sexta-feira, 19 de dezembro de 2008

Santa-Claus for thought

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply "Santa", is the legendary and mythical figure who, in many Western cultures, brings gifts to good children on Christmas Eve, December 24 or on his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day). The legend may have part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of Saint Nicholas.

In modern times, Santa Claus is depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. In the United Kingdom and Europe, his depiction is often identical to the American Santa, but he is commonly called Father Christmas.

One legend associated with Santa says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, while Father Christmas is said to reside in Lapland. Other details include: that he is married and lives with Mrs. Claus; that he makes a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behaviour ("naughty" or "nice"); that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other presents to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal or sticks to the naughty children, in one night; and that he accomplishes this feat with the aid of magical elves who make the toys, and eight or nine flying reindeer who pull his sleigh.

There has long been opposition to teaching children to believe in Santa Claus. Some Christians say the Santa tradition detracts from the religious origins and purpose of Christmas. Other critics feel that Santa Claus is an elaborate lie, and that it is unethical for parents to teach their children to believe in his existence.

The symbolic personification of Christmas as a merry old figure begins in the early 17th century, in the context of resistance to Puritan criticism of observation of the Christmas feast. He is "old" because of the antiquity of the feast itself, which its defenders saw as a good old Christian custom that should be kept. Allegory was popular at the time, and so "old Christmas" was given a voice to protest his exclusion, along with the form of a rambunctious, jolly old man.

The earliest recorded personification of Christmas appears to be Ben Jonson's creation in Christmas his Masque dating from December 1616, in which Christmas appears "attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse", and announces "Why Gentlemen, doe you know what you doe? ha! would you ha'kept me out? Christmas, old Christmas?" Later, in a masque by Thomas Nabbes, The Springs Glorie produced in 1638, "Christmas" appears as "an old reverend gentleman in furred gown and cap".The character continued to appear over the next 250 years, appearing as Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas, or Father Christmas, the latter becoming the most common. A book dating from the time of the Commonwealth, The Vindication of CHRISTMAS or, His Twelve Yeares' Observations upon the Times involved "Old Christmas" advocating a merry, alcoholic Christmas and casting aspersions on the charitable motives of the ruling Puritans.

The traditional Father Christmas was neither a gift bringer, nor associated with children. However, since the Victorian era, when Santa Claus arrived from America, he has been merged with the character called "Sir Christmas", "Lord Christmas" or "Old Father Christmas" to create Father Christmas, the British Santa which survives today. Nowadays, most Britons use the expressions Father Christmas and Santa Claus as synonyms.

Traditionally he comes down the chimney to either put presents under the trees or in children’s' rooms in their stockings. Some families leave a glass of mulled wine, biscuits, a chocolate and a carrot for Rudolph near the stocking as a present for him. In some homes parents have their children write a Christmas list (of wished-for presents) and send it up the chimney

A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria. Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, wanting to enter the profitable pilgrimage industry of the times, mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure the remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, taken to Bari where they are kept to this day.

A basilica was constructed the same year to store the loot and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout, thus justifying the economic cost of the expedition.

Numerous parallels have been drawn between Santa Claus and the figure of Odin, a major god amongst the Germanic peoples prior to their Christianization. Since many of these elements are unrelated to Christianity, there are theories regarding the pagan origins of various customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Santa Claus.

Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus's reindeer. Further, Odin was referred to by many names in Skaldic poetry, some of which describe his appearance or functions; these include Síðgrani, Síðskeggr, Langbarðr, (all meaning "long beard") and Jólnir ("Yule figure”)

The Yule log and the now use of a tree and lights (signifying the burning) are the direct descendent of pagan customs, including the singing of carols, which goes back to the wailing (wassailing ,which is like the words for a toast to good health) in front of trees to promote a good harvest, often to apple trees in England and more particular in the cider areas!! The twelth night is another pagan ceremony that predates the Christian one, taken as the 6th of January but some feel that it is the 17th January if the older calendar is used as a guide.

According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes I have ripped practically this entire article from Wikipedia but thought it is at least altogether for some interest at Xmas.
Bolo rei - the king's cake, is eaten to celebrate the twelth night

segunda-feira, 15 de dezembro de 2008

Obesity:relatively new phenomenon!

Obesity 'controlled by the brain'
This article is largely taken from the BBC´s internet site but is very much to my heart, I am worried by the constant move to accept over weight as a normal part of life, it is for me a sign of waste and over indulgence by a nation and not so much an individual characteristic, it is as much like the throwing down of litter in the street and lack of respect for others, the trend to leave the responsibilty for everything to others, pay others to worry for you!!
Seven new gene variants discovered by scientists suggest strongly that obesity is largely a mind problem.
The findings suggest the brain plays the dominant role in controlling appetite, and that obesity cannot easily be blamed on metabolic flaws.
Two international studies, published in Nature Genetics, examined samples from thousands of people for the tiniest genetic changes.
Many of the seven key variants seem to be active in the brain.
This suggests that the brain's impact on appetite and eating behaviour may be more important that any genetic variation which alters the body's ability to lay down or burn up fat.
All seven variants were picked up by a study led by Icelandic company deCODE Genetics, while six of the seven were also identified in a second, independent study by an international team dubbed the Giant consortium.
In both cases the researchers scrutinised DNA samples from thousands of people to assess the impact of tiny changes.
Each of the variants identified had a small impact on obesity, but a person carrying all of them was typically around 1.5kg - 2kg heavier than average.
It is estimated that as much as 70% of the variation in body mass index - a measure of obesity based on height and weight - is down to genetics, rather than environmental factors.
Researcher Dr Kari Stefansson, of deCODE Genetics said: "This suggests that as we work to develop better means of combating obesity, we need to focus on the regulation of appetite at least as much as on the metabolic factors of how the body uses and stores energy."
Major step forward
Dr Alan Guttmacher, of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, said the research was a major step forward in understanding how the human body regulates weight.
However, Professor Peter Weissberg, of the at the British Heart Foundation, expressed caution.
He said: "This research adds to the growing body of evidence that some people are more at risk of becoming obese because of their genes.
"It suggests that some people may be less able than others to resist the temptation to overeat because of their genetic background and it might start to explain why some people have no problem keeping their weight down whilst others struggle.
"However, this cannot be the explanation for the current epidemic of obesity since these genes have been present for centuries and the obesity epidemic is a relatively new phenomenon."
Almost one in four people in the UK is now classified as obese, and expert predict the proportion will continue to rise sharply.

The proportion of obese people had nearly doubled from 11% in 1999 to 19% in 2007.
In 1999, 43% of the population had a BMI that put them in the overweight or obese range, of whom 81% correctly identified themselves as overweight.
But in 2007, 53% of the population had a BMI in the overweight or obese range, but only 75% of these correctly classed themselves as overweight.

The researchers from the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London said one reason for the findings could be that as a greater proportion of the population becomes overweight, people's perception of what is "normal" changes.
Study leader, Professor Jane Wardle, said: "The other explanation we put forward was that the media often illustrate articles about overweight with a person with a very high BMI giving the impression that is the size that's important.
"Half of those with a BMI in the 25 to 30 range did not recognise they were overweight and that's the range we'd like people to start taking action so their weight doesn't get any higher," she said.
One upside to the findings was that women who are a healthy weight are now less likely to believe they are overweight, which had been a concern in the past, she added.
Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of Weight Concern said: "Despite a much greater awareness among the public about the problems of obesity it seems fewer are recognising the problem in themselves.

Almost one in four five-year olds and one in three 11-year olds is overweight or obese, according to the national child measurement programme.

Clearly i is essential for the health of the adult to create better awareness of health with children, the serious rise in obesity in chidren represents a cost to the British nation and it is showing itself in other parts of the world.
In Brazil, with the gradual increase in affluence among the now increasing middle class, there is a very noticeable increase in obesity in children and those around the 40 to 60 age bracket, up till now there had been a strong sense of young, teenager to 30 year old, being very keen on the model, slim, image and working hard to keep an athletic form was the norm, however this seems to be slipping away, most teenage boys would rather use proprietary products and drugs to keep their form, this type of body building without the excersise or manual work, is also creating a strange impression for the younger generation. The more prosperous go for the quick and often repeated process of plastic surgery, television stars are often quoted as the normal reason for opting to see the surgeon and the price for this type of surgery as fallen to within the range of the lower middle class, so it is seen as an option for all, in preference to keeping to a regime and eating with care, this can be a problem in Brazil because of their national diet is heavily based on sugar, salt and fat products.

domingo, 14 de dezembro de 2008

The Sounds of Bells

I have got used to the constant sound of bells clanking, not so much melodically resounding with a pure note but the off beat and off pitch of the church bells, here in Ouro Preto, it reminds me of parts of Greece, some what Islamic in tone. The hammer never seems to make sweet contact with the bell and I now think that this is deliberate, I imagine that folks pay more attention to discord than they do to melody, so if you want to attract attention it is probably this method that is best. The bells are rung with what appears to be a lack of rythem or timing, or both and then a lack of expertise in calculaing the swing of the bell, I do not know and am going to try and discover the reasons. In the meantime I have let my thoughts draw me back to the memories of London and my time spent near Whitechapel and Lambeth, there in Whitechapel is the oldest British bell foundery and I have just lifted there blurred for you to read as well as another more modern foundery(Paccard founded in 1796).

An entry in the Guinness Book of Records lists the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1570 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) and being in continuous business since that date. In 1970, therefore, the Foundry celebrated its quarter centenary.
It had for some time been thought that the company may in fact have a longer history, and shortly after this celebration of 400 years, a link was indeed established through the research of bell historian George Elphick back to one Master Founder Robert Chamberlain, thus tracing an unbroken line of founders in Aldgate and Whitechapel back to the year 1420 (in the reign of Henry V, and 72 years before Columbus sailed for America). Biographies of some of our past founders can be found elsewhere on this site, as can a guide on How to Identify Old Tower Bells.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry's business has always been, and still concentrates solely on, the manufacture of bells and their associated fittings. The manufacture of large bells for change ringing peals in church towers, single tolling bells, carrillon bells, and their complete range of accesories such as framework, wheels, clappers and their assembly in Church towers accounts for approximately four-fifths of the company output. The other fifth of the business lies in the manufacture of handbells for tune and change ringing, and other small bells of many shapes and sizes.

Whitechapel's famous bells include the original Liberty Bell (1752), the Great Bell of Montreal and, probably best known of all, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Cast in 1858, this is the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel, weighing 13½ tons. To this day, a cross-section of the bell surrounds the entrance door to the Foundry. Worldwide export began at an early date. A set of bells was sent to St.Petersburg, Russia in 1747 and the first transatlantic change ringing peal was sent to Christ Church, Philadelphia in 1754. The bells supplied to St.Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina in 1764 have possibly the most interesting story of any set of bells and may well be the most travelled bells in history ! In 1964, Whitechapel was proud to provide the change ringing peal of 10 bells in a radial frame for the new National Cathedral in Washington DC, and in 1997 we provided North America's first change ringing peal of 12 bells to Toronto Cathedral
The tradition of English handbell ringing in America was built on Whitechapel handbells (originally for change ringing) known to have been sent from Whitechapel was given to Miss Margaret H Nicholls (later Mrs Margaret Schurcliff) by Arthur Hughes, General Manager of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in 1902 after she had successfully rung two handbell peals on a trip to England from Boston. The later progression to tune ringing was followed by the the forming of the New England Guild of Handbell Ringers in 1937, and by the AGEHR (the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers) in 1954.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry's long history spans the reigns of twenty seven English monarchs, and among the royal visitors to the foundry were King George V and Queen Mary who came to witness the casting of two bells for Westminster Abbey. The Foundry buildings date from 1670, four years after the Great Fire of London, and presumably replaced earlier structures lost to that conflagration. Originally built as a coaching inn called the Artichoke, the lease of the buildings was acquired by Thomas Lester - then Master Founder at Whitechapel - to accomodate the need for extra workshops and space during a time of great expansion in the craft of bellfounding. The business moved there from the north side of Whitechapel Road, and has remained on the site ever since, withstanding the ravages of war and development.
The premises are now designated as Grade II listed buildings, and as such may not be altered in any way. Thus the frontage remains unchanged on a very busy East London road amongst many modern buildings. Over the years, the foundry has found itself in the midst of dramatic events, such as when Jack the Ripper was committing his grisly murders in 1888. Then there was World War II....
During the Blitz, in the Second World War, many surrounding buildings were hit and destroyed, including the Church of St. Mary, Whitechapel (the 'white chapel' which gave the area its name), just a few hundred feet from the Foundry. The ground where it stood is now the Altab Ali Park. During the war years, the Foundry ceased making bells, switching to manufacturing castings for the Ministry of War. In the aftermath of the war, the Foundry was very busy replacing peals lost to bombing raids and fires, including the bells of St. Mary le Bow and St. Clement Danes of 'Oranges and Lemons' nursery rhyme fame, in London.
Despite being such an old established company, modern improvements and innovations are always being made by Whitechapel, and these have included the design and building of radial frames for change ringing peals and new technologies in clapper and headstock design which give excellent mechanical properties to their church bells. England's heaviest change ringing bell - Liverpool Cathedral tenor, weighing over 4 tons - was cast by Whitechapel in 1939.
In 1991, the world's first peal of 16 change ringing bells was installed by Whitechapel at the Church of St.Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, England. The traditions of craftsmanship and old skills working alongside modern technology today still produce bells which are renowned, at the "sign of the three bells" in London's East End . The foundery have tours and a shop.
Since 1796, the PACCARD bell founders are the cast bronze magicians…
Today, the PACCARD Bell Foundry is the world reference as far as church and carillon bells are concerned. Between Tradition and Modernity, 7 generations of bell casters succeeded one another, from father to son, to run the business. All things considered, these are more than 120 000 PACCARD bells giving rythm to cities and villages all around the World.
For over 200 years, generations of PACCARD bell founders have created a reputation as the world’s leading bell foundry for musically superior, high-quality bronze bells. Learn more about bells. Established in 1984, the PACCARD Museum showcases the craftsmanship of the PACCARD Bell Foundry and shares the history of the fine art of bell-making with visitors from throughout the world.The PACCARD Museum has something fun for everyone. Whether you are a visiting family, arranging a school trip, or planning a corporate event, the PACCARD Museum has tours that will educate, entertain, and entice you to learn more. Experience the mastery of generations of PACCARD bell founders, witness modern-day bell casting techniques, and glimpse the future through our changing exhibits of ARS SONORA® “tone art” that merges the art of bell-making with fine sculpture and design.The PACCARD Museum offers a wide range of exhibits, seminars, and educational opportunities, including guided tours of the museum and workshop, live bell-casting events, and customized tours.

John Taylor Bellfounders continues a line of bellfounding which has been unbroken since the middle of the 14th Century, when Johannes de Stafford was active only 10 miles from the site of the present foundry. Since 1784 the business has been in the hands of the Taylor family. In 1839 the business settled in Loughborough and is now proud to operate the largest bellfoundry in the world.John Taylor Bellfounders continues a line of bellfounding which has been unbroken since the middle of the 14th Century, when Johannes de Stafford was active only 10 miles from the site of the present foundry.
Since 1784 the business has been in the hands of the Taylor family. In 1839 the business settled in Loughborough and is now proud to operate the largest bellfoundry in the world.
The largest bell in Britain, "Great Paul", the massive Bourdon bell at St Paul's Cathedral in London, was cast in Loughborough in 1881, weight 17,002 kgs, 37,483 pounds. Centuries of experience, together with up to the minute advances in technology, has put Taylors at the forefront in the design and manufacture of bells, their fittings and frameworks for all methods of sounding bells.

Taylor carillons are among the finest in the world: the unique sound of our carillon bells is heard across the globe. We continue the tradition of designing, casting and building superb instruments of beautifully toned bells using the very best materials and techniques. In 2008 we installed a new Taylor carillon in York Minster, the first ever carillon in an English cathedral.
True craftsmanship, attention to detail and quality engineering mark all our carillons. Only Taylors Eayre and Smith have the experience in every aspect of the carillon installation to meet the demands of the carillonneur: superlative bells, clappers, modern transmissions and handcrafted carillon and practice baton keyboards.
Carillons consist of at least 23 bells, arranged chromatically, and may have as many as 77 bells. The heaviest bell, which is called the Bourdon, can range from 300 pounds to over 20 tonnes in weight. The manual action is very similar to that of a chime (described above) but is usually more refined and sophisticated. The playing of the carillon requires an experienced musician and quite often organists undertake to play the carillon.

Many historic Cathedrals and Parish Churches have highly regarded Taylor peals for example St Paul's Cathedral, London; York Minster; Exeter Cathedral; Beverley Minster; Chester Cathedral; Lincoln Cathedral; Trinity Church, New York and many others. The debate over the finest Taylor peal is continuous as there are over 600 complete Taylor peals to choose from!
A new Taylor bell is cast from a mould which is painstakingly hand-crafted in two parts - the core which gives the inner profile of the bell and the case which gives the outer profile of the bell. The bells can be beautifully decorated and carry a commemorative inscription to customers requirements. The decoration, inscription and founders mark are carefully impressed into the case thus producing the decoration on the outside surface of the bell. The core and case are then brought together, clamped and sealed to form the completed mould. The mould is placed in a sand pit and the molten metal poured into the mould. After a few days the casting is cool enough to be removed from the mould and is thoroughly wire brushed.
The bell is then tuning using Taylor’s five tone principle of bell tuning introduced in 1896. This produces the purity and sweetness of tone and allows the bell to sound with full and rich mellowness. This gives Taylor bells their special characteristic and sets them apart from all other cast bronze bells.