Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brits are Coca-Nuts

"Nuts" wanted for world coconut orchestra record
Mon Apr 23, 2007 3:52PM EDT

By Jessica McGovern

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of people will gather in London's Trafalgar Square on Monday evening seeking to smash the record for the world's largest coconut orchestra.

Cast members from the musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" will give participating "nuts" a lesson on how to clip-clop in time to the Python classic "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" before attempting the Guinness World Record title.

The current record for the largest number of people gathered in one location playing coconuts at the same time stands at 1,789 and was set in March 2002 in New York, according to Guinness World Records.

The attempt has been inspired by the cult 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", in which knights pretend to ride horses while porters bang coconut shells together to make the clip-clopping noise of hooves.

David Birrell, who plays King Arthur's servant Patsy in the musical romp described as "lovingly ripped off from the motion picture", said the tune was great for a sing-along.

The song is a well known melody which featured in the 1979 film "Life of Brian".

"Every night when we do the song in the show people just join in, even if they don't know the words, because I think it's in the British consciousness now," Birrell said.

Thousands of coconut shells have been ordered for the attempt, each labeled 'left' and 'right'.

Birrell said the markings were important because the coconut is like a finely tuned instrument.

"No pair of coconuts is alike," he said.

Spamalot Musical Director Michael England will be in charge of conducting the thousands of coconut players with help from music over loudspeakers and a giant screen which will show the words and screen the film after the record attempt.

Headaches may be good for your brain

Headaches may be good for your brain
Migraine sufferers in study show less decline
Posted: April 23, 2007

Is it possible that suffering through years of migraine headaches actually might have a beneficial effect on the brain?

A provocative new study has raised that improbable prospect after finding that longtime, middle-aged migraine sufferers showed less cognitive decline and memory loss over a period of 12 years than a group of migraine-free adults.

Researchers can't explain what could be a silver lining in the agonizing cloud that is migraine, but it's possible that the physiological changes that accompany the headaches might protect brain cells over the long haul.

Beyond offering a modicum of solace to the 30 million migraine sufferers in the United States, the strange finding, if verified, could offer researchers new leads into ways to preserve memory in aging brains.

"This is really a surprise," said Bhupendra Khatri, director of the Center for Neurological Disorders at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center. "This is going to stimulate a lot of research."

If anything, migraine sufferers might be expected to have more cognitive decline, said Khatri, who was not a part of the study.

He noted that they tend to suffer from more depression, anxiety, seizures and stroke than people who do not have migraines.

However, there has been a lack of research looking at the long-term effect of migraine on memory and cognitive function, he said.

The research, published today in the journal Neurology, is the first prospective study looking at the lifetime effects of migraines on memory and cognitive function.

The study involved 1,448 people, including 204 who had migraines, who were given several cognitive tests and followed for an average of 12 years.
Word recall tests

Since most of the participants were in their late 40s and early 50s when the initial tests were given, a small decline in memory associated with normal aging over 12 years would have been expected in both groups.

On word recall tests, however, those who suffered from migraine declined slightly less than non-migraineurs. The benefit was significant for those who suffered from migraine with aura, or a warning that the migraine was coming on. On average, they remembered about one word to 1.5 words more on those tests than those who did not have migraines.

On a separate cognitive test, those who have migraines with aura who entered the study at 50 or older had a significantly lower rate of decline than those who don't have migraines. "It's a pretty profound effect," said Nick Stanek, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Stanek, who was not a part of the study, noted that those with migraines began the study with slightly lower scores on the cognitive tests."They start lower, but at age 50 they don't get as worse as people without migraines," Stanek said. "I was surprised that they didn't deteriorate as fast after age 50. I would have predicted that they deteriorated at the same rate or even more quickly."

Stanek said his best guess is there is something going on at the molecular level in the brain cells of people with migraines that helps preserve memory.

The finding even surprised the study's authors.

"People were surprised, but at the same time, they said there may be something to this," said lead author Amanda Kalaydjian, a researcher with the National Institute of Mental Health.
Possible explanations

Kalaydjian said she and other researchers have tried to come up with explanations, and although they have several, they all are highly speculative.

It's possible that the increased use of non-aspirin, over-the-counter painkillers might be asserting some type of neuro protective effect in the brains of those with migraines. Another theory is that the lifestyle changes people initiate to reduce migraines, such as getting more sleep, eating well, using relaxation techniques and taking supplements, are helping preserve brain function.

Still another explanation is that the prescription medications they use might help preserve cognitive function.

"However, it seems more likely that there may be some underlying biologic mechanism such as changes in (blood vessels) or underlying differences in (brain cell activity), which results in decreased cognitive decline over time," the researchers wrote.

If the explanation is found, it could have implications for preserving memory in everyone, not just people with migraines, Kalaydjian said.

Crying Mary

Store: Orlando Catholic Diocese To Check 'Crying' Statue
Statue No Longer For Sale

POSTED: 11:22 pm EDT April 23, 2007
UPDATED: 9:23 am EDT April 24, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A statue of the Virgin Mary shipped overseas to a Central Florida business has grabbed the attention of the Orlando Catholic Diocese and groups of worshippers after it apparently shed a black tear inside the store.

Castle Designs in Orlando received the marble statue weeks ago from overseas, according to the report.

The statue is a reproduction of the Pieta -- one of Michelangelo's greatest works of art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.

The black tear was just recently noticed at the store and owners said it appears to be coming from inside the statue.

"We started noticing that there was a small gray line every day that kept getting darker and darker," Castle Designs CEO Les Roberts said.

"It doesn't appear to be stained from the outside so it's kind of unusual because it does appear to be coming form the inside," Castle Designs representative Chris Wilson said.

Store owners said the members of the Orlando Catholic Diocese plan to come to the business and look at the statue.

"It could have been anywhere on this entire statue, why on that one spot?" Roberts said. "That's what's amazing."

Groups of people have already traveled to the store to worship.

"Some people are asking for private prayers," Roberts said. "When somebody's here kneeling at the statue, I try to give them some time away because it's between them and their God."

The store has roped off the area where the statue is located and owners have decided not to sell it.

The business has also offered the Orlando Catholic Diocese the chance to display the statue if they so chose, the report said.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Iran warns women over slack dressing

by Farhad Pouladi Sun Apr 22, 5:19 PM ET

Iran has issued more than a thousand warnings and arrested dozens in a new drive aimed at forcing women whose dress is deemed inappropriate to adhere to Islamic dress rules, officials said Sunday.

The nationwide drive -- an annual pre-summer crackdown given greater prominence this year -- is aimed primarily at women whose coats are seen as too tight, trousers excessively short or hejabs (headscarves) overly loose.

It foresees handing out warnings and guidance to women found to have infringed its dress code in public. Those who show resistance to change can be arrested and then be the subject of legal proceedings.

"Since the plan started at 10:00 am on Saturday, 1,347 women have been warned and given Islamic guidance," the head of information at Tehran city's police force, Mehdi Ahmadi, told AFP.

"There were 170 arrests. Of these, 58 were released after making a written commitment and rectifying their appearance. The cases of the rest, who already had a record, were handed over to the judiciary," he said.

Iranian newspapers printed pictures of women in tight and colourful clothing being given warnings on Tehran's streets by female police officers dressed in chadors as the crackdown got underway on Saturday.

Twenty shops selling inappropriate clothing were also closed down, Ahmadi said.

The programme was aimed at "improving the security of society with an approach of moral security," he added.

"Its duration depends on when society feels that there are no longer signs of short trousers, tight mantos (coats), tight clothing and very skimpy hejabs."

The authorities have argued the "bad hejab" drive is aimed at encouraging women to dress in line with Islamic dress code and it appeared the emphasis is more on handing out warnings than detaining offenders.

Conservatives have applauded the new crackdown as necessary to preserve public morals as women in Tehran increasingly push the boundaries over what is permissible to wear in public.

When the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in June 2005 there were expectations that the authorities would clamp down firmly on women's dress in public.

However the situation has not changed and past attempts to bring women into line have petered out after a few weeks.

An editorial in the hardline daily Kayhan said that police were right to ignore the wishes of those who favoured a more softly-softly approach.

"Do not worry, the people support you (the police). The man who sees the robbers of his family's chastity laughing in his face, the family that despairs over the drug addiction of their child... they are with you," it said.

Women in Iran are obliged by law to wear the hejab and a full length overcoat that covers all bodily contours. Visiting foreigners and religious minorities are not exempted.

Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a member of the culture committee of the Iranian parliament, was quoted by the Etemad newspaper as saying a harder line towards female dress was long overdue.

"The current situation is shameful for an Islamic government. A man who sees these models on the streets will pay no attention to his wife at home, destroying the foundation of the family," he warned.

The Tehran police spokesman warned that men were not exempt from the crackdown.

Ahmadi said officers would also target men sporting clothes deemed too tight or hairstyles deemed too extravagant.

Darth Vader's Full of Hot Air

Darth Vader hot-air balloon takes fandom to new heights

If there's a dorkier combo out there than Star Wars obsession and being a hot air balloon hobbyist, I'm not aware of it. But hey, don't be ashamed of your passions. No, blow them up to gigantic size so the whole world can see! That's what Benoit Lambert did, creating this absolutely incredible Darth Vader head hot air balloon.

This seriously accurate recreation of Darth Vader's helmet is also a fully-functioning hot-air balloon, allowing the passenger to soar in the clouds while really confusing people on the ground. Can you imagine a giant Darth Vader head floating by over your house? I'm not really sure what the appropriate reaction would be to seeing such a thing. Confusion? Awe? Fear?
— Adam Frucci

Hunters kill one of last Amur Leopards

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hunters in Russia's Far East have shot and killed one of the last seven surviving female Amur leopards living in the wild, WWF said on Monday, driving the species even closer to extinction.

Last week environmentalists said there were only between 25 and 34 Amur leopards -- described as one of the most graceful cats in the world -- still living in the wild.

At least 100 are needed to guarantee the species' survival which depends upon female leopards breeding. There are more male leopards in the wild than female because cats tend to breed males when under stress, WWF said.

"Leopard murder can only be provoked by cowardice or stupidity, in this case most likely by both," Pavel Fomenko, WWF's biodiversity coordinator in Russia's Far East said in a statement.

A hunter shot the leopard through the tail bone. It tumbled over and was then beaten over the head with a heavy object, WWF said. Amur leopards have not been know to attack humans.

Environmentalists have urged the Russian government to introduce tighter controls on its national parks in the Far East to crack down on leopard hunting.

They also want more done to protect the animal's natural environment and food supply, which they say is being destroyed by human development.

A local wildlife watchdog received an anonymous tip-off that a leopard had been killed. State wildlife officers found the dead animal after a day of searching. The leopard died on either April 15 or April 16, WWF said.