Archive for September, 2010
“I’m young, I’m handsome, I’m fast, I’m pretty, and can’t possibly be beat. They must fall in the round I call.” – Muhammad Ali.
Any way you slice it, Cassius Clay-cum-Muhammad Ali was quite simply the best Sportsman of all time. Based on purely objective criteria alone, the man’s got unbeatable stats–three-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, Olympic Gold Medalist and one of the youngest and oldest Heavyweight Champions of all time, to name a few of his victories in the ring. In his stand for religious and racial freedom, for his wit, generosity, braggadocio and deep and abiding physical and mental courage, Ali quite literally had it all. Oh, and did I forget to mention his extraordinary, almost otherworldly, sexual magnetism and physical beauty? In his prime, he was the best argument against the privileging of female beauty as a matter of course. Love him or hate him, he is in a class all by himself.
Thus, it is heartbreaking to juxtapose Muhammad Ali’s current state with that of his “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” self; the Muhammad Ali who dazzled opponents with his blinding hand and foot speed, and the Muhammad Ali who would brag, boast, and proclaim that “I am the Greatest!” Ali has developed Parkinson’s Syndrome, a neurological condition that affects motor and speech control.
Unbelievably, it’s been a point of controversy over whether or not Ali’s Parkinson’s-like affliction was the direct result of his boxing career. Unsurprisingly, the majority of those in the “maybe he was born with it” camp also happen to have a vested economic interest in protecting the reputation of the sport.
Trying to sugarcoat boxing is like…. putting lipstick on a pig (I never thought there would come a day when I would quote Sarah Palin).
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The amygdala, an almond-sized and -shaped brain structure, has long been linked with a person’s mental and emotional state. But thanks to scientific advances, researchers have recently grasped how important this 1-inch-long structure really is. Associated with a range of mental conditions from normalcy to depression to even autism, the amygdala has become the focal point of numerous research projects.
The amygdala sits in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, a few inches from either ear. Coursing through the amygdala are nerves connecting it to a number of important brain centers, including the neocortex and visual cortex. “More and more we’re beginning to believe, and the evidence is pointing to the idea, that it’s the circuits that are important, not just the structure per se,” says Ned Kalin, professor of psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And in this particular case the circuitry between the frontal cortical regions of the brain may be critical in regulating emotion and in guiding emotion-related behaviors.”
The existence of the amygdala was first formally recognized in the early 19th century. The name, derived from the Greek, was meant to denote the almond-like shape of this region in the medial temporal lobe. Much debate has since ensued, and continues today, about how the amygdala should be subdivided. Also controversial is how the subdivisions relate to other major regions of the brain.
One long-standing idea is that the amygdala consists of an evolutionarily primitive division associated with the olfactory system (cortical, medial and central nuclei) and an evolutionarily newer division associated with the neocortex (lateral, basal, and accessory basal nuclei). The areas of the older division are sometimes grouped as the cortico-medial region (cortical and medial nuclei) and sometimes as the centro-medial region (the central and medial nuclei). In contrast, the newer structures related to the neocortex are often referred to as the basolateral region. The almond shaped structure that originally defined the amygdala included the basolateral region rather than the whole structure now considered to be the amygdala.
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Vincent Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” during one of the most difficult periods of his life. This is truly saying something. The unchallenged Job of art history, Van Gogh’s life was no pink cupcake with too much icing and stupid sprinkles. But severed earlobes and broken bromances with Paul Gaughin aside, his brightly colored and gorgeously textured paintings convey a kinetic joy and energy unrivaled by any other artist, living or dead.
Van Gogh battled a host of physical and mental ailments, including (but not limited to) incurable/madness-inducing venereal disease, debilitating anxiety attacks and frequent and severe bouts of mental illness that landed him in insane asylums on several occasions. He died (cause: self-inflicted gun shot wound) at the tender age of 37, having sold a grand total of ONE painting during his lifetime, and believing himself to be a failure.
But I digress. The troubled artist painted “Starry Night” during one of his many stints at a mental hospital at Saint Remy. Locked inside the asylum and yearning to go outside, the despondent artist decided to improve the feng shui of his new bedroom by decorating the walls with some DIY paintings. Remarkably, Van Gogh painted the scene entirely from memory, as he was not permitted to venture outside of the white walls of the asylum.
Van Gogh’s personal papers and correspondences seem to suggest that he didn’t seem to think much of “Starry Night” after he had completed it (he mentioned it only twice in his letters to his brother Theo). I guess that even artistic geniuses sometimes miss the masterpieces that are staring them in the face….
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Universally hailed for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure, Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941), transformed the fledgling film director into an overnight critical darling. However, rave reviews did little to help Welles’ rookie effort at the box-office, and Kane failed to recoup its (admittedly exorbitant) production cost during its brief theater run.
Condemned to obscurity for failing to meet its bottom line, Welles’ masterpiece was left to molder in the dustbin of film history for well over a decade. Luckily, Kane’s prospects started looking WAY up following the 1954 publication of “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français”, an article about film theory by the then 21 year-old filmmaker and critic François Truffaut.
Published in the (what would become) mythic magazine Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut introduced the “auteur theory” to film criticism, which holds that a director’s films reflect his or her personal creative vision, as if he were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). In the service of said theory, he and his clique of fellow New Wavers gave major props to the directors of yore who best embodied the “auteur” approach to filmmaking, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and of course, Orson Welles.
Thanks to Truffaut’s formidable powers of persuasion, there is a basically semi-official consensus among film critics that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which even led Roger Ebert to quip: “So it’s settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time.” It topped both the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and the 10th Anniversary Update, as well as all of the Sight & Sound polls of the 10 greatest films for nearly half a century.
Not bad for a film that lived in the RKO Studio basement for thirteen years….
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Vitamin A is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is absolutely necessary for both scotopic and color vision. Vitamin A also functions in a very different role, as an irreversibly oxidized form of retinol known as retinoic acid, which is an important hormone-like growth factor for epithelial and other cells.
Vitamin A is actually a generic term for a large number of related compounds. Retinol (an alcohol) and retinal (an aldehyde) are often referred to as preformed vitamin A. Retinal can be converted by the body to retinoic acid, the form of vitamin A known to affect gene transcription. Retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and related compounds are known as retinoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids that can be converted by the body into retinol are referred to as provitamin A carotenoids.
Vitamin A can be found in two principal forms in foods:
• retinol, the form of vitamin A absorbed when eating animal food sources, is a yellow, fat-soluble substance. Since the pure alcohol form is unstable, the vitamin is found in tissues in a form of retinyl ester. It is also commercially produced and administered as esters such as retinyl acetate or palmitate.
• The carotenes alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene; and the xanthophyll beta-cryptoxanthin (all of which contain beta-ionone rings), but no other carotenoids, function as vitamin A in herbivores and omnivore animals, which possess the enzyme required to convert these compounds to retinal. In general, carnivores are poor converters of ionine-containg carotenoids, and pure carnivores such as cats and ferrets lack beta-carotene 15,15′-monooxygenase and cannot convert any carotenoids to retinal (resulting in none of the carotenoids being forms of vitamin A for these species).
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The Panama Canal begun in 1904 and finished in 1914 is a 77 km (48 mi) ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in the canal’s early days to 14,702 vessels in 2008, measuring a total 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons.
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the canal had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (5,900 mi), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 mi) route around Cape Horn.
Will the widening project currently underway at the Panama Canal — scheduled for completion in 2014 — result in a rash of new and unusual cruise itineraries? Don’t count on it, says the head of the world’s largest cruise company.
Even though the industry operates a growing number of “post-Panamax” ships that are too big to fit into the current canal — and thus limited in their ability to navigate between the Atlantic, Caribbean and the Pacific — a wider canal only will have a marginal impact on operations, says Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO Micky Arison.
“The only thing it adds is a bit of flexibility to our post-Panamax ships,” Arison told Wall Street analysts on Tuesday during a conference call to discuss third quarter earnings. “Obviously, if we have post-Panamax ships that become Panamax, it gives us a little bit greater flexibility, but I wouldn’t say it’s a huge indicator.”
With a widening of the canal, “theoretically, they can move back and forth” between the West Coast and the Caribbean more easily, he notes. But it won’t be a game-changer for the business.
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“Our nearest neighbor, Canada, has four women on its nine-member court, and one is their chief justice. And they’re a great group. Now what’s the matter with us? You know, we can do better.”- Sandra Day O’Connor
On July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan announced that he intended to nominate Sandra Day O’Connor, a 51-year-old judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, for a position on the United States Supreme Court. With the selection, the Gipper fulfilled a campaign promise to pick a woman for the Court as soon as a spot on the bench opened up.
Conservatives derided her lack of federal judicial experience and claimed she was lacking in constitutional knowledge. They considered her a wasted nomination and suspected her position on abortion. Liberals, on the other hand, could not deny their satisfaction at seeing a woman on the High Court, but they were dismayed at O’Connor’s apparent lack of strong support for feminist issues.
In time, however, O’Connor has come to answer all these criticisms. O’Connor has emerged from the shadow of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and the Court’s conservative bloc with her own brand of pragmatic and centrist-oriented conservatism. Even those liberals who branded her a “traitor” in her early years for compromising on abortion rights, now appreciate her efforts to keep the “pro-choice” message of Roe v. Wade (1973) alive.
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