30 novembro 2005

10 Simple Foods with Superpowers

Move over, broccoli! These incredible edibles fight cancer and heart disease, fill you up and give you energy. Take this list to the grocery store today.

When nutrition experts discuss the stars of the healthy-eating world, the same names always make the A-list. Broccoli? Check. Tomatoes? Natch. Salmon? Sure. These and other well-known "functional foods" certainly rate their celebrity. But — just as in Hollywood — these attention getters aren't the only game in town. For every tub of antioxidant-rich blueberries or bowl of cholesterol-squelching oatmeal, another less fanfared healthy food is in the wings, waiting to shine. In fact, recent research is turning the spotlight on 10 everyday foods that can protect your heart and bones and help fight cancer. Try one (or more) at your next meal.

1) Black Tea
Star power: When it's tea time, health-conscious consumers tend to go for green. But black tea (including brands like Celestial Seasonings, Lipton and Tetley) can be as good for you because it comes from the same antioxidant-rich plant that produces the green variety. Black tea may offer similar protection from heart disease and some cancers; people with heart disease who drank it daily for a month saw a 50 percent improvement in the functioning of impaired blood vessels, a study from Boston University reports. And another study, from Rutgers University at New Brunswick, New Jersey, found that a compound in black tea triggers colorectal cancer cells to destroy themselves.
How to drink it: Have it hot at breakfast or iced with lunch. Brewing your own? Use boiling water and steep for three minutes to get the most antioxidants. Note: Decaffeinated is lower in antioxidants, and you can skip bottled and instant teas, which have barely detectable levels, says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston. Instead, make it yourself and drink it fresh — time in the refrigerator depletes tea's powers.

2) Celery
Star power: Celery has a rep as a nutritional zero, but it's actually a great source of potassium, a nutrient that helps reduce blood pressure and regulate the balance of fluids and minerals in the body. Most Americans get less than 50 percent of the suggested 4,700 milligrams a day. "Everyone thinks of bananas for potassium," says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., of Altoona, Pennsylvania, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "But per calorie, you're better off munching on celery." Four medium stalks deliver about the same amount of potassium as a 105-calorie banana for a mere 24 calories. The crunchy crudité also contains compounds called phthalides, which moderate blood pressure, too.
How to eat it: For a quick, healthy snack, stash precut celery sticks immersed in a tub of ice water in the fridge (the cool bath keeps them at their crunchiest). Dip in hummus for an extra dose of fiber. Add celery to soups, stews and stir-fries.

3) Cherries
Star power: More than just drink decor or pie filler, cherries are the pick of the fruit world when it comes to flavonoids — they have more of these powerful antioxidants than almost any other food analyzed by the USDA. Cherries, both sweet and tart, are particularly rich in anthocyanins, micronutrients that may jump-start the immune system and mop up disease-causing free radicals, says Ronald Wrolstad, Ph.D., distinguished professor emeritus of food science and technology at Oregon State University at Corvallis. "This may give cherries the potential to help ward off cancer," he says. Other research suggests they may also reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and gout.
How to eat them: Fresh cherries are in season from May through August, but frozen, dried and canned versions are equally nutritious. Toss a fresh bag into the freezer for a sweet, cool treat; add tart dried cherries to salads; or try topping pancakes with the canned kind.

4) Edamame:
Star power: You want all the benefits of soy — protein minus the cholesterol, plus the heart- and bone-protecting isoflavones — but you're tired of tofu. Grab a handful of edamame, the whole, unprocessed soybean. Most often sold frozen in or outside the pod, these crunchy green beans have all the pluses of tofu, as well as almost twice the potassium and folate and nearly four times the fiber.
How to eat it: Boil in the pod, sprinkle with sea salt and eat warm or cold by squeezing from the skins. Or toss raw, preshelled beans into any green or fruit salad. You can also roast them by spritzing raw shelled beans with olive oil, seasoning with dried basil, garlic powder, parsley or salt and cooking in an oven at 375° for 12 to 15 minutes. Roasted beans are a great crunchy snack, but don't go too crazy because they're higher in calories than fresh beans.

5) Mushrooms
Star power: They're kind of rubbery, they grow in dank, creepy places and they're always poisoning someone in fairy tales. And yet mushrooms have several redeeming qualities. They're low in calories and are a top plant source of B-complex vitamins, including riboflavin, which helps keep skin healthy and eyesight sharp. They also leave other produce in the dust when it comes to selenium, an antioxidant that may protect against some cancers. And according to a study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, mushrooms contain betaglucan and chitin, two types of fiber that absorb fat and whisk it out of the blood, lowering your risk for heart disease. All mushrooms offer benefits, but the big winner is the meaty portobello. It's high in selenium and potassium, and study author George C. Fahey Jr., Ph.D., notes it's easy to eat in hearty quantities.
How to eat them: Grill portobellos as you would a burger, mix them (or any 'shroom) raw into salads, or sauté and add to pizza.

6) Onions
Star power: There are lots of reasons to be sweet on this stinker. For one thing, onions love your heart; they have a blood-thinning property similar to that of aspirin. They're also a top source of quercetin, a flavonoid thought to reduce heart attack risk. A bonus: We absorb about 70 percent more quercetin from onions than from apples, another food high in the nutrient. They may also protect your tummy by fighting bacteria that can cause stomach cancer. And the bulbs might boost bone health; bone mineral density increased by 17 percent in rats fed dried onions, a study from the University of Bern in Switzerland reveals.
How to eat them: Raw onions (all varieties) are best because cooking can kill off their blood-thinning compounds; try slices on sandwiches or in salads. If you can't take the strong taste, grill or sauté whole or chopped onions with a little olive oil, or roast in a covered dish in a 400° oven for an hour. You can also nuke onions (covered) in the microwave for five minutes.

7) Pomegranate Juice
Star power: Antioxidant-loaded pomegranates have been generating quite a buzz recently, but tangling with those juice-squirting seeds isn't exactly a dainty endeavor. To the rescue: presqueezed pomegranate juice, which offers almost all the health perks of the whole fruit without the hassle. The beverage has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, cranberry juice and orange juice and is loaded with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that may protect against cancer and promote heart health. In one study in the journal Clinical Nutrition, people with carotid-artery disease, which can lead to stroke, reversed some artery damage by drinking a little less than 2 ounces of the juice daily.
How to drink it: To balance the flavor and reduce calories, mix with an equal amount of seltzer or freshly brewed tea.

8) Quinoa
Star power: If you could take one food with you to a desert island, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") would be your best bet. While no food can provide all the nutrients a body needs, this grainlike seed comes pretty close, says Jeff Maughan, Ph.D., associate professor of plant and animal sciences at Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah. Quinoa delivers significant amounts of 20 different amino acids your body uses to maintain and repair tissues, including all of the essential amino acids — protein building blocks your body can't make and has to get from food. (Only animal protein can make the same claim, and it's usually higher in calories and fat than quinoa.) It's also a great source of magnesium, which helps regulate blood pressure. A half cup gives you more than 50 percent of your daily needs, as well as some iron and potassium.
How to eat it: Boiled quinoa is a nice alternative to brown rice. "Slightly undercook it, or it will get mushy," Dr. Gerbstadt says. Or eat quinoa like oatmeal, with milk and maple syrup.

9) Sunflower seeds
Star power: With 25 percent more vitamin E than almonds, sunflower seeds are the new go-to snack for reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Vitamin E may also fight inflammation, which can lead to joint pain and cartilage deterioration, says Susan Kundrat, R.D., adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Only 2 ounces (or 4 tablespoons) of dried seeds provide 12 milligrams of vitamin E — that's 80 percent of your daily needs. They're also full of fiber, healthy fats, protein and iron.
How to eat them: Shelled seeds are great tossed into salads, baked goods like muffins or spice cake, meat loaf or any recipe that calls for nuts. You can also crush them, add some olive oil and use them as a coating for baked chicken or fish fillets.

10) Whole-Grain Cereal
Star power: Need a reason to think inside the cereal box? For about 250 calories (including lowfat milk) and only a few grams of fat, many brands are loaded with filling fiber, which will help you head off a midmorning trip to the vending machine. Some even boast health claims: Shredded wheat, for example, says its whole grains can help lower cholesterol, which can reduce your heart disease risk. You'll also get an energy lift from the mix of good carbs and lean protein (when you add the milk). Note: Only whole-grain cereals offer these benefits.
How to eat it: "Check the serving size to make sure you keep calories in check," Kundrat says. Choose brands with at least 4 grams of fiber and no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving. Have a bowl for breakfast, a snack or even dinner!


A story with a boat

The sun lays its pattern over the city. Portuguese people are good level-headed people with sun above. I will not be bothered. Others bother. Spanish people are loud sensation hunters with flapping gestures. The French being sits still in long sentences for a space of time. Then her nerves start to quiver. Who decides what is of weight? I tell them I signal that I am not willing to drive them in my car. British people jabber like monkeys in a cage. I find myself a good shady spot to lie down and rest for a while. If it matters what matters. The Portuguese bus comes when it comes. And if I want to take the Portuguese boat somewhere I can do it when it does. But if I go away I would do so just to come back not to stay. I shut myself out from all that talk of direction and course. We are a couple of taxi drivers driving a gang of sailors down to the harbour. The sailors eagerly wave the flag and strike up a chorus. German people, British and French say they are up to something. I say I need not become. I am. A ship drifts by itself towards the coastline. The sailors hook their arms as they go up the gangway, smiling with evenly white teeth. I tell my Portuguese partners that if something really needs to be counted then why not count the waves the fish the wind

A story with flesh and emotion

All is body and sun. Spanish people gather at the marketplace in the evening to meet. Spanish people are full of warm pounding blood and strong connected emotions. Italian people are short-lived. Italian people stay strong for a couple of hours but will not last the entire feast. Spaniards last as long as it takes. Finnish people last without a comment. They last but are not worth talking to and feeling. They sit silent and do not move to anything but the Finnish tango. The Spanish move and dance with everyone. The Spanish move is the origin of motions. The Spanish body is the one that dances. The Spanish sun is the sun above the laughter. The Spanish heart is the heart always pounding and the Spanish hate along with the Spanish love is our Spanish reality. We dance everything together I dance in orbit beneath the sun. French people put up an act the Greeks are acting. The Spanish meal is a complete meal, the Spanish siesta is good heavy sleep. The Spanish woman wakes up to dance some flamenco. The Spanish man wakes up to pick the calf among the calves to kill. Blood from the Spanish meat dries up in the Spanish sun. The Spanish sun dries up everything that was and does not leave anything wet for tomorrow. The British sun leaves everything soaked. British people are resentful anaemic people with umbrellas. Spanish people meet up in the evening with warm tanned skin to heat. The Spaniard stays up late and does not give in. All is body and sun. All is heart and sun and blood

The Austrian woman the Portuguese woman and the Finnish woman do not have a laugh worth mentioning.
Portuguese people do not play today, they play tomorrow.
Portuguese sisters are too sleepy to pay attention to any collector.
The Portuguese do not stop because they have not started.
Look at the Spaniards swaying, the Danish slidings the Greeks to and fro.
The Italians the Spanish use too much spice; it is not good for the blood.
Spanish people do not stop until the feast is over.
Spanish dogs are lazy creatures that get too much sun.

Swedish poet Ida Börjel confronts us with our favourite and most insulting national prejudices about ourselves and our European neighbours. But does she confirm them? In a series of insidious linguistic displacements and only seemingly naive phrases, the preconceived notions start to move. Measuring the European waistlines is not a standardizing measure.


“you can live to be 120 years old”

Why 120?
“Every animal species has an age limit. Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at age 122. If one person can do it, so can others. Moreover, it has been proven in hundreds of simple studies that animals live at least 50 percent longer with marginal adjustments to their living conditions. It’s clear for nearly all species that they’ll live a whole lot longer if they eat 30 percent less food that is of high quality.”

But after the age of 80 you will then spend decades suffering from all kinds of geriatric afflictions.
“Wrong. It is possible to stay in good shape and feel youthful at the age of 100.”

“Don’t smoke, not too much stress, don’t eat too much. Aging can mainly be seen as a process whereby our bodies’ cells are damaged by an overabundance of free radicals [molecules created during oxidation]. You have to find ways to protect yourself against free radicals, such as alphalipoic acid that is directly absorbed in the mitochondria—the energy factories in our cells. Other antioxidants also play a role, as does preventing cell calcification. Supplements aren’t enough, but they are very important.”

Is there scientific proof that we can live longer?
“No double blind study has been done. That is simply unfeasible.”

Hmm. So who’s going to cover all those pension payments?
“No problem. If you remain energetic for longer, you can keep working. But pensions and overpopulation are not my specialty.”


27 novembro 2005

Scorsese on Portugal

Martin Scorsese announced during the Marrakesh International Film Festival that he has quit making blockbuster films so that he can concentrate on documentaries and short films.

After he completes post-production on his current film "The Departed" starring Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson, he plans to make "Silence," about Portuguese priests who move to Japan in the 17th century to convert the country to Christianity.

From Scorcese and His Films, unofficial website.

23 novembro 2005

«The best organic product»

The ocean on your table

For ages, the best salt in the world has been harvested from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. A kind of film forms on the surface of the water, the so-called fleur de sel. Each day, this thin layer is manually removed before it sinks to the bottom in a rather time-consuming process. For every 100 square metres (4,300 square yards) of water, only three kilos (six-and-a-half pounds) of salt are produced. When the water evaporates, the salt crystallizes. And so it has been done for thousands of years.
Then came refined salt, which reduces most of the minerals found in sea salt to levels that our body can barely absorb. As a result, excess salt remains in our bodies, and then attracts water and settles into our muscles and onto our bones – which can lead to health problems. The solution: back to unrefined salt.
That is the specialty of a company run by Rui Neves Dias in Tavira, on the southern coast of Portugal. “It’s actually very simple,” Neves Dias explains. “For salt you only need sea, sun and wind. There’s plenty of that here.” Every day the exposed layers of salt crystals are carefully removed from the surface of the sea, then dried in the sun before they’re packaged and sold under the brand name Flos Salis. The salt, which crumbles between your fingers and melts on your tongue, can be used as table salt or for salads, meat and fish.
Neves Dias’ aim to mine salt the traditional way is more than a nostalgic desire to hang on to tradition. Neves Dias wants to prove that it’s still possible to offer the authentic taste and color of sea salt. And he takes pride each time his salt passes with flying colors the annual tests of Nature & Progrès, the European mark for “exceptional quality and purity”. This proves Flos Salis is free of chemical substances like metal and nitrates.
Neves Dias’ family has been mining salt in the region for 120 years. He’s never wanted to do anything else. “This is my hobby,” he says. “It’s never been about work. To earn money, I’ve only done what I enjoy.”

Available in: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and the United States
URL: www.flor-de-sal.com

From Ode Magazine


That dream became a reality in January 2003 when Ode began appearing in English. Several tens of thousands of issues of the English version were printed for distribution in Porto Alegre, Brazil at the World Social Forum, the annual meeting of people fighting for human and social values in the process of globalisation. Later that year Ode entered into a joint venture with a Brazilian publisher to disseminate a Portuguese version in Brazil. And talks are ongoing with other countries…

21 novembro 2005

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams 85% (102)
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell 79% (92)
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley 69% (77)
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick 64% (67)
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson 59% (66)
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert 53% (54)
7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov 52% (54)
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov 47% (47)
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett 46% (46)
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland 43% (44)
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson 37% (37)
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons 38% (37)
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson 36% (36)
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks 34% (35)
15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein 33% (33)
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick 34% (32)
17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman 31% (29)
18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson 27% (27)
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson 23% (21)
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham 21% (19)

The Top geek novels, from The Guardian's Tech Blog]

20 novembro 2005

Alexander von Humboldt

Yes, I clearly was uncluttering my desk with these due posts, and this is one of my favourites, again from the TLS:

Alexander von Humboldt was the last man who knew everything. Traveller, explorer and mountaineer no less than scientist, he combined the ideals of Enlightenment and Romanticism: a genius in thought and deed, as remarkable for his sensibility as for his universality. Not only did he invent or reinvent several new branches of earth and life science (including human and plant geography, climatology and vulcanology, hydrology and geomagnetism) and greatly augment most others, he also transformed the historiography and philosophy of science. We owe to him such familiar scientific notions as the isothermal lines on weather maps, seismic waves, magnetic storms, reverse polarity, the Jurassic era. He investigated the igneous formation of rocks, the decrease in the earth’s magnetism towards the Equator, and the formation of galaxies. Long before they could be realized, he conceived of a Panama Canal, a United Nations, academic think tanks and a “universal library”, a scientific database not unlike the internet.

Read on.

Apocalypse and its aftermath

. . . .Tolkien’s fantasy epic was written during the same postwar decades as the utopian histories of E. P. Thompson and Christopher Hill, and it too conjures a myth of struggle and deliverance, revolutionary energy and hope carried by little people against tyrannical might and unharnessed destruction. The Hobbits from the Shire had first appeared in The Hobbit (1937), which was imbued with the Arcadian and English nostalgia that pervaded that era, culminating in Brideshead Revisited (1945). Tolkien himself had been invalided out of the trenches of the First World War; but he lost his family and most of his friends from his university days in that war, and his experience can be descried in the endless combat of The Lord of the Rings. The book became a secular Bible for the hippy generation, and traces of their brand of anarchism – individualist, hedonist, pacific, antinomian – linger in the medieval and Celtic nostalgia that envelops the book’s afterlife as a touchstone of the New Age. But its present incarnation, as a film, projects into our here and now a vision of one small, beleaguered tribe and its allies overthrowing a mighty imperium in altogether changed political circumstances, without much thought of transformation, negotiation, organic exchange or development.

Some other filaments of past and present apocalypticism are worth teasing out, in order to grasp why its myth has regained moral force. Anglo-Saxon warrior epics such as Beowulf were established as the Ur-texts of English Literature by Professor Tolkien at Oxford, where Philip Pullman was a student in the 1960s. Pullman read English – unhappily – then started work as a schoolteacher in Oxford during both the first phase of the Tolkien cult and, as he often recalls with some asperity, the popular ascendancy of another Oxford visionary for
children, C. S. Lewis, and his Narnia cycle. Pullman’s highly ambitious trilogy, His Dark Materials, consciously defies both those precursors of his youth: he challenges the archaic savagery and the apocalyptic vision of Tolkien’s invented Englishness, and Lewis’s Anglican piety. He draws on a parallel, dialectical literary tradition, taking on Milton, speaking with Blake (who has, for these purposes, become an angelic presence, constantly there), shadowing Bunyan, and surpassing certainly Milton and even Blake in his defiance of Christian dualism, his rejection of the doctrine of original sin and his championing of women, children, and their energies of curiosity, sex and love. He stages several topoi of apocalyptic struggle, but in each case, makes a knight’s move in another direction.

Full story not displayed at the TLS, but still well worth reading.

Hollywood meets the zeks

Get hold of a video of Marina Goldovskaya's film about the genuine article, The Solovky Power: Evidence and Documents, and sit your friends down for an in-depth look at the real, original, death-through-labor Soviet archetype, where something far worse than the occasional mistreatment of Korans occurred. This distinguished film will enable everyone to get their historical bearings; moreover, it is a standing rebuke to those who would recklessly trivialize a name, and a system, that may have cost 2.7 million lives.

By strange good fortune The Solovky Power was recently shown in Los Angeles. At 7:30, on Wednesday April 13, students at the UCLA School of Film and Television, living and working in the shadow of Hollywood, were brought face to face with actual zeks—men and women who had survived ten, twenty, and up to thirty years confinement on the Solovetsky Islands, 150 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle in the White Sea, with the slogan “Freedom Through Work!” over the gate.

One can only wonder what the audience made of it. Many film students would be unable to name the year of the Bolshevik Revolution; while historically, most students planning careers in documentary stand politically to the left of the Hollywood Ten. While it’s possible that those at the UCLA School of Film and Television are better informed than most, I think it would be safe to say that an searching examination of the real Gulag, showing how Stalin’s labor camps were already up and running in 1923, accompanied by interviews with the dictator’s victims, was a campus experience that for California was something new.

More and great from The New Criterion

Hostis Humanis Generis

How thinking of terrorists as pirates can help win the war on terror

Very good article, a bit of piracy history applied to terrorists, those enemies of the human race.

From Legal Affairs
Javier Marías on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa,
from The Threepenny Review

The Most Amazing Inventions of 2005

Real Life Saver:

The price of a caffe latte—about $3—really can save a life. The LifeStraw, a beefed-up drinking straw designed by the Swiss-based company Vestergaard Frandsen, uses seven types of filters, including mesh, active carbon and iodine, to make 185 gal. of water clean enough to drink. It can prevent waterborne illnesses, such as typhoid and diarrhea, that kill at least 2 million people every year in the developing world. It can also create safe drinking water for victims of hurricanes, earthquakes or other disasters. And finally, it makes a handy accoutrement for the weekend warrior's back-country hike.

These ones because they're fofos:

From Time magazine

19 novembro 2005

The Man Without Qualities

The Translator: An Essay

World's Most Expensive Restaurants 2005

Pessoa em Berlim

“German Dolls” takes Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) to Berlin. It is a text about memories--false and inaccurate, as memories always are--and how they interfere with the places we inhabit, the places we best know by getting lost in them (in the sense of choosing to vanish into them). Pessoa grew up in Durban and wrote his first poems in English. Apart from two trips from Portugal to South Africa, he rarely traveled, and so far as I know was never in Berlin. But his invention of identities, like different layers of one’s self--the heteronymus--has everything to do with a city, Berlin, that hides its true identity, and its memories, behind names that are recognizable only from the inside. To a stranger, they lead nowhere. I wanted to work on a metamorphosis of the Poet into a dog. Pessoa used more than seventy heteronyms, some of them discovered only recently by scholars studying his handwritten papers. It made sense to me to imagine Pessoa as a Stasi agent, playing a game with a city, and a society, where everyone could spy on everyone, living a double life and reporting to a “master”--a Poet, let’s say, or a demiurge--who had the key to everyone’s true identity.
Pedro Rosa Mendes

Read all in WordsWithoutBorders

14 novembro 2005

The other good thing about sex

IN SAMUEL BECKETT'S "Waiting for Godot," two tramps — Vladimir and Estragon — wait to see if Godot will arrive. Today, in evolution's worldwide theater of the worrisome and real, we're all waiting to see if the bird flu virus will get around to attacking us big time. Godot never showed up; H5N1 just might.

On the other hand, if the dreaded bird flu pandemic doesn't appear, it may be due to luck, or the quarantine and slaughter of infected animals, or other timely and effective public health measures (of which admittedly there have been precious few thus far), or — oddly enough — sex.

There appears to be a curious connection between sex and disease, one that evolutionary biologists have only recently come to appreciate, and that cuts against the grain of conventional wisdom — which equates sex with sexually transmitted diseases. Thus, biologists have long scratched their collective heads about sex, starting with this conundrum: Sex isn't necessary.

Lots of living things reproduce by parthenogenesis (the development of unfertilized eggs) or simply by sending out shoots or buds. Not only does asexual reproduction avoid the many direct hassles of sex — the need to find a suitable mate, the time and effort of courtship, the risk of being injured or infected during the act — it also gets around a huge genetic drawback: Genes within a sexually reproducing creature enjoy only a 50% chance that they will be transmitted to any given offspring, whereas asexual reproduction guarantees that each gene has a 100% certainty of being projected into the future. And projecting genes into the future is what evolution is all about.

This 50% cost imposed by sexual reproduction had long troubled evolutionary scientists. Until, that is, British biologist William D. Hamilton came up with the idea that sexual reproduction might be a tactic in an evolutionary arms race between hosts and their diseases.

First, let's face the disconcerting fact that there are many more of them (pathogens and parasites) than us (free-living organisms). After all, every multicellular critter is home to thousands, often millions, of internal free-loaders. Considering just one group of worms, invertebrate biologist Ralph Buchsbaum has suggested that "if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable."

Nematodes and all the rest seek to live at our expense; we, in turn, seek to thwart them. If we, the unwitting and unwilling hosts, stay genetically the same from one generation to the next, then we are sitting ducks, easy targets for "them."

Enter sex. By mixing and matching our genes, sexually reproducing creatures bob and weave, creating new genetic combinations with every bout of reproduction, confounding — or at least challenging — our pathogens and parasites by creating moving targets instead of sitting ducks. Because of their generally short life spans, pathogens can evolve rapidly compared with ourselves; via the diversity-creating mechanism of sex, we level — somewhat — the evolutionary playing field. At least some bacteria, worms and viruses are unable to draw a bead on our descendants.

Maybe — unlike Godot — a bird flu plague will arrive after all. While we wait to find out, at least we have something to do to amuse ourselves. And if we succeed in dodging the bullet, we might want to offer thanks — not only to veterinarians, virologists, public health workers and the gods of our choice — but also to sex.

From the LA Times

06 novembro 2005

Most of us have, at one time or another, puzzled over such historical-linguistic conundrums as: Why did only Britain, of all the Roman provinces overrun by Germans, end up speaking a Germanic language? Why did the Portuguese language “take” in Brazil, but not in Africa, while Dutch “took” in Africa but not in Indonesia? If the Phoenicians were so important in Mediterranean history, how is it that they left not a single work of literature behind? Since we know of no nation named Aramaia, whence came Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth? What actually happened to Sumerian? Or Mongolian, the language of a vast medieval empire?

Plainly, what we have been needing is an account of world history written from the linguistic point of view. Well, here it is. Nicholas Ostler is a professional linguist and currently chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. His loving fascination with languages is plain on every page of Empires of the Word, and in the many careful transcriptions — each with a brief pronunciation guide and a translation — of passages from Nahuatl, Chinese, Akkadian, and a host of other tongues. Ostler actually has a feel for languages that, he has convinced me, goes into something beyond the merely subjective. He speaks of “some of the distinctive traits of the various traditions: Arabic’s austere grandeur and egalitarianism; Chinese and Egyptian’s unshakeable self-regard; Sanskrit’s luxuriating classifications and hierarchies; Greek’s self-confident innovation leading to self-obsession and pedantry; Latin’s civic sense; Spanish rigidity, cupidity, and fidelity; French admiration for rationality; and English admiration for business acumen.”

The story he tells — the story of the languages of human civilization — is illustrated with dozens of maps, as a book of this sort ought to be, as well as a scattering of drawings and photographs. After a brief introductory section, the narrative divides into three parts. The first describes the spread of languages, mainly by land, from the remotest past up to the Middle Ages. The second covers the last half-millennium, when European languages planted themselves all over the world, carried mainly by sea (Russian being the chief exception here). In a short final section, Ostler surveys the current language map, and offers some speculations about the future.

The first section is the longest and contains much material likely to be unfamiliar to the average reader. It begins with the story of the Semitic languages, from Akkadian through Aramaic and Phoenician to Hebrew and Arabic. The main points of interest here are the odd lingering prestige of Sumerian long after Sumer as a political force had ceased to exist; the replacement of Akkadian, a firmly established bureaucratic-imperial language, by Aramaic, a nomad dialect from the desert fringes; and the dramatically different fortunes of sister-languages Phoenician and Hebrew. From the second of those points, Ostler extracts the surprising but true principle that “the life and death of languages are in principle detached from the political fortunes of their associated states.” He confronts, and refutes, the theory that Aramaic won out over Akkadian because of its superior, alphabetic, writing system, assigning the true cause to Assyrian population policy.

We then get an illuminating comparative study of two great introverted imperial systems, Egypt and China, and their languages, with the startling conclusion — the supporting argument is too complex to summarize — that “the long-term future of the Chinese language may be hanging in the balance.” On to Sanskrit, for which the author nurses a particular affection, and which he describes as “eminently learnable,” though this is not the impression one gets from glimpses of the grammar. (For example, the Sanskrit verb has a benedictive mood, used only when blessing.) Greek, says Ostler, is “an instructive example of what can happen to a prestige language when its community ceases to innovate, and the rest of the world catches up.” Celts, Romans, Germans, and Slavs in turn then march across the historico-linguistic stage, before the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish embark in leaky wooden carracks to spread their languages to the remotest regions of the earth.

The author is naturally tempted to try to extract from all this history some general principles about the spread of languages. This proves difficult, though, beyond a few truisms, such as that a language genealogically related to one’s own is much easier to pick up. “Despite 1,200 years of practice, the phonetic distinctions in Arabic which Westerners find hard to master . . . are difficult for Persian speakers too.”

Languages enlarge their numbers of speakers in various ways: through trade, conquest, migration, imperial consolidation, or religious proselytizing. The latter two — Spanish in the Americas and Sanskrit in Southeast Asia are instances — seem to be the most efficacious. Trade is an especially poor bet, as the examples of Phoenician, Sogdian (on the Silk Route), and Arabic (in the Indian Ocean) illustrate. Ostler comes to one of his few definitive conclusions on this point: “No community famous for specialization in trade has passed its language on permanently as a vernacular, or even as a lingua franca, to its customers.” The customer, you see, is always right, and the customer’s language is therefore to be preferred.

In general, though, any attempt to lay down rules here is at once swamped by counterexamples. Surveying the languages currently dominant in the world, Ostler says: “Grossly, then, one could claim that, in the political economy of languages, it pays to be the dialect of a city that becomes a national capital; it pays to be in a tropical plain, especially if it grows rice; and above all it pays to be in East or South Asia. But all these criteria have exceptions: indeed, English started out with none of these advantages.”

It is likewise difficult to see into the linguistic future with any clarity. Of a few cases, we can entertain some confidence: Russian will decline, Japanese hold its own. All else is speculation. Will the different varieties of English diverge, as post-Imperial Latin split up into the Romance languages? (Some Jamaicans hired to work on my house last year conversed with me in flawless Queen’s English, but with each other in impenetrable island patois.) Conversely, will the Turkic languages of Central Asia merge, with Anatolian Turkish, into a single language? Will Chinese attain major international status at last? What will be the influence of the Internet? Of demography? Of migration? Of Islam? The variables are so many, and the historical precedents so contradictory, one can do little more than pose the questions. This Ostler does, with all the clarity and humility of true scholarship. A marvelous book, learned and instructive.

[From the National Review Online]

05 novembro 2005

Don Quijote (2)

Don Quijote

Apaixonado por Espanha, Orson Welles, um dos maiores e mais inclassificáveis realizadores de todos os tempos, dedicou 14 anos da sua vida a "Dom Quixote", uma obra desmesurada a que o seu génio desmesurado não poderia ficar indiferente. Welles mergulhou na obra de Cervantes através das personagens de Dom Quixote e Sancho Pança em viagem pela Espanha de 1960, dando uma visão única e apaixonante das mais emblemáticas figuras da ficção espanhola. O filme mostra as gentes e costumes do vizinho país, destacando as largadas e as corridas de touros que tanto fascinavam Welles, mas sem deixar de lado tradições populares como as Festas dos Mouros e dos Cristãos ou as procissões religiosas.

No King brevemente e da Atalanta Filmes, claro :-)