24 July 2021

Bitter melons

There's a funny story in The Guardian about courgette poisoning. Apparently ordinary zuccinis can, if they happen to cross-pollinate with wild members of the same family, become poisonous, causing stomach cramps, vomiting, internal bleeding, hair loss, death (though the latter is quite rare). Tim Dowling says "Now I’ve experienced this poisoning first-hand, it seems weird to me that people are even allowed to grow courgettes."

The gustatory sign of such poison is bitterness. All members of the Cucurbitaceae family, including cucumbers, gourds, melons, etc. contain cucurbitacins, which are responsible for such poisoning, as a self defence mechanism, but usually, in the edible varieties, the amount is very small.

But then I remembered that in India they often use a vegetable (botanically a fruit) called bitter gourd (in Hindi, karela), so looked this up on the web. Apparently it has long been popular not only in India but in China (a slightly different variety) and South East Asia. When I find it on my plate, I move it to one side, because, like most Westerners, I hate bitter tastes. Humans in general are conditioned to avoid such flavors, since they are usually a warning of a potential poison.

Besides karela, there is another bitter gourd, the bottle gourd (lauki in Hindi), which is consumed. Both of these foods are reputed to have amazing therapeutic properties and health effects. Yet an Indian scientist died after consuming lauki juice, prompting articles like: Bitter bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria): Healer or killer? in the International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology and Neurological Diseases:

In a recent magazine, an article reported the death of a well-known scientist of Delhi, who consumed fresh juice of bitter bottle gourd. [6] Similar cases were also reported at Dehradun, Mehasana, other parts of India, and the globe. An article in a leading journal reports of fifteen such cases. [7]

The above-mentioned patients developed severe hematemesis, dizziness, and sweating, and collapsed. However, timely management saved some of them. [7],[8],[9]

Bottle gourd, which belongs to the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae) can also turn toxic and dangerous like mushrooms. Cucurbitacins are complex compounds found in plants belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The tetracyclic triterpenoid Cucurbitacin compounds are responsible for the bitterness in vegetables like cucumber, squash, eggplants, melon, pumpkin, and gourds.

High levels of Cucurbitacin compounds are triggered by high temperature, wide temperature swings, low pH, very little water, low soil fertility, and also due to improper storage of vegetables or over-matured vegetables. These compounds are highly toxic to mammals. These toxins, when absorbed into the blood could cause hepatitis, pancreatitis, cholecystitis, and renal damage. This in turn can lead to multiorgan dysfunction, which could be fatal. [4],[6],[7],[8],[9]

It is advisable to consume cooked bottle gourd. Once cooked, the bottle gourd becomes harmless, offering health benefits. A small piece of bottle gourd should be tasted (from both ends); to make sure that it is not bitter. Bitter bottle gourd should be discarded and not be used even after cooking.

An article about a related foodstuff in India, the bottle gourd, has the following:
GREEN POISON? - Indian Express:

It is commonly believed that bitterness is nature's protection for mammals from natural toxins in vegetables and fruits. However, bitterness needs to be qualified. A certain amount of bitterness in vegetables like karela (bitter gourd), fenugreek or the cucumber family (cucumber, squash, eggplants, melon, pumpkin and gourds) is normal and we are all accustomed to it. Tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins, complex compounds found in the cucumber family, are responsible for the bitterness in these vegetables. These are highly toxic to mammals, however, at what levels are they toxic need to be established. Higher levels of these chemicals are triggered by wide temperature swings, low pH, high temperature, too little water, low soil fertility and improperly stored or over-matured vegetables.

Where they are consumed, bitter vegetables like karela and lauki are apparently appreciated, and people apparently grow used to their bitter taste. So the question should probably be what level of bitterness is a sign that we should stay away from them? To me, karela already tastes awfully bitter - I cannot bear it. So the problem is solved for me.


Rwandans have long been used to Pegasus-style surveillance - The Guardian

Former intelligence chief and RNC co-founder Kayumba Nyamwasa – who has survived repeated attempts on his life in South Africa – notes that the RPF has enjoyed extremely close military and intelligence ties with Israel since the genocide, and that the line between Israel’s military and spin-off firms selling intelligence equipment is distinctly blurred.

Israel has a history of cozying up to repressive regimes and selling them weapons. Maybe in the early years of the state, it felt a need to cultivate such connections. One would think that by now it could allow itself to be more discerning in choosing its customers - if it cares at all. But then, the same arguments could be made against selling weapons technology to Israel.

Russia names Bellingcat reporting partner a ‘foreign agent’ - The Guardian

Delta variant: Pfizer Covid vaccine 39% effective in Israel, prevents severe illness - CNBC

27 January, 2021


My attitude to food and cooking is based on simplicity. When I'm by myself, I make sure I get a salad every day, and all the nutritional components we need, but I don't go to any lengths at making that interesting, so my meals typically take only a few minutes to prepare. I've been vegetarian from the age of 18 or 19 and, for the last few years have tried to cut down on dairy products.

Unlike me, my partner has been taking food preparation really seriously lately, and making the most interesting dishes. Today she made mixed vegie patties baked in the oven, with a kind of buckwheat-bulgar wheat pilaf that was really nice.

When our children were growing up, neither of us had the time and energy to spend on meals. We bought lots of frozen vegetables and ready-made vegie schnitzels and other shortcuts to easy meals. It's surprising actually that our three children continue to be vegetarian and didn't rebel against the regime. One of them became a strict vegan. All of them are more into cooking than we were at their age.

Another thing that has improved in the last decade or so is the quality of the ingredients. We eat mostly organic food. We receive every week a crate of vegetables from a local farm, and supplement this with other, again, mostly organic foods from nearby shops. We're not 100% strict - if we need some extra tomatoes or something, we'll just buy them in a regular mini-market.

Links Blog

I've always had a distant affection for Tumblr, as an interesting cross between blogging and a social network, so I spent some time reading up on recent changes. Actually hubzilla, or the way I use it, is not unlike Tumblr in its style. I'm happy that Automattic purchased Tumblr from the likes of Verizon.

✭Tumblr thoughts, the future of social, Spotify for Podcasters, & more - Cybercultural
The social aspects of WordPress.com - Automattic’s user-friendly, hosted version of WordPress - are also subpar. The “Reader” on wordpress.com is just awful. By contrast, everything on Tumblr is slick and just works. So I think this deal augurs well for both Automattic and WordPress users.

✭Beyond reblogging: The future of Tumblr | The Daily Dot
“I think it is crucial that Tumblr take care of their content creators,” Grelle said. “They should work to make this the best possible place for people to post things they make. If Tumblr could shift the perception from a place where people mostly repost things, to a place where things originate, I think they would leave their competitors in the dust.”

✭Tumblr's CEO on the future of social, remote work and learning from TikTok - Protocol — The people, power and politics of tech
One thing that hasn't changed, D'Onofrio said? Tumblr's plan to be an "infinitely expandable" creative canvas where people can post, share and discuss virtually anything they can think of. More than a decade after the company started, he said, that vision hasn't changed. And he's convinced nobody does it better than Tumblr.

✭Facebook is bombarding rightwing users with ads for combat gear. See for yourself | Facebook | The Guardian
"Facebook announced that it will be temporarily banning some ads for gun accessories and body armor. It’s not enough"
#facebook being Facebook.

✭UK sells arms to nearly 80% of countries under restrictions, says report | Arms trade | The Guardian
fifths of countries subject to arms embargos, trade sanctions or other restrictions over the past five years, according to analysis.
#UK #nations

✭Violent clashes as Indian farmers storm Delhi's Red Fort | India | The Guardian
Jaspal Singh, 50, a farmer from Gurdaspur district in Punjab, said that nothing would break the resolve of the protesting farmers. “No matter how much force the Modi government uses we are not going to succumb,”

Adeptly symbolic to go for the Red Fort. Makes their struggle historic.

✭Global ice loss accelerating at record rate, study finds | Environment | The Guardian
The rate of loss is now in line with the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on the climate

1 December, 2020

Links blog

There is Only XUL

✭ thereisonlyxul.org - Because we are the agents of our own salvation!

 collection of programs based on free XUL user interface language.

Among the projects listed, besides Palemoon and Basilisk browsers, is a mail client, Interlink, based to Thunderbird:

Interlink Mail & News is a free e-mail client based on open source community code built on the Unified XUL Platform. It is available for Microsoft Windows and Linux (with other operating systems in development). The client focuses on efficiency with carefully selected features and optimizations to improve stability and user experience, while offering full customization and a growing collection of extensions and themes to make the client truly your own.

Among the extensions listed are Enigmail.

The Terai region, the indigenous Tharu people who live there, and their resistance to Malaria

✭ Terai - Wikipedia
 Terai or Tarai is a lowland region in northern India and southern Nepal that lies south of the outer foothills of the Himalayas, the Sivalik Hills, and north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

✭ Tharu people - Wikipedia
 Tharu are famous for their ability to survive in the malarial parts of the Terai that were deadly to outsiders.[6] Contemporary medical research comparing Tharu with other ethnic groups living nearby found an incidence of malaria nearly seven times lower among Tharu.[23] The researchers believed such a large difference pointed to genetic factors rather than behavioural or dietary differences. This was confirmed by follow-up investigation finding genes for thalassemia in nearly all Tharu studied.[24][25]

From History of Tharu
"The land in Nepali Tarai or plains is the rice basket of Nepal. It is most productive and sought after agricultural land. But is not much more than sixty years ago that the area was only sparsely cultivated. A hundred years ago the vast majority of the Tarai was still covered by thick, malarial jungle. At this time the area’s only full year residents were various indigenous groups, the largest of which was the Tharu. They tolerated the jungle’s malaria and wild animals, in return for which they had ample land off which to live. It was a time that old men still talk about, when a family entering a new settlement could have as much land as they could carve out of the jungle. In this environment, the Tharus developed largely self-sufficient communities in and around the jungle, with building styles, settlement patterns, religion and agricultural practices very distinctive from what is practiced in the hills or further south in the Gangetic Plains of northern India."

✭ The origin on the tharu - Himal Southasian
 ‘Forest People’ are comprised of more than one tribe and they may well have come from many regions at different times, thus contributing to the diversity of culture, facial features and customs found in today’s population; the environment then moulded them over a very long period of time into a special group of people, the Tharu, a people who, therefore, not surprisingly, are comprised of many sub-groups..."

After reading in the Mahabharata about the drying of the sea coast by the giant bird Garuda, I was wondering if these people could be the autochthonous people who came from the Thar desert. There is some theory that the Tharu people came from the Rajputs. But my idea is too much of a long shot, and there are various problems with it. "Thar" itself seems to come from a Sanskrit word for sand ridges. The Thar desert's geographical area today is not defined as meeting the coast. The desert was formed, or became drier at the time that the Saraswati river dried up, towards the end of the third millenium BC. At the time, the area was inhabited by the Harappa culture, otherwise known as the Indus Valley civilization. Some think that these were an indigenous people preceding the Aryans. Some think that they were the advanced civilization that composed the Vedas. Their hieroglyphs have never been deciphered, and nobody can say with any certainty who they were. One of the articles above quotes the Rig Veda:

“Through fear of you the dark people went away, not giving battle, leaving behind their possessions, when, 0 Vaisvanara, burning brightly for Puru, and destroying the cities, you did shine.” And in another context it is written, “The people to whom these ruined sites, lacking posts, formerly belonged, these many settlements widely distributed, they, 0 Vaisvanara, having been expelled by thee, have migrated to another land.”"

However, the Vedas are a bit like the Bible; it seems that they can be quoted to support all manner of theories.

Sri Lanka

✭ Robert Knox (sailor) - Wikipedia
 century British captain, trader and writer, held captive for 19 years in Sri Lanka. Interesting fellow. He was held captive with his father. His father was held captive too, but died of malaria. He wrote an early account of Sri Lanka

Sweet potatoes and Yams

Sweet potatoes are confused with yams in the US, but they are not related to true yams, or other edible roots sometimes called yams, but they are related to Morning Glories, some of whose seeds include a substance with hallucinogenic properties similar to LSD. One counter-culture figure advocated for their use in this way.

Also: Sweet potatoes may have crossed the pacific with pre-European sailors who spread their use throughout Polynesia. (I remember reading about that theory in Kon Tiki.)

✭ Sweet potato - Wikipedia
 sweet potato or sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the bindweed or morning glory family, Convolvulaceae

✭ Morning glory - Wikipedia
 seeds of many species of morning glory contain ergoline alkaloids such as the psychedelic ergonovine and ergine (LSA). Seeds of Ipomoea tricolor and Turbina corymbosa (syn. R. corymbosa) are used as psychedelics.

✭ Terence McKenna - Wikipedia
 Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer, author, and an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, environmentalism, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness.

lunch was…

home-made hummus/tahini from:

  • raw tahini
  • frozen chick peas (cooked a little)
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • a local (extra-virgin or whatever) olive oil
  • muji (maybe) miso paste (mixed with a little hot water to create a liquid)
  • Mexican hot pepper sauce
  • water

all mixed in the food processor.

+  3 slices of spelt bread

+  salad from organic cucumbers, tomatoes, with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Himalayan salt.


Appam - They brought me this for breakfast and it was the first time I'd had it. It's quite vegan (made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk.  South India has a wide range of breakfast possibilities.  (https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/appam-recipe-kerala-appam/)


An article in Haaretz about etymology got me looking into chickpeas. There are apparently about 90 varieties of this legume. It's known that from ancient times it was used around the Middle East, Turkey and eastern Europe. In Jericho it existed before the age of pottery, but it's thought that the plant may have come from Turkey. In India the local variety, known as chana dhal, looks similar in size and colour to yellow split peas (dhal meaning "halved" in Sanskrit, refers to any split legume). However, that's the Desi chana dhal. Indians also knew the Kabuli (i.e. Afghan) variety that is a bit larger and a different colour. Finally, from the west, the modern large variety arrived, and I have seen this also sold as chana dhal in shops. In India, chana dhal is an ingredient in many dishes, including Mysore pak - which is a sweet sold alongside burfi and ladoo and halwa in many sweet shops.

Around the world chickpeas have a variety of uses. In the Middle East it's cooked and mashed to make Humus and is the main ingredient in Felafel. It turns out the original Hebrew word was "afon", which seems to derive from its shape. "Afon" means a little nose, and apparently references the small knob on the bean. Afon was dropped in modern Hebrew in preference to the Arabic word "humus", and today the only similar Hebrew word to "Afon" is "afuna" which means a green pea. "Humus", however, may have come from the Aramaic word for the chickpea, which was "himtza" or "hemetz". "homtza" in modern Hebrew means "acid". Apparently if chickpeas are harvested by hand, the action causes chemical burns to the skin.