10/31/2014

T. G. I. F. Solitude











Halloween

Halloween or also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day.


 It initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers, Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.

According to many scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially 
influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain

Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.


Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, telling stories, and watching horror films.

In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows' Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although in other locations, these solemn customs are less pronounced in favor of a more commercialized and secularized celebration. 
Because many Western Christian denominations encourage, although no longer require, abstinence from meat on All Hallows' Eve, the tradition of eating certain vegetarian foods for this vigil day developed, including the consumption of apples, colcannonciderpotato pancakes, and soul cakes.

















Men of Flamenco

When conjuring images of flamenco dancers, one generally imagines the cascading skirts and deep red ensembles of the female performers.

The layers of ruffled material move just as feverishly as the dancers' heels, and we can't help but revel in both the women's stunning costumes and graceful skill.

However, a photographer by the name of Ruven Afanador has reminded us that the men of flamenco are anything but secondary. In his new publication, Ángel Gitano, he captures the emotive faces and physically formidable bodies of the male performers in sharp, black-and-white beauty.

From an impressive pompadour to a mustachioed man in a dust-covered dress, the portraits stretch and transform representations of gender in folkloric tradition.

Flamenco originally sprang from the depths of Andalusia in southern Spain, combining dance, music and song in a style heavily influenced by Romani (gitano means "gypsy") and Arabic culture.

There are over 50 different palos (or flamenco styles) in existence, though around a dozen remain the most popular today.

Sometimes they involve lyrics, other times guitar accompaniment or handclaps, while practices incorporating microtonality, rhythmic irregularities and portamento apply to all.

Historically, the genre of performance was split by gender -- with dances like the Farucca intended for men only. But with time, flamenco dancers have blurred the lines separating male and female performers.

Afanador's previous compilation of photographs, Mil Besos, concentrated on the surreal power of women in flamenco.

Nearly five years after the publication of that work, he's releasing a companion collection that focuses on the men.

Shot in Andalusia, the images are erotic and irreverent, juxtaposing the eccentric machismo of older performers with the delicate strength of younger, sometimes naked men.


His lens often puts the viewer in a position of voyeur, as the subjects of the photographs seem well aware that an outsider is amongst them. Together, the images give a rarely seen glimpse into a centuries-old art form.

10/30/2014

Dead Heart Transplanted

Surgeons in Australia say they have performed the first heart transplant using a "dead heart".
Donor hearts from adults usually come from people who are confirmed as brain dead but with a heart still beating.


A team at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney revived and then transplanted hearts that had stopped beating for up to 20 minutes.

The first patient who received a heart said she felt a decade younger and was now a "different person".

Hearts are the only organ that is not used after the heart has stopped beating - known as donation after circulatory death.

Beating hearts are normally taken from brain-dead people, kept on ice for around four hours and then transplanted to patients.

The novel technique used in Sydney involved taking a heart that had stopped beating and reviving it in a machine known as a "heart-in-a-box".

The heart is kept warm, the heartbeat is restored and a nourishing fluid helps reduce damage to the heart muscle.

The first person to have the surgery was Michelle Gribilas, 57, who was suffering from congenital heart failure. She had the surgery more than two months ago.

"Now I'm a different person altogether," she said. "I feel like I'm 40 years old - I'm very lucky."
There have since been a further two successful operations.

Prof Peter MacDonald, head of St Vincent's heart transplant unit, said: "This breakthrough represents a major inroad to reducing the shortage of donor organs."

It is thought the heart-in-a-box, which is being tested at sites around the world, could save up to 30% more lives by increasing the number of available organs.

The breakthrough has been welcomed around the world.

The British Heart Foundation described it as a "significant development".


Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse at the charity, told the BBC: "It is wonderful to see these people recovering so well from heart transplantation when, without this development, they may still be waiting for a donor heart."

Feeling on top of it all....


Drone Frightens Chinese


China deployed more than 1,200 troops and scrambled fighter jets in response to an unauthorized flight near Beijing airport by what turned out to be a mapping drone, state-run media reported recently.

What is a drone?
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone and referred to as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. 

Its flight is controlled either autonomously by on board computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. 

The typical launch and recovery method of an unmanned aircraft is by the function of an automatic system or an external operator on the ground.  

They are usually deployed for military and special operation applications, but also used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as policing and firefighting, and nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too "dull, dirty or dangerous" for manned aircraft.

Three men were being prosecuted over the incident, the China Daily said.

It cited prosecutors as saying that 1,226 military personnel, 123 military vehicles, 26 radar technicians, two fighter jets and two helicopters were sent into action after the aircraft was spotted on radar screens.

Police arrested two men as they flew the drone and a third confessed later, according to the paper, which is published by the government. All three men worked for an aviation technology company, the report said, and the 2.3-metre-long (7.5ft) drone was intended to be used for survey and mapping purposes.

China forbids any flights, manned or unmanned, without prior approval from the air force, civil aviation authorities and the local air traffic control bureau.

A New Zealand man was briefly detained by police in June after he flew a camera-equipped drone over the Forbidden City, a popular tourist site and former residence of China’s emperors, which sits next to China’s top-secret leadership compound.


The Beijing airport drone incident, which happened a while back, caused 10 flights to be delayed, the newspaper added.

10/29/2014

Hump Day Art

Maria Tiurina  illustrator








It Grows at Night

Scientists studying relationships between different types of cells have encountered some new and potentially important information about how -- and when -- cancerous tumors grow most aggressively. 


According to a new study, cancerous tumors may grow faster at night, during the hours typically taken up by sleep. 

Their discovery may point the way toward new, circadian-aligned strategies for treating cancer.

Researchers at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have found evidence that suggests some cancers may grow more quickly during nighttime, resting hours than during the waking day.

The finding came as a surprise to researchers, who originally set out to examine the relationships between cell receptors, molecules that are involved in cell-to-cell communications.

In particular, researchers were investigating the relationship between two types of cell receptors. The first receptor, EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor), assists in cell growth and division. EGFR is involved in normal cell growth, and also in the growth of cancer cells. 

High levels of EGFR are found in many cancer cells, and one type of current cancer treatment works to fight cancer by inhibiting EGFR levels.

The second receptor involves a type of steroid hormone known as glutocorticoids (GC). 

Glutocorticoids perform a number of essential functions, one of which is a role in supporting daytime energy and alertness. 

When the body is under stress, levels of glutocorticoids rise sharply, heightening and sharpening a sense of alertness. Cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone," is one important glutocorticoid.

Glutocorticoid hormone levels rise and fall in alignment with a 24-hour, circadian cycle. During active daytime hours, GC levels are at their highest, when we need to be alert and energized. GC levels plummet to their lowest levels at night during sleep, before rising again as morning arrives.


Scientists investigated how the circadian changes in GC hormone levels might affect the activity of EFGR, the receptor involved in cell growth. Using mice, they discovered that EGFR is significantly more active at night (when GC levels are low), and less active during the day (when GC levels are high).

Afraid to Vacay


A new study of the US business sector indicates American workers are shying from taking earned vacation time for fear that they will look like an unnecessary employee.

The study found that American workers gave up $52.4 billion in time-off benefits last year and took fewer vacation days than at any time in the last 40 years.

NOTE:  I think we should give our management teams a raise...  BRAVO...

The study was conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Effect Initiative and was aimed at discovering the financial impact of vacation time.

"Americans are work martyrs," the U.S. Travel Association said in its study titled, "All Work and No Pay: The Impact of Forfeited Time Off." The authors continued, saying, "Tied to the office, they leave more and more paid time off unused each year, forfeiting their earned benefits and, in essence, work for free."

The study found that Americans took an average of only 16 vacation days in 2013. This is down from previous years. As recent as the year 2000, for instance, workers took 20.3 days off, the study said.

By this group's reckoning, that is upward of $284 billion not being spent by workers while on vacation.

The devastated economy over the last ten years accounts for this reticence to take time off, CNN reported.

Americans are afraid to take too much time off for fear of being thought of as expendable. Workers are deathly afraid of losing a job that they know will be very, very difficult--if not impossible--to replace.

Stress management trainer and coach Joe Robinson told CNN that "workers are afraid to take their vacations in the layoff era. It might mark them as less 'committed' than coworkers."

"It's called defensive overworking. They work long hours and skip vacations to insulate themselves from cutbacks," Robinson added.

Other workers are afraid that when they return from time off their workload will be doubled or tripled because companies are often operating with a reduced work force.


But job security is the biggest fear that workers have in the USA today. A survey taken in Sept. found that only one in four workers felt that their job was secure.

10/28/2014

Worse Than Sin

Corruption is like “bad breath,” 

says Pope Francis, 

“it is hard for the one who has it to realize it; others realize it and have to tell him.”

In an address to a delegation of the International Association of Penal Law this morning, Francis commented on a variety of troubling international legal issues, including the widespread problem of corruption, which he called “a greater evil than sin.”

According to Francis, remorse is possible only when one is aware of evil, which is not the case with a corrupt person.

“The corrupt person does not perceive his corruption,” the Pope said. “For this reason, it is difficult for the corrupt person to get out of his state through remorse of conscience. More than forgiven, this evil must be cured,” he said.

“The scandalous concentration of global wealth,” said Francis, “is possible through the connivance of political authorities.”

“Few things are harder than opening a breach in a corrupt heart,” Francis continued. “When the personal situation of the corrupt becomes complicated, he knows all the loopholes to escape as did the dishonest steward of the Gospel.”

“The corrupt person goes through life taking the shortcuts of opportunism,” said the Pope, “with an air of innocence, wearing the mask of an honest person, which he begins to believe.” 

The corrupt person “cannot accept criticism, discredits anyone who criticizes him, tries to belittle any moral authority who would question him, does not value others and insults anyone who thinks differently. If the balance of power permits, he persecutes anyone who contradicts him.”

Unfortunately, according to Francis, the problem is widespread.

NOTE:  Boy, that is an understatement!  In fact, the Pareto Principle was developed by an Italian economists which is basically the 80/20 Rule.  So, widespread means that at least 80% of the world population is corrupt to some degree.

“Corruption has become natural, a personal and social custom, a common practice in commercial and financial transactions, in public procurement, in any negotiation involving State agents,” he said.

The panorama is not pretty, and there are no quick fixes.

“What can criminal law do against corruption?” the Pope asked.

“Penalties are selective,” the Pope said. “They are like a net that captures only the small fish, while leaving the big ones free in the sea,” Francis added.


“Still,” says Francis, “the Lord never tires of knocking on the doors of the corrupt. Corruption is powerless against hope.”

Workplace Romance


Slavery You Never Learned

Edward Baptist's new book, "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery And The Making Of American Capitalism", recently drew a lot of attention.


What you might not have taken away from the ensuing media storm is that "The Half Has Never Been Told" is quite a gripping read.

Here are five of his key arguments:

1) Slavery was a key driver of the formation of American wealth.
Baptist argues that our narrative of slavery generally goes something like this: it was a terrible thing, but it was an anomaly, a sort of feudal throwback within capitalism whose demise would inevitably come with the rise of wage labor.

By 1850, he writes, American slaves were worth $1.3 billion, one-fifth of the nation's wealth.

2) In its heyday, slavery was more efficient than free labor, contrary to the arguments made by some northerners at the time.
Drawing on cotton production data and firsthand accounts of slave owners and the formerly enslaved, Baptist finds that ever-increasing cotton picking quotas, enforced by brutal whippings, led slaves to reach picking speeds that stretched the limits of physical possibility.

3) Slavery didn't just enrich the South, but also drove the industrial boom in the North.
The steady stream of large quantities of cotton was the lifeblood of textile mills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and generated wealth for the owners of those mills. By 1832, "Lowell consumed 100,000 days of enslaved people's labor every year," Baptist writes.

4) Slavery wasn't showing any signs of slowing down economically by the time the Civil War came around.
Slave-backed bonds "generated revenue for investors from en-slavers' repayments of mortgages on enslaved people," Baptist writes. "This meant that investors around the world would share in revenues made by hands in the field.

5)The South seceded to guarantee the expansion of slavery.

There are many competing explanations for what moved the South to secede. Baptist argues that the main driving reason was an economic one: slavery had to keep expanding to remain profitable, and Southern politicians wanted to ensure that new western states would be slave-owning ones. 

10/27/2014

A Brave New Russia


Russian military provocations have increased so much over the seven months since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine that Washington and its allies are scrambling defense assets on a nearly daily basis in response to air, sea and land incursions by Vladimir Putin's forces.

Not only is Moscow continuing to foment unrest in Eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials and regional security experts say Russian fighter jets are testing U.S. reaction times over Alaska and Japan's ability to scramble planes over its northern islands — all while haunting Sweden's navy and antagonizing Estonia's tiny national security force.


The White House months ago leveled economic sanctions on several Russian businesses and political players, and recent weeks have seen President Obama intensify his rhetoric toward Moscow. But many in Washington's national security community say the response is simply not firm enough and that, as a result, Mr. Putin actually feels emboldened to push the envelope — Cold War-style.

"What's going on is a radical escalation of aggressive Russian muscle flexing and posturing designed to demonstrate that Russia is no longer a defeated power of the Cold War era," says Ariel Cohen, who heads the Center for Energy, National Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

"The more we retreat, the more we are encouraging Russia to behave in a more aggressive way," Mr. Cohen said. "We need to be engaging more deeply with our Central Asian allies, but instead we are in the process of abandoning turf to Russia, and it's wrong — it's against our interests geopolitically to let Russia feel that they all of a sudden have won all the turf without firing a shot."

The Obama administration resists such characterizations, asserting that the White House is doing anything but "retreating."  He also threatened to "impose a cost on Russia for aggression."

Mr. Obama's comments were followed this month by the deployment of some 20 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks and roughly 700 U.S. troops across Poland and three Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — a move military officials said was designed to send a message that serious Russian aggression in the area could mean war with NATO.

But Mr. Putin has appeared undeterred. NATO officials confirmed this week that the Russian air force flew an Ilyushin-20 spy plane into Estonian airspace Tuesday, triggering a swift reaction from NATO fighter jets patrolling the area.

The incursion came just days after Sweden made international headlines by scrambling a fleet of naval vessels to search for a suspected submarine sighted about 30 miles off the coast of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea.

Swedish authorities avoided pinning the incident directly on Russia, and Moscow denied involvement. But regional analysts like Mr. Cohen say they'd be surprised if the sub was not Russian.
The development, the analysts say, fits within a growing list of similar Russian actions, including some directly challenging U.S. territory.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled jets to scare off two Russian strategic bombers that suddenly appeared to conduct practice runs in airspace just 65 miles off Alaska in June.

A similar incident occurred in September, with U.S. and Canadian fighters scrambling to deter six Russian aircraft, including two nuclear bombers, two fighter jets and two refueling tankers, according to news reports.

Around the same time, Russian ground forces were making the unprecedented move of arresting an Estonian security official at gunpoint near the Baltic nation's border with Russia.

Just Chill Out