I found this street puppeteer at the mall in Arica, Chile. Enjoy!
April 30, 2013
April 27, 2013
But don’t worry; I’ll get around to it!
April 18, 2013
I still get emails from change.org, even though they banned me a long time ago. Sometimes their petitions amuse me. Sometimes I actually agree with them. I did find the following petition rather curious:
My name is Nicholas Coppola. I’m a Catholic. And I’m gay. For more than 5 years, this wasn’t a problem. I taught Sunday school; I helped people grieve at funerals; I served Communion; I gave readings at Mass. Members of my parish knew that I was gay, and they accepted me.
Then after a Mass in January, I was told that, at the direction of my Bishop, I was no longer welcome to help with or volunteer in the church in any way. Just because I had married my partner, David.
But Cardinal Timothy Dolan — the highest ranking Catholic in America — recently spoke out to say that the Church needs to do better at listening to and supporting gay people. I don’t want to turn my back on the community I love, so I’m inviting Cardinal Dolan to break bread with my family and set an example for other Catholic leaders — including my Bishop — that they must be tolerant and accepting of gay families.
I started a petition on Change.org asking Cardinal Timothy Dolan to break bread with my family so that he can see we’re just like any other American Catholics, and shouldn’t be excluded from helping the Church. Click here to sign my petition.
I first came to the Catholic Church after an injury prevented me from continuing my job as a construction worker. Participating in the ministries at St. Anthony’s gave my life a purpose and connected me to an incredibly caring community.
I have always been open and honest about my relationship with my now-husband David, and many of our church’s parishioners even attended our wedding. Just the other day, an elderly woman came over and sat by me during Mass. She held my hand the entire time.
I’m 47, and I’d like to think I have pretty thick skin. But what if I was 15 years old and still questioning who I was? What if I saw the church treating others this way, or worse, what if I was publicly rejected by my faith community? That’s why I felt like I needed to speak out, for those young people, and with the help of GLAAD, I’m doing that with my petition.
As for the Catholic church, I’m certain that if enough change.org members sign a petition, it will abandon its belief in the Bible and embrace sexual diversity instead. In the face of all those signatures, God will surely change his mind – and so should the Catholics. If they don’t do so willingly, we can always have an inquisition, right?
But in all seriousness, perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I was under the impression that religion is supposed to be about believing, not about democracy or consensus. Last time I checked, Christianity (including Catholicism) placed a lot of emphasis on the Bible, even to the point of believing it – at least in theory. The Bible is very clear on what it thinks of homosexual relations. In the book of Leviticus, such relations are described as an “abomination.”
I don’t think that homosexuals are that way by choice and I’m fairly certain that most religious people would not condemn a person for having those urges. But there’s a big difference between having those urges and acting upon them. And then there’s another big difference between acting upon them and actually sanctifying such a union. It’s almost as if a Jew were to complain that his synagogue rejected him because he opened a restaurant next door that specialized in pig products. I don’t blame the Catholic church for kicking him out. I would suggest that Mr. Cappola join a Buddhist temple. Or perhaps he can found his own religion.
April 17, 2013
As sugar has been phased out of chewing gum, various artificial sweeteners have moved in to take its place. Each sweetener has its proponents and foes, but the most controversial of all seems to be Aspartame. Depending on who you believe, Aspartame “has been found to be safe for human consumption” or responsible for “degenerative diseases and neurological afflictions“.
Clouding the issue is the fact that proponents of Aspartame have a lot of money and power. It also seems suspicious that Aspartame use has so proliferated among sugarless gums that it’s difficult to find any sugarless gum, at regular retail outlets, that does not list it among its ingredients. I have watched, with concern, as Aspartame-free sugarless gums have dwindled over the years. I used to be able to buy any number of Orbit sugarless gums that did not include Aspartame. Now, every single Orbit flavor has the sweetener.
Wrigley owns Orbit and I submitted my query via their website. I asked why all of their flavors now include Aspartame. This was their response:
Thanks for asking about aspartame used in Wrigley products. We understand the importance of ensuring the ingredients in the food you eat are safe, and can assure you that food safety is one of Wrigley’s top priorities.
Wrigley uses the high intensity sweetener, aspartame, in a number of our products – both as the primary sweetener in some of our sugar free brands and as a flavor enhancer in some of our sugar sweetened brands. As an ingredient, aspartame is beneficial because it provides an especially long lasting flavor. Because of its intense sweetening power (aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar), it is used in very low amounts in foods and beverages, and only a miniscule amount is needed to enhance the flavor of chewing gum. For example, it would take approximately 40 sticks of Doublemint® to equal the amount of aspartame in one can of diet soda.
Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener made of two amino acids – phenylalanine and aspartic acid – that occur naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, grains and dairy products. The two amino acids are linked together by a methyl ester group that is also found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
Aspartame is quickly and completely metabolized in the body, just like any other protein. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into three components – aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol – that are then used by the body in the same way as those found in foods that are eaten every day. In fact, these components are found in much greater amounts in many common foods. For example, a glass of tomato juice provides 6 times as much methanol as an equal amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame.
Since 1967, aspartame’s safety has been documented in more than 200 objective scientific studies. These extensive studies – often involving amounts of aspartame many times higher than individuals could possibly consume in their everyday diet – have been reviewed by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association, Canada’s Health Protection Branch, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Foods, and by the experts of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization. In fact, over the past two years, health authorities in the European Union, United Kingdom, France, and Canada have conducted detailed reviews of aspartame and re-confirmed its safety.
All of these groups, as well as the regulatory authorities in more than 100 countries, have found aspartame to be safe for use as a sweetener in food and beverages. Its safety has been confirmed overwhelmingly by all scientific evidence accumulated over the course of the past 37 years of testing. Of course, each and every ingredient used in Wrigley products is in full compliance with local food and health regulations.
It should be noted that a very small percentage of the population – 1 in 15,000 or approximately 0.007% – has a rare inherited disease known as Phenylketonuria (PKU) that prevents their bodies from properly handling phenylalanine. People with PKU are placed on a special diet with a severe restriction of phenylalanine from birth to adolescence or after so that they get just enough for proper growth and not too much as to cause adverse effects. Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional source of phenylalanine, aspartame-containing foods must carry a statement on the label “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine” in the U.S.
To find out more about aspartame visit www.aboutaspartame.com and www.caloriecontrol.org. These websites also include sections addressing misinformation and unfounded allegations about aspartame safety that periodically surface in the media and on the Internet.
We hope this information has been helpful. For additional questions or more information about Wrigley, please visit www.wrigley.com or contact us at any time at 1-800-WRIGLEY (9744539) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.
Consumer Care Representative
Still a bit skeptical, a golden opportunity arrived: My local grocery store was having a “buy two get one free” sale on this gum! Not only that, but the same store also had a Trident cinnamon gum without Aspartame. So I bought a couple of Orbit cinnamon gum (with Aspartame) and a couple of Trident cinnamon gum (that uses Xylitol instead). I would conduct my own unscientific test.
Which would have the best flavor and which would last the longest?
Today I have the results. The Trident/Xylitol gum’s flavor lasted only about five or six minutes. Toward the end of that period, there was a slightly bitter aftertaste. However, it started with a great burst of flavor that was superior to that of Orbit.
The Orbit/Aspartame gum’s flavor lasted around 13 minutes. It was much less intense at the beginning and more uniform throughout that period. There was no bitter aftertaste. When the flavor ran out, there was no taste at all.
In conclusion, if you’re averse to ingesting Aspartame, only plan on chewing your gum for five minutes or relish the initial burst of flavor, go with Trident. If long-lasting flavor, or no aftertaste, is important to you, and you don’t mind ingesting Apartame, go with Orbit.
Now you know which one is right to carry.
April 1, 2013
I’m in the habit of preparing well for my vacations, especially when it comes to safeguarding my money and making sure I can use it. To this end I put together a plan. I would have two prepaid debit cards. One would be on my person at all times while the other would remain at the hostel, in a safe if possible. I would load funds onto the cards as I needed them, a few days in advance and never very much. I confirmed that there would be no problems using my cards in Peru and that, if one was lost or stolen, I could easily notify the bank and have the funds transferred back to my bank account or to the other card.
My online research told me that American Express had the best prepaid debit card. There would be no extra fees and no monthly charge. When I called them, they assured me there would be no problems using the card in Peru and that I would have the flexibility I desired.
But when I got the cards, I was unable to load funds onto them from my bank account using their website. I notified them of the problem and it took them almost two weeks to get it working. Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time and it was fixed well before my departure.
Or so I thought. A few days after arriving in Peru I tried to load funds onto one of the cards – and got an error message that my account could not be verified. I could only call them during business hours, and even then I was getting tech support from what appeared to be India. They weren’t much help. Each time I called (3 times if memory serves me right), I was told the problem was fixed and that I should try again in a little while. Sure enough, the error persisted. I called again and demanded to speak to a supervisor. He told me everything was working fine and there should be no problem. That the funds had been loaded onto the card. From my experience in the U.S. I knew that if this were the case, my bank account should show a pending withdrawal. It did not. I informed him of this and was told that this is not always the case. I was told to be patient and wait a few days. According to their website, it can take up to 5 business days. Those 5 days elapsed and the money still wasn’t there. The following morning, steaming mad, I called again (each call had to be made from an internet cafe’). This time the Indians told me they’d load the funds themselves. In the end, the funds did show up – about a week and a half later.
When I returned home, I wanted to unload the money back into my bank account, something I was originally told could be done. Now it turns out it cannot be done. Had the cards been lost or stolen, the only thing they could have done was to send me a new card. Where would they have sent it to when I was traveling around Peru?
I normally don’t like advising against an option unless I have a better one to suggest. At this point, I think the best option is to carry one or two regular debit/credit cards with you and some cash safely hidden. American Express has proven itself to be technically incompetent, ignorant (or misleading) of its own policies and careless with its customers. It might be that American Express is less willing to spend money and resources on its prepaid services since those customers typically have less means or influence than their regular customers.
March 27, 2013
One of the highlights of my Peru vacation was my visit to the Larco Museum in Lima. It is a private museum and houses the largest collection of pre-columbian art in the world. It’s unusual in that visitors have access not only to the regular exhibits but also to the storage area, home to over 40,000 artifacts. While photography is allowed, flash photography is not – and much of the museum is kept quite dark. This makes it difficult to get good photos, especially through the security glass and when the objects are higher up near the ceiling.
I’ve always been a fan of Moche (also “Mochica”) art. The Moches appear to have practiced just about every abomination known to mankind. Human sacrifice, slavery, torture and probably an assortment of sexual perversions. Here’s an explanation of Moche human sacrifice found at the museum:
But, in my opinion, the skill and imagination evident in much of their art rivals that of any other civilization. Here are a few samples of the hundreds of photos that I took.
Some of them look like they have some Egyptian influence, some look Polynesian and yet others seem to depict negroes (except for the large ears). One or two seem to show something like dinosaurs. The erotic collection is especially unusual; various animals are shown copulating and many of the humans are clearly corpses. Some would say it’s the stuff of nightmares. I got the impression that some of the ideas were inspired through drugs.
When we think of Peru, the Incas come to mind. But they were only the latest of a long series of civilizations that inhabited that area. From the far north, through the mountains and deserts of the south ruins, mummies and petroglyphs are found. Not far from where I stayed, in Mira Flores, is a very large complex of ruins called Huaca Pucllana.
While quite impressive considering its antiquity, Huaca Pucllana pales in comparison to such attractions as Machu Picchu or the Nasca Lines. I would say it’s comparable to the Great Zimbabwe (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) in Africa but it’s much older. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if comparable ruins of the same age had been found in sub-Saharan Africa. Would an entire country be named after it? Would “Huaca Pucllana” be as famous as Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza?
What astounded me the most in Peru was the Inca stonework in Machu Picchu and Cusco. How much work went into this? It’s hard to say.
That’s it for now folks!
March 17, 2013
I’ve been toiling obsessively over the photos I took in Peru. They number in the thousands and some of them are destined to grace the pages of this blog. Also, I’m still fighting the cold I got over there. Those are my excuses for not posting in a while. But don’t worry. There will be new posts soon enough.
I won’t be making it to this year’s American Renaissance conference. It’s all because of money. More precisely, not enough of it. Perhaps if I’d known about the upcoming conference, I wouldn’t have made such ambitious plans for my vacation.
March 13, 2013
Before leaving for Peru I’d read numerous reports of highway bandits, kidnappings, robbers and camera-snatchers. I was concerned enough to have devised a special strap for my camera, to insure my valuables and even get pants with special hard-to-pick pockets.
In the end, most of the time I was there I felt no more threatened than in Portland. There were a couple of exceptions: Some parts of Iquitos made me uneasy and I definitely passed through some ultra-seedy parts of Lima to and from the airport. Also, while near Machu Picchu, an older couple told me that their daughter had gone missing. They were on the same tour as I was and they asked if I’d seen their daughter during the past few hours. I hadn’t and I never did find out how that ended. A combination of apathy and dishonesty means you cannot assume appointments will be kept in Peru. You shouldn’t trust anyone until/unless you get to know him.
But there were several instances where shopkeepers could easily have shortchanged me – and they didn’t. There were times when I dropped/forgot items and they were duly returned to me. People walk around with cameras all the time, natives and tourists alike, and I didn’t see anybody lurking in the shadows to snatch them. Passersby are eager to help strangers in distress and I’m convinced that 9 times out of 10, those who purchase those pathetic packets of gum from street vendors do so not because they want the gum, but because they want to help the vendor and allow him to keep his pride at the same time. This was certainly the case with me. The gum is awful, but I couldn’t turn down those pleading eyes – and one Sole is about 40 cents. It’s so easy for an American tourist to make a poor Peruvian’s day that much brighter.
I hope to stay in touch with the new friends I made over there, some of them Peruvians and others fellow travelers. Even the briefest encounters can be meaningful – like the British girl I met at the Lima hostel. I had just arrived, not one minute earlier, and she burst into the room clearly distraught. She proclaimed that a 16 year-old girl had been stabbed to death by a black man right near where she lived. She had to catch a bus in a few minutes, but during that short time we had a lively conversation about the sad state of affairs in Britain and the Western world as a whole. I gave her the link to this blog.
Then there was the playwright and his wife, who sat next to me in the airplane back to Lima from Tacna. He reminded me of a long-lost uncle. They didn’t know where they were going to sleep that night in Lima, so they ended up staying at the same hostel I was at. We stayed up late, with some other travelers, talking and singing. The following morning, they let me have some of their delicious (and famous) Arequipa cheese. It was very good.
The young lady from Tacna who sat next to me in the Sacred Valley tour bus. Her English was good enough to explain what was being said by the guide, who spoke only Spanish and Quechua. I was going to tour the south of the country anyway, so I chose to start in Tacna and visit her at the same time. She was kind enough to visit Chile with me and show me around. She also got me to eat some of the local cuisine that I otherwise would never have tried. We concluded with shots of Pisco. Perhaps I’ll write about Pisco some other time. I did buy a duty-free bottle of it to take home. So if you suddenly notice rampant spelling errors etc. you’ll know why.
I’m at the airport awaiting my flight home and my battery is running low. So that’s it for now.
March 7, 2013
As I sit in my hotel room in Mollendo, I think back to my nights in the Amazon jungle. One of the highlights of my Peru trip, that I had been looking forward to, was to listen to the sounds of the jungle. Though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, the denizens of the jungle make themselves abundantly heard at night. It was like an ongoing orchestra: Insects, frogs, monkeys, birds and various mammals all pitched in. It’s quite soothing, especially since I didn’t have to worry about one of them coming to eat me.
But now I’m in a city, albeit not a very large one. The sounds coming through the window are not soothing. I estimate that roughly 90% of them are car-related. In the third world, people use their horns liberally. They use it for legitimate purposes, but also to express anger, to draw attention to themselves, to vent frustration or for no apparent reason at all. Signs in major Peruvian cities instruct drivers to keep quiet. This helps a little. Not enough in my opinion. I remember, while living in Israel, that it was said “Israeli drivers use their horns instead of their breaks.” I think this is probably true of all Mideastern countries and even most of the world. Immature drivers use their horns as a crutch to make up for their lack of courtesy and caution. The resulting noise pollution takes a heavy toll on the quality of life.
The automobile was invented by white men. It had come at a time when Western civilization had reached an advanced state of maturity (not that it was flawless). Western civilization was ready for the automobile; it was an age-appropriate toy. But I don’t think the other segments of mankind were ready for it when it was thrust upon them. For them, it’s not an age-appropriate toy. Bad things happen when people are given tools they are not culturally ready for.
Bad things almost happened to me yesterday while taking a private (AKA “illegal”) taxi from Arequipa to Mollendo. It was a harrowing experience. The driver drove at twice or thrice the speed limit, repeatedly passed in no-passing zones, was distracted by performing other tasks such as eating and habitually drove on the wrong side of the road to ease the curves on the mountain passes. I’m lucky to be alive and drivers like that have no business operating a motor vehicle.
Obviously nobody is going to take the automobile away from third-world societies. However, it would be a step in the right direction if governments were more aggressive in educating people about common decency and safety. I’m hopeful that, as the death-toll mounts, things will start to get safer. I’d like to think that third-world drivers will grow up some day and have more respect for those around them.
March 5, 2013
I come from Portland, Oregon. So one of my goals, in arranging this vacation, was to escape the clouds, rain and cold that hang over Portland more often than not. In choosing Peru as my destination, I was interested not only in adventure but also in a break from our miserable winter back home.
But fate had other plans. While my friends in Oregon are telling me that they’ve had clear skies, I have not been so lucky. When I arrived in Lima, the entire coastal area was shrouded in a thick fog they call the “garua’”. According to the internet, the garua’ is only supposed to hang over Lima during certain months of the year; it’s not supposed to be there in February/March. Alas, this is only of only three or four times when the internet was wrong. The garua’ was there during my entire stay in Lima (both times).
I knew it was the rainy season in the high country of Peru. But, upon my arrival in Cusco, all hell broke lose. Normally it rains for a while and then clears up. But this time the rains were so heavy and persistent that news reports were telling of overflowing rivers, collapsed houses and several fatalities. I had brought record rains to Cusco and Machu Picchu. The river that flows past Aquas Calientes, near Machu Picchu, had overflowed. I saw the river myself (I think it’s the Urubamba River) in this state. It was frightening. The rains continued unabated nearly the entire time I was there and some time after.
My next destination was Iquitos. It’s the rainy season there too, and locals had told me that it usually rains for two or three days and then lets up. Not so when I was there; it rained on me every single day – and not just a drizzle either. It came down in buckets and torrents, even as we were paddling down the Nanay River. It threatened to fill our canoe and capsize us. Our guide explained to us that, due to the heavy rains, our chances of seeing wildlife were diminished. So were our chances of catching anything while fishing. The rain finally abated on the day I left.
Among the driest places on Earth is the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru. The city of Tacna lies slightly north of it and the entire surrounding area is a desolate wasteland where little grows. Nevertheless, the clouds followed me even there. This time they brought only a drizzle.
I took the bus to Arequipa, which is in the high country. I wanted to get a good view of the famous vulcano that lies nearby: El Misti. It was clear in the morning but I couldn’t get a good view of it due to the buildings and cables that hung overhead. I’d booked an afternoon bus tour of the city, which, they assured me, would include a nice view of El Misti. Shortly after we started the tour, the clouds rolled in. When we got to the best viewing spot for El Misti, the tour guide explained that we could not see it due to the clouds.
By this time my cold had gotten worse and I realized it would be foolish for me to go ahead with my plans to take the bus to Puno; I had enough trouble breathing as it is and Puno is even higher than Cusco. Also, I’d had enough of the cold. I wanted a warm, sunny, place.
The lady at the hostel told me that Mollendo is just such a place. Highland Peruvians flock there for their getaways and it’s supposed to have nice, sunny, beaches. Early the next morning I was off to Mollendo.
When I got there, it was overcast. When I asked the hotel lady if the clouds usually clear up by mid day, she responded, “It’s always sunny here. I don’t know why it’s cloudy today; I don’t know what happened.”
I’m considering selling my services as a rainmaker to certain Middle Eastern nations. After all, I’ve accumulated quite a resume’.