Archive for November, 2010
St John’s Wort, also known as Tipton’s Weed, Chase-devil, or Klamath weed, refers (with a few exceptions) to any species of the genus Hypericum. A popular herbal treatment for depression, it also commonly used to relieve anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Unlike many herbal supplements on the market, St. John’s Wort might actually make good on its claims: scientific evidence indicates that it can be effective in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
The exact mechanism by which St John’s wort functions in the body is unclear and subject to conjecture. The St John’s wort mechanism is believed to involve inhibition of serotonin (5-HT) reuptake, much like the conventional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. However, unlike widely prescribed antidepressants such a Prozac and Zoloft, St. John’s wort is inexpensive, available over the counter and has fewer unpleasant side effects, with one major qualifier…..
Women with a lingering case of the blues shouldn’t run to their local GNC just yet. St. John’s wort has attracted the attention of the medical community in the past few years, following several case reports regarding potential interactions with prescription medications, notably birth control containing estrogen.
A 2002 report described eight women who experienced abnormal menstrual bleeding while taking St. John’s wort and oral contraceptive pills. However, only three of these women returned to a normal menstrual cycle after discontinuing the herb, indicating that other unidentified factors may have contributed to the abnormal menstrual changes. Even worse, taking St. John’s wort along with oral contraception can actually lessen its ability to prevent pregnancy.
It is unknown in both the previous and current reports whether St. John’s wort lowers blood levels of the hormones in birth control pills, or whether it interferes in some other way with the action of these hormones. Researchers think that it may activate enzymes in the liver responsible for breaking down certain drugs, thereby causing a decrease of the concentration of these drugs in the blood. If blood levels fall too low, the drug may fail to have the intended action.
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Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a small mescaline-containing cactus that grows naturally in the Southeastern regions of the United States and in Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
The psychoactive substance in peyote, mescaline, typically has a duration of between ten to twelve hours and produces vivid hallucinations as well as increased wakefulness. The cactus has been considered a sacred sacrament by numerous Native American tribes for well over a thousand years and is still used in religious ceremonies. Well known for its psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline, it is used world wide as an entheogen and supplement to various transcendence practices including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September.
Unfortunately, in one case, the increased wakefulness caused by mescaline did not just last between ten to twelve hours; it lasted for two weeks.
According to a case report published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, in 2003 a 54-year-old Native American man experienced two weeks of psychosis after a traditional Native American ceremony involving peyote. Not long after ingesting peyote, “he became convinced that he was hunted by animal spirits, which prevented him from getting any sleep for the next 2 weeks,” as the authors of the case report explain.
The man had previously suffered from alcoholism and combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but had not experienced any symptoms for twenty years. Eventually, he was persuaded to seek medical care from a hospital. After being given the tranquilizer trazodone by the hospital staff, he slept uninterrupted for 15 hours, which completely resolved all of his psychotic symptoms.
Interestingly, it appears that this two week episode of psychosis was induced by the sleep disruption caused by mescaline, not because of its hallucinatory effects.
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“I am responsible only to God and history.” – Francisco Franco.
By all historical indices, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was stupider about economic policy than the idiots that dreamed up subprime mortgages (which is really saying something). Spain was already an economic train wreck when the weak-chinned Generalísimo was appointed head of state in 1939. Three years of civil war had ravaged the Spanish economy: infrastructure was damaged, workers killed, and daily business severely hampered. Moreover, persistent drought plagued the countryside, severely compromising the already beleaguered agricultural industry.
A diehard nationalist with a tapas-sized brain, Franco doggedly pursued a policy of autarky, effectively thwarting almost all of Spain’s international trade for nearly a decade. The word autarky, which comes from the Greek words meaning “self-sufficiency.” An autarky describes economic policies that strive to be free from the influence of foreign nations by eschewing all international commerce. Suffice to say, autarky always equals economic disaster, and Franco’s Spain proved to be no exception.
To make matters worse, Franco was remarkably gullible for someone so evil. He often placed his faith, and Spain’s fate, in quack schemes that he believed would rescue his ailing nation from the parade of terribles he had been responsible for unleashing in the first place.
On one occasion, a Czech engineer and con-man managed to convince the general that he had invented synthetic gasoline by mixing the waters of the River Jarama, special herbs and secret powders. On another, he doggedly pursued a plan to solve the country’s terrible hunger of the 1940s by feeding everyone dolphin sandwiches. Of course he never did get around to asking where Spain would get enough dolphin meat to feed 30 million people. I guess the devil is not in the details…
Franco’s credulity was mirrored by his growing belief, reinforced by withdrawal into an ever more rarefied court of sycophantic followers, that he stood comparison with such Spanish heroes as El Cid, Charles V, and Philip II. Thanks to this egomaniacal mental midget and his cadre of self-serving minions, some 200,000 people died of starvation during the early years of Francoism, a period now known as Los Años de Hambre (The Years of Hunger, or the Hungry Years).
On the brink of bankruptcy after a decade of Franconomics, a combination of pressure from the USA, the IMF and technocrats from Opus Dei managed to “convince” the regime to adopt a free market economy in 1959. This essentially amounted to a mini coup d’état, which removed the old guard in charge of the economy, despite the opposition of Franco. This economic liberalization was not, however, accompanied by political reforms and repression continued unabated, though these very reforms would lead to socio-economic changes in Spanish society which would make the regime’s continuation 16 years later untenable.
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“I pledge to uphold the objects of the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society, to foster compassion and goodwill towards albino squirrels, and to dedicate myself to the protection of all squirrels, especially those that are albino.” – the mission statement of The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society.
Dustin Ballard and Gary Chang, then students at the University of Texas, founded the Albino Squirrel Preservation Society (ASPS) in April 2001. Like most leafy college towns worth their salt, cute bushy-tailed squirrels are a commonplace sight on the campus grounds. However, UT also proudly claims the distinction of being home to an unusual number of rare snowy-white squirrels. These “albino squirrels” enjoy a cult-like status on campus, thanks in part to an ancient UT superstition that claims that spotting a white squirrel shortly before an exam brings you good luck.
Predictably, many an unprepared, and/or procrastinating, and/or intoxicated UT coed has spent hours hunting for a glimpse of one of these elusive squirrels during finals week, when they would have been better served by studying. Their task is made more Sisyphean by the fact that these snowy-white creatures are extremely vulnerable to predators due to their lack of camouflage. This represents a major bummer for students hoping to spot a bushy-tailed white knight on the way to their economics exam, and hasn’t been great for the white squirrels either…..
Suffice to say, the ASPS club was created in reaction to the dwindling population of “albino squirrels,” and has dedicated itself to promoting “squirrel awareness” through flyers, rallies, etc. The popularity of the club is such that in less than a year, the UT Austin chapter became one of the largest official student organizations in the University’s history. After widespread popularity at UT, ASPS chapters formed at the University of North Texas and the University of Pennsylvania. In the following months, chapters began springing up at college campuses from Canada to England.
The truth that dare not speak its name at UT is that none of the white squirrels on the campus are actually albino! Albinism, in both humans and animals, is a defect of melanin production that results in little or no color (pigment) in the skin, hair, and eyes. Albinism occurs when one of several genetic defects makes the body unable to produce or distribute melanin, a natural substance that gives color to your hair, skin, and iris of the eye. Now, it is clear that it is the amount of melanin that determines the fur color and genetic changes may sometimes result in black and white squirrels. However, such squirrels are quite rare, as such genetic changes are occur only rarely.
This results in occasional sighting of white squirrels, which people automatically and wrongly assume are albino squirrels. In fact, most white furred squirrels are tow-furred due not to albinism, but to leucism, a phenomenon caused by a recessive gene found within certain eastern gray squirrels. The tell-tale difference is that these white squirrels have dark-colored eyes, which cannot be seen in albino squirrels, which have either pink or blue eyes. Thus, “albino squirrels” are even rarer than their merely white counterparts.
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“If I were not making the paintings I make, I would paint like Matisse.”
- Pablo Picasso.
“Only one person has the right to criticize me, and its’ Picasso.”
It could be called a rivalry, a dialogue, a chess game—Matisse himself once compared it to a boxing match. And yet, despite (and perhaps because of) their intense rivalry, the two titans also served as lifelong muses for each other work.
Paradoxically, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were not fast fans of each other’s oeuvre when they first saw it. However, they both picked up on each other’s “Je ne sais quoi,” and immediately recognized the power each had to challenge and stimulate the other.
If Matisse was regarded as the father of modern art at the dawn of the 20th century, Picasso was sleeping with the same muse. Picasso, the younger artist, was constantly trying to get Matisse’s attention by showing off, stealing from his work, and rudely parodying him. Matisse, envious of Picasso’s success, tried to ignore him until the 1930s when he needed Picasso’s influence to bring himself out of an artistic funk. After that they traded paintings, visits, and little notes. But they were too competitive to really be friends.
For the rest of their lives each would keep a keen eye on the other’s new work, provoking each other to paint the same subjects, sometimes even with the same title. However, after Matisse died in 1954, Picasso was alone, but not quite. “When Matisse died, he left me his odalisques as a legacy,” he proclaimed, and proceeded to dissect them in a series of his own paintings.
Picasso died in 1973, believing to the end, as he said, “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”
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No One Lives Here
The difference between North and South Korea is genuinely jarring: while mass starvation and a dying economy continue to plague North Korea, one only has to look south of the border to see a cosmopolitan nation thoroughly enjoying the fruits of its prosperity and success. In particular, the “sister” villages of Daeseong-dong and Kijong-dong- divided by the three-mile-wide, 151-mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the democratic Republic of Korea in the south and communist North Korea- dramatically illustrates the shocking disparity in the quality of life enjoyed in both countries.
By way of background, as part of the armistice agreement that “ended” the Korean War, each side was allowed to keep one village within the demilitarized zone. The only civilians on the southern half of the DMZ live in Daeseong-dong – nicknamed “freedom village” – who are protected by the UN command and receive above average, tax-free incomes. In return for this potentially Faustian bargain, the approximately 210 villagers must spend at least 240 nights a year at home in order to retain residency. Sure, Kim Jong Ill’s trigger-happy minions are only a few miles away, but you really can’t beat these benefits.
Alas, conditions aren’t quite so luxe in the Northern village of Kijong-dong, though it is home to the world’s highest flagpole (525 ft) and heaviest flag (600 lb). The North Korean government swears up and down that the village is home to a 200-family collective farm, serviced by a childcare center, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and a hospital.
The picturesque village features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments, many apparently wired for electricity – these amenities represent an unheard-of level of luxury for any rural Korean in the 1950s, north or south. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings next to the massive DPRK flag would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from across the border.
However, scrutinizing Kijong-dong through a half decent telescopic lens suggests otherwise. The town is actually uninhabited, and the Easter egg colored apartment buildings are mere concrete shells that lack window glass or even interior rooms, with building lights turned on and off at set times and empty sidewalks swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity. North Korean farmers till nearby fields during the day and are removed from the area at night.
In an effort to make this little northern gem even more enticing to potential southern defectors, blaring loudspeakers blast condemnatory anti-Western propaganda speeches, Communist agitprop operas, and patriotic marching music at high volume for up to 20 hours a day.
The North Korean government needs to inject some new blood into their marketing department, because this ad campaign is not selling anyone….
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WrestleMania? There is ideology. There are plotlines worthy of a Lifetime made for TV movie. There is also wrestling, albeit not of the “legitimate” Greco-Roman-sort that can’t help but look extremely homoerotic. No. WrestleMania has very little to do with sports, and everything to do with show biz. In fact, the promoters determine the outcome of most matches in advance, and all of the mayhem in the ring is scripted.
However, it would be a mistake to dismiss pro wrestlers just because they aren’t “playing a sport” in a traditional sense. Precisely because pro wrestling is a roughhouse-ballet form of improvisational comedy, the wrestlers must be superb athletes, as well as charismatic performers adept at getting a rise from the famously fickle WWF audience.
Hulk Hogan has been the undisputed king of the WWF since he became the face of pro wrestling after the runaway success of the first WrestleMania (often referred to as WrestleMania I), the first pro wrestling event produced by the World Wrestling Federation. The event took place on March 31, 1985, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. 19,121 rabid fans were in attendance, and the event was viewed by over one million fans through closed-circuit television, which made it the largest showing of an event on closed-circuit television in the United States at the time it aired.
The show featured nine professional wrestling matches, and the main event match teamed Hulk Hogan with the legendary Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, who were unsurprisingly defeated by their more charismatic rivals. With this victory, “Hulkamania” swept the nation. Hogan frequently referred to his fans as “Hulkamaniacs” in his interviews and introduced his three “demandments”: training, saying prayers, and eating vitamins. Eventually, a fourth demandment (believing in oneself) was added during his feud with Earthquake in 1990. Hogan’s ring gear developed a characteristic yellow-and-red color scheme; his ring entrances involved him ritualistically ripping his shirt off his body, flexing, and listening for audience cheers in an exaggerated manner.
Hogan was named the most requested celebrity of the 1980s for the Make-a-Wish Foundation children’s charity. He was featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, and People magazines, while also appearing on The Tonight Show and having his own CBS Saturday morning cartoon titled Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Hogan went on to headline eight of the first nine WrestleMania events, and he also co-hosted Saturday Night Live on March 30, 1985 during this lucrative run. AT&T reported that his 900 number information line was the single biggest 900 number from 1991 to 1993. Hogan operated the 900 number through his stint in WWF and then recreated it when he joined World Championship Wrestling.
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