Women Israeli Soldiers Talk about the Occupied Territories

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Breaking the Silence: Women Soldiers’ Testimonies. Jerusalem: Breaking the Silence, 2009

A slim black book arrived in the mail, from Jerusalem. It sat in my pile for a couple of months. Then I started reading.

I knew, but I didn’t know. These descriptions of the reality in the Occupied Territories, from first-hand testimonies of women who served there since 2000, vividly capture the moral deterioration of soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces as they enforce the segregation of Arabs in Palestine.

“This book is a voice of protest of women saying: we are also part of this system and it is your obligation to listen to us, as you are the ones who sent us to serve in the territories.”

Seventy-five years ago, righteous European gentiles broke from groupthink and did the right thing. Today righteous Israelis are doing the same difficult work. Where would we be if even half of humanity could be so honest and brave?

“When you dehumanize someone it seems to you as if Hitler just walked into the war room.”

“I was in Hebron once and there was this stunning little blond girl, ‘***, the Little Demon (a Jewish girl from one of the Hebron settlements). She would pass us by near the outpost in her Shabbat dress, all neat and cute, and smiling. And then she saw some Arab walk by and she grabbed this huge rock and ran towards him, leapt and boom! She banged his head with it.”

“One of our goals was this: I made him cry in front of his child. I made him shit in his pants…. Especially at beatings, beating them to a pulp and threats and yelling, where the guy is terrified, especially in front of the kids. They would yell and threaten and terrify so you’re afraid for your kids too.”

Breaking the Silence: Women Soldiers’ Testimonies also sheds light on my country’s experience in Abu Ghraib, particularly on the role of women soldiers in the abuse and torture of prisoners.

“A female combat soldier needs to prove more,” one explains. “A female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…When I arrived there was another female [who] was there before me…Everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy.”

A difficult and essential book. Visit the Breaking the Silence website for more information.

Metaphors Matter – Ovarian Cancer as the Silent Killer

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Jasen P. From the “silent killer” to the “whispering disease”: ovarian cancer and the uses of metaphor. Med Hist. 2009 Oct;53(4):489-512. [full text]

Patricia Jasen, a history professor at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, has written a comprehensive and thoughtful history of metaphorical language about ovarian cancer from the first characterizations of the disease to the present day.

From the conclusion:

“The association of the ‘silent killer’ metaphor with ovarian cancer was exceptionally tenacious, and it arguably played a role in diverting attention away from systematic attention to symptoms which were later deemed relevant by a growing number of researchers. This history provides support for the conclusion that medical metaphors do have a role in defining “notions of reality” and therefore deserve close scrutiny.”

The article is most readable. Understated. How many women died before their time because they were not properly diagnosed in the early stages of disease? The symptoms have been clear for decades.

Films I Want to See in New York – 1 – Aisheen / Still Alive in Gaza

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Aisheen / Still Alive in Gaza
Switzerland / Qatar, 2010, 86 min
Director: Nicolas Wadimoff

“A situation report from the Gaza Strip in February 2009, just one month after the end of Israelʼs military offensive.” [2010 Berlinale catalog]

“‘Where’s the ghost town?’, asked the little boy to the theme park attendant. ‘It’s there, right there. But it has been bombed… Do you want to see it?’ It is with these words that the film begins – an impressionist journey through a devastated Gaza after the war. The ghost town? Gaza is the ghost town…” [cineuropa]

“Shot a few weeks after the January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza ended, the compelling, sensitively crafted docu “Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza),” from Swiss helmer Nicolas Wadimoff, captures the human suffering and devastation wrought, but really focuses on daily survival. Observing ordinary Gazans literally picking up the pieces of their past despite harsh, dangerous conditions, the pic lets the powerful images and articulate subjects speak for themselves without voiceover narration. Quality broadcast item could find limited theatrical play in select territories; further fest exposure is guaranteed.” [Variety]

Have you screened it? Are your planning to? Please let me know.

Berlinale Forum – Born of Dissent, All Grown Up, with Integrity Intact

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Born of dissent, the International Forum of New Cinema serves filmmakers and audiences who – while appreciative of cinema’s power to entertain and knowledgeable of the tools of entertainment – want something more.

The singular value of the Berlinale Forum – the most consciously political section of the most political of the mega film festivals – is to be found in its evergreen ability to change our minds as the world changes around us.

“The Forum has always defended cinema’s role as a forum of artistic expression beyond imposed limits or categorizations, focusing on the new and unusual, whether seeking to preserve the experimental qualities of cinema or arouse the interest of audiences for expressive cinema from off the beaten track, ‘Expanded Cinema’, the filmic avant-garde, documentary film projects that shatter formal boundaries as well as popular world cinema have all found their place at the Forum…”

Christoph Terhechte[1]

Over the past four decades, international audiences have first seen films like Sátántangó and Shoah; films by Peter Watkins and Frederick Wiseman, at this unique festival-within-festival.

“The Forum thus has to be many things at once, goals which conflict with each other; a venue to reveal otherwise undiscovered geographic-cinematic territory; a place for the premiere of such films that, still today – though maybe not in the next decade – have a small chance of commercial distribution internationally; an integral part of a public event which services hundreds of thousands of Berliners but also visiting members of the media and festival programmers, who are looking for films to write about and bring home to their own festivals and who both thrive on negativity…”

Mark Peranson[1]

In my brief four years of attending Forum, I’ve been impressed by the skill, knowledge, and passion of Forum interrogators during the all-important dialogs at the end of each screening. Here we see the heart of the project, the dedication to help give audiences orientation in the evolving world of cinema.

Taking advantage of the special attention span that occurs when people go crazy seeing as many films as possible for ten days, and filmmakers from around the world have an opportunity to engage with a knowledgeable audience and with each other, the Forum programmers help to show us a new way, often through films that don’t fit into the mainstream festival and distribution system.

This year, I was fortunate to see twenty of the thirty-four films on the Forum main slate, and a retrospective screening of three groundbreaking films by Bill Forsyth.

Seeing Red
I was interested to see the rapid emergence of the Red camera this year, employed to impressive effect in Imani (which recounts a day in the lives of three people in Kampala and in Gulu province, in Uganda); Im Schatten (a straight-up crime film juxtaposing the mechanics of a career outside the law with clear-eyed views of industrial Berlin); Fin (a subdued, tense psycho-thriller in which an 18-year-old recruits two younger teenagers for a mysterious, unnamed action at a mining site); El recuento de los daños (a novel telling of the tragedy of the victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship); and Yoŭ yī tiān (a wholly original film, in which none of multiple narrative streams can be pinpointed as reality).

Ethnography, Sometimes from Unexpected Locales
Several fine films explored new aspects of ethnography in the film medium. In Paltadacho Munis, a tale of loneliness, compassion and the eternal struggle against bigotry, a widowed forest ranger in the Western Ghats of India’s Goa district struck up an unlikely relationship with a madwoman he finds lost and alone in the woods. Putty Hill set a tale of death and coming of age on the fringes of Baltimore. Director Yang Rui spent three years with the Wa people in southwestern China, on the border with Burma, to film Fan shan, tale of human sacrifice, young love, a Russian hand grenade, and a hopeless television set. Winter’s Bone is the unflinching telling of a Ozark Mountain girl’s desperate quest to keep her family intact by finding a father who vanished after posting their home as bond. From the perspective of her stationary camera, filmmaker Sharon Lockhart documented the progress of a solitary clammer in Double Tide over two magic hours in a profession as old as there have been human inhabitants of this area. The Oath – also a selection of this year’s New Directors/New Films series – explored the twin tragedies of 9/11 and America’s reaction to the attacks by tracing the story of Salim Hamdan, largely from the perspective of his friend Nasser al-Bahri, a.k.a. Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s chief bodyguard until his arrest shortly before the attacks.

Globalized Angst via Europe
A number of European filmmakers contributed novel perspectives on modern life in a global culture. Through interviews, a video diary, and film clips, filmmaker Gamma Bak documented her adult life as a “child of freedom,” punctuated by seven episodes of schizoid-affective psychosis in Schnupfen im Kopf. Pus explored a dystopian Turkey. First and foremost a good movie about a woman who loses her job and has problems, Eine flexible Frau also revealed work and life for a woman in the New Berlin, and countless other “cities of women” of the new global capitalism. Der Tag des Spatzen followed connections between sparrows and humans from Leeuwarden to the Buechel air base in the Mosel valley, the villages and forests of the Eifel region, the coast of the Baltic Sea, and cities Bonn and Berlin. In Bibliothèque Pascal, Szabolcs Hajdu employed ravishing cinematography with unique humanity and irony to relate a tale of the brutal sex traffic between the former USSR and the UK as a metaphor for the rape of imagination that rules the global culture business. In a miracle of focused sight and sound, stories of nine travelers unfolded in the context of an extended documentary view of a morning at Orly airport. In Indigène d’Eurasie, director Sharunas Bartas plays the character of a ruthless killer who is not a bad man.

Asian New Wave
Young Asian filmmakers continued to break new ground. Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa demonstrated the power of a “lower-middling woman” – chu no ge no on-na – through a perfect performance by Mitsushima Hikari, an expressive, physically precise comic genius. Kenta to Jun to Kayo chan no kuni, Omori Tatsushi’s second feature, cast Love Exposure’s Ando Sakura as Kayo, a lonely girl who encounters two dim-witted orphans on the eve of a final attempt to break out of their miserable lives. Na-neun gon-kyeong-e cheo-haet-da! explored the lives of young professionals and office workers in Seoul through the misadventures of a vulnerable man stuck between poetry and the law exam.

Another Chance
For each film they select, the Forum curators buy a print, pay for subtitles, and archive – often showing to Berlin audiences in the Arsenal Kino long after the February snow of Berlinale has melted. That makes me hopeful that I will yet see the films that I missed this year: Aisheen (Still Alive in Gaza); Yiye Taibei/Au Revoir Taipei; La belle visite; Soreret/Black Bus; La bocca del Lupo/The Mouth of the Wolf; Congo in Four Acts; El vuelco del cangrejo/Crab Trap; Kanikosen (actually saw this at New York Film Festival, but lost my essay); Neo-wa na-eui i-shib-il-seki/Our Fantastic 21st Century; Portretul luptatorului la tenerete/Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man; Sona, mo hitori no watashi/Sona, the Other Myself; Sunny Land; Ya/I Am.

1. Dialoge mit Filmen: 4 Jahrsehnte Forum/Dialogues with Films: 4 Decades of the Forum. Berlin: Arsenal – Institut fur Film und Videokunst e.V., n.d.

Hot chilis to cool cancer

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Oyagbemi AA, Saba AB, Azeez OI. Capsaicin: a novel chemopreventive molecule and its underlying molecular mechanisms of action. Indian J Cancer. 2010 Jan-Mar;47(1):53-8 [open access]

Researchers at the University of Ibadan undertook a review of the literature on the plant genus Capsicum (Solanaceae), a principal ingredient of hot red and chili peppers, as a cancer-suppressing agent.

From the conclusion:

“The use of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetable has gained worldwide acceptance as a novel source of chemopreventive agents against cancer cells. These non-nutrient phytochemicals either block or reverse multistage carcinogenesis. Capsaicin, a pungent ingredient present in chili pepper has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative and anti-cancer potentials. Capsaicin has chemopreventive effect against a wide of chronic inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Other potential benefits of capsaicin should be explored with the aim of brightening our understanding of the molecular mechanism associated with its anti-cancer activities.”

Chilis!

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Comparative Oncology: Bone Cancer in Dogs and Humans

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Paoloni M, Davis S, Lana S, et al. Canine tumor cross-species genomics uncovers targets linked to osteosarcoma progression. BMC Genomics. 2009 Dec 23;10:625 [open access]

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Veterinary Teaching Hospital Colorado State University, Laboratory of Oncologic Research Bologna, and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles compared osteosarcoma expression profiles in dogs and children in an effort to identify novel metastasis-associated tumor targets that have been missed through the study of the human bone cancer alone.

From the paper background:

“An increasingly considered modeling approach in cancer biology and therapeutic development is the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs (referred to as comparative oncology). The features of cancers in pet dogs that may uniquely contribute to our understanding of cancer pathogenesis, progression and therapy have been recently reviewed… Companion (pet) dogs develop osteosarcoma at similar sites as human patients, with identical histology, response to traditional treatment regimens such as surgery and chemotherapy, and proclivity for metastasis… Similarly, many of the candidate genes implicated in the pathogenesis or progression of osteosarcoma in children have also been characterized in the canine disease… The incidence of osteosarcoma in dogs is higher than children, with >10,000 dogs diagnosed yearly… Differences in disease prevalence and the more aggressive disease biology in the dog further argues the opportunity for this approach to inform our understanding of this highly aggressive pediatric cancer. Although limited in scope, pet dogs with osteosarcoma have been effectively integrated into the development of novel treatment approaches for human patients, most notably pioneering limb-sparing techniques… In 2005 the first public draft of the canine genome sequence was released… This milestone provided the opportunity for dogs with cancer to lend additional insight into the biology of human cancers, and to more rigorously evaluate and translate novel therapies to human trials.”

The authors found strong similarities in gene expression patterns between canine and human osteosarcoma, which they suggest supports the inclusion of pet dogs as a translational model in studies of osteosarcoma therapy. A boy’s best friend, indeed.

Medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia

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Mesfin F, Demissew S, Teklehaymanot T. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, SNNPR, Ethiopia. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Oct 12;5:28 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented medicinal plants in the natural vegetation and home gardens in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia. They collected 155 plant species from the natural vegetation and 65 species from home gardens, and documented 72 as having medicinal value for human or livestock ailments.

Healers have turned to home gardens in the face of threat to natural vegetation:

“Traditional medicinal plants were harvested mostly from natural vegetation area followed by home gardens. They were also obtained from roadsides, farmlands and live fences. The medicinal plants in the natural vegetation were under threat and to tackle these problems traditional healers had turned their face towards home gardens. However, traditional healers still depend largely on naturally growing species because of their belief that those species in the natural vegetation are more effective in the prevention and treatment of diseases and health problems.”

This article is particularly valuable because of the detailed attention to preparation and application of the medicinal plants for specific ailments.

Ethnobotany of the upper Varaita

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Pieroni A, Giusti ME. Alpine ethnobotany in Italy: traditional knowledge of gastronomic and medicinal plants among the Occitans of the upper Varaita valley, Piedmont. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 6;5:32. [open access]

Researchers at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Università degli Studi di Firenze undertook a gastronomic and medical ethnobotanical study among the Occitan communities living in Blins/Bellino and Chianale, in the upper Val Varaita, in the Piedmontese Alps of Northwestern Italy. Traditional uses of 88 plants were recorded.

Sustainability is a serious concern:

It is … evident that traditional knowledge in the Varaita valley has been heavily eroded. This study also examined the local legal framework for the gathering of botanical taxa, and the potential utilization of the most quoted medicinal and food wild herbs in the local market, and suggests that the continuing widespread local collection from the wild of the aerial parts of Alpine wormwood for preparing liqueurs (Artemisia genipi, A. glacialis, and A. umbelliformis) should be seriously reconsidered in terms of sustainability, given the limited availability of these species, even though their collection is culturally salient in the entire study area.

This paper must be downloaded, not least for the incredible photography.

Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench

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Giday M, Asfaw Z, Woldu Z, Teklehaymanot T. Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group of Ethiopia: an ethnobotanical investigation. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 13;5:34 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented and analyzed medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group in Ethiopia. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, intestinal parasites, skin-related diseases and typhoid fever are the major human health problems among the people. The study revealed 35 medicinal plant species used by the Bench.

From the conclusion:

“The immediate and serious threat to the local medical practice in the study area seems to have come from the increasing influence of modernization. As there is no adequate modern healthcare service provision in the study area, loss of local medical knowledge and practice could negatively affect the healthcare system of the people. To arrest or slow down the trend, awareness on the contribution of traditional medical practice towards fulfilling the primary healthcare needs of the local people should be created among the youth.”

An old story. Past time to start listening.

Beyond pathways

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Kreeger PK, Lauffenburger DA. Cancer systems biology: a network modeling perspective. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Jan;31(1):2-8 [open access]

Two biomedical engineers at the University of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Institute of Technology review the literature to develop a critique of, and contribution to, pathway-centric oncogenesis research, toward a systems biology approach.

From the introduction:

“Pathways … cannot properly be considered to operate in isolation of one another, as an alteration of one pathway can lead directly (via protein–protein interactions) or indirectly (via transcriptional/translational influences) to changes in others. Accordingly, cancer—along with other complex diseases such as arthritis and diabetes—is most productively conceived of and strategized for treatment as a dysregulation of a multipathway network.”

Not the easiest paper, but well worth reading until you get it.