Families may soon claim bodies at Valle de los Caídos

The government finally knows how many people lie buried in Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen), a massive memorial built by Franco north of Madrid to honor Nationalists who died during the Spanish Civil War.

A new census shows 33,833 registered bodies, of which 21,423 are identified, the Justice Ministry said. Many Republican fighters were also transferred from mass graves to Valle de los Caídos to fill the monumental space. Relatives of the dead will soon be able to claim the bodies to give them proper burial. NATALIA JUNQUERA – EL PAÍS

Richard Hamilton’s Las Meninas

23 March to 30 May 2010

Jerónimos Building – Room D

Until 30 May the Museo del Prado is offering a new viewpoint on Velázquez’s Las Meninas through this exhibition, which includes three of the most memorable interpretations of that great masterpiece, executed by Goya in 1778-1779, Picasso, and Richard Hamilton (born London, 1922).

For the first time in an exhibition, visitors can see the creative process behind the print that Richard Hamilton, one of the founding figures of Pop Art, produced in 1973 for the portfolio Hommage à Picasso as a tribute to the artist on his 90th birthday. The exhibition includes five preliminary and preparatory drawings and six proofs that culminate in the definitive print, which is Hamilton’s tribute to Picasso through his reinterpretation of Velázquez’s masterpiece.

This group of works is accompanied by a drawing and three proofs of 1778-1779 by Goya. They reveal the rigorous process through which the artist achieved perfection in his again highly personal interpretation of Las Meninas. The selection is completed with the first sketch produced by Picasso in 1957 for his series on Las Meninas, here presented as the link between Velázquez, Goya and Hamilton.

The exhibition offers visitors the chance to learn more about the process of reflection, experimentation and creation undertaken by three great artists who maintained their own creative freedom when interpreting one of the masterpieces of Spanish art.

Related Links:

The Blind Side

Oscar-winning Bullock is almost insufferable in this feelgood football movie that tackles the issues of the New South

Guardian – Philip French

The Blind Side, a feelgood movie about race, football and mom, brought her an Academy award. The prize was rapidly followed by her separation from what sounds like a low-life husband, giving rise to a new tabloid curse. Winning an Oscar, it’s said, inevitably precedes a divorce. So Bullock is something of a phenomenon.

I rather liked Bullock’s early pictures but I’ve lately found her almost insufferable, and most especially so in The Blind Side. It’s a true story of a familiar inspirational kind based on a book of the same title that links a crucial development in the strategy of American football to the career of a much publicised player who recently graduated from a leading southern college and signed up with a club in the National Football League. In a pre-credit sequence the writer-director John Lee Hancock, most of whose films have been set in Texas and the south, uses the role of a left tackle as an obscure metaphor for society and social strategies…

… Some time around 10 years ago at the age of 18 (the film is unclear about dates, though it’s evidently in the Bush era), he’s seen wandering the cold night streets of Memphis by a couple driving home in one of their BMWs from a church Thanksgiving service. They’re the rich, handsome Tuohys, Leigh Anne (Bullock) and Sean (Tim McGraw), whose teenage son and daughter attend the same school. Leigh Anne, a self-styled multi-tasker, is an interior decorator, Sean owns a chain of restaurants, and they live in a grand mansion to which they take Michael for Thanksgiving. The Touhys’s young son is dressed up as a Native American, there’s a Norman Rockwell picture of a Thanksgiving dinner in a book on the Tuohys’ coffee table, and here we have the family tendering the same hospitality to Mike that the Native Americans (later to be dispossessed) did to the Pilgrim Fathers in the 17th century…

… Leigh Anne never makes a false or tentative move. She wins over Mike’s mother, faces down a black bureaucrat in a federal office, shames up the members of her covertly mildly racist luncheon group, puts the fear of God into Mike’s menacing ex-friends from the hood (by claiming to attend the same church as the DA, pack a rod and belong to the NRA), lectures the football coach and takes over his job, gives a lesson to the teachers, instructs Mike in necessary violence when in protection of the family, and raises her kids to be kind and colour-blind. There are, however, certain giveaway lines about the new south and its politics. They reveal an eagerness to forget the past and suggest that there’s a touch of Sarah Palin, the new tea parties and a buried anti-Obama backlash here. Speaking of the special tutor helping Mike, Sean says: “Who’d have thought I’d have a black son before I’d met a Democrat?”…]

Screening for prostate cancer: a public health debate the ideological accents

Le Monde – By Michael Peyromaure (English Translation)

For the Western countries, prostate cancer poses a serious public health problem: it is the leading cancers in men and is the second leading cause of cancer death. The disease can be detected by clinical examination or a blood marker, PSA (prostate specific antigen). The PSA test is simple, inexpensive and more accurate than clinical examination for detection of cancer. Indeed, prostate cancer does not induce symptoms and is found in more than 80% of cases by a simple elevation of PSA.

The use of this marker has become widespread. In recent years, the proportion of prostate cancers diagnosed at an early stage has increased significantly. And the cancer discovered late stage metastatic non-curable, has significantly decreased.

It is logical to think that the routine measurement of PSA in men age of developing prostate cancer would be an improvement in public health. It’s the same principle-screened. However, unlike screening for breast cancer or cervical cancer in women, that of prostate cancer remains a highly controversial topic. And the High Authority of Health does not want, at least for now, to generalize the entire population.


On this issue, there is a disagreement between the French Association of Urology, which recommends annual screening with PSA assay from 50 years, and some public health actors. The reasons for the controversy are primarily medical and economic. You should know that some prostate cancers are aggressive and will shortly submit a slow evolution that not necessarily affect patient survival. The interest of detecting this type of cancer is discussed.

Until recently, there was a scientific vacuum on the real impact of screening, because no study had compared to large-scale fate of men undetected and that men routinely screened. In March 2009, two major studies have been published in a prestigious journal, the New England Journal of Medicine. One of them was conducted in the United States, one in Europe.

The first showed no benefit of screening, while the latter has clearly shown a reduction in mortality among men who had benefited. The screening was accompanied by higher rates of cancers of good prognosis, and especially a better survival rate. Both studies are still widely discussed. Far from deciding the issue, they have only increased the controversy because of their conflicting results.

The other major issue raised by the screening is economic. A PSA test is not expensive at the individual level (16 €), but applied to the entire male population would probably have a significant cost. Especially because of its indirect consequences. For a high value of this marker results in prostate biopsies.

And if they detect cancer, we must conduct additional tests before starting treatment. On the other hand, this extra cost would probably offset – in part or in full – by the reduction of advanced cancers. For metastatic disease requires monitoring and treatment particularly expensive (hormone therapy, chemotherapy, supportive care). The economic impact of screening for prostate cancer, as feared by our guardianship, is extremely difficult to understand and has never been seriously evaluated.

WHEN IDEOLOGY gets involved …

Recently, a real social phenomenon is aggravated the controversy: the demand of patients. In recent years, some of them publicly expressed their dissatisfaction after the treatment they received. A treatment can indeed induce sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence in particular. As this cancer presents no symptoms at diagnosis, these effects are most unfortunate and difficult to accept.

Thus, some question the value of seeking treatment. And they will try to convince others. Screening for prostate cancer is therefore an ideological connotation. Healing is not enough: it must not be any complications. And the best way to preserve them is not to detect cancer. A dangerous argument which nevertheless has resonance. Forums have been created on the Internet.

There are associations of patients and even doctors, including the curiously named “Do not touch my prostate!”. You will find testimonials from patients who say they maimed and even humiliated. All are in the same direction: the treatment of prostate cancer is unnecessary for this type of cancer does not develop, but also dangerous because it causes serious complications.

But many truths are good to remember. First, advances in treatment are constant and complications increasingly rare. Less than 10% of patients still had urinary leakage one year after a prostatectomy (prostate removal). And if leaks persist, various methods have been developed to recover a normal continence. Similarly, several treatments are now available in cases of sexual dysfunction. And some alternative techniques for prostatectomy, such as brachy therapy (implantation of radioactive seeds into the prostate), reduce the risk of urinary and sexual disorders.

Secondly, if prostate cancer is discovered at a late stage, when it causes symptoms, not only cure is no longer possible but the treatment at this stage will have side effects much more disabling.

Thirdly, patients cured of prostate cancer diagnosed early are overwhelmingly pleased to have been eligible for screening, including those who are affected negatively. Finally, never a screening or even treatment is imposed by a physician to a patient.

After being informed of the expected benefit and risk, it remains free to make decisions. It would therefore cease to convey the idea that patients are victims of urologists zealous and eager to operate. This new ideology should stop disturbing the debate on the widespread screening of prostate cancer, already difficult to deal with the real experts.

Professor Michael Peyromaure urologist is a surgeon at the Hospital Cochin in Paris.

Related: American Cancer Society Guideline for the Early Detection of Prostate Cancer: Update 2010

A mystery kept under wraps is revealed

Spanish researcher explains the origins and evolution of mummification in Ancient Egypt, and unveils what really happened to Tutankhamen’s penis


One of Spain’s leading Egyptologists, Dr. José Miguel Parra, has just published Momias: la derrota de la muerte en el Antiguo Egipto (Mummies: the defeat of death in Ancient Egypt), which reveals what happened to Tutankhamen’s penis, as well as why Rameses II once came back to life.

Parra, already known to Spanish-speaking Egyptophiles for his books on pyramids, along with a torrid study on the love lives of the pharaohs, has now turned his attention to mummies. His new book provides a rigorous yet accessible account of the process of desiccation and embalming, including its origins and its wider uses (on baboons and other animals, for example)…

… Mummies and the process of mummification had a great impact on Egyptians’ knowledge of the human body, says Parra.

“Ancient Egyptians believed that after life on earth there lay before them a journey to an afterlife. In order to arrive safely, the body had to be in a fit condition to house the person’s soul: to Egyptians the soul was not detachable from the body as is perceived by many modern religions. In order to enable this journey, Egyptians had to ensure that the bodies of the dead were treated with the utmost respect and kept as close to the original as possible.”

The body had to be preserved to reach the afterlife. Such was the strength of this belief that much time and energy was put into experimentation with preservation techniques, he says.

The body was cut open and the heart, lungs, liver and spleen removed. These were placed in canopic jars close to the coffin or sarcophagus. The brain was removed from the head by inserting a hook through the nostril and pulling it out through the nose. The brain was then thrown away. Some Egyptian physicians believed that the brain was responsible for pumping blood and that the heart was in charge of thought and emotion, hence its being discarded. The space left by the vital organs was stuffed and the body sewn back up.

The body would be left to dry and then coated in a sodium based chemical substance called natron, which acts as a preservative. After a drying-out period of around 60 days, the body was wrapped in cloth. This final procedure was the ‘mummification’ process. Each stage of the process was carefully managed by the priests…

… Parra then goes on to reveal that some bodies were eviscerated through the anus and the vagina. “The six royal wives of Mentuhotep were emptied out this way, particularly of their intestines. They probably used some kind of solvent. In the lower era they would stick a hook up inside to pull the guts out. It was cheaper: the hole was already there,” he explains.

While on the subject of royal genitalia, Parra brings up the issue of Tutankhamen’s missing penis, which was finally reunited with the boy king a few years ago.

“Yes, that was a very curious story. It was embalmed and placed in the erect position; that’s how it was when the mummy was first examined in the 1920s. But when the mummy was analyzed again in 1968, it was gone. Some very strange stories began to circulate about where it might be: some people said it had been stolen and was in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, with Rasputin’s penis. But in 2005, after the mummy was scanned, the missing member was found with other organs in a drawer,” explains Parra…

… The Ancient Egyptians didn’t just embalm humans, but also cats, falcons, ibises, crocodiles, monkeys, gazelles, bulls, dogs, shrews, and even lions and donkeys. There is even a case of an elephant being embalmed. The priests who ran the temples made a good living selling mummies of sacred animals.

Excavations led by archeologists from the University of Pisa at Medinet Madi unveiled a crocodile farm where the animals were bred, later to be mummified. Similar farms for rearing ibises were found in Saqqara.

Mummies eventually made their way into the myths of the Ancient Egyptians, says Parra. “One of the best-known sacred stories tells how Osiris, dead and mummified, makes love to Isis, who descends in the form of a bird onto his embalmed penis.”

Parra says that mummies command a certain respect, but not fear. “They don’t frighten me, and I have never had any scary experiences with them,” he says. “They are a treasure, time capsules, witnesses to great civilizations. It’s as though they were whispering to us through the ages, bringing us knowledge.”

Life chances (Lebenschancen in German) are the opportunities each individual has to improve his or her quality of life. The concept was introduced by German sociologist Max Weber. It is a probabilistic concept, describing how likely it is, given certain factors, that an individual’s life will turn out a certain way (Hughes 2003). Life chances are positively correlated with one’s social situation (Cockerham 2005, p. 12).

The opportunities mean the extent to which individuals have access to important societal resources, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care. Quality of life comprises the individual’s ability to procure goods, have a career and obtain inner satisfaction; in other words, the ability to satisfy one’s needs.

Weberian life chances can be seen as an expansion on some of Karl Marx‘s ideas. Both Weber and Marx agreed that economic factors were important in determining one’s future, but Weber’s concepts of life chances are more complex; inspired by, but different from Marx’s views on social stratification and social class. Where for Marx the means of production were the most important factor, Weber introduced other factors, such as social mobility and social equality.

While some of those factors, like age, race or gender, are random, Weber stressed the link between life chances and the non-random elements of the three-component theory of stratification – how social class, social status and political affiliation impact each individual’s life. In other words, individuals in certain groups have in common a specific causal component of their life chances: they are in similar situation, which tends to imply a similar outcome to their actions.

Weber notes the importance of economic factors, how the power of those with property, compared to those without property, gives the former great advantages over the latter. Weber also noted that life chances are to certain extent subjective: what an individual thinks of one’s life chances will affect their actions, therefore if one feels that one can become a respected and valued member of society, then it is likely to become a reality and results in one having a higher social class than somebody without this conviction.

In social engineering, life chances may have to be balanced against other goals, such as eliminating poverty, ensuring personal freedom or ensuring equality at birth.

Source:  Wiki

What’s wrong with a little escapism in art?

Guardian – Jonathan Jones

Modern reality is all very well but why not let art lead you to other places and times – in the way an escapist novel or film might

Critics are always praising works of art for being urgent, challenging, disturbing, provocative and so forth. But is that what people actually want from the arts? Is it what I, personally, require?

Apparently not, or not always, because I’ve recently watched the following films: La Reine Margot, The New World, Jeanne la Pucelle and Lancelot du Lac. What they have in common is that they are escapist historical romances, far removed from 21st-century life. Like most people, I don’t want art to only rub my nose in modern reality. I want it to take me to other places and times, from the lurid Renaissance world of Queen Margot to the fabulous futures of science fiction.

This is also how people read novels: Hilary Mantel seems more the thing than Martin Amis. The other night I read The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. What a masterpiece – what a thrill ride.

But, of course, this is where the argument turns upside down. Is The War of the Worlds really escapist? Well, its vision of the Earth invaded by Martians is exciting and awe-inspiring, but its analysis of human behaviour in this sudden crisis is anything but cosy. London can’t take it; the entire population flees the capital. There are grisly details about refugees fighting each other for survival – far grislier than any filmed version of the story has dared to dramatise.

As for those films I’ve been watching, Queen Margot inhabits a world of religious hate, Machiavellian politics and macabre murder; and Joan of Arc … well, she didn’t have a happy ending. Even the myth of Arthur ends with everyone dead in a battle.

For art is complex, as human beings are complex, and only in a completely crass view of culture is the realistic necessarily real, the contemporary necessarily urgent, the historical or fantastic escapist. Art is an escape – but not a “mere” escape.