The Divine Comedy
Cardinal Martini was the former archbishop of Milan and advocate for modernising the Catholic Church. He criticised the Vatican’s positions on birth control and homosexuality, and questioned the official stance on issues such as priestly celibacy, embryo donation and euthanasia – calling for “greater pastoral attention” for the terminally ill who say “in all lucidity” that they no longer want care that serves no purpose beyond the artificial prolonging of life.
Hopes that he would become pope after John Paul II were shattered in 2002 by the announcement that he had Parkinson’s disease. Mind you, there has never been a Jesuit pope in the history of the church. He would have been far too liberal for the conservative policy that cardinal Ratzinger had enforced during the long illness of Woytila, John Paul II.
But Carlo Maria Martini did not stop questioning the role of the Catholic Church in 21st century. After retiring in 2002, Martini moved to Jerusalem, where he devoted himself to prayer and study. He had good relations with the Jewish community, and wrote extensively on the relations between Christianity and Judaism. In his last interview, he posed some questions to the whole Catholic institution. He said: “The Catholic Church is 200 years behind. Why doesn’t it wake up? What are we afraid of? We need to be brave instead.”
Well, we might attempt an answer. Despite the fact that people in the church are supposed to be enlightened by the spirit of God, they are just human beings like any others. Here and there are some brave people and Carlo Maria was one of them, living up to his beliefs. He refused treatment and passed away shortly thereafter on August 31, 2012, at the age of 85. We are all mortal souls. We hope that the Catholic Church will take up Martini’s legacy and become more flexible to avoid alienating the faithful and help us “sinners.”
A painting of a younger Mona Lisa has been unveiled in Geneva by the Mona Lisa Foundation. The painting, stored for forty years in a safe in Switzerland, is a younger version of the “Mona Lisa” portrayed ten years later by Leonardo.
According to the foundation, this would be the first version, drafted in 1503 and left unfinished. There seems to be “historical and scientific evidence showing that there have always been two portraits of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci: the earlier version and “La Gioconda” shown at the Louvre in Paris. The painting was found in the house of an English nobleman, shipped to the United States during the First World War, and brought to Switzerland by the collector Henry Pulitzer.
Prof. Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale near Florence in Vinci, birthplace of the genius, is prudent in attributing the new discovery to Leonardo, but said it is interesting that finally a comparison of the two works can be made and they can be studied by other specialists.
Tokyo has become the world capital of auto-eroticism. With the opening there of Love Joule, a bar entirely dedicated to female masturbation, clients will be able to have a drink and a conversation on the matter, surrounded by “bizarre” objects of any shape and form conceived purely for the pleasure of women. “Female masturbation is still a taboo subject, a mysterious act; therefore, the need to create a bar like this,” said the owner, Magumi Nakagawa. But don’t get too excited, boys. You will be able to enter only if accompanied by a woman. It is the best way to keep any sex maniacs away.
O Dear Beatrice, is this part of the emancipation of a women? It sounds rather artificial, don’t you think?
Virgil what can be said of …
A book to change history, a manifesto For Europe, as the title says. The liberal, former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, one of two authors, introduced the book as “an attack on the continental political class, written in anger.” The other author, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a prominent leader of the 1968 Parisian student protests, now co-chairman of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament at Strasbourg, swears that it is the only permanent antidote to the crisis. “The markets have destroyed the sovereignty of European states,” the two assert. “The only way to regain it is through the strengthening of Europe.”
It’s the return of populism and Euro-scepticism and that scares them. “We need to go further and do it well. We said we could not go on,” says Verhofstadt, leader of the Lib Dem at the EU Parliament. “The recipes are all wrong; what they ask of Spain and Greece is as inhuman as it is dangerous,” adds Cohn-Bendit. The book defends a rigorous approach, but focuses on solidarity. Verhofstadt says that “Monti and Rajoy are in the same condition. Half of the immense work of reform is eaten by the need to pay high interest rates to investors who live outside of Europe.” The problem, say the Flemish, is liquidity, “Slovenia has debt below 60%, a deficit close to three, but goes on the market to 5% because there is no liquidity. You must rewrite the slogan of Clinton. Not ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ It’s the liquidity,stupid.”
Is liquid air the solution to the world’s energy shortages? Not quite yet, but it may be soon. According to scientists, normal air can store energy by super-cooling it and turning it into a liquid. When the air is warmed it expands back into a gas and the resulting high pressure can drive the engine of a car or generate electricity in a turbine. One company, Highview Power Storage, has built a pilot plant next to a power station in Slough to prove the technology works. At times of low demand for electricity, the plant uses the excess energy from the power station to suck air through refrigerator-style compressors turning it into a liquid, which it then stores in an insulated tank. When consumer demand spikes, the energy is returned to the national grid. The tank, which stores 60 tons of liquid air, can power 6,000 homes for one hour. “The technology is far cheaper than storing energy in batteries,” chief executive officer Gareth Brett told Sky News.
“The trouble with batteries is they are best suited to small applications like your laptop,” he said. “What we are talking about here is the national grid, which requires very large amounts of electricity to be stored.”
“We’re coming out of the cave blinking on this one and we’re only just getting an inkling of how great the energy storage benefits of liquid air could be,” said Tim Fox, of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which has organised the summit of experts.
Engineering firm Ricardo is also developing a car engine fuelled by liquid air, based on a prototype built by inventor Peter Dearman.
Research by Imperial College suggests energy storage could reduce the number of power stations and national grid infrastructure needed, saving £10bn.
Marijuana, cocaine and testicular cancer.
The first doubles the risk of developing cancer, the second halves it, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Southern California are trying to shine some light on a cancer whose incidence is increasing. Currently, there are a couple of known risk factors, namely chryptorchidism, or failure of one of the testicles to descend into the scrotum; and Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.
The USC research, published in the journal Cancer, was conducted by sending a questionnaire about personal drug use to 163 individuals suffering from testicular cancer – not extensive enough to draw definitive conclusions, but not irrelevant either, as testicular cancer is rare. Each year it affects one individual per 100,000, mainly men between 15 and 40 years of age. The data were then compared with that of a group of three hundred healthy people with the same ethno-demographic characteristics as the cancer patients. People who customarily smoked marijuana had an almost doubled risk of cancer than those who had never used it. “I do not know what the mechanism is through which marijuana induces the onset of testicular cancer ,” said Victoria Cortessis one of the authors of the study. “Let us assume, however, that it may act on the endocannabinoid system, the cellular network that responds to the active substance in marijuana, which plays an important role in the formation of sperm.”
Beyond the mechanisms yet to be identified, the correlation between testicular cancer and marijuana use is not new. Several studies have already shown that the risk is higher with higher consumption. What is a completely new finding is that cocaine may have a protective effect against the disease. In the calculation of the researchers, it can halve the chances of getting sick. The team’s explanation in this case is that it could be as simple as the fact that cocaine can kill the cells that produce sperm. Testicular cancer cells often originate in the sperm. In short, Cortessis said, “germ cells cannot develop cancer if they have been destroyed first.” In any case, the researchers concluded that they will “need further studies to confirm the results.” What is certain, however, is that no one will propose the use of cocaine as a tool for the prevention of testicular cancer.
The investment bank JP Morgan Chase has ended up in the crosshairs of American justice. The company, led by Jamie Dimon, is accused of being “fraudulent and deceptive” in the sale of mortgage-related securities, which caused losses to investors of $20 billion. The case which opened in early October and was filed at the New York State Supreme Court by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is the first move made by the task force created by President Barack Obama to investigate the responsibility of the financial institutions for the world’s current economic crisis. “We intend to pursue similar actions against underwriters of residential mortgage-backed securities [debt securities backed by a package of mortgage loans –ED.],” said an official on the staff of the U.S. attorney for New York.
The case refers to securities sold by Bear Stearns, before it was acquired by JP Morgan in 2008. The prosecution asserts that Bear Stearns had “systematically failed to assess the loans.” JP Morgan has denied the allegations, pointing out in a statement that the case refers to what was done by Bear Stearns “prior to the acquisition that we made in the course of a weekend, and at the request of the U.S. government. This complaint is entirely about historic conduct by that entity.”
Interestingly -or ominously – the case is filed by the New York Attorney General alone and not under the aegis of the federal task force.
In other words . . . it will probably come to nothing.
The miracle effects of skincare creams and potions may be nonexistent, according to new research that – contrary to manufacturers’ claims – suggests even the smallest particles do not actually penetrate the skin. We spend a fortune on them but skin creams might not be all they’re cracked up to be.
Many pharmaceutical brands claim that nanoparticles in their products give their creams a “deep penetrating action”. But scientists at the University of Bath (UK) found that such claims are “patently not the case” and that even the tiniest of nanoparticles do not actually penetrate the skin’s surface.
Richard Guy, the professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences who led the research, said: “Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions over whether nanoparticles can penetrate the skin or not.”
The team’s work suggests that creams are simply deposited into creases in the skin and do not carry nutrients deep under the surface.
“Using confocal microscopy has allowed us to unambiguously visualise and objectively assess what happens to nanoparticles on an uneven skin surface.
“Whereas earlier work has suggested that nanoparticles appear to penetrate the skin, our results indicate that they may in fact have simply been deposited into a deep crease within the skin sample.
“The skin’s role is to act as a barrier to potentially dangerous chemicals and to reduce water loss from the body. Our study shows that it is doing a good job of this.”
Glad somebody is finally giving us the truth, because we were all wondering how our skin could stay young forever. Maybe we can spread the fashionable concept that we are all getting old in the same way.
Italian scientists can soon be put in jail for not forecasting the weather correctly. No, I’m not joking, I’m afraid. It’s the verdict from a court case where six scientists and one government official were sentenced to six years in prison for failing to adequately warn of the deadly, 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Aquila, the medieval city where, in 2009, three hundred people died and many more lost their homes. Amongst the six convicted of manslaughter is one of country’s most prominent seismologists and geologists. Experts around the world have condemned the verdict, insisting that science is not able to reliably predict earthquakes.
Now, finally the international community seems to be waking up to what the judicial system in Italy is all about. Do Italians live under the rule of law? Do they have a democratically elected government? Why are all these cases of alleged corruption from both left and right surfacing only now, six month prior to elections? Why can’t the justice ministry push through reform of the judicial system which it so badly needs? Where are you, O international community that advocates democracy everywhere? Oh, I see! That was only good for charging former PM Berlusconi. Now Mario Monti is taking care of the country’s finances, that’s all that matters, right?
To what other terraces of doom and pain, dear Virgil, will you accompany me… next time…