Archive for February, 2010
“At the moment when his thought was thus fixed upon the priest, while the daybreak was whitening the flying buttresses, he perceived on the highest story of Notre-Dame, at the angle formed by the external balustrade as it makes the turn of the chancel, a figure walking.” –Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Notre Dame de Paris, also known as Notre Dame Cathedral, is a Gothic, Roman Catholic cathedral which houses the Catholic archdiocese of Paris. It is widely cited as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in Europe and is notable for its visually striking decorative flying buttresses. A buttress is a support- usually made of brick or stone-built against a wall to support and reinforce it. A flying buttress is a freestanding buttress attached to the main structure by an arch or a half-arch, and it is usually found on religious buildings, especially cathedrals. Flying buttresses transfer the thrust of the roof outwards, through the walls and across the intervening space to a counterweight outside the building. This architectural innovation paved the way for the construction of the soaring Gothic cathedrals associated with medieval Europe.
Even though flying buttresses are most commonly associated with Gothic architecture, the Byzantines were the first to use them. However, they were considered unsightly and were usually hidden under the roof or masked by other constructions. In 1150, prominent architects began to intentionally leave them exposed for aesthetic purposes, and they quickly became an important decorative feature in cathedrals throughout Europe.
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Did you know that onions can be toxic to both cats and dogs? This is because they can develop Heinz body anemia, a condition in which their healthy red blood cells (RBCs) are destroyed, resulting in life-threatening anemia. The red blood cells develop an abnormality called a ‘Heinz body,’ a small, bubble-like projection which protrudes from a red blood cell ( which can be seen under a microscope). This “bubble” is a vulnerable spot on the red blood cell, which decreases it’s lifespan, causing an RBC to rupture prematurely. If this occurs to numerous red blood cells at once, a form of hemolyctic anemia can result.
The toxicity is dose dependent, so the bigger the animal, the more onions it would need to consume in order to cause a lethal case of Heinz body anemia. Moreover, onions remain toxic regardless of whether they are raw, cooked or dehydrated, and the symptoms of the condition usually take several days to appear after the onions have been ingested (the condition peaks approximately five days after consumption). Daily exposure can have a cumulative effect due to the ongoing formation of Heinz bodies.The toxicity is dose dependent, so the bigger the animal, the more onion need be consumed to cause a toxicity.
Cats are even more susceptible to the condition, due to their small size and sensitivity to carbohydrates. Recently, Gerber began to add onion powder to all its meat baby foods. Since baby food is often used in sick cats that are not eating (to stimulate their appetites), there was concern that the onion powder would cause a Heinz body anemia in these cats. Within a week or two of the change, there were numerous reports of Heinz body anemia in cats receiving these baby foods to supplement their diets.
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Halal (Arabic for lawful or legal) is a term that designates any object or action that is permissible to use or engage in according to Islamic law (haram designates unlawful or prohibited). The term is most commonly employed to delineate the food that is permitted for Muslims to eat, but it is also used to designate permissible cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and food contact materials.
Generally, all foods are considered halal except the following (which are haram):
Swine/Pork and its by-products;
Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering;
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants;
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals; and
Foods contaminated with any of the above products.
The French culture wars over Islam have become bitterly contentious in the past few years, and it was inevitable that halal foods would eventually become a point of contention in the fiercely nationalistic country. The latest brouhaha involves the Franco-Belgian fast-food chain “Quick,” which (heaven forbid) sells halal burgers on their menu. The firestorm over this indignity was ignited when René Vandierendonck, the socialist mayor of the northern city of Roubaix, took issue with the chain’s decision to remove bacon burgers from their menu at his area location and replace it with a version using halal beef or turkey bacon. Claiming it was “discrimination” against non-Muslims, the mayor has filed charges with justice officials for “prejudicial racial catering.” He is so incensed, in fact, that he formally lodged a complaint with France’s premiere anti-discriminatory authority on the issue.
The mayor’s critics point out that Roubaix’s “Quick” outlet is one of eight in France to enact this change to the menu, in an effort to adapt to its predominantly Muslim clientele. Sadly, this skirmish is just a drop in the well in France’s ideological war over how to adapt to the presence of its large (and growing) Muslim minority while preserving its essential “Frenchness”. However, it seems unlikely that the pervasive Islamophobia in France will convince many Muslims to embrace cultural assimilation. If the “Quick” controversy is any indication, France has a long way to go before it comes to terms with the new realities of its fast changing nation.
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In the Sigmund Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism (1939), he advances a psychoanalytical interpretation of Moses’ life, which is explored through three essays titled, “Moses an Egyptian,” “If Moses Was an Egyptian,” and “Moses, His People, and Monotheistic Religion.” Freud postulated that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Akhenaten. Following a theory proposed by a contemporary biblical critic, Freud, a committed atheist, believed that Moses was murdered in the wilderness, producing a collective sense of patricidal guilt that has been at the heart of Judaism ever since. “Judaism had been a religion of the father, Christianity became a religion of the son”, he wrote.
Upon first examination the work seems somewhat disordered, and contains repetitions and inconsistencies. The writing appears to reflect the movement of Freud’s thought, his doubts and hesitation, his concern regarding the scientific nature of the information he provides, and his fears concerning the way the text might be received among Viennese Catholics and by the Jewish community.The last essay includes prefatory notes written at different times, one in Vienna before Freud’s departure for Great Britain, the other in London, which partly contradicts the first. Finally, part two of the third essay is preceded by a “Summary” in which he reevaluates much of the information in the first essays.
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Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Season of Lent in the Western Christian calendar and always occurs forty-six days before Easter (40 days if you don’t count Sundays). Thus, the holiday falls on a different date each year, because it is dictated by the date of Easter (it can fall anywhere between February 4th and March 10th). The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, alms-giving and self-denial-for the death (Good Friday) and resurrection of Jesus celebrated on Easter Sunday.
While Ash Wednesday is most strongly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans, Episcopalians and a smattering of other Christian worshippers also observe the holiday. It derives its name from the ritual of placing a cross of ashes on the forehead of adherents as a symbol of penitence. The ashes are made from the burnt palm fronds used in the prior year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
According to the Bible, ashes were used in ancient times to express mourning and guilt for sins and personal shortcomings. In early Christianity, believers who had committed grave sins would perform a kind of public penance on Ash Wednesday, donning hair shirts while their local bishop sprinkled them with ashes made from the palms from the prior year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms (smugly, I’d imagine), the penitents were turned out of the church and could not return until after Easter. When this ritual was gradually widened to include all believers, the hair shirt was abandoned in favor of the practice of abstaining from some sort of pleasurable activity or vice, such as eating chocolate, smoking cigarettes and having sex.
Unsurprisingly, The Roman Catholic Church takes Ash Wednesday very seriously. Thus, Catholics can look forward to a day of fasting, abstaining from meat and feeling even worse about themselves than they already do. The more laid back Anglican Church only really stresses fasting, and some of the really namby pamby denominations that observe the holiday only requires a day of repentance and reflection.
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Not so proud for long....
Danish researchers, concerned with a recent rise in male genital birth defects and a precipitous drop in sperm count amongst adult males, have spent the past five years grimly ranking their crown jewels against those of the Finns. Sadly for the Danes, the Finns appear to be beating them soundly; not only does the “ellipsoidal volume” of the Danish package lag behind their rivals at birth, but the Finns averaged three times more testicular growth after three months. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and it is compromising the manhood of the tallest and blondest nation on earth.
Before succumbing to Schadenfreude, consider the fact that researchers think that environmental toxins are the culprits behind Denmark’s woes. They believe that these toxins, including many household products that we use on a daily basis, alter the “normal” hormone signals-not only within an expectant mother, but also in the body of her developing embryo/fetus. Many environmental toxins are similar in shape and structure to natural hormones, and can “mimic” the actions of these look-alikes in our bodies (and thus wreak havoc on the reproductive system).
Thus far, scientists have been more concerned about the impact of hormone disrupters on males. This is because the human fetus always starts life as a female; if it is to become a boy, then at about six weeks the male hormones kick in which instruct the growth of the male reproductive tract, while female ducts regress and are re-absorbed. Thus, exposing a male embryo at this time to a chemical that mimics female oestrogen hormones can harm the development of the male sexual organs.
In sum, it isn’t only the Danes who have something to worry about….
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Nociception is the term used to describe the perception of physical pain. More specifically, it is defined as the neural processes of encoding and processing “noxious stimuli”.
Nociceptors (or pain receptors) are the free nerve endings located just underneath the skin (to detect cutaneous pain), in tendons and joints (to detect somatic pain) and in organs (to detect visceral pain). They are stimulated by mechanical (crushing, tearing, etc.), thermal (hot and cold) and chemical (eye discomfort while chopping onions) changes in the body above a set “threshold”. Once activated, a nociceptor sends a signal up the spinal cord to the brain, which results in the sensation of pain.
While a life lived completely free of physical pain sounds great on paper, nociception is a crucial evolutionary mechanism that helps us learn to avoid dangerous situations, prevents further bodily damage and promotes healing. In fact, people who are born without the ability to feel physical pain must be extremely vigilant about avoiding physical injury and have a lower life expectancy than the general population.
While most pain goes away after the removal of the noxious stimulus and/or when we have “healed,” some people experience pain that simply will not go away despite all indications of good health and physical well-being. Debilitating pain with no detectable etiology is not uncommon, especially amongst women. Moreover, pain research has consistently demonstrated that context- such as social support, cultural values, excitement in sports and warfare- has an extremely powerful impact on an individual’s sensitivity to pain in a given situation.
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