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Radically Simple: July Fireworks

Radically Simple: July Fireworks

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Fresh and colorful, this meal is just as bright as 4th of July fireworks.

It's easy to create exciting, brilliant flavors while avoiding megawatt spice and chile fire. Let fresh garlic lend its trademark warmth, and let lemons add mouth-tingling acidity. These tastes are perfect for Fourth of July celebrations, when we're slaking our thirst with lemonade or salty margaritas, either of which would be a great accompaniment for my colorful Shrimp, Chorizo, and Corn Salad.

This dish sizzles with global influences coalescing into a meal that tastes surprisingly American. Cooked in only four minutes in a superhot pan, the salad can be prepared several hours ahead and served at room temperature—ideal for outdoor entertaining. Enjoy the fireworks!

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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Radically Simple: July Fireworks - Recipes

love strawberries. Most of what we get here that is affordable is shipped in from California. The sweeter, smaller, redder locally grown berries are an astronomical price.

I did grow a few strawberries myself this year. The operative word is few. Though they looked good, there were barely enough for a taste. I think I might try growing more strawberries next year as I really like strawberry preserves and fresh or frozen strawberries to use as dessert.

My blogging friend Lynda in Tanzania, East Africa, loves strawberries too The other day she shared a delicious recipe at her blog for strawberry cookies. I would never think to put strawberries into a cookie myself so I promptly decided to try the recipe out. Here are my photos of the cookie making process (not every step. Please click on photos to enlarge.) The recipe follows.

The beaten egg, milk and brown sugar have been added.

Last step is add the wonderful strawberry.

The finished product. Yum!

Now here is Lynda's recipe.

Strawberry Biscuits (Cookies) (Adapted from the ‘Sugar Biscuits’ recipe in ‘Cook and Enjoy It’ by S.J.A. de Villiers)
½ cup Butter
1 cup brown Sugar
1 Egg, beaten
2 tbsp Milk
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
½ tsp Salt
2 ½ cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 cup fresh Strawberries, cleaned & roughly chopped

Cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg, milk, vanilla essence & salt. Mix well. Sift the flour and baking powder in. Mix. Fold in the chopped strawberries. Knead the dough lightly and roll pieces into walnut sized balls. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, press each ball down lightly with your thumb to flatten. Bake at 190’C/375’F/Gas Mark 5 for around 12 - 15 minutes until done. Makes +- 35 biscuits.

You should measure more carefully than I did. I think I put too much flour in my mixture as I was trying to hurry. My dough ended up being quite dry so I added several spoons of milk. It was still dry so I used my hands to hold the batter together into balls (thereby melting the butter and helping to form the dough balls).

Also I did not get 35 cookies. I got 15 so I made my cookies on the large side. If you want more cookies, naturally you must watch the size.

The cookies were absolutely delicious! I will most definitely be making them again as I always have strawberries on hand. You can check out more recipes at Lynda's blog and also learn fascinating things about life in Tanzania. Bon appetit!

Simple Joy Saturday

Giving so children can live. This is my simple joy. Not just on Saturday but anytime I can and as often as I can. The needs are so great. Join me as you are led to help these and other dear ones in Kenya.

Skies Over Vancouver

These are the skies I saw on my way to the Diabetes group at my doctor's office yesterday. I thought the cloud formations were lovely. I also like that I captured the plane in the first photo. I hope you can see it as it is just a speck in the sky.

To me the wisps of cloud look like a giant, white dove. If you look at the second and third photos you can see it more clearly in flight. Nature is simply awesome!

Join others from around the world here for more Skywatch Friday.


So far my summer has been taken up with non summer activities. It seems I have been busy with all kinds of things related to the Type 2 diabetes diagnosis (pharmacist training on food guide and basic information, training on glucose meter, dietician's workshop on various rices and how to cook them, blood work and blood pressure testing, exercise class, swimming lessons).

At the same time, I have been negotiating a new mortgage and I'm happy to report I got a good deal on the interest rate. I have also been undertaking modest activities (knitting) and discussing plans with my Kenyan partners on the mission field. I am hoping by the late Fall to bring jiko stoves to more of the village women in Chepkerbet. If any of you would like to know more, please read here. If you would like to help please contact me.

On a personal front I have been busy as well. My cousin was here just over a week ago for weekend visit. It was also my niece's birthday and though I wasn't there for the party I did have to arrange for a small gift and a card to get to her on time. I have also been travelling back and forth to visit and help my elderly mom. I will be leaving again in about 1 and half weeks to assist with financial activities like banking and bills, as well as do the shopping, cooking and cleaning. The annual Kamloops Pow-Wow is something we hope to get to for at least one day also if it isn't too hot for mom. She enjoys this cultural event immensely and if it weren't for her I'd probably stay home with the comfort of the air conditioning as much as I do enjoy the cultural event.

I am also excited to finally get to Bard on the Beach. We will be seeing Much Ado About Nothing.

I'm looking forward to this because I've lived in Vancouver for many years and never have gone to this event though I do love plays. It is just the like amazing Folk Festival we have here every year in the 3rd week of July (just passed) which I never get to either and the growing Jazz Festival which I also miss each year, largely due to the fact that I am away up country.

My friend from Calgary is coming for her annual summer vacation to her childhood home and she arrives tomorrow. We have agreed to forego a "coffee date" on Saturday and instead have a play, dinner on the beach, concluded by fireworks which are part of the annual Celebration of Lights. How awesome is that. You can read all about the fireworks I was able to capture last year here and here.

I feel blessed that this year I am able to squeeze in a few things to savour the summer. I am ENJOYING my summer as I've long wanted to take the swimming lessons, I am getting my diabetes under control and I'm taking an exercise class. I am also getting a chance to take in some the summer festivals which is for me a great summer activity though I don't always get to the ones I've been thinking I'd like to see. Too many logistical issues but in time it will happen. Yeah. I hope your summer is also going well too !

Diabetes Epidemic

Some of you know that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about 5 weeks ago. I had a scare when the doctor told me my blood sugar was at an all time high of 11. The normal range is between 4-7. I immediately got on Metformin medication to help me process insulin and began to cut out some of my sugary snacks and soda pops like Coca-Cola. My doctor told me I could drink diet soda but I cannot stand the diet sweeteners. Besides that I've heard for a long time about the dangers of diet sweeteners.

You can read more about aspartame and it's effects on the body on Dr. Hull's website here. You can also read about all the other sweeteners here. There is also a good Australian summary about diet sweeteners and other food additives here. The Australian page made me realize that there is a lot of hidden aspartame in foods we consider healthy. I will have to investigate this further in relation to my own diet. If any of you are interested in how aspartame became legal if it is so bad for you, you can read a time line here.

  1. regular soda pop, mostly coca cola and ready sweetened drinks
  2. ice cream
  3. snacks like ready made cakes, cookies and other baked goods
  4. canned foods like beans
  5. ketchup and other condiments.

Despite all these changes I had gained quite a lot of weight since the fall due to previous illnesses/disabilities and an inability to move. I was also napping very frequently and for lengthy periods of time as I simply had no energy. I was extremely fatigued all the time and more than that I felt exceedingly unwell. I chalked it up to numerous health problems which I was already dealing with. In desperation I got onto some herbal tinctures made up for me by a naturopathic doctor at the urging of a friend of mine. While these tinctures did work in terms of helping me feel better and less inclined to napping, I was still suffering. Now I am on the Metformin, exercising regularly (it helps that I don't need to nap every day, though some days are better than other days) and still making adjustments to the diet.

For the first two weeks after my diagnosis, I was afraid to eat anything. For the next few weeks, I ate whatever was available and not always what was the healthiest. I did try very hard (and mostly succeeded) at not drinking coca cola or eating snack foods, sweet or otherwise. I also cut out Creamo from my coffee. I've mostly stopped drinking coffee as a result or use whitener though if I look up the ingredients in that, I may have to cut it out as well. I have been drinking more milk. I use 1% milk and have been drinking that and using it for my cereals for some years now. I have also been making my own ice tea drinks using real tea bags and sliced lemons mixed with a small bit of ice tea mix. I tend to like my drinks less sweet side so you can imagine how surprised I was when I learned that I had been drinking coca cola or equivalent soda pop, and that each can has anywhere from 10-12 teaspoons of sugar in it! In addition to the dietary changes I started with an exercise class and swimming lessons as well as more walking. I would not be able to add this physical activity to my weekly routine if this were last Fall so I am thankful I can do it now.

Yesterday on American television, two shows: The Drs. and Oprah with guest Dr. Oz talked about the epidemic of diabetes in America.

The 2009 estimated population in the USA is just under 310 million people. There are 24 million diabetics in America and 57 million pre-diabetics. Dr. Oz said that if the rate of diabetes in USA continues as it is now, it will bankrupt the American medical system. That's right! Bankrupt the system. That is a scary proposition. Especially since millions more American people are supposed to benefit from recent changes to their health care system. Doctors there also estimate that about 6 million people are walking around in USA who have diabetes but haven't yet been diagnosed. I think I got that number right, but you will hear it by clicking on the Oprah link above and listening to Dr. Oz.

Canada's estimated population for 2010 is just over 34 million people. I also read today that 1 out of every 10 Canadian people have been diagnosed with diabetes. That is a full 10 percent of us. I wonder how many are walking around without knowing they have this disease which has been dubbed the "silent killer"? The good news is that 90% of diabetes is preventable and reversible.

I didn't realize until I got a diagnosis of diabetes just how much there was to learn about coping with and managing the disease. Part of that is monitoring your blood sugar levels and you do that with a glucose monitor. I got mine today and measured my blood sugar with the assistance of the pharmacist at my doctor's office. It was a 6! That is fully 5 points less than it was a month ago and is now in the normal range.The pharmacist and student pharmacist were very happy and impressed.

I also borrowed this cookbook from the pharmacist to see what new recipes I can learn about that are good for my roommate and I.

If you would like to learn more about diabetes, please watch the videos on the links for The Drs. and Oprah above.

You can also read more
in Canada here.
in USA here.
in Australia here.
in South Africa here.
in Tanzania here.
in Kenya here.
in Norway here.
other EU Nations here.









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FIREWORKS by H.O. Santos

ENSENADA is only one hour south of Tijuana but what a difference one hour makes. It’s still a tourist town–gringos contribute a lot to the town’s economy–but it’s more tranquil. Unlike the border town of Tijuana, vendors in Ensenada aren’t always in your face trying to sell you a souvenir or a bed warmer for the evening. As a matter of fact, many commercial establishments don’t have employees who speak English–we do very well without you tourists, thank you very much, they seem to say. Even the popular Hussong’s Cantina with its almost hundred percent gringo clientele is outside of town and doesn’t affect Ensenada’s relative calm.

I love the isolation Baja California provides, all within a day’s drive from Los Angeles. My favorite Baja destination is easily San Felipe, a sleepy fishing village on the Gulf of California side, and that’s where Barbara and I were headed for. There are many ways to get there from Los Angeles but my favorite route is the one which goes all the way south to Ensenada via Tijuana. You then cross the peninsula through the winding road over the mountains to reach the other side.

Close to the halfway mark, Ensenada is a good stopping point to take a break. We hit it at the right time on this trip, at eleven in the morning.

I was with Barbara Westbay, my girl friend of almost two years. In spite of her decidedly non-Hispanic surname, she claims to have Latino ancestors. You couldn’t tell from the way she looked–she had red hair, green eyes, and freckles that showed prominently if she stayed in the sun too long. Lately it had been fashionable among gringos to claim Latino or Native American ancestry. I often wondered if she has been stretching the truth about her ancestry a little too much.

I never fully understood why she put up with my proclivity for these trips since she can’t take too much sun, an almost impossible thing to do in Baja. She’s envious of women who tan perfectly, those who can take on a beautiful shade of bronze without burning. She has to be careful for it’s extremely uncomfortable for her to lie down when she gets burned. I like to think she puts up with these trips because she loves me but I know she does it as much to get away from the madness of city life as she cares for me.

I parked Barbara’s Nissan Pathfinder in the center of Ensenada near the beach. We went to look for our favorite food vendors–the ones who plied the streets in their pushcarts and lunch trucks. She went to a truck that sold fish tacos. I found a vendor who served fresh clam cocktails from his pushcart. He picked a live one from a bucket, opened and cut it up, then put the meat into a large plastic cup. He squeezed lime juice into it, added chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and red peppers and handed the cup to me with several packets of Santos saltine crackers.

We stopped at the corner store to buy two cold bottles of Corona Beer before going to the beach to eat our lunch.

“Have a bite of my fish taco, it’s good.”

“What did you get this time, the usual shark?”

“They didn’t have shark but this tuna is good–it’s not overcooked, just lightly grilled.” I took a bite and agreed it was good.

“Here, have some of my cocktail, it’s pismo clam.” I brought a spoonful to her mouth to let her try it.

“Super. I wish we had these vendors in L.A. They’re so convenient.”

“We’re starting to have them already. I see vendors selling ice cream and drinks out of pushcarts. They’re probably all illegals, too.”

“Come on, you wouldn’t know an illegal if you saw one. Just because you see somebody who looks Hispanic doesn’t mean he’s a mojado.”

“I don’t think so. As an immigrant yourself, I expect you’d be more sensitive to their plight.”

“But I came to America legally. I’m not against immigration, only against those who do it illegally,” I protested.

“You have a lot to learn about how America stole most of the West from Mexico. All of the Western states from Texas to California used to belong to Mexico. The 1849 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo unfairly gave the West to America. Before, those areas were part of Mexico and people could move freely because there was no border. The worst part about it was that land was taken away illegally from their Mexican owners and given to the new settlers.”

“All right, but what are laws for if they’re not going to be enforced.”

“Some laws are so unfair they shouldn’t be enforced.”

I let Barbara have the last word because I suspected she would win the argument. She once told me that new immigrants like myself who have been in the U.S. just long enough are sometimes worse than native-born Americans when it comes to tolerating new immigration. Each new group thinks the door should be closed after they’ve come in.

After lunch, we bought two more six-packs of Corona and stashed them in our ice chest before going on our way. We were soon outside Ensenada going east and climbing along the winding road. Some parts of the mountain range were as high as seven thousand feet although the highway only reached five thousand. I had a chance to enjoy the scenery as Barbara had taken over the driving chores.

Along the mountain road were large boulders that looked like they could roll down and crush us at any moment. Although I knew they had been there for thousands of years, it was hard not to get disturbed. I was happy when we reached the high plateau and left them behind us.

We stopped to buy gasoline at a small town. The mountain towns didn’t have electricity–gas was dispensed in a primitive but ingenuous manner. The dispenser was a graduated glass container set high on a stand. An attendant pumped gas by hand from fifty-five gallon drums on the ground to the container until the desired amount was transferred. The gas was then allowed to flow down through a hose to your tank. We took in fifty liters of regular unleaded gas. I paid in dollars and didn’t bother to count the change which was given to me in pesos. In all the times I’ve been to Baja, no one has yet cheated me on the change owed me.

The gas attendant was an attractive young girl who must have been around ten or twelve. She wore jeans, a Western shirt, and cowboy boots. She had light hair and looked European unlike most of the other children around her who had mostly Indian features.

“You know, she could easily cross the border and won’t even get stopped,” Barbara commented. “None of her friends will make it, though.”

I knew Barbara was trying to tell me looks had everything to do with who was mistaken for an illegal alien in the United States. She was good at giving not-too-subtle hints like that to prove a point.

We were soon on the eastern slope of the mountain. From here on, the road is straight for the most part. It didn’t need to snake around since the slope is gentle all the way to the ocean. The landscape also changes radically here–the marine layer which blows in from the Pacific and makes the western side of the peninsula green doesn’t reach this far. It is an alkali desert–starkly bright white except for the black cinder cones of extinct volcanoes that rose from the desert floor in the distance. Every now and then we would see green farmland made possible by irrigation. I saw a red double-winged crop dusting plane make a pass to drop insecticide on the crops below. I thought of Snoopy–he would have loved to have been on that plane.

After an hour more, we got to the lowlands and at last I saw the ocean in the distance. I soon heard the ocean’s roar and smelled the salt air. Even after all the trips I’ve made to San Felipe, it was still a surprise to suddenly see an ocean at the edge of a dry and desolate desert.

We turned right when we reached the main highway. The road was surrounded by sand dunes on both sides and gently rose and fell but was absolutely straight. The ocean was only a few miles to our left but it didn’t do much to alleviate the July heat. We had turned the air conditioner off to spare the car’s cooling system and get used to the heat.

There were no clouds in the sky and it was hard to imagine there was life around except for the few scrub cactus and stunted mesquite that broke through the chalky soil. I knew from previous visits, though, that they were simply hiding from the midday heat and would come out when it got cooler.

As we approached San Felipe, billboards touting campsites along the beach became visible to our left. We turned left at our favorite, the Playas del Sol, which was two-thirds of the way to the center of San Felipe from where the first campground was. We left a trail of dust on the gravel road as Barbara drove to the campground which was half a mile from the highway. We were lucky to find a cabaña still available–the shade provided by the thatched palm roof supported on four wooden posts made all the difference between comfort and torture.

Our chosen spot was on a bluff fifteen feet higher than the beach. Barbara and I quickly got our equipment from the car and set them up. Barbara then moved her car to the west side of the cabaña to block the sun when it got low. We decided we didn’t need the tent–the wind wasn’t strong enough and we could sleep in the open. We worked quickly and changed into bathing suits so we could get in the water before the tide started receding again.

High tide is the only time you can swim in San Felipe. The water is all the way to the beach then. Fish come close and often jump out of the water. You can see an occasional flying fish skip thirty yards or more before dropping back into the water again.

The water temperature was pleasant–cool enough to be refreshing but not ice cold like it was in the winter. We stayed only long enough to cool off and went back to tidy up our little camp area for the evening. It was better to do this while it was still light because it gets very dark at night.

I had some pork chops marinating in a container in the ice chest. While waiting for the charcoal to get going, I set a couple of beach chairs on the bluff facing the ocean. We sat on the chairs and watched the tide go out. Sea gulls were making their last attempts at catching fish before the tide receded some more. The temperature must have been in the mid-nineties so we were dry without needing to towel off.

We had a good dinner–Barbara’s salsa was hotter than usual so it required frequent washing down with beer. Coronas weren’t heavy anyway and here in the hot climate you sweated off the effects of beer faster than you could drink it.

We took a shower after we washed our pots and pans in the wash area. The camp site had free toilets but charged a nominal fee for showers. Fresh water was trucked in daily from Mexicali which was sixty miles away. The lack of fresh water is what has slowed developers from fully exploiting this place, thank heavens.

By the time we got back, the camp manager had already turned on the generator that provided electricity to the fluorescent lamps along the main camp road. Besides the road, the wash, bath, and toilet areas were also lit. Lights were turned off at eleven o’clock.

At night, there’s absolutely nothing to do in the campground except stroll on the beach. It’s the kind of place that drive Las Vegas types crazy. We took a flashlight with us to look around–tiny crabs scurried away as we made our way through the tide pools. The exposed ocean floor was muddy, and we found an occasional fish or shrimp trapped in the shallow pools of water.

After the walk, we sat on our folding chairs, sipping beer again. I loved Barbara for understanding there were times when you could be with someone and not need to say anything. The connection was made through the silence, not the exchange of words.

In the distance, I could see the lights of Mexican towns on the mainland and an occasional ferry or fishing boat crossing the gulf which separated us from them. Looking out towards the mainland made it clear to me why early explorers mistook California for an island.

I looked up the moonless sky and through the clear desert air saw more stars than I could count. The Milky Way and the reddish Magellanic Cloud were clearly visible. I thought about my namesake, my tocayo, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez–he must have gazed at these very same stars from this same spot more than two centuries before.

I had read he was a Filipino carpenter who passed through Baja in 1781 with a group of settlers who were going to start a settlement, near the San Gabriel Mission, which would later become Los Angeles. He never made it because his Mexican wife and daughter got sick. He stayed behind to take care of them until they died. He ended up in Santa Barbara instead of Los Angeles.

I wondered what made him and countless other Filipinos cross the Pacific on Spanish galleons leaving everything behind, how he must have felt upon losing his family to illness just when they were getting close to Alta California where they would have had a better life. It seemed Filipinos had been going to strange lands to find better lives forever.

I counted three shooting stars in fifteen minutes but didn’t make a wish. What I wanted I already had.

“Do you mind if I turned the radio on?” I asked Barbara.

“No, it would be good to listen to some music.”

I fiddled with the dial–I could only get AM. I got stations from the Mexican mainland, a strong one from Albuquerque, but stopped at a station from Tuczon that was giving a news summary. The temperature had been over a hundred in most places along the border and the Border Patrol had found some illegal border crossers in the desert. Four were dead and seven were suffering from heat stroke and severe dehydration. The authorities were investigating whether their coyote had abandoned them or if they had crossed on their own without realizing how high the temperature would be that day.

“My God, what a terrible way to die,” Barbara said.

“I don’t understand why people take such chances. It’s dumb,” I replied.

“Maybe some day you will. I’ll love you even more when you do.”

“There are legal ways to get in…”

“Most people can’t get in legally. One day you’ll meet a real illegal and you’ll find out why they do things you consider dumb.”

The news was over. I turned the dial to a Mexican station that played boleros. It was depressing to hear about people crossing the border only to die after they make it to their promised land. The music helped me push the thought away from my mind. I had more beer and watched the stars until I fell asleep.

IT must have been already in the eighties when I woke up. The tide had started to move out again and it was getting quieter. It had come in during the night, its roar lulling me to a deeper sleep. Its sound is so soothing you tend to wake up when it goes away.

The sun hadn’t as yet risen but the eastern horizon already had a pink tinge. Clouds over the mainland were slowly turning crimson. Stars were still visible on the zenith and towards the western horizon. After a while, the sun peeked out and the sky was filled with a riot of colors. I don’t think there’s a more beautiful sunrise than in San Felipe. Too bad not many people get to see it because they don’t wake up early enough.

I placed a towel on Barbara to cover her–I noticed she hadn’t bothered to put her clothes back on after we woke up in the middle of the night wanting each other badly. She was still sleeping soundly and I didn’t want to wake her up.

I filled a pot with water and made coffee, then watched the sun rise higher as I drank my coffee. A few people around camp were now beginning to stir and move about and so did Barbara. She gave me an amused grin when she realized she was naked–she hastily put her clothes on. As she washed her face in a small basin, I made her a cup of coffee. She didn’t say anything but hugged me to give her silent thank you before starting to fry bacon and eggs.

Barbara fried our leftover rice with garlic in the bacon fat. I was surprised how easily she had gotten to like the Filipino breakfast staple I taught her to make. She fixes it every time she gets a chance.

It was a lazy morning and by the time we had everything stowed away, it was already nine o’clock and very hot. We went to town to buy more food, drinks, and ice.

When we returned to Playas del Sol, an itinerant vendor was standing in the shade of our cabaña. He politely waited until we got everything out from the car before showing us what he was selling. He had jamacas, a very compact hammock made from hand-tied twine. It was only a few bucks so I bought one. I didn’t necessarily want to sleep in one but I thought it would be handy in keeping our stuff up from the sand.

I was hanging the hammock from the cabaña posts when I saw this young woman carrying a basket on top of her head. She had it effortlessly balanced and didn’t need to hold it with her hands. It had been a long time since I last saw a woman do that.

She was walking towards us. She was petite, must have been only an inch or two over five feet, and had a nice figure. Her skin was deep brown, perhaps from the sun, and she was wearing an embroidered blouse of rough cotton. She looked like a typical chinita poblana, a Mexican country woman of mostly Indian blood, except she was wearing shorts instead of a skirt. She was a pretty sight to look at–good looking, nice figure, shapely legs, and walking like a model on a runway. The basket on her head made her walk in a sensuous manner, her hips and hands swaying gracefully to keep her balance in the soft sand. I noticed that all the men around us had turned their heads to ogle her.

She approached Barbara and showed what she had in her basket–pork and chicken tamales, she said. She had an intense look in her eyes but they looked like they were ready to turn into a twinkle anytime.

“Do you have salsa to go with it?” Barbara asked.

“Yes, of course,” she answered. “It is good and fresh.”

“Let me try one chicken,” Barbara said.

I brought over a paper plate and a fork. The woman put the tamale on the plate and Barbara split the cornhusk wrapper open with her fork. She then poured salsa straight from the jar and started eating.

“It’s good, I can eat another one. Do you want one, hon?”

“I’ll try one,” I said. I got another paper plate and asked for pork tamale. It was almost lunch time anyway and it was too hot to cook. All we needed was cold beer and our lunch would be complete.

I pulled the beach chairs into the shade and offered one to the woman.

“My name is Tony, this is Barbara. We’re from Los Angeles.”

“I am Lita,” she said softly as she sat down. She had been staring at me for a while. I got a plastic cup and asked if she wanted soda or beer.

I put ice in the plastic cup for her and poured her some Coke. I got a couple of Coronas for myself and Barbara.

After Lita took a sip, she said, “Dalawa na lang po ang natitira, bilhin na po ninyo para huwag na akong maglakad pa.”

I was pleasantly surprised and smiled, “Pinay ka pala. Kaya naman pala napakaganda mo.”

She lowered her eyes and blushed. I turned to Barbara, “Luv, she’s Filipina. She says she has only two tamales left and was wondering if we want to buy them so she can go home.”

“Why not, they’re good–I’m sure you can eat another one.”

We sat there in the shade eating our lunch. I offered a tamale to Lita but she declined saying she couldn’t eat one–she made them every day. I gave her instead a mango we got from town.

“How did you get to Baja?” I asked.

“It is long story, take too long to tell.”

“Oh, we got time,” I said but Lita didn’t say anything.

“Tell you what,” Barbara said, joining in. “We’d like to invite you for dinner tonight. It’s the Fourth of July and we’d like to celebrate a little bit. Then you can tell us.”

Lita thought for a while then said, “Only if you let me cook.”

“Nothing fancy, we don’t have a lot of utensils here. I was just going to cook what we were able to buy in the market this morning.”

Lita checked the icebox. “We have plenty–I bring what else we need,” she said as she picked up her basket. “Let me go now so I tell my family about tonight–they are very good to me.”

“Do you live far? I can drive you,” Barbara offered.

“No, I can walk. The house I live is near entrance to this camp. Across street, on left, only house there.”

“I’ll see you later then–I won’t start till you get here.”

Meanwhile, the tide had rolled back in. People were now all over the beach frolicking in the surf. To the right, I could see Cerro El Machorro, dark, tall, and majestic. It hid San Felipe from our view. I imagine it was what fishermen used as a landmark in finding their way back to port. I wouldn’t know–I have never been out to sea in San Felipe.

It was a lazy and peaceful feeling, sitting in the shade and listening to the surf. It’s hard to imagine how a hot, barren, and remote place could have attracted settlers hundreds of years ago. But then some people tend to occupy niches and would gladly settle for a less abundant place to call home rather than struggle against other people in a more opulent location. I wondered if I had what it takes to live in such a place or if I would do what many of them do–cross the border to find better life in Alta California.

Barbara had gone to the water to cool off. You can’t really swim very well in San Felipe, the water is shallow in most places. But you can sit on the sandy bottom and let the cool water splash over you and the strong waves rock you back and forth. It’s a great place to pretend you’re a seaweed.

By the time I got in the water, Barbara already had her limit of sun for the day. I stayed in the water for an hour while she dozed off on the beach chair in the shade of the cabaña.

BARBARA and I had already showered and changed when Lita arrived promptly at five o’clock. She was wearing a loose, lavender printed shift that draped beautifully over her body. It showed off her figure quite well. She had with her a wok and a small basket filled with vegetables. It seemed she was ready for some serious cooking and wasn’t going to settle for anything less.

“Lita, you shouldn’t have bothered,” Barbara said.

“I want to cook good food this time–we don’t have much what we cook here in Baja, we’re too poor. And I want to practice, too.”

“I leave everything up to you, then. I’ll help–tell me what you want me to do.”

Lita and Barbara were soon at work–Lita taught Barbara her recipes. I stayed out of their way and helped by washing the dirty dishes, pots, and pans.

It took them a while but when they got done, we had sinigang of mullet, beef fajitas, pepper fried shrimp, and steamed rice. We had more food than we could eat so I suggested they take some to Lita’s foster family. Barbara and Lita wrapped food in aluminum foil and took them there. It was a chance to let her family know how good a cook she was.

While they were away, I managed to appropriate for our use a couple of wooden planks which I set across the two ice chests to make a table. I used an extra bed sheet for a tablecloth. I set the food, paper plates, napkins, and plastic flatware on our banquet table. It was beginning to look like a real party and I wished we had dinner candles to make it perfect.

A man selling fireworks out of the trunk of his car was making the rounds when Barbara and Lita got back. I bought a few each of the different kinds he had. Fireworks are illegal in most of California because they’re dangerous. But what the heck, I was in Mexico and wanted to live a bit dangerously.

We ate dinner out of styrofoam plates using plastic flatware. Lita was a good cook–I especially liked her pepper fried shrimp which was lightly battered and crispy. I kept going back with my paper cup for additional helpings of her sour soup.

“Where did you learn to cook?” I asked.

“I cook at home when I was young girl. Then I live in Hong Kong, and now in Mexico. I learn all kinds of cooking because I always help whoever cooks.”

“I am Bicolana, from Daraga, Albay. I went to Hong Kong as maid. I was sixteen when I left home–I make false papers to show I was eighteen.”

“That’s interesting. How did you get to Mexico?”

She didn’t answer but sipped her tequila instead. Like when I asked earlier, she evaded my question.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry into your life.”

She looked at me and said, “I like to tell people my story but nobody believe me because it sound not true.”

Barbara put an arm around her shoulder and said, “Tell me–I’ll believe you.” Barbara was a people person, one who easily obtained the trust of those she met. I was her exact opposite, I didn’t trust anyone and nobody trusted me.

Lita began by telling us how she got recruited from her hometown in Albay by an agent from Manila. She didn’t have enough money for fees and airfare so she signed a promissory note to pay an exorbitant amount for her expenses. The payments would come out of her pay once she started working in Hong Kong. She and several other girls were taken to a residence in Manila where they were briefed on how to behave and how to conduct themselves. More importantly, they were told how a company representative would come around every payday to collect the amount due on the loans.

Things went fine with her–she was able to send a little money home and save a little for herself even after making her monthly payments to the recruiting company. Her dream was to save enough to be able to buy a modest house and start a little dress shop in her hometown when she returned.

It had gotten dark and the camp generator was turned on. People began setting off fireworks and lighting firecrackers. I got mine out and was getting ready to join in the celebration when I saw two local boys looking enviously at everybody else. I called them over and said they could light my fireworks if they felt like it.

“Gracias, señor. Feliz Cuatro de Julio!” one said as they proceeded to argue about who was going to light which rocket. Soon the sky was filled with rockets bursting into multicolored sparklers that floated down leisurely. The pop-pop-pop of firecrackers came from all around. It was strange to see the Fourth of July being celebrated in another country but tonight San Felipe, with all its visitors, was an American town.

Lita continued with her story as we sipped more tequila.

“Everything fine until my master’s wife visit her family in New Territories. My amo came home one night and wanted a woman. He force me–I never been in bed with a man before. I was scared and wish to die. He did it again the next night and until his wife return home.

“I told her what happen but she laugh, say to me I only want money from them to make accusation. I went to Philippine Consulate and they tell me go to office that would help. I learn they could not because I cannot prove–I did not run away or call police when it happen.

“I become so sad. I do not know what to do, then later houseboy next door who was good person tell me he leave for America. A ship take a boat full of people to America. He give money for down payment and pay balance after he work in America.

“I ask to come but I do not know if I have enough money so he tell boat officer we are married so I only pay little amount for down payment.”

At that point it seemed Lita wouldn’t continue with her story. Barbara put more ice in her glass. I poured more tequila and lime soda for her. We watched the last of the fireworks as Lita continued with her story.

It took them four weeks to cross the Pacific. The ship’s captain first tried to dump them off in Canada but a navy ship started trailing them when they got close. Their ship moved south but it was impossible to get close to the western shores of the United States–the Coast Guard must have been warned by the Canadian Navy. The ship’s officers were getting desperate so when they got to Mexico they packed their load of passengers onto lifeboats and let them paddle by themselves to shore in Baja California.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good. A few boats capsized and some people drowned. Most of those who made it to shore were apprehended and taken into custody. Lita was one of the few who managed not to get caught. Her brown skin helped her blend in with the locals–the Chinese didn’t have a chance.

Lita was taken in by a friendly family who lived outside Ensenada. They hid her from the authorities but after a few weeks took her to San Felipe where they said she would be safer. They had relatives there who were just as poor but who understood how it was to hide from the authorities.

After all the fireworks had been lit and exploded, relative peace settled once more on the beach. We started putting things away–tomorrow we’d be on our way back to L.A. Back to routine, back to trying to make enough money to pay off bills and still have enough left for an occasional trip like this.

Unexpectedly, Lita came to me and said, “Manong, if you could be so kind can I go with you to Los Angeles tomorrow? I think I can pass the border checkpoint because they know I am not Mexican and they think I come with you for July 4th vacation.”

I was flabbergasted. I felt sorry for her but I knew what would happen if we got caught trying to smuggle her in.

“It’s not a simple task,” I said. “If they get suspicious, they’ll not only get you but also put us in jail. Barbara has a lot to lose because they can take her car away.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Barbara said. “I think it’s the best time to get her in because there’ll be thousands of other people returning to the U.S. from this three-day weekend. The border agents will have their hands full and won’t be able to scrutinize everybody as much as they normally would.”

“Well, it’s still a big risk–we should really think it over before we say yes or no. If we get caught, they’ll take away my green card and kick me out of the country.”

They didn’t say anything more but gave me a pained and disappointed look. The mood turned dark.

“Let me take you home, Lita,” Barbara finally said. “We’ll get this settled somehow.”

WHEN Barbara returned, she was sullen and quiet. I tried to make small talk but she kept ignoring me. Finally, she blurted out, “Dammit, why can’t you have compassion for other people for once. Here’s your chance to do something good and you refuse to do it.”

“You know I can’t take the chance–you’re safe because you’re American-born. You know what they would do to me if we get caught.”

“You’re so fuckin’ gutless you can’t even stick your neck out for one of your own kind. You know what she’s been through? You haven’t even tasted a fraction of what she’s been through. How can you be so smug in your self-righteousness about what’s right or wrong?”

“Look, if you’re so fuckin’ chicken you can get out from the car before we get to the border. You can fuckin’ walk across–you have papers. Why don’t you let us take that chance? Just make sure you have enough money for bus fare to L.A. because I wouldn’t want you back in my car… Gosh, I thought I knew you better.”

With that she started crying and moved her sleeping bag as far away as she could from mine. Barbara tended to use colorful language when she gets mad but I had never seen her so agitated before. It bothered me because it seemed we truly didn’t know each other very well.

I had a fitful night–I wanted to reach out and touch Barbara but she seemed so far away. I had nightmares about being left behind and walking all the way across the desert to get back to L.A. The sun was mercilessly beating down on me and I wanted water but there was none.

The next morning started out exactly like the last one–hot and muggy. I didn’t feel like drinking coffee so I didn’t make any. Nobody bothered to fix breakfast. I knew Barbara was feeling as badly as I was for her eyes were red from crying and she was unusually quiet. We packed our things and loaded them into her car in silence. So this was how relationships ended. I didn’t know it would be so quiet.

I had a sick and empty feeling as we left the campground. I drove along the gravel road towards the main highway where I had to turn right to get back to California.

As I stopped at the corner to check for cross traffic, I saw through the already shimmering haze of the midmorning heat a lone shack across the road on the left–it looked so far from Daraga. I remembered my tocayo who vainly tried more than two hundred years ago to take his family north from here to give them a better life.

I wasn’t sure whether it was because borders didn’t make sense to me anymore or if I was simply scared of losing Barbara. Whatever it was, I crossed to the other side of the highway and turned left. When she noticed, Barbara reached out to touch my hand and started weeping. Her touch made me feel good again.

WE had Lita sit in the front with me, Barbara moved to the back seat. It would look better that way at the border. Lita only had one duffel bag–I thought it odd that one can move from one country to another with so very little. It made clear to me one doesn’t need much in life except his own wits to survive.

We were quiet on the way back to the border. The long drive gave me time to reflect on what happened the night before–I began to understand how my dreams had shaped not only how others saw me but how I perceived them as well.

Barbara was right–the immigration officer was busy and only asked how long we’ve been away, where we’ve been, and whether we had purchased anything in Mexico. He entered our vehicle’s plate number into his computer and waved us through when he found nothing.

When we got back on the freeway inside the U.S. I told Barbara I needed to stop in San Diego to do something. I got off the freeway and drove to the parking lot at the Amtrak station.

I got out of the car, opened the back door, and picked up my knapsack. I handed Barbara the car keys and gave her a long, lingering hug. I found it hard to keep everything in as I said, “Luv, I’m taking the train home.”


This amalgamation of mechanically separated meats and fats is more like a luncheon meat than an actual cured and dried leg of a pig.

Canned ham is a powerhouse of flavor and protein. It is also a great ingredient that can be added to other things like eggs, rice and vegetables.

3. Almost everything makes a great story in retrospect.

So, if there is a silver lining to the hardship of military life, it would be that the best stories seem to be born of the hardest tests.

How about that one where I was in a training class and in order to prove to my male counterparts that I wasn’t a princess, agreed to carry a radio that weighed an additional 40 lbs. on my back during an exercise, until I literally could not move anymore? Great story.

How about the one where I had to work an overnight shift on Christmas Eve and the officer in charge brought in an entire roasted pig, head an all, for a Christmas feast? Awesome story.

How about that time when our unit did a Battalion run through German vineyards, and it was so muddy that the run was more like a slip ‘n slide? Yep.. only in the military do you collect great stories like that. And wow, there are so many fantastic stories to tell.

Technique of the Week — Collage, beyond the Magazine

I didn’t forget my drawing challenge today! I’ll have to paint this later, though.

Almost everyone has made a collage at sometime in their lives often by cutting up pictures from magazines and reassembling them to express a theme or an inspirational message. This is a great way to explore ideas or your inner landscape, but do you know that collage is also a respected painterly medium, used by such famous artists as Picasso and Matisse? Many graphic artists and illustrators also use collage, and there have even been comics done entirely in collage! While I’m not against making magazine collages, there is so much more to it!

Almost any material can be added to a collage, as long as it is able to be glued onto a piece of paper or a board, and can be used to do artistic exploration of a different nature — textures, colours, and composition. I have often put together combinations of colours or textures in a collage that I would never think of using paint, and the radically different way of building a picture leads me to think differently about composition as well, though the same principles apply as would for any painting.

Learning to make collage is largely a matter of doing it you glue paper and other things together until you have a picture. But it helps to know some practical stuff, and I’m going to list some ideas here about materials and ways to use them.

Stone thoughts — hand decorated and printed papers, handmade paper. Spirals are really fun to cut!

Glue: Use quality glue. My favourite is matte acrylic medium, PVA glue (basically fancy white glue) or a good quality white glue such as Weld-Bond. The PVA has the advantage of not making your paper curl the matte acrylic medium has the advantage of not leaving a shiny sheen on your paper as the PVA or white glue will. However, sometimes I want to just lay down a protective, shiny coat, in which case the other glues are fine. Often I even give a final coat all over the piece with gloss acrylic medium, which really brings out the colours.

Some people prefer flour or rice based pastes, which you can make yourself (numerous recipes exist online) or buy in ready-to-mix form. These are archival, and nice to use, but have one serious disadvantage as far as I’m concerned — mice and bugs love them!

Stone Magic — hand decorated and printed papers, handmade paper

Support: This is the thing you glue the collage bits to. Anything flat that you can glue something onto can be a support. You can even collage 3-d objects such as boxes, chairs, guitar cases, or your car. Here are some types of supports I have used for creating wall-hung pieces of art: card stock, matboard, foam-core, plywood, masonite, and stretched canvas.

Juggle the Light — hand decorated and printed papers, handmade paper

Paper: Now for the fun part! There are so many different kinds of paper. If you are using the acrylic mediums or white glues you don’t even have to worry about archival qualities (basically: how acid-free is it?) because the paper will be coated in plastic, though colour fading due to light is still a consideration. Here’s some paper ideas:

Found papers: old letters, postcards, tickets, fragments you pick up off the street, discards from the blue box, stamps, wrappers, the general paper detritus of our everyday lives — you get the idea. If it looks interesting, collage it!

Exotic and decorated papers: The art stores are full of gorgeous papers, and nowadays you can even get sampler packs of small pieces in many colours. Handmade papers, hand-decorated papers, printed papers, gift wrap papers, Oriental papers these are all like a treasure box for creating collage.

Portals — my own hand decorated papers, some gold tissue paper, and some beautiful Japanese gift-wrap.

It’s fun to further embellish your collage after you glue it. The collage below was embroidered on the white part of the paper with thread (you can just barely see it here), and I often go back in and add paint or pencil in spots, or sometimes glaze over the whole thing with a layer of slightly tinted acrylic medium to bring it all together.

Magic and Mist — I made this from bits of linocut proofs and some paper that I rolled leftover ink onto after a printmaking session.

Recycle your art work! Every artist has a pile of “failed” paintings, test sheets, and rags with paint all over them. Printmakers in particular always end up with lots of proofs. Don’t throw them away! Paint and paper are expensive, and you meant them to be paintings anyway, right? It’s incredibly liberating to tear up a painting that was causing you agonizing waves of grief every time you looked at it, and reduce it to little bits of pretty colour that you can glue back together in another form. Have a paper-ripping party! (Can you tell I really like doing this?) If you don’t like the raw ripped paper edges, colour them with coloured or metallic pens in the collage below, I used a gold metallic pen. Shiny!

Stone Wisdom — hand decorated and printed papers, handmade paper

Hand-decorate your own paper: Haven’t got that exact colour you need for the collage? Paint a series of sheets with solid colours in your chosen medium, then you’ve always got the right colour to hand. Try some marbling, or make some linocut or potato stamps and make printed patterns. Or just throw paint at the paper, or pour it on!

Cougar in the Ferns — made from photocopies of my sketch of a cougar and some photos I took of ferns. I was going to glaze it with paints, but I liked it so much in black and white I left it.

Photos: Using your own photos is much more personal than cutting images out of magazines. If you don’t want to use the actual photo (and there are often possible fading issues here anyway), make a photocopy of it. Black and white photocopies can be particularly compelling, and you can always add colour back in with paint. You can also photocopy your own artwork, such as sketches in this way. Either glue these directly into your collage, or use a transfer method on the photocopy.

Tonga — stamp, Japanese gift wrap, magazine photo, hand decorated paper

Text: newspapers, old books, letters, spreadsheets — these can be used in an aesthetic way or for their actual content. I usually try to see any text or markings first as just part of the way the thing looks, as if they were in a foreign language, unless I am actually using them as the theme of the piece, as I sometimes do with fortune cookie fortunes or book clippings. Sometimes I add text after the main picture is composed to give an ironic, humorous, or mysterious twist to the subject matter.

Fossil Sea — a tiny watercolour painting set into hand-decoarated, very textured handmade paper, with the additions of real seashells and a piece of glass.

You can also add three-dimensional objects to a collage, as long as it isn’t too heavy for the support and the type of glue you are using. Here are some ideas: Old jewelry, trinkets, souvenirs fabric scraps or trim, perhaps from a treasured but defunct item strange bits of hardware or wood that you think are cool or beautiful natural items from last summer’s vacation or your backyard: shells, driftwood, rocks string, wire, thread, fur… If you think the glue won’t hold it, drill some holes in your support and sew or wire it on.

Heart of Light — hand decorated and printed papers, handmade paper

The most rewarding thing to me about doing collage is making connections between seemingly unrelated materials and melding them into an aesthetic (and sturdy) whole. I try to see each piece as an object on its own merit the colour, the potential shapes it could be torn or cut into, its texture, and put them together as if I were making a painting.

Elemental Stone — hand-decorated and printed papers

One last helpful hint: don’t start gluing until you have at least most of your pieces selected and laid out in the layers you want to add them! Then take each layer and set it aside in a separate place, so that you can begin with glueing the first layer. If it is an especially complicated piece, take a photo of the layout or sketch it before you disassemble it.

Happy collaging! I hope I’ve inspired you to try it, if you haven’t already, and if you have, I hope this information will prove useful for new collages. If you have any questions about collage, please ask them in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them!

41 comments on &ldquoNitration Isn’t So Simple&rdquo

A few years ago my wife asked me what I would do if I ended up with a stupid amount of money. My answer was that I would endow a chair to myself at an appropriate school and explore the physical organic chemistry of all the basic things we don’t really understand. I’d like to congratulate Dan Singleton and his coworker for doing some of the most interesting things I’ve read in years in the current funding environment. This result really blew my hair back, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few years.

If you will excuse me, I’m going to hedge my stock options with a couple lottery tickets.

I wouldn’t try to read too much into the observation that the PCM (implicit solvent) calculations might fail to describe these systems. As introduced, PCM was parameterized for water (I think at the HF/6-31G* level) using measured gas to water transfer free energy data. If you change the QM protocol then you can no longer claim that your results are backed by measured data unless you’ve re-parameterized PCM using the new QM protocol. Once you move away from water to another solvent it is highly probable that there are no gas to solvent transfer free energy measurements for the solvent of interest. My understanding is that PCM handles other solvents by changing the solvent radius and dielectric constant. Many continuum solvent models are also charge type symmetric which means that an anion and cation with the same radius will give the same solvation energy in DMSO.

Absolutely, it is not surprising when any particular flavor of implicit solvent model works poorly for a reaction. The interesting question from our viewpoint is whether any fairly reparameterized alternative flavor would work. Perhaps, but I don’t think so.

Proverbially “All models are wrong” but models can be wrong in two ways. One way is that the fine details of the model can be incorrect. If Newton predicted where a thrown ball would land but used an incorrect value for the acceleration of gravity, his prediction would be wrong. The model is then fixable in a straightforward manner. The other way that models can be wrong is if there are physical factors that are important in reality but not allowed for in the model. Newton’s prediction could be wrong if his model did not allow for wind resistance, or if the ball was thrown at nearly the speed of light. No simple reparameterization would truly help, though an unfair adjustment of parameters might lead to a correct prediction in any particular case.

I see implicit solvent models as fitting this mold. They are exceeding useful. Their errors can also be substantial. Some errors can be corrected within the same general framework, but implicit solvent models will likely never allow for solvent motions, and they will likely always assign a specific energy to a specific solute geometry. These inherent limitations will show up in the dynamics of reactions.

Thanks, Dan, for your response. There’s another saying about models that goes something like, ‘A theory can be right or wrong. A model has a third option in that it can also be irrelevant”. We can debate about what the PCM calculations add to your study but I did want to raise another point. Simulation of the dynamics of the system certainly accounts for the observed product ratios. However, I would still be wary of trying to read too much into the results since relative rates of formation of 3 regioisomers is not a huge data set and we don’t know anything about the sensitivity of the results to the choice of QM protocol used to parameterize the system for simulation. That said, it is good to see simulation being used in this manner (in the drug discovery field we do get a fair amount of, ‘we simulated this huge system so we are going to transform/disrupt drug design’) and I wish you good luck and great success in taking the field further.

Do traditional computations better model nitrations performed in the gas phase? For instance, toluene has been nitrated with radiolytically generated CH3NO2H+ in methane at 720 torr. ( ) Under these conditions, the rate is 5.1 times faster than with benzene and the o:m:p ratio is 59:7:34. It is not much, but a second data point could be useful and gas phase computations should be a bit easier.

This feels like an extension of what just becomes more and more apparent to me: Everything Matters. Assuming that little thing (like what did you build your reaction vessel out of in my case) is fine, and won’t make any difference: oh yes it will. And yeah, solvents matter guys.

Thank you for the interpretation for us non-computational guys.

Nice job on the three level format – quotes, discussion, and explanation for the non-chemists, I felt it worked well and was appreciated!

There is a chemist called Quinones?

And he has a daughter named Ethyl.

Yexenia Nieves-Quinones, female, by the way.

In that case, her daughter must be Esther

There are only two ways to deal with a name that long: (1) Shorten it to “Jane Smith” so you don’t get writer’s cramp, or (2) Do groundbreaking research so your name gives future students writer’s cramp. Good for her for choosing option two.

Is it a nitronium (NO2+) we need here rather than a nitrosonium (NO+)? Solvent effects dominate in Marcus theory for proton and electron tunneling. It seems amazing to be able to add these to the simulations here though.

I’m still marvelling in a childish way about the nominative determinism of a chemist called Quinones though.

You’re absolutely right I’ve just gone back and fixed that one. Thanks!

O/T Derek, you might like to glance at the British papers large penalties for two drug firms guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, with the added prospect of the NHS suing for damages.

Seems like a really nice paper. Of note, “yet the trajectories require an *extraordinary 3 ps* to descend an exergonic slope”.

Tells you how radically different the concept of time is for atoms and molecules.

Great article, even as a physicist I found it really interesting. I do not know why you should be surprised by the time scales of the reactions. Gamma-ray decay in nuclei is driven by the exact same electromagnetic force as drives chemical reactions and most gamma decays have time scales varying from a few femtoseconds, to hundreds of picoseconds. There are outliers of course, but usually there are other effects (quantum angular momentum considerations) blocking the decay from happening on its ‘natural timescale’.

As a physicist I loved your description of quantum mechanics and relativity. I would add that it is not that quantum mechanics and relativity are incompatible, after all, we have the Dirac equation and the Klein-Gordan equation which give us relativistic descriptions of quantum phenomena. The incompatibility, if you want to call it that, comes between general relativity and quantum field theory.

If quantum mechanics is as you described it, then quantum field theory is a the guy who stands at the plate in Fenway Park, points out how he is going to hit the ball off three airplane cockpit windows and have it land precisely in the coffee cup of Richard Feynman at Caltech. And then proceeds to do that! Quantum Electrodynamics, for example, shows agreement with experiment to an astounding 10 parts per billion, it might be more, but experiment needs to improve before we can see.

Anyways, the incompatibility comes in trying to quantize a field that gives rise with the properties of gravity. The field quanta (the force carrying particles like photons, gluons, the W+, the W-, and Z0 bosons) are strange compared to the other field quanta (they should be massless spin 2 particles, but spin 2 makes things hard) and have interaction diagrams with unrenormalizable infinities. Since we cannot renormalize it in perturbation theory we need to either find some grand theory that it is part of where things can be renormalized, or use a non-perturbative method, neither of those is easy.

Thanks! QED’s accuracy astonishes me – if you want to come after that theory and replace it, you’d better have some epochal moves. What (as a chemist) I find most striking about both quantum theory and relativity is that the predictions that they both make are (1) very specific, testable to many decimal places, (2) numerous, and (3) often completely outlandish when compared to intuition and experience. And yet they nail them every time. That’s some powerful stuff.

Feynman compared the accuracy of QED in determining the magnetic moment of the electron to determining the distance between New York and New Orleans accurately to within the width of a human hair.

My understanding is that the value of the spin angular momentum pseudovector of a given boson, is equal to the rank of the tensor describing that boson’s force. Higgs bosons (implicated in mass) have spin 0, hence mass is a rank 0 tensor (an ordinary scalar), whilst photons and the W and Z particles have spin 1, therefore their forces are described using rank 1 tensors (standard vectors). The graviton is predicted to be a spin 2 particle, and consequently, a full description of gravity requires a rank 2 tensor. If anyone ever discovers (in some new physics beyond the standard model) bosons with spin 3 or higher, that’s when the fireworks will really start.

For those unfamiliar with this, if you’re working in N dimensions, with a tensor of rank r, that tensor has Nr components. Gravity is properly a rank 2 tensor in general relativity, and in relativistic 4-space, has 42 = 16 components. Trouble is, it’s a symmetric tensor, which means that components on either side of the diagonal in the matrix representation are equal, and consequently, only 10 of those 16 components are actually distinct. Which, I gather, has significant implications for renormalisation.

Bleh, superscript tags didn’t work in my exposition above. That should be N^r and 4^2, just to clarify things.

maybe I’m being terribly shallow here, but this doesn’t seem novel in its gross features. If this were in the gas-phase, there’s a barrier to form the nitronium species, there’s a (usually) rate-determining barrier for that cation to complex the toroidal pi-cloud above the aromatic plane (that’s where they keep the electrons), there’s a product-determining barrier to move that nitronium down into the sigma plane of the ring, there’s a barrier to lose H+ and restore aromaticity. But in the condensed phase, polar chemistry will require that we treat with the solvent.

I may be missing something here, but is the statement, “There aren’t any intermediates other than the sigma-complexes, and there aren’t any transition states other than the one leading to the initial encounter between the two reactants ” correct?

If I understood the post correctly, the problem with the “classical” methods is that they don’t account for discrete solvent molecules. The Singleton group’s approach adds those 101 molecules of methylene chloride to their calculations and get a result consistent with experimental observations. Rather than saying that intermediates and transition states in this reaction don’t exist, doesn’t it mean that the explicit presence of those solvent molecules must be included when describing those intermediates and transition states?

Certainly this paper demonstrates the importance of modeling an entire system, but I don’t think it shows we have to throw out the concept of the reaction coordinate.

As I understand it, you’re missing the point. Derek’s quote leaves the standard sigma complex intermediates in textbooks intact, what he’s saying is that Olah’s pre-formed pi-complex doesn’t exist.

I still don’t quite get where the selectivity comes from. From page 8:

“The energy surface confronting theNO2+ may be viewed as the superposition of the energy effects of the solvent dipoles and counterion placement on the intrinsic energetics
for NO2+ attack. Since the latter is energetically steeper when the attack is ortho or para, a downhill path is more quickly available for formation of ortho and para complexes than for meta or ipso complexes.”

Why is the effect of counterion placement on the intrinsic energetics for attack stepper when the attack is ortho or para?

This is the question I’m trying to answer in my head as well. What I’m trying to do is complete the sentence: “The nitration of toluene is o,p-selective because…”. Best I’ve got at the moment is that “the kinetic barrier to solvent reorganization to access the m- substituted sigma complex intermediate is higher than the barrier to the o- and p- intermediates.” Sound right?

Of course one can always go down the rabbit hole about why the barrier to meta is higher, but when you’re talking about 103 molecules (now counting the PhMe and NO2+), I’m happy with a hand-wavy “aggregate effect”.

Thanks, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one coming to that conclusion.

Can you use Feynman integrals for such problems in which you consider every single pathway to and from the transition state?

In principle you could. In practice you would tie up computational resources equivalent to every super computer on earth, put together, for thousands of years to do QED path integrals for a system that large and complex. Feynman diagrams are a visual representation of perturbation theory for QFT, in a system that strongly perturbed from the system we can easily solve exactly (point-like charged particles with no external fields or interactions) you would need probably billions of diagrams just to compute at first order (tree level), you would probably need billions or trillions times that to get second order results.

Another non-chemist here, originally attracted by the occasional posts of splodey stuff (Ignition! in particular). That said, enough of the science I remember from school/Uni is still stuck in my brain so that I could easily follow this post.

I come here to challenge myself and to be educated. At my age, if you don’t use your brain you lose your brain, so please keep it up. Just don’t ask me to calculate Feynman integrals -).

Wonder how long before they work out the full mechanism for making Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane?

Has much study been done of noble gas solvents? The absolutely nonpolar spherical solvent molecules (atoms) should eliminate many solvent effects and possibly significantly alter the reaction besides being a seemingly ideal model system. Supercritical xenon, anyone?

The wrinkle with non-polar solvents is that polar stuff tends to cluster with itself to varying extents, making it even harder to figure out what the “real” solvent environment surrounding your reacting molecules is. Maybe the reaction rates are fast enough that going super-dilute is enough to avoid this?

I don’t think liquid noble gasses, or liquid nitrogen for that matter, will dissolve anything.

Look for matrix isolation techniques. Usually used for molecular spectroscopy, but with patient you can do chemistry too. Monomolecular photochemistry is may be the easiest with it, but there are bimolecular examples as well.

No one cares how reactions work just how many substrates and how many yealds

Sorta. IANA chemist, but it seems to me that if you know how it works you can predict which substrates give which yields. Info that would reduce a lot of lab trail and error to “simple” computation followed by implementation.

That is the promise / premise of the whole computational chemistry enterprise. CPU cycles are cheap. Lab time is not.

Sadly, medicinal chemists (and likely most other synthetic chemists) don’t really care too much about old fashion nitration reactions. Long story short, they aren’t selective enough to be of use once the substrate becomes complicated (all this work to explain nitration of…toluene), there are better (more selective, less harsh) ways to introduce nitrogen-containing functional groups, and nitros are never the final functional group when we are talking drugs (drastically change the physical properties of adjacent atoms, form reactive intermediates upon reduction).
Cool if you are passionate about physical chemistry though!


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