Saturday, April 26, 2008

A lesson in ..... er.... hmm.... something important probably

I had a really random memory from elementary school today. It must have been second or third grade, in Leningrad USSR, if that makes any difference. My mom had given me a little toiletry bag with some old makeup - dried up nail polish, used up eye lash or perhaps eyebrow color, the kind you had to spit into and rub to dissolve, old bright blue eye shadow, that sort of thing. So, treating it as the treasure that it was, I took it to school to show off to my girlfriends. School policy forbid makeup, but I wasn't wearing it, and it was unusable anyway, so I don't know why I ended up getting in trouble in the first place. But what was really odd was what I can only assume was the punishment.

Memory is hazy on some details but for some reason or another the principal of the school, who was a truly terrifying dame of sturdy proportions with hair in a bun, and who by an unfortunate coincidence was also my English teacher, ended up in our classroom. She told me to bring the makeup bag up to the teacher and give it to her. "No", said I - it was a treasure and a gift from my mother. Eventually, obviously, I lost that argument and had to give the bag over. She then told me to come over to the wall by where she stood, which was a common place to have to stand if you had been a brat in class and where being punished by humiliation or whatnot. Then she told me, and this befuddles me still, to bang my head against the wall. "No" I said again, and again she kept on until I finally gently tapped my head against said wall. "Do you always do what other people tell you to do?" she then asked, sending me back to my seat.

I am afraid that the moral of that lesson is not to clear to me to this day. Was it that by being interested in makeup I was trying to do as others do? But wouldn't my repeated refusal to obey her commands be answer enough that I do not, in fact, always do as others tell me to? Or should I not have given in and hit my head on the wall no matter how often she demanded it?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Virginia Curse

My parents moved to Virginia just over a year ago, which means that they are now 9 hours driving distance from me, which is about 460 miles, most of them in the endless state of Pennsylvania. Needless to say I don't make it down there often. Additionally, the few trips that we have made usually end up with one or both of us getting sick with something or other. Nevertheless we decided to undertake our semi-annual journey to see them last weekend, to admire the dogwood and red bud blossoms and to celebrate my upcoming birthday. The plan was to leave on Saturday, April 12th, and come back on Tuesday, which was a nice plan that sadly failed because as per usual I came down the day before with some indeterminate cold symptoms. Fortunately parents were also sick at the time, so they did not protest too much when I told them we would come down on Thursday the 17th instead and stay till Sunday.
The plan was to be ready to go first thing Thursday morning and get to VA by dinner time. Naturally it was all much more fascinating that that.
To start of I got food poisoning on Wednesday. If you have read my previous post here, you know that I have emetophobia, which is the fear of vomiting. So when I woke up at 3:37am Wednesday morning and just KNEW that I was about to loose my dinner, I was very surprised to find myself the epitome of calm. I got up, took a sip of Emetrol, which is an anti-nausea liquid like cola syrup, and began to plan my eminent dilemma. I decided in favor of a bucket, got a nice little trash can liner, picked the kitchen with it's easy-to-clean-in-case-of-accident floor, sat down on said floor and announced (out loud) to the universe that I was ready to vomit. And didn't. That went on for about two hours, in which I waited until eventually whatever it was that I ate came out by other means. At one point I got really cold and went to get a sweater from the bedroom, and Husband asked me what I was up to. "I am going to throw up", I said to him. "That's great!" said my Husband, "Good for you!" Eventually I gave up and went to sleep for a few hours, annoyed with the universe for not letting me be sick.
Since I was still nauseated and feeble in the morning we got a late start, but at least we were on the road. The weather was gorgeous and as we drove we passed through spring into summer, which improved our moods considerably. Until the car died that is. We had been driving for about 7 hours at this point and the battery just died at a red light, in the middle of Nowhere, VA. I called AAA and tried to explain to them that I was on Route 15 in VA, that I was surrounded by fields and therefore did not know what town I was in. I told them that I was so many miles from Culpeper, that I could see an intersection with such-an-such a road up ahead, at which point the very rude AAA guy asked me whether I was perhaps in North Carolina. People drove honking by without bothering to stop, until I finally chased down some woman who was idling at the intersection and she told me I was probably in Haymarket.

While we waited for the tow truck to show up we tried to make the most of it, grabbed our cooler and had a little picnic in the unmarked field (managing to get ticks on us, which, however, we did not discover till next day). Since it was late in the day, the tow man had to drive us to another town ($), where a Goodyear 'mechanic' told us that we needed a new battery in order to run diagnostics tests ($$). In the meantime, I began to suffer from a sharp shooting pain in my ear. Gratefully once the diagnostics tests were run the alternator was given a clean bill of health, so we got back on the road and made it to Charlottesville just before midnight. It all seemed quite worth it to see my parents again.
Mom had to work the next day and we slept in a bit, but upon awaking I discovered that my ear had gotten worse, was hurting now all the time and was loosing hearing to boot. The executive decision was made that I should go to Urgent Care and have someone take a look at it ($$$) in case it was infected, which it turns out it wasn't, just very full of liquid. The doc suggested using Afrin, a highly addictive nasal decongestant to try and drain the ear naturally, and I found a remedy online of placing heated salt in a sock against your ear to draw out the moisture. Thus passed our Friday.
On Saturday we went to see the historic Morven gardens. I felt very British, going to tour an estate that sits on ~7400 thousands acres of land and garden. I swear, it was like something out of "Pride and Prejudice". This garden is only open to visitors about once a year, and since it is now owned by UVA, they are talking about starting a farm on it to grow food for the school. The gardens were lovely, the tulips in bloom, and the little cobbler's cottage was my little dream house. Then I came down with a mad fever. When we got home I just passed out on the couch, and my mom, a true Russian, poured vodka in my ear, which oddly enough helped! In fact I was able to rouse myself and participate in a lovely dinner party with my parents' friends, all of whom are fantastic characters. It was just a blast.


Leaving was slow, as my parents inexplicably decided to talk in earnest about investments and retirement plans, but we finally got on the road, this time in a downpour. It rained annoyingly and heavily, but stopped five hours into the drive, which is exactly when the car died again. This time we did not muck about with tow trucks but walked over to the nearest store and bought two new car batteries ($$$), figuring that they were bound to get us home, and they did. As a bonus, we both came down with a cold next day, from which we are both still recovering. So ends another trip to VA. But at least I got to see my parents, which was really all worth it in the end.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Comic of the Day

"Piled Higher and Deeper" aka PhD comic by Jorge Cham.

Also, stay tuned for a nice long post about my recent trip to VA. I wouldn't miss it if I were you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stephen Hadley and the News

So on April 13th our National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley appeared on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopolous where he was asked about the whole going to Olympics, supporting Tibet discussion. He responds that Bush will of course go to Nepal, the whole question is ridiculous, Nepal is an issue, and the President is concerned about what's happening in Nepal, but this is not the way to deal with the Nepal problem. Wtf? Nepal? Never mind that Stephanopoulos does not call him on it, but the entire story is entirely absent from the news, with the exception of a small blurb in the New York Times the next day, while the Associate Press did something even more irritating, they just corrected it! Here is what it reads on CNN.com (note the quotation marks) :

'The whole issue of opening ceremonies is a nonissue,' Hadley said. 'I think it is a way of dodging what really needs to happen if you're concerned about' Tibet.

And this sort of thing is not even newsworthy. Even when McCain keeps confusing Shiites with Sunnis, which should have been a scandal really, and when he said that Iran is helping Al Qaeda, the whole thing just gets a few minutes. What is wrong with our media? What is wrong with this country? Why is everyone so dumb!? Oh this just makes me irate.

Here is the full transcript:

From the April 13 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): Let's talk about the Olympics. President Carter came out against a boycott, but President Bush has been under tremendous pressure to stay away from the opening ceremonies. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain won't go. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany won't go. The president has said his plans have not changed. Does that mean he'll attend the opening ceremonies, or not?

HADLEY: What the president said is that he will go to the Olympics. He wants to support our Olympic athletes -- the wonderful men and women who are going to participate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that means he'll go see events but he won't go to the opening ceremonies?

HADLEY: The president has said he is going to the Olympics. I think this whole issue --

STEPHANOPOULOS: How come you can't -- how come you don't want to answer the question?

HADLEY: This whole issue of opening ceremonies is a nonissue. I think it is a way of dodging what really needs to happen if you're concerned about Nepal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So does that mean the president will be going to them?

HADLEY: The president is going to the Olympics. The president is going to -- thinks that the way to deal with the issue of Nepal is not by some -- a statement that you're not going to the opening ceremonies and say, "Therefore, I've checked the Nepal box."

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he may not go to the opening ceremonies, you just don't want to say it.

HADLEY: No, the president is going to the Olympics. What he's doing on Nepal is what we think the international community ought to be doing, which is approaching the Chinese privately through diplomatic channels, and sending a very firm message of concern for human rights, of concern for what's happening in Nepal, urging the Chinese government to understand that it is in their interest to reach out to representatives of the Dalai Lama, and to show while the whole world is watching China that they are determined to treat their citizens with dignity and respect.

There is an opportunity here. And if countries are really concerned about Nepal, we shouldn't have this sort of nonissue of opening ceremonies or not. They should do the hard work of quiet diplomacy to urge the Chinese government, in their interest, to take advantage of this opportunity to do something about meeting the concerns about people in Nepal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you call it a nonissue, yet you won't say clearly that the president is attending the opening ceremonies, and I'm just trying to figure out why.

HADLEY: The president at this point is going to the Olympics. We haven't worked out the details of his schedule at this point in time. But from his vantage point, if you listen what he has said, he has no reason not to go. Because what he has said is, we need to be using diplomacy to try and deal with the issue of Nepal.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fleas, dentists and other pests

My kitty has fleas. She had some when we first got her a year and a half ago and we treated her with Zodiac Spot-On, which is an over the counter once-a-month treatment that goes on the back of the cat's neck and is absorbed into her blood stream, thus killing the fleas that feed from her. It contains 3.6% of the active ingredient (S)-Methoprene, which is about a third of what is found in Frontline Plus, another much more expensive over the counter spot on treatment ($50 for three months). So this time we have been treating her with Zodiac again but we did not catch the infection early so I think our house is now full of flea eggs, which frankly grosses me out a lot.

Fleas are wicked. They can lay up to 50 eggs a day, which when dry fall out of the fur onto carpets, couches etc. The eggs hatch in 1 to 12 days into larvae that do not like light, so they borrow deeper into the fibers of your carpeting/upholstery and feed on the feces of their parents (digested blood, which you can see as small black specks and curls when you brush your cat) as well as other dead plant and vegetable material. After a week or two the larvae spins a cocoon and becomes a pupae, where it will stay until stimulated to hatch, such as by vibrations of either you, your cat or your vacuum cleaner passing by. They can stay as pupae for over a month, but once hatched will begin to jump and eat right away. They can bite humans, but really they do prefer cats and dogs. In fact if you get rid of your pet you will most likely find yourself the target of all their angry little attacks.

So now we have been treating our cat with Zodiac for a few months, and the fleas on her sure reduce after a while but they come back and she needs re-treating. Cleaning the house by thoroughly vacuuming and washing is a must but the bastards cling to the carpet and there are always more than you can get out. So this weekend I devoted some serious energy and time in investigating all the possible solutions to our problem.

Two things need to be accomplished to get rid of fleas. One has to treat the cat, and treat the house. To treat the cat, Frontline and Advantage are certainly the most successful methods. Collars emit toxic fumes or dust particles, combing alone is not enough, and washing our cat would be a remarkably suicidal venture. But is it good to put so much chemical into our kittens blood? I got super excited when I found Sentry's all natural "Natural Defense" which contains all kinds of plant oils and is supposed to do the same thing as Frontline but without the pesticide. Fortunately I decided to do some research before buying it. It turns out that cats are extremely intolerant of essential oils. Not only can they have severe allergic reactions, and the strong smell would torture them all day long, but they are actually incapable of metabolising and excreting the oils, meaning that overtime they would build up in her system and eventually possibly kill her. This Eartheasy article describes it all very well. So since that was out of the question our solution for the moment for treating the cat is to groom her with a flea brush as much as possible and continue treatment with Zodiac, or the more concentrated Frontline Plus. Unfortunately she does not use the litter box at home and poops outside so we can't check her feces for tapeworms. Perhaps we will have to take her to a vet for that.

For the house there are many pesticide solutions, such as sprays, powders and flea bombs, which cover your house with pesticide from top to bottom. I find this entirely terrifying and just can't do it. Natural Defense also has some of those powders with the essential oils or what not, but I don't know now if I should put that on the carpet. Also it contains d-Limonene which that article specifically says is toxic to cats. I may consider diatomaceous earth, sodiumpolyborate or vermiculite to rub into the carpet and vacuum up, which is certainly less toxic sounding than pesticide. More research on that. So the plan is to vacuum very frequently, disposing of bags right away, since fleas can come out of them, and not using the flea color in the vacuum bag as suggested by some because of the noxious fumes. Wash all the couch covers every week, since that's where the cat sleeps mostly. Fortunately we got couch covers a long time ago so that makes things easier. We will also either build flea traps or buy some. These have a light that attract the fleas with it's warmth and a sticky tape section to which the fleas then get stuck. One can also use soapy water I heard, but that sounds too bulky. We thought about treating our lawn with nematodes, since they kill the larvae, but she really goes all over the place so I don't think that will benefit us unless our neighbors don't mind their lawns being sprayed. So that for now is the plan, let's hope this works!!!

Some good websites to check out are cats.about.com and wikihow.

On another note I am very frustrated with the dental insurance that I get through my work, which gives me the option of just two very lame dentists who do more damage than good. I tried going to one that was recommended to me and was an hour away, but he was so old his hands were shaking, he kept spilling the amalgam all over my mouth, and now the filling has fallen out. I am afraid I will have to go to a good dentist and pay full ridiculous price.

Update: Methoprene is apparently bad for cats, though the EPA hasn't finished it's investigation yet. And boric acid and all it's derivatives are toxic to humans, so there goes that idea...

Calabria 2007

Alas, another music post...
I heard this song several times on the radio and thought it was cool but just couldn't figure out how a foreign song got on an American radio station (if you are from the Northern US you'll understand - it's all very Anglo centric here). So I finally found out more about it. But first why don't you watch the video and try to guess what language it's in!




The title of the song is "Calabria 2007". It was first recorded by Danish producer Rune Reilly Kølsch, also known as Rune RK, Rune or Enur, and his half brother Johannes Torpe in 2003 and was purely instrumental. In 2004 it was covered by Dutch group Drunkenmunkey, and in 2005 was mixed by Italian DJ Alex Gaudino to contain lyrics from Crystal Waters' song "Destination Unknown". It then hit some charts and became known as "Destination Calabria".

So in 2007 Erun or whatever you want to call him re-released the song now with vocals by up-and-coming Danish singer Natasja Saad, the first non-native to have won the reggae Irie FM Big Break Contest in Jamaica. Unfortunately she was killed later that year in an automobile accident at the age of only 20. This version of the song is what you can see in that video. The song that I had actually heard on the radio may have been a remix with "The Anthem" by Pitbull, featuring a bunch of arists and Calabria tunes, because it contained a bunch of rap parts, but I am just not sure. Still, amazing how much a song has to get through to get to my ears (as if I am really all that important).

Anyway, so what of that first question, what language is that!!!???!!! It's actually English, believe it or not! Here are the lyrics, and then it makes a whole lot more sense.

Easy now no need fi go down,
easy now no need fi go down,
rock that run that, this where we from
(repeat 2x)

Whoop Whoop
When you run come around,
Cu(z) I kno ur the talk of the town yea
(repeat 4x)

Easy now no need fi go down
Just walk it gently and no break nah bone,
Cool end-it-ly, you have a style of your own,
Me never kno you saw ya master the saxophone

cause u sound like the talk of the town yea,
imma look u when u run come around yea,
make me wobble, make me whole body bubble,
an me no say ya trouble, when ya ready for the double,
and n u hit that,
no ti-na the mickle
play with it a lickle, why you so na tickle
im tellin' you to, hit that
no ti-na the mickle
stay with it a lickle, why you so na tickle
im feelin' them
(whoop whoop)

easy now no need fi go down,
easy now no need fi go down,
walk it gently and no break nah bone

Whoop Whoop
When you run come around,
Cu(z) I kno ur the talk of the town yea
(repeat 4x)

Best shown overall, shiny and tall,
One touch make a gal climb whoever you are,
Brass hat, hatter than fireball
Whoop Whoop!
You not small you not lickle at all
Dat touch, just dip on me mind yea
The good feelin dip on rewind yea
make me wobble, make me whole body bubble,
an me no say ya trouble, when ya ready for the double,
and n u hit that,
no ti-na the mickle
play with it a lickle, why you so na tickle
im tellin' you to, hit that
no ti-na the mickle
stay with it a lickle, why you so na tickle
im feelin' them

Walk it gently and no break nah bone

easy now no need fi go down,
easy now no need fi go down,
rock that run that, this where we from
(repeat 2x)

Whoop Whoop
When you run come around,
Cu(z) I kno ur the talk of the town yea
(repeat 8x)

Whooop Whooop!!!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lord of the Rings - Book vs Movie Showdown

I tried to read J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" back in high school but by the time I was done with "Fellowship of the Ring" I was so bored out of my mind that I could read no further. Having seen all three movies, I thought I would try it again and I am glad I did. It took me almost two weeks to read, but now that I had seen the movies I could understand a lot more of what happened which was otherwise dull and incomprehensible (battle scenes and geography primarily). Tolkien's purpose in writing these books was to tell a history, and so the books really read as history books, full of endless details, long dialogs, little foreshadowing or simultaneous story lines and few proper climaxes. Overall I felt that the movies followed the books very faithfully, omitting little and adding the action, emotion and crescendos that make a movie palatable.

Some things that I thought were better covered in the book than the movie:

- Tom Bombadil and Goldberry are two very fascinating characters in the book that are entirely absent from the movie. Though I see how it would have slowed the movie down I would have dearly liked to have seen the portrayal of the River daughter and the man who is Master of the land.

- Theoden King of Rohan was far less fearful and confused in the book, riding out against Isengard instead of 'hiding out' in Helm's Deep, so even though the battle still took place, he did not cower and his spirit was never in doubt.

- For dramatic effect the movie made a great deal out of the wear and tear on Frodo from the Ring, which was much more subdued in the book. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Frodo never sent Sam away but that they had entered Shelob's layer hand in hand.

- Faramir was super cool in the book, cooler even in some ways than Aragon. He rejected the Ring right away, was wise and brave, and his love affair with Eowyn was one of the high points of the story in my opinion (seeing how she is the only woman really involved in the book at all).

- The book finally explained to me what the heck that stick and banner was that Arwen was hiding behind at the coronation (though such a scene never took place in the book it always pissed me off as I watched wondering why she is holding a stupid flag). I think it was supposed to be the standard of Aragorn's royal house or whatnot, with which in the book he commands the army of the dead.



Some things that were better off in the movie than in the book:

- By far the best part of the movies for me (I am a girl afterall) was the love story of Arwen and Aragorn, which was barely mentioned in the appendix of the third book. Aragorn himself was much more admirable in the movie in my opinion, especially in his treatment of Arwen but mostly because it is impossible to resists the charms of Viggo Mortensen

- Just about all the battles, which were actually climactic and followed some sort of interesting pattern, especially the battle of Helm's Deep.



I am ambivalent about the chapter in which the Shire is besieged by Saruman who is then driven out by the four hobbits upon their return. It was an interesting side story and certainly made sure that they got a lot more respect from their fellow Shire-folk for their deeds than they seemed to in the movie.

So that's my two cents.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My beloved

No words can describe all that I feel for my Husband, a man like no other, unique and special in every way - precious to me. The world is a better place for having him in it, and blessed am I to have a place in his heart. I wish for few things other than to have a long and happy life by his side.

Comic of the Day

Pearls before Swine!