Longevity: Li Ching-Yuen

I always asked myself why people die before reaching 100 years even if they enjoy "perfect" health. I'm no scientist but I found out that genes and cell reproduction have important roles to play along with maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. My intuition tells me that we were designed to live longer in spite of what some scientists tell us and there seems to be evidence leading to this.

The gene therapy consisted of treating the animals with a DNA-­modified virus, the viral genes having been replaced by those of the telomerase enzyme, with a key role in aging. Telomerase repairs the extreme ends or tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres, and in doing so slows the cell's and therefore the body's biological clock. When the animal is infected, the virus acts as a vehicle depositing the telomerase gene in the cells.
- Science Daily / 14 May, 2012

The above quote is from a story in Science Daily about research in life extension in animals, in this case mice, and you can read the whole article here.

Another interesting piece of information and something that is more useful than some experimental genetic research is to be found here. It is an article about iron, mainly. Why women live longer than men on an average is explained here, or at least a part of the answer is presented.
While vitamin C increases iron absorption, there is no evidence that vitamin C leads to iron overload. Thus vitamin C should not be avoided by meat-eaters for this reason, since studies show high-dose vitamin C supplements are associated with a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer, cataracts and other disorders. A vegetarian diet does not generally cause iron-deficiency anemia because there is more vitamin C in plant-food diets, which enhances iron absorption.
- quote from the article on iron

I didn't propose to write an article about how to live longer... yet, I will come back to this in a century or two. Now I want to show some of the more unknown and controversial examples of people who passed 150 years and still had/have the power to work, learn, live.

Our first case is Li Ching-Yuen, a Chinese herbalist and  martial artist. Documents indicate that he was born either in 1677 or in 1683, while he always claimed he was born in 1736, nevertheless, the fact that he died in 1933 makes either one of the three years seem like a detail. In 1928 the New York Times had an article about him (couldn't verify, anyone who has access to their archives please let me know) and in 1933 an obituary. On May 15 The Times had their own article about the 250~ year old man.

His old age, will to live and power to work are documented by the Chinese government who congratulated him for his 150th and 200th birthdays. General Yang Sen invited Li in 1927 and as a result of this meeting he wrote the report "A Factual Account of the 250 Year-Old Good-Luck Man". What he learned from the "Good Luck Man" he passed on to T. T. Liang.

An interesting element to the story, and one that we also should keep in mind, is a thing called Gotu Kola, or more scientifically, Centella Asiatica. It seems that Li Ching-Yuen used it, obviously, he was a herbalist for all of his two centuries (give or take). You can read more about the properties of this herb here, University of Maryland Medical Center.  

Who wants to live forever?


NIETZSCHE - Beyond Good and Evil (1)

Some time ago I presented a book entitled "An Introduction to Philosophy" by George Stuart Fullerton, now I decided to go with Nietzsche. This is the first part entitled "On the Prejudices of Philosophy" from his 1886 book "Beyond Good and Evil". I was thinking of going through every one of the 23 segments but this is not really the point of this section, the "books" segment exists to recommend texts and to encourage people to read, understand, and comment these texts.

The first part of Beyond Good and Evil is an interesting reading experience, to see what Nietzsche thought about philosophers and philosophies, ancient and modern (contemporary to him). As a side note (and one not very philosophical), it's funny to see how philosophers often attack one another, each of them claiming they hold the keys to everything, truth included. That's why, in my perspective, I see philosophy as something personal, you can find as many reasons to think life is deterministic as you may be lead to think that you have free will. While I agree with Nietzsche that philosophers accepted many of the Judeo-Christian elements that are based more on belief than analyses and scientific method, I am of the opinion that philosophy is beyond knowledge and truth and it must give people the tools they need to develop their spirituality and mind. Now, the question of spirituality is another important topic altogether. 

Download the fragment here. Happy reading.
Thanks to Ubuntu One for the hosting.
Keep knowledge free and curiosity everlasting.


Caspar D. Friedrich (visual) and Louis Spohr (audio)

[Left: self portrait of Spohr
Right: self portrait of C.F. David]
In this edition of Duo we will travel to a time when art wasn't simply for shocking people and marketing, in that period an artist was somehow above (and occasionally misunderstood by) the rest. The best of them being perceived as geniuses struggling more or less in the world, tormented by their emotions, their creativity, their intelligence. Romanticism (the history of which I will address with another occasion) was mostly a north European phenomenon at its birth, and generally a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The day Caspar David Friedrich was born is the day in which the First Continental Congress was held, 5 September 1774.*

Our second artist is Louis (Ludwig) Spohr (1784 - 1859), a German composer, violinist and conductor very underrated in present times but who enjoyed great popularity in his period. Search the web and your local library/bookshop for their biographies if you want to learn more.

For the audio segment I selected Violin Concerto No.7 in E minor (Op38), played by the Bratislava Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Libor Pesek and violin solo by Takako Nishizaki. Now, click play and look carefully at all the works here, travel inside the world Friedrich tried to share with us, let your imagination flow, your mind wander.

1810 - Abbey in the oakwood
1815 - View of a Harbour
1818 - The Wanderer
1821 - Moonrise by Sea
1822 - Midday
1822 - Woman at the Window
1823 - Sea of Ice
1830 - Two men contemplating the Moon - Metropolitan Museum of Art
1835 - Periods of Life
1835 - The Dreamer - State Hermitage Museum

* - The two events are evidently not related yet I symbolically present them as two important moments in art and world history respectively.


Songjiang Hotel, China

Although it remained at the design level, the Songjiang Hotel is still an impressive idea. The Atkins design studio won an international competition for a hotel resort that is to be situated in a 100 meter deep quarry near Shanghai. I love the way the team coordinated by Martin Jochman integrated the building and all its annexes into the "man made natural" environment. Water has a special place in the complex because effectively the area is a lake at 100 meters bellow ground level. Imagine what the view must be from down there. Hope they will eventually finish this project.

The Atkins design studio also created the well known Burj al Arab. Images and info are taken from the official site of the company. Click here.

The quarry now.
The proposed complex.
Night view. From worldarchitecturenews.com


Iraq-Iran War and the threat of religious division

War is never a good thing even if there are certain individuals that see in war some positive aspects. Those who think in this way know war only through video games or through their twisted imagination. There is no glory in counting the lives you took or in bringing destruction.

The Iraq-Iran War (Iran-Iraq War of First Persian Gulf War) started in September 1980 and ended in August 1988 with over a million dead in total. In Iran the conflict is also know as the Imposed War and the Holy Defense. Saddam wasn't all that bad, he greatly improved living conditions in his country and introduced various rights and liberties that made Iraq a rather open and modern society but this did not last. His rise to power was a strong declaration of his intention to dominate, Saddam was no wise man, he was a man in need for power. And as history shows us, such types of leaders are terrified of the prospect of losing their power.

First of all, Iranians are Shia while Arabs are mostly Sunni. In 1979, Saddam persuaded his former "friend" and president of Iraq, al-Bakr, to resign and name him his successor. Prior to this Saddam was his deputy and effectively modernized Iraq. In the same year of 1979, Khomeini started the Islamic Revolution in Iran that aimed to remove the Shah from power, to stop Western influence and promote Islamic values. Saddam was Sunni, not very religious and largely perceived as pro-American while Khomeini was Shia, a cleric and neither Pro-American nor Pro-Soviet. Iraq had/has around 60% Shia and Syria around 15%. In the war, Syria allied itself with Iran because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". On the other hand, in Iraq, Khomeini's calls for revolution were a constant danger for Saddam's vision of a "mighty Iraq".

And so, instead of building a mighty Iraq and a mighty Iran, the two countries became pawns in a game that brought almost eight years of suffering, we have the rest of the world to "thank" for arming their fears and hatred of each other. Now, hopefully, the region can see peace, progress and cooperation, of course, only if the Arab countries of today will not follow Saddam's footsteps.

This picture was also used for propaganda purposes.

[All pictures are of Iranian soldiers, don't know who is the owner of them]


Persian Lesson 02 - Introduction to Simple Past Tense

Image depicting Muhammad, notice
his face is blanked out and
the fire around his head.
Persian verbs are of two types, simple and compound. Simple verbs are like رفتن , to go (infinitive). Compound verbs are usually composed out of two words, we will talk about them in the next lesson, but to satisfy your curiosity I will give the example of: to work: کار کردن.

What is Simple Past? In our case it is: (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they) went. In Persian the pronouns are (in the same order as before, remember, read from right to left): من . تو . او . ما . شما . آنها . These are read man, to, u, ma, shoma, anha.

To say I went you write من رفتم . Notice that the letter ن  is removed and instead  م  is added. The 'm' letter is to indicate that the one who does the action is 'I', that is why you are not obligated to write  من رفتم and can usually limit yourself to writing: رفتم.

You (singular) went:تو رفتی    -   we add ی
She/he/it went: او رفت   -    we don't add nothing
We went: ما رفتیم    -    we add یم
You (plural) went: شما رفتید    -    we add ید
They went: آنها رفتند    -    we add ند

Learn the suffixes and do the same thing as above to these other verbs:
to see: دیدن
to speak:گُفتن 
to have: داشتَن
to take: گِرِفتِن

Till next time, goodbye (chodahafez): خداحافظ


The Real Sins: 3. Envy

"Invidia" by Hieronymus Bosch
from "The Seven Deadly Sins
and the Four Last Things".
In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. In the first article of this series we talked about arrogance, in my opinion understood as either a wrong understanding of one's capabilities together with an unwillingness to accept better traits in others or an overestimation of one's real resources, something linked more to pride and resting on one's laurels. In the second article we talked about ignorance understood as either an inability or unwillingness to understand divine guidance and wisdom or as the lack of knowledge coupled with the lack of wanting to fill this lack of knowledge.

Now we will talk about envy. It is considered by many as being an emotion, although a rather complex one compared to something like love or fear. Envy is highly linked with social behavior and various events in the development of one's personality. We will start by trying to find out what envy really is and how we can overcome it, and protect ourselves from it. After that we will search to see what some of the more enlightened minds around the planet have to say about this.

Let's begin with an example, take a poor worker and compare him to a rich businessman. The poor man most probably will not care about the rich man and vice-versa. Yet, in a few cases, the poor develop a form of envy in relationship with the rich, generally when the latter openly show their opulence and endless possibilities. The poor man can very likely envy the power, respect, opportunities and overall lifestyle of the wealthy individual. But is this envy or is it a feeling of  injustice? The poor man may be working ten hours a day while the rich one inherited the wealth, is this injustice or is this fate?

When you envy someone, he has something you want, but simply getting that thing from him will not fix the problem. The envier needs to destroy or denigrate to get satisfaction. Does someone envy the possessor of that thing or the thing itself? Think of the frustration of the poor man, seeing that he will work for the rest of his life and never get the status reserved to the businessman (or anyone evidently higher than him). Therefore he sees the others' wealth as unjust but he himself does not want something unjust, so, the only solution would be to make all that wealth useless. The suffering produced (on the rich) will apparently remove the suffering the envier did on himself (envy has some companion emotions). Normal people just don't care about such an aspect, but events in the development of the envier in our example made him think in a wrong way. I did not attack the situation in which one can feel social and/or economic injustice.

In many Communist countries, in the transition from capitalism, the peasants and workers revolted against those who had wealth and against those who they might of worked for. Generally, the lowest of the low, dressed in clothes of justice and equality but animated by feelings of revenge and envy became prison guards of their former masters and other former rich individuals. You can imagine what this unwanted exchange of power meant. This also happened to intellectuals who were part of the opposition, their intellectual development becoming a source for mockery, in this way, the new oppressors felt satisfaction by destroying/denigrating the envied components, knowledge and intelligence.

Let's take a more clear example. (A) wants a particular type of car for which (A) has worked tirelessly for a long period. (B) arrives one day at home with that exact type of car, brand new, shining under a clear summer day like the treasures of El Dorado. What would be the reaction of (A)? Would he congratulate his neighbor, would he not care about his neighbor's recent acquisition, or will he be filled with feelings of envy, because (B) has something (A) desperately wants. He may not give up his struggle to get his own car, but, depending on individual, he will act on his feelings of envy and scratch the car and puncture the tires. This would translate in his mind something like: OK, so you bought it, but you surely won't enjoy it for long.

Envy, in my opinion, appears when you also have frustration lurking somewhere around. It's one thing to want something and to work to get it, it's something else to want a particular thing and to envy someone else who has it. An ugly woman may be envious of a beautiful woman but this is not necessarily the reason, the beautiful woman has more friends, has a better looking husband, maybe is more wealthy, smart, and others things which may even be made up by the envier in her mind. We are after all talking about an emotion, a complex one, but still something not rational.

There are some methods to protect oneself from the envy of others and the danger they may pose. You should first try to eliminate any issues or fears you may have. Coming back to the example with the car and the two neighbors, if you are the one who bought the car you should really feel, and moderately show that that car doesn't mean that much to you. The envier sensing this knows he can not inflict any harm on you, so he won't. I also don't exclude the fact that he may become envious of you for the fact that you don't give a shit. Obviously you can't take this approach every time and in any case. You must know that the envier is a suffering individual, just like the arrogant and the ignorant.

"A person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to violence and crime, and any sense of loyalty and faith will be abandoned"
- Xun Zi
"Envy (Hasad) is desiring the removal of a blessing from one truly deserving it"
- Al-munawi, al-Tawqif
"You don't envy the ones that have the power to pray, while you are filled with malice against property owners, against those who know wealth and glory. It is strange that you live with the redemption of another, but not with the passing advantages that he can enjoy. "
- Emil Cioran, The Disadvantage of Being Born
"[Envy is] a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another's because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others"
- Kant

"(...) For not many men, the proverb saith,
Can love a friend whom fortune prospereth
Unenvying; (...)"
- Aeschylus, Agamemnon
"A man that hath no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others. For men's minds, will either feed upon their own good, or upon others' evil; and who wanteth the one, will prey upon the other; and whoso is out of hope, to attain to another's virtue, will seek to come at even hand, by depressing another's fortune."
 - Francis Bacon, On Envy
"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till."
- Ralph Emerson, Self Reliance (ed. 1907)

[Hope you enjoyed this article, while my research on envy and the previous two "sins" continues, I tried my best to present these as clearly as possible. This is not the last article in the series]

The Series:


The gate to hell

Somewhere in the middle (slightly to the west) of Turkmenistan there is a hole. What gave this hole such a tourist magnet name is not the size, although at 60 meters in diameter is no pothole, but an engineering accident. Also, in close vicinity is a small village called Derweze, which means "the gate". What is known is that in 1971 a team of soviet geologists while drilling in the desert of Karakum found a cave filled with natural gas which they unwillingly managed to collapse. There is no information about any victims in this accident. After the collapse, the geologists were faced with a big problem because all that gas was now being released into the atmosphere. Now comes the "fun" part, one of the team members maybe wanted to smoke some Belomorkanal and that is when he realized they can fix the problem by burning the problem.

After 30+ years they are still waiting for the problem to fix itself apparently.

[With this I launch a new section of the blog entitled simply "various", a collection of impressive or strange things or events. I was planning to name it 'what the fuck' but some people found it inappropriate to use the word fuck, so "various" it is]
[I don't know who is the owner of the photos]


We Need To Talk About Europe

I am personally attracted to the idea of a united Europe, in part because it offers me the impression that I will have much more possibilities, coming from a slightly poorer country, and that it will encourage development and stability. Romania entered the EU some five years ago but only now I managed to travel the 65 km that separate Bucharest from Ruse in Bulgaria. Like me are many, but there are a great deal who already started families, and new lives in other countries of this union. A century ago people on this continent died to point out their differences. Yugoslavia is sadly a recent example of pointless conflict among people.

We have to think about what kind of state Europe will be, it definitely doesn't have a dominant culture, while it is true that we talk about European culture as opposed to Islamic or Chinese, if you take a closer look at the continent the diversity will overwhelm you. So why and how do you build a state with people largely unable to understand one another. America is often pushed in front in such discussions but we can't compare a country started from scratch around a predominantly English population to a continent ravaged by cultural and national pride.

America is a sword forged by centuries of events, of wars, civil wars, cultural revolutions, civil movements, and so on. People that came to that country embraced American values and culture, a culture which many consider universal with cowboys, blue jeans, rock and roll, jazz, large cars, tall buildings and that had monopolized concepts like liberty and democracy. This is the Hollywood image which worked like a beacon. In reality it has its ups and downs, its crimes and conspiracies. Europe doesn't have the propaganda machine America so intensely uses, it doesn't have a motto like 'in God we trust', the 'united in diversity' statement is as motivating as a stick. The founding fathers which heroically fought for their fellow countrymen, who stood for universal values and promoted justice (according to the "mythology"), don't have a proper equivalent in the European Union.

The Europe that is being built right now is nothing more than an autocratic banking system. If we are to be united in diversity we need to know what unites us. Is it money? Money is something temporary and unstable, one moment you have it, the next moment you don't. Look at Greece, they milked the EU community for every drop they could and now ask for help while enjoying salaries and pensions a couple of times larger than in many stable Eastern countries. Discrepancies are too large in EU countries and conflicts appear. If two people fight for money and are not old (or close) friends, chances are one will kill the other.

I am a supporter of a united European state but some conditions need to be met first.

1. We must know clearly why we want to unite, no dictator is going to force us this time. Either for personal opportunities, an improved global role of the EU or anything that can unite such diverse nations must be clearly stated. Uniting because we are living on the same continent is not a good motive.

2. Can people put aside their differences, prejudices and false nationalism? We place tradition and history on two pedestals and look at them like we look at sacred objects. We need to learn our history not to make heroes and martyrs but to understand the past and take the future into our hands. Regarding tradition we must understand that anything that is being done as a ritual with no profound understanding of it, is not a tradition. With time things change and meanings disappear so it is normal that some actions and beliefs will become obsolete, keeping them alive is artificial. 

3. We should try to impose a new language to act like a unifying layer, this language should be simple and easy to learn by all Europeans and with time it should be promoted in movies, television, radio and music. The reason why I don't promote English for this job is that Europe must create its own new identity. Relying on any language associated with a cultural group and with a history of its own is dangerous and would bring up tensions and nationalism in retaliation.

4. The European Union will survive only if it manages to add value to the world and to every individual. If we want to concentrate on a scientific society, then let's invest heavily in science and make some breakthroughs, if space is our final frontier, then let our ambitions not be trampled by budgetary constraints and build some spaceships. If we want to be close to God, let's get theocratic, if we want a simple life, let's get agrarian. Right now Europe wants to do everything with everyone because it has no backbone and it will end up by doing nothing.

5. We will need a time off and rethink our relation with the United States. After all, "nothing can grow under big trees" (a quote from Constantin Brancusi). We should also rethink our history because there are moments when it haunts us, when neo-nazi groups grow and conflicts previously thought extinct erupt in flames. 

In conclusion I call on all people of Europe to unite and create something beautiful, it doesn't need to be ideal, it doesn't need to be a "kingdom of God on Earth", it only needs to be a country where the main values of humanity are much more powerful than any differences of race, eye color and language. Let's get out of this economic disaster and rebuild this continent on a foundation to last like the Pyramids of Giza lasted for millennia. Let's learn, work and believe in God, in our own personal ways.

[ The cover image of this article is of the new building of the Romanian National Library in Bucharest. It was finished in 2012, although construction began during the communist era. I chose this image because I feel it represents what Europe means for me, a potential state in which education, knowledge and development are cherished. ]

Latest European Union articles / اخرین مقالات درباره اتحادیه اروپا


HOPKINS, David - Modernism in Retreat: Minimalist Aesthetics and Beyond (2)

I am definitely not an admirer of Minimalism, the artistic movement in the 20th century, but it is nonetheless an interesting moment to study. For me this translates mainly into a curiosity to see how far will humans go with their interpretation of art, what are the motives for creating it and how is the 'new' art being received by the public and by fellow artists. This second and last part of Minimalist Aesthetics will address the importance of "objecthood" , of form and Minimalist legacy in areas like film. Carl Andre has some interesting things, he is heavily indebted to Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, as you will see. Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois are two artists who both had rather tragic or at least restless lives, something that can be seen in their works also. I can see only limited artistic value in their works, ironically, rather incidental.

Download it here. Thanks to Ubuntu One.
Keep knowledge free and curiosity everlasting.