capitalize on the menace by developing novel jellyfish dishes from tofu to ice cream, but for some reason the recipes have failed to take off.

Participants at Thursday's conference said they had experimented with feeding the jellyfish to farmed crabs and using them as fertilizer.

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