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25 June 2009

James Patrick Page, OBE

Jimmy PageJames Patrick Page OBE (born 9 January 1944) is an English guitarist, composer and record producer. He began his career as a studio session guitarist in London and was subsequently a member of The Yardbirds from 1966 to 1968, after which he co-founded the English rock band Led Zeppelin.
Unquestionably one of the all-time most influential, important, and versatile guitarists and songwriters in rock history is Jimmy Page. Just about every rock guitarist from the late '60s/early '70s to the present day has been influenced by Page's work with Led Zeppelin -- his monolithic riffs served as a blueprint for what would eventually become heavy metal, yet he refused to be pigeonholed to any single musical style (touching upon folk, country, funk, blues, and other genres). Page also lent a hand in writing (or co-writing) Zeppelin's vast array of classic songs and produced all their albums. Born on January 9, 1944, in Heston, Middlesex, England, Page picked up the guitar at age 13 after being inspired by the Elvis Presley tune "Baby Let's Play House," and while he took several lessons, was mostly self-taught. Instead of attending college right after high school, Page decided to join his first real rock band, Neil Christian & the Crusaders, whom he toured England with. But Page fell seriously ill (with glandular fever) and was forced to quit and recuperate. Dejected, Page pondered giving up music and focusing on another interest, painting, as he enrolled at an art college in Sutton, Surrey.
Bonham - Plant - Page - Jones (LZ)
Despite it being obvious that the Yardbirds were on the downside of their career (Beck left shortly after Page came onboard), Page appeared on the album Little Games and several tours before the band finally called it a day in 1968. With a string of tour dates still set up throughout Europe, Page decided to go through with the shows and put together a new band who was dubbed the New Yardbirds -- including longtime session bassist John Paul Jones, plus newcomers Robert Plant on vocals and John Bonham on drums. After the completion of their initial tour, the band changed their name to Led Zeppelin and explored the still largely uncharted territory of hard rock/heavy metal. The band immediately became one of rock's most successful and enduring bands, issuing a string of classic albums from 1969 through 1975 -- Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti -- which spawned such classic rock radio standards as "Dazed and Confused," "Whole Lotta Love," "Immigrant Song," "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven," and "Kashmir," as the band also became a must-see live act in the process. Page also found the time to work with folk artist Roy Harper (most notably his 1971 release, Stormcock, under the alias S. Flavius Mercurius). Zeppelin was arguably the biggest rock band in the world by the mid-'70s (their influence on other rock bands following in their wake cannot be stressed enough) as they launched their own record company, Swan Song, but it was around this time that Page began dabbling with heroin and other substances, eventually leading to him becoming a full-blown addict by the late '70s/early '80s (as a result, his playing began to suffer). Also, Page's interest in the occult became a concern to those around him (he went as far as purchasing a mansion on the Loch Ness in Scotland that was once owned by renowned Satanist Aleister Crowley). Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic

23 June 2009

The Lost City of Petra

Source: The UN Museum
The story of Petra starts with a nomadic people called the Nabataeans who settled the area in the 4th century BC. The land there was mountainous with many valleys and deep canyons. Today, the site of Petra seems to be a foolish place to build a city: it is dry and arid with limited space for farming and houses. In ancient times, however, the area was the crossroads of several important trade routes. Only here could the caravans carrying valuable goods make their way through the high mountain ridges to reach the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. The Nabataeans enforced a toll and provided safe passage for travelers as well as access to water. Soon Petra became their most important city.

Commercial traffic to and from Petra increased steadily as caravans (sometimes with as many as a thousand camels) fed the demand for incense, textiles, spices, ivory and precious metals in Rome, Greece and Egypt. During this time the city evolved into a bustling hub of international commerce and culture. Located deep in the mountains, it was easily defensible from surrounding hostile desert raiders that might attack. "This place is exceedingly strong but unwalled…," wrote the Greek historian Diodorus when he visited it.

The Nabataean architects cleverly constructed a series of dams, cisterns and pipes to provide the city with much-needed water from a set of natural springs. As the wealth of the area grew, elaborately carved-public buildings were constructed along with gardens and monuments. Along the mountain walls that surrounded the city, impressive tombs were built for the richest families. At the height of its power around 50 AD, 20,000 residents dwelt in the city. A crossroads of trade also meant a crossroads of culture, so that architectural elements found in Petra's buildings showed influence from the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations.

Petra has a reputation as a "lost city" but was never really missing to the Bedouin who lived in the area, though they did not refer to it by that name. Today one can visit the city, which is located in Jordan about 90 miles south of Amman, entering it through the same route Burckhardt took in 1812. Visitors walk through the narrow canyon, known as the Siq, to gain entrance to the ancient city. A stream once flowed through this narrow corridor, but the Nabataeans blocked the water with a dam and channeled it through a tunnel, a testament to their hydraulic engineering skills.

As the visitor approaches the end of the Siq, he beholds what is probably the most striking structure in Petra, the Khazneh. The name, which means "treasury," comes from a local legend that it hides riches. The story is told that Bedouins at one time believed that the giant urn on the second level of the facade was filled with treasures and they would fire their rifles at it, hoping to break it open. The facade of the building is carved into the rock face and stands over 120 feet high. The building is made even more impressive because of the high cliff walls surrounding the area in front of the building, making it difficult to look at the ancient towering structure from any distance. The way the fascade has been recessed into the cliff has protected the detailed ornamentation on it from much erosion, making the Khazneh one of Petra's best-preserved buildings.

Film buffs will recognize the Khazneh as the temple used in the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Though in the film the intrepid archeologist searches for the Holy Grail hidden deep inside the temple, the Khazneh and Petra have, in reality, no connection with that legend. The inside of the building is also quite unlike the extensive hollywood sets used in the film. The interior is simply a square room with two small connecting rooms and very little ornamentation. This is typical of most of Petra's tombs: ostentatious on the exterior, much plainer on the inside.

21 June 2009

The History Of Amethyst And The Color Purple

amethyst stoneSource: Searchwarp
One of the world’s most popular gemstones, Amethyst is classified today as a semi-precious gem. However, from the pre-biblical times of ancient Mesopotamia right up to the European Middle Ages, Amethyst was regarded as a precious gem. During this period Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby and Amethyst were attributed the joint title of the five ‘Cardinal Gems.’ Amethysts inclusion into the ‘Cardinal Gem’ set was due to the association made by Pharaohs, Kings, and of course Cardinals, who all held Amethyst’s purple color representative of the highest echelons of society. By today’s standards the color purple is commonplace, and is easily bought as tincture and paint from any local hardware store. However, prior to the wonders of modern science purple dye was the single most rarest nuance available in nature. According to the Greek philosopher and tutor of ‘Alexander The Great,’ Aristotle: “In it’s purest form it possesses a value ten to twenty times its weight in gold!" Legend has it that the first purple dye was discovered by Herakle-Melqart (city god of Tyr) who was walking along the Levantine shoreline with the nymph Tyrus. His dog found a Murex snail and devoured it, which left a beautiful purple color around the dog's mouth. Tyrus saw the color and told Herakle-Melqart she would not accept his courtship until he brought her a robe of the same color. So he collected the Murex shells, extracted the dye, and tinted the first garment purple. The Levantine coast where they walked was an area that today encapsulates the city of Sur in modern Lebanon, known in pre-biblical times as Tyr. For thousands of years, this part of Lebanon was known as Canaan or Phoenicia, which literally translated meant ‘The Land Of Purple.’ Although the earliest purple dyes were found in Minoan pottery glazes on the island of Crete, circa 1900 B.C., Phoenicia and its principal city of Tyr were the first to exploit the Murex’s purple dye commercially. Tyrian texts mention the Murex’s dye as early as 1600 B.C., from where it became Tyr’s principal source of income for 100’s of years. It is from this geographical origin that we get the name ‘Tyrian Purple.’ It should be noted that by today’s standards the ancient purples, known as porpora, were more red than purple. They varied from a fiery red, to viola and an almost red-black. The Murex dye industry proved to be so lucrative to the Tyrians that the shell was adopted as a symbol of Tyr appearing on their earliest coinage alongside their city god, Melqart. Over the course of time, and through extensive trade networks stretching from Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, and Rome the Murex’s highly coveted dye became synonymous with wealth and an exotic trade rarity reserved for the rich. Of all countries that Phoenicia was to trade the Murex dye with it was Italy who would become her most loyal customer. The Phoenicians first traded in Italy with the Etruscans, a society of artisans particularly skilled in the art of jewelry fabrication. However, it was with the creation of Imperial Rome by Romulus in 753 B.C. that the Murex’s purple dye began to be synonymous with power, wealth and position. Pliny the Elder, author of the world’s first Encyclopedia in the 1st century A.D. wrote: “I find that, from the very first, purple has been in use at Rome, but that Romulus employed it for the trabea…" The trabea was similar to the toga, and decorated with purple stripes. There were various kinds of trabea; one was completely purple and sacred to the gods, another was purple and white and was the royal robe worn by kings such as Romulus and later Tullus Hostilius. Pliny continues: “As to the toga prætexta (a toga bordered with purple, worn by magistrates and free-born children) and the laticlave vestment (a purple badge of the senatorial order), it is a fact well ascertained, that Tullus Hostilius was the first king who made use of them…" From this use as a status symbol in early Imperial Rome it was a matter of time until purple assumed another moniker, ‘Imperial Purple.’ Hundreds of years later, with the demise of the Roman Empire and the emergence of the Byzantine Empire, the usage of ‘Imperial Purple’ and ‘Tyrian Purple’ had been strictly reserved for nobility and the church. By the fall of Byzantium in 1453 the Murex shell had all but vanished, and in 1464 the Pope Paul II introduced the ‘Cardinal's Purple,’ authorizing the use of cochineal insect to dye cardinals' and archbishops' robes instead. The ‘Cardinal Purple’ of the cochineal was much closer to what we call purple than the Murex’s ‘Tyrian’ or ‘Imperial’ variety, and led to our modern interpretation of purple being a mixture of red and blue. From this point in time onwards Amethyst, echoing the same purple coloration, became a egular feature in the ornamentation of Rome’s holy men, worn as rings and amulets as a sign of pious virtue. It is from these various associations that Amethyst, with its emblematic colors of the Roman Catholic Church, took its place amongst diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald as a ‘Cardinal Gem.’ Copyright © SilverShake Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

20 June 2009

Green Tea vs. Prostate Cancer

green tea Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Active compounds in green tea may slow down the progression of prostate cancer, researchers reported on Friday.

Capsules made using green tea extracts called polyphenols lowered levels of proteins that tumors use to grow, the researchers found.

Made by Polyphenon Pharma, the capsules called Polyphenon E contain epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG, a green tea extract that has antioxidant properties.

Jim Cardelli of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and colleagues tested 26 prostate cancer patients, aged from 41 to 68.

Each took four Polyphenon E capsules a day -- equivalent to drinking 12 cups of green tea -- for about a month before they had their prostates removed.

Blood tests showed levels of three proteins associated with the growth and spread of prostate cancer fell. Hepatocyte growth factor or HGF fell 18.9 percent on average, vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF fell by 9.9 percent and prostate specific antigen PSA fell by 10.4 percent, they reported in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

HGF and VEGF are produced when tumors spread and some patients showed "significant" reduction levels of more than 30 percent, Cardelli said.

Few side effects were reported and liver function of the patients remained normal.

"It's still in an early stage. Green tea can keep cancer from growing very fast, but it may not be able to shrink tumors," Cardelli said in a telephone interview.

"But it can be a good addition to traditional therapies, like chemo (chemotherapy) or radiation."

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American men. The American Cancer Society projects prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 192,280 men and will kill 27,360 in 2009.

The test in 26 prostate cancer patients was a small trial and bigger studies would be needed to confirm the results.

(Reporting by I-Ching Ng; Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)

18 June 2009

Balkan Culinary War II

Source: Balkan Traveller Ajvar, lyutenitsa, zacuscă or biber salçası? The peppers, tomatoes and aubergines purée is to inflame as much hostility as the Macedonian issue a century ago. The whole thing must have started innocently enough, with the intoxicating smell of autumn peppers, grilled over a metal plate. Somewhere in the Ottoman Empire’s central parts, the aroma-filled smoke of the India-imported vegetable must have risen and – carried by the wind, spread around the streets and courtyards, luring the passing, curious and starving wanderers from the Balkans. Hours later, stuffed and happy, they must have made an oath to try and prepare at home this wonderful vegetable dish: minced peppers, flavoured with tomatoes, aubergines, garlic and vegetable oil. And then things developed in the manner of summer fires in times of drought. Nowadays, there isn’t a Balkan nation that is not familiar with some form of the sterilised vegetable paste, even though its texture varies from a purée-like substance to one consisting of larger, chopped pieces, and the list of ingredients may include or exclude about a dozen vegetables and spices. In Turkey, where the original likely came from, it is called biber salçası and it is seriously dominated by red chili peppers. In Bulgaria, it was carried over with varyingly softened taste. Tomatoes are added some of the time but garlic is mandatory. Here, it goes under the name lyutenitsa and, like many other traditional dishes, it fell victim during socialism, when it was reduced to a simple purée mostly consisting of tomatoes. Tenacious housewives with backyards at their disposal, however, preserved and even developed the tradition with surprising creativity, adding new components, like minced walnuts, to the mix. Romanians have strayed from the path the most. They call this relish zacuscă, and cook it as a spread made of roasted eggplant, red peppers and cooked beans. Meanwhile, the Western Balkans perhaps remain the closest to the Turkish original. This is made apparent partly by the word they use in reference to their version – ajvar. Supposedly, it comes from the Turkish word havyar, meaning ‘caviar’. Though unrelated to fish eggs, ajvar has a similar, grainy texture. Today, ajvar, under this name, is a popular dish throughout Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It could be ordered in most restaurants in the former Yugoslavia and it is an Spot the difference: Is this ajvar or kopoolu - another Bulgarian version of the disputed relish, cooked with aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and lots of garlic? extremely popular condiment to the grilled meats typical of the local cuisine. And here socialism also caused damage to the otherwise excellent dish – nowadays some key Serbian producers sell it on the mass market in enormous, ugly jars that, for some reason, are filled mostly with pepper skins. And still, there are few things that compare to the well-prepared ajvar, generously poured among ten ćevapčići (oblong pieces of grilled minced meat), and a solid pile of chopped onion. The rivalry between the Balkan nations over ownership of the vegetable relish has been smouldering for a long time, but it blew up with new strength in February, when Macedonia’s government took steps to trademark its version of ajvar, with aubergines. “The Macedonian government is attempting to make ajvar a world-recognised product," government spokesman Ivica Bocevski told SETimes.com, adding that “branding would allow production to be standardised with the ingredients and its preparation listed on the labels. This, in turn, will guarantee quality and competitiveness at home and on the world markets.” The initiative is pressing ahead despite earlier efforts by a Slovenian company to patent the product that failed when ajvar was deemed a generic name and not subject to trademark protection as one country’s property. The Macedonian government’s move already provoked protests in the former Yugoslav countries, especially in Serbia – the vegetable relish there is not only known under the same name but it is also one of the true, and deserved, sources of national pride. The Macedonians’ bid may develop in the latest epic battle of the Balkan Culinary Wars, as Macedonia is trying to trademark the product under the brand name Macedonian Ajvar. If the trademark request is granted, the brand would receive protection as a product with a certain geographic origin. The stance of the authorities of the Greek province Macedonia is yet unclear.

15 June 2009

Obama to visit Nazi concentration camp

During his upcoming trip to Germany, Obama is due to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. He will have the chance to see various activities that aim to educate young Germans about the horrors that occurred there.

Barack Obama has a family connection to Buchenwald, the former Nazi concentration camp located near the Thuringian town of Weimar. One of his great-uncles took part in liberating a Buchenwald sub-camp at the end of World War II in 1945.

Extensive research has shown that a quarter of a million people were held captive at Buchenwald between 1937 and 1945. Some 50,000 of them were executed, starved, or worked to death at the adjacent quarry and munitions factories.

More than 60 years after World War II, the crimes committed at the Buchenwald camp have not been forgotten. A huge memorial site – redesigned after the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 – welcomes local and foreign visitors with a number of exhibitions, movies and tours.

Special efforts are also being made to attract the younger generation. Busloads of school children arrive here every day, and most of them do not seem to need much convincing to make the trip.

“I think it’s very important to come here, because I live in this country and that’s our past,” explains one of the students. “We need to see what happened and what it really looked like. It’s not just looking at pictures – you have to see it in reality.”

Lorenz, a German history teacher, says that the Nazi era is not glossed over in history lessons, and the kids have studied about the period before coming to places like Buchenwald.

“Of course we tell them that what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945 was not their fault,” says Lorenz. “But we have to make sure that they know as much as possible about that time, so that something this horrible doesn’t happen here again.”

At a youth center near Buchenwald’s memorial site, staffers tell teachers how school children can best be helped to digest their impressions of the former concentration camp. They’re advised to work with historical photographs and have their students read individual biographies of inmates.

Constanze, one of the trainees, thinks this approach has been useful: “I was here at Buchenwald myself when I was in eighth grade, and I really didn’t know much about the camp at this age. But now the children learn much more about it.”

A visiting European Union delegation looking into the educational skills of staffers at Holocaust-related memorial sites seemed impressed by the Buchenwald youth center, where kids can stay for several days at a time to do research.

1 June 2009

Walton on the Naze

Walton-on-the-Naze is a small town in Essex, England, on the North Sea coast in the Tendring district. It is north of Clacton and south of the port of Harwich. It abuts Frinton-on-Sea to the south, and is part of the parish of Frinton and Walton. It is a resort town, with a permanent population of about 12,000. It attracts many visitors, the Naze being the main attraction. There is also a pier.
The Naze is a peninsula north of the town. It is important for migrating birds and has a small nature reserve. The marshes of Hamford Water behind the town are also of ornithological interest, with wintering ducks and brent geese. Many Bird watchers visit at migration times.
The Hanoverian tower (more commonly known as the Naze Tower) at the start of the open area of the Naze was a sea mark to assist ships on this otherwise fairly featureless coast.
The Naze is eroding rapidly and threatening the tower and the wildlife. The Naze Protection Society was formed to campaign for erosion controls. The Naze has become popular for school fieldwork into erosion and methods to protect the coast. Protection includes a sea wall, a riprap, groynes and a permeable groyne as well as drainage. Millions of tons of sand have been added to the beach to replenish it and stop the cliff eroding. However, the cliff near Naze Tower is greatly eroded. The cliff is receding fast and within 50 years Naze Tower may have tumbled into the sea like the pill boxes that can be seen on the beach.
Source: Daniel Defoe. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies: Letter 1, Part 2: Harwich and Suffolk, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London (1927)
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