All Happy Nations…

толпаWhen reading a news article, sometimes (more often then not, actually) one might think that everything is bad.  Some other time, reading some other article/column or news release, one might get an impression that everything is fine. Does this mean that reading a huge stream of various articles  “everything is bad” negates “everything is fine” and the result is simply neutral?

Psychologists, however, know that life is more complicated than that. Aren’t we all know this, too? Dozens of experiments show that people, in general, tend to describe events in a positive rather than negative way, even if in fact the events are rather neutral, bland or, at times, even pretty shitty. Pollyanna principle is in full effect here.

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Thousands of subjects in these experiments strove to present different situations so that they look prettier, using “good” words and avoiding “bad” ones.

Thus scientists have realized that if, in accordance with Pollyanna principle  people choose “good” words more often than not in their speech then it must somehow be reflected in human language.

That is, if you collect all the words and give them a “positivity test”, the average should be not neutral, as suggested above, but positive (albeit based on, well, nothing much.) In short, after reading lotsa-lotsa-lotsa texts in any language there must remain a vague feeling that, in general, everything isn’t all that bad, no matter what detractors say.

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When back when — before Internet, that is — to test this hypothesis experimentally was easier said than done. In practice, this meant collecting tens of thousands of words in different languages, presenting them to at least a hundred native speakers, recording whether the word, in the opinion of each subject, is “good” or “bad”. Then researchers should have determined the “average happiness score” of each word and applied it to the real body of texts in corresponding language…

It would have been an extremely tedious task if not altogether impossible task before the internet. Nowadays things have changed.

Mathematicians and linguists from Vermont took up the case, put together a research group, set to work, got results and published them in PNAS — the article  Human language reveals a universal positivity bias.

It turned out that the hypothesis was true: in all studied languages the distribution of words in their emotional “coloring” markedly shifted toward the positive. Here are the distribution of words in the emotional variance:

'[...] we show distributions of the average happiness scores for all 24 corpora, leading to our most general observation of a clear positivity bias in natural language. We indicate the above-neutral part of each distribution with yellow and the below-neutral part with blue, and we order the distributions moving upward by increasing median (vertical red line). For all corpora, the median clearly exceeds the neutral score of 5. The background gray lines connect deciles for each distribution.

‘[…] we show distributions of the average happiness scores for all 24 corpora, leading to our most general observation of a clear positivity bias in natural language. We indicate the above-neutral part of each distribution with yellow and the below-neutral part with blue, and we order the distributions moving upward by increasing median (vertical red line). For all corpora, the median clearly exceeds the neutral score of 5. The background gray lines connect deciles for each distribution.

“In terms of emotional variance, all four English corpora are among the highest, whereas Chinese and Russian Google Books seem especially constrained.”

Thus mathematicians and linguists have found that people аre prone to wishful thinking in every which language, but Spanish is best for it. More images, tables and pictures here.

Any application for these results? Linguists selected books in three languages ​​(English, French and Russian) and, using the developed methods, measured the “level of hapiness” as it fluctuated from the first to the last chapter of each book.

The most cheerful of the selected English-language books was Moby Dick, while The Count of Monte Cristo came out average, and — no surprise here — Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky embodied the darkest abyss imaginable.

Immortal Regiment

Immortal Regiment

Immortal Regiment

In Moscow, after the Victory Parade to commemorate 70 years since the WWII, there was a massive march “Immortal Regiment.” People marched in silence, carrying portraits of their loved ones who went to the war and perished. Estimated 500 thousand Muscovites fell fighting in 1941-1945.70

Their thoughts are awkward, their life is backward…

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Strange people filled the whole city,
Their thoughts are awkward, their life is backward…

Sergey Avdeev. The Rain.

Sergey Avdeev. The Rain.

The Russian artist Sergei Adeev is a member of the creative association of artists “Capital” and the Association of Moscow Artists “Faith, Hope.” He works in the naïve genre for nearly two decades.

 Sergey Avdeev. The Swing.

Sergey Avdeev. The Swing.

Naïve art is a classification of art that is often characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. While many naïve artists appear, from their works, to have little or no formal training in a technique of painting or drawing, this is often not true for many and tenfold so for Sergei Ageev.

Sergey Avdeev. Make a Wish.

Sergey Avdeev. Make a Wish.

To some, Adeev’s painting look not just naïve, but rudimentary — a pathetic nostalgia for a dream that might have never been. Still, in the souls of many people on this side of the canvas, the images of the distant and wonderful childhood are alive and well.

Sergey Avdeev. Make a Wish 2.

Sergey Avdeev. Make a Wish, The Star is Falling.

Sergey Avdeev. Еternity.

Sergey Avdeev. Еternity.

Sergey Avdeev. The Nightly Flight.

Sergey Avdeev. The Nightly Flight.

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Sergey Avdeev. Seasons.

A giant pike, a magic mushrooms and bizarre circus, vividly colored vistas evoke associations with fairy tales of childhood, the years long past and sadly nearly forgotten.

Lyrical, colorful paintings of Sergei Avdeev is a world where fairy tale coexists with the reality of his naïve and often comical characters.

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Sergey Avdeev. Oddballs.

Sergey Avdeev. Oddballs.

Thinking Is Bad For You!?

11956447-puzzle-человек-думаетDon’t think or else… you die. If you have a deadly brain tumor that is. If brain tumor is a fire, then thinking is a fuel to make it burning and spreading. A new study, Brain tumor growth stimulated by nerve activity in the cortex, from Stanford University School of Medicine, proves it.

Recently published in the journal Cell, the research found that nerve activity in the cerebral cortex — simply put, thinking — promotes the growth brain tumors. Conducted in mice with an aggressive human brain cancer implanted in their brains, the study is the first to demonstrate the above finding.

“Clinically, fighting high-grade gliomas is a lot like trying to fight a forest fire,” said Monje, who is also  “Our new findings indicate that this metaphorical forest fire has been difficult to extinguish because there is something akin to gasoline seeping up from the soil.”  (–Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, senior author of the study, assistant professor of neurology at the School of Medicine and a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, where she cares for patients with these tumors.)

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MRI of the tumor (top) and glioma cells growing in a lab dish (bottom).

Then, if even the most basic patterns of neuronal activity promoted tumor growth, to fight it one should stop thinking?

“Blocking or silencing neuronal activity, such as would occur in a medically-induced coma, is not a good therapeutic option,” Dr Monje said. She believes that the answer isn’t reducing brain activity. Rather, it’s targeting the specific ways that neuronal activity promotes glioma growth.

Manufactured Masterpieces

ShenzhenIt’s no secret that the sale fake works of world famous artists is a profitable business. It’s not about forgery, though. It’s about copying and imitation.  In recent decades, the commercial mass-produced art of this kind is, largely, made in China. Chinese jostled for the leading place by putting “production of art” on an assembly line, literally.Shenzhen-05Shenzhen-06

The city of Shenzhen in the southeastern province of Guangdong, near the border with Hong Kong, is a home of a great number of “art factories” where thousands (!) of Chinese artists stamp copies of the world masterpieces — paintings, drawing, graphic art etc. Shenzhen-09

And not only masterpieces either. Anything that would be of interest to consumer is copied and mass-produced — all sorts of popular images from icons and souvenirs to portraits of politicians and kitschy landscapes.Shenzhen-03

Majority of Shenzhen’s “workers of art” are recent graduates of colleges and Academies of Arts. The young artists have very little choice but to earn a living this way — the art field is fiercely competitive and highly unpredictable, their own works rarely sell and cannot support their livelihoods.Shenzhen-04

Guangdong produces nearly half the world’s total number of copies, replicas and artwork “in the style of” famous painters of the past and present.Shenzhen-02

Some of these works are quite good, not merely cheap copies but the art in its own right.Shenzhen-10

The cost of these mass-produced replicas, however, is very low, which is quite frustrating for the European (and American) copyists — they simply cannot compete.

A good copy of, say, Van Gogh produced at such an art co-operative can cost as low as $10 to $20.

Shenzhen-01 Clearly, dealers and distributors command much greater prices when they sell the “products” to Westerners. The prices vary widely, “customized” to lure middle-income buyers, and always depend on the state local art markets.Shenzhen-07 Shenzhen-08

Photos by Reuters. Material for this post, in Russian, can be found here.

Gürbüz Doğan EKŞİOĞLU

gurbuz10Gürbüz Doğan EKŞİOĞLU was born in Mesudiye (Ordu) in 1954. He studied Graphics at the State Collage Of Fine Arts. He is presently an assistant professor at the same school, now called The Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts.zgde47

Many art critics share the opinion that EKŞİOĞLU’s artworks defy categorization: are these paintings? caricature? graphic design? All of the above? Everyone, however, agrees, that it doesn’t matter, really, which of many styles and art movements his works belong. Just look at some of his works, and you’ll understand why.zgde29The artist’s creative portfolio does not particularly impress by its extraordinary artistic skill or colors. One should take focus away from purely visual effects, and give in to a deep philosophical meaning and subtle humor, laid down in each of the artist’s works.zgde35

One can meditate for hours over each work, trying to figure out what the author wanted to say, while finding more and more meaning and coming to his/her own understanding of the many “stories” found in his paintings.

What the artist meant depicting a couple in love, wrapped in strands of the two balls of yarn? Is it simply about love between a man and a woman?  Is it about our lives being thus intertwined? Or it’s about us, as we seek stronger ties with one another?

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And what does the night sky where the stars and the moon swapped? Another attempt to break stereotypes or something else?gurbuz3

Gürbüz Doğan EkşioğluThe idea of this work, obviously, is devotion and self-sacrifice of one for the sake of another: If the dove, sitting on top of the cage, flies away, its caged comrade’would fall into the water and drown.

Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu painting

Some viewers admit that initially they only glanced briefly at the paintings of the artist, not finding anything special in them. And only afterwards came across the work that grabbed their attention. And then another one, and another, and more… So do not rush immediately to conclusion. Take another look, and look closely. If not in this selection, you might find works that’ll impress you on the artist’s site.

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Mother Earth Is A Disaster

earth1earth dayApril 22 is the International Mother Earth Day, the annual event meant to raise awareness about Mother Nature’s health and the efforts being made to protect it. Environmental groups in countries all over the world are gearing up to take their message of good stewardship to millions of people. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 on college campuses across the U.S.
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Mother Earth is home to 7 billion people. Sometimes, though, the mother-planet can be a scary and dangerous place… The incidence of natural disasters worldwide has steadily increased, especially since the 1970’s, according to a report from the New England Journal of Medicine.

Image below courtesy of EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain.

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Since 1990, natural disasters have affected about 217 million people every year.

Geophysical disasters include earthquakes, volcanoes, dry rockfalls, landslides and avalanches.

Climate-related disasters include hydrological events such as floods, storm surge and coastal flooding, while meteorological events include storms, tropical cyclones, local storms, heat/cold waves, drought and wildfires.

The number of geophysical disasters has remained fairly stable since the 1970’s, while the number of climate-related (hydro-meteorological) disasters has greatly increased.

Natural Disaster

The Chaitén volcano, located about 1,287 km south of the Chilean capital Santiago, entered a new eruptive phase for the first time in about 9,500 years on the morning of May 2, 2008. (UPI Photo / Carlos Gutierrez)

Natural Disaster6Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince after the earthquake of January 13, 2010. The picture was taken from a Red Cross helicopter. (UPI / American Red Cross)
Natural Disaster5August 24, 1999, in Izmit, Turkey, the tsunami caused by the earthquake, has flooded a coastal city. (jr / Seth Rossman / US Navy / UPI)
Natural Disaster4A Palestinian checks on dead sheep in the flooded area in central Gaza after heavy rains on January 19, 2010. The rainwater flooded about 40 homes in the Wadi Gaza, a Gazan countryside mostly inhabited by Bedouins. (UPI / Ismael Mohamad)
Natural Disaster3Mosque was the only structure left standing in the coastal village near Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, on January 4, 2004. US helicopters and sailors from the aircraft carrier “Abraham Lincoln” provided humanitarian aid after the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. (UPI Photo / Jacob Kirk / Navy)
Natural Disaster2August 27, 2006.The house stands on top of a car on the Lower 9th Ward street in New Orleans a year after the Hurricane Katrina. (UPI Photo / A.J. Sisco)
Natural Disaster1The M/V Selendang Ayu, IMO number: 9145528 was a Malaysian-registered Panamaxbulk cargo shipchartered by the IMC Group. It ran aground off Unalaska Island in western Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on 8 December 2004 after its engine failed. Six crew members died when a rescue helicopter was engulfed by a breaking wave; the ship broke in two, resulting in a large oil spill

Young Blood

10743736-Human-blood-circulation-symbol-with-red-blood-cells-flowing-through-veins-and-human-circulatory-syst-Stock-PhotoFor the Ancient Greeks, blood was a magical elixir.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) — author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire — described the mad rush of spectators into arenas to drink the blood of fallen gladiators.

Centuries later, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499),  an Italian scholar and Catholic priest who was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, promoted drinking young blood as a means to regain youthful vigor.

Of course, this was the time of the Inquisition, and the Inquisition was known to come down hard on that kind of thing.

The first recorded attempt of a blood transfusion was described by Stefano Infessura, the 15th-century chronicler. He details the illness and eventual demise of Pope Innocent VIII.

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Pope Innocent VIII lay dying. His physician, Giacomo di San Genesio, gave him a blood transfusion orally, as the concept of intravenous circulation had not yet been invented. Three boys, age 10, agreed to this experiment after being promised a ducat each. Unfortunately but predictably, the Pope and all three boys died.

Needless to say, this tragic and brutal event (and, perhaps, a few more unrecorded transfusions) was itself infused with myth and plenty of speculations. Some claimed that Pope Innocent VIII had habitually drunk the blood of Jewish boys and that his last libation was a drink of young blood pumped out of the three non-Christian youngsters veins.

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Pope Innocent VIII  after ingesting blood of young boys, at the entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom. Seriously.

Enough of history for now. After all,

Roaring 1350s

Centuries passed. Blood transfusions are performed routinely every day, and to a great benefit to people (and animals) who need them.

Even vampires are no longer quite as scary as they used to be in real life and in folks lore of the past. A great number of them in novels and movies are cool, if somewhat pale in appearance, metro-sexual creatures. On a protein rich diet of fresh blood of virginal maidens, the sexy bloodsuckers stay young forever…

600 years ago, Marsilio Ficino taught that drinking young blood is a sure-fire way to stay springy, vigorous and youthful well into an old age. It seems that the results of the latest scientific research agree with Ficino’s claim.

No, not drinking blood — bloody libations should be left to vampires and past Popes — but, well, blood sharing.

The procedure is called parabiosis. The first parabiosis experiments were conducted at Cornell University in the 1950s. Clive M. McCay and his colleagues  joined rats in pairs by stitching together the skin on their flanks. Blood vessels grew and joined the rats’ circulatory systems. The bloodstreams of the young and the old rat were now flowing as one, supplying both animals.

In a form of visual aid, parabiosis might be described and pictured something like this:

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Necropsies performed after the experiment showed that the old rat benefited tremendously from the procedure — its cartilage looked “younger” than it would have otherwise and its fur shone like that of a much younger rodent. How exactly such transformations happened? The researchers had no definitive answer at the time — the actual “mechanics” of the body rejuvenating itself was still a mystery.

This might have been at least part of the reason why the technique of parabiosis fell out of favor after the 1970s.

In the past few years parabiosis has been revived and several labs are known to use it and forge ahead getting results.

In Revival of Parabiosis, Young Blood Rejuvenates Aging Microglia, Cognition the same questions asked and an attempt is made to answer them:

As the brain ages, its microglial cells turn sluggish in their task of ingesting and degrading toxic products, and the flow of blood through its micro vessels slows. Are there components in the blood that age the brain—and can renew it?

The data offered a provocative new twist on the old specter of rejuvenation with young blood. It also reflected the power of heterochronic parabiosis, a surgical protocol of conjoining the blood supply of a young and an old mouse to study complex pathophysiological processes. 

Parabiosis involves suturing the body walls of two mice together such that their capillaries fuse. The mice then live like Siamese twins joined through their blood supply. At the Zilkha conference, Wyss-Coray said that pairing an 18-month-old with a 3-month-old mouse, and letting them live together for five weeks, reversed microglial aging. (From the article.)

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These two mice, one old one young, live with a shared blood supply. [Image courtesy of Tony Wyss-Coray.]

Young Blood May Hold Key to Reversing Aging  is an article in the New York Times published MAY 4, 2014.

Ageing research: Blood to blood is an article in Nature. The bi-line says: By splicing animals together, scientists have shown that young blood rejuvenates old tissues. Now, they are testing whether it works for humans.

“After the team [of researchers at Rando Lab] published its results, Rando’s phone started ringing incessantly. Some of the calls were from men’s health magazines looking for ways to build muscle; others were from people fascinated by the prospect of forestalling death. They wanted to know whether young blood extended lifespan.

But despite the hints that this was true from the 1970s, no one has yet properly tested the idea. It would be an expensive, labour-intensive experiment.” (From the article in Nature.)

Writing On Your Face

K. Somov. A Kiss. (1908)

K. Somov. A Kiss. (1908)

Beauty marks are moles with a color, shape, and size that is considered attractive. Well, we know what they are whther or not we have them.

At various times, moles were considered either ugly or attractive, desirable one century — intolerable the next.  In the Middle Ages, a mole on the woman’s face could very well be interpreted as a “mark of the devil”,  a woman easily declared a witch and sent to the stake. To this day, there are places on the planet earth where a child may be shunned or killed for a birthmark interpreted as the sign of evil.

At the 18th century French court, luxury, elaborate clothing and erotic games reigned supreme. Beauty marks — mouche, French for fly — became fashionable attribute on both male and female faces. In the absence of real ones, artificial beauty spots were routinely crafted. These small circles cut out of black velvet, taffeta or paper had a tremendous advantage over the real ones — they could be pasted anywhere at any time and for any purpose: on faces, bare chests or shoulders.

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Strategically positioned in a strictly prescribed manner, they were an absolute must. The “language of the moles” became a code of seduction. The location, size and shape of each beauty mark eloquently communicated if a lady was ready to start a love game. Should the mood of the lady change during the day, or she did not want to mislead the wrong gentleman, it was enough to move or remove a particular beauty mark or add new one.

Not surprising that the ladies of the court carried a bunch of these little black circles with then at any time of the day. Always at hand, they were carefully arranged in a tiny boxes made of ivory, silver, tortoiseshell or even gold.

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According to ancient believes still prevalent here, there and elsewhere, the nature and the character traits might be clearly written on human faces in the “language of moles”, if any beauty marks are present. No artificial ones count — painted, tattooed or pasted.

If several moles form a shape, and this shape is a cross — it’s most unfortunate. Square and stars aren’t any good either. Sorry.  Moles forming a triangle on a person’s face, however, is a sign of good fortune.

So there. And more. Have beauty marks on your face? Read your dial.  And smile.

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1. The famous “third eye” — the eye of Shiva. The one who has it is blessed with infinite intuition, bright mind and thirst for knowledge. Also has an inclination to mysticism.
2. Passionate, jealous and easily irritable person — the one with a “short fuse”.
3. Romantic nature, tendency to intellectual pursuits and creativity.
4. This birthmark is an evidence of fidelity, sensuality and generosity.
5. Volatile, temperamental character, tendency for short-lived romances.
6. Imaginative and creative person with passion for adventure, discovery and travel.
7. Jealous, egotistic and and self-centered character.
8. Extremely sensual. Love life is endless experimenting.
9. Tendency to pick fights, quarrelsome character. When in love — displays a tendency to feeling of guilt.
10. Excellent memory, diplomacy, earthiness.
11. Thrives on complications in relationships and everything forbidden.
12. Tangled love relationships, gives it all to passion.
13. Tendency to frequent quarrels and quick reconciliations. Carnal love prevails over platonic.
14. Exalted, poetic nature, mystically inclined with a sense of universal love. Often blessed (or cursed) with quite an extraordinary fate.
15. Independent, free-spirited nature. Loves of life’s pleasures and world travel.
16. Generosity, faithfulness, longing and desire to be a parent. Makes an excellent parent when becomes one.
17.Extraordinary seducer/seductress with propensity to shocking or scandalous behavior. Loves change and variety, however, rarely compromises his/her marriage.
18. Imagination, sensuality and originality are the reigning character traits.
19. Inclination to jealousy, desire to find and hold on to one and only great love.
20. Not an easy person to be around, prone to depression.
21. Love for variety in intellectual and romantic areas. Tangled love affairs and life in general.
22. Heightened eroticism, sexuality and tendency to infidelity.
23. Punctual, precise and orderly mind. The willingness to grow both spirit and wealth.
24. Fragile psyche and health. Worrisome and insecure nature.
25. Sweet, balanced person with a penchant for conservative views and desire to have a quiet life and a strong, traditional “family values.”

Don’t take any of it seriously, particularly if you aren’t blessed with favorable alignment of beauty marks on your face.