Saturday, July 31, 2010

Scarves and Knives

Today's HuffingtonPost had a fluff piece on a gushing writer's Paris visit and her adventures trying to buy a 150 Euro scarf(!!!). The knives were out in the comments on her badly spelled French, while others turned equally gushy at the Frenchness of the story, which excused any 'dramatic license' claimed by the author.
"It is considerably unfortunate that your editor lets you publish an article so full of spelling mistakes. I know it’s French but someone, somewhere should be able to verify it. You’ve managed to make at least one mistake per sentence. Whatever Internet translation tool you’ve used was not suited for professional work.
Sloppy, sloppy work."
 The author's response:
"I beg to differ with you, Mademoiselle. It would have been ever so easy for me to use an Internet translation. I make a point in the piece that I can get by speaking French, but barely...and that my French grammar stinks. The piece would not be an honest representation of my experience if I appeared to be fluent when writing in French. I chose to write it as I speak it. Consider it dramatic license. And thank you for taking the time to read my post."

Only, Madame (or Mlle. as the case may be) isn't aware that the French ladies don't seem to wear scarves any more. It's the foreign tourists who go gaga over the gorgeous scarves and shell out insane amounts of money for a silly piece of fabric.
Unless, of course, like me (The Queen of Miserlia), they purchase the 3 scarves for 10 Euros deal at the souvenir hunter's paradise near Pont St.Michel.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The BPA Drumbeat goes on....

BPA 101 for those who haven't heard of it : Bisphenol-A is a known endocrine disruptor that can behave in a manner resembling natural estrogen, and is already rife in the bodies of most people in the developed world. Main routes of exposure so far are the ubiquitous plastics that we use, canned food (linings of the can).

Now, the Environmental Working Group has identified a new source of more BPA exposure: the humble cash receipt that we receive at every store and gas station, or at least 40% of them. 

"The plastic component bisphenol A (BPA) has been in the headlines nonstop as scientists, health experts and consumers press for a federal ban on food packaging made with this synthetic estrogen, shown to leach readily into infant formula, beverages and canned food. But most Americans are probably unaware that they are regularly exposed to the same endocrine-disrupting chemical in cash register receipts.
Two-fifths of the paper receipts tested by a major laboratory commissioned by Environmental Working Group were on heat-activated paper that was between 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight. Wipe tests conducted with a damp laboratory paper easily picked up a portion of the receipts' BPA coating, indicating that the chemical would likely stick to the skin of anyone who handled them. The receipts came from major retailers, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, post offices and automatic teller machines (ATMs)."

I did a mini-test on all the receipts piling up on my desk (Oh the joys of unfettered consumerism!). All of them discolored on rubbing the paper with a coin. Ergo, all of them contained fair amounts of BPA.

Luckily, skin does provide a decent barrier for BPA. Or maybe not, if you are fond of using alcohol based cleaners/lotions, since that enhances the absorption of the BPA into the skin layers.
A more likely route may be hand to mouth, as in eating immediately after having contacted a receipt, or handled stuff jumbled together in with receipts in your handbag, or receipts thrown in with the merchandise you just bought.

The average consumer's exposure may not be that high, but for the workers who man the cash registers (Ka-ching) day in and day out, one can only hope that the employers will do the right thing and stop using those kinds of papers for the cash registers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Butterfly and Bunny

I walked out to take pictures of the roses the other day, and who should I spy, but a lovely butterfly perching on the coneflowers. Here it is, the tiger swallowtail, posing gracefully while I clicked as close to it as I could, without scaring it away.
A day later, I saw he/she had brought a friend, they danced a short ballet over the coneflowers, before flying away into the neighbor's bushes.

Another time, as I stepped out to get the mail, I saw this bunny, peering intently at my roses. Maybe it had come to evaluate the edibility factor of the bright flowers. It decided to run away when I tried moving closer to get a better shot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Purple(not) Coneflowers

It's mid-summer, and the coneflowers are finally in bloom. Or should I say, in varying stages of bloom. A few mornings ago, I went out to take my usual macro shots of the beauties, and this time achieved a paint-like effect in photographing all of them, without much trouble or effort at all. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer's for Movies

A few weeks ago, M, S, a friend and I headed out to see the last Toy Story on the big screen. We dutifully bought our large bucket of popcorn, over-priced sodas, put on our 3D glasses and sat back to enjoy an engaging tale with the much-loved protagonists now moving into a final and fitting end to their days as Andy's toys, as Andy leaves his home and childhood behind for the challenges of college.
There are fewer large screens with 'stadium seating' and more smaller boxy theatres which can pack twice as many theaters in less space. Luckily, the cinema we went to had one of the larger screens, well worth the price of admission. Nothing like chillin' in the air-conditioned darkness, while the sun blazes in a relentless heat wave outside.
The next (non-popcorn, this was directly after lunch) movie we attempted was the much-maligned "The Last Airbender". My kids and I loved the TV series, which runs in endless loops on Nickelodeon, admiring the spunk and humor of the Americanized pseudo-Asian anime-inspired characters Aang, Katara and Sokka. We opted for the 2D version, since most critics had lambasted the 3-D as detracting majorly from their experience. This ended up being a mother-daughter outing- M sitting with me, while S chose to walk in later with a friend of his, sitting one row and several seats to our right.
My verdict: The movie wasn't great, but it wasn't as terrible as the critics made it out to be.
It had already garnered tons of bad press for its choice of casting (non-Asian to play the lead roles, actors of Indian extraction in a 'villainous' role, not enough Asians, too many Caucasians, not enough Inuits, too many Indians, too few African Americans, too many African Americans, including one playing a monk.... the head spins over the different permutations and combinations.)
The next line of attack was that the moviemakers mangled the series into an incomprehensible collage of expository set pieces. (Ouch, it hurt my head to write that line. This is supposed to be a popcorn movie after all, not a Seven Samurai style cinematic masterpiece. Or was it?) In this case, I suppose, the filmmaker is guilty as charged.
But isn't the book always better than the movie (or the extended series running over several hours on TV)? I hated the shortened movie version of Pride and Prejudice compared with the several-hour long BBC epic. Naturally, one captures all the dialog while the other is reduced to soundbites and precious minutes of staging scenery.  Airbender suffers from the same approach.
The scenery is gorgeous, the  production values were quite fantastic. If only the scripting and acting had been better.

M's verdict :" I give it a C- or 3 out of 5 stars. Because they left out the Kiyoshi warriors. How could they do such a stupid thing!"

S's verdict: "It was Terrible! Only the effects made it tolerable."

Next up, may be Despicable Me. We've been seeing the previews for that for the last six months, every time we visited the theater.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Garden Ruminations

It feels as though it has been summer for a long time now, even though summer officially started only a couple of weeks ago. The garden is behaving as though it is mid-summer, except for the vegetables, which are surprisingly small this year.
I've been going on a flower/perennial binge, installing pink and blue salvia, gaillardia, tickweed and roses, in the hopes that they will take root and flourish in the clayey topsoil that surrounds the house. The flowers are still very pretty, as you can see from the photos. The roses are yet to bloom, since I purchased the ones with lots of buds, in hopes of having them bloom soon after. That is, if the deer don't get them.
Yesterday as we sat watching the TV, S pointed outdoors in great excitement. I ran to the window to see a startled young buck with barely-there antlers come to investigate the newly planted tea roses. I promptly opened the sliding door, to see the buck gallop off to join a doe and a fawn near the cherry tree, munching sedately on the shoots at its base. They watched me for a few minutes before deciding to stalk off to the neighbor's backyard.
The lavender and the sweet pea have taken off like the thistles, blooming crazily since about the end of May. The bumblebees hover around them all day, even sleeping on the underside of the occasional bud. I swear I saw one, motionless under a coneflower bud, as I went out to get the newspaper. I was tempted to shake the flower and give it 'rude awakening', but thought the better of it. By midmorning, the bumblebee was gone, probably buzzing off to the profusion of clover that lines the curb in our wild, unpesticided lawn.
The astilbe put out a single pale pink flower, beautiful, but brief-lived. It looks like a dried out mini-pine tree now, and I will have to wait till next year to catch it in its glory days.
The vegetables are pitiful caricatures of the lush growth that I've usually seen by this time in earlier years. Is the soil poorer, or is the combination of heat and intermittent thunderstorms doing something to them, could it be the dreaded 'early blight' which routed last year's garden tomatoes?
Maybe, I will just have to be patient and wait for another month. The tomatoes are sickly, but the beans seem to be healthy, albeit small. It's probably too much to ask of old seeds from 2 seasons ago to perform like the latest crop of 'Grown for 2010 season' that I was too miserly to purchase.
The Battle of Terminator Thistlenation is on again, this season. I've been keeping up with the occasional weeding, but there are still a few determined ones which have exceeded the 4 foot mark and cannot be easily pulled out. I will have to resort to heavy duty cutters to take those out. There is still an astounding large patch of thistles that have taken up residence around my coreopsis, red yarrow and Russian sage, quite overpowering them.
Now, another new scourge to deal with. Poison oak seems to have made its home under one of our pine trees. The plants are still quite small, but I'm sure the 'poison' packs a powerful punch, after seeing the rashes on M who came in unfortunate contact 3 weeks ago at her school playground on Field Day.  Her skin still gets itchy at nights,even as the rash fades, despite the regular applications of cortisone cream.These things always take a while to heal. All the more reason for me to don surgical glove, long sleeved tops and pull the baby poison oak plants out for disposal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


All of a sudden, they're all over the news.
Ever since House Minority Leader John Boehner opined in an interview:

"Boehner criticized the financial regulatory overhaul compromise reached last week between House and Senate negotiators as an overreaction to the financial crisis that triggered the recession. The bill would tighten restrictions on lending, create a consumer protection agency with broad oversight power and give the government an orderly way to dissolve the largest financial institutions if they run out of money.
"This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Boehner said. What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

And was promptly pounced on by no less than President Obama:
"Obama struck out at Boehner (R-Ohio) during a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis., for saying the Wall Street reform bill was akin to using a nuclear weapon to kill an ant.

"That’s right. He compared the financial crisis to an ant," Obama said, according to prepared remarks. "The same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes and their lives' savings."

Coincidentally, or maybe not, S had made a claymation film three days ago. It was titled "The Ants", about a tiny man character who sees mini-soldiers tinier than him rolling a ball with great diligence and thoughtlessly crushes them underfoot. A short moment later, as he plays with a large boulder, he is crushed in turn by a large foot. (No ants were involved or injured during this filming.)

The next day was when the Anthology of Ant references started.

But S is definitely proving to be a psychic of sorts predicting the next keyword of the day. I can't wait to see what the next film and news cycle bring.