FDA Bows To Pressure From Fans Of Raw Oysters — A Picture Can Lie — Maradona in the spotlight — The nuns who broke the mould — To pee or not to pee — She’s Mine/God’s Hand Bra Video — The beyond the test of science — Clint Eastwood awarded the Legion of Honor — Various Music Video by Cactus Cuties



Photograph: W Eugene Smith 1951, Deleitosa, Spain W. Eugene Smith/Magnum




Photograph: MURRAY BECKER/1937/AP




FDA Bows To Pressure From Fans Of Raw Oysters

NPR – by Debbie Elliott

Legend has it that raw oysters are good for love — but they’re also worth fighting over, as the Food and Drug Administration has learned.

Facing political pressure from the Gulf Coast oyster industry, the FDA has backed off a plan to require raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico to be treated to rid them of Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially deadly bacteria found in warm-water oysters. Harvesters and politicians had warned that the plan could devastate the industry.

The outcry was especially loud in Louisiana, the nation’s top oyster producer.

A Debate Over Flavor, Safety

At Casamento’s Restaurant, a New Orleans fixture since 1919, customers were outraged when the FDA announced that it would require Gulf oysters to undergo a post-harvest treatment from April to October if they’re intended to be eaten raw.

“It’s ridiculous,” said customer Nancy Chacere. “People are sick and dying of E. coli [from] eating beef. Why are they worried about oysters?”

“It’s part of our culture,” said Chacere, who had just eaten a dozen raw, with a little hot sauce.

“I remember as a child going fishing and eating oysters right out of the boat, out of the water. The idea of having to radiate them or whatever they want to do is ridiculous.”

The agency had sought to require warm-weather raw oysters to go through one of several approved treatments: pasteurization, high pressure, quick freezing or irradiation.

C.J. Gerdes, who owns Casamento’s, says he wouldn’t serve processed oysters. “No taste to ’em. They taste like rubber. So I wouldn’t use them. I would just go without,” he said.

Gerdes says the FDA is overreaching. But regulators say that more than a decade of trying to educate at-risk consumers has not worked. About 30 people get sick each year from oyster-borne Vibrio vulnificus, and half of them die.

The agency is simply doing its duty, according to Michael Taylor, senior adviser to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

“We have a public health duty to act when there’s a means to really prevent very serious illnesses and deaths with the technology that’s available — and that’s what we’ve done here,” Taylor said.

About two-thirds of the oysters eaten in the United States come from the Gulf of Mexico. Taylor says that less than a quarter of the harvest would have be affected by the new policy, which has now been put on hold for more study.

Weighing Costs, Benefits Of Regulation

Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, La., and a member of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council, says that his company already pressurizes oysters — but Voisin says that most smaller oyster shops can’t afford the processing equipment, and shouldn’t be forced to purchase it.

“We don’t live in a nanny state,” he said.

“We don’t have to be protected from everything. It makes no sense,” Voisin said.

“The FDA has not banned sugar because it hurts diabetics. They’ve educated diabetics. We should educate that at-risk consumer.”

But the industry’s argument doesn’t make sense to Jenny Bourgois of Baton Rouge, La. Her father, James Sartwell, died from the flesh-eating bacteria two years ago, after eating raw oysters at his 60th birthday dinner.

“I can’t imagine that they would actually put an economic value on what the lives of 15 individuals, or more, are worth,” Bourgois said.

Fourth-generation Louisiana oysterman John Tesvich agrees.

“It’s very popular to say it’s not our issue, it’s only a few people,” he said. “That’s the wrong position to take. You’re in the food business!”

Giving Oysters A Hot Bath

When the public health debate over Vibrio was getting national attention in the mid-1990s, Tesvich started AmeriPure — an oyster pasteurization company.

At AmeriPure’s Franklin, La., plant, sacks of oysters are unloaded, cleaned and secured with a rubber band before being dunked into a giant hot water tank.

“The secret is controlling the temperature accurately to kill the bacteria without cooking the oyster,” Tesvich said. “It remains juicy and succulent.”

The oyster remains raw, but it’s no longer alive. The pasteurized oyster has a stronger flavor and firmer texture than unprocessed oysters.

AmeriPure sells up to 20 million pounds of pasteurized Gulf oysters a year to customers all over the country, including some of the nation’s top seafood chains.

Tesvich says the industry should stop fighting health officials.

“Illnesses and deaths being associated with your product keep us down. It hurts our marketability,” he said.

But the industry appears to be winning the current fight, thanks to the help of Gulf Coast lawmakers, who met with FDA officials last week.

“We made it extremely clear that we thought this announced proposed rule was completely unjustified and really out of left field,” said Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana.

Vitter, along with Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Bill Nelson of Florida, sponsored a bill to block funding for FDA.

“If this administration is taking a position than we cannot have any deaths or illnesses of any food consumed, we’re in for a long, long fight,” Landrieu said.



One of the key images to have remained in people’s consciousness since the 7/7 bombings on London Underground Photograph: Alexander Chadwick/AP




A Picture Can Lie

Townhall – by George Will

The 20th century was 100 years of amplitude. It overflowed with barbarous fighting faiths, wars enveloping continents, and graphic journalism assaulting global audiences with scenes of shocking immediacy. The Spanish Civil War, although small in terms of the number of combatants, was perhaps the century’s emblematic conflict.

As a rehearsal for the Second World War, Spain’s agony became a proxy struggle between fascism and communism, with democracy crushed in the middle. And for perhaps the first time, pictures supplemented and sometimes supplanted words as primary shapers of opinion about a conflict. Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck

According to Robert Hughes, author of “The Shock of the New” (1980), during World War I’s nation-shattering and culture-shredding carnage, no photograph of a dead soldier appeared in a German, French or British newspaper. But the Sept. 23, 1936, issue of the French magazine Vu published (as did Life magazine 10 months later) what became perhaps the century’s iconic photograph — “Falling Soldier.”

It was taken by, and launched the remarkable career of, a 22-year-old Hungarian refugee from fascism, photographer Robert Capa.It supposedly shows a single figure, a loyalist — that is, anti-fascist — soldier, at the instant of death from a bullet fired by one of Franco’s soldiers.

The soldier is falling backward on a hillside, arms outstretched, his rifle being flung from his right hand. This was, surely, stunning testimony to photography’s consciousness-raising and history-shaping truth-telling, the camera’s indisputable accuracy, its irreducibly factual rendering of reality, its refutation of epistemological pessimism about achieving certainty based on what our eyes tell us.

Probably not. A dispute that has flared intermittently for more than 30 years has been fueled afresh, and perhaps settled, by a Spanish professor who has established that the photo could not have been taken when and where it reportedly was — Sept. 5, 1936, near Cerro Muriano.

The photo was taken about 35 miles from there. The precise place has been determined by identifying the mountain range in the photo’s background. The professor says there was no fighting near there at that time, and concludes that Capa staged the photo.

Could an alternative explanation be that a single fascist sniper fired the fatal shot while some loyalists were at rest? No. What was once thought to be blood spurting from the falling soldier’s skull is actually a tassel on his cap. And Capa several times said the soldier was felled by machine-gun fire. In a slightly less dramatic photo of another falling soldier, taken by Capa at the same time — the cloud configuration is the same as in “Falling Soldier” — the soldier falls on the same spot.

In 1995, the controversy seemed to have been settled in Capa’s favor when the fallen soldier supposedly was identified as Federico Borrell Garcia, an anarchist militiaman. But a 2007 Spanish documentary included a written eyewitness account of Borrell dying many miles away, behind a tree. There are no trees in the many pictures Capa took when he took “Falling Soldier.”

The coolly analytic professionals at the International Center of Photography in midtown Manhattan, which has the Capa archives, are commendably dispassionate about the “Falling Soldier” controversy. They also avoid postmodern mush, such as: All photographs are manipulative fabrications because the photographer chooses to point the camera here and not there, and, anyway, “Falling Soldier” is “basically” truthful because it illustrates the “essential truth” about war.

Capa was a man of the left and “Falling Soldier” helped to alarm the world about fascism rampant. But noble purposes do not validate misrepresentations. Richard Whelan, Capa’s biographer, calls it “trivializing” to insist on knowing whether this photo actually shows a soldier mortally wounded. Whelan says “the picture’s greatness actually lies in its symbolic implications, not in its literal accuracy.”

Rubbish. The picture’s greatness evaporates if its veracity is fictitious. To argue otherwise is to endorse high-minded duplicity — and to trivialize Capa, who saw a surfeit of 20th-century war and neither flinched from its horrors nor retreated into an “I am a camera” detachment. As a warning about well-meaning falsifications of history, “Falling Soldier” matters because Capa probably fabricated reality to serve what he called “concerned photography.” But this, too, matters:

There was the integrity of constant bravery in Capa’s life, which was a headlong rush toward danger. He arrived on Omaha Beach with the first soldiers early on June 6, 1944, and was only 40 in 1954 when, on the move with French troops in Vietnam, he stepped on a land mine.

Related Articles:

Faking Soldier: The photographic evidence that Capa’s camera DOES lie… and that his iconic ‘Falling Soldier’ was staged

Proving that Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” is Genuine: A Detective Story

Photograph: Dorothea Lange/Nipomo, CA/1936/Hulton Archive/Getty



Maradona in the spotlight

Argentina coach needs a win in Saturday’s friendly with Spain to return to grace

On the face of it, Saturday’s friendly between Spain and Argentina is not much more than a sideshow before the summer’s South African World Cup. But underneath the surface, deeper motivations will make Madrid’s Vicente Calderón the world stage, where at least one of two giants is likely to fall.

The first is Spain, which will use the night to stake its dominance outside Europe over a side that has two World Cups in its trophy closet — two more than Spain.

“We respect Argentina to the maximum, despite its difficulties in qualifying for the World Cup. We are respectful and they deserve it because they have been world champions and have great players,” said Spain keeper Iker Casillas on Friday.

Victory for Spain is especially urgent after the side squandered its last opportunity to face South American powerhouse Brazil, in last summer’s Confederation Cup finals, where it lost in the semifinals to a determined US side.

But the night is perhaps even more pressing for the struggling visitors, who last month were on the brink of early elimination from soccer’s most important event.

In the eye of the storm has been Diego Maradona, Argentina’s soccer supernatural, or “D10s” according to the Argentinean press, a play on his jersey number and the Spanish word díos, meaning god. Maradona has not lacked obstacles since he took over the side last October. The most recent was last month’s bare-minimum win over Uruguay to stave off early elimination — a win that led directly to his next obstacle.

The Spain match comes just a day before Maradona will travel to Zurich where a FIFA disciplinary committee will decide if he should face a World Cup stadium ban for inviting the national press to “blow me” in a foul-mouthed post-game interview.

Maradona’s goal on Saturday will be to prove that the tattered side he now coaches is still made from the same fiber of the great team he played for when Argentina last won the World Cup in 1986, a performance for which Maradona was awarded the tournament’s Golden Ball. The coach, who arrived in Madrid looking melancholic last week, told Spanish journalists on Thursday that although Spain was the favorite, his side would not go down without a fight.

“Of course I accept that [Spain is favorite] but I am going to fight with my players until the last moment,” he said. Maradona also had words about two of the players with the capacity to redirect the spotlight off the coach on Saturday.

He defended Leo Messi, who has taken heat in Argentina’s press for his lopsided play with the national side as compared with Barcelona. “We are putting a lot of responsibility

on him. He did the work I asked of him and I am very happy. Now that we have gotten past the qualification round, he has to lead the team, and he knows it. We have the best in the world, and we have to play him,” he said.

Of another Argentinean star forward with a day job in Spain, Kun Agüero, Maradona assured Atlético Madrid coach Quique Sánchez Flores that the ailing player would be returned in good health.

“Kun is hurting. Today, he didn’t practice. So Quique should be calm. If Kun is not alright to play on Saturday, he won’t play,” he said, adding: “Whenever we take a player

from any team, we return him in good condition — never broken.”

After Saturday, most of Argentina will be hoping they can say the same about Maradona.


Photograph: HG Ponting/1911/Popperfoto/Getty

Photograph: Mario Giacomelli/Little Priests/c1962-3/AP


The nuns who broke the mould

A convent in Lerma has managed to reverse a trend and attract an army of new recruits


On January 22, 1984, 18-year-old Marijose Berzosa abandoned the world. She left her medicine degree behind, as well as a string of boyfriends, nightclubs full of cannabis smoke, basketball, guitar and theater.

That Sunday, she entered the cloistered convent of La Ascensión in Lerma, where Poor Clare nuns have been living since 1604, to become Sister Verónica: a commitment for all eternity.  Few people believed in her calling.  “There were bets that I wouldn’t last long. But they didn’t feel the force of the hurricane pulling me in,” she would later confess.

Marijose was a young girl at the time: cheerful, open-minded, and — as she herself puts it — quite attractive, known for her lovely green eyes. The only daughter in a middle class family of five children — her father owned a shoe store — all of her brothers went to college.

One of them became a priest and is now the auxiliary bishop of Oviedo: her mirror and guide. Marijose was brilliant and bossy; not sanctimonious or prudish. As a girl she

had attended Catholic school, but her relationship with the Church was erratic. She was your typical adolescent looking for a way out, and in 1984 she found it. It took her just two weeks to make up her mind.

Simplicity, humility and poverty: the contemplative life. Ora et labora. When Marijose entered the convent, around 20 nuns were living there, the youngest of whom had just turned 40. They hadn’t seen a new novice in 23 years.

There, she was given a coarse brown habit, cinched at the waist by the white cord traditionally worn by the Franciscans (the Poor Clares are the feminine branch of this order) and winter and summer sandals. They made her cut her hair almost to the scalp and assigned her to a cold cell.

Then came prayer starting at dawn, penitence, silence, fasting and work in the bakery and the garden. Walls and bars kept her isolated from the world. During all these years, Verónica has seen the same view of the fertile lowland of Arlanza from her cell. It still moves her. “Here I feel free,” she says.

Her guide during those early years, Sister Pureza de María Lubián, the current abbess of the convent in Belorado, Burgos, remembers her as “a charming girl, very noble and good. She was 18 years old and had prospects.

She left behind everything to follow God’s call. Her personality was very rich; she was always a leader.  And spiritually, she had a great calling. She had her struggles and difficulties, and made a big effort. But the grace of the spirit acted, and she let it work in her.”

The spirit did its job well. Sister Verónica has become the biggest phenomenon the Catholic Church has seen since Teresa of Calcutta. Her admirers call her a “saint on Earth,” and her work a “miracle.” Supported by the Vatican, pampered by the monsignors, financed by the powerful and encouraged by neo-conservative movements, she has made the Lerma convent an attractive lure for women with a calling.

Today it is home to 135 university-educated nuns with an average age of 35, and a hundred more on the waiting list. They have already opened a branch in the town of La Aguilera, 40 kilometers from Lerma, in a huge monastery ceded to them by their Franciscan brothers.

It’s an unexpected surge in callings at a time when the Jesuits have only 20 novices in the entire country and the Franciscans, five; when nuns are imported from countries such as India, Kenya and Paraguay to avoid closing down convents inhabited by old women, and most priests in Spain are over the age of 60…

Sister Verónica’s bucolic community, however, is full. Each weekend they receive hundreds of young pilgrims who come in buses chartered by parishes and religious schools, escorted by priests and large, pious families eager to share the joy of these nuns who pray, sing and dance without losing their smiles for an instant.

Its doors are always open to good Christians, especially if they are seminarians, “Kikos” (followers of the Neocatechumenal Way) or youth ministry groups.

Sister Verónica greets them with a personal style that is a blend of the Church’s most conservative rites, the mystic appeal of cloistered orders and a cheerful, somewhat childish staging —the product of her brilliant choreographer’s mind.

Microphone in hand, Verónica dominates the scene. She seems shy, but she’s not. She emerges from a corner of the auditorium, among the stands where around 100 nuns raise their arms and chant a hymn of love of Christ accompanied by bongos and guitars.

Verónica caresses her sisters’ hair and hugs the children. She is simple and affectionate, deep and direct. Her soft, firm voice has the power of conviction: she believes what she says. She loves Christ, and says so over and over. She’s a good preacher, as well as an energetic musical director, as she will show during the Eucharist in front of the choir.

There, in the chapel, there are no smiles. The sisters pray, prostrate on the floor like faithful Muslims. Sister Verónica’s daughters are the exact opposite of nuns from other cloistered convents.  They’re not unrefined country girls looking for a means of survival; the typical nuns who sell sweets from behind a revolving window.

Most of them have had boyfriends and jobs. Many come from neo-conservative groups: the Neocatechumenal Way, Opus Dei, the Legion of Christ, and so on. They are educated city women, and there is not a single immigrant.

Most are from middleclass families and hold university degrees: there are lawyers, economists and physicists; engineers, architects, doctors, librarians and teachers. One clergyman familiar with the community defines it as “a pot of hard-to-govern intellectual crickets.” Another priest from Burgos has his doubts about the project’s uniformity, considering all the different neoconservative movements that feed it:

“Each woman has her own way of being, of praying, of cultivating piety, and has to make an extra effort to shed her original spiritualities and come together under the rule of St. Clara.”

The Lerma phenomenon has little to do with the traditional cloister model. Some Church leaders already think that this movement will lead to a refounding of the Order of St. Clare, a schism within that congregation or even the creation of a new order. A priest close to the abbess explains:

“When Marijose entered the convent, she had ideas of her own. She wasn’t stupid. She had her own interpretation of the contemplative religious life. She didn’t see why the cloister had to be untouchable and exclusive.  She wanted to share it and be an example.” According to one monsignor, who prefers to remain anonymous, “the nuns of Lerma do not renounce religious seclusion, but they want other Christians to know and value them.

They want to create a real center of spirituality.” According to the superior of a Madrid order, “cloistered nuns that don’t change with the times are going to die off. They should be an example of spiritual experience for people today; for those kids who go to India to mediate and find meaning in life.” One sister from the community defines her cloister along these lines: “This is a house open to anyone who comes knocking at our door. We want to share our faith, to let people know what is happening with us. If they see Jesus in us, so be it. Spain is so pagan that we have got to share our faith, not live it alone.”

In the Church, no one understands the phenomenon. Lerma has broken the mould. First of all, it is a movement led by women, the silent guests for centuries in the Catholic Church; always kept out of decision making, theology and priesthood, even though women with vocations outnumber men four to one.

Very few people have set foot inside Sister Verónica’s community: it is cloistered, and it enjoys total independence.  The pope is the only ecclesiastic authority who controls what goes on at Lerma and La Aguilera. He’s in Rome, and they seem to have his blessing.

All members of the clergy interviewed for this report praise the exponential growth of the community: “It’s the work of God.” But they also have their doubts: “Half of the nuns still haven’t taken their perpetual vows; it will be years before we’ll know whether or not this is for real.”

Some criticize their isolation; the distance they keep from those who suffer: immigrants, the poor and the sick. Others are downright suspicious: What’s behind all this? Who’s financing it? What’s Lerma’s secret? Nobody seems to know. Even nuns from other Clarissa communities in Spain are wary.

For one abbess: “It’s odd… We don’t understand it. But the Spirit must have its reasons…” Sister Verónica is not doing any explaining, either. Big signs on La Aguilera convent say that taking photos and video of the nuns is prohibited. The heftiest sister repeats this warning, giving an inquisitorial look to the two reporters visiting her community:

“We want nothing to do with the media!” A few minutes later, when we finally ask Verónica about the reasons for her success, she looks into our eyes with her own green orbs, welling up with tears, bows her head and takes our hand between her own gaunt ones:

“You don’t know how much we love you, but we’re creating something… we’ve got 60 or 70 sisters in training and it’s not the time to talk; they have to mature first. We’re doing something great for the love of Christ and we need time. But we still love you.” Then Sister Blanca appears.

She is the supporting actress in this scene, who plays the role of the bad cop. “The PRISA Group,” to which EL PAÍS belongs, “does tremendous damage to the Church. You attack it and ridicule it and I read everything. The Church is my mother, so we have nothing more to say to each other.”

She may not have her Sister Verónica’s charisma or good looks, but she is tough and obstinate, capable of facing up to bankers, architects and lawyers, and she never gives in.

Born almost 70 years ago in the town of La Bureba (Burgos), Sister Blanca Mateo, an admirer of Opus Dei, has been abbess here since the late 1990s. She controls everything that goes on in the convents of Lerma and La Aguilera, although this past March she officially ceded the position of mother superior to Sister Verónica.

Together, the two sisters have made a long, hard journey. When Marijose first came to Lerma, in 1984, the convent had 23 nuns and a bleak future. In 1994, when she was just 28 years old, she was named instructor of novices, a key position in a community whose mission is “to configure the novice’s hard drive to the community’s operating system,” as one Jesuit who has held this post in his order puts it.

In that decade, 27 more sisters entered the convent under Verónica’s spiritual direction. Since then, her reputation has spread by word of mouth in conservative parish circles, and the community has kept on growing. As of this past September, there were 134 nuns cloistered in a 16th-century convent designed to house 32.

Verónica and Blanca were not expecting such a tidal wave of vocations, but they weren’t willing to renounce a single candidate or send her to one of the other Clarissa convents, even though they were practically empty (there are nine in the province of Burgos and around 100 in Spain). Soon novices were living in temporary cells in the choir, the chapel, and the sacristy. Then they rented out buildings next to the convent to make room for the candidates.

Each evening at sundown, the residents of Lerma would watch the parade of young women with bowed heads make their way from the monastery to their apartments.  By early 2000, the Lerma convent was bursting at the seams.

While Verónica devoted herself to teaching the candidates, Blanca started testing out the possibilities of getting a bigger space. That’s when Antonio María Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid and president of the synod, entered the picture.

“Many bishops would be thrilled to take credit before the Vatican for having the convent with the most vocations in Europe in their diocese. Rouco, who knows everything that goes on in the Spanish Church, was no exception,” explains one clergyman.

“He was one of the first to court them. He started paying them frequent visits and designed a curriculum […] to train them according to his view of the Church. And he ordered the parishes of his archdiocese to aim female vocations in the same direction as Lerma. Rouco even made his right-hand man, the most brilliant of his monsignors, Eugenio Romero Pose, the sisters’ priest, which he would be until his death in 2007.

Finally, in 2002, Rouco made his move: he offered the nuns of Lerma some land on the outskirts of Madrid so they could build a new convent. The star architect Santiago Calatrava would design the building. The only problem was that the land they had needed to be reclassified, a difficult task considering the ecological nature of the location and the opposition from local councilpersons.

Calatrava’s extravagant and not-very-functional project, with an estimated cost of ¤12 million, was beyond the nuns’ budget.  But most importantly, Verónica was not willing to leave Burgos. The project fell through, and Rouco was disappointed. The Clares had gotten away from him.

Over the next two years, the nuns kept on looking around Sister Verónica’s territory. In 2004, the superiors of her Franciscan brothers offered Blanca some money. She said: “Don’t give me alms; give me La Aguilera Monastery!” The abbess was referring to an old, dilapidated Franciscan monastery 10 kilometers from Aranda, where four elderly friars were living.

A few months later, they signed a contract ceding the use of the monastery to the Clares of Lerma for 30 years. Verónica and Blanca had done it: their dream was starting to come true.  Now the new convent reflects their way of looking at the Church: everything is modern, clean, open and well lit.

The energy comes from solar panels. The revolving window has been replaced by security cameras, and the bars have disappeared: “Since we’re under construction, it’s impossible to put them in; when it’s finished… we’ll see what we’ll do,” says the abbess.

But in 2005, when Verónica and Blanca walked through the door of La Aguilera, they found a rundown old building with no heat, bathrooms or warm water.  The church was infested with termites, and the roofs were about to cave in. To remodel it, the estimate was ¤3 million. Where were they going to get the money? Sister Blanca called up one of her benefactors.

Luis Alberto Salazar-Simpson, a lawyer and businessmen who sits on the board of Banco Santander, recalls how he met the nuns of Lerma: “It was in the late 1970s. I was governor of Vizcaya and one day they called me and said they didn’t even have anything to eat, so I started helping them. I like the contemplative life. They make a product that no one remembers: they pray for others.

I asked my friends for money and we gave them a hand.” Over the following 12 years, he explained, the convent received 100 new nuns and they ran out of room. The Colmenar option came up, “which was insane,” and then the La Aguilera project. “I liked it, so we got down to work,” he says.

Salazar-Simpson invested the ¤3 million he received in compensation when he was laid off as president of the telephone operator Amena and set up a foundation called Ora et Educa, whose mission would be to “contribute to the goals of the reverend mothers of St. Clare and the restoration of San Pedro Regaladao Convent in La Aguilera, Burgos, to accommodate them.”

Construction began in 2006. The inside of the convent was torn down, and the roofs were repaired.

An old cloister was covered and kitchens, an industrial area to make pastries, classrooms and offices were outfitted. On the two upper floors, 100 cells were built, each measuring 10 square meters, with a bathroom for every two sisters. But the sisters wanted more: “You know how women are when they get hold of the plans,” jokes one benefactor.  The initial budget of ¤3 million became ¤4, and then ¤5. The nuns would cover the first extra million with their savings; the other would come from a foundation of the Banco Popular (historically tied to Opus Dei).

Three and a half years later, the place was still surrounded by bricks, scaffolding and cement trucks. Thanks to the generous financing of the Banco Popular, the Clares were also building a visiting room with a capacity for 400 people, a hospice, guest bathrooms,

a sophisticated welcome area and even a new church.

According to sources familiar with the project, phase two would raise the budget another ¤5 million.  The new convent was inaugurated on June 8, and is now home to around 100 sisters. The other 30 or so remain in Lerma.  According to Verónica, it is “one community with two headquarters and a single abbess.”

La Aguilera has become a perfect society that is scrutinized by the entire Church. Yet the future of Verónica and her sisters remains unclear. It’s impossible to know how many have deserted.

Members of the order from other convents accuse them of opacity and secrecy. But their main complaint is the detachment that they show toward their fellow sisters, their isolation from the Franciscans, their self-sufficiency and the fact that they have refused to

lend sisters to other communities that are dying out. Sister Verónica defends herself. “For now, we’re not going to other convents, because this is a family that is forming and it must be together until it comes of age. Maybe someday…”

And she disappears, mystic and passionate, her shoulders drooping as if they were bearing the weight of her 134 sisters.

They say that she lives on coffee, and that she’s overwhelmed. Not even she knows Lerma’s secret.  But she keeps on going. One monsignor describes it very ecclesiastically:

“Too many people hang from Verónica’s habit. We’ll see.”


To pee or not to pee


Have you heard of a “pee bale”? It’s the latest measure adopted at the National Trust property Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire to both save water and ensure efficient composting.

As the name suggests, a 3m-long series of straw bales has been installed alongside the compost heaps in the walled gardens so workers (well the male ones anyway) can relieve themselves. Urine has been long-established as a free compost “activator” (aka “liquid gold”), because it’s full of nitrogen, but there are other benefits too. Tamzin Phillips, the NT’s “compost doctor” is quoted in the press release as saying: “What’s so great about the pee bale is that it’s using a natural solution to help the garden while saving flushing the loo for only when it’s really necessary.”

Apparently the pee bale is only used outside visitor hours “because we don’t want to scare the public” and logistically, women are counted out of participating, but it’s still a good idea that saves several litres of water for each toilet flush avoided. Presumably the pee-soaked straw will be added in layers to the Hall’s existing compost heaps.

If you’re female, don’t find an al fresco urination an attractive option, or don’t have space for a straw bale in the garden, a plastic drinks bottle filled in the comfort of the bathroom and decanted onto the heap will serve just as well.

Photograph: Fathil Asri/The New Straits Times Press/Reuters

She’s Mine

God’s Hand

Crédits photo : (Oscar Burriel/Science Photo Library/Cosmos)

The beyond the test of science

M.B.-C. 13/11/2009 | Mise à jour

Les called paranormal phenomena are increasingly studied by neuroscientists around the world. Update on the research like no other, made in order to advance knowledge but also medicine.

Who has never experienced a feeling of déjà vu or déjà experiences with a new situation yet? Have you ever had a hunch, a premonition or experience of thought transference? Since the dawn of time are reported stories both disturbing similarity and consistency and incredible irrationality.

Some are surprised to recognize places they have never yet visited. Others maintain contact with their deceased relatives. Still others tell of being removed from their bodies, have approached the threshold of the beyond and back again in the world of the living. And how strange show flashes of insight .

Are these beliefs, hallucinations or any other reality still unexplained. These so-called extraordinary experiences, long denied, if not rejected by science, are now the subject of extensive studies, or teaching at universities and research centers among the most illustrious.

Thus, the Parapsychological Association, a group of scientists and scholars who study the phenomena of telepathy or psychokinesis, she was admitted to the very serious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) ; a Division of Perceptual Studies was established at the University of Virginia, United States, a center for the study of abnormal psychological processes began at the University of Northampton, Great Britain (which already has eight integrating academic disciplines psychic), without forgetting the Center for Research on consciousness and abnormal psychology at the University of Lund, Sweden, or the department of psychology and parapsychology, Andhra University, India.

In France, more recently, the Catholic University of Lyon offers its students an optional value unit entitled “Science, Society and called paranormal phenomena.Furthermore, scientists, bold enough to face the criticism of their peers, trying to understand these strange event.

Armed with the tools of brain imaging, they explore the brain, experimenting without a priori, equally ready to admit that the phenomenon is related to a simple neural dysregulation to recognizing the existence of a sixth sense, provided that the demonstration is effected Cartesian.

This is where the Canadian Mario Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience, installing video screens in a coronary unit of a hospital in Montreal to study the phenomenon of near death experiences (EMI). It is also one of the Swiss neurologist Olaf Blanke, who dissects the feeling of disembodiment while acknowledging that many gray areas remain unclear.

Research that aims to better understand the origin and mechanisms of consciousness.And finally to answer these questions: man is he that matter? The body is there a budget independent of the carnal soul? Or the human mind obeys it, in certain circumstances to forms which we do not yet know everything?



Clint Eastwood awarded the Legion of Honor