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The Divine Comedy

Dante Divine Comedy

Around the World
half along our life’s path. Lost in a dark wood. Unable to find the right way…

Paradiso

Dear Beatrice…

CANTO I

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Scientists have revealed a major leap forward in cancer detection after finding dozens of common genetic changes that can increase the risk of the disease.
Tests on 250,000 patients found 83 inherited variations in the DNA code that could either raise or lower the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. Together these cancers affect almost 100,000 people a year in the UK. More than 26,000 of them die. The findings will allow doctors to identify women with a near 100% chance of developing breast cancer, and men with a one in two risk of prostate cancer.

Scientists have hailed the research as the dawn of a new era in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Professor Ros Eeles from The Institute of Cancer Research said: “These results are the single biggest leap forward in finding the genetic causes of prostate cancer yet made. They allow us, for the first time, to identify men who have a very high risk of developing prostate cancer during their lifetime through inheritance of genetic variants. If we can show from further studies that such men benefit from regular screening we could have a big impact on the number of men dying from the disease.”
This is the largest study of its kind, involving around 1,000 scientists around the world. They analysed DNA for tiny changes that could change the way genes work, altering cancer risk as a result. In the near future patients could be asked to spit into a tube by their GP who could then run a £30 test on their DNA in the surgery. They would then have an individual risk profile for some of the most common cancers.

The most immediate practical use of the research could be in women who carry the inherited breast cancer gene BRCA1. On average, they face a 70% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetimes.
But the new genetic variants can give women much more detail on their risk. If they also inherit several of the newly identified, high-risk changes to their DNA their chances of developing the disease are raised to between 90 and 100%. If they inherit the protective DNA changes, however, their risk drops to below 30%. Scientists say it could help women with the BRCA gene decide whether to have a preventative mastectomy. Sharon Osborne had her breasts removed last year because she carried the gene.
Professor Montserrat Garcia-Closas, another of the researchers, said the study was a “huge step” in understanding the causes of breast cancer. “These findings will help us to predict who is at increased risk of developing the disease and who could benefit most from prevention strategies, such as lifestyle changes and chemo-prevention, and early-detection strategies, such as regular screening,” she said.

Around 57% of cancer risk is set by genetic factors, with lifestyle making up the rest. Scientists believe there could be thousands of genetic variations that affect cancer risk. Patients with lung and colorectal cancers are to be tested as part of a study starting this summer The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust. The results are published in a series of papers in journals including Nature Genetics, PLOS Genetics, and the American Journal of Human Genetics.
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CANTO II

Her adulating admirers will presume the late Margaret Thatcher has ascended to the celestial regions. The equally vociferous legions of her detractors will attest that her true resting place is instead in the burning flames of hellfire. Love her or despise her, the Iron Lady is now forever enshrined in the annals of history and her legacy will long be debated as to whether it was for the greater good or harm. But from her leadership in the Falklands/Malvinas War, to the destruction of Britain’s coal mines and near evisceration of its trade unions, or as the godmother of Neo-Liberal economics , a staunch opponent of the former Soviet Union and as uneven enabler of South Africa’s transition from apartheid, not to mention her distaste for Nelson Mandela and playing host to Augusto Pinochet, Maggie was and is one of the great political figures of the 20th century. In this regard she is eternal so we will leave it to Saint Peter to get back to us.
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CANTO III

Trans Islam.They come from the Gulf, Iran, Pakistan, from the Maghreb where hanging or life imprisonment terrorises homosexuals and transgender people. Down the stairs of a narrow underground corridor in the University of Belgrade Urology Clinic, a few chairs for waiting among children with nephritis and old men with prostate cancer. They find a new Mecca for anyone who wants to change. F2M, an abbreviation on medical records: female to male, woman to man. In Serbia you pay little – from two to ten thousand euros, five times less than in any European or American clinic. Surgery lasts from six to eight hours; it takes three weeks all together from bureaucratic papers to convalescence. And above all, not many questions are asked. The Serbs, so caught up in ethnic identity, do not care much about sexual identity. In Tito’s Yugoslavia, of course, transsexuality was a crime. And even the current nationalist government has its work cut out to appease homophobes taking to the streets against Gay Pride celebrations. Business is business, though, and even the Orthodox Church now has its say: guests on a November episode of a talkshow on state television said the pope has made it clear that gender dysphoria is a problem, not a sin. (People here are flexible: up to a few years ago, Belgrade was one of the few capitals in the world that did not prohibit human cloning experiments). Now, a new law states that sex changes should be a right for free citizens and reasonably accessible to all foreigners. Professor Miroslav Djordjevic is head of team – among the best in the world – that ensures safe operations for metoidioplasty and phalloplasty (destruction of ovaries-uterus-vagina, penis construction). “Since there has been liberalisation,” says Dr. Marta Bizic, 35, “we have a rate of at least ten foreigners per month. First it was the Americans, Canadians, Russians, Brazilians. Even the Italians. For some time, we treated people from the most problematic places: Tehran, Islamabad, Libya. These are countries where gender identity disorder is not recognised as a disease; where cultural and religious pressures are very strong. And so no type of intervention is allowed. The main problem is bureaucracy. A Libyan, who had prepared all the papers in Germany, after the operation returned to Tripoli with his new documents. They would not let him in. And if he’d still decided to stay there, no one would give him work.”

Dear Beatrice, we want to salute this amazing, elegant woman, not only for her brain, but for her dignity and strength, with one of her quotes. “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.” And that should be her best legacy to all of us.

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Purgatorio

Virgil what can be said of …

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CANTO I

….Was Pablo Neruda assassinated by poisoning? To those who revere the immortal Chilean poet and former ambassador to France (and especially to those that remember the bloody military coup led by Augusto Pinochet which toppled the democratically elected government led by martyred President Salvador Allende in 1973 as the darkest night ever to befall the Andean nation in living memory), the romantic explanation has it that Neruda died shortly after the coup of a broken heart. The official clinical explanation was a stroke, but the darker suspicion has long been that the poet was murdered by the state, which regarded him as an enemy. In the wake of a successful legal battle to have his remains exhumed, an international team of forensic pathologists, anthropologists and other scientists will test his bones and any remaining tissue for evidence of extra-judicial murder via poisoning. The truth will out, but we are certain he already resides in heaven keeping good company with Victor Jara and Federico Garcia Lorca. Perhaps he might have a word with Margaret Thatcher over her providing sanctuary to Pinochet.
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CANTO II

In a moment of perhaps unwitting candour, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said “austerity had reached its limits.” The comment has caused no small amount of alarm in Germany and elsewhere in conservative financial circles where paying out more bail-out packages for the euro crisis is met with little enthusiasm. But for the legions of the unemployed, pensioners, students and a host of trade unions whose members face imminent layoff and more punishing cuts to the public budget, it came as some small form of relief, albeit only symbolic. But we grant Barroso a place in heaven for his plain speaking of a hard truth, even if it may have been an accidental diplomatic gaffe. No doubt Europe cannot keep spending what it does not have. It is a sure way to a crash. But, by the same token, the pitiless savaging of the public treasury and imposition of spiralling taxes without regard for the human cost will lead to another explosion. Too much tough love is also playing into the hand of far-right extremists who are channelling the anger and desperation to further an even more dangerous agenda. Creativity, balance and compassion must be wedded to sound fiscal policy to reach a more equitable and saner solution than the current one.
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CANTO III

The Emir of Qatar hosted the last Arab League Summit in Doha and, with a straight face, praised Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, for his progress towards peace in Darfur. There is no peace to praise in Darfur. The Khartoum regime prosecutes another genocidal war in the mountains of South Kordofan. Could this be the same emir who founded and bankrolls Al Jazeera television, the international network of record in both Arabic and English, documenting the Arab Spring and a groundbreaking voice for freedom, democracy and human rights in the larger Muslim sphere and the developing world? Is it the same emir who lent his Air Force to help topple Gaddaffi, yet continues to bankroll jihadist rebel groups in Syria, instead of the more moderate Free Syrian Army, while also providing hundreds of millions in humanitarian and development aid to Gaza? And is this the same emir who spent 48 million dollars to build a private island resort in Eritrea, one of the most repressive dictatorships in all of Africa? Visionary modernist, enlightened monarch, or feudal autocrat with a hidden agenda? Will the true emir please stand up?
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Inferno


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CANTO I

Iceland has decided to censor pornographic videos circulating on the internet. The proposal was also welcomed by the public in England, frightened by the growth of the sex market online. A dig through the research shows that the spread of the phenomenon on the web is covered by a thick veil of mystery.
The United Nations, however, in a 2012 report on child pornography on the net has quantified the value of online sex at $96 billion dollars, of which $3 billion results from the exploitation of children. This data is in contradiction with the news spread by Adult Video News, a kind of American Agency of Information for pornography, which has seen a crisis in the sector since 2008, in parallel with international economic difficulties.
The ease of finding material at no charge could render the industry obsolete and unprofitable. The rise of social networks, Facebook above all, could reduce the percentage of time online dedicated to sex and on websites dedicated to porn. But in 2012, the site Alexa.com, which keeps track of traffic on the net, has certified that among the top 50 busiest portals in the world, two portals were dedicated to porn videos (free of charge), and they were the two most popular on the Apple homepage. Users are increasingly less willing to pay for movies, easily available without cost, but they seem more willing to open their wallets for private shows and interact across the screen with models that are often common girls on a salary.
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CANTO II

The European Union has lifted its economic sanctions on Myanmar now that the former military junta has opened its doors to at least limited democratic reform. Long-time democracy and human rights champion, former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of parliament. At last a nascent democracy may take hold. But extremist Buddhist monks are inciting and leading mobs to slaughter minority Rohingya Muslims. International human rights groups have documented soldiers and police idly standing by as the killings take place and have denounced the ethnic slaughter as a crime against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi has been glaringly silent towards the Buddhist zealots, who are calling for all Rohingya to be “exterminated,” but she has, however, urged Japan to enact greater gender equality. What was the EU thinking and could that Nobel have been misplaced?
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CANTO III

The Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Plant Industry is fighting against an infestation of one of the most invasive species in the world: the giant African snail. These molluscs can also reach the size of a rat, and are able to eat stucco and plasters. In the county of Miami alone, every day a thousand snails are captured. Since the first sighting in September 2011, there have been approximately 117,000 snails caught, according to the Department of Agriculture. Each snail can produce 1,200 eggs a year. A similar episode dates back to 1966, when a tourist returning from Hawaii released three giant snails in his garden. Florida state spent a million dollars and it took ten years to eliminate the 17,000 “descendants” of that snail family. For this invasion, in cinemas, on buses and on billboards, authorities are asking members of public to report any sightings. Now, with the arrival of spring and the rainy season coming in June, Denise Feiber, spokeswoman for the department says that it will be easier to come across them. These snails attack “over 500 known species of plants. Pretty much any green thing in their path.” But the problem is not only aesthetic and agricultural. African snails are, in fact, also carriers of nematode worms, parasites that contaminate rats. They can also infect humans with a severe form of tropical meningitis, angiostrongylosis. O well, good job. We do like this type of escargot then…

To what other terraces of doom and pain, dear Virgil, will you accompany me…next time…

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