jeudi, juin 30, 2005

the so-called liberal media

I've always loved the truism that the media is only as liberal as the corporations who own it. And if you don't know what the Downing Street Memo is, it's probably not your fault, as it has gotten virtually no play in our media:

Via PlanetDan

mercredi, juin 29, 2005

v lives

No, not the cheesy eighties sci-fi miniseries. It's Vanoosheh's travel(b)log, with the latest from London.

$tarbucks giving away free ice cream today

It's hard to have a bad day when there's ice cream in your belly. So much the better if it's free.

Starbucks offers free ice cream
Attempt to boost sales of its own ice-cream flavor; follows other recent franchise giveaways.
June 29, 2005: 10:41 AM EDT
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp., whose sales growth has slowed in recent months, said Tuesday it would give away free ice cream at more than 6,000 of its U.S. coffee shops Wednesday afternoon.

Find the closest $tarbucks.

paris dispatch

This time last year, I was soaking up Paris like a sponge, spending my days in cafés and museums, learning about art history and improving my French.

My good friend Greg, who was on the trip with me last year, is there again. Here is a dispatch from mon ami:

Subject: It's hot in Paris
short sweet message since the keyboard is so different I can't type quickly.
hot here
I got a city of Paris library card for free internet access.
wine still cheap;
people friendly and beautiful
pix to come
love it here

mardi, juin 28, 2005

right on, eh!

While W. is busy peddling hate (he's stated that he wants to ban same-sex marriage nationwide), Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin recently took a stand for equal rights for all Canadians.

Canada just became the third country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Netherlands and Belgium are the only other two nations that allow gay marriage nationwide.

Bill grants same-sex couples same legal rights as heterosexual couples
Canada’s House of Commons passed landmark legislation Tuesday to legalize gay marriage, granting same-sex couples legal rights equal to those in traditional unions between a man and a woman.

The bill passed as expected, despite opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders. The legislation drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority Liberal Party government was also expected to easily pass the Senate and become federal law by the end of July.

Martin praised Tuesday’s vote as a necessary step for human rights.

“We are a nation of minorities,” Martin said. “And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don’t cherry-pick rights.”

There are an estimated 34,000 gay and lesbian couples in Canada, according to government statistics. Before the measure passed, gay marriage was legal in seven provinces.

caution: may be habit-forming

I woke up this morning singing the refrain from a beautiful song by Suede (aka London Suede). Thanks, H.

"Still Life"
This still life is all I ever do
There by the window quietly killed for you
In the glass house my insect life
Crawling the walls under electric lights

I’ll go into the night, into the night
She and I into the night

Is this still life all I’m good for too?
There by the window quietly killed for you
And they drive by like insects do
They think they don’t know me
They hired a car for you

To go into the night, into the night
She and I into the night

And this still life is all I ever do
There by the window quietly killed for you
And this still life is all I ever do
But it’s still, still life
But it’s still, still life
But it’s still, still life

how to make a holy relic

I love science. And the irrational way in which humanity clings to its beliefs despite all evidence to the contrary.
New Doubt over Turin Shroud's Origins
A French magazine has carried out experiments that again cast doubt on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, believed by some Christians to be their religion's holiest relic.

"A medieval technique helped us to make a Shroud," Science et Vie (Science and Life) said in its July issue.

The Shroud is claimed by its defenders to be the cloth in which the body of Jesus Christ was wrapped after his crucifixion.

The experiments, said Science et Vie, answer several claims made by the pro-Shroud camp, which says the marks could not have been painted onto the cloth.

lundi, juin 27, 2005

a perfect sunday

Sleeping in
Spending the morning at Harry's
Getting beer wheat crust at Pizza Port
Antiquing along Cedros
Listening to Fly and hearing "Scandinavia" for the first time
Eating gelato in dappled shade
Enjoying a drink at Shakespeare's
Trying three new things (anchovies, Guinness, and Stella Artois) and learning that I haven't been missing anything
Giving Casey a good scratch
Doing laundry
Taking Harry home
Watching "Sex and the City" before getting to bed at a reasonable hour


"Fear can make you do more wrong than hate or jealousy. If you're afraid, you don't commit yourself to life completely; fear makes you always, always hold something back."
- Philip K. Dick , 1928-1982, American writer, "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said," 1974

why I don't camp

Grizzly kills couple at Alaska campsite: Authorities kill bear after ‘predatory act’ in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Two people camping along the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were killed by a grizzly bear, officials said Sunday.

Officials discovered the bodies and an unused firearm in a tent Saturday at a campsite near the river. They also shot and killed the animal.

The couple, whose names were not released, was believed to be in their late 50s or early 60s, North Slope Borough police said. They were from Anchorage and had been on a recreational rafting trip down the river, Alaska State Troopers said.

The victims were in their tent when the attack occurred, according to Tim DeSpain, spokesman for Alaska State Troopers.

The campsite was clean, with food stored in bear-proof containers.

“The initial scene indicates that it was a predatory act by the bear,” DeSpain said.

dimanche, juin 26, 2005

why do birds sing so gay?

Why do fools fall in love? and other philosophical and scientific dilemmas derived from the lyrics of popular music, answered by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

In 1956 Frankie Lymon, aged only 13, sang 'Why do Fools Fall in Love? He wanted an answer to this question, but instead he got a Top 10 hit and became the first black artist to sell a million records. All Frankie really wanted was for someone to shed some light on this and the other perplexing questions he raised in the song. Why do birds sing so gay? Why do lovers await the break of day? Why does the rain fall from up above? Why do fools fall in love? By the age of 20, clearly frustrated by not getting any answers, Frankie had ended up a washed-up has-been whose only gigs were nostalgia shows. Seven years later he died of a drugs overdose.

Frankie was only the first in a line of performers who, in doing covers of his song, vainly attempted to get to the bottom of these conundrums. Like Frankie, they were so upset that no one was prepared to sit them down and go through some basic explanations, that they felt the need to stand in front of tens of thousands and belt the questions out at the top of his voices. Are the birds singing to attract a mate or is it more a case of them demarcating their territory? wondered The Beach Boys when they did a cover in 1964. Why does the moisture in the air just decide to form into drops and fall as rain? And what the fuck are clouds? pondered Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Unbelievably, as late as 1981, Diana Ross was still asking if there was anyone out there who knew if the reason young lovers were eager for daybreak was so they could once again gaze deep into each other's eyes and see the passion that would drive the procreation of their genes and hence their immortality. Diana Ross ended up with a huge chart hit with the cover and with it an equally huge financial success. But did she get any answer as to why fools fall in love? No she didn't.

Whilst I am tragically too late for poor Frankie Lymon, I want to help the others by finally providing some serious answers.

samedi, juin 25, 2005

goodbye free speech and privacy rights

W. and his cronies have just tried to ban all online adult photos and images under the guise of protecting children. The insidious bit is that they tried to do an end-run around the judiciary, which is currently considering the matter. Essentially, it would give the Bush Administration and its allies in the religious right powerful legal and rhetorical tools to silence Web sites and media outlets it finds offensive. The irony: the law they've implemented doesn't actually meet its stated purpose, protecting children.

The law threatens Web sites that show adult photos and images in retail offerings, personal ads or other member-generated content, as well as the porn industry in general. It originated in 1988 with a government mandate to stamp out child pornography. That legislation, nicknamed the "Traci Lords Act," was aimed at producers of sexually explicit videos and films, and was designed to protect minors like Ms. Lords from exploitation by requiring those producers to maintain files with government IDs of all performers -- and to make those files available for federal government inspection.

On May 24, 2005, Gonzales tried an end run around the 10th Circuit, reissuing the regulations and giving sites only until June 23, 2005 to comply.

Essentially, your ability to exchange material that could potentially be considered sexually explicit by the Department of Justice would be crippled, and along with it, your rights to privacy and free speech.

Because of the danger of selective enforcement of these regulations, many fear that the current cultural and political climate -- with such a widespread movement against the so-called "homosexual agenda" by religious groups -- provides the current administration with a convenient tool to go after LGBT freedoms first.

The case continues on September 7, 2005.
Via Rick

vendredi, juin 24, 2005

gone to the dogs

Alas, my own poochums is not at work with me today. I suspect he's fast asleep on the couch, chasing bunnies.

Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day and the sponsor of the event, Pet Sitters International, estimates that as many as 10,000 companies in the United States and Canada will open their doors to employees' dogs.

Now in its seventh year, the event is designed to let employees demonstrate the value of their four-legged friends, and encourage those without pets to adopt from shelters, rescue groups and humane societies.

According to the U.S. Humane Society, there are 65 million dogs in 39 percent of American households. Although they offer no figures, advocates say that allowing pets in the workplace is a growing trend because their presence can be beneficial to the company as well as employees and animals.

“It was very popular in the late '90s,” said Len Kain, co-founder of, which publishes pet travel guides. “It kind of died down after the tech industry bust, but now it’s coming back.”

Kain said that more companies are looking into dog-friendly policies because they improve staff morale and camaraderie and encourage employees to work longer hours. “People will stay longer if they don’t have to leave to let their dog out,” he said.

jeudi, juin 23, 2005

that's a pisser

Sheep Urine Enlisted to Fight Pollution
A bus operator in Britain is road-testing sheep urine as a way of cutting pollution.
Stagecoach has fitted a tank to a bus in Winchester, southern England, which sprays urine into the exhaust fumes to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, the Guardian newspaper reported.

portuguese gangsters gone wild

This story about gangs robbing beachgoers near Lisbon was interesting.

On a sunny national holiday, scores of beachgoers were stretched out in the sands at Portugal's Carcavelos beach, when like a swarm of locusts some 500 youths descended on the relaxed crowd, stirring up panic as they robbed the stunned bathers.

Not a pretty postcard for Portuguese tourism.

But that was the scene Friday at the beach 15 kilometers (10 miles) west of Lisbon, according to police. The images flashed on Portuguese television of tensions at the normally tranquil beaches stirred concern about the social tensions in Lisbon's poor suburbs.

The youths, from 12 to 20 years old, were apparently second-generation immigrants who organized into gangs, according to initial police reports.

taming the dragon

Toastmasters speech (Taming the Dragon) originally given on June 23, 2005
Award: Most improved speaker

"Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth … tame the dragon and the gift is yours." - Noela Evans

Until last week, I had no interest whatsoever in dragons. In fact, the only dragon I'd ever heard of was the Komodo Dragon. After hearing this quote, I saw a travel special in Asia on an airline called DragonAir. Then, I saw a story about medieval manuscripts with dragons on them currently on display in France.

At that point, I starting doing some research on the monster that appears in so many cultures.

While investigating this topic, I asked what dragons are and what they symbolize. I found the answers varied across cultures, often in surprising ways.

Let's take a moment and have you tell me what comes to mind when you hear the word "dragon."

A predatory mélange
David Jones, author of Instinct for Dragons, argues that dragons are a mix of the three great predators of primates in prehistoric time: the feline, the serpent, and the predatory bird. Jones contends that aspects of these three greatest threats were combined into one great fearsome beast - the dragon.

For thousands of years, the symbol of a dragon has been used to strike fear into the hearts of man.

Persian soldiers would often drive into battle behind immense dragon figures to frighten their opposition.

The vikings also used dragons to scare their enemies. When sailing and terrorizing much of Europe's northern coastline and major rivers, they moved in boats. They would carve the prows of their ships in the shape of dragons. Imagine being a villager in the early morning, when the mist and fog was rising from the river and seeing a dragon gliding silently over the water. Then, to your horror, fierce warriors would pour off the dragon and plunder your town before disappearing back into the night. It's no wonder that dragons were synonymous with death and destruction and that they were so hated and feared in Northern and Western Europe.

Dragon cred.
Dragons were also used by peoples and dynasties to legitimize their political and social power:
  • The N. Iroquois and Central Algonquian Indians claim to be descendants
    of the great serpent and dragon.
  • The story of Alexander the Great includes an interesting detail: that his mother, Olympias, conceived him with the god Zeus disguised as a dragon.
  • In the British Isles, the leaders of clans were called Dragons and their kings were Pendragons (i.e., the Pendragon Cycle - The Story of King Arthur). In this sense, to slay a king or clan leader was to slay a dragon.
The church as dragonslayer
By the Middle Ages, the Christian church portrayed the dragon as a symbol of evil. The Bible describes the archangel Saint Michael fighting the dragon in the sky during the apocalypse.

Saint George, the patron saint of England, is said to have killed a dragon. But by this time, the dragon no longer symbolized malevolence, but paganism, which the Christian soldier eradicates, becoming a martyr in the process.

And don't forget Saint Margaret. Her story goes something like this: The Roman Governor Olybrius saw her and fell in love with her. He was ready to marry her, until he found out that she was a Christian. In characteristic Roman treatment of Christians at the time, Olybrius tortured Margaret and flung her into prison. While in prison she prayed to the Lord to make visible to her the fiend that had fought with her. Then, poof, a horrible dragon appeared and attacked her. The dragon swallowed her whole and while in its stomach she made the sign of the cross which caused the dragon to burst and she came out of his body unharmed.

But the dragon is also seen as a protector by the Christian church. It is used on the outsides of cathedrals, helmets, and shields to give strength and courage to warriors. Dragons and other stylized reptiles were also used to decorate arms and jewellery in Europe.

East vs. West
Let's move away from Europe and consider another view of dragons. If I were to ask the same question of an audience in Asia, we'd have a very different flipchart. That's because when we move from West to East, the image of the dragon changes. But dragons aren't universally feared. In fact, dragons are loved in certain cultures. The fact is that the Chinese and the Japanese are especially fond of dragons.

In China, dragons are generally thought of as peaceful and lucky. Dragons have been accepted by the Chinese people, who love, revere, and (most of all) respect them for their awesome wisdom and power. Dragons are said to control the waters and rain, help with fertility, and their justice is swift. They are a sign of good luck and happiness and are used in processions to mark the New Year.

In Japan, where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are an ever-present threat, the dragon is a more ambivalent figure, a protector and representation of the anger of the earth. The dragon is a creature of the sky and the earth and unites the fundamental constituents of the universe: fire, water, sky and earth. And the Emperor Hirohito even traced his ancestry over 125 generations back to the Dragon King's daughter.

Shift your perspective
So I'll ask you again, what are dragons? Do you believe in the European view of dragons as fierce, malevolent creatures? Or do you prefer the Eastern perspective, where a dragon is a powerful, wise, and fair creature?

Consider the quote in front of you again: "Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth … tame the dragon and the gift is yours." I dare to use the Eastern perspective as you seek to tame the challenges (or if you will, the dragons) of your own life.

mercredi, juin 22, 2005

pickled brains

While doing some research for work today, I stumbled across this interesting information. Sadly, the collection is not actually online.

The Cornell Brain Collection
Seventy human brains preserved in glass jars, including 14 brains of prominent people and 12 brains of less known or infamous people. Believed to be the first collection of its kind in the United States.
I want to know the names of the people whose brains are pickled and on display — especially the infamous ones.

chasing away the predators

Yesterday, Kevin told me the amazing story of how lions chased away men who had abducted an Ethiopian girl and beaten her severely, ostensibly as a prelude to marriage. Call me a cultural imperialist, but there's nothing redeeming about this practice. Then again, these are the same folks who practice clitoridectomy and female genital mutilation.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Police say three lions rescued a 12-year-old girl kidnapped by men who wanted to force her into marriage, chasing off her abductors and guarding her until police and relatives tracked her down in a remote corner of Ethiopia.

The men had held the girl for seven days, repeatedly beating her, before the lions chased them away and guarded her for half a day before her family and police found her, Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo said Tuesday by telephone from the provincial capital of Bita Genet, some 560 kilometers (348 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

"They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest," Wondimu said, adding he did not know whether the lions were male or female.

News of the June 9 rescue was slow to filter out from Kefa Zone in southwestern Ethiopia.

"If the lions had not come to her rescue then it could have been much worse. Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force them to accept the marriage," he said.

"Everyone ... thinks this is some kind of miracle, because normally the lions would attack people," Wondimu said.

Stuart Williams, a wildlife expert with the rural development ministry, said that it was likely that the young girl was saved because she was crying from the trauma of her attack.

"A young girl whimpering could be mistaken for the mewing sound from a lion cub, which in turn could explain why they (the lions) didn't eat her," Williams said. "Otherwise they probably would have done."

The girl, the youngest of four brothers and sisters, was "shocked and terrified" and had to be treated for the cuts from her beatings, Wondimu said.

He said that police had caught four of the men, but were still looking for three others.

In Ethiopia, kidnapping has long been part of the marriage custom, a tradition of sorrow and violence whose origins are murky.

The United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia are by abduction, practiced in rural areas where the majority of the country's 71 million people live.

Ethiopia's lions, famous for their large black manes, are the country's national symbol and adorn statues and the local currency. Former emperor Haile Selassie kept a pride in the royal palace in Addis Ababa.

Despite their integral place in Ethiopia culture, their numbers have been falling, according to experts, as farmers encroach on bush land.

Hunters also kill the animals for their skins, which can fetch $1,000, despite a recent crackdown against illegal animal trading across the country. Williams said that at most only 1,000 Ethiopian lions remain in the wild.

mardi, juin 21, 2005

justice, 41 years later

Edgar Ray Killen, the 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klan member, was charged with masterminding the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Today, he was found guilty of manslaughter.
Forty-one years to the day after three civil rights workers were beaten and shot to death, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman was found guilty of manslaughter Tuesday in a trial that marked Mississippi's latest attempt to atone for its bloodstained, racist past.

I just don't understand how one creates a "culture of life" that's worth living when you're against love, women's rights, and health.

But that's exactly what W. is peddling to the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. Oh, and he's just called for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The president’s address to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention — the fourth year in a row he has spoken to the conservative evangelical gathering — was crafted to rally the social religious conservatives who make up a crucial part of Bush’s governing coalition. He restated his commitment to issues dear to conservatives’ hearts, notably his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and research on human embryonic stem cells — a stance he calls the "culture of life."

“We will continue to build a culture of life in America, and America will be better off for it,” Bush said by satellite hookup from the White House.

the 11-year-old wife

This New York Times Op-Ed piece got my knickers in a fierce twist this morning.

Published: June 21, 2005
When Pakistan's prime minister visits next month, President Bush will presumably use the occasion to repeat his praise for President Pervez Musharraf as a bold leader "dedicated in the protection of his own people." Then they will sit down and discuss Mr. Bush's plan to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

But here's a suggestion: How about the White House dropping word that before the prime minister arrives, he first return the passport of Mukhtaran Bibi, the rape victim turned human-rights campaigner, so that she can visit the United States?

Despite Mr. Bush's praise, General Musharraf shows more commitment to his F-16's than to his people. Now he's paying the price. Visiting New Zealand the last few days, he was battered by questions about why he persecuted a rape victim, forcing him to cancel interviews.

Pakistani newspapers savaged him for harming Pakistan's image. And the blogosphere has taken up Ms. Mukhtaran's case, with more than 100 blogs stirring netizens to send blizzards of e-mails to Pakistani consulates or to join protests planned for Wednesday and Thursday at Pakistani offices in New York and Washington.

Yet it's crucial to remember that Ms. Mukhtaran is only a window into a much larger problem - the neglect by General Musharraf's government of the plight of women and girls.

Early this year, for example, a doctor named Shazia Khalid reported that she had been gang-raped in a government-owned natural-gas plant. Instead of treating her medically, officials drugged her into unconsciousness for three days to keep her quiet and then shipped her to a psychiatric hospital.

When she persisted in trying to report the rape, she was held under house arrest in Karachi. The police suggested that since she had cash, she must have been working as a prostitute. Dr. Shazia's husband has stood by her, but his grandfather was quoted as suggesting that Dr. Shazia had disgraced the family and should be killed.

On average, a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, and two women a day die in honor killings.

While Ms. Mukhtaran and Dr. Shazia have attracted international support, most victims in Pakistan are on their own. Earlier this year, for example, police reported that a village council had punished a man for having an affair by ordering his 2-year-old niece to be given in marriage to a 40-year-old man.

In another case this year, an 11-year-girl named Nazan was rescued from her husband's family, which beat her, broke her arm and strung her from the ceiling because she didn't work hard enough.

Then there are Pakistan's hudood laws, which have been used to imprison thousands of women who report rapes. If rape victims cannot provide four male witnesses to the crime, they risk being whipped for adultery, since they acknowledge illicit sex and cannot prove rape.

When a group of middle-class Pakistani women demonstrated last month for equal rights in Lahore, police clubbed them and dragged them to police stations. They particularly targeted Asma Jahangir, a U.N. special rapporteur who is also the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Ms. Jahangir says the directions to the police about her, coming from an intelligence official close to General Musharraf, were: "Teach the [expletive] a lesson. Strip her in public." Sure enough, the police ripped her shirt off and tried to pull her trousers off. If that's how General Musharraf's government treats one of the country's most distinguished lawyers, imagine what happens to a peasant challenging injustice.

I've heard from Pakistanis who, while horrified by honor killings and rapes, are embarrassed that it is the barbarism in Pakistan that gets headlines abroad. A word to those people: I understand your defensiveness, for we Americans feel the same about Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. But rooting out brutality is a better strategy than covering it up, and any nation should be proud to produce someone like Ms. Mukhtaran.

So while meeting the Pakistani prime minister, Mr. Bush could discuss not only F-16's, but also repeal of the hudood laws. And Mr. Bush could invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office as well, both to hail a genuine Pakistani hero and to spotlight the goals of ordinary Pakistanis - not fighter aircraft but simple justice.

For more information about some of these issues, including the planned demonstrations outside Pakistani offices this week, see That's on the Web site of the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women, run by a group of Pakistani doctors, and it's also the group that is arranging her visit to the U.S. To help Mukhtaran, don't send checks to me. Instead, you can find out about contributing at .
To find out more about repealing hudood ordinances, go to the
Lawyers for Human Rights & Legal Aid Web site and There is also a blogosphere's campaign for Mukhtaran.

lundi, juin 20, 2005

no more blondes

Some scientists are claiming that the recessive gene which produces blonde hair is disappearing from the population.

The last natural blondes will die out within 200 years, scientists believe. A
study by experts in Germany suggests people with blonde hair are an endangered
species and will become extinct by 2202. Researchers predict the last truly
natural blonde will be born in Finland - the country with the highest proportion
of blondes. But they say too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last
beyond the next two centuries.

The researchers blame “bottle blondes,” which fool blonde-attracted males into mating with them, disadvantaging the natural blondes.



"It's not what you are, but what you don't become that hurts."
- Oscar Levant, 1906-1972, Actor, composer and pianist

dimanche, juin 19, 2005

the one-kidney club

While most people can live a normal life with one healthy kidney, a radical nephrectomy is no fun.

I had one nearly two years ago. It was months before I was feeling like myself, and I still have some nerve damage and am not quite as flexible on my right side as I was before. I had no choice but to have the procedure -- cancer was eating away at my kidney and threatened to do the same to the rest of my body.

These folks had a choice and that is why this story is so remarkable: The one-kidney club — five members have given an organ; another waits in the wings.

jeudi, juin 16, 2005


"He specializes in terrorism. How happy can he be?"
-Sandra Millers Younger, writer (and my colleague)

how to lose 60 iq points

Toastmasters speech (How to Lose 60 IQ Points) originally given on June 16, 2005
Award: Most improved speaker

Have you have ever tried to learn a foreign language?
Or travelled to a country where English is not the official language?

These are two situations where opportunities for miscommunication are rampant, and where I have had to accept that I sound less than intelligent.

I'm fortunate enough to have visited fourteen countries. Each time I go abroad, I try to learn enough of the local language to say "hello" and "goodbye," "please" and "thank you," "restroom," and "how much does this cost?" It's my own way of learning more about the culture and doing my best to counteract the well-founded stereotype of the Ugly American. I have found that people are nicer to me if I make an effort to be polite in their language. I've also discovered that I am prone to miscommunication when I interact with Italians and the French.

Ordering, Italian style
Here's one example that happened five years ago in Italy. I was warned ahead of time that (while it is possible to use sign language to get what I needed,) I ought to be careful about how I used certain gestures. With that in mind, I made an effort to use my phrasebook and not have to "resort" to gestures. But one night at dinner, the words on the menu were nowhere in my phrasebook — if I wanted to know what I was ordering before it was served to me, I would have to actually try and communicate with the waiter.

I said "Scuzi, parla anglais o spagnolo?" And he said "No, parla portoghese?" I said "No, parlez français?" He said no and asked me if I spoke German. Finally, I just started pointing at the word I didn't understand on the menu, saying "no capito." ("I don't understand.") He made the sign of a large, round animal and snorted. I realized that the word must have meant pig or boar and said "no" and pointed to another item on the menu. The waiter drew himself up tall and used his index fingers to make horns and pawed the ground with his right foot. When I pointed to the next item, he made the sign of a bird flapping its wings. I said "si, grazie!" and my companion said "due, per favore." The matter was settled and all of us had a big laugh together.

After using a phrasebook for four weeks in Italy, I decided that I would learn some French before visiting France. I already speak two languages pretty fluently (English and Spanish). And for the last three years, I've been studying French. I can now speak some really killer 'Franglais' (French + English), but I often lapse into 'Spench' (a weird combination of Spanish and French).

I have to admit that I'm a reasonably self-confident woman and I consider myself an excellent communicator. That is, until I open my mouth to speak French in front of a native speaker. The fact is, I know enough French to have a conversation with a second grader.

Putting myself on the menu
Last Saturday night, I was on a date at an art gallery. At the gallery, my date (Harry) introduced me to an acquaintance named Sandy. It turned out that Sandy and her friend Barbara are French. After a few minutes of conversation in English, Harry made a comment about me practicing my French. I nodded "yes" but continued in English. At that point, Barbara said "Parlez-vous français?" And I responded "Oui, je parle un petit peu." ("I speak a little French.") She asked if I'd been to France, and I replied "Je suis allée en France deux fois l'annee dernier et j'ai habité à Paris par un mois." ("I went to France twice last year and lived in Paris for a month.") At that point, I was rescued by Harry, who speaks no French and who steered the conversation back to English. Things continued that way until I stepped away to use the restroom.

When I came back, I jumped into the conversation mid-sentence, just in time to sound like a moron. The conversation was about bare midriffs and backs. In my haste to clarify what that meant for the French speakers, I lapsed into Spench. Thinking of the Spanish words for kidneys (los riñónes), I referred to les reignones and gestured to the small of my back, near my kidneys.

At this point, the two Frenchwomen, who had barely cracked a smile all evening long, burst into laughter so hard that they were nearly crying. Barbara and Sandy both doubled over, cackling loudly at my gaffe. Sandy choked out an explanation between gasps: "You, how you say, used a word for food."

My cheeks burned with humiliation as I realized that I had referred to my body as something that would be ordered on a menu, like chicken livers.

Going underground
There are also times when I know enough French to fool a native speaker into thinking I'm actually competent in her language. On my first day in Paris, I was looking for the metro and stopped to ask a Parisienne for directions. When I asked "Où est le métro?" she pointed downward, as if to say "don't you know that the metro is underground?"

I was embarassed and at that point, I clarified and asked "Où est le plus proche arrêt du métro?" ("Where's the closest metro stop?") She paused, then rattled off rapid-fire directions. I only understood the first six words words out of her mouth, something about two lefts and a right. But I smiled, thanked her, and walked away. Needless to say, I got lost on the way to the stop. But my pride was intact.

All of these miscommunications resulted in me feeling like I'd lost about 60 IQ points. In the first instance, words failed me completely but I still was able to order dinner. In the second, I overestimated my verbal abilities and literally served myself up for criticism. And in the last, the person speaking to me was far too generous in her assessment of my language skills. But in the end, I'm willing to sound like a redneck toddler for the sake of goodwill between cultures. Frankly, it's the smart thing to do.

mercredi, juin 15, 2005

in the dark

I usually detest lightbulb jokes. But the last line of this one just makes me smile.

Q: How many Bush administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are a delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?
Via moriseylvr

mardi, juin 14, 2005

passport, please

These are places I've visited. It only adds up to 14 countries, or 6% of the countries in the world. So much for being well-traveled. I really need to step up my travel plans.

These are the 12 states (23% of the U.S.) to which I've been. I've only included states where I've left the airport and of which I have a meaningful recollection. (Which means I left out the cross-country drive my parents and I made from the east coast to California when we moved here from Spain.)

Create your own visited countries or visited states map.

Via Diana

justicia for the desaparecidos?

30,000 people disappeared during Argentina's 1976-83 military rule in a crackdown on students, intellectuals, leftist dissidents, and innocent bystanders.

The country hasn't healed, because the perpetrators of the crimes have not been brought to justice and most of the victim’s families have never recovered the bodies of their loved ones.

But today, the Argentine court struck down amnesty laws, a bold first step toward justice:
Argentina's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that laws granting amnesty for atrocities committed during the so-called Dirty War are unconstitutional, opening the possibility that hundreds of people could be brought back to court.

In a 7-1 vote, with one abstention, the Supreme Court struck down laws passed in 1986 forbidding charges involved in the disappearances, torture and other crimes, a court spokesman told The Associated Press.

Some 3,000 officers, about 300 of whom are still serving in the armed forces, could be called for questioning, according to human rights groups, which estimated that up to 400 of them could face new charges.

The ruling came in the case of Julio Simon, a former police officer accused in the disappearance of Jose Poblete and Gertrudis Hlaczik, and of his taking their daughter, Claudia Poblete, as his own.

lundi, juin 13, 2005


"A witty woman is a treasure; a witty beauty is a power."
- George Meredith, 1828-1909, English Victorian poet and novelist whose novels are noted for their wit, brilliant dialogue, and aphoristic quality of language.

in search of bling

It costs a bit to see the King — 30 dollars to be precise.

But he's in town (well at LACMA) until November 15. I'm thinking that it's probably worth the drive and the duckets to see Tutankhamun & Golden Age of Pharaohs. While there, I hope to take in the André Kertész photo exhibit, which by all accounts is wonderful.

dimanche, juin 12, 2005

unfinished business

Let's hope that this time, justice is served.
The bodies of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner were discovered by FBI agents near Philadelphia, Miss., on Aug. 4, 1964. The three men, civil rights workers who came south to register African Americans to vote, were shot to death sometime on June 21. Their Ford station wagon was torched and their bodies were bulldozed 17 feet under an earthen dam.

But for civil rights activists of long standing, and for a brother of one of the murdered men, the forthcoming trial of the principal suspect in the crime is unfinished business for America.

On Monday, in what’s thought to be one of the last pursuits of justice postponed from the civil rights era, the trial of 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen begins in Philadelphia with jury selection.

apparently, hell hath frozen over

Pink Floyd to reform for Live 8 concert: July 2 show will be first time band has been together since '81

the downing street memo

One more thing you won't hear a word about in the mainstream American press.

More than two years after the start of the Iraq War, Americans are just learning that our government was dead set on invasion, even while it claimed to be pursuing diplomacy.
Via Laura

recipe for a great weekend

1 wonderful guy
1 cup fresh berries
2 slices pound cake
1 Cape Cod
1 glass beaujolais
2 slices Woodstock's pizza
2 hours art and conversation
1 glass red wine
1 Malibu and pineapple juice
20 minutes dancing
3 of the guy's friends
1 'Christine's Favorite' breakfast scramble at Brians' Diner
3 sips Diet Rite
1 three-piece fish and chips order
2 sips organic vanilla créme soda
7 glasses water

Garnish liberally with music and intelligent conversation. And back scratching.

week in review

Sunday: Thai food at Harry's.
Monday: Dao Son and jewelrymaking with Marta.
Tuesday: Des Paris Peeps (Becki, Trevor, the Rollins boys, and Ian) and the Padres game.
Wednesday: Cass and living with intent.
Thursday: Dinner and beating the pants off of ksanti (and Laura) at Boggle.
Friday: Dinner and shopping with Renee.
Saturday: Limbo and the Sports Club.

vendredi, juin 10, 2005

consider this

Straight from Renee's lips:
"I mean, no really, I've never been considerate in my relationships."

i heart david sedaris

Check out his latest essay, in the New Yorker:
Were the plane to lose altitude and the only way to stay aloft was to push one person out the emergency exit, I now felt certain that the flight attendant would select Becky rather than me. I pictured her clinging to the door frame, her hair blown so hard it was starting to fall out. “But my husband—” she’d cry. Then I would step forward saying, “Hey, I’ve been to Raleigh before. Take me instead.” Becky would see that I am not the asshole she mistook me for, and in that instant she would lose her grip, and be sucked into space.
Via Rick

mardi, juin 07, 2005

here's to you, mrs. robinson

Anne Bancroft dies of uterine cancer at age 73
Anne Bancroft won the 1962 best actress Oscar as the teacher of a young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," but achieved greater fame as a seductive mother in 1967's "The Graduate."

She died of uterine cancer on Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital, John Barlow, a spokesman for her husband, Mel Brooks, said Tuesday.


It's not too late to get your hands on this fun, government-issued license plate that proclaims your disdain for our current President. Bidding ends 12-Jun-05 21:11:22. EDT
An actual government issued Anti Bush item. How rare is that? This is an original license plate accidentally issued by the State of Washington.

I had this plate on my car for 4 months before receiving a letter from the DOL informing me that they determined my plate to be "Offensive to good taste and decency."

This is a used plate but in excellent condition. No scratches or dents. It is a one of a kind. Well, actually 2 of a kind. I'm keeping the other one. You can have either the front one pictured, or the rear plate with the actual tabs so you have proof that it is an authentic, state issued plate.

This plate has changed my life. I receive comments all day long while driving around town. Usually it's either a middle finger or a thumbs up. (My own personal "up or down" vote)

I feel like KRAMER driving around with his ASSMAN plates.

I've had people wanting their pictures taken beside the plate, had interesting conversations at gas stations, many waves and horn toots. It's been a blast.
Via moriseylvr

t-h-e a-m-e-r-i-c-a-n d-r-e-a-m

I loved Spellbound, and grabbed the paper last Friday when I saw that a kid from Poway won the national spelling bee. I also noticed that he appeared to be Indian. Now there's this interesting article in the New York Times on that very topic:
Striving in America, and in the Spelling Bee

By JOSEPH BERGER, Published: June 5, 2005

For many American contestants, the most uncommon words at last week's national spelling bee were not appoggiatura and onychophagy, but the names of the top four finishers: Anurag Kashyap, Aliya Deri, Samir Patel and Rajiv Tarigopula. All were of Indian ancestry.

In recent years, descendants of Indian immigrants - less than 1 percent of the population - have dominated this contest, snatching first place in five of the past seven years, and making up more than 30 of the 273 contestants this year.

Behind those statistics lies a beguiling story, not just of immigrant pluck, but of a craze that seems to have swept through the Indian-American community.

Excellence in a number of fields has always had a cultural tinge - consider the prevalence of Dominicans in baseball, Jews in violin playing, Kenyans in long-distance running. In 1985, when a 13-year-old son of Indian immigrants, Balu Natarajan, beat out his competitors by spelling "milieu," it had an electrifying impact on his countrymen, much as Juan Marichal's conquest of baseball had for Dominicans. Balu not only became an overnight Indian sensation, one whose name resonates 20 years later, but other Indian-Americans have tried to emulate his feat.

Certainly, immigrant strivers have always done astonishingly well in national academic contests, not to mention in school in general. In some years, more than a quarter of the 40 winners in the Intel Science Talent Search, known originally as the Westinghouse awards, have been immigrants or their children.

Interviews with those winners, many who are the children of seamstresses or small-time shopkeepers, reveal that to bring the glow of accomplishment into their parents' spare lives, they will sacrifice television viewing and socializing to work on agonizingly slow and complicated experiments.

But Indians brought to spelling mastery some particular advantages, said Madhulika S. Khandelwal, an Indian immigrant who directs the Asian American Center at Queens College. Their parents or grandparents were usually educated, often as scientists or engineers; their parents generally spoke English and appreciated the springboard powers of education.

Unlike many American children who are schooled in sometimes amorphous whole-language approaches to reading and writing, Indians are comfortable with the rote-learning methods of their homeland, the kind needed to master lists of obscure words that easily stump spell-checker programs. They do not regard champion spellers as nerds.

By 1993, the North South Foundation, based outside of Chicago and devoted to making sure Indians here do as well in English as in math, set up a parallel universe of spelling bees. Now 60 chapters around the country hold such contests, according to its founder, Ratnam Chitturi.

They become a minor-league training ground for the major league 80-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was started by The Louisville Courier-Journal as a way to promote "general interest among pupils in a dull subject."

The enthusiasm has spread. There are now chat rooms and blogs where Indians discuss spelling. Stories about the contests are featured prominently in community newspapers.

"When you see a kid spelling correctly, there was the excitement that he was representing all of us," said Arun Venugopal, a reporter for the newspaper India Abroad who has written about the spelling bees.

Indian families throw themselves in fevered fashion behind their youngsters, drilling them on esoteric words and etymologies, Greek and Latin roots, as well as from spelling lists provided on the Scripps Web site. In doing so, they are as single-minded as other American parents, who have been known to help their fledgling gymnasts, tennis players and singers.

The 2003 documentary "Spellbound," about the 1999 national spelling bee, offered its own example of pushy kin. The father of one Indian contestant, Neil, mentions that a relative back home in India has hired a thousand people to chant prayers during the bee and promised to provide meals for 5,000 if Neil should win.

Mr. Natarajan, the 1985 winner and now a 33-year-old doctor of sports medicine, described the contest as a "a bridge between that which is Indian and that which is American," and it may be that the example of Neil's father is a bridge too far.

But overall, Mr. Natarajan said, the Indian record on spelling bees "gives the community quite a bit of confidence that we can do well here, much like other ethnicities pursuing the American dream."
Via Laura

lundi, juin 06, 2005

thinking about the last twenty-four hours

"What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens."
- Benjamin Disraeli , 1804-1881, English politician and author, "Henrietta Temple," bk. 2, ch. 4

re: her recent engagement

... and purchase of her first home — "I owe it all to Bootyfood."

dimanche, juin 05, 2005

gay gene in fruit flies

This new study on genetics determining sexuality is very interesting. If the same is true for humans, then it will make it harder for homophobic laws to stay on the books. It may also mean that certain folks want to screen out any fetuses that are gay, but as miriku puts it, "in this case most people who are anti-gay happen to be anti-abortion and [anti-]research as well" so maybe that won't happen. Of course, it's only a matter of time before Fred Phelps and his nutjob minions condemn the Drosophila, too.

I'm wondering if fruit fly sexuality is an either/ or proposition, i.e., you're a Kinsey 0 or a Kinsey 6. It will be interesting to see if they can correlate behavior (kinda hard to know what makes a fruit fly bi) back to a Kinsey 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
The long-running scientific debate about whether homosexuality is determined by nature or nurture is dramatically closer to resolution after new scientific evidence was published yesterday.

Biotechnologists have found evidence that sexuality is, after all, determined by genes and not environment. Researchers discovered a single "switch gene" that swaps the sexual orientation of males and females.

In the research, published yesterday, genetically altered male fruit flies spurned females and became attracted to other males. Genetically altered females engaged in complex male mating rituals, vibrating their wings, licking other female flies' genitalia and curling their backs ready for copulation. They rebuffed males that tried to mate with them.

The heated debate about the nature of gay sexual orientation has divided opinion for decades, with many gay men and women saying that they were born homosexual. Anti-homosexual activists say that gay sexual orientation is learnt and can be "cured" with psychological help.

The paper's lead author, Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, said: "We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behaviour," he said. "It's very surprising."

Dr Michael Weiss, chairman of biochemistry at Ohio University, was as surprised at the findings. "It seems that none of us chooses our sexuality. It just happens. The results are so clean and compelling, the whole field of the genetic roots of behaviour is moved forward tremendously by this work," he said.

"Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."
Via miriku

samedi, juin 04, 2005

visible earth

Check out this collection of images from NASA. I've always loved the "Earth's city lights" one.

gettin' hitched

Chad and Denisse -- I'm not saying where you should get married, just that you might want to check these pictures out before you finalize any wedding plans in California. And you could even leave the ceremony on a Vespa!

everyone's a (dia)critic

I love the irony of using umlauts to make things sound "tougher" when, in fact, their presence means to pronounce the vowel "lighter" than usual.

A heavy metal umlaut is an umlaut over a letter in the name of a heavy metal band. The use of umlauts and other diacritics with a blackletter style typeface is a form of foreign branding intended to give a band's logo a Germanic or Nordic "toughness". It is a form of marketing that invokes stereotypes of boldness and strength commonly attributed to peoples such as the Vikings. The heavy metal umlaut is never referred to by the term diaeresis in this usage, nor does it affect the pronunciation of the band's name.

Heavy metal umlauts have been parodied in film and fiction. David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) in the film This Is Spinal Tap opined, "It's like a pair of eyes. You're looking at the umlaut, and it's looking at you." In 2002, Spin magazine referred to the heavy metal umlaut as "the diacritical mark of the beast".

The German word Umlaut roughly means sound change, as it is composed of um- (a prefix often used with verbs involving "change") and Laut, meaning "sound". Adding an umlaut indeed changes the pronunciation of a vowel in standard (non-Heavy-Metal) usage; the letters u and ü represent distinct sounds, as do o vs. öa vs. ä. Umlauts are used in several languages, such as Icelandic, German, Swedish, Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish. The sounds represented by the umlauted letters in these languages are typically front vowels (front rounded vowels in the case of ü and ö). Ironically, these sounds tend to be perceived as "weaker" or "lighter" than the vowels represented by un-umlautted u, o, and a, thus failing to create the intended impression of strength and darkness.
Via Matt

what a beautiful world

It's an extreme(ly) frightening makeover. A photo atlas released by the United Nations Environment Program shows our impact on the planet, from major deforestation to urban sprawl:
The devastating impact of mankind on the planet is dramatically illustrated in pictures published on Saturday showing explosive urban sprawl, major deforestation and the sucking dry of inland seas over less than three decades.

"If there is one message from this atlas it is that we are all part of this. We can all make a difference," U.N. expert Kaveh Zahedi told reporters at the launch of the "One Planet Many People" atlas on the eve of World Environment Day.

Page after page of the 300-page book illustrate in before-and-after pictures from space the disfigurement of the face of the planet wrought by human activities.
Via Matt and CNN

potter plot revealed?

Bookmakers fear part of the plot of the next Harry Potter novel has been leaked.

A betting website has been inundated with bets on the death of Hogwarts' head teacher Dumbledore - all from the town where the book is being printed. The bets were refused by one chain of bookmakers which claimed it was "obvious" the manuscript had been read.

vendredi, juin 03, 2005

your ad here

Apparently, you can buy everything on E-bay. Including ad space on a hobo.
Via moriseylvr

mark your calendars

In conjunction with National Donut Day on 3 June 2005, participating Krispy Kreme stores throughout the U.S. will be celebrating by offering customers a free donut of their choice.

For those of you who eat donuts, this is fantastic news:
National Donut Day was established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to raise much-needed funds during the Great Depression and to honor the work of World War I Salvation Army volunteers who prepared donuts for thousands of soldiers. National Donut Day is celebrated annually on the first Friday in June.

"National Doughnut Day is a perfect time for us to give a little something back to our loyal customers throughout the country," said Stan Parker, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Krispy Kreme. "It's also a great opportunity to build awareness and acknowledge the continued good work of the Salvation Army."
Via InvertedMan

jeudi, juin 02, 2005

tie a yellow ribbon

Via ksanti

top this

When Diana and Ophira had their commitment ceremony last year, they couldn't find a cake topper with two women on it that they liked. So they opted for a super-cool topper: Cat Woman and Wonder Woman.

They bid on vintage figurines on E-bay, and got them in the mail. Then, things took an interesting turn when their dog Shiri chewed Cat Woman all to hell. (I have to admit that although I was sad Shiri had wrecked a vintage figurine and really upset Diana, I found the irony of a dog detroying Cat Woman hilarious.)

But everything worked out okay. They got a Lara Croft doll to fill in for the Cat Woman instead.

I wonder if they would've used these racially/ gender changeable cake toppers if they had been available.

toxins may cause diseases in later generations

Reason #489 to pay attention to the crap that's being put into our environment:
Toxic chemicals that poisoned your grandparents, or even great-grandparents, may also affect your health, U.S. researchers suggested Thursday.

A study in rats shows the effects of certain toxic chemicals were passed on for four generations of males.

The finding, published in the journal Science, suggests that toxins may play a role in inherited diseases now blamed on genetic mutations.

When these male offspring were mated with females that had not been exposed to the toxins, 90 percent of the new male offspring had similar problems. The effect held for a fourth generation.

mercredi, juin 01, 2005

night of the living alias cliches

Cass and I watched the last three episodes of Alias season four tonight.

We were both pretty much done watching the series, given the Days of Our Alias / As the Alias Turns / General Alias / One Alias to Live tone of the double episode. By the finale, we'd had just about enough of the Night of the Living Alias theme (complete with ZombieNadia) and both announced that this would be the last season we watched.

Then, the last 4 seconds sucked us right back in.

Without spoiling anything, all I have to say is: WTF?!!

david p. henry travel photography

My friend Cristina turned me on to a photographer named David P. Henry. Some of his travel photography is just gorgeous.