Brain abnormalities in chronic fatigue patients

Via Neuroscience Stuff:  ‘An imaging study by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators has found distinct differences between the brains of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and those of healthy people.The findings could lead to more definitive diagnoses of the syndrome and may also point to an underlying mechanism in the disease process.It’s not uncommon for CFS patients to face several mischaracterizations of their condition, or even suspicions of hypochondria, before receiving a diagnosis of CFS. The abnormalities identified in the study, published Oct. 29 in Radiology, may help to resolve those ambiguities, said lead author Michael Zeineh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology.’

Most of us who are dubious about CFS do not question that such a syndrome exists. But I feel it is a faddish diagnosis overused by clinicians and sufferers, sometimes a more acceptable less stigmatizing proxy for depression, sometimes a pretext to explain underachievement. I would venture to say that, if the radiographic changes described in this paper are legitimate, they will only appear in a subset of those currently labelled as having CFS.

 

Reverence for Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within...

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.

All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-la...
English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated wtih All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence, and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You my be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)

Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’

What was Hallowe’en like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? For my purposes, suffice it to say that it was before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] puts it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like. One issue may be that, as NPR observed,

“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’

But is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

Frankenstein

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en be soulful.

Related:

We May Have Finally Found a Piece of Amelia Earhart’s Lost Plane

Via Gizmodo:  ‘In 1937, Amelia Earharts plane, the aluminum-clad Electra, disappeared somewhere over the Pacific during the course of her global circumnavigation attempt. Now 77 years later, historians and aviation experts are confident they have found a part of her downed aircraft…

This confirmation has huge implications to the Earhart saga. It would indicate that Earhart and Noonan did not sink to watery graves but rather, more likely, they crash landed the Electra on the flat coral reefs surrounding Nikumaroro atoll and—either one or both, maybe neither—spent the rest of their lives as castaways on that dead speck of dry land in the middle of the ocean with nary a volley ball to keep them company.’

“Dogs and cats have to die”: Stephen Colbert sums up latest insane NRA crusade

“Dogs and cats have to die”: Stephen Colbert sums up latest insane NRA crusade - Salon.com

Via Salon.com:  ‘On Tuesday night Stephen Colbert blasted the NRA for killing a Pennsylvania bill that would have made it illegal to consume meat from household pets.The bill, which was introduced after cat and dog meat were cropping up at local butchers, also contained an amendment about the shooting of pigeons. Enter the NRA, who worried that this amendment would be a “slippery slope” downward to “regulated shooting grounds.”“That’s right,” Colbert said. “In order to protect their right to kill birds, the NRA defeated the anti-pet-eating bill.” ‘ (Link to video).

 

Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow calls for “American jihad”

Fox News doctor’s creepy jingoism: Keith Ablow calls for “American jihad” - Salon.com

Via Salon.com:  ‘Fox News “Medical A Team” member Keith Ablow thinks “it’s time for an American jihad.”

Ablow issued his summons in a column he penned for Fox News on Tuesday. Noting that definitions of jihad include “war or struggle against unbelievers” and “a crusade for principle or belief,” Ablow calls on the U.S. to wage a domestic and international jihad to remind Americans and citizens around the world that America is, by definition, exceptional and perfect and noble. Ablow’s jihad entails a mixture of quasi-fascist, jingoistic propaganda; messianic crusades to force other countries to adopt U.S. institutions and political practices; and the installation of puppet regimes around the globe. What could go wrong?’