Archive for January, 2010
The Venus de Milo, one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture, is believed to depict the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty (the Romans called her Venus). The name Aphrodite comes from the Greek word aphros, which means “foam,” legend had it that she was born out of the white foam produced by the severed genitals of Uranus after his son Cronos threw them into the ocean. She was primarily worshipped as the goddess of love, fertility and marriage.
Part of the enduring popularity of the Venus de Milo is the mystery that surrounds her missing arms. Art historians have unearthed enough evidence to support the theory that the Venus’s right arm was lowered across her torso with the right hand resting on her left knee so that the sliding drapery could be held in place. Her left arm was held at just below the eye level of the statue above a herm while holding an apple. The right side of the statue is more carefully worked and finished than the left side or back, indicating that the statue was intended to be seen mainly as a profile from its right. The left hand would have held the apple up into the air further back inside the niche the statue was set in. When the left hand was still attached, it would have been clear to an observer that the goddess was looking at the apple she held up in her left hand.
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Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the stomach flu or gastroenteritis in humans. Several other names have been used to describe noroviruses, namely, Norwalk-like viruses (NLVs), caliciviruses and small round structured viruses. Like all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics and unlike bacteria, they cannot grow outside of a person’s body.
The symptoms of illness caused by nonoviruses include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. The illness often strikes with little warning, but luckily symptoms usually last for only 24 to 48 hours. People can become sick with a norovirus in many ways, including:
Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus;
Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; and
Having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).
Only last week, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel in North Carolina has left many of its patrons feeling sick to their stomachs after an outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus. The number of infected people from the casino has risen to 246, and some of the victims had to be rushed to the hospital. In the meantime, the casino has remained open to business but the casino’s buffet was closed for awhile, infected staff were told to stay home and cleaning crews have been wiping down slot games, handrails, restaurants and door knobs with bleach and water.
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Hellenization is a term used to describe the spread of ancient Greek culture, population and language following the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great. The resulting Hellenistic civilization is considered the peak of Greek influence in the ancient world, and lasted from 323 B.C. until 146 B.C. (or arguably as late as 30 B.C.). Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout the Near and Middle East and ancient Egypt.
As a result of Hellenization, aspects of Greek culture hybridized with indigenous cultures- influencing the Assyrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians and Armenians, to name a few-in various forms and to different degrees (local practices were often retained where beneficial, necessary or convenient). Hellenization also refers to the medieval Byzantine Empire and Constantine’s founding of Constantinople. The cultural fusion that so marked the Hellenistic civilization represented a marked departure from the classical Greek attitude towards “barbarian” cultures.
Alexander made a concerted effort to introduce Greek elements into the territories he conquered and historians believed that he even aspired to homogenize Asian and European cultures. At his insistence, the use of the Athenian koine dialect became the lingua franca throughout the Hellenistic world. Moreover, city planning, education and local governments were modeled after classical Greek ideals. Hellenistic art and architecture reflected Greek influence and evolved into its own distinct style hybridized style. Aspects of Hellenistic culture remained influential in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire up until the mid-15th century.
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Trepanning, currently the oldest discovered surgical procedure, is an ancient medical practice in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura matter in order to relieve pressure in the skull. Evidence of trepanning has been found in prehistoric human remains dated to 6500 B.C., and archeologists believe that the practice was used to “treat” migraines, epilepsy and mental illness. It also may have been used as an emergency surgery following traumatic head wounds. Trepanation was also practiced in the classical and Renaissance periods, as a cure for various ailments, including seizures and skull fractures.
While modern advances in cranial surgery have made this rather gruesome practice obsolete in mainstream medicine, self-trepanation has been popular in some folk medical circles since the early 1960s. Dutchman Bart Hughes is widely considered the father of the contemporary self-trepanation movement, after he published the influential 1962 monograph, “Homo Sapiens Correctus.” Hughes claimed, among other things, that trepanation increases “blood brain volume,” thereby enhances cerebral metabolism. He asserted that consciousness is directly related to the volume of blood in your brain, and that babies have a higher state of consciousness because their skulls have not fully closed. Thus, by increasing brain blood volume, trepanation could boost energy levels and allow an adult to return to a childlike state of consciousness. While Hughes has amassed an impressive number of followers, it is worthwhile to note that he never finished medical school and no studies have been published in support of his claims.
Despite a complete lack of supporting evidence, some fringe alternative medicine enthusiasts continue to extol the virtues of self-trepanation. Incredibly, seemingly normal British painter Amanda Feilding performed a self-trepanation with a drill on camera in 1970 (her partner and fellow self-trepanation enthusiast Joey Mellen did the filming), for the film “Heartbeat in the Brain.”
Prior to Feilding’s on camera antics, Mellen had attempted self-trepanation with a drill on a number of occasions with (mostly) limited success. His first stab at it was a fiasco; he had no medical experience, and the needles he purchased for the purpose of administering anesthetic to the top of his weren’t strong enough and ended up breaking. The next day Mellen purchased stronger needles, took a tab of LSD to calm his nerves, and actually managed to make some inroads into his skull. However, fully driving the spike into the bone proved impossible to accomplish without outside assistance.
Mellen sagely realized he needed some assistance and contacted Dr. Hughes in Amsterdam, who promised he would come to London to oversee Mellen’s third attempted procedure. However, The British Home Office had listed Dr. Hughes as an “undesirable” visitor, and immigration officials subsequently barred his entry into the country.
Undeterred and impatient to get to drilling, Mellen decided that he would have a better chance of success if his girlfriend performed the trepanning for him. He again took a tab of LSD and Feilding went to work. After a respectably lengthy sawing, Mellen suddenly fainted from the blood loss and had to be rushed to the emergency room (where the doctors told him he was lucky to be alive).
Despite Mellen’s drug-induced, self-inflicted brush with death, he remained undaunted, and was able to successfully “break through” his skull on his fourth attempt, if one considers drilling a hole in your own head a success. Sadly, most of the footage of Feilding’s self-trepanation has been lost. However, those with a strong stomach can still see portions of the film in the aptly titled documentary, “A Hole in the Head.”
According to friends of Joey and Amanda, they are still a happy couple, and the two of them co-own an art gallery. In fact, many of their old friends claim that they are markedly happier and better adjusted since their successful self-trepanation surgeries.
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Low-carbohydrate diets are dietary programs that sharply curtail carbohydrate consumption for the purpose of weight loss. These diets became extremely popular in the 1990s after the publication of Dr. Atkins’ best-selling book, “New Diet Revolution,” and at its peak in the early aughts a whopping 18% of the American population reported being on a low-carb diet.
However, most low-carb diets are ketogenic, meaning that they restrict carbohydrate consumption enough to cause the body to enter ketosis. Ketones are molecules generated when the body metabolizes fat for energy, and when people strictly restrict their carbohydrate intake their body produces more ketones in order to break down the increased proteins and fats in their diet (ostensibly leading to weight loss). Ketosis occurs when carbohydrate consumption is lowered to roughly 20 grams per day or less for an extended period of time.
However, while some studies demonstrate the effectiveness of low-carb diets in terms of weight loss, ketosis causes an embarrassing and seldom mentioned side effect-halitosis, a.k.a. bad breath. This is because acetone, a type of ketone molecule produced in excess during ketosis, cannot be utilized by the body for energy and is excreted as waste product in the urine and breath. The smell has been unappetizingly likened to nail polish and some people describe it as overpowering. Moreover, the process of ketosis acts as a diuretic, and the body uses up significantly more water than is typical, which can lead to dehydration and dry mouth. Dry mouth is a significant factor in the multiplication of oral bacteria, which also contributes to low-carb induced halitosis.
Dentists have made it clear that halitosis produced by ketosis is not an oral hygiene issue-you can do all of the brushing, mouthwash gurgling and flossing that you want, and you still will not be able to get rid of that low-carb induced reek. The only way to effectively get rid of ketosis breath is to reintroduce carbohydrates into your diet. Hmmmm…. on second thought, pass me one of those dinner rolls please….
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The ovary is the ovum-producing reproductive organ of the vertebrate female reproductive system. Human females have pair of almond-sized ovaries, located directly above the fallopian tubes, which flank each side of the uterus. Baby girls are actually born with approximately one million immature ovarian follicles, but do not begin ovulating until puberty. Every month, barring physical complications or pregnancy, the lining of a woman’s uterus thickens in preparation for fertilization. A mature egg is then released from one of her ovaries, pushed down the fallopian tube and becomes available to be fertilized in a process called ovulation. Ovulation typically occurs about 12–14 days before the start of the menstrual period. An egg lives between 12-24 hours after it is released from the ovary, and if no fertilization occurs, it disintegrates and is shed along with the uterine lining during menstruation.
Developed as a means of preventing pregnancy by suppressing ovulation, the birth control pill (BCP) became available to the American public in the early 1960s. Made out of synthetic hormones that mimic the mechanisms of estrogen and progestin in the body, the birth control pill works by ‘tricking’ the body into thinking it’s pregnant. Even though the pill gave women unprecedented control over their bodies (if taken as indicated, the pill is nearly 100% effective), the doses of hormones in the original pill were extremely high, which led to significant side effects, including nausea, pronounced weight gain, blurred vision, depression and even a few instances of blood clot induced strokes. Moreover, doctors were initially dismissive of their patient’s complaints, and it wasn’t until the side effects of the pill began to garner negative publicity in the 1970s that the pharmaceutical companies took action and lowered the high dosages of hormone.
Nowadays, women can choose between a wide assortment of brands and different hormonal combinations to determine which pill works best for then. In fact, the market has become so competitive that pharmaceutical companies now market pills that offer additional benefits, such as Yasmin (which contains potassium), Yaz (which helps control PMS) and new extended-cycle pills such as Seasonale, which reduce the number of yearly menstrual cycles to four periods a year.
Despite the inarguable improvements that have been made to the BCP since its debut, many women taking the pill still experience side effects of varying severity, including irregular bleeding and spotting, nausea, breast tenderness, weight gain, bloating, lowered libido and mood swings. Moreover, the BCP does not protect women against STDs, including HIV. However, the success of the women’s rights movement would have been impossible (or extremely unlikely) without the invention of the BCP, which gave women the freedom to control when (and if) they had children and allowed them the liberty of decoupling sex from procreation.
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It is impossible to call any single moment the turning point of the civil rights movement. Was it Rosa Parks walking to the front of a bus? The Montgomery Bus Boycott? The Freedom Rides? The Albany Movement? While all of these moments were crucial, it was the mass protests in Birmingham, coordinated by Martin Luther King, that made the movement a national one. It was during those protests that Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor set his K9′s and his fire hoses on unarmed men, women and children. Doing so brought on the condemnation of the entire world. The nonviolent response of the protesters led directly to the desegregation of that city. It also led to King’s imprisonment.
While in prison, on April 13, 1962, Dr. King read a story on the second page of the Birmingham News. The story was headlined “White Clergymen Urge Local Negroes to Withdraw from Demonstrations.” It quotes local clergymen calling the protests “unwise and untimely” (they never mentioned King by name) and speaking out against civil disobedience. King was accustomed to criticism of his work, and usually ignored it. He couldn’t let this one go. He sat down and began writing his response in the margins of the newspaper. It began, “Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.” This was the genesis of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” On this day of celebration in his honor, it is worth re-reading.
In that letters most impassioned passages, King spoke out against “moderation,” and the “white moderates” who urged it upon the long-suffering citizens of the South:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
The extreme injustice of segregation called for extreme measures:
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Dr. King was, of course, correct. Creative Extremists were needed, and he was the most creative and the most extreme of them. Speaking at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington the following year, King said, When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
Dr. King devoted his life to proving that sufficient funds were available in the bank of justice, and to forcing the United States to make good on its promissory note. The debt we owe him is infinite.
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