Archive for June 2011

Neurologists Discover Rest Periods Essential for Building Physical Memory

June 30, 2011

Neurologists Discover Rest Periods Essential for Building Physical Memory
Yomiuri Shimbun: 体で覚えるなら休憩が大事…脳の仕組みを解明
June 15, 2011

During rest periods between training sessions in activities based on “physical memory”, such as playing the piano and riding a bicycle, proteins are produced in the frontal cerebellum and moved to other parts of the brain, scientific researchers have discovered.

“Rest is essential to study,” confirmed the scientific study published in an American journal of psychology on the 15th.

Our memory of information like names is divided between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. In the experiment, a board was moved right and left in front of a mouse, and its eye movements were tracked. The mouse which was allowed to rest between training sessions could follow the board perfectly one day later, but the mouse who had no rest had forgotten half the pattern by the next day, which indicated that the breaks were advantageous.

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Iceland Reforming its Constitution Via Facebook

June 29, 2011

Iceland Reforming its Constitution Via Facebook
A 25-person committee working on the new Magna Carta receives citizens’ proposals over the Web
El País: Islandia reforma la Constitución vía Facebook
June 27, 2011

Bob Tackett, via Facebook: “You could put something in the new Icelandic Constitution about extraterrestrials. That would probably be a first.” This is one of the comments from well-wishers. Patrick Donnelly’s proposal: “Every citizen will automatically have a savings account in a national bank tied to his identification document.” It could happen. A 25-person assembly elected from 522 Icelanders age 18 and over are working against the clock to finish a reform of the Constitution of Iceland before the end of July. The current document is a replica of the Danish Constitution of 1944, the only difference being that the word “president” was substituted for “king”, and it became a major target for protestors during the 2008 financial crisis. The reform committee is receiving suggestions from its citizens over the Web (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flicker), which is exactly what it wants.

“If we don’t have the citizens participate now,” said committee member Katrin Oddsdóttir in a phone conversation, “They won’t feel a sense of ownership toward the new document.” The bank collapses of 2008 put Iceland on the ropes. Rejection of the social contract, represented every Saturday of that fall in protests in front of Parliament in Reykjavic, pushed out the government, forced an advance election, and opened the door to constitutional reform. A National Forum of 950 elected officers produced the 700-page document which the assembly, and web-surfing citizens, are now refining.

Live Debates
“We were afraid the participants would be rude,” said Oddsdóttir, “But they haevn’t been; rather, they’ve had great respect and concern for the process.” That process is the following: the assembly has opened an official website in Icelandic and English. Citizens can read its contents and send their own proposals or comment on those that have already been posted on an embedded Facebook page (which has been the primary channel of discussion; the site’s public profiles on the Web and Twitter have also sparked foreigners’ interest in the initiative). A computer regulates the flow of the information, an editor the contents. Every Thursday, the assembly reunites and debates the Internauts’ contributions to Democracy 2.0 on a live web feed.

According to Oddsdóttir’s data, the constitutional reform project has already received around 2000 comments, a not insignificant number given the country only has 320,000 residents (two thirds of whom have Facebook profiles). It has established a new model of societal response to crisis. Four themes, among many others, distinguish themselves in the open political dialogue over the web between the assembly and the citizens: the role of religion, the separation of legislative and executive power, animal protection, and care for the environment.

Six weeks away from the constitutional assembly’s deadline, the approval method is not very clear. Regardless, the assembly has pledged to present a document which includes the citizens’ new ideas and amendments. After that, there will be a national referendum and, if it passes, a vote by the Icelandic Parliament. The channel is open this very moment, still accumulating messages from within Iceland and without. “If I could say one thing I’ve learned over the last two months,” said Oddsdóttir, “It’s that you can trust the people.”

Hiraizumi Becomes Tōhoku’s First UN World Heritage Site

June 28, 2011

Hiraizumi Becomes Tōhoku’s First UN World Heritage Site
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「平泉」世界文化遺産に登録…東北では初
Mina Mitsui reporting from Paris June 26, 2011

On the 25th, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee designated Hirazumi, Iwate a World Cultural Heritage Site. Five of the six places at the site that Japan nominated were chosen, including Chūsonji Temple and excluding Yanagi no Gosho Museum.

12 places in Japan had been named World Heritage Sites before now, most recently Shimane Prefecture’s “Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape” in 2007, but this is the first in Tōhoku [the region that bore the brunt of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami]. The Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Group) off Tokyo was selected on the 24th, bringing the number to 14 (including natural heritage sites).

Hiraizumi’s Cultural Heritage consists of temples, gardens and the like created by Ōshū Fujiwara clan when it was flourishing in Tōhoku in the 12th century. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which advises the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recommended excluding Yanagi no Gosho, the former home of the Ōshū Fujiwara, because “it does not have a direct relationship with Pure Land Buddhism and does not have something of conspicuously universal value.” UNESCO, following ICOMOS’s recommendation, excluded Yanagi no Gosho Museum and honored the other five sites for their universal value as part of Pure Land Buddhism’s cultural heritage.

Location of Hiraizumi
Map of Hiraizumi

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River’s Inferno

June 27, 2011

Pavone Penalty Miss
Pavone laments a missed penalty kick against Belgrano.

River’s Inferno
The Drama of the Millionaires: River Plate, the team with the most Argentine football championships, will be demoted to the second-class league for the first time in its 110 year history to the tears of its fans and players
El País: El drama de los ‘millonarios’
Alejandro Rebossio reporting from Buenos Aires June 26, 2011

It would be like Real Madrid descending to the Second Division. River Plate, one of the two most popular clubs in Argentina and the one that has won the most league championships (33), has been demoted from the top league for the first time in its 110 year history. Yesterday, at the Monumental stadium in the port neighborhood of Núñez, during the second leg of the promotion/relegation playoff, it played to a 1-1 tie with Belgrano, which had been the fourth-place team in Nacional B (the second class league). River’s 2-0 defeat in the first leg of the playoff, in Córdoba, doomed it to a historical descent.

A good part of Argentina was paralyzed by yesterday’s game: the many citizens of Buenos Aires and other regions who are millonarios and those who enjoyed their suffering (“Millionaires” is the nickname for the successful club’s supporters). Through the mismanagement of its directors, River has become the most indebted club in Argentina, affecting its player signings and thus dooming it to three consecutive mediocre seasons. The players knew they had to win by two goals to stay afloat. From the moment the eleven players coached by Juan José López, a former star striker for the team, took the field, the 49,500 fans of the red-and-whites made their message clear: “¡Esta tarde, cueste lo que cueste, tenemos que ganar!” (“This afternoon, we have to win at all costs!”) they sang. Nary a one of the 2500 Cordoban fans, who arrived at the stadium full of hope and were pelted with rocks by River’s soccer hooligans in the street, could be heard over the din.

The River players, whose total salaries are 10 times higher than Belgrano’s, began attacking in a disorganized fashion, as they had in other recent games. The Cordoban outfit, though it hasn’t played in the top league for four years, took the field like they regarded the River players as their equals. At four minutes, César Mansanelli scored a goal on a free kick, but referee Sergio Pezzota annulled it. River rapidly responded, and Mariano Pavone, formerly a striker for Betis in Spain, trapped the ball with his chest outside the area and with his right foot directed the ball inside keeper Carlos Olave’s left post. River took a 1-0 lead, which tranquilized its anxiety, but Belgrano equalized thanks to its midfield pressure. The atmosphere froze up like the austral winter air lashing Buenos Aires. The sun shone sometimes, but it was for Belgrano.

In the second half, River’s nerves got worse as it chewed on the great tragedy of it all. Coach López ordered the players to attack at will, a very different approach from the stingy and speculative play the bench installed this year to avoid descent to the Segunda. At no point did it look like the River of old, which always took pride in its high class, in contrast to the fighting spirit which defines its arch-rival Boca Juniors.

The errors of the team’s defense were exposed. The defensive midfielder Guillermo Farré, who had distinguished himself by stealing the ball all game, achieved the glory of making an interception in the middle of a counterattack and tied the game 15 minutes into the second half. More than one Millionaire began to sob. River would have to win 3-1.

Hope arrived 15 minutes later. A penalty for River Plate. It soon became a tragedy. Olave saved Pavone’s shot. The star of this river, defensive midfielder Matías Almeyda, who couldn’t play because he was suspended, looked disconsolate. Sadness overwhelmed Núñez and the players, who looked like they’d already been defeated. River, the team of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Enzo Francescoli, had never fallen so low. In the 89th minute, the worst chapter in the history of the Millionaires began, as some fans began to throw stones and invade the field. The game was called off early. The police surrounded the field and the players, who covered themselves in tears. Sirens sounded in Buenos Aires, and security forces mobilized to avert violence. The fans of Boca Juniors celebrated. Those of River Plate wept over a monumental defeat.

Inside and outside the stadium, hundreds of River fans destroyed everything they could find. The health authorities of Buenos Aires later reported that 72 people were wounded, and at least 15 police were assaulted; four of those are in grave condition.

The fans, and not only Los Borrachos del Tablón (The Drunks of the Plank), destroyed the seats of the stadium and the doors and windows of the club headquarters, broke into and looted shops in the area, and assaulted journalists, police, and club directors. The hooligans unsuccessfully tried to break into the locker rooms to assault the players.

The River players were shut inside the stadium and were not allowed to talk to the press. The 2500 Belgrano fans who came to Buenos Aires were not able to leave the stands, caught between festivities and fear, while the 49,500 Millionaire sympathizers moved away from them.

In the first game of the playoff, in Córdoba, some River fans had taken the field to assault the players. For that reason, the Argentine government considered having the game played without fans in attendance, but it finally opted against that and posted 2,200 police on site instead. They were still insufficient to control the ire on the darkest day in the history of this fallen giant.

Emerald Recovered From 17th Century Spanish Galleon “Nuestra Señora de Atocha”

June 26, 2011

Emerald Ring from Our Lady of Atocha
The emerald ring from the shipwreck “Our Lady of Atocha”

Emerald Recovered From 17th Century Spanish Galleon “Nuestra Señora de Atocha”
The golden ring that was at the bottom of the ocean in a shipwreck south of Florida has a value of over $500,000
El País: Recuperada la esmeralda del galeón ‘Nuestra Señora de Atocha’
EFE reporting from Miami June 24, 2011

A golden ring with an emerald setting valued at $500,000/€353,022, a part of the treasure of the 17th century Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha (“Our Lady of Atocha”), was found in the cays in the extreme south of Florida, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum announced on its website. The valuable jewel was found on Thursday 9 meters deep in Cayo Hueso (“Bone Cay”) with submarine exploration equipment belonging to the museum, which is continuing to search the Spanish galleon carrying gold and silver which shipwrecked off the coast in 1622.

The ring, which has initials etched on it, comes from the Atocha, which sank near Cayo Hueso due to a hurricane while attempting to return to Spain. The greater part of the treasure, a hundred thousand Spanish silver coins and valued at $450 million, was discovered in 1985 by the cazatesoros (“Treasure Hunter”) Mel Fisher, who died in 1998 at 76 years of age.

Fisher’s descendants, who possess the rights to the shipwreck, have continued combing the Atocha for relics. “The treasure found in the Atocha, more than 40 tons of silver and gold,” is composed of eightpence coins, emeralds, golden chains, precious objects, and silver ingots, according to the website The Treasures of Mel Fisher.

Some 400 silver ingots and more than 100,000 coins could still be on the ocean floor. Some genuine golden and silver coins from the shipwreck, bearing the stamp of the King of Spain, are sold in the store the Fishers run beside the museum.

Japanese Sleep Study Group Submits that Daylight Saving Time is Unhealthy

June 25, 2011

Japanese Sleep Study Group Submits that Daylight Saving Time is Unhealthy
Yomiuri Shimbun: サマータイムは不健康…睡眠学会が反対を提言へ
June 25, 2011

Daylight Saving Time (called “Summer Time” in Japanese), the adjustment of clocks one hour forward during the summer time, “has a greatly negative effect on health, and its contribution to energy efficiency is scarce,” a group of insomnia specialists has submitted to the Japanese Sleep Study Group.

Electricity shortages caused by the recent disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant have spurred a new movement for “Summer Time” in Japan, but an increasing number of studies is showing that DST is bad for health and doesn’t contribute much to electricity saving: “The extent of the damage it causes is becoming clearer and clearer.”

The goal of Daylight Saving Time is to move the sunrise to later in the day so that more cool, bright morning hours pass while people are awake. Over 70 countries, including America and the EU, practice it. According to the Sleep Study Group, DST decreases the average person’s sleep hours, and people who have difficulty waking up in the morning cannot even adjust after four weeks of DST have passed. Also, because the hotter afternoon hours are later in the day, more electricity is used for air conditioning after work, and the morning electricity savings are canceled out: in some parts of the United States, for example, DST caused electricity usage to increase 1-4%.

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“Querétaro” is Named the Prettiest Word in the Spanish Language

June 24, 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa in Beijing
The Peruvian Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, poses with students during the E-Day Celebration at the Cervantes Institute in Beijing, China. Photo by EFE.

Lluvia de palabras
The so-called “Rain of Words”, a launching of balloons with Spanish words written on them, from the central headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Madrid. Photo by EFE.

“Querétaro” is Named the Prettiest Word in the Spanish Language
The name of a Mexican city was elected Spanish speakers’ favorite word on a day in which their language was honored all over the world
El País: Querétaro, la palabra más bonita del español
Paula Escalada Medrano reporting from Madrid June 18, 2011

Neither sentimiento nor gracias nor flamenco nor alegría (Spanish pronunciation guide). The prettiest word in Spanish isn’t even in the Royal Academy’s dictionary: Queretaro, four syllables that together form a word that is unknown for many and is no more than the name of a Mexican city. It means “island of blue salamanders”; it was nominated by the actor Gael García Bernal, and it won the most votes of the 30+ words nominated by famous Spanish-speaking personalities for a contest by the Cervantes Institute.

After a month of voting in which 33,000 people voted for their favorite word online, the winner was announced today for El Día E (E Day: E for Español), a worldwide fiesta in honor of the Spanish language. The 78 Cervantes centers in 44 countries across the earth are open to the public today and are celebrating diverse cultural activities. This is the third day of a Cervantes Institute project to disseminate Spanish-language culture on the five continents.

The celebration began with the launch of the traditional Lluvia de palabras (“rain of words”: balloons with Spanish words written on them) at 11 AM in the local time of each Cervantes center. Afterward each hosted a full day’s program of cultural activities for the public.

One of the first centers to begin the festivities was in Beijing, and it outdid itself with a visit from the Nobel Literature Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who welcomed Chinese Spanish students to a “a very large family spread out across the world.”

“I’m very happy that there are Spanish students here in China and that this language attracts the curiosity and interest of the new generations,” Vargas Llosa said. There is more interest in the language in that country every year. The center in Beijing already has close to 20,000 students, and its admissions double every year.

In Madrid, Carmen Caffarel, Director of the Cervantes Institute, inaugurated the event alongside Cervantes Prize-winning author Ana María Matute and Minister of Culture Ángeles González-Sinde, who in his speech paid homage to writers like Julio Cortázar, Borges, and Quevedo.

“It’s a festival which we are sharing with the entire Spanish-speaking community, and it’s very beautiful to celebrate and display the great culture which has accumulated in our language, the wealth of the people and the potential contained in communities that speak it. Spanish doesn’t have an owner; we all speak it together,” Caffarel said. Alcalá, the central street of the celebration, was filled with music and dance, and the smallest attendees enjoyed activities like “word-painting,” in which their faces were decorated with their favorite word.

Among the activities which will take place today are an accent contest in Tunisia, a concert by singers Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade in Bordeaux, a poetic conversation with Silvio Rodríguez, and a meeting with Cuban writer Reinaldo Montero in Athens.

E-Day celebrates the richness of a language spoken by 500 million people whose use is not limited to the 21 countries in which it is the official language. According to the Cervantes Institute, Spanish is the second-most studied language in the world. The number of students of Spanish as a second language surpassed 20 million in 2010.

In the European Union (besides Spain), close to 30 million people speak our language with some degree of competence. In Brazil, the nation with the most Cervantes centers, nine, some 5.5 million youth can maintain a conversation in Spanish. The United States, which counts almost 40 million Spanish speakers in its population, is projected to be the nation with the most Spanish speakers by 2050.

-Paula Escalada Medrano

Querétaro, Magical Again 25 Years Later
It’s purely coincidental, but it’s quite curious all the same: for Spanish soccer fans over age 30, Querétaro is already a magic word. In the Mexican city with the same name, the Spanish national team played Denmark in the second round of the 1986 World Cup. The Danes, who counted Jesper Olsen, Morten Olsen, and a very young Michael Laudrup in their ranks, were the favorites, but that day was miraculous. Millions of Spaniards who stayed up all night to support their country were astonished as their team, which hadn’t accustomed them to success in recent years, obliterated its rival 5-1 behind four goals by an inspired Butragueño. The players, Zubizarreta, Julio Alberto, Camacho, Goikoetxea, Tomás Reñones, Calderé, Víctor Muñoz, Míchel, Gallego, Butragueño, and Julio Salinas, were baptized by the press as “The Heroes of Querétaro”. The Real Madrid forward established himself that day as the top goalscorer of the tournament with five, although the Englishman Gary Lineker eventually surpassed him.

Four days later, Belgium sent Miguel Muñoz’s team home after penalty kicks. But that’s another story, one that’s the same as all the others.

Do you know what the strangest thing is? That game was played exactly a quarter of a century ago, on the 18th of June 1986. Exactly 25 years later, the word Querétaro is back in the headlines, once again for good news. It is now called the prettiest word in Spanish. But it was already music to the ears of football fans.

B.M.