Great Literature – 100 Years of Solitude

Every Tuesday, I like to share a learning tidbit on literature. Today, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s greatest work  (in my humble opinion)  100 Years of Solitude struck me as a good choice.

His epic novel follows the complete lineage of one family in a poetic and touching way. His word choice is descriptive, eloquent, and mixes the realms of reality and fantasy so well that it is easy to be lost in the world which he creates. In fact, in an attempt to escape from the burdens of college, I once spent a few days locked in my room reading this novel and eating saltines. It might have been a better choice to actually go to class.

Regardless, published in 1967, translated in over 27 languages, and the biggest best selling novel in Spanish history since Don Quixote, I am not the only one to find the book truly amazing.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A very very brief synopsis

As the novel is much better read and I believe about 500 pages long, I think a short summary will do. Marquez, originally from Columbia, sought to portray the circular nature of history  through his book. He attempted to portray time’s overlapping and circular pattern by creating the book in this way as well. The characters in his book all hold relatively the same name or variation thereof which at times can make the book both confusing and compelling.

The first of the family history starts with Jose Arcadio Bueno who is an eternal explorer and inventor at heart. Set in the small town of Macondo, we also see the story of the town unfold from rather untouched by the outside world to facing heavy afflictions and massacres. By the end of the book, after we have followed the tales of  the children and their exploits, Jose (the very first of the lineage) loses his senses and is left tied to a tree. There his wife Ursula visits him until her death. We meet other remarkable characters as well such as Remedios, the hauntingly beautiful daughter who’s looks entrance men. So beautiful, in fact, that eventually she floats up into the sky never to be seen again. There is also Jose Aureliano, who becomes one of the most well-known rebels during the civil war.

Marquez paints each characters’ tale from beginning to end until the complete family lineage of the Buendia’s is complete.

The novel ends with the lines stating that the family lineage will never be again:

“He [Aureliano II ] had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” ~Last lines of 100 Years of Solitude

Marquez’s novel is in the form of magical realism and so reading it can be an imaginative experience. Throughout the novel he shows the struggle between the old traditions and the new ways through both his characters and the town of Macondo. His novel is able to paint a world with multiple view points and is rich in symbolism.

For those looking to get lost in their reading, 100 Years of Solitude will not disappoint.



What is 234 years old…..

……………………and has cute buns?

The United States Marine Corps.

sexygun
It’s not the clothes that makes a Marine 

Photo Credit

The United States Marine Corps has been America’s best fighting organization since November 10, 1775. Known for its fierceness, efficiency, courage, and outright ability in defending America, the Marine Corps is synonymous with winning and bravery.

“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.”    ~President Ronald Reagan, 1985

“Tell that to the Marines!” ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the attacks on Pearl Harbor

“To observe a Marine is inspirational, to be a Marine is exceptional.”

A special thanks to the few and the proud…the United States Marine Corp – Happy Birthday!

 

The science behind sleep

Well, it seems Monday has come once again a lot faster than I predicted. This last weekend was busy with a friend in town and another friend’s birthday. It seems another “Sunday” is always needed after the original Sunday. Luckily, I went to bed at 9pm last night. Going to bed early is one of my favorite Sunday night activities. Sleep is so important for having mental clarity on Monday morning and starting your week off right – so what exactly is it and why do we need so much of it?

Sleep would seem like an anti-evolutionary trait since we spend so much time doing it, and it leaves us vulnerable for predator attacks. Yet, if a person were to go longer than 2 weeks without sleep, he/she would die. We all know that lacking just one day of sleep leaves us groggy and disoriented. Make it three, and delirium is sure to set in.

Although we are not exactly sure why sleep is so important, we do know that during this time our thoughts re-organize, our muscles and organs restore themselves, and we build memories.

There are also 5 different stages of sleep. See below. (*taken from Discovery Health)

  • Sleep Stage 1
    In this brief stage, which may last only a few minutes, the body drifts to sleep. Brain waves are mostly high amplitude, slow waves and occasional alpha waves (like those found when awake).
    Percent of total sleep time for young adults: 5 percent.
  • Sleep Stage 2
    Heartbeat and breathing slow and the sleep is deeper than in Stage 1. Slow-wave sleep continues with peaks of brain waves (known as sleep spindles) occurring.
    Percent of total sleep time for young adults: 44 to 55 percent.
  • Sleep Stages 3 and 4
    These are the stages of deepest sleep, when brain waves are slowest. During these stages breathing and heartbeat slow further and muscles relax. Dreams are more common than in the earlier stages and sleepwalking and talking may occur during Stages 3 and 4.
    Percent of total sleep time for young adults: 15 to 23 percent.
  • REM
    Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages lengthen through the night. The first REM cycle may be only 10 minutes while the last could last as long as an hour. During this cycle the heartbeat increases, breathing becomes shallow, eyes move rapidly, muscles are relaxed, and dreams are most vivid. Brain waves resemble those during waking.
    Percent of total sleep time for young adults: 20 to 25 percent.

    Nothing's cuter than a sleeping kitten
    Nothing's cuter than a sleeping kitten

Want to know some other interesting facts?

– Whales and dolphins only sleep 1/2 of their brain at a time. Therefore, if they are sleeping, one eye will be open and the other closed.

– Getting too much sleep (9 hours or more) or too little (6 hours or less) gives a person a 30% higher death rate than those who sleep regularly every night.

It seems getting your beauty rest is just part of the sleep equation, and there’s numerous reasons why we should sleep more. Don’t worry if you didn’t catch up on all your sleep during the weekend, there’s always tonight to get your full 8 hours. Happy Monday!

Information pulled from: http://health.discovery.com/centers/sleepdreams/basics/basics.html, http://www.abc.net.au/science/sleep/facts.htm, Intellectual Devotional by Kinder and Oppenheim

Buy a Stupid Product for the Holidays!

Stupid ideas turned into stupid products….

We’ve all had ideas where we were sure someone could make a fortune from it.  Although some argue there’s no such thing as a stupid question, I have yet to hear this rule applied to a product. There are stupid products. They are so niche, so ridiculous, and so delightfully hilarious that we at Miss Mentor must share them with you. From the great people at Huffington Post, we bring you The 15 Stupidest Products of All Time.

There are 15 short commercials for stupid products you could never dream of inventing yourself! They are all real.

Take a look here: 15 Stupidest Products of All Time

It will be sure to tickle your funny bone for Friday.

And not to drop any names or anything, but I sorta kinda know the guy who’s dad invented the baseball-shatter through a windshield decal. It’s OK to be impressed. Well, his friend told me his dad did, and I haven’t really checked the facts. I’m not sure why anyone would lie about such a thing. Maybe a ploy to really impress me?

Anyways here’s a picture of it.  At least we know it exists! Boy, the look on someone’s face when they think a basesball has gone through their windshield…..

Baseball-Shatter Gag Toy
Baseball-Shatter Gag Toy

So if you are already looking for presents no one will take seriously for the holidays, perhaps you can try one of these.

Happy Friday!

Crazy Boxes Puzzle

If you are a true puzzle fan, well then boy do I have a treat for you. The object of this game is to turn all the boxes red. It seems easy enough. When you click on a box, it turns the square you clicked on and it’s diagonally adjacent squares red. Essentially it makes a cross shape (+). Try to click on all the right squares to have the puzzle be perfectly red.

Give it a shot! It takes some thinking…….

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The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834)

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” ~Monty Pythons

You may be familiar with the Monty Python’s version of the Spanish inquisition, and it does hold a bit of truth to it in that its accused were never quite sure of what was happening and why.

The actual Spanish Inquisition, started by Ferdinand V and Isabella of Spain and approved by the Pope, set out to unite the country under one religious faith – Catholicism- and purge the country of heretics. Although at the onset, it’s intentions may have been “pure” the Inquisition soon became a vehicle of political corruption and materialism.

This led to religious persecution of the Jews,  particularly those in Juderia of Spain. As the Jews were persecuted, many converted Catholicism and became known as conversos. It is likely they claimed Catholic faith, but still remained loyal to their Jewish traditions. The Spanish Inquisition did not persecute conversos at first, but soon fueled by greed and power they came to attack all Jews, conversos, and those who held any Jewish ancestry whether practicing Catholics or not.

Torture was often used as a means of confession rather than punishment
Torture was often used as a means of confession rather than punishment

In most cases, the accused were not aware of who had accused them or why. Accusations and the Inquisition process remained very secretive to those facing trial.  The Spanish Inquisition would offer an Edict of Grace ( a grace period offering a chance for those who were accused to come forward and have a chance to be reconciled with the Church) .  When the accused finally did come forward, they were then expected to also list any accomplices and thus the Spanish Inquisition never grew short of supply for their cause. After an unspecified detention period where most times the accused properties and assets were seized, a trial would begin. In the trial, methods of torture were used to elicit a confession from the accused. The torture methods were cruel and consisted of acts such as water torture or extreme “stretching”. If a confession was given (and most times were), the accused were condemned to death with the most popular method being burned at the stake.

Although the Spanish Inquisition was in the name of the Catholic church, the Church did not want “blood” on its hands and handed most of its power over to secular authorities for punishments and such.  Heresy was the primary concern, but people were persecuted for a number of reasons including witchcraft, sodomy, bigamy, and blasphemy.

Although the Spanish Inquisition faded out as the decline of the Church came and the French Revolution neared, it still had moments of revival under certain monarchies. Not until 1834 did a Royal Decree declare the end of the Spanish Inquisition.

Information collected from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Inquisition.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition, http://www.thenagain.info/WebChron/westeurope/SpanInqui.html

What are Stem Cells and How are They Helpful?

For me, when I hear the words “stem cell” it’s usually followed shortly after by “research”. I have a very high-level concept of what it means. I know it cures diseases and can be beneficial, and I know it’s controversial. Why? That I am not sure.

So, what is a stem cell?

It is a cell that leads to the growth of other cells – therefore, other cells stem from it.  There are two types: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

We’ll start with adult stem cells. These are found all over the body from our brain, to bone marrow, cartilage, and skin. These cells typically are taken from our own body and are multipotent. Multipotent refers to the cells ability to reproduce more cells, and in particular, the ability for it to only produce cells which are closely related to it. For example, bone marrow cells can only produce from cells which are in its “family” such as bone cells, cartilage cells, and fat cells. Since these cells are taken from our own body, they have less chance of being rejected by our immune system. Adult stem cells have been used for therapeutic reasons for over 30 years now.

Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic Stem Cells

Stem cells (embryonic or adult) can greatly aid in regenerating certain damaged parts or our body. They can divide and renew themselves over time, and therefore help rejuvenate certain areas of our body. For example, degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer could benefit from placing stem cells in the part of the person’s body that has been most ravaged by the disease. Of course, science is still working on this, and it is not always possible.

Now let’s take a look at embryonic cells. After we take a look at what they are, it will be easier to see the controversy over them.  Embryonic cells typically come from fertilized eggs that have been thrown out after a fertility treatment or were aborted. The stem cells actually come from the blastocyst which is a 5-day old fertilized egg that has divided its cells. These cells within the blastocyst are pluripotent as opposed to the adult stem cells which are multipotent. Pluripotent cells can grow into any type of cell in the body. Hence, they can seem like a scientific treasure mine. It has only been in the last 20 years that scientists have been able to study these cells and cultivate them. Still, we don’t know much about embryonic cells.

So the controversy comes from the fact that these cells are taken from fertilized eggs, and so it holds moral obligations. When does it count as a human being? Is it ethical to do this?

This is a very broad overview, and I haven’t gone into any of the details regarding costs of research, legislation on methods and procedures, or medical benefits.  But from what you do know, what are your thoughts on stem cell research?

Oh Little Lolita

Lolita (1962) - Movie Cover
Lolita (1962) - Movie Cover

Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, every time I see a pair of red heart-shaped sunglasses I think of Lolita. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie (it’s on my list though), but I have read the book. At least I get a point for that, most times it’s the other way around.

I’m more familiar with Vladimir Nabokov’s book Lolita (1955), and it is without a doubt one of my all time favorites. It’s rich in clever descriptions,  and his writing style is humorous, addicting, and controversial.

Plot

The main character is Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged professor, who becomes obsessed with a 12 year-old girl. His obsession is so strong that he often becomes tormented by his love for her. He moves from Paris to the US and searches for a place to stay. After meeting a widow and seeing her young daughter Dolores (“Lolita”) , Humbert chooses the widow’s place as his home-stay. In order to get closer to the young girl, he even decides to marry the widow who soon passes away after. Humbert and Lolita eventually get involved in a sexual affair together and go off on a trip across the US. Lolita soon loses interest in Humbert while he remains completely in love with her.

What is the significance of Lolita?

The topic no doubt is racy and obscene. Hence, Nabokov had much trouble finding a publisher for his novel. In fact, he could not find one in the US and went to France to have it published. There it was either exalted or despised. Not until 1958 was it allowed to be published in the US and became a bestseller.

The novel is recognized for its perceptive ability to portray sexuality and repression as well as Nabokov’s unique story-telling talents. His character Humbert Humbert often misconstrued the facts, and his narration was unreliable. For example, Humbert would claim that it was  Lolita seducing him rather than the other way around.

Nabokov (1899-1977)  had a true knack for word play.

To wrap-up, I’ll leave you with one of the most well-known quotes from Lolita:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth, Lo. Lee. Ta.


The Placebo Effect

Every morning, I take a multi-vitamin. To me, it counteracts all my other bad habits that I occasionally partake in: the junk food, the wine, limited exercise, and so forth. No that my lifestyle is completely unhealthy, but at times I just don’t have the will power to choose health over convenience. So, that’s where my little multi-vitamin comes in. Although it is actually filled with vitamins, I wonder how much it physically helps my body.

That got me thinking about placebo drugs.  Do these actually work? Would a placebo multi-vitamin or any other medication suffice just as well as the real thing?

The placebo effect is a patient’s response to an inert substance which they believe will have beneficial influences. For example, a doctor administers to his patient a sugar pill which he claims will help stop migraines.`From this suggestion, the patient believes that the pill has a curable effect, and so the desired result (cessation of migraines) is achieved. The placebo effect helps sick people feel better although they have been given no actual treatment with medical value.

Photo Credit: Worstpills.com
Photo Credit: Worstpills.com

The next question probably comes to mind- What is the rate of effectiveness ? H.K Beecher first discovered the placebo effect in 1955 and published his paper “The Powerful Placebo”. In his paper, he found an average of about 35% of the patients who received placebo drugs saw positive benefits from it.  Later research and studies have claimed even higher numbers of 50-60%. This does not necessarily mean that we should all rejoice and that the best cure of all is no cure. There have been subsequent studies as well that claim the placebo effect does not exist but rather the data arrives from poor research methodology.

Despite that, the placebo effect has been partially explained through brain chemistry. When we experience pain, our brain releases endorphins (think of this as our body’s own morphine to help ease the pain). Through brain scans, scientists have found that after a patient takes a placebo pill, our brain releases these endorphins. Therefore, it’s like the patient has taken an actual drug. The opposite effect is true as well. If a patient is told a pill can cause negative side effects, they can experience negative outcomes. This is known as the nocebo effect.

It seems as well that placebo effects have been increasing every year. This could be due to the better advertising of drug benefits as well as our growing perception that drugs are good for us and we need them (or at least think we do). I’m not sure if my multi-vitamins fall in this category, so I plan to keep taking mine.  But if it were come to a day where I was seeking some kind of psychiatric medication, I think the power of the mind could hold a lot more in helping than medicine.