Monday, December 31, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

Here's my tribute. A tragic end to a brave life.
June 21, 1953 - December 27, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stupid Holidays....

I think I have decided not to celebrate Christmas this year. I do not believe in Jesus, am not in any way religious, did not grow up with this tradition, and will not be near my family this year, so what exactly is the point? New Year's - now there is a holiday I can stand behind! Aside from my birthday it is by far my most favorite celebration, a new beginning, an appreciation for the passage of time, loud parties full of food and friends and laughter. Every year I wish for the sort of New Year's that we had growing up. Friends and family gathered around the table, eating and drinking and talking really loudly and the gifts of course and the moment at midnight when we all sing and whoop and kiss. I don't know if it will ever be possible to have that feeling again so far away from Russia and my family. The closest I came to it was when my relatives were visiting from France and the Urals. I remember going to sleep thinking how good it felt to have family under the same roof. Husband suggested going to NYC for the 31st and celebrate with our Russian friends there. Maybe we'll do that. One thing I did decide for sure is that I will not write "Merry Christmas" but rather "Happy New Year" in all my cards this year. The only question remains - when do I open the gifts?

Also, my friend sent me a Liberty Meadows comic strip today and as I was going through their archives I found this gem:

I guess what's funny about it is that the dialog is actually in German and the translation has nothing at all to do with the text, but I am sure you can tell.

Just in case you are curious I have also included a translation of the text for those of you who are not German speaking (feel free to correct me though as it has been a while since I've spoken Deutsch)

Box 1
"Luke, I am your father. Are you Chupacabra?"
"Is that train number three?"

Box 2
"I have two coconuts."
"If you drink the beer before the liquor, it will make you sick" (though I think they did not use good German here, did they?)

Box 3
"The garlic makes my feet stink"
"The Germans love David Hasselhoff"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Myth of Stremnaya Road

This little 'mystery' was solved over a year ago now, but it is still making it's rounds on the internet. I just received one of those mass forwards from a co-worker of mine entitled "Stremnaya Road in Bolivia - The Road of Death" or something like that. The most interesting thing is that these mailings often include images of several different roads, which are actually on different continents. So I will try to sort out which one is which but do not trust me to get it right.

First: Yungas Road in Bolivia

It is in fact called the Road of Death by some, but has many other names. It runs approximately 65km from La Paz to Coroico. It was built by prisoners in 1930s (though some sources say it was built in the 70s by some company called 'Grove') and claims 100-200 lives each year. One of the worst accidents took place in 1983 when a bus carrying 100 passengers went over the edge, killing everyone. A new road has been in the works for years but at the moment this road appears to be the major truck route between the capital and the Yungas region. It is also very popular with adrenaline junkie bikers.

Second: Guoliang Tunnel in China

Located in the Taihang Mountains of the Henan Province in China this tunnel is 1200 meters long, 5 meters high and 4 meters wide. It was carved by the people of the Guoliang Village between 1972 and 1977 to create an alternative to Tianti, a stairway carved into the mountain rock and the only means of travel to the village until the Tunnel was made. This tunnel is perfectly safe and attracts many tourists each year because of its quiet tranquil beauty.

Not included in the emails but equally impressive:
Federal Highway from Moscow to Yakutsk in Russia

I guess it is sometimes called Lena (it's the Lena River region over there), and is said to be the only way of getting there by car. In the winter it is quite passable because it freezes solid. In the summer months however, rainfall turns it to mud. At one point 600 cars became stuck on the road, without food, water or any real shelter. Authorities did not want to go into to help because previous attempts had led to violence towards the rescuers by the stranded motorists. It is actually a bit of a tragic story, I think.

and in the winter:

And finally, the most ridiculous hiking trail ever: Mount Hua (Hua Shan) in Xi'an, China.

There are five sacred mountains in China and this is one of them. The mountain itself has five peaks, North, South, East, West and Middle (they all have more imaginative names in Chinese). You can get up there in cable cars but you can also hike on steps carved in stone and these insane board walks! This path is between the North and West peak (Changkongzhandao) and is basically planks, nails and some chains. You can apparently also rent a harness. There is a great account of the hike by a blogger here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holy Shit!

A soccer player past his prime but racking in the $$ doing this:

If I was LA Galaxy I'd ask for my money back.
And if I was Beckham I'd be feeling like a whore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Fate of Elisabeth and Will Turner

*Warning - Total SPOILER ALERT*

So I finally watched the conclusion of the Pirates of the Caribbean series and I was stunned by the finale. Will gets to be an immortal Dutchman captain and can only set foot on land every ten years for a day, while Elisabeth has to stay behind. Yes, I know it's just a movie, but this upset me a bit. Clearly Elisabeth plans to 'stay true' to her love, which means that she will spend her life aging alone, will get a shag once every ten years, maybe for the first several decades, at which point she will become old and saggy and Will will show up looking as fresh and lovely as only an immortal can to find his wife first aging and eventually dead. My thought was that he should have 'set her free', but in the absence of that maybe she would get lucky enough to get pregnant from their first encounter, which would at least occupy her time while she waits.

Imagine my surprise when after a wikipedia search I discovered that there was a hidden scene at the end of a mile of credits that would 'clarify Will and Elisabeth's future'. I raced home, begged my DVD player to work just one more time (it's on the fritz) and watched this little 30 second gem. It showed 10 year old Will Turner the Third and his mom watching the Green Flash and their beloved father/husband at the helm of the Dutchman coming ashore. To use Jack Sparrow's words, this was "maddingly unhelpful".

It turns out that what writers Ted Elliott and Terry Russio meant was that because Elisabeth's love had remained true, Will was now free of his spell. The Green Flash then, signifies the release of his soul from the dead. Did you catch that? I certainly didn't. Nevertheless I am pleased. Elisabeth may be a flirtatious, indecisive rebel but they are sweet together.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Women's Bathroom Woes

I got a book of 'Dirty Filthy Jokes' for my dirt old man of an uncle and couldn't resist reading some of them before wrapping it up. Husband found this one funny, but the scary thing is - its eerily accurate! So girls, have a chuckle.

"My mother was a fanatic about public toilets. As a little girl, she'd bring me in the stall, teach me to wad up toilet paper and wipe the seat. Then she'd carefully lay strips of toilet paper to cover the seat. Finally, she'd instruct, "Never, never sit on a public toilet seat." And she'd demonstrate "The Stance," which consisted of balancing over the toilet in a sitting position without actually letting any of your flesh make contact with the toilet seat. But by this time, I'd have wet down my leg. And we'd go home.

That was a long time ago. Even now in our more mature years "The Stance" is excruciatingly difficult to maintain when one's bladder is especially full. When you have to "go" in a public bathroom, you find a line of women that makes you think there's a half-price sale on Mel Gibson's underwear in there. So, you wait and smile politely at all the other ladies, also crossing their legs and smiling politely.

And you finally get close. You check for feet under the stall doors. Every one is occupied. Finally, a stall door opens and you dash, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the stall. You get in to find the door won't latch. It doesn't matter. You hang your purse on the door hook, yank down your pants and assume "The Stance."

Relief. More relief. Then your thighs begin to shake. You'd love to sit down but you certainly hadn't taken time to wipe the seat or lay toilet paper on it, so you hold "The Stance" as your thighs experience a quake that would register an eight on the Richter scale. To take your mind off it, you reach for the toilet paper. The toilet paper dispenser is empty. Your thighs shake more. You remember the tiny tissue that you blew your nose on that's in your purse. It would have to do. You crumble it in the puffiest way possible. It is still smaller than your thumbnail.

Someone pushes open your stall door because the latch doesn't work and your purse whams you in the head. "Occupied!" you scream as you reach out for the door, dropping your tissue in a puddle and falling backwards, directly onto the toilet seat. You get up quickly, but it's too late. Your bare bottom has made contact with all the germs and life forms on the bare seat because YOU never laid down toilet paper, not that there was any, even if you had enough time to.
And your mother would be utterly ashamed of you if she knew, because her bare bottom never touched a public toilet seat because, frankly, "You don't know what kind of disease you could get."

And by this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushes, sending up a stream of water akin to a fountain and then it suddenly sucks everything down with such force that you grab onto the toilet paper dispenser for fear of being dragged to China. At that point, you give up. You are soaked by the splashing water. You are exhausted. You try to wipe with a Chiclets wrapper you found in your pocket, and then slink out inconspicuously to the sinks.

You can't figure out how to operate the sinks with the automatic sensors, so you wipe your hands with spit and a dry paper towel and walk past a line of women, still waiting, cross-legged and unable to smile politely at this point. One kind soul at the very end of the line points out that you are trailing a piece of toilet paper on your shoe as long as the Mississippi River! You yank the paper from your shoe, plunk in in the woman's hand and say warmly, " here. You might need this."
At this time, you see your spouse, who has entered , used and exited his bathroom, and read a copy of War and Peace while waiting for you. "What took you so long?" he asks, annoyed. This is when you kick him sharply on the shin and go home. "

Thursday, December 6, 2007

life began between the sheets

A new hypothesis has been brought forth to help shed light on the origin of life on Earth. Dr. Helene Hasma of UC Santa Barbara proposed on Tuesday that life's first biomolecules may have developed and evolved between sheets of mica. Though we do not yet know if these biomolecules were RNA or protein, the spaces between the layers of mica would have provided an environment exceptionally conducive to both biochemical reactions and subsequent evolutionary steps.

Hansma, a biophysicist, was collecting samples in a mica mine when she noticed organic material growing on the mica, and so an idea was born. There is a remarkable poetry in this hypothesis. Individual layers of mica are perfectly flat and thin, and would have acted as cell membranes for the first biomolecules, providing support, protection, and the isolation necessary for Darwinian selection and differentiation. RNAs and some proteins and lipids are negatively charged, just like mica. The distance between RNA phosphate groups is the same as the spacing between negative charges of mica. Mica is held together with potassium, which is found at the same concentration in our cells. The heating and cooling expansion of the mica layers, as well as the movement of the ocean would have provided a mechanical energy for the breaking and forming of bonds in the earliest biochemical reactions.

Granted all of this is just conjecture at this point. But this one struck me as a particularly harmonious hypothesis. I just love science!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Recurring dreams

I have many fascinating dreams, and some of them recurrent (and no less fascinating). Unlike the usual recurring dreams, which for me include a) running away from something at night, usually naked b) being lost in another country, usually Germany and c) realizing that I have not studies for the exam or missed it entirely (which actually happened once, good God!), I have one that is in my opinion odd. And that is my recurring dream of going shopping. It is usually a clothing store, or sometimes a department store. There is often a tremendous sale, like 90% off. It is usually a high end store, but littered with the coolest clothes ever. Dresses, shirts, beautiful things. Purses and hats, which are not things I usually purchase many of are also prominently featured.

One website gives this explanation for shopping dreams:

"To dream that you are shopping, indicates your needs and desires. Consider what you are shopping for and what needs you are try to fulfill. In particular, to dream that you are shopping for food and groceries, signifies your hidden attempt to buy the attention of others."

Here is an altogether different explanation:

To dream of a store filled with merchandise, foretells prosperity and advancement. An empty one, denotes failure of efforts and quarrels. To dream that your store is burning, is a sign of renewed activity in business and pleasure. If you find yourself in a department store, it foretells that much pleasure will be derived from various sources of profit. To sell goods in one, your advancement will be accelerated by your energy and the efforts of friends. To dream that you sell a pair of soiled, gray cotton gloves to a woman, foretells that your opinion of women will place you in hazardous positions. If a woman has this dream, her preference for some one of the male sex will not be appreciated very much by him."

I am fascinated by the bit about the soiled gray cotton gloves. Can you be any more specific?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

look-a-likes #1

Those of you who know me, know that I am always thinking someone looks like someone else. I have been working on an idea for a coffee-table photo book with that concept, but for now I will just post some people here who I believe are look-a-likes and you can tell me what you think.

Can you guess these actresses? The answer is in the comments section.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Surreal Encounters in Cyberspace

Hurray! Following a brief track through the valleys of colds and flues I am back in the land of the living. (And there was much rejoicing...)

Anyway, over Thanksgiving I was reunited with a dear childhood friend and we had a lovely time looking at pictures, decorating the Christmas tree and drinking hot tottie. She was also kind enough to introduce me to the joys of, a facebook-like website for Russians. Remarkably, I was able to locate my old classmates whom I have not seen in nearly 15 years!!! Eagerly I had typed in my school name and class in the search field and received quite a number of hits, but there were several problems. They had all changed so much (well, we were 12 when we last saw each other after all!) and I could not for the life of me remember any names (with a few exceptions, and even then only the first name).

Moreover, and this is really the interesting part - I still had certain notions about the character of my various classmates, based on 15-year old events! I mean, this was the time when it was important who you had a crush on, who was a tattle-tail, who took your favorite pen and who was your best friend in the entire world! And so I found myself looking over the profiles of these people, men and women who have long finished college, married, spawned etc, and thought to myself - "wow, here is Lada! We used to skip class and climb trees and I used to take the bus all the way to her place!" or "Natasha - she was always the tallest in the class and lived in my building and had a little sister who threw up on me once", and "Anja - she got me into so much trouble, that jerk." And here they all are, excited to 'see' me, asking me how I've been. Do they remember me better than I do them? What kind of people did they turn out to be? Did my 'friends' and my 'foes' mingle, have romances, get over our childhood prejudices? Whatever happened to that girl whose name I don't even recall but who was my nemesis, teacher's pet and over all coolest girl in the class? And would she have turned out to be my best friend if I had stayed?