Poisonous Beetles

13 Apr

Lytta-vesicatoriaand the Democratic party

The blister beetle or Spanish fly is a marvelous creature.  It secretes a substance called cantharidin which causes chemical burns and blisters.  They can be extremely painful. The substance is secreted by the male and gifted to the female, who uses it to coat her eggs.  When it was discovered in the 18th century, it was considered one of the strongest poisons, on par with strychnine.  But the poisonous cantharidin has important medical applications: it kills warts.

Last year, my 11-year old daughter developed a painful case of plantar warts.  These are caused by the HPV virus and they are extremely difficult to treat.  Mika had two removed surgically, but as long as the virus is present, they can keep coming back.  For that reason, when she developed a third one, the doctor finally recommended trying cantharidin.

The application itself wasn’t too bad but within hours it started acting out.  Even though Mika had taken a pain killer, the pain in her foot was excruciating.  She begged me to stop it, but it was inside her, so there was nothing we could do.

The cantharidin was forming a blister underneath the wart, killing both the skin and the wart.  Interestingly, the surface of the skin never blistered much.  We didn’t go back to the doctor to have the wart removed either – Mika didn’t want to have anything to do with doctors anymore -, but eventually the pain stopped and the wart was gone.  It’s been many months, and she’s wart-free so far.

I thought about blister beetles and cantharidin when I read a quote from an anonymous colleague of mine at the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (ACDCC) calling me “poisonous”.  Sometimes political bodies, just like organisms, can get a virus and develop a wart.  In the case of the ACDCC, it has to do with conflicts-of-interest and a lack of commitment to transparency.   I can only hope that my “poison” will be as effective here, as beetle poison was for my daughter.


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How to remove lipstick from a build-a-bear

6 Apr

buildabear“Mommy, how do you get lipstick from a build-a-bear,”? my daughter asked one evening.  Being the clueless homemaker that I am, I told her I didn’t know, and to look it up online.

She found another girl with the same problem but no actual answers.  So she used her ingenuity. Lipstick is make-up, she figured, so why not use makeup remover?  OK, the only one she could find was Maybelline Expert Eyes Moisturizing Eye Makeup Remover, but she gave it a try and IT WORKED!  The bear is as good as new, and moisturized!

So now you know, if your stuffed animal gets makeup, try makeup remover.

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Love Toast Shower Crème – Review

27 Feb

lovetoastI got a couple of  Love & Toast  body washes (or, as the bottle calls them, shower crèmes) at Grocery Outlet, as they were on sale for $2 for the the 8.2 fl oz bottle.  Usually, they retail for around $12!

The reason is that in addition to a bunch of unpronounceable chemicals, they have a bunch of natural oils and extracts.  Dew Blossom, for example, has minute amounts of pollen, honeysuckle, apricot, and matricaria extracts.   They also don’t have parabens and other things that may be bad for you.

As a body wash, they seem to work pretty well.  They have a nice lather and a good, neither too thick or thin consistency.  The bottle could be a little easier to squeeze, but it’s attractive and takes little room.

So far, Ive used the Dew Blossom and the Salt & Sea.  A reviewer described Dew Blossom as smelling like play-dough, and I can actually understand the comparison.  It’s basically a powdery, sweetish scent.  It reminds me of the perfumed powder my grandmother might have had, but it’s very light.  Salt & Sea smells of citrus and salt.  Basically, like a margarita would smell.  It’s a little bit strange because you don’t necessarily feel like you are cleaning yourself, when you  smell salty, but overall I like it.  I probably wouldn’t get more dew blossom, but might get another bottle of salt & sea.

I haven’t tried the body lotions, also available at Grocery Outlet for $2, but I might get one today before they are all gone. Update: I smelled the lotions, they’re all too citrusy for me.


DealFlicks Twitter Follower Spam

23 Feb

Twitter spam is just as annoying as regular spam – perhaps even more so, as it trades on your good will and desire to play by the rules.  The way it works is simple: a would be spammer starts following you, banking that you will follow them back as a courtesy.  A smart spammer will then mix random tweets with once advertising its product, hoping you’ll mistake the ads for real tweets.

DealFlicks goes an extra step.  It apparently either hires interns, or, just as likely, creates them with the purpose of setting up twitter accounts.  The accounts include stylish photos of attractive young women with generic names like “Sophia Smith” or “Abigail Davis”.  It’s the description of each “intern” which alerted me to their spammines.  They are all along the same lines, e.g.  “Film geek. Avid movie aficionado. Explorer. Student. Social media nerd. Closet organizer. DealFlicks intern. #FollowBack #F4F#TeamFollowback.”  The hashtags are those used by spammers trying to get followers.     I’ve had three Dealflick interns follow me in the last couple of days, and I expect more, as they seem to have a legion of these accounts.

If you are curious as to why you’re being followed by multiple people with identical descriptions, like I was, you may google DealFlicks and find out that it’s a website for discount movie tickets.  An unethical, spammy website that doesn’t deserve anyone’s patronage.  Now you know to avoid them.


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Bill Cosby Should Not Get Away with Rape

17 Feb

billcosbyLike seemingly everyone else, I used to have a lot of respect for Bill Cosby. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Cosby Show – though I watched it off and on for years – but its spinoff A Different World, about students at a black college, started during my freshman year in college and I was an instant fan.

Somehow I missed the news in 2006 that fourteen women had accused Bill Cosby of drugging them and raping them.  He was being sued for sexual assault by the former Director of Operations of Temple University’s Women Basketball Program.  They had met through her job, they’d become friends and she saw him as a mentor.  One evening, he called her and invited her over to his house to discuss her desire to change careers.  When she told him how stressed she was about changing jobs, he offered her some “herbal medicine”, which she took.  Next thing she knew, she was dizzy, couldn’t walk and Cosby was helping her lie down on his couch, and then he was sexually assaulting her.  She lost consciousness and woke up feeling raw in her vaginal area.

After the woman came out with her story, the Cosby team proceeded to demonize her in the media.  But that caused other women to come forward with their own similar experiences .  In all, thirteen women said they would testify to being drugged and raped by Cosby.  Other women reached out to the victims also with similar stories, but were not willing to risk the public opprobrium that came with testifying.  At the end, they didn’t have to.  Cosby settled for an undisclosed amount.  None of the other women sued him.  The story resurfaced again when Cosby announced he’d star in a new show playing a wise family patriarch.

This is the kind of story that I don’t want to believe. As one commentator suggested, who wants to live in a world where Dr. Huxtable is a serial rapist? But Dr. Huxtable was a character as is the Bill Cosby we know from the media, whose image was undoubtedly carefully crafted by public relations agents and managers. The reality is that when thirteen women who have nothing to gain, put their careers and reputations at stake to speak their truth about a powerful man, I believe them. I’m disgusted at Bill Cosby.

I’m also disgusted that he’s given a pass. Brian Copeland, a local comedian whom I consider a friend, proudly posted a photo of himself next to Cosby on his Facebook page. I commented with links to interviews with two of the women whom Cosby raped, Tamara Green and Barbara Bowman.  Brian deleted them, as he deleted other comments about Cosby’s sexual assaults, arguing that “Bill Cosby is a friend”.  If someone is famous enough, rich enough, or is your friend, the fact that he drugs and rapes women apparently is of no consequence. It’s of even of less consequence to NBC and anyone else who hopes to make money from him.

The impunity that Bill Cosby enjoys does nothing but encourage other  would-be-rapists to act on their drives.  People who support Woody Allen, have argued that his daughter’s allegations that he molested her as a child are not credible because other children have not come out with similar allegations.  In this case, fourteen women tell similar stories, showing a pattern that spanned decades.   But if you like Bill Cosby, it’s easy enough to dismiss them, make up reasons why they don’t deserve to be believed.  By doing so, of course, you help support the culture of rape in which we live.

Sexual assault is different from other crimes in that it most often happens in private, without witnesses.  When the rapist and his victim know each other, it usually becomes a “she says/he says” scenario, with consent as the main issue.  Indeed, Cosby did claim that he had consensual sex with the woman who sued him.  Whatever physical evidence there is, can, after all, only prove sex – even bruises can be argued to come from consensual “rough sex“.   So-called “date rape drugs” dissipate from the body so quickly, that prosecutions in those cases are extremely difficult.   

Bill Cosby is a rapist.  Fourteen women have said so, and there is no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t be believed.  He will not go to jail for what he did – and, given due process considerations, he probably shouldn’t -,  but he should at least suffer the same social opprobrium that he subjected his victims to.


(This article has been modified for grammar).

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Witch Hazel for Yeast Infections

12 Nov

witchhazelIf you have large breasts, it’s not unusual to get the occasional yeast infection underneath them.  It’s an area particularly hard to keep dry (though deodorants do work).

Yeast infections ban be extremely itchy and painful.  They respond well to over-the-counter creams, but these are pretty expensive and not always available. So the last time I had a yeast infections, I wondered what else I had at home that I could use to treat it.

Witch hazel seemed like a good choice as it can be very drying.  I looked it up and others have used it successfully.  If nothing else, it promised relief.

Indeed, I got both. It made the infected area feel much better immediately, and by the next day most of the infection was gone.  I did have to reapply a couple of times, and it won’t prevent the yeast from coming back, but it did just as good a job as the creams would have.

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Horsin’ Around Adventures – Sedona, AZ – Review

24 Oct

Last summer we visited Sedona and, of course, that meant organizing a horse ride for the kids.  I’ve ridden a horse once in my life and that was enough to know I don’t want to do it again.

Most of the Sedona-based companies seem to get fairly good reviews, but Horsin’ Around Adventures seemed particularly friendly.  Plus they were OK with doing a last minute dusk trip.

The girls had a GREAT time.  In their word, the ride was “awesome”.  They had a 90-minute ride and, for the girls, it was not nearly enough.  For my husband, whose horse-riding muscles are not commonly exercised, the last half hour was painful.

The scenery was beautiful, I’m told, even though it was sprinkling and the tour guide very nice.

Horsin’ Around Adventures
2650 N. Dancing Apache Rd
Cornville, AZ

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Open Letter to Judge Marco Roldan

20 Oct

Missouri Court Cites Woman for Bringing Breastfeeding Baby to Jury Duty

A Missouri judge has actually cited a breastfeeding mother for bringing her baby with her to jury duty!  This is the letter I sent him about it.

Judge Marco Roldan

Judge Marco Roldan 

Dear Judge Roldan,

 Like many other women across the nation I’ve learned about your mistreatment of a breastfeeding mother that was called for jury duty under you.  The woman, like any other breastfeeding mother in her situation, brought the baby with her.  Your response was to criminally cite her.
I don’t know you, so I don’t know if your actions are based in a complete disregard for mothers, for breastfeeding, for babies or for women.  It’s difficult to believe that you did not realize that the options that you offered the juror were not realistic and that they would put the baby in danger.
You suggested that the mother leave her baby at home or bring someone with her to take the baby and feed it during breaks.  Leaving aside the question of where the mother could find a babysitter to do this job and how she could pay her, which is not a trivial matter for a stay at home mom, these suggestions show a complete lack of understanding and concerns for the needs of breastfeeding babies.
First of all, breastfed babies are often fed on demand.  The baby cries or behaves in a distinctive way letting the mom know she’s hungry, and then mom picks her up and feeds her.  How often this happens depends on the baby, some do it every half an hour, some every 2 or 3, but the idea of letting a baby cry itself out and be hungry until the mom is ready to feed him has been proven to be cruel and traumatic for babies.
Your suggestion that the mother “pump” is equally ignorant.  Pumping is not something that breastfeeding women, in particular first-time mothers, can casually do. Pumping is an extremely inefficient way of getting milk out.  I was fairly good at it and it would take me 20 minutes hooked to a hospital-grade pump to get 4 oz of milk. If I used an electric one-breast pump, I’d be lucky to get 1 oz in 20 minutes.  That is definitely not enough for a baby.  And it takes time to learn how to pump efficiently.  A mom who has never done it, is unlikely to take on to it immediately.  I did not read that you offered her the services of a lactation consultant or to buy her a state of the art pump so she could serve.
Even if she could pump (and assuming that she would have stayed up the night before to pump so she could leave the milk for the baby), how do you know that the baby in question would take a bottle? Many breastfed babies don’t. It’s either breastfeeding or going hungry.  Do you actually believe it’s OK to let a baby go hungry?
Frankly, your lack of concern for this mother is deeply troubling.  If you treat a woman who is trying to fulfill her civic duty – she actually showed up to jury duty! — with so much contempt, how do you treat criminal defendants? How do you treat any other woman that comes before you?
As an outsider, I cannot believe that you can possibly be a fair judge.  Your lack of concern and humanity prevents that.
Honestly, I think you should resign and find a career where you cannot so easily harm others.
Margarita Lacabe
a mom

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Media Blunder of the Day: Spanish building with no elevator, actually has 10

13 Aug

The Intempo building

The Intempo building

The headlines were somewhere between hilarious and unbelievable.  “Builders forgot elevator shafts on finished Skyscraper,” read the NY Daily News. ”  UPI reported “Spain skyscraper with no elevators nearly complete”, and the Daily Beast echoed “Near-Complete Spanish Skyscraper Forgets Elevators.”

The claims came from a July 20th story in Spain’s El País newspaper about the financial troubles of the Intempo building.  The article discusses the series of problems the builders have encountered during construction and towards the end reads (my free translation): “In January 2012 there was a new surprise: they had not taken into account the shaft for the elevator, as can be seen in the promotional designs which do not not show the spaces typically dedicated on the roofs to the elevator engines. ‘The space had been calculated for a block of 20 stories,’ according to the same sources”.

I will admit that I have no idea what the El País article is referring to, but clearly journalists in both Spanish and English-speaking media interpreted these sentences to mean that the builders had forgotten to build elevators into the buildings.

If they did, however, they had fixed this problem by April 2013, when a blogger visited the building, rode in one of the elevators and wrote about it.  She describes the trip as being incredibly fast, less than one minute to go up 45 stories.  According to the blogger, that’s in “slow mode”.  In fast mode, it can make the ~600 feet climb in about 30 seconds.  The blogger mentions that each of the two towers has 3 elevators.  Four elevators make the trip to the penthouses in the middle.  So in all, it has 10 elevators.  You can see one of the elevators and the space for another one in her blog posting.

She does say, however, that they had to take the stairs to make it to the roof.

Whatever El País meant in its story, it’s certain that the rest of the media that ran with the “no elevators” story did not do the most basic fact-checking of either visiting the building, looking at the blue-prints, calling the construction company, or even googling.  I found the blog posting I referred to above by searching for “ascensores intempo“.  “Ascensor” is the Spanish word for “elevator”.

The real question here is how much can we trust the media, when journalists seem to rush to write stories, repeating what they think they read somewhere, without doing the most minimum fact checking?  To be fair, so far it does not appear that the major English language media has ran with the story, but I wonder if it’s only a matter of time.  It’s troublesome enough that any journalist can be so careless to not even try to check their facts, even when we are dealing with what sounds like a very improbable mistake.

This typical floor plan for one of the towers, shows 3 elevators, in addition to stairs.

This typical floor plan for one of the towers, shows 3 elevators, in addition to stairs.

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On Smells

2 Jun

smellI was thinking about smells the other day, while taking a shower.  I had washed my hair with a “freesia” shampoo and then used a “passion flower & vanilla extract” conditioner.  I had a new perfumed body wash from a Promise Me giftset.  Once I got out, I followed with some Imari deodorant (a stronger smell), because that’s what I had opened, and then applied the Promise me lotion from the set.  I finished with some body powder (light scent of  pine needles) and face cream (L’Oreal Advanced RevitaLift Complete, which smells just like face cream).  By the time I was done – and before I actually applied shampoo – I had covered my newly washed body with six different scents.   What did I smell like? I have no idea.

One of the fascinating things about our sense of smell is that it can be quite acute when expose to a new scent, but becomes quickly accustomed to it.   That’s true of our other senses as well – we are able to tune out background noise and images in our field of vision so as to pay attention to a particular sound or sight and we can zoom in on a specific touch -, but what makes smell different is that once we have (automatically and not necessarily willingly) tuned out a smell, we can no longer distinguish it, at least until it once again becomes novel.

What this means is that by the time I applied the last product, I could no longer smell the first ones – so, all in all, I have no idea what I smelled like.  Did all the fragrances fight or helped one another?

Some smells seem to be more enduring for our noses than others.  Today I got a new perfume in the mail, Far Away from Avon.  The first spray was rough and alcoholic, but it quickly became soft and subtly, powdery and feminine yet grown up.  I loved it.  Five hours later, I can only smell the occasional harsh vanilla overtone, it’s not very pleasant.  I had my husband smell me, however, and apparently to him I do smell flowery and light. He liked the fragrance quite a bit.   Whether I continue using this perfume – enjoyable at first but then unpleasant for me alone – is an open question.

What I find more worrisome is all the bad smells that I have become accustomed to but other people do smell.  A few weeks ago my washing machine broke down and while researching what could be wrong with it, I learned that front-loading washers like mine often have a mold problem.  As they are often kept closed – the doors get in the way otherwise -, they are often wet and mold loves moisture.   It didn’t take me long to realize that, indeed, our washer was suffering from that issue and our clothing was showing it (or, rather, smelling it).  If I smelled nasty to you in the last six months, you now know why.  We have a new washer, but the mold smell is only slowly going away.


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