Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

2009 is ending on a very low note. May 2010 let me rise again. To all of you - a Happy New Year!. This will be the year of the Tiger. I am told the Tiger will protect us against fires, thieves and ghosts. Cheers to that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Epic Fail

Things haven't been going very well for me the last few months. As you may recall I tapered off anti-depressants which I was taking for a panic anxiety disorder (with specific phobia). As of September 1st I was drug free and thought I was handling it pretty well. Unfortunately from October on I began experiencing some new (and some old) symptoms, and by Thanksgiving break was pretty much reduced to a sad little whimpering mess. It was pretty tough going for a while there as I had a really hard time eating and even sleeping. I lost a bunch of weight, was having panic attacks approximately 15 hours out of every day. Not good! So to my great chagrin and after much soul searching I went back on the meds.

It has been three weeks now since I started taking them again. It is supposed to take about a month for them to kick in properly. I have noticed a slight reduction in the number of panic attacks (only about 3-4 per day). The rest of the time I just have anxiety, which is basically panic lite. Among my new problems are intrusive repetitive thoughts. It may help to think of them as a sort of OCD. These have been very unfortunate as I have not had much experience with OCD before and was not prepared for it. Unfortunately the thoughts have not decreased in intensity or quantity (they are with me almost all the time), which I find very disheartening. Panic attacks, though unpleasant, have been my companions for a decade now, and though I may not like them, I know how to deal with them. This business of not having your head to yourself is far more distressing, in my opinion.

I have not given up hope yet. This week I have had two fairly good days (though not in a row), which makes me hope for more better days to come. I am going to continue with the meds and I am seeing a therapist twice a week, which helps a little bit. I have not felt up to much blogging lately, but I thought I would post this update.

Among many things I have not had a chance to blog about since this setback began, was the passing of our sweet kitty Sophie. She did not come home one day and after much searching we finally located her collar (torn and missing pieces) and many clumps of her fur. We believe that something attacked her, though we are not sure what could have done it. It has been over a month since she's disappeared and we still miss her. Rest in peace sweet kitty.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jon Stewart worries about Glenn Beck's organs

I know it's been nothing but videos lately, but this is so funny I cried. You have to have watched Glenn Beck recently (last year) to really appreciate it.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

I LOVE flashmobs!!!!!

They have got to be some of the funniest, most awesome cultural phenomena of our time. I especially like the dancing ones (as opposed to the freezing ones).

Here are some of my favorites:

The "T-mobile dance" flash mob in Liverpool Street Station January 15th, 2009.

CocaCola Flash mob

Hammer Time!!

And "Do Re Mi" in Antwerp. Cute kids!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jim Ward's "Skit"

Jim Ward, the Voice Deity from the Stephanie Miller show, a hilarious political comedy show I listen to every single day, made a little "skit" featuring some of his regular characters. Here it is.

You can visit Stephanie Miller's site here and Jim Ward's fan page here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I've been off antidepressants for two months now, and off my initial dose for 7 months. I have also been under some stress lately with stupid health issues (an endless cold, weird back pain, etc etc) and a visit from my (very lovely) grandpa. So maybe it is no wonder that I am starting to question if some of the original symptoms are coming back. I've had a great many more panic attacks recently than I can remember having in the previous year, and my response to the smallest stresses (grandpa's visit, sister's wedding, hanging artwork for a show) is to freak out. Even things as simple as having to make dinner or feeling really tired make me anxious. Husband says I don't seem any different, so hopefully this is a case of me making an elephant out of a mouse. Nevertheless, I have decided to try out the neurofeedback suggested to me by an acupuncturist.

I tried to understand this procedure best I could. I watched the (extremely cheesy) video that the acupuncturist gave me. I also read the book "Symphony in the Brain" by Jim Robbins, a journalist who writes on popular science issues, and who is a great fan of the treatment. The book was sensationalist and only mildly informative. It conveyed a sense of a budding scientific discovery gone to waste by the drama and discord among the practitioners.

Here is what I have gathered about this procedure. Our brain's activity produces electrical activity of different frequencies. These can be measured with an EEG and are grouped into types (delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma), each associated with a several normal (and abnormal) functions. For example, delta frequencies are measured during certain parts of our sleep, alpha when we are relaxed, beta when we anxious. These are generalities of course. So two things are the basis of neurofeedback:

1) Pathologies (depression, ADD, epilepsy, coma, etc) show a deviation of EEG activity from the norm.
2) Brains can be trained to alter their EEG activity.

Both of these statements are technically true. The leap that has not been tested too well in a scientific setting is that training your brain (such as with neurofeedback) can cure the pathology. There are certainly many clinical studies that show this to be the case (from neurofeedback professionals), but even these professionals don't seem to agree on the best protocols. Each practitioner seems to follow their own methodology, deciding which EEG activity to stimulate or suppress, and they don't all agree.

The woman I'll be seeing is following the methods of Siegfried and Susan Othmer (of EEG Info, previous owners of EEG Spectrum, now a completely separate neurofeedback group). I believe they work by messing around with alpha waves, but maybe that is too simplistic. I hope to get a better understanding of what she'll be doing during my first appointment with her (on Monday) and by reading a textbook I have ordered that teaches neurofeedback to practitioners. Hopefully they won't mess up my brain too much!

Friday, October 2, 2009

John Perry and the "Obama Problem"

Some douchebag former senior editor of Newsmax named John Perry wrote this darling column the other day (which has now been taken down due to it being INSANE). You can still view it here. In it he suggests that the military will surely want to stage a "bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation." "Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders," he goes on to say, "would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making." omg, wtf....

There has been a rash of this kind of talk lately. There was the facebook poll on whether the president ought to be assassinated. There is Glenn Beck in his schizophrenic entirety. There is the census worker who got killed for being a "Fed". The gun-carrying protesters outside townhalls. There is violence and so much hatred, it is frankly scary. I'll be the first to admit that I couldn't stand George Bush. I wanted him impeached, out of office. I wanted him held legally accountable for his behavior, which included illegal wiretapping of American citizens, lying and using known forged information to start a war in Iraq, and the torturing of detainees. These things, I suggest to you, are in fact unconstitutional. Giving everyone in this country health care is not.

In fact, the constitution, which I have read today in it's entirety, does mention several times the duty of the Congress and of the President to "promote the general welfare", "welfare" being defined as "health, happiness, or prosperity; well-being". That sounds like it includes healthcare to me!

It's not like there aren't legitimate issues to discuss when it comes to health care reform. How will we pay for it, is one good topic. How do we make sure that hospitals and doctors get compensated well (more then they do now from medicare, for example)? Why on earth aren't we figuring out a universal single payer system, is a favorite of mine. But "Obama is a Kenyan socialist, marxist, fascist who wants to kill grandma and is a Muslim" IS NEITHER LEGITIMATE NOR SANE!!!!! While I am on the subject can we just agree that "communist" and "Nazi" CANNOT be used interchangeably? Retards...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quitting SSRIs safely and patiently

After taking citalopram (Celexa) for just over six years I have finally succeeded in quitting. I'd tried before, even managing to get down from 40mg to 20mg before I accidentally missed a single dose and spent a week going out of my mind. After bumping it up to 30mg I seemed to regain my sanity but a visit with the doctor left me saddened - she told me I would probably never be able to get off the meds.

This past winter I read the book, "Biology of Belief" by Bruce Lipton. It was interesting and inspiring, even if the science is dubious at best. It talked of mind over matter, our ability to heal ourselves, and it made me think of trying to quit the drugs again. Remembering my past experiences I did some research, and found out that one resource among others seemed to help a lot of people - a book by Joseph Glenmullen, "The Antidepressant Solution".

The message of the book boiled down to one thing: the doctors don't know the safe way of going off SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). I had been following my doctors advice of taking a full dose one day, then a half dose the next, then a full dose again. After a week I was supposed to switch to doing just the half dose. Repeat. What I did this time (for reason well illustrated in the book), was to lower my dose by the smallest fraction possible, which in my case was 5mg, and try to stay on that dose for at least a month. This gives your brain time to adjust and kick in it's own serotonin production. After a month I would lower the dose again by 5mg and so forth. I was also supplementing with an excellent B vitamin complex, which provides choline and lecithin, needed for acetocholine production (that is advice not from the book but this site.)

It took me 5 months, six if you count the number of withdrawal periods. It wasn't pleasant, but it was far less painful than my previous attempts. Among physical symptoms I had dizziness, which would usually come on three days after I lowered the dose, and last a few days. Psychologically, I had some pretty bizarre obsessive thoughts. I didn't recognize them as symptoms until I saw a pattern emerge. I still had the occasional panic or anxiety attack, but no more so then when I was on the drugs.

So now I have been drug free for two months. I am still on the look out for signs that I am slipping back into the anxiety state I was in pre-meds, but so far so good. I should mention that I do not regret the decision to start the medicine in the first place. It was at a time in my life when they were the help I needed to become a person again (perhaps more on that another day?) Still, it feels great to know that I am not a dependent, that if I accidentally miss taking that one little pill I will not have to spend the next few days suffering crazy withdrawal symptoms.

I shall now allow myself a "Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiippeeeeeeeeeeeee!" :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

First Time Acupuncture

Husband has seasonal allergies and doesn't like taking meds, so I thought he should try acupuncture. I got him an appointment and then he decided not to go. So I figured, what the heck, I'll go in his place.

This was my first time getting acupuncture. I wasn't sure what my "major complaint" was, but since I have been freaking out emotionally lately I decided to go with the panic and anxiety and my phobia. First the woman did a variation of the emotional freedom technique (their site), which I have already done in the past. It involves tapping on various points while thinking about what's bothering you. She added to that a kinesiology step to check which points were effective. I felt that the whole thing was rushed, I didn't have time to really focus on what was bothering me, so I am not sure how effective it could be. An interesting thing that came out of it though, was that she felt that I responded well to a 'kidney' point just below the clavicle. Apparently in Chinese medicine, fear is associated with the kidneys. So I told her that I'd had unusual kidney quirks since I was a kid, and that besides, I have three kidneys instead of two. Could there be a connection?

Next she had me lie down and she pushed on various parts of my large intestine, small intestine, bladder and each kidney. Some places hurt, other didn't. The ones that hurt, she would push again while simultaneously pressing on some points on my feet and elbows, and the weird thing is, the pain would go away immediately. That was probably the coolest.

Finally it was time for actual needles. She put some in my feet for the kidneys, one in my forehead for the spirit, and two in my right ear. She also put one in my hand but it hurt, and though I didn't mind the pain, she didn't want me to keep it in. The one in my forehead burned quite a bit, but that was about it. There was no pain when they went in, not even mosquito bite type of pain. I was then left to lie on the table for about 15 minutes, and that was it. Afterward I was seriously spaced out for about an hour. I wondered around downtown because I didn't feel it was safe to drive, and talked to my mother on the phone in strenuously strung together sentences.

In the evening I had a bad headache, and this morning I did not start my day with a panic attack, the first in a week. So that is good.

In the end, my acupuncturist said that for my problems I should really try neurofeedback (explanation here). It is expensive though, probably about $1500 total. I got a book about it, called "The Symphony in the Brain", which I'll check out. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Laser Bread

This guy makes something new every day. Not all are nice, but here are some creative ones I liked.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Internal Dialog

Returning to actual blog posts now (apologies for all the articles lately). I am thinking, once again, of going back to school and getting a PhD. My family insists that it is important to have a PhD, and if I am going to do it, now would be the time since I have no children and my brain is still young enough to retain some new information. Problem is, I have no idea what to study. Here is my line of thinking (or circle more like it, cause it never actually goes anywhere):

Should I go back to grad school? It's now or never really. Should I study art or science? Art is nice but I am not that talented, am emotionally unstable, and would miss science too much. Ok science it is. Should I study what I like to do and am good at, such as molecular biology or perhaps evolutionary bio? It will involve bench work, which I like, and I already have a degree and 5 years working experience to help me along. But it's not what I care about right now! What do you care about? I care about issues of sustainable agriculture, food quality (not quantity, mind you!) and maintaining health in the age of overcrowding, pollution and climate change! But you know nothing about any of this... It doesn't sound like it involves any bench work, and you will probably have to do a lot of 'communicating' and 'leadership' and you know how you tend to freak out about extroverted things! And besides, who is to say that you'll keep caring about this. There was a time when you cared about genetics. But bench work will get old soon too. Can I even handle grad school? It sounds stressful and I am prone to panic attacks. But you can't let fear stop you from doing what you want to do! But I don't know what I want to do! Do you want to go to grad school? It's probably now or never...

The problem is, if I don't do something it will all soon turn from "what could be" to "what could have been" and I'll be sitting in my little home whispering "my precioussss...."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another decent article about health care reform myths

The Five Biggest Lies in the Health Care Debate

By Sharon Begley | NEWSWEEK

Published Aug 29, 2009

From the magazine issue dated Sep 7, 2009

To the credit of opponents of health-care reform, the lies and exaggerations they're spreading are not made up out of whole cloth—which makes the misinformation that much more credible. Instead, because opponents demand that everyone within earshot (or e-mail range) look, say, "at page 425 of the House bill!," the lies take on a patina of credibility. Take the claim in one chain e-mail that the government will have electronic access to everyone's bank account, implying that the Feds will rob you blind. The 1,017-page bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee does call for electronic fund transfers—but from insurers to doctors and other providers. There is zero provision to include patients in any such system. Five other myths that won't die:

You'll have no choice in what health benefits you receive.
The myth that a "health choices commissioner" will decide what benefits you get seems to have originated in a July 19 post at, whose homepage features an image of Obama looking like Heath Ledger's Joker. In fact, the House bill sets up a health-care exchange—essentially a list of private insurers and one government plan—where people who do not have health insurance through their employer or some other source (including small businesses) can shop for a plan, much as seniors shop for a drug plan under Medicare part D. The government will indeed require that participating plans not refuse people with preexisting conditions and offer at least minimum coverage, just as it does now with employer-provided insurance plans and part D. The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.

No chemo for older Medicare patients.
The threat that Medicare will give cancer patients over 70 only end-of-life counseling and not chemotherapy—as a nurse at a hospital told a roomful of chemo patients, including the uncle of a NEWSWEEK reporter—has zero basis in fact. It's just a vicious form of the rationing scare. The House bill does not use the word "ration." Nor does it call for cost-effectiveness research, much less implementation—the idea that "it isn't cost-effective to give a 90-year-old a hip replacement."

The general claim that care will be rationed under health-care reform is less a lie and more of a non-disprovable projection (as is Howard Dean's assertion that health-care reform will not lead to rationing, ever). What we can say is that there is de facto rationing under the current system, by both Medicare and private insurance. No plan covers everything, but coverage decisions "are now made in opaque ways by insurance companies," says Dr. Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

A related myth is that health-care reform will be financed through $500 billion in Medicare cuts. This refers to proposed decreases in Medicare increases. That is, spending is on track to reach $803 billion in 2019 from today's $422 billion, and that would be dialed back. Even the $560 billion in reductions (which would be spread over 10 years and come from reducing payments to private Medicare advantage plans, reducing annual increases in payments to hospitals and other providers, and improving care so seniors are not readmitted to a hospital) is misleading: the House bill also gives Medicare $340 billion more over a decade. The money would pay docs more for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles for preventive care, and help close the "doughnut hole" in the Medicare drug benefit, explains Medicare expert Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance.
The House bill doesn't give anyone free health care (though under a 1986 law illegals who can't pay do get free emergency care now, courtesy of all us premium paying customers or of hospitals that have to eat the cost). Will they be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance? The House bill says that "individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States" will not be allowed to receive subsidies.

The claim that taxpayers will wind up subsidizing health insurance for illegal immigrants has its origins in the defeat of an amendment, offered in July by Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada, to require those enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase private insurance to have their citizenship verified. claimed on July 19 that "HC [health care] will be provided 2 all non US citizens, illegal or otherwise." Rep. Steve King of Iowa spread the claim in a USA Today op-ed on Aug. 20, calling the explicit prohibition on such coverage "functionally meaningless" absent mandatory citizenship checks, and it's now gone viral. Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can't prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.

Death panels will decide who lives.
On July 16 Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and darling of the right, said on Fred Thompson's radio show that "on page 425," "Congress would make it mandatory…that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition." Sarah Palin coined "death panels" in an Aug. 7 Facebook post.

This lie springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.

The death-panels claim nevertheless got a new lease on life when Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush, claimed in an Aug. 18 Wall Street Journal op-ed that a 1997 workbook from the Department of Veterans Affairs pushes vets to "hurry up and die." In fact, the thrust of the 51-page book, which the VA pulled from circulation in 2007, is letting "loved ones" and "health care providers" "know your wishes." Readers are asked to decide what they believe, including that "life is sacred and has meaning, no matter what its quality," and that "my life should be prolonged as long as it can...using any means possible." But the workbook also asks if readers "believe there are some situations in which I would not want treatments to keep me alive." Opponents of health-care reform have selectively cited this passage as evidence the government wants to kill the old and the sick.

The government will set doctors' wages.
This, too, seems to have originated on the Flecksoflife blog on July 19. But while page 127 of the House bill says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive 5 percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna. "Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that's completely false," says Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

To be sure, there are also honest and principled objections to health-care reform. Some oppose a requirement that everyone have health insurance as an erosion of individual liberty. That's a debatable position, but an honest one. And many are simply scared out of their wits about what health-care reform will mean for them. But when fear and loathing hijack the brain, anything becomes believable—even that health-care reform is unconstitutional. To disprove that, check the commerce clause: Article I, Section 8.

With Katie Connolly, Claudia Kalb, and Ian Yarett

Find this article at

Friday, August 28, 2009

Myths about Healthcare

Oh my. I have been working on this annoyingly long post about healthcare reform myths and then I came across this article which is so good and says everything I wanted to say. So there is really no point in my post anymore. So here is the article in its entirety. You can also find it here.

5 Myths About Health Care Around the World

By T.R. Reid
Sunday, August 23, 2009

As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health-care system, we've overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they've found ways to cover everybody -- and still spend far less than we do.

I've traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as "socialist," we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:

1. It's all socialized medicine out there.

Not so. Some countries, such as Britain, New Zealand and Cuba, do provide health care in government hospitals, with the government paying the bills. Others -- for instance, Canada and Taiwan -- rely on private-sector providers, paid for by government-run insurance. But many wealthy countries -- including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland -- provide universal coverage using private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance plans.

In some ways, health care is less "socialized" overseas than in the United States. Almost all Americans sign up for government insurance (Medicare) at age 65. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, seniors stick with private insurance plans for life. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the planet's purest examples of government-run health care.

2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.

Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation's 200 private health insurance plans -- a broader choice than any American has. If a German doesn't like her insurance company, she can switch to another, with no increase in premium. The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.

In France and Japan, you don't get a choice of insurance provider; you have to use the one designated for your company or your industry. But patients can go to any doctor, any hospital, any traditional healer. There are no U.S.-style limits such as "in-network" lists of doctors or "pre-authorization" for surgery. You pick any doctor, you get treatment -- and insurance has to pay.

Canadians have their choice of providers. In Austria and Germany, if a doctor diagnoses a person as "stressed," medical insurance pays for weekends at a health spa.

As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations -- Germany, Britain, Austria -- outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.

In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don't bother to make an appointment. One Thursday morning in Tokyo, I called the prestigious orthopedic clinic at Keio University Hospital to schedule a consultation about my aching shoulder. "Why don't you just drop by?" the receptionist said. That same afternoon, I was in the surgeon's office. Dr. Nakamichi recommended an operation. "When could we do it?" I asked. The doctor checked his computer and said, "Tomorrow would be pretty difficult. Perhaps some day next week?"

3. Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.

Much less so than here. It may seem to Americans that U.S.-style free enterprise -- private-sector, for-profit health insurance -- is naturally the most cost-effective way to pay for health care. But in fact, all the other payment systems are more efficient than ours.

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France's health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada's universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.

The world champion at controlling medical costs is Japan, even though its aging population is a profligate consumer of medical care. On average, the Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually on health care; the United States spends more than $7,000.

4. Cost controls stifle innovation.

False. The United States is home to groundbreaking medical research, but so are other countries with much lower cost structures. Any American who's had a hip or knee replacement is standing on French innovation. Deep-brain stimulation to treat depression is a Canadian breakthrough. Many of the wonder drugs promoted endlessly on American television, including Viagra, come from British, Swiss or Japanese labs.

Overseas, strict cost controls actually drive innovation. In the United States, an MRI scan of the neck region costs about $1,500. In Japan, the identical scan costs $98. Under the pressure of cost controls, Japanese researchers found ways to perform the same diagnostic technique for one-fifteenth the American price. (And Japanese labs still make a profit.)

5. Health insurance has to be cruel.

Not really. American health insurance companies routinely reject applicants with a "preexisting condition" -- precisely the people most likely to need the insurers' service. They employ armies of adjusters to deny claims. If a customer is hit by a truck and faces big medical bills, the insurer's "rescission department" digs through the records looking for grounds to cancel the policy, often while the victim is still in the hospital. The companies say they have to do this stuff to survive in a tough business.

Foreign health insurance companies, in contrast, must accept all applicants, and they can't cancel as long as you pay your premiums. The plans are required to pay any claim submitted by a doctor or hospital (or health spa), usually within tight time limits. The big Swiss insurer Groupe Mutuel promises to pay all claims within five days. "Our customers love it," the group's chief executive told me. The corollary is that everyone is mandated to buy insurance, to give the plans an adequate pool of rate-payers.

The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.

This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we've blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has "the finest health care" in the world. We don't. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Given our remarkable medical assets -- the best-educated doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals, world-class research -- the United States could be, and should be, the best in the world. To get there, though, we have to be willing to learn some lessons about health-care administration from the other industrialized democracies.

T.R. Reid, a former Washington Post reporter, is the author of "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care," to be published Monday.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Literal Videos

This has probably been around for a while but let's face it, I'm slow. These guys took some famous videos from the 80s and changed the song lyrics so that they describe what is actually happening in the video. Cracks me up big time. Here are two, and there a few more on their website,

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Political Spectrum Quiz results

Like any of you had any doubts...

My Political Views
I am a left moderate social libertarian
Left: 6.55, Libertarian: 2.99

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -6.33

My Culture War Stance
Score: -8.76

Let's Compare Your Results to the Average

Average of All Quiz-Takers:

You can take the quiz here: Political Spectrum Quiz

My take on healthcare

I have been quiet on the subject, not because I don't care, but because frankly I care too much. Healthcare reform is something that I have very strong feelings about. I was pleasantly surprised when it suddenly became such a big deal. Supporters say Obama ran on a healthcare platform. That is of course not true. Obama ran on an anti-war, anti-Bush platform, and it was Hilary who had a stronger stance on healthcare. Nevertheless, healthcare suddenly exploded onto the national stage, and I was tickled pink. So why have I been keeping mum? Because I don't believe that the US is able to pass something as humanistic as universal healthcare and I didn't want to get my hopes up. I have not been disappointed in my pessimism, as single payer was taken off the table, now public option is going the way of the dinosaur, and the fight against healthcare reform has turned so dirty it would be funny (if it weren't so sad).

So here is where I stand. I think every country that is able, and that definitely includes the US, should make sure that every single on of the people in it, regardless of financial, legal, and even citizenship status, should have full and complete and good health care. Period. Are you a bum living on the street? Are you an illegal alien? Are you Donald Trump? Are you feeling off color? Go to the doctor and be made better. It's that simple. No exceptions. Not to mention that the care should be so fucking awesome that even Donald Trump will have nothing to complain about.

Who pays for it? Everyone who can. As with any tax I think the rich should pay a bit more, and the poor less. Those who can't pay anything, don't. So will my tax dollars go to pay for someone who has never worked an honest day in their life? Yes! And I am bloody fine with it, and I don't understand those who aren't. (As an aside, a huge number of Americans claim to be Christians, but are in my opinion greedy selfish bastards when it comes to taking care of their neighbor).

To those misinformation bastards out there who say that we don't have enough money to make this work, consider that we already spend out of our own pocket (or our employers pocket which really means less wages for us) more on healthcare than other countries, and we are so shitty even Colombia and Singapore (and 34 other countries) are better that us. You are telling me this country that is supposedly so great can't make something so basic happen?

And what irks me even more is how many people DON'T want universal healthcare. I have my doubts about their understanding of the subject. All these seniors who are being riled up, told that their Medicare will suffer (duh you stupid old buggers, Medicare is universal healthcare for you lot!!!). Don't you understand that you are being used by the sneaky powers behind healthcare companies and conservative think tanks? Probably not... (incidentally did you know that the average Fox viewer is over 65, white and doesn't have a college degree? - for more interesting demographic knowledge stuff check this out). Now the same nitwits who brought you teabagging are bussing in "concerned constituents" (who are probably birthers to boot) to disrupt town hall meetings.

As you can see, my feelings run high on this subject matter, and I have probably offended a bunch of you by questioning your intelligence, but so be it. It was all for naught anyway, because as I said before, the US won't have universal healthcare for a long time still. Whatever it is that will be passed this year will be something lame and watered down, and I am not even holding my breath. I probably wouldn't be so buggered if they didn't keep calling themselves "the greatest country in the world". As fucking if.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Shatner reading Palin

tee hee hee

Here is William Shatner, reading word for word Palin's farewell speech. I have to say, it is kind of beautiful that way. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the Matt Taibi article you have probably heard about

..can be found here or here. If you haven't heard about it, you should have. And you should definitely read it. I nearly failed economics in high school, and almost nothing about the market makes any sense to me, but this is important. In very brief and inadequate summary, Goldman Sachs has been intimately involved in:

1) The Great Stock Market Crash by setting up "investments trusts". "The first effort was the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation; the bank issued a million shares at $100 apiece, bought all those shares with its own money and then sold 90 percent of them to the hungry public at $104. The trading corporation then relentlessly bought shares in itself, bidding the price up further and further. Eventually it dumped part of its holdings and sponsored a new trust, the Shenandoah Corporation, issuing millions more in shares in that fund — which in turn sponsored yet another trust called the Blue Ridge Corporation."

2) Creating the Internet Bubble by laddering. "Say you're Goldman Sachs, and comes to you and asks you to take their company public. You agree on the usual terms: You'll price the stock, determine how many shares should be released and take the CEO on a "road show" to schmooze investors, all in exchange for a substantial fee (typically six to seven percent of the amount raised). You then promise your best clients the right to buy big chunks of the IPO at the low offering price — let's say's starting share price is $15 — in exchange for a promise that they will buy more shares later on the open market. That seemingly simple demand gives you inside knowledge of the IPO's future, knowledge that wasn't disclosed to the daytrader schmucks who only had the prospectus to go by: You know that certain of your clients who bought X amount of shares at $15 are also going to buy Y more shares at $20 or $25, virtually guaranteeing that the price is going to go to $25 and beyond."

3) Creating the Housing Bubble: "Goldman used two methods to hide the mess they were selling. First, they bundled hundreds of different mortgages into instruments called Collateralized Debt Obligations. Then they sold investors on the idea that, because a bunch of those mortgages would turn out to be OK." But there were regulations to protect against such things so "In 2000, on its last day in session, Congress passed the now-notorious Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which had been inserted into an 11,000-page spending bill at the last minute, with almost no debate on the floor of the Senate. Banks were now free to trade default swaps with impunity."

4) The $4 per gallon gas last year was not supply/demand, but speculation. "Goldman did it by persuading pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures — agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date." And why were they allowed to do this? The Commodity Futures Trading Commission "issued the bank a free pass, called the "Bona Fide Hedging" exemption, allowing Goldman's subsidiary to call itself a physical hedger and escape virtually all limits placed on speculators. In the years that followed, the commission would quietly issue 14 similar exemptions to other companies."

5) The Bail Out - Goldman gets money from tax payers (13 billion through AIG alone) and "pays back it's debt", a mere 14 million dollars, to the American people. Why so little? "According to Goldman's annual report, the low taxes are due in large part to changes in the bank's "geographic earnings mix." In other words, the bank moved its money around so that most of its earnings took place in foreign countries with low tax rates."

6) Future bubble yet to come - cap and trade, making money off carbon credits.

Obviously this does not read like much in my post, it's just a copy paste of the article, and you should really just go read the thing for yourself. I really hope you do...

Crazy Birther Lady

she and her lot have some serious issues....

Is it OK to paint from photographs?

Conundrum. Please advise. Is it ok? Or is it lame? I know that plenty of really shitty work comes from painting from photos (example here and here and here), but what if it turns out ok, like I think this one did? Do others do it? How can you tell? If not, how on Earth do they manage?

Stumbled upon a beautiful artist today (thanks to Life Spatula and Sadie Jernigan Valeri). Megan Roodenrys from Australia does primarily portraits. This one in particular, entitled "Theresa" caught my eye. I can't stop looking at it. But, did she just paint from the model? Or did she take photos? What do you think???

Update: a spirited discussion happens at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Note "
photograph plagiarizing hobbyists" comments and others.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter is So Lame

I mean in the movies, of course! I am a huge, ridiculously so, fan of the Harry Potter novels. It's fair to say that I've read each book at least ten times. And last night I went to see the latest movie, "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince". I think I am with most fans in that I liked the more faithful approach of the first two films (directed by Chris Columbus, screen play by Steve Kloves), I was befuddled by the darkness of the third film (directed by Alfonso Cuaron) and hated (and still do) the ridiculous portrayal of Dumbledore by Michael Gambon, who was brash, unpleasant, and spoke primarily in cheesy fortune cookie one-liners. I made my piece with the darker directing in "The Goblet of Fire" because let's face it, the books were getting darker too. Gambon was in rare form when he began snapping at students and even lunged at Harry at one point, shaking him violently while asking him a simple question. The fifth one and now this latest installment have been directed by a David Yates. I don't even remember much from "The Order of the Phoenix", though I am sure it bugged me in some way or another. But while the latest film is so fresh in my mind I shall make some points about it, all SPOILERS, so if you haven't read the books (and why on Earth not???) or haven't see the film yet, I would suggest you don't read ahead.

First and foremost Daniel Radcliff is a remarkably shitty actor. Sure he isn't very attractive, but that shouldn't be held against a person. He is just plain dull. Think Keanu Reeves and that cow in the headlights out to lunch blank stare. This brings me nicely to the part of the movie that irked me the most - the Harry-Ginny relationship, or rather lack thereof. Harry is supposedly pining for Ginny, and though I knew he was supposed to be (having read the book), I saw no hint of it in the movie until Hermione asks Harry how it feels to be wanting Ginny and not being able to have her. And then (!!!) Ginny kneels down and ties Harry's shoelaces. What!?! Who thought that was a good idea, unless it's supposed to be some kind of "while you are down there" reference. The two do finally share a little peck of a kiss in the Room of Requirements, initiated by Ginny, Harry standing there entirely unresponsive.

On the plot side, they entirely skipped over the speculation about Horcruxes being objects of importance to Riddle, without which I have no idea how Harry and the rest will figure out what objects to search for (the cup, the diadem, etc).

Minor pet peeves also include Harry not being bound by a spell while Dumbledore gets killed, but hiding out of sight (way out of character), and the random attack on and destruction of the Burrow.

Still, weirdly, I thought the movie was overall ok. They managed to cram most of the book in (unlike "Order of the Phoenix", which if I recall correctly was butchered mercilessly). And Ron and Hermione were brilliant, in all respects, including their more developed romance.

P.S. This was such a cute picture of the two of them I had to include it, even though it seems to be from the fourth movie, and I don't recall that scene at all. Perhaps it's photoshopped? Any ideas?

Update: The picture above was created by this person using a scene from "The Prince and Me". Good job!

Incidentally, why are there suddenly over a 1000 views on this post? Is it linked somewhere?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Awesome artist profile - Chris Jordan

I decided to start a new recurring series on this blog, profiling cool artists I stumble across. Today's awesome artist is Chris Jordan. His series "Running with Numbers I and II" bring statistics into perspective. For instance, did you know that two million plastic bottles are used the United States every five minutes? It is an astronomical number, impossible to fathom. And here they are:

Partial zoom:

And fully zoomed in, what you would see if you were looking at it in person (yes, this pictures is this huge, 60x120") :

Here is another one called "Prison Uniforms". It's measures 10 x 23 feet and depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of American incarcerated in 2005.

Full zoom:

"Cans Seurat", 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

Full zoom:

His 2009 work, "Gyre", is an 8x11 foot print that shows 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world's oceans every hour.

I encourage you to go to his website, and check out more of Jordan's work. Technically impressive, it is both awe inspiring and completely terrifying. I dare you to look at his plastic bag piece and not switch to reusable bags immediately (if you haven't already. And if you haven't, why on earth not????)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Comic of the Day

Pearls Before Swine does it again. They make me laugh...

Also, saw a little fan video of an old show called "Robin of Sherwood" and have to say, that Robin was dishy! Didn't hurt that the video was set to "I need a hero" which always puts me in a romantic mood. Here he is with some chick.

And finally I would like to direct your attention to a fun little website that has all these look-a-like pairs. Example:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I have been on a reading spree lately and there are two books I really want to write about. First, Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma", which was so fascinating and inspiring, I even committed it's message to canvas.

The thesis of the book is that the way in which our society obtains food is unsustainable and unhealthy, and though we as omnivore's are able to adapt to the lower quality of food, it does not mean we should. You may think the book preachy or one-sided, but it is so well researched, eloquent and frankly humorous, that I hope you'll give it a chance.

Pollan writes about four meals - what goes into them, what it took to obtain the ingredients, about the quality of the ingredients themselves, and the impact the meal has on our body (health, mind and spirit). The first meal is the "industrial" one. It begins with fields of corn, where the crop is grown in the usual unsustainable ways (monocrop, soil depletion, fertilizer runoff, pests and pesticides, etc). Machines do most of the work but the farmers don't make any money, because it costs more to produce the corn then what it's worth (the rest is made up by subsidies from the government so farmers can break even). Corn is then used to feed the lifestock, chickens, pigs, trukeys, sheep and even salmon and tilapia. Corn is processed into corn starch, corn oil, corn flour, as well as additives like lecithin, mon-, di-, and triglycerides, food coloring, and vitamins. Most of those things you see on your junk food label are derivatives of corn in one way or another.

Pollan also follows the production of beef in an industrial setting. Calves are born and raised for 6 months on independently owned ranches (complete with actual pastures). After they are weaned they spend several months learning to digest corn, at which point they are sold to feedlots to be fattened up. Some interesting problems arise when feeding corn to a cow. Apparently the high starch/low roughage of the corn makes belching difficult for the cows, causing a foamy slime to form in the rumen, which then inflates like a baloon. Corn is also more acidic then grass, causing the steers to have heartburn and ulcers, the acid eating away at the rumen wall, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. So they need antibiotics. The manure of these cattle is so rich in heavy metals and hormones they the can't be re-used as fertilizer, so they sit in ponds on the feedlot. Oh and of course they sleep on a bed of dried poop, which sticks to their hide and gets transfered to the beef during slaughter - hence food poisoning. The final first meal that Pollan and his family ate? McDonalds!

The second meal was industrial organic. Better for you perhaps because it does not contain pesticide or antibiotic/hormone residues, but problematic in other ways. Still monoculture where crops are concerned, still large scale but now using manure for fertilizer and plant derived "organic agents" as pesticide. Since the veggies are not sprayed to preserve them, they need to be packaged and/or prewashed with some bleach. "Organic free range chicken" is an interesting bird. To be organic it is fed organic feed, without drugs or cages. To avoid the use of drugs the birds stay in a shed until they are about five weeks old, at which point a door is opened to the outside courtyard (a small lawn) where they can but don't really go for the remaining two weeks of their lives, hence free range.

The third meal, and by far the most fascinating, is the small scale or "beyond" organic. For this he spent a week on Polyface Farm in Virginia, a family operation that is honestly beyond cool. First there is the pasture. It is so much more than just grass: orchard grass, fescue, clover, millet, bluegrass, plantain, timothy and sweet grass. The cows graze in their allotted space for the day, mowing the grass, while also stomping it with their hooves, which will allow new seeds to germinate, and leave their manure for fertilizer. They will not be returned to this same spot again until he grass has grown (but before it grows to much and hardens). Chickens follow a few days behind the cows, so when they arrive at the spot, maggots have filled the cow patties. The chickens scatter the manure in their search for the maggots, enrich the soil with their own nitrogen rich poop, and in the mean time get fed a plentiful meal they were designed for eating (which leads to some superior tasting meat and eggs, I am told). Turkeys live in the orchard, where they fertilize the trees and vines, eat the bugs and mow the grass. In the winter months cows live inside but their manure is left in place, covered with a fresh layer of wood chips or straw every few days and the whole thing rises at a rate of about a foot per month. A few bucketfuls of corn are also tossed into the mix. All winter long the bedding composts providing heat to warm the barn, and the corn ferments. Once spring arrives, several dozen pigs are brought in, who turn and aerate the compost (killing the pathogens) while looking for the fermented corn. Polyface slaughter their chickens themselves, in broad daylight for "sterilization", and it's open to the people who come to buy the meat in case they want to watch (or help out).

The final meal was hunted and gathered. It involved wild pig, mushrooms, berries and veggies from the family garden. It was also interesting but this post is getting to be WAY TOO LONG again. Sorry about that.

Just a few more interesting facts I learned from this book:
- Most of the carbon atoms in the American body comes from corn. Mexicans have far fewer corn originating carbons because they consider feeding corn to lifestock a big no-no.
- Corn is unable to reproduce without men because the seeds are trapped in the ear (behind the husk) and even if they do get through it, they will die of overcrowding (consider the number of seeds stuck together on an ear).
- After WWII the government had too much ammonium nitrate, main ingriedient in explosives. They considered spreading it on the national forests to help out the timber industry, but in the end they decided to market it as fertilizer.
- The reason corn fed beef is less healthy for us is because it is "marbled" with fat that would not normally be there, making it more rich in saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids.
- Chicken Nuggets contain the carcinogen dimethylpolysiloxene and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a form of lighter fluid for "freshness"

Final summary - for food that is good for you, good for the environment and less cruel (if you are into that), buy local organic, preferably from CSAs (community sponsored agriculture) or farmers markets. Yes it is more expensive, but that is because you are paying what the food is actually worth. Spend less money on something else. This is your health and our planet we are talking about! I make exception for the really poor, who are screwed the most by our current food system (though I find that I spend less money on food now that I don't buy meat and shop at a co-op, so go figure...)

To find local farms go to: (for animal products)

And now the art. Here we have a different kind of dilemma. My first attempt at this painting was really energetic and bold, but thusly less finished and frankly a bit of a mess. For the life of me I could not decide if I loved it or hated it. In the end I decided to tame it a bit, which makes for more pleasing but far less exciting work. I'll let you see both, the first now gone forever under layers of paint. Adieu!

First try:

Second try:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Uncomfortably numb

Last week was a sequence of tragedies. First I was brought to tears by the fate of those poor people on Air France flight 447. About half of them were Brazilians and I couldn't help but feel that it was a cruel blow, since some of these people had probably been saving their entire lives to go on this trip. To die in such a sudden and violent death, the only blessing is that they did not survive the crash and drown/been eaten by sharks. As a frequent flyer myself, a situation like this hits close to home. But not as close as the news I got on Wednesday that a woman from the lab next to mine was found murdered, her throat cut, probably by her husband of just a few months. There has been very little information forthcoming about why he did this, though some are speculating that psychological problems were involved (bipolar? drugs?) I don't even know if he has confessed, but he did get officially arrested. Apparently the cops found him Tuesday night in a parking lot covered in blood. They chased his car for some time until he crashed and then took him to the hospital to treat his "self inflicted wounds". After stopping by his apartment they found it on fire (deliberately set) and his wife missing. She was discovered just about 400 feet from the home by some joggers the next morning. It is a gruesome tale as it is, but the fact that I knew her, spoke with her, had lunch with her, it just seems surreal. Things like this do not happen in real life. They happen in movies and books, tv shows like CSI or Bones. I can still see her walking down the halls. I remember telling her she looked just like Julianne Moore...
I think I am so emotionally drained now that I can't even focus on the awful daycare fire news from Mexico. They mentioned this morning that frantic parents had driven their cars into the building to try and free the kids. The doors were padlocked, the windows to high for them to get out...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

DIY: Wedding Cake Topper

Husband and I got married three weeks after our "engagement". One thing I wish I could have done was a wedding cake topper that looked like us (have you ever noticed that the grooms NEVER have beards? I had to paint one on for him). So when it came time for my sister's wedding I offered to make a custom cake topper to look like the lovely couple. This took much more time and effort than I had imagined. I was lucky to find a friend of a friend who makes polymer clay dolls and who lend me some excellent books, including Katherine Dewey's "Creating Lifelike Figures in Polymer Clay" and Maureen Carlson's "Family and Friend's in Polymer Clay". Both good in their ways, Dewey's book much more life like and specific, Carlson's more playfool and less descriptive (in case you are looking for a review).

To demonstrate the scale I was working with, here are some eyeballs:

It is a good idea to make extras in case you loose them. I ended up using the ones without metal posts.

Next I made the heads. This took a really long time and I threw away quite a few of them before I figured out that I had to bake them with very new feature. Cheeks? Bake. Nose? Bake. Jaw? Bake. Eyelids. Bake. etc This way what you had been working so hard on did not get deformed by accident.

Then I added the torso. Same story, bake with every feature.

I made a whole in the woman's skirt to support the flowers. I also sheepishly added a hint of manhood to my future brother in law.

Here he is almost dressed.

My sister got some arms to hold the flowers. These came out really nice and had pretty fingers, which no one will be able to see.

Then my sister got a dress. I was very nervous about doing this because I had to match her actual wedding dress and because this was the most exciting part, in my opinion.

The last thing to be done were his arms and hands. Sadly I was so sick of these guys by now (over a month of almost daily work!!!) that when they didn't turn out so well I just didn't have it in me to fix them. So he is giant-hand-man. I did alter my sister's jaw line a bit at the last minute as you may be able to tell. I also painted them with acrylics to get rid of that slightly green color of the clay. The paint did not go on very smoothly, which was a disappointment to me. Nevertheless, I am pretty satisfied. They aren't perfect, nor do they look more than 70% like my sis and her fiance, but not bad for a first try.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Never a Dull Moment or Living with Husband

On my birthday I woke to find THIS in the bathroom:

It is a bucket, filled with water, sitting on a magnetic stirrer which is stirring the bubbling water while one of my nylons filled with manure hangs from a curtain rod. This is compost tea.

Our gardening plans are much more ambitious this year. We rent land from the university, $18 for about 500 square feet. This year we are renting three plots.

Husband converted our porch into a makeshift greenhouse, so seedlings were started indoors about two months ago.
Since the (hopefully) last frost was only yesterday, all our seedlings are still hanging out in our house. There is now very little room to maneuver.
You will notice, I think, a complete lack of cleanliness. While I initially tried to keep some kind of order in this household, I have since given up. I clean once a week, it is messy again within hours of me doing so. Oh and the Christmas tree is still up.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cigarettes, Red Square and the Himalayas

Notes on recent Russian trip.
April 4th, 2009.

Mom and I both woke up at insane-o'clock (3am, 5am, that sort of thing). My aunt and uncle both smoke, which creates something of a gas chamber effect in the apartment. Whether because of the smoke, the travel or the lack of sleep I had a massive headache all day (and for the next three days). Not like the air outside was particularly fresh either - car exhaust, smog and just dirt in the air. My first impression of my motherland - it smells.

First rays of sunshine over Moscow (and they were promising rain and snow. ha!)

Went to the State Historical Museum, which is located on the Red Square. Was very impressed by the depth and breadth of Russian history, but I really wish we had had someone with us who could have given us a bit of a tour. One cool thing that sticks out in my memory - some of the earliest examples of Cyrillic writing are still intact on birch bark of all things. Also cool was a huge globe in which lands that were not yet explored where left blank, so you would see the occasional unattached shore line and then white space.

Had lunch at a cafeteria type restaurant called Moo Moo. The place was decorated a bit like a log cabin, and had a lot of ambiance.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built on donations, destroyed by the Soviets and replaced with a giant public outdoor heating pool, rebuilt by the Russian.

Then the Roerich Museum. Renowned for his spiritual philosophies and explorations of Asia, his artwork is most memorable for the strong presence (or source) of Light.

Guests from Overseas, 1901

Watch on the Himalayas, 1925 (my favorite, but doesn't seem to reproduce well)

I actually really enjoyed the portraits done by his son, Svetoslav, but I am having a much harder time finding examples of his work online.

Pundit Neru, 1942

Young woman in yellow headdress, 1930