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Friday, September 29, 2006

Melina's Life: El Comico Timido, El Yeshivabocher, El Productor

Three in a row this week. Whew. And all on weeknights. I'm going to have to get some sleep this weekend.

El Comico Timido seemed reasonably lively, observant, and sweet on his profile. I picked him because it said that he built his own loft bed, and I've been a little bit grumpy these days that neither I nor anybody I know is able to produce anything that is concrete and useful. When he showed up, he was a little bit tongue tied, and sometimes when I made a joke his eyes would widen slightly in alarm as he tried to figure out if I meant what I was saying. I liked him fine, but guy didn't come out of his shell too far. My male friends argued vehemently to give him another chance, but I might have scared him too bad already.

El Yeshivabocher was the one who asked if I was a mod or a rocker. Apparently it's a quote from a Beatles movie, and I should have maybe googled it before I started making fun of him for it. Oops. He turned out to be a solemn, stooped med student, with that pale yeshiva face (radiologists sit in dark rooms all day, just like their ancestors) but he had the spark of life. I liked him a lot, and he said the same, but people lie like crazy at the end of a date just to make things less awkward. So I have no idea if he's actually interested. Sigh.

El Productor I called because I had two tickets to a great concert last night and he said he liked the singer. He did, and he came bearing a CD of her earlier work and a package of gummy bears, which were both very pleasing in the eyes of Melina. Another great guy. Wow, so many great guys out there! He's just not a match, though - but it was nice to have the company.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Yesterday, and today.

My Spanish conversation class was a riot. We twelve women are like our teacher Rey's harem. Rey is very short and he's full of energy. He talks constantly. Yesterday he tried to get one of us to adopt a lost dog his Italian wife had taken in. He passed his cellphone around with a picture so we'd see how cute the dog is.

He's retired from IBM but has many entrepreneurial enterprises going. For instance, he sells barley in little foil-wrapped tubes (for making green barley-water). He also sells magical magnetic shoe insoles which are supposed to give you a lot of energy. They cost $60 a pair. Here's how he tries to convince you they work: he has you stand on the insoles (you can leave your shoes on) and make circles with your index finger and thumb and he tries to pry the fingers apart. Then he has you step OFF the insoles and he pries again.

Conclusion of an adorable Brazilian woman who is taking our class: "He doesn't pull on your fingers as hard when you're standing on the magnets."

We go around the circle, in a haphazard way, and talk about whatever's on our minds.

I complained, when it was my turn, that my Yiddish studies are confounding my attempts to speak Spanish, and then I advertised the telenovela website I started (Caray! Caray!). The Brazilian woman said, "Oh we have those novelas at home. I can't watch them. The women are always crying."

We got a lecture, in Spanish of course, from a Botanical Gardens volunteer about pulling out the invasive weed called Japanese Stiltgrass, right now before it's finished flowering.

I weedwhacked like crazy when I got home - in order to thwart that Japanese Stiltgrass.

I have a new arrangement with a friend who's interested in learning to sing - he gets a lesson, brings groceries and makes me dinner in exchange. This is excellent because as an empty nester I am too disheartened to cook. After dinner last night he showed me the new keyboard he bought - it's so fancy it can play tons of music for you without your having to do anything at all except press "start"!

This morning - a Yiddish lesson and then a big day at the recording studio. Bob and I did four recordings in the 80s, but this will be our first try since getting back together. I'm quite out of practice - for ten years I did a recording with one group or another every year, but it's been years since the last one (Mappamundi's "Music Our Way.")

Trust Bob to have an alternate type situation. He built a fabulous house in Satterwhite - it's a tiny community far north of here, the town center actually consists of one boarded-up general store - and then he built an in-law apartment onto it - because his nonagenarian Finnish aunt wanted to live there with him. But it turned out she couldn't hack the intense quiet of Satterwhite after living in Los Vegas most of her adult life! So he rented the empty space to a guy who turned it into a recording studio. Bob's built a lot of stuff for the guy so we're getting a bunch of free hours to see if we like his style.

You have to be both confident and well-rehearsed to do well in the studio - at the moment, I'm not either. But you gotta start someplace.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"The Undateables"

Catchy title, but the article didn't really live up to it.

Extracts from
The Undateables
The next wave in online dating has singles rating each other -- and one misstep can taint a reputation.

By Ellen Gamerman for the Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2006

It's no exaggeration to say that online dating has revolutionized the world of relationships since it took off a decade ago. Now, with growth slowing, sites are looking for new ways to stand out. One increasingly popular strategy: Letting users rate each other, either based on their profiles alone or on the experiences of a first date.

Members of can review people after one date for politeness and honesty. users give one another "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" depending on how clever their profiles are. encourages members to talk about their dates on a message board, inviting them to share stories of "best dates, worst dates" as well as "turn-ons, turn-offs."

The result is an emerging caste system, where highly rated daters see a lot of action, and others are deemed undateable.

Singles with seemingly innocent attributes are setting off digital flags signaling they're unfit to date, or maybe just slightly less fit than others. A forgetful dater who fails to return an email on, for instance, could be branded as rude. Simply living in the wrong ZIP Code can push unlucky members of JDate to the bottom of the queue.

Sometimes daters kill their chances with profiles that state the obvious -- people who say they like to go out for dinner or fix a cozy meal at home, for instance, are simply characterizing the eating habits of most Americans. [See Melina's post on Things I Do Not Like To Read in Online Personals.]

At its most extreme, of course, the new online dating gossip machine can result in someone being publicly humiliated and branded as a cad. That's what happened to Darren Sherman, a New York JDater whose recent dinner with a woman named Joanne became public after details of their date were posted on blogs and passed around via email. In recordings of alleged voice mails and transcripts of emails, the person identified as Darren Sherman repeatedly asks Joanne to reimburse him for her dinner and wine after she rejected him: "You ate the food, you drank the wine, you know, kindly pay your bill."

The majority of undateables are hardly what most people would consider poor prospects. They're not liars or criminals, but eligible single men and women who are being sidelined by the system. They're hitting the wrong note by listing hobbies that scream shut-in -- fantasy football for men, scrapbooking for women -- or by including shots with their heads obscured by skydiving helmets.

Todd Hollis, a 38-year-old Pittsburgh lawyer, says he was filled with hope about a new relationship this past spring when a family member called, directing him to, a site where women post names of men to warn other women off. The site included anonymous allegations that he has a sexually transmitted disease and is a poor dresser (Mr. Hollis denies both).

As for Brian Wolf, the Chicago marketing manager, he says the best solution for his undateability was to take matters into his own hands. This spring, he launched Mr. Wolf says his site is what major online dating services would be if everyone were honest. Though he writes on the site that his nose is big and he doesn't want kids, he also touts his sense of humor and good job: "I'm by no means perfect, but you could also do a lot worse. …In the end, you'd probably be happier with me than chasing the dream of Mr. Right."

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Word of the day: "TEH"

Somebody on my college list-serv inadvertently sent us an email including this in the subject line: "... courses for teh world..."

After 30 responses, all retaining her typo, somebody asked: "Oh, please fix it!" (As a former typesetter, I'd been wincing too.)

Our classmate Ben Yagoda then wrote in defense of the word TEH:

A sneak preview of my forthcoming book, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse (Broadway Books, February), from the chapter on articles:
Probably the single most ironic rendition of the is the word teh, which so offends Microsoft Word and other word processing programs that they instantly transpose the second and third letters of it. (I managed to retain the word by typing tehe, then, when the sentence was over, deleting the second /e/. This allows the word to remain but doesn't do anything about the annoying squiggly red line under it.)

In the in-group Internet slang known as Leet, teh is used as an intensifier for both adjectives and verbs, as in "He is teh lame" and "This is teh suck."

That reminds me of the word "dokh" in Yiddish, which means "duh," or "obviously" or "really really."

As usual, I can't keep up - in fact I'd never even heard of Leet, so I looked it up. From Wikipedia:
The term itself is derived from the word Elite, meaning "better than the rest," and generally has the same meaning when referring to the skills of another person.

The mechanism began because early online communication was quite slow, and people sought ways to shorten messages, so that they could be delivered more quickly. A similarly probable answer is that early users of BBS systems and other online boards were not skilled typists ...

As Internet slang grew (such as w00t, teh, and so on), it was absorbed into Leet (and subsequently enciphered). Along the way, additional languages began to be enciphered with Leet-like processes (see krieg, ist below). In this regard, Leet resembles a creole language, a pidgin, or mixed language.

Because of its popularity with children, parenting organizations have seen fit to warn parents about the cipher. ... Guides have been published to help parents decipher their children's Leet-enciphered communication.

The entertainment industry has also joined in, with Numb3rs, Se7en and S1M0NE.

In particular, speakers of Leet are fond of verbing nouns, turning verbs into nouns (and back again) as forms of emphasis (e.g. "Bob rocks" is weaker than "Bob r0xx0rz" (note spelling) is weaker than "Bob is t3h r0xx0rz" (note grammar)).

Example sentences in Leet

Example: +3|-| q(_)1(|< |3r0\/\/|\| ph0x j(_)/\/\p5 0\/3r teh |@z`/ [)06.
Translation: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Example: ! _/(_)$7 134|?/\/3|) vv#47 1337 /\/\34/\/5.
Translation: I just learned what Leet means.
In other news, the dogwoods are turning red, there are a million mushrooms outside, and I met somebody yesterday who appears to have read my entire blog. I didn't know such a thing was possible.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Mike does Illustration Friday - "Phobia"

Mike says the being on the left is an "embodied phobia" and he's a psychiatrist so he should know.

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A thrilling show at every intersection.

I used to live at an intersection like this in North Cambridge, at the corner of Rindge Avenue and Mass Ave. My room was on the second floor, overlooking a junction of five streets; frequently I could hear crashes, broken glass, colorful epithets loudly expressed, delicious local accents. What fond memories.

Extracts from
As Cars Collide, Belgian Motorists Refuse to Yield
A Shortage of Stop Signs And Quirky Driving Rules Create Culture of Crashes

By Mary Jacoby for the Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2006

BRUSSELS -- The intersection outside Isabelle de Bruyn's row house in a quiet residential neighborhood here is a typical Belgian crossroads. It has no stop signs. Now and then, cars collide outside her front door.

"The air bags explode. One car flipped over in the street. Part of one car ended up here," says Ms. de Bruyn, a real-estate agent, pointing to her front steps. Her brother-in-law, Christophe de Bruyn, adds: "In America, they have stop signs. I think that's a good idea for Belgium, too."

The suggestion isn't popular at the Belgian transport ministry. "We'd have to put signs at every crossroads," says spokeswoman Els Bruggeman. "We have lots of intersections."

A traffic rule [is] at the heart of Belgium's problems. It is known as priorité de droite, or "priority from the right."

The law evolved from a rule adopted nearly a century ago in neighboring France, intended to offer drivers a simple rule of thumb: Always yield to any vehicle coming from one's right unless a sign or other road marking instructs otherwise.

That was meant to modernize an even more unwieldy rule of the time: Right of way went to the driver of the highest social rank. Horse-drawn carriages were still in common use, and, after accidents, "it wasn't unusual for the passengers to get out of their carriages and compare their titles and ranks in the nobility," says Benoit Godart, a spokesman for the government-financed Belgian Road Safety Institute.

Even more confusing, a driver in Belgium who stops to look both ways at an intersection loses the legal right to proceed first. Such caution might seem prudent, given the lack of stop signs. But a driver who merely taps his brakes can find that his pause has sent a dangerous signal to other drivers: Any sign of hesitation often spurs other drivers to hit the gas in a race to get through the crossing first.

The result is a game of chicken at crossings, where to slow down is to "show weakness," says Belgian traffic court lawyer Virginie Delannoy. Neither driver wants to lose this traffic game, she says, adding: "And then, bam!"

To make matters worse, cars on many of the smallest side streets still qualify for priority over those on major thoroughfares -- so long as they are coming from the right. That forces drivers on many boulevards to slam on their brakes without warning, and some get rear-ended as a result.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Melina does Illustration Friday: Phobia

I'm scared of blood and needles. I got my ears pierced when I was 13 years old. I passed out right there in the shopping mall. When they prick my finger to get a blood sample, the blood doesn't come out because I've already gone into some kind of minor shock. Sometimes I get woozy if I even see a picture of a tattoo.

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Illustration Friday - "Phobia"

I am so disturbed and disgusted by my own actual phobia (caterpillars) that I couldn't paint them. Instead, I painted a phobia I don't share - VERTIGO.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Judging your friends by their Netflix lists."

Extracts from
I Queue
Judging your friends by their Netflix lists.

By Sam Anderson for Slate Magazine, Sept. 14, 2006

When I first started looking at my friends' Netflix lists, it felt a little creepy. At first I only peeked at their lists, looking for recommendations. While I was there, however, a few things caught my eye.

One of my friends, for instance, had given Mr. and Mrs. Smith — a film so notoriously bad it took all kinds of scandalous celebrity name-blending to get people to see it — a rating of four out of five stars. Also, one of my smartest, most sophisticated friends had rated Lindsay Lohan's Mean Girls as highly as he'd rated Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

Other friends had given perfect ratings to productions as various as Deliverance, Pretty in Pink, Edward Scissorhands, Madonna: Truth or Dare, and Xena: Warrior Princess (Season 3).

My in-the-moment friends, I discovered — the ones who eat canned sardines for dinner and tend to let leases expire without finding new places to live — were also living hand-to-mouth on their Netflix lists (one had only three titles in her queue), while my more practical friends had lists long enough to keep them entertained for years, and — in the event of untimely deaths — to bestow upon their families generations of orderly, effort-free renting.

Some lists were tortured records of cultural duty: Dense classics would march solemnly towards the top, only to be demoted (as soon as watching them became a real possibility) and replaced by season three of Felicity, until finally all the most challenging films of the 20th century were pooled at the bottom of the list like dark sediment beneath a froth of romantic comedies.

It's the Netflix version of the divided soul: The end of your list is the person you want to be -- Eraserhead, the eight-hour BBC Bleak House, the complete Werner Herzog -- while the top is the person you actually are: Wedding Crashers, Scary Movie 4, The Bridges of Madison County.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006


Melina sent me this Science Fair SWAT. I got to laughing so hard I had to call her up - and the two of us har-harred helplessly over the pictures and the ruminations ... you gotta wonder - about the kids who created the Science Fair projects AND the kids who are reviewing them ... Beam me up.

Zack: TSATE THE RAINBWO! I think this poster was created in the midst of a grand mal epileptic seizure.

Dr. Thorpe: Or maybe red posterboard costs 20 cents more per sheet.

Zack: I think the most endearing testament to this project's shittiness is the spelling of the title right next to the skittles packages they glued to the posterboard.

Zack: I mean, if you can read the title through the blood smears.

Dr. Thorpe: I think the totally arbitrary hypothesis is the most important part, because it sheds some light on the scientist's motivation: he just really loves red.


Zack: Procedure: I ate three bags of Skittles.


Dr. Thorpe: I wonder if the kid went into panic mode when he counted them because he already bought all this red paint in a fit of pro-red hubris, so confident was he in his hypothesis.

Zack: Really, it's impressive that his ethics allowed him to conclude yellow was the winner. It's not like anyone would have disputed his claim.

Dr. Thorpe: Maybe red actually DID win but he figured it would look a little fishy so he gave it to yellow instead to allay any potential suspicions.

Zack: Well, at least we know and the great SKITTELS conflict will come to an end. Yellow is the most prominate.

Dr. Thorpe: Red, while definitely the most pleasing to the eye, disappointed us. Hypothesis: workers at the SKITTELS factory cannot resist eating the red ones on the production line, thereby diminishing their numbers.

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Melina: Things I Do Not Like To Read in Online Personals

I offer this post with the caveat that I feel only compassion for most of the people on the online personals, no matter how weird they seem. Sometimes people just come off terribly online, and sometimes perfectly good people go through terrible periods in their life where they unburden themselves in a regrettable manner to complete strangers. Others are just not very good at examining or describing themselves. Really, I love men and I hope all the people I mock, below, find happy partnerships in the near future.

That being said, here are my least favorite personals ads statements of all time (from both men and women):

#1:"I like to explore all that New York City has to offer."
Okay, so that basically means you're alive and you go out to eat sometimes. That's awesome. Do you think every other person in a restaurant is probably your soulmate?

#2: "I like to go to the beach *and* the mountains."
Ma comments that this is the North Carolina variation of statement #1. People seem to think this is such an original statement.

#3: "I am equally comfortable in hiking boots as in a cocktail dress."
We're so glad. Imagine how uncomfortable you'd be hiking in the mountains in your cocktail dress.

#4: "I think all New York women are shallow and horrible. Prove me wrong."
I have a lot of unresolved hostility toward women, but I'd like to be having sex. Desperately seeking Femina Ex Machina to resolve my personal issues.

#5: "I'm really bored."
I feel that my life is meaningless, yet can't think of any reason to step away from my computer.

#6. "Mellow guy in my mellow world."
Nothing wrong with mellow guys, except that if you are one, you will hate Melina. She is your worst nightmare.

#7: "Dancing! Dancing! Dancing!"
I am a narcissist and a waste of human-meat. Ten of me put together could not screw in a lightbulb.

#8. "Are you a mod or a rocker?"

#9. "Given my druthers, I tend toward dominance in a sexual relationship. If you’re comfortable with it, we can have a wonderful “power exchange.” If you’d rather stay in the waist-high waters, we can do that, too."
Let me think for a second. No.

#10. "Now: I was at the bookstore the other day. I went there to look at an art book on Banksy -- sat behind this girl reading a magazine. Soon her much older husband came by and they discussed things. Now I notice her ring. Looking through this amazing book -- so critical and real exiSTENCILism. The store phone rings, no one is there to answer it. The girl lightly says, "No one's home." I reply, "You're home." to her surprise and delight. They talk more, she leaves says she'll be back in while. During that while she was gone another woman is browsing books and the husband looks at me, it's a guy thing, making sure I see how amazing this other woman is. She truly is. I smile in agreement, pause, then leave. Mad. Rushing quickly throughout the store, I find his wife. Tell her she shouldn't regret this and kiss her with intensity. I promptly the store. It was a disgusting hot day."

Wait... What?!?!?


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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Honey Cake recipe reposted: Happy New Year!

This is the greatest, so I'm posting it again. I usually hate honey cake, but this one is delicious. Last December my son Zed made a double recipe, it filled three 9x9 pans and a loaf pan too. I just made it today and adjusted the recipe.

Honey Cake

3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
5/6 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
5/8 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup warm coffee
3/4 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x9 pans or a tube pan.

Mix the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the wet ingredients well, then add the dry ingredients and beat gently. Finish by stirring with a spoon to get the heavy stuff off the bottom. This will need to cook for at least 45 minutes (for 9x9 pans) and up to 70 minutes (for a tube pan). The batter is wet, so you need to be sure it's cooked all the way through. Use a toothpick to check.

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"The battles are so bitter because the stakes are so low." Three men who should know better scheme to appear important.

In Talmud study this week we read a tale worth of Charlie Chaplin.

It comes in a section about "Honors," and takes place in the Sanhedrin - a council of judges convened regularly in Jerusalem a couple thousand years ago or so.

(The passage immediately previous - the group must have read it while I was in Massachusetts - dictates that a man who must leave the council room to poop can't come back that day. The footnote explains that wise men trained themselves to defecate in the morning and the evening so the important work of the day wouldn't be disturbed - therefore a man who must leave his bench to defecate shows himself to be unworthy.)

Anyway, today's story was about the Nasi (#1 guy) and #2 and #3. All the other judges used to stand up when any of these three guys entered the hall. But #1 got to thinking: "Why do #2 and #3 receive honors equal to me, #1?" So one day (when #2 and #3 were absent!! Very sly!) #1 got a new rule passed - henceforth the judges would rise only for #1.

So the next time #2 and #3 came into the hall, nobody rose. They accosted a guy and asked why. He said more or less: "Don't blame us, #1 makes the rules." So #2 and #3 concocted a crafty plan in retaliation.

Well I've been watching "ROME" (the HBO series) on DVD lately and I know how the Romans would have dealt with this. They would have taken out their swords and stabbed each other dead. But that was not the Jewish way.

This, instead, is the crafty plan #2 and #3 came up with: The following day, they would ask #1 to read and expound upon UTZKIN, a notoriously difficult tractate. They were pretty sure he would not be able to do it. Then they would say, "A man who is #1 should know every bit of the writings," and so #1 would be deposed and therefore #2 would become #1 and #3 would become #2 (actually #3 was going to become #1 but the reason is too complicated to go into).

However, their evil plot was foiled! A fourth fellow, we'll call him #4, overheard their crafty plan (they, like the villains in the telenovelas, were probably shouting the details of this plan to each other in a public place). #4 snuck upstairs and, in a room behind #1's private chamber, began reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing, tractate UTZKIN. (That's what the Talmud said, "reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing." And #1 got the idea, hmm, maybe I should study tractate UTZKIN. So he did.

And the next day when #2 and #3 implemented their crafty plan, #1 was able to expound satisfactorily upon UTSKIN, and then he told them: "If I had not been tipped off, I would have been shamed," so he banished them beyond the walls of the Sanhedrin.

OK, but this is the first really good part. #2 and #3 didn't just leave in disgrace. They camped out in the hallway outside. They wrote questions on tablets and lobbed the tablets over the wall into the meeting room! "If the students could answer the questions, they answered, but if they could not answer, [#2 and #3] wrote the answers on tablets and threw them over the wall."

(I was wondering with my friend in Atlanta whether these were stone tablets, chiseled in great haste, which would certainly cause damage if they hit somebody inside - think "javelin catcher" - or if they were soft clay tablets, which would shatter if they fell.)

Eventually one of the judges in the room said, "What, we are all here in this room and the Torah is outside in the hallway?" and they told #1 he better let #2 and #3 back in.

Here's the other really good part: #1 said ok, but from now on #2 and #3 won't get their names attached to any of their wise explanations and rejoinders. "From now on, #2's remarks will be prefaced: 'Others said:' and #3's remarks will be prefaced: 'Some have said that:'"

We had to leave before we finished. If anybody would like to leave an opinion of what the moral of this story is, I'd be grateful.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One small move towards sanity.

Next, they should ban breast implants that look like oranges on sticks.

Extracts from's
Skinny models banned from catwalk
September 13, 2006

Madrid's fashion week has turned away underweight models after protests that girls and young women were trying to copy their rail-thin looks and developing eating disorders.

Organizers say they want to project an image of beauty and health, rather than a waif-like, or heroin chic look.

"What about the freedom of the designer?" asked Cathy Gould, of New York's Elite modeling agency, adding that the move could harm careers of naturally "gazelle-like" models.

Madrid's regional government ... said the fashion industry had a responsibility to portray healthy body images. "Fashion is a mirror and many teenagers imitate what they see on the catwalk," said regional official Concha Guerra.

The mayor of Milan, Italy, Letizia Moratti, told an Italian newspaper this week she would seek a similar ban for her city's show unless it could find a solution to "sick" looking models.

The Madrid show is using the body mass index ... to measure models. It has turned away 30 percent of women who took part in the previous event.

"If they don't go along with it the next step is to seek legislation, just like with tobacco," said Carmen Gonzalez of Spain's Association in Defense of Attention for Anorexia and Bulimia, which has campaigned for restrictions since the 1990s.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Multi-tasking not what it's cracked up to be...

I've written about my dislike of multi-tasking before, here and here. Kevin at Bearskin Rug did a wonderful explanation of a uni-tasker and his world (with illustrations) called "My Cubbyhole Mind." It's well worth a visit.

I'm glad my life now allows me to do - one thing at a time.

Extracts from an article on multi-tasking in
Cubicle Culture
By Jared Sandberg for the Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2006

Multitasking [is] the wellspring of office gaffes, as well as the stock answer to how we do more with less when in fact we're usually doing less with more. What now passes for multitasking was once called not paying attention.

Employers continue to seek out jugglers despite decades of research showing that humans aren't great multitaskers. (And in the case of distracted driving, we're downright dangerous.)

"Multitasking doesn't look to be one of the great strengths of human cognition," says James C. Johnston, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It's almost inevitable that each individual task will be slower and of lower quality."

In the lab, researchers call it "multitasking" when subjects can recognize, for example, the colors of dots while also discerning high and low tones ... not exactly the skill set you need to win a vice presidency.

Something else left out of the multitasking calculations -- beside the fact that we don't do it very well -- are "resumption costs." These are the seconds it takes your brain to say "Where was I?" when resuming an interrupted task. Depending on the tasks, those resumption costs can be high enough to make it faster to unitask, which researchers say produces better performance in the first place.

While multitaskers seem to be accomplishing a lot, they are in most cases literally just going through the motions. It is easy for our brain to schedule many different tasks, one after the other. And we'll gamely set out doing those tasks, some of which require little extra brain input and some of which require a lot. As a result, says Hal Pashler, director of the Attention and Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, "your mouth can be moving while your brain is elsewhere."

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Melinama does Illustration Friday - "Change"

I always liked the Hanged Man tarot card. The explanations are reassuring: he is not suffering, he is peaceful. He is kind of enjoying looking at life from a new perspective. Things seem changed.

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Mike does Illustration Friday - "Change"

This picture qualifies because it was changed very many times!

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Menticia does Illustration Friday: "Change"

This says "CHANGING ROOM" at the top, but it was so dark when we finished painting last night that I couldn't get a good picture before she took it home!

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New book about Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jewish Pirates!

I wrote about the New Orleans pirate Jean Lafitte (Laffite, Laffitte, etc.) here and here. I had many discussions with my daughter Melina about whether these stories were true. There is a diary, supposedly Laffite's diary, in which he states that his mother was a Sephardic Jew. Some say the diary is a fake. She considered a book about him.

One indignant anonymous reader left this comment: "I have family who has lived where Jean Lafitte settled in Louisiana for over 200 years. My people migrated here before this was America, and my French roots tie me to jean Lafitte. He was not Jewish. I am not Jewish, amd the same blood of lafittes flows through me. I am an authentic native Baratarian, we fought for New Orleans, and none of us are Jewish. ... There is absolutely no reason why Jews should attack our heritage this way and try to disprove one of our famous family members. It is disgrace to all who call Lafitte our brother and friend. ... And it is somewhat of an insult to have your family name and blood, constantly attacked by Jewish people trying to prove he was Jewish when he was not."

Today I was sent a link to an article about an upcoming book about Sephardic pirates:
... tales of Jewish piracy, which stretch back thousands of years, aren't in the public's consciousness, and Hollywood even has been known to remove a pirate's Jewish background. As a result, we're stuck with portrayals of pirates as wayward English seamen on a murderous rampage.

But now a forthcoming book hopes to change that image by focusing on Ladino-speaking Jews whose piracy grew out of the Inquisition. "The Jewish pirates were Sephardic. Once they were kicked out of Spain [in 1492], the more adventurous Jews went to the New World," said Ed Kritzler, whose yet-untitled book on Jewish pirates will be published by Doubleday in spring 2007.

Jewish piracy has been around since well before the Barbary pirates first preyed on ships during the Crusades. In the time of the Second Temple, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accussed Aristobulus of "acts of piracy at sea."

... determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult, Kritzler said, because many of them traveled as Conversos, or converts to Christianity, and practiced their Judaism in secret.

While some Jews, like Samuel Pallache, took up piracy in part to help make a better life for expelled Spanish Jews, Kritzler said others were motivated by revenge for the Inquisition.

One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history's largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today's dollars about the same as Disney's total box office for "Dead Man's Chest."

Henriques set up his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil afterward, and even though his role in the raid was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught, Kritzler told The Journal.

Another Sephardic pirate played a pivotal role in American history. In the book "Jews on the Frontier" (Rachelle Simon, 1991), Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman recounts the tale of Sephardic Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte, whose Conversos grandmother and mother fled Spain for France in 1765, after his maternal grandfather was put to death by the Inquisition for "Judaizing."

Referred to as The Corsair, Lafitte went on to establish a pirate kingdom in the swamps of New Orleans, and led more than 1,000 men during the War of 1812. After being run out of New Orleans in 1817, Lafitte re-established his kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, which was known as Campeche. During Mexico's fight for independence, revolutionaries encouraged Lafitte to attack Spanish ships and keep the booty.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Latin proposed as common language for the European Union...

Extracts from
EU Could Revive Latin as a Working Language
By Jonathan Luxmoore, August 29, 2006

The Vatican's daily newspaper has called for Latin to be made the official working language of the European Union, after attempts by the new Finnish presidency to promote its use in EU departments.

A Latin-language news programme, Nuntii Latini, has been broadcast weekly for the past decade by YLE, Finland’s equivalent to the BBC, making the ancient Roman language "potentially contemporary."

Latin formulations have been found for numerous modern phenomena, such autocinetica (motorway), supervenalicium (supermarket), fullonica electrica (washing machine) and pilae coriaceae lusor (soccer star).

The Finnish government set up a weekly news summary in Latin when it first assumed the EU’s rotating presidency in 1999, and has repeated the service, alongside English, French and Swedish.

Classics scholars have insisted use of the language would "turn EU jargon into poetry". As examples, they said the Common Agricultural Policy could be rendered as "Ratio communis agros colendi" ("common scheme for cultivating the fields"), while the EU's Acquis Communautaire, or body of laws and regulations, could be Latinised as "Corpus legum institutorumque iuris Europaei."

"Latin isn't dead – it’s still very much in use in different forms across the world today. After all, Italians, French and Spaniards all speak a new form of Latin."

Several Italian newspapers have backed the L’Osservatore Romano proposal, while noting that Finland itself was never part of the Roman Empire.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

A wonderful phrase

I studied with a great rabbi today who shared with us a great saying from the Talmud: "Olam k'minhago noheg," which means, the universe continues along according to its custom (or literally, since I love literal translations, "The world, as is its custom, keeps on doing the customary things.") It's what Creation does.

The rabbis ask, "If a man stole a measure of wheat and sowed it in the ground, it would be right that the wheat not grow. After all, it is stolen. But, say the rabbis, the world pursues its own course. This is the way of nature."

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Giving kids Ritalin so they'll get As

Extracts from
Seeking straight A's, parents push for pills
Pediatricians report increasing requests for 'academic doping'
Some parents eager to boost their kids' academic performance see hope in a bottle.

By Victoria Clayton for MSNBC, Sept. 7, 2006

Parents want their kids to excel in school, and they've heard about the illegal use of stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall for "academic doping." Hoping to obtain the drugs legally, they pressure pediatricians for them.

Academic doping — using these stimulant prescriptions in an effort to enhance focus, concentration and mental stamina — first started on college campuses, especially Ivy League and exclusive, competitive schools. Now, the problem is filtering down to secondary schools, Yates says, and more parents are playing a role in obtaining prescription ADHD medication for their teenagers.

Yates isn't entirely surprised that parents ask for it. He believes that most families simply have a heartfelt — if shockingly misdirected — desire for their children to do their best.

Yet some parents will do whatever it takes to keep opportunities from slipping through a child's fingers — even outright lying to doctors to get the drugs, says Rater.

And some pill-eager parents aren't just seeking to level the playing field, they're trying to make their kids superstars, says Dr. Martin Stein, a professor of clinical pediatrics at University of California, San Diego.

Privileged kids tend to have parents who will push them to be the academic cream of the crop and when they aren't, they'll start looking for reasons why, he says.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yiddish sign-off suggestions for Katie Couric

From Yiddish Forum member M. G. Wolfe.

Our members are probably aware that Katie Couric wants her viewers to come up with an original sign-off. Here are my Top Ten suggestions:

  • "A gute nakht" (A good night)

  • "Azoy geyt es" (That is how it goes)

  • "Lomir makhn nakht" (Let's call it a day)

  • "Sheynkeyt fargeyt, khokhme bashteyt" (Beauty fades, wisdom stays)

  • "Vos nakh vilst du?" (What more do you want?)

  • "Dos is alts!" (That's all!)

  • "Shoyn genug!" (Enough already)

  • "Gleyb eyn oyg mer vi tsvey oyern" (Trust one eye more than two ears)

  • "Gey gezunter heyt un kum gezunter heyt" (Go in good health and come (back) in
    good health)

  • "Me vet zikh zen on NBC" (See you again on NBC.)

  • "Host du bay mir an avle" (So I made a mistake.)

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Illustration Friday - "Farm"

I bought some glossy thick acrylic medium for half price at Hungates (they're going out of the art supply business, from now on it's all gonna be cake decorating and model airplanes) and used it to create a truly hideous painting. Also, I hated how rubbery the medium looked. So today I painted over it completely.

I took this idea from a photo online of two Indian farmers with their oxcart.

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Intelligent Design

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Liberals' lament.

It's frustrating that our very flag, which should be a symbol for all Americans, has become instead an icon for political beliefs a great many of us find unbearably odious.

This is a circulating email I got this morning from someone as despairing as I am. If you read here regularly, you know I generally steer clear of politics; I never posted a "pass this along to your friends" email before.

BTW - if someone leaves a nasty comment, I will delete it. There's a limit to how much stress I can put up with.

Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, but our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches, while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

Support hunters who shoot their friends and blame them for wearing orange vests similar to those worn by the quail.

Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism. HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host like Rush Limbaugh. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Colleges prospect for gold

This was a very long and detailed article, I've just put a few bits of it below. It's well worth looking up and reading completely.

Extracts from
How Lowering the Bar Helps Colleges Prosper
Duke and Brown Universities Rise in Prestige In Part by Wooing Kids of Hollywood, Business Elite

By Daniel Golden for the Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2006
  • Twice a year, after reviewing applicants to Duke University, Jean Scott lugged a cardboard box to the office of President Terry Sanford. Together, Ms. Scott, director of undergraduate admissions from 1980 to 1986, and Mr. Sanford pored over its contents: applications from candidates she wanted to reject but who were on his list for consideration because their parents might bolster the university's endowment.

    Over more than 20 years, Duke transformed itself from a Southern school to a premier national institution with the help of a winning strategy: targeting rich students whose families could help build up its endowment.

    At the same time, and in a similar way, Brown University, eager to shed its label as one of the weakest schools in the Ivy League, bolstered its reputation by recruiting kids with famous parents. While celebrities don't often contribute financially, they generate invaluable publicity.

    Traditionally, universities have relied on gifts from alumni, who are rewarded with "legacy" preferences for their children.

    What makes Duke and Brown, among other institutions, stand out, is the way in which they ramped up and systematized their pursuit: rejecting stronger candidates to admit children of the rich or famous, regardless of their ties to the university.

    In the world of higher education, children of the rich and famous are known as "development cases," pursued by presidents and fund-raisers often to the dismay of admissions staffs.

    Brown raised its profile by enrolling children or stepchildren of politicians and celebrities, including two presidents, three Democratic presidential nominees, two Beatles and seven Academy Award winners. A particularly controversial case was the son of Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz, whose application sparked a debate within Brown.

    To make room for an academically borderline development case, a top college typically rejects nine other applicants, many of whom might have greater intellectual potential.

    Duke has acknowledged the existence of development admits. University spokesman John Burness says the ensuing donations help the university fund facilities improvements and financial aid, among other areas.

    When Terry Sanford, a former North Carolina governor, assumed Duke's presidency in 1970, he found a university with a budget deficit ... "Terry said: 'What we need is some first-class funerals,'" recalls his biographer, Howard Covington.

    To increase donations and help make Duke a top-tier school, Mr. Sanford turned to an old friend, Croom Beatty, a teacher and fund-raiser ... At Mr. Sanford's urging, Mr. Beatty scoured the nation's prep schools for applicants whose families could enrich Duke.

    Duke's recruiting also involved raiding wealthy families traditionally associated with other top universities, especially Yale. The Mars candy-bar clan, the Kohlers (Wisconsin makers of plumbing fixtures) and the Wrigleys of chewing-gum fame started sending their kids to Duke.

    Texas oil magnate Robert Bass, a Yale graduate, and his wife Anne, a Smith College alumna, donated $10 million to Duke in 1996, three years after their son enrolled, and another $10 million in 2001. Anne Bass joined Duke's board in 2003. Through a spokesman, the Basses decline to comment.

    Word spread in private-school circles that Duke was hunting for development cases.

  • Parents looking for a contact at Brown invariably came across the name David Zucconi. Mr. Zucconi held various titles in 44 years as a Brown employee, but one job remained the same: behind-the-scenes liaison to the rich and famous, a role he took on with unusual gusto.

    Mario Zucconi says his brother's name was passed between Brown alumni in the know. "He was out with Walter Matthau. He had drinks with Walter Cronkite. They wanted to get their sons or daughters in."

    "He got some kids into Brown, pushing, one way or another, who should never have been there," recalls Mr. Nicholson, the former Brown admissions officer. "Usually they were children of great wealth or alumni. I would try to accommodate him. Sometimes the kids whom he referred were God awful. I'd call him and say, 'Dave, you've got to do some screening.' "

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Oldie but goodie

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Illustration Friday - "Farm"

Painting this ghastly picture has given me fits. I hadn't tried painting since long before I left for Paris, months ago, and I seem to have lost the knack. It didn't help that I'm afraid of the photo I copied (see below).

My father was Pennsylvania Dutch; these are his father's parents in front of their farmhouse in 1924. Notice the wife was only 46 years old, why, I'm six years older than that!

Flaura Belle (nee Grim) had a very hard life. To start with, her mother died when she was very young, and then she was sent away from her home at the age of twelve, to be a servant on a neighboring farm, and was never invited home again, because her father re-married and the stepmother decided they "couldn't afford to keep her."

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Netflix Roundup

Here's a quick rundown of dvds I've watched this summer while cycling away on the elliptical trainer. My requirements: a good movie for the trainer is not talky or slow and is not depressing. If it's talky I can't hear it very well and it makes me sluggish. If it's depressing I want to turn off both the movie and the exercise machine.
  1. Hill Street Blues: A cop show from the early 80s which I loved back then. This summer, I was happily nostalgic listening to the excellent theme song but then shocked by how dated the pilot seemed: slow and stiff, "for the stage" acting. I stuck it out through the first season, though, and the series improved (or I got used to it). The ensemble work was great. I wanted to punch out Fay Furillo (an extremely annoying actress, Barbara Bosson, who was married to producer Stephen Bochco). I loved Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) best. Veronica Hamel was gorgeous, but so cold.

  2. Rome: This HBO series almost lost me in the pilot, full of long names and little snatches of complicated backstory; I got hooked suddenly halfway through the second episode and now I'm finding it thrilling. I never studied Roman history, makes me wonder how much of this is true. Good costumes and scenery, if you like that. A lot of slashing and naked women, if you like that.

  3. House, M.D.: Hugh Laurie's baby blues make up for a lot, but this show has a format as predictable as Lassie (my dad used to call out at 22.5 minutes after the hour: "Is Lassie saving Timmie yet?"). House doesn't want the case; something happens to change his mind; they can't figure out what the problem is; the patient gets worse; they try something which is wrong and the patient almost dies; House knocks a ball against a wall for a while, figures out the actual problem, and they save the patient. Plus, he's so mean!

  4. The Sopranos: Lives up to the hype. I thought I wouldn't be able to stand so many people getting their brains blown out but so far (I'm at the end of the first season) James Gandolfini makes it all worthwhile. My grandmother was EXACTLY like Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) except she wasn't connected so she couldn't have people knocked off. But she would have if she could have.

  5. Zed put three old Israeli movies in the queue. Passover Fever was an awful "disfunctional family makes up, and there's a bouquet of flowers which inches its way across the lawn accompanied by whimsical music, and at the end snow magically falls as people turn their faces towards the heavens in awe" kind of movie; Hill Halfon Doesn't Answer was a MASH-like farce about reserve soldiers in the desert - without any bloodshed and with a feel-good ending; Ushpizin was a very good, if strange, exploration of faith and fate, the first movie made by the ultra-orthodox with actual ultra-orthodox actors.

  6. Prime Suspect: There are at least five of these mysteries starring Helen Mirren and they are all wonderful. I wish there were more of them. Very dark, but completely absorbing.

  7. Lost: Does NOT live up to the hype. One trumped-up mystery after another. People constantly rushing through the jungle with worried looks on their faces and eerie sounds just made me feel manipulated. Yawn.

  8. Once and Again: Oh, YAWN! Gorgeous, well-to-do suburbanites with minuscule problems examined in detail once and again and over and over again. I could not care less.

  9. 3rd Rock from the Sun: John Lithgow and French Stewart made me laugh so hard I almost fell off the trainer. It's only a half hour (that's 22 minutes without commercials) and watching two in a row is a bit cloying, but this is grand escapism.

  10. The Singing Detective: Absolutely ghastly. I should have known just from the title. Run the other way.

Got some recommendations for me?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Schadenfreude reigns.

Extracts from
Eight lottery winners who lost their millions
by Ellen Goodstein,

For a lot of people, winning the lottery is the American dream. But for many lottery winners, the reality is more like a nightmare.

  • "Winning the lottery isn't always what it's cracked up to be," says Evelyn Adams, who won the New Jersey lottery not just once, but twice (1985, 1986), to the tune of $5.4 million. Today the money is all gone and Adams lives in a trailer.

    "Everybody wanted my money," says Adams, who also lost money at the slot machines in Atlantic City.

  • William "Bud" Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988 but now lives on his Social Security.

    A former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of his winnings. A brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him, hoping to inherit a share of the winnings. Other siblings pestered him until he agreed to invest in a car business and a restaurant in Sarasota, Fla.

    Post even spent time in jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector. Within a year, he was $1 million in debt. Now he lives quietly on $450 a month and food stamps.

  • Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery in 1993. Now she's deeply in debt to a company that lent her money using the winnings as collateral.

    She borrowed $197,746.15, which she agreed to pay back with her yearly checks from the Virginia lottery through 2006. When the rules changed allowing her to collect her winnings in a lump sum, she cashed in the remaining amount. But she stopped making payments on the loan.

  • Ken Proxmire was a machinist when he won $1 million in the Michigan lottery. He moved to California and went into the car business with his brothers. Within five years, he had filed for bankruptcy.

    "It was a hell of a good ride for three or four years, but now he lives more simply. There's no more talk of owning a helicopter or riding in limos. We're just everyday folk. Dad's now back to work as a machinist," says his son.

  • Willie Hurt of Lansing, Mich., won $3.1 million in 1989. Two years later he was broke and charged with murder. His lawyer says Hurt spent his fortune on a divorce and crack cocaine.

  • Charles Riddle of Belleville, Mich., won $1 million in 1975. Afterward, he got divorced, faced several lawsuits and was indicted for selling cocaine.

  • Missourian Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. Lee was generous to a variety of causes, giving to politics, education and the community. But according to published reports, eight years after winning, Lee had filed for bankruptcy with only $700 left in two bank accounts and no cash on hand.

  • One Southeastern family won $4.2 million in the early '90s. They bought a huge house and succumbed to repeated family requests for help in paying off debts.

    The house, cars and relatives ate the whole pot. Eleven years later, the couple is divorcing, the house is sold and they have to split what is left of the lottery proceeds. The wife got a very small house. The husband has moved in with the kids.
"For many people, sudden money can cause disaster," says a certified financial planner. "In our culture, there is a widely held belief that money solves problems. People think if they had more money, their troubles would be over. ... Often they can keep the money and lose family and friends -- or lose the money and keep the family and friends -- or even lose the money and lose the family and friends."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A little Neanderthal in all of us.

Extracts from
There is a little Neanderthal in a lot of us
By Roger Highfield,

People who have large noses, a stocky build and a beetle brow may indeed be a little Neanderthal, according to a genetic study.

People of European descent may be five per cent Neanderthal, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics, which suggests we all have a sprinkling of archaic DNA in our genes.

"Instead of a population that left Africa 100,000 years ago and replaced all other archaic human groups, we propose that this population interacted with another population that had been in Europe for much longer, maybe 400,000 years," says Dr Vincent Plagnol, of the University of Southern California, who with Dr Jeffrey Wall analysed 135 different regions of the human genetic code.

They looked at 34 people from Utah with ancestors from Northern and Western Europe, and Yoruba people from West Africa. Using statistics and computer modelling, the researchers focused on linkage "disequilibriums", or sections within genes that did not make sense if only modern human matings are considered.

The missing genetic links only fit if some other hominid population is introduced. "We found that a simple model cannot explain the data if we do not add an 'ancestral population'," said Dr Plagnol.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Live One

I just sold my old bed on Craigslist to a wide-eyed young person. She just moved to the big city to do performance art - she's gonna do sculpture and costume and her friend's a musician and somehow they're gonna turn these two skills into one awesome performance.

She spoke in a quiet, shy breathy voice. She thanked us shyly for the bed. She asked, "this doesn't have bedbugs in it, right?"

She's shark bait.

Certain Doom Averted Again (Joel Achenbach)

This lifted my spirits!

Certain Doom Averted Again
By Joel Achenbach

Yesterday morning I looked outside my motel window and saw only darkness. The sun should have been up. I checked the clock. Dang near 6:30. I track these things. The sun is supposed to be up by 6:30 in August. If the sun didn't come up ... well, that would have dire repercussions that prior to my coffee my mind couldn't even begin to comprehend.

(Though I knew, instinctively, that it would somehow be Cheney's fault.)

We take many things for granted, such as the sun coming up, and then later having the decency to go down again. We need the sun to achieve thermonuclear fusion and do the various things it does in the category of making sunshine. No sunshine, no photosynthesis. No photosynthesis, no food chain. I pictured the panicked rush on the motel's breakfast buffet. "Let go of that muffin!" "That's MY cinnamon roll." Chaos, madness, people being extremely impolite. Doomsday, in a word.

I went downstairs, checked my email on the motel computer, checked the blog, then went outside. Uh-oh. Still dark. Weirdly dark. They say it's darkest before the dawn, but this was after dawn, by my calculation. When it's darkest after the dawn you're having a very bad day.

I went back in and looked at the clerk behind the registration desk and the lone traveler at the breakfast buffet and neither seemed as alarmed as people would presumably be if the sun had been destroyed. But right there's the problem with our society: You can't count on people anymore to be accurate barometers of anything. There's so much ignorance, apathy, complacency. People have pampered themselves to the point of disempowerment. They don't rage against the dying of the light. I remember an era when, if the sun didn't rise, people would take immediate action. Lock and load. Kick some butt.

I noticed that the motel had the weather channel showing. They were talking about hurricanes. I found this reassuring, because if the sun were to explode or disappear, the Weather Channel would be all over it. This was not "proof" that the sun still existed, but it was highly suggestive. That's how we go through life: analyzing probabilities and going with the odds, except where strategic denial and wilfull lunacy are more entertaining.

And then you know what happened. It came on faintly at first, diffuse, filtered, soft and gentle and almost pulverized from all the scattering on its journey over the horizon. Some would call it dawn, I would call it civil twilight. Then someone turned the dial a wee bit and it was a brand new day -- hope restored, the world full of promise.

I felt proud of myself that at no point had I panicked.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Menticia at University Lake

Yesterday was a spectacularly beautiful day, so I took Menticia rowing on University Lake. We saw these cool birds.

Menticia's been in middle school for one short week, and already she's a different girl. She's talking about boys (but only how OTHER girls like them) and she wants to listen to bone-rattling stations on the radio.

She wanted to play what she called the "Game of What If ...?" and it goes like this.

"What if it started to rain?"
"I'd row us back to the dock?"
"What if it rained so hard the boat filled up?"
"The boat couldn't fill up that fast."
"But what if it did? What if there was lightning?"
"Then I'd pull the boat up on shore and we could hide under it until the rain stopped."
"But what if there was a sudden tornado?"
"The sky would get ugly long before the tornado appeared, and we could get back to the dock."
"But what if it came up very fast, without warning, and the boat was stuck, and full of water, in the middle of the lake?"
"Well, you're wearing a life jacket, and I'm a very good swimmer. We'd get in the water and I'd swim you to shore."
"What if the water was full of snakes?"
"Poisonous snakes?"
"There aren't any poisonous water snakes in North Carolina."
"But what if there were?"

This went on for a very long time.

It got hot on the water so we rowed close to the shore, tethered the boat to a fallen tree in the shade, and lounged in it, listening to the water lapping and the birds chirping, reading Harry Potter.

You can see from this picture that the book is very fat, and we've barely begun, relatively speaking, but I remind her not to be disheartened: finishing the book is not the only pleasure - actually reading it can be be fun too!

We were the last ones to get our boat back, a few minutes before closing. We drove into Carrboro and had dinner at the Jade Palace, where she put away almost an entire plate of shrimp lo mein. She'll be a teenager soon if she keeps this up!

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

A long-awaited event.

On one of the turgid Spanish melodramas we blog over at Caray, Caray!, a mother takes time out from mourning to point out informatively that while there is a name for a wife who loses her husband, and a name for children who lose their parents, there is no name for a parent who loses a child.

That's a fate my ex-husband and I narrowly escaped when our son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, a medulloblastoma, two weeks after his thirteenth birthday. In the summer of 2000, while our daughter Melina was enjoying a free trip to Israel - unaware of the situation at home - our son had a 7-1/2 hour brain operation and then commenced six weeks of radiation to the brain and spinal column (mortality rate of this cancer without an aggressive course of radiation: 100%).

Zed stood in front of our congregation and celebrated his bar mitzvah on the last day of his radiation treatment, wearing a Bukharan kippah I sewed for him when the other kind wouldn't stay on his bald head. Then he suffered through a year of chemotherapy. When we decided to take him off chemo early - because it appeared to be destroying his immune system - we vowed to meet again, five years later, to celebrate.

And so we did, last night, for a Shabbat dinner. It was an informal affair at my ex's house. His wife (have you noticed there is also not a name for the new spouse of your ex?) finished baking the lasagna while their two young sons showed off for me, running at top speed around and around and around and around through the house, narrowly missing the pointy corners of tables and counters. I counted substantially more than forty laps before we finally managed to slow them down.

It was the kind of dinner party I rarely attend any more - the youngest son, after telling me he wanted to come visit me at my house, pelted me with challah. We managed to toast Zed for his amazing achievements over the last six years, though the atmosphere did not allow for a calm enumeration. I enjoyed the event immensely, and was grateful for having been invited, but I can't say I was sorry to escape back to the eerie quiet of my own home.

As for Zed, he is spectacularly distracted these days - he's thinking non-stop about Middletown as he counts the seconds till he can get back to college, where he finally has friends who don't even know about all this unless he chooses to tell them, where he's happier than he's ever been in his life. I hate to see him go but I beam with joy to think that we all lived to see this. So many more days above ground - what a blessing. Shabbat shalom.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

What are we going to do about this banana plant?

You can't tell from this picture, but it's over 6 feet tall. And - even though Zed promised me, when we spent $10 on this plant, that it would be a one-season-only pleasure (bananas are not hardy in central North Carolina) - now that it's flourishing he doesn't want to let it die. His current idea: to build a yurt around it. However, he's leaving for college on Sunday. Any other ideas, anybody?

This is what the Zone looked like on June 11.

And this is what the banana plant looked like when it went in the ground a couple weeks later.

Then there are these flourishing okra plants. He planted them by mistake (I don't know how they were labeled at Home Depot). They have grown very strong and have many pods. However, we all hate okra (let's just start with the word "mucilaginous") so the pods are getting bigger and bigger. We saw that somebody makes jewelry and art out of okra pods, but the process involves silica gel; I find that discouraging.

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Let kids sleep

When my kids were growing up I felt my job as mom was mainly to attend to the "Physical Plant." That meant, besides the occasional visit to the doctor and the dentist, two things: enough food and enough sleep. I am still amazed when I see people dragging their little kids into the grocery store in the middle of the night. I think many "ADD" cases are simply kids who don't get enough sleep.

Yes, the 7:20 start time in the school district referenced below is horrendous! But I also think we parents are at fault for not having the guts to stand up to teenagers and remind them that if they stay up very late doing I.M. with their friends, they'll fall asleep in class the next day.

Extracts from
Want to Improve Education? Let Kids Sleep
By Stephen Moore for the Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2006

As a father of two teenage boys, I can attest to the fact that the single greatest teen crisis in America is not drugs, alcohol, smoking or early sexual activity, but sleep deprivation.

For the better part of the next nine months my kids will shuffle through the day resembling the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead." The reason that so many kids today appear to be slouching toward Gomorrah is simply that they lack sleep.

Waking teens from their deep REM sleep before 7 a.m. -- which during late fall and winter is well before the rooster crows -- is much like approaching a lion gnawing on an antelope carcass.

Breakfasts from now until June will be as somber as the death row inmate's last meal. We shovel frosted flakes down their throats so that the temporary sugar fix arouses them out of their comatose state long enough to get them out the front door.

When I queried my kids and their friends recently about how they survive on seven hours of sleep a day, they confess that the strategy is to catch up on a few z's during first and second periods at school.

Meanwhile, research overwhelmingly confirms that lack of sleep in adolescents has become a horrendous health problem in America. The National Sleep Foundation finds that teens now average between 6.5 and seven hours of uninterrupted sleep on a weeknight and only one in five gets the recommended nine hours. Of course computer games, chat rooms, sports schedules and the like have a lot to do with the late nights.

But so do their biological clocks. Studies show that spurting growth hormones in teens alter their circadian rhythm and naturally turn them into night owls, physiologically uninterested in 9:30 p.m. bedtimes and fiercely opposed to 6:15 a.m. wake-up calls.

So here is the inevitable ritual: Kids trudge through the week on insufficient sleep, barely limp to the finish line on Fridays, use the weekends to pay off the week's sleep debt by snoozing until noon and then try to readjust their body clocks on Monday morning. Prof. Jim Moss, a sleep expert at Cornell, says: "It's as if at the start of every week our kids have West Coast to East Coast jet lag." He finds that in the early morning classroom "the overwhelming drive to sleep can replace any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding."

Perhaps it's time for a new campaign: This is your teenager's brain; this is your teen's brain (a fried egg) on six hours' sleep.

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