Thursday, March 31, 2011

Birthday #6 - the Robin Birthday

Lucas' birthday was yesterday, and we are all recovering now. Like last year, we had the party at his school, which meant it was a 45 minute ordeal that was neatly wrapped up when the teacher whisked him and his classmates away for other activities. It didn't seem like much to me, but he enjoyed it and is satisfied, so if he's satisfied, I'm satisfied, and we've got that out of the way for another year.

As I wrote last year, kid's birthdays are all about the themes, and in previous years Lucas has had Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man as themes. We're still waiting for the Ben 10 birthday, it's possible that that will finally happen next year. This year things got a little complicated because he wanted to do a Robin birthday. Robin was hard because Robin is not in vogue, which means nobody has the ready-made paraphernalia for sale: the hats, napkins, plates, invites, etcetera. That was fine with me, as I'm a DIY kinda guy and I like a challenge. That is, I like this kind of challenge.

I should clarify something at this point. There are a couple different incarnations of Robin, the best known being Sidekick Robin, ala Batman. There is another Robin, member of the Teen Titans, who is not a sidekick. He's the leader of the group. That's the one that Lucas likes.

First thing to prepare were the invites. I felt like I was back in elementary school, making Valentine's Day cards for my classmates. I photoshopped a couple images of Robin and the Teen Titans, with the pertinent info regarding the birthday, and Lucas and I glued the images onto folded pieces of blue paper. They were somewhat haphazard, mostly the ones that Lucas glued. Evani thought they were terrible, but we had fun making them and who cares what anyone thinks.

Another quintessential item was the costume. There were no Robin costumes to be had, and I was kicking myself for not ordering one online while I was in the States, where I could have gotten one for cheap. The only online options here in Brazil were way more than I wanted to pay. Luckily for me, I found a lady who makes costumes to order, and it cost me half of what I was expecting to shell out.

Plates, cups, and gift bags for the other kids all had to be generic. I made some stickers with Robin's head and Lucas' name on them and these went on the gift bags. Another photoshop session and I had an image of Lucas in his new costume next to all the rest of the Teen Titans- this was then printed on edible rice paper and went on top of the cake.

It was while I was getting the rice paper that the light bulb went on over my head. If I couldn't get all the kids Robin/Teen Titans party hats, then why not make Robin masks for everyone? I bought two sheets of this plastic foamy stuff (I'm sure it has a real name) and after a couple hours of work I had 29 masks for all the kids. I haven't watched many episodes of the Teen Titans (it is a cartoon btw), but one of my favorites is when all the other Titans get dressed up as Robin when he is away doing something else. Robin comes back and catches them in his extra costumes, and he says: "You know what Robins? The mask makes me feel cool too." I was hoping all these Robin masks w0uld make everyone feel cool.

I think I was fairly successful. Judge for yourself:

One last thing: Lucas always gets a bunch of presents from his classmates, one of which this year was a game called Futebol de Botão, aka 'Table Soccer,' a game I had never heard of before. After watching a YouTube video about it, it appears it's kind of a big deal. It's got a bit of Tiddlywinks in it, and a bit of Shuffleboard as well. And I hate to say it, but it's the kind of game I could actually see myself getting enthusiastic about. I hate to say this because I'm not a soccer fan and it seems a bit dorky, which by extension, would make me... a bit... dorky. Lucas likes it too, let's see if it lasts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lanced Digit

My son managed to get his sucking thumb infected. Back in my thumb-sucking days, I'd switch off from one to the other but Lucas will only suck his left thumb, unless the situation is dire, as it was last night, and nobody slept much as a result.

Today the swollen digit and the child carting it around had to be taken to the doctor. Lucas had asked me about 100 times if the doctor was going to 'poke' it, and I tried to be equivocal, but I knew the truth. I tried a nausea analogy, telling him how much I hate to vomit, and will do almost anything to avoid it, but when I finally get around to barfing I always feel better. Same thing with the thumb- a brief poke, and almost instant relief. No more howling pain just brushing it against something.

When the Zero Hour arrived, Lucas began to freak out. The doctor asked him if he was a man or a rat, and without hesitation he said the latter. I realized I'd have to force him down and restrain him, and he started to howl. He howled long and loud, through the whole procedure, and everyone in the hospital heard him, probably thinking he was being tortured. This in spite of the anesthetic. He howled right through the bandaging, and didn't stop until he was off the table, when he started grinning. The doctor said she thought he was indeed a rat.

No thumb-sucking tonight, not on the big swaddled thumb at least. I told Lucas not to get the bandage wet. "Why?" he asked, a nearly constant question these days. I asked him if he wanted his thumb to get worse, if he wanted to go back to the doctor and have her poke it again. "Yes" was the instant reply.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nuclear Accident

I've been following the story of Japan's developing nuclear disaster with mounting horror and, I have to admit it, a sick fascination as well. Then I start thinking about what it really means to have bits of plutonium floating around in the atmosphere and I start freaking out.

This may seem flip and foolish, but one thing that has been bothering me is why there aren't any robots on the scene. I just googled 'japan nuclear robot' and apparently I'm not the only one who's wondering- my guess is there are plenty of people in Japan asking the same question. Not only do we see the most advanced robot technology coming out of Japan, but they also created a whole mythology around giant robots (see this article on Wikipedia). I know it's naive and simplistic, and typical of a sci-fi fan like myself to say so, but a giant robot would be the perfect thing to dump seawater on those reactors, and it would only take one to get the job done.

Fantasies aside, there are robots searching the rubble in the aftermath of the quake - I saw a video about one that looks like a snake with cilia - and apparently robots were used after both Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island for cleanup (read this). Certainly they will be used in the aftermath of Fukushima as well. But unfortunately it looks like Japan, and the rest of the world, hasn't yet developed a robot with the skills needed to address this particular situation. But I bet you that we're going to see a whole new generation of 'disaster responder' robots in the wake of this disaster- watch for one that can carry a fire hose over all kinds of terrain, or robotic helicopters big enough to carry heavy payloads, like seawater, or cement, or boric acid.

Although I was raised to believe that nuclear power is a great evil, as an adult I've largely come to believe that it is merely in its infancy - that in most respects, it is actually a much cleaner fuel than the ones we use generally. But that's in most respects - if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. Or in a small way: the Vermont Yankee power plant that is located within a minimum evacuation radius of the city of Brattleboro, Vermont where I used to live was recently discovered to be leaking radiation.

I'm no longer sure, not that I was ever completely sure, that nuclear power is worth this risk. Especially with enough sunlight falling on this freakin' country to probably power the entire world forever. Brazil is hot, and as I learned in 7th grade science class, heat is power. Hell, all those nuke plants do in the end is boil water. Lots of good ways to do that.

One last thing on this topic, getting back to the 'nuclear infancy' idea: you've heard of plutonium, you've heard of uranium, but have you ever heard of thorium? I hadn't either until last year, but read this, which I clipped from Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know, it's Wikipedia...):

Key Benefits

According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, "thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy - and a way to burn up old radioactive waste."[16] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[16] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Telegraph daily, suggests that "Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium," and could put "an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years."[14]
Does that sound too good to be true? Yes, it does. But it does make me curious. Then again, these miracle stories about cheap, abundant energy pop up from time to time and nothing ever seems to come of them, for whatever reason. And I didn't say conspiracy, thank you.

My thoughts are with the people of Japan in the midst of these horrible events. I don't know what else to say without sounding sappy. Strength, fortitude, a speedy recovery. And I hope Fukushima is not nearly the disaster it sounds like from half way across the world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Carnaval 2011

... is over. Most of our guests have left, although we still have a couple stragglers. I can honestly say we had the best houseful of people yet, although it wasn't without some drama.

Carnaval for me is not as exciting as it used to be. I ended up spending most of my time with Lucas, both on and off the street, and that gets pretty tiring pretty fast. It's stressful to navigate the Carnaval on one's own, and it's stressful to navigate the streets with Lucas in tow, so add the two together and you get major stress. Plus I get to feeling like a walking wallet as I buy popcorn, spray foam in a can, hot dogs, cotton candy, soda, and plastic swords that light up - not to mention the trampoline and face-painting. In spite of this, I feel that the only word that comes out of my mouth is 'No' because there is oh so much more to buy- something our kids learn from a very early age. Don't get the wrong idea, I like spending Carnaval with Lucas- Evani tries to send him off every year to an aunt's house and I howl in protest. One of the high points of Carnaval was taking him to see the Blue Man Group on top of a trio eletrico. They mostly just threw freebies into the crowd, but Lucas enjoyed it.

We had a full house this year, eleven people from eight countries (plus various friends and family) although they weren't all here at the same time. They all got along well almost from the start, and it turns out that two of the couples actually knew each other from previously- they'd met in Peru or some spot and had run into one another somewhere else as well, that happens with some frequency when you are traveling a particular route (it's happened to me) but still it must have been a surprise to see familiar faces in the same house with you.

Only one couple seemed a bit off - an American dude and his Spanish-speaking South-American girlfriend, who was not from Brazil. We weren't even sure if they were a couple at first- it seemed like things weren't going too well between them. To make a long story short, it went from bad to worse, she was giving him the silent treatment and pretty obviously flirting with another guest in the house, and eventually the guy decided to get a room in a hotel and get out of the house. I spent some time trying to mediate the situation as the dude was threatening to go back home and leave her there and she was saying fine, let him go. I thought I was making headway until he left the country and left her at our house. I got pretty annoyed at that point, at both of them - her for biting the hand that was feeding her and him for... abandoning someone who didn't even speak the language and had never traveled internationally and was completely broke at our house. That lasted a day or so until the guy got back in contact with me, and asked if his 'ex' needed anything for "food or cigarettes or anything." I wrote him back saying she needed money for a ticket back to Rio so she could get her flight back to her family and two young kids.

He ended up sending three times what I suggested.

That pretty much changed the dynamic- a ticket was purchased, she waited out the rest of Carnaval and I think even enjoyed herself some, and in about forty minutes the cab is coming to take her to the airport.

This year's crime included a lost camera and a brazen pick-pocketing in a restaurant that resulted in the victim's shorts being torn from top to bottom and way too much money being absconded with- the guy really should have left that money at the house. In a separate incident, some Brazilian dude pulled the wrong gringa's hair and ended up on the ground under a rain of fists from her boyfriend- but only after he sucker-punched that same boyfriend from behind and then tried to run away. Opinion seems to be unanimous that this was a righteous move on the boyfriend's part- there is an attitude amongst some of the locals that all estrangeiros are idiots and you can push them around with no consequences... at least one deluded troublemaker has had his attitude adjusted.

Actually, I think the aforementioned South-American girlfriend had pretty much the same attitude toward her American ex-boyfriend. Problem is- I'm not sure she's been disabused of that notion.

This last item is the most horrible.

Lucas was jumping on the trampoline with his cousin, and I was standing there waiting for them to finish; it was not yet late on the last night of Carnaval. Suddenly, there was that electric confusion that erupts whenever there is a fight- people were running in the street in front of me, where the parade route was only a block away. I panicked a bit, as Lucas and his cousin were behind the protective netting on the trampoline- protected in some situations, more exposed in others, and not easy to get to. Suddenly a man is sitting in the entryway of the restaurant just in front of me, and he's bleeding. A lot. He's been stabbed, and his shirt is soaked with blood, and he also has blood coming out of his mouth. A crowd quickly gathered, but not fast enough- I turned around and there were Lucas and his cousin standing and watching. I immediately said "Keep jumping!" which they did, but they definitely saw the guy. I debated whether I should get them out of there but the cops showed up quickly and it seemed unlikely there would be any more fighting. It took what seemed like a long time for paramedics to show up and haul the guy out of there. The floor was washed and it was back to business as usual, albeit with a new batch of customers- nobody sat nonchalantly finishing their meal through the ordeal. If that had happened in Amherst, MA or Brattleboro, VT they probably would have cordoned off the area and closed the restaurant for a couple days.

I checked the internet the next day but couldn't find any news about a death in my neighborhood, so I guess he pulled through. I found out later that it was a guy from the area, a local bad boy who apparently 'had it coming to him.' This lends marginal credence to a cynical theory I've developed this year during Carnaval- that of all the thousands of people who flood my neighborhood for this one week a year, from all parts of Salvador and Brazil and even the rest of the world, the most obnoxious ones all live here. In my neighborhood. And guess what? When everyone else packs up and leaves, they stick around.

Of course, that's just a broad generalization by a grumpy gringo.