Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fastest Thing On Reels: The French Connection

The French Connection

Lakes That Go Boom!

From Wikipedia:

A limnic eruption, also referred to as a lake overturn or exploding lake, is a rare type of natural disaster in which CO2 suddenly erupts from deep lake water, posing the threat of suffocating wildlife, livestock and humans. Such an eruption may also cause tsunamis in the lake as the rising CO2 displaces water. Scientists believe landslides, volcanic activity, or explosions can trigger such an eruption. Some features of limnically active lakes include:

  • CO2-saturated incoming water
  • A cool lake bottom indicating an absence of direct volcanic interaction with lake waters
  • An upper and lower thermal layer with differing CO2 saturations
  • Proximity to areas with volcanic activity

Scientists have recently determined, from investigations into the mass casualties in the 1980s at Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos, that limnic eruptions and volcanic eruptions, although indirectly related, are actually separate types of disaster events.

Once an eruption occurs, a large CO2 cloud forms above the lake and expands to the neighbouring region. Because CO2 is denser than air, it has a tendency to sink to the ground while pushing breathable air up. As a result, life forms that need to breathe oxygen suffocate once the CO2 cloud reaches them, as there is no breathable air. The CO2 can make human bodily fluids very acidic, potentially causing CO2 poisoning. As victims gasp for air they actually hurt themselves more by sucking in the CO2 gas.

At Lake Nyos, the gas cloud descended from the lake into a nearby village where it settled, killing nearly everyone. In this eruption, some people as far as 25 km from the lake died. A change in skin color on some bodies led scientists to think that the gas cloud may have contained a dissolved acid such as hydrogen chloride as well, but that hypothesis is disputed. Many victims were found with blisters on their skin. This is believed to have been caused by the release of carbon monoxide, which can cause pressure ulcers due to poor oxygen circulation. Thousands of cattle and wild animals were also asphyxiated, but no official counts were made. On the other hand, vegetation nearby was mostly unaffected except for that which grew immediately adjacent to the lake. There the vegetation was damaged or destroyed by a 5-meter tsunami from the violent eruption.

Monday, May 26, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Whitey Action and Terry Phoo

From Wikipedia:

Phoo Action is a BBC Three 60 minute TV pilot, one of six new drama pilots that transmited in early 2008, and was first broadcast on February 12, 2008 at 21:00 UTC,.[2] Phoo Action is based on the Jamie Hewlett-created strip 'Get The Freebies' which ran in The Face (magazine) from June 1996 to June 1997. It stars Jaime Winstone as Whitey Action, Carl Weathers as Police Chief Benjamin 'Ben' Benson and Eddie Shin as Terry Phoo.

The show is set from the perspective of the disaffected teenage female protagonist, Whitey Action, who joins together with tough guy kung-fu cop Terry Phoo to form a dubious crime-fighting duo who thwart many mutant miscreants of The Freebies Gang on the streets of London in 2012.

Whitey Action is daughter of Ben Benson, the native New Yorker Chief of the London police. When the Queen is killed by a gang of mutants, known as The Freebies, Whitey guesses they are behind the murder while her father's forces focus their attentions on a single 'a mutant insurgent' suspect. Terry Phoo, a highly trained combat cop from the Hong Kong JKD police force is called in by Benson's superior, Lord Rothwell, as he is supposedly an expert at fighting mutants. However, his investigative skills leave much to be desired.

The Freebies are castigated by a mysterious group of sinister characters known as the Star Chamber for killing the Queen as they were supposed to mutate her not murder her. The Star Chamber give the Freebies one last chance, demanding that William is mutated before he is crowned. While at a party in the Freebies nightclub, Whitey sees Princes William and Harry being led off by the Freebies, and she causes a big scene, preventing them from being captured but getting herself arrested by Terry Phoo. Convincing him that she is a special agent, he takes her to his hotel room, where, while looking for chocolate, she finds a case containing 'the Buddha's loincloth' that transforms into a pair of hotpants, which she immediately tries on. Phoo is rather shocked by this, especially when she pulls a giant chocolate egg out of them and the legend of a 'Chosen One' who is destined to use their power is revealed. Whitey can pull anything she desires from the pants and Terry decides this means that she is the Chosen One.

Together Phoo and Action save the Princes from the evil plot to mutate them, and the subsequent plot to set the lead mutant, Jimmy Freebie, on the throne. The story ends, however, with William beginning to mutate as he is crowned, the Star Chamber seem to have won this battle despite the Freebies bungling and Phoo Action's best efforts.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Know Where I'm Going to Retire To -

Flag of Christiania

From Wikipedia:

Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania (Danish: Fristaden Christiania, Faroese: Frístaðurin Christiania) is a partially self-governing neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (85 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Christiania has established semi-legal status as an independent community, but has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its open cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. Since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, and negotiations are ongoing.

Among many Christiania residents, the community is known as staden ('the town'), short for fristaden ('the freetown).

Meditation and yoga have always been popular among the Christianites, and for many years Christiania had their own internationally acclaimed theater group Solvognen, who, beyond their theater performances, also staged many happenings in Copenhagen and even throughout Sweden. Ludvigsen had always talked of the acceptance of drug-addicts who could no longer cope with regular society, and the spirit of that belief has still not diminished, even throughout many problems sprouted due to drug traffic and use (mostly of hard drugs, however, which are illegal in Christiania). These addicts head into and remain in Christiania all the time and are considered just as much a part of the Freetown as the entrepreneurs, and for this reason many Danes have seen Christiania as a successful social experiment. However, for years the legal status of the region has been in a limbo due to different Danish governments attempting to remove the Christianites. Such attempts at removal have all been unsuccessful so far.

The neighbourhood is accessible through many entrances and cars are not allowed (although some Christiania residents own a car, see below). Danish authorities have repeatedly removed the large stones blocking the main entrance claiming they need access to the area for fire trucks and ambulances in the event of a fire or medical emergency, yet the residents respond by placing them back each time as they feel suspicious that the authorities will instead use it for police operations. This suspicion is backed by the fact that they have already made arrangements with the Copenhagen Fire Department, which also operates the ambulances in Copenhagen, and have established other entranceways and maneuvering spaces for fire trucks and ambulances in the area.

The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, independently of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests and hard drugs.

Famous for its main drag, known as Pusher Street, where hash and Skunk weed were sold openly from permanent stands until 2004, it nevertheless does have rules forbidding hard drugs, such as cocaine, speed, ecstasy and heroin. The commerce is controversial, but since the rules require a consensus they cannot be removed unless everybody agrees. The region negotiated an arrangement with the Danish defence ministry (which still owns the land) in 1995. Since 1994, residents have paid taxes and fees for water, electricity, trash disposal, etc. The future of the area remains in doubt, though, as Danish authorities continue to push for its removal. On Pusher Street, cameras are not allowed, and locals will wave their hands and shout "No photo!" if they see someone trying to take a picture.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mommy, Where Do Words Come From? Dagmar Bumpers

From Wikipedia:
Dagmar bumpers, also known simply as Dagmars (D-HAG-mar) is a slang term for the artillery shell shaped styling elements found on the front bumper/grille assemblies on several makes of cars produced in the 1950s, an era recognized for its flamboyant designs and excessive use of chrome details.

The name Dagmar Bumpers (and Dagmars) was a direct reference to Dagmar (born Virginia Ruth Egnor), the early 1950s television personality who was as well known for her pronounced cleavage as she was for her dumb blonde character on the program Broadway Open House. Dagmar's physical attributes were further enhanced by low-cut gowns and the shape of her bra cups, which were somewhat conical. Egnor was amused by the tribute.

From Wikipedia:

Dagmar (November 29, 1921October 9, 2001) was a statuesque, busty blonde personality of the 1950s. She became the first major female star of television, receiving much press coverage during that decade.

Born in Yawkey, West Virginia as Virginia Ruth Egnor, she went to high school in Huntington, West Virginia where she was known as Ruthie. She attended Huntington Business School and worked at Walgreens as a cashier, waitress, sandwich maker and soda jerk.

In 1950, when Lewis was hired by Jerry Lester for NBC's first late-night show Broadway Open House (1950-1952), he renamed her Dagmar. Lester devised the name as a satirical reference to the huge success on television of the TV series Mama (1949-57), in which the younger sister, Dagmar Hansen, was portrayed by Robin Morgan. (In Norwegian and Danish, the name is not pronounced "dagg-mahr," but rather "dow-mahr," the first syllable rhyming with "how.")

As Dagmar, Lewis was instructed to wear a low-cut gown, sit on a stool and play the role of a stereotypical dumb blonde. With tight sweaters displaying her curvy figure, her dim-bulb character was an immediate success, soon attracting much more attention than Lester. Lewis quickly showed that regardless of appearances she was quite bright and quick-witted.

Dagmar became one of the leading personalities of 1950s live television, making guest appearances on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, the Bob Hope Show and other shows. On June 17, 1951, she appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour with host Eddie Cantor and guests Milton Berle, Phil Foster and Jack Leonard. She was nicknamed Dag by Cary Grant.

In 1951, she made a TV guest appearance with Frank Sinatra, and this prompted Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller to record a novelty duet with Frank and Dagmar, "Mama Will Bark". That same year, Alfred Eisenstaedt's photo of her appeared on the July 16, 1951 issue of Life. In the Korean War, a 40 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft tank was named Dagmar's Twin 40's.

In 1952, she hosted the short-lived, primetime Dagmar's Canteen in which she sang, danced, interviewed servicemen and performed comedy routines. The basic premise of the show was that servicemen from the audience were given roles to act alongside Dagmar in sketches.

One of Dagmar's sisters, Jean, was a member of the cast of Dagmar's Canteen. Jean, who had previously worked as a chorus girl on Broadway, also served as Dagmar's secretary, handling her sister's fan mail, which sometimes soared to 8000 letters a month.

When her television show ended, Dagmar performed in Las Vegas shows and summer stock theater. Liberace spoke glowingly of her in an interview, stating that she had given him his early career "big break" as her accompanist. In the 1960s, Dagmar occasionally made guest appearances on such shows as Hollywood Squares and the Mike Douglas Show.

She was one of a number of performers who posed for pictures in the Patrick Dennis novel First Lady, published in 1965, as the soubrette and Presidential courtesan Gladys Goldfoil. She is famous for giving her stage name to the Dagmar bumper, a chrome bullet-point bulge on the front bumpers of Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and Lincolns built during the 1950s.

Following Angelo Lewis, she was married to bandleader Dick Hinds (1957) and actor Danny Dayton (1980). After years on the nightclub circuit, she moved to Ceredo, West Virginia in June 1996 to be near her family. In her last years, she lived with her brother, Bob Egnor, and his wife.

She died, in Ceredo, aged 79, of undisclosed causes.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"the ghost performs the feats of a devil upon earth" - Spring Heeled Jack

From Wikipedia:

Spring Heeled Jack (also Springheel Jack, Spring-heel Jack, etc), is a character from English folklore said to have existed during the Victorian era and able to jump extraordinarily high. The first claimed sighting of Spring Heeled Jack that is known occurred in 1837.[1] Later alleged sightings were reported all over England, from London up to Sheffield and Liverpool, but they were especially prevalent in suburban London and later in the Midlands and Scotland.[2]

Many theories have been proposed to ascertain the nature and identity of Spring Heeled Jack. The urban legend of Spring Heeled Jack gained immense popularity in its time due to the tales of his bizarre appearance and ability to make extraordinary leaps, to the point where he became the topic of several works of fiction.

Spring Heeled Jack was described by people claiming to have seen him as having a terrifying and frightful appearance, with diabolical physiognomy that included clawed hands and eyes that "resembled red balls of fire". One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an "oilskin". Many stories also mention a "Devil-like" aspect. Spring Heeled Jack was said to be tall and thin, with the appearance of a gentleman, and capable of making great leaps. Several reports mention that he could breathe blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak in comprehensible English ....

Though the Lord Mayor seemed fairly sceptical, a member of the audience confirmed, "servant girls about Kensington, Hammersmith and Ealing, tell dreadful stories of this ghost or devil". The matter was reported in The Times on 9 January, and other national papers on 10 January, and the day after that (January 11) the Lord Mayor showed a crowded gathering a pile of letters from various places in and around London complaining of similar "wicked pranks". The quantity of letters that poured into the Mansion House suggests that the stories were widespread in suburban London. One writer said several young women in Hammersmith had been frightened into "dangerous fits", and some "severely wounded by a sort of claws the miscreant wore on his hands". Another correspondent claimed that in Stockwell, Brixton, Camberwell and Vauxhall several people had died of fright, and others had had fits; meanwhile, another reported that the trickster had been repeatedly seen in Lewisham and Blackheath.

The Lord Mayor himself was in two minds about the affair: he thought "the greatest exaggerations" had been made, and that it was quite impossible "that the ghost performs the feats of a devil upon earth", but on the other hand someone he trusted had told him of a servant girl at Forest Hill who had been scared into fits by a figure in a bear's skin; he was confident the person or persons involved in this "pantomime display" would be caught and punished. The police were instructed to search for the individual responsible, and rewards were offered.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Don't Find This Particularly Funny -

From Wikipedia:

The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 was an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness (MPI) in the vicinity of the village of Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania near the border of Kenya. Due to its nature the incident has been confused with positive humorous or infectious laughter as seen in phenomena like the holy laughter movement. The nature of MPI, however, is quite dissimilar to these euphoric experiences.

Records of this occurrence, as so often with cases of MPI, are sparse, and have been embellished and misquoted. The epidemic seems to have started within a small group of students in a boarding school, possibly triggered by a joke. Laughter, as is commonly known, is in some sense contagious, and for whatever reason in this case the laughter perpetuated itself, far transcending its original cause. Since it is physiologically impossible to laugh for much more than a few minutes at a time, the laughter must have made itself known sporadically, though reportedly it was incapacitating when it struck. The school from which the epidemic sprang was shut down; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off.

Though the epidemic may have started in humor, the oft-noted laughter became significant in an entirely different way. Other more worrisome symptoms were reported on a similarly massive scale; pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes, and attacks of crying all appeared to some extent. This laughter epidemic is often misunderstood as implying that thousands of people were continuously laughing for months. As noted above, this is impossible; the true nature of the epidemic was occasional attacks of laughter among groups of people, occurring throughout the noted region at irregular intervals.

No one knows what sparked this incident, but scientists can make reasonable guesses as to why mass hysteria may have affected this part of the world. Independence from Great Britain had been achieved recently, on December 9, 1961, and Kashasha was at the time part of the nation of Tanganyika (Tanganyika would merge with Zanzibar in 1964, creating the modern nation of Tanzania). Students felt that expectations from their teachers and parents had risen markedly, and said they felt stressed as a result. This could explain the epidemic's genesis in a boarding school; one cure for MPI is removing sufferers from their current surroundings, impossible without shutting the school down, something which the administrators were surely reluctant to do. The spread of the epidemic, laughter, crying, rashes, and all, among the adult population may signify widespread uncertainty about the future among Tanganyikans. Situated in the northwestern corner of Tanganyika, the region may have been too isolated and insular to allow for a change of location, which allowed the epidemic to spread and last for a great amount of time. The unique characteristics of the Kashasha area, namely its isolation, a significant population, stress among the entire population and especially the boarding school component, combined perhaps with pure chance, probably best explain why the epidemic occurred and how it lasted so long.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: The Tick!

From Wikipedia:
The Tick is a fictional character, an absurdist spoof of comic book superheroes. Created by cartoonist Ben Edlund, the character debuted as a newsletter mascot in 1986, was spun off into an independent comic-book series in 1988, and gained mainstream popularity through an animated TV series on Fox Broadcasting in 1994. A short-lived live-action TV series, video game and various merchandise have also been based on the character.

A square-jawed, muscular, bright blue-costumed figure with antennae sticking up from his head, The Tick is a surreal parody of superheroes. He is high-spirited, frequently obtuse, and prone to quipping odd, dim remarks and "inspirational" speeches filled with bizarre metaphors. His superpowers are nigh-invulnerability, which allows him to crash and bang about without injury (though not necessarily without pain); super strength (he can bend a steel girder with ease); and something referred to as "drama power," or basically a tendency for the Tick's powers to increase as the situation becomes more dramatic. He can also survive out in space without a suit and underwater without oxygen. Despite his nigh-invulnerability, in the animated series, the Tick is portrayed as being vulnerable to blows to the head, which often cause temporary brain damage. He is known for his nonsensical battle cry, "Spoooooon!," which he decided upon one day while eating breakfast (specifically, the cereal Drama Flakes).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Henrietta Lacks Died In 1951 .. But She's Still Alive

From Wikipedia:
Henrietta Lacks (August 18, 1920October 4, 1951) was the involuntary (and likely unknowing) donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create an immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line.

Henrietta Lacks has been recognized as an unintentional contributor to science, research, medicine and public health. Her contributions, which began almost immediately after her February 1, 1951 trip to Johns Hopkins Hospital, continue until today. According to reporter Michael Rogers, her visit and the subsequent development of HeLa by a researcher at the hospital, helped answer the demands of 10,000 who marched for a cure to polio just a few days before. By 1954 HeLa was used by Jonas Salk to develop a vaccine for polio. As stated by reporter Van Smith in 2002 a "demand" for HeLa "quickly rose ... the cells were put into mass production and traveled around the globe--even into space, on an unmanned satellite to determine whether human tissues could survive zero gravity".

Reporter Smith continued, "In the half-century since Henrietta Lacks' death, her ... cells ... have continually been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits". HeLa was used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue cosmetics, and many other products.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Fastest Thing on Reels-Fear is the key.

"Fear Is the Key is a 1961 thriller novel by Scottish author Alistair MacLean, and a 1972 British film based upon it. Veteran fans of the author will note that MacLean is at his best, with the self-deprecating, sardonic, ironic humor that has come to characterize his writing style.

In the prologue, set in May 1958, Talbot, owner of "Trans Carib Air Charter Co" was in the British Honduras in radio contact with one of his planes en route to Tampa, Florida, as it is being shot down by an American military plane. This resulted in the death of Talbot's son, wife Elizabeth and brother Peter.
Two years later, Talbot has apparently turned to a life of crime, for which he is now facing sentencing in a courtroom. He escapes, taking a young woman hostage. A reward is put out on his head, and he is captured by a thug who turns him in to the hostage's father. Instead of turning him over to the police, however, the father hires him for some not entirely legitimate tasks. The father, it turns out, has been consorting with some shady characters, who may or may not have been responsible for killing Talbot’s family. The story becomes straight action with car chases, gunfights, the mafia, a beautiful woman, mysterious doings aboard an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and a sunken DC-3 at the bottom of ocean with a secret treasure, as Talbot searched for answers to his long quest to find the murderers of his family. In typically MacLean style, the reader comes to find that nothing in this complicated plot is quite as it seems.

Fear Is the Key appeared in film in a 1972 release directed by Michael Tuchner. The protagonist, Talbot, was played by Barry Newman, and the millionaire's daughter Sarah by Suzy Kendall. The movie features a soundtrack by Roy Budd."

Shall we war before of after tea?-Floor Wars.

By H.G. Wells via Alan Murray's floorwars webpage
"Let me now say a little about toy soldiers and the world to which they belong. Toy soldiers used to be flat, small creatures in my own boyhood, in comparison with the magnificent beings one can buy to-day. There has been an enormous improvement in our national physique in this respect. Now they stand nearly two inches high and look you broadly in the face, and they have the movable arms and alert intelligence of scientifically exercised men. You get five of them mounted or nine afoot in a box for a small price.

We three like those of British manufacture best; other makes are of incompatible sizes, and we have a rule that saves much trouble, that all red coats belong to G. P. W., and all other colored coats to F. R. W., all gifts, bequests, and accidents notwithstanding. Also we have sailors; but, since there are no red-coated sailors, blue counts as red.

Then we have "beefeaters," (Footnote; The warders in the Tower of London are called " beefeaters " ; the origin of the term is obscure.) Indians, Zulus, for whom there are special rules. We find we can buy lead dogs, cats, lions, tigers, horses, camels, cattle, and elephants of a reasonably corresponding size, and we have also several boxes of railway porters, and some soldiers we bought in Hesse-Darmstadt that we pass off on an unsuspecting home world as policemen. But we want civilians very badly. We found a box of German from an exaggerated curse of militarism, and even the grocer wears epaulettes. This might please Lord Roberts and Mr. Leo Maxse, but it certainly does not please us. I wish, indeed, that we could buy boxes of tradesmen : a blue butcher, a white baker with a loaf of standard bread, a merchant or so; boxes of servants, boxes of street traffic, smart sets, and so forth. We could do with a judge and lawyers, or a box of vestrymen. It is true that we can buy Salvation Army lasses and football players, but we are cold to both of these. We have, of course, boy scouts. With such boxes of civilians we could have much more fun than with the running, marching, swashbuckling soldiery that pervades us. They drive us to reviews; and it is only emperors, kings, and very silly small boys who can take an undying interest in uniforms and reviews.

You see how the game goes on. We land and alter things, and build and rearrange, and hoist paper flags on pins, and subjugate populations, and confer all the blessings of civilization upon these lands. We keep them going for days. And at last, as we begin to tire of them, comes the scrubbing brush, and we must burn our trees and dismantle our islands, and put our soldiers in the little nests of drawers, and stand the island boards up against the wall, and put everything away. Then perhaps, after a few days, we begin upon some other such game, just as we feel disposed. But it is never quite the same game, never. Another time it may be wildernesses for example, and the boards are hills, and never a drop of water is to be found except for the lakes and rivers we may mark out in chalk."

Only Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu Can Make a (Musical) Tree

From Wikipedia:

The Singing Ringing Tree is a musical sculpture set in the landscape of the Pennines overlooking Burnley, in Lancashire.

Completed in 2006, it is part of the series of four sculptures within the Panopticons arts and regeneration project. The project "was set up to erect a series of 21st-century landmarks, or Panopticons (structures providing a comprehensive view), across East Lancashire as symbols of the renaissance of the area.

Designed by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu of Tonkin Liu, the Singing Ringing Tree is "constructed from pipes of galvanised steel, which harnesses the energy of the prevailing winds", to produce a slightly discordant and penetrating choral sound covering a range of several octaves. Some of the pipes are primarily structural and aesthetic elements, while others have been "cut across their width enabling the sound". The harmonic and "singing" qualities of the tree were produced by tuning the pipes "according to their length by adding holes to the underside of each".

In 2007, the sculpture won (along with 13 other candidates) the National Award of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for architectural excellence.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Taste?

From Wikipedia:

Umami is a proposed addition to the currently accepted four basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue. The same taste is also known as xiānwèi (traditional Chinese: 鮮味; simplified Chinese: 鲜味) in Chinese cooking. Umami is a Japanese word meaning "savory" or "deliciousness" and so applies to the sensation of savoriness, specifically to the detection of the natural amino acid, glutamic acid, or glutamates common in meats, cheese and other protein-heavy foods. The action of umami receptors explains why foods treated with monosodium glutamate (MSG) often taste "heartier".

Glutamate has a long history in cooking: it appears in Asian foods such as soy sauce and fish sauce, and in Italian food in parmesan cheese and anchovies. It is the taste of Marmite in the UK, of Golden Mountain sauce in Thailand, of Maggi Sauce worldwide, of Goya Sazón on the Latin islands of the Caribbean, of Salsa Lizano in Costa Rica and of Kewpie mayonnaise in Japan. It also is directly available in monosodium glutamate.

Inasmuch as it describes the flavor common to savory products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome (link in French), an early attempt to describe the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock.

Umami was first identified as a basic taste in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University while researching the strong flavor in seaweed broth. Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate as the chemical responsible and, with the help of the Ajinomoto company, began commercial distribution of MSG products.

Acknowledged subjectively as a special taste by Eastern civilizations for generations, umami has been described in biochemical studies identifying the actual taste receptor responsible for the sense of umami, a modified form of mGluR4[5] named "taste-mGluR4".

Umami tastes are initiated by these specialized receptors, with subsequent steps involving secretion of neurotransmitters, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and serotonin. Other evidence indicates guanosine derivatives may interact with and boost the initial umami signal.

Cells responding to umami taste stimuli do not possess typical synapses but instead secrete the neurotransmitter ATP in a mechanism exciting sensory fibers that convey taste signals to the brain. These taste receptors are located everywhere on the tongue.[citation needed]

In monkey studies, most umami signals from taste buds excite neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, showing spatially-specific characteristics:

  • There is a cortical map representation for the taste of glutamate separate from that of other taste stimuli like sweet (glucose), salt, bitter (quinine) and sour (hydrochloric acid)
  • Single neurons having vigorous responses to sodium glutamate also respond to glutamic acid
  • Some neurons display a mechanism of satiety, indicating a process by which taste receptors in the mouth may interact with cortical neurons to curtail eating
  • Umami flavor is strongest when combined with aromas (e.g., monosodium glutamate and garlic), a result leading to speculation that glutamate may stimulate umami effects by acting simultaneously with the aromas, texture and appearance of food.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Crying Woman

From Wikipedia:
La bitch (IPA: [la ʝoˈɾona], or approximately "lah yoh-ROH-nah", Spanish for "the crying woman"), sometimes called the Woman in White or the Weeping Woman is a figure in South American folklore, the ghost of a woman crying for her dead children that she drowned. Her appearances are sometimes held to presage death and frequently are claimed to occur near bodies of water, particularly streams and rivers. There is much variation in tales of La Llorona, which are popular in Mexico and the United States (especially in Mexican American communities), and to an extent the rest of the Americas.

Many versions of La Llorona's origin exist. Some describe a beautiful young woman in Mexico or New Mexico, who married or was seduced by a local man, by whom she had several children. The woman is sometimes given a Christian name; Sofia, Linda, Laura, and María are sometimes used. The man leaves her, sometimes for another woman, sometimes for reasons of employment, and sometimes just to be away from La Llorona and her several children. At any rate, La Llorona chooses to murder her children, almost always by drowning, either to spare them a life of poverty, to free herself to seek another man, or for revenge against their absent or stray father.

The tales vary mostly in the several motives they give to the mother and father for the murder. The version popular in Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas says that "La Llorona" drowned her children in the Rio Grande when she could no longer support them. On nights with a full moon, says the story, La Llorona can be heard crying near the river ....

... Generally, La Llorona becomes a sort of banshee. Her restless spirit walks abroad at night, crying "¡O hijos mios!" or "¡Ay mis hijos!" (O my children!) if not "¿Donde estan mis hijos?" (Where are my children?) or "Has visto a mis hijos?" (Have you seen my children?), the later options and variants being used before it reveals its ghostly nature to the victim leading to the victims death. Those unlucky enough to see or hear her are marked for death themselves. Sometimes she is dressed all in white; other times, in black. She is weeping, and in some tellings her eyes are empty sockets or in death she has been reduced to only a skeleton. In some accounts she tricks her victims by appearing in the guise of a familiar person. Accounts of sightings in Texas tell of an eerie figure with a woman's body but the head of a horse. The New Mexican La Llorona hunts after children; some say that she drowns them in the river.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Small Brilliances: Netsuke

From Wikipedia:

Japanese artists starting in the 17th century cleverly, invented the miniature sculptures known as netsuke (Japanese:根付) to serve a very practical function. (The two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean "root" and "to attach".) Traditional Japanese garments—robes called kosode and kimono—had no pockets. Men who wore them needed a place to keep personal belongings such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.

The elegant solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sash (obi). The containers might take the form of a pouch or a small woven basket, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured its cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.

Netsuke, like the inro and ojime they were associated with, evolved over time from being strictly utilitarian into objects of great artistic merit and extraordinary craftsmanship. Such objects have a long history reflecting important aspects of Japanese folklore and life. Netsuke production was most popular during the Edo period in Japan, around 1615-1868. Today, the art lives on and carvers, a few of whose modern works command high prices (US$10,000 or more), are in the UK, Europe, the USA, Japan and elsewhere. Prices at auctions in the USA for collectible netsuke typically range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Inexpensive molded, faithful reproductions are available in museum shops and elsewhere for $30 or less.

Like many other art forms, netsuke reflect the nature of the society that produced them. This is particularly true of Netsuke. The reasons why this is so include long periods of isolation imposed both by geography and internal politics and limited avenues of self-expression for Japanese citizens due to custom and law. As a result, netsuke display every aspect of Japan culture including its rich folklore and religion, every craft, trade, and profession, all types of people and creatures, both real and imagined, and every kind of object. As in other aspects of Japanese culture, the subjects portrayed by netsuke trend, over the long term, away from an initial emphasis on motifs of Chinese derivation toward a focus on objects of more strictly national interest.

  • people - famous and anonymous, current, historical, real and fictitious, children, warriors, priests, etc.
  • craft, trades, professions - often depicting actions (fishermen catching fish, woodcutters cutting wood), or examples(i.e., a stylized apple for an orchardist or apple merchant).[9]
  • animals - zodiac animals and others; it is worth noting that tradition netsuke style depicts octopus figures as having a tube like siphon protruding from the "face" similar to a mouth. If you examine closely, you'll find that some octopuses have nine tentacles instead of 8. These octopuses will usually be found embracing beautiful women; you can guess what the ninth tentacle represents.
  • plants or plant products - small ones, such as beans or chestnuts, are often carved life-size.
  • deities and mythical creatures - often from Chinese myth and religion
  • non-living things - the smallest category. Common examples include roof tiles, coins, and tools
  • abstract - mon patterns and other designs
  • sexual - "shunga" netsuke may depict a male and female in sexual conjugation, or may contain only subtle or symbolic sexual references

Some netsuke represent single, simple, objects, and some depict entire scenes from history, mythology, or literature.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Irony: an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected

The last person Jerome Irving Rodale saw alive

From Wikipedia:

Jerome Irving Rodale (surname accented on second syllable) (August 16, 1898June 8, 1971), was a playwright, editor, author and publisher.

He was one of the first advocates of a return to sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the United States. He founded a publishing empire, founded several magazines, and published many books, his own and those of others, on health. He also published works, including The Synonym Finder, on a wide variety of other topics. Rodale popularized the term "organic" to mean grown without pesticides.

Rodale died of a heart attack at the age of 72 while participating as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. He was still on stage, having finished his interview and was seated next to the active interviewee, New York Post columnist Pete Hamill. According to Cavett, Hamill noticed something was wrong with Rodale, leaned over to Cavett and said, "This looks bad." According to others, Cavett asked, "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?", which Cavett "emphatically" doesn't recall. The episode was never broadcast, although Cavett has described the story in public appearances and on his blog.

Ironically, Rodale had bragged during his just-completed interview on the show that "I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way", "I’ve decided to live to be a hundred", as well as the inevitable "I never felt better in my life!" He had also previously bragged that "I'm going to live to be 100, unless I'm run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver."

The Fastest Thing On Reels: The Italian Job

Here you go: the first in what will hopefully be a long-running series of posts celebrating the best movie car chases and stunts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kneel Before Zod!

From Zod For President 2008:

When I first came to your planet and demanded your homes, property and very lives, I didn't know you were already doing so, willingly, with your own government. I can win no tribute from a bankrupted nation populated by feeble flag-waving plebians. In 2008 I shall restore your dignity and make you servants worthy of my rule. This new government shall become a tool of my oppression. Instead of hidden agendas and waffling policies, I offer you direct candor and brutal certainty. I only ask for your tribute, your lives, and your vote.

-- General Zod
Your Future President and Eternal Ruler
Be sure and check out the kid's page!