Petition for the Protection of Vaquitas

Phocoena sinus, commonly known as the vaquita, is an endangered species of porpoise with less than a hundred individuals left in the wild. It is the smallest Cetacean in the world and its racing extinction is the result of inadequate environmental protection policies and the use of gillnets in the area by unaware fishermen. But not everyone is unfamiliar with the fragile status of the vaquitas, therefore we have the moral responsibility to force the hand of the Mexican government to act now before it’s too late.

Sign today for a better tomorrow:

Vaquitas are endemic to the northern end of the Gulf of California


Extreme Body Modifications in Ethiopia

I have always been fascinated with body art and how it can permanently affect someone’s appearance. I have heard about facial scarification in a village in Burkina Faso, about the Kayan Lahwi in Burma and their women with elongated necks, or foot binding in China, but today was the first time I have ever read about the traditions of the Mursi people on the lower Omo River in Ethiopia. More specifically, I have discovered that women from this group wear lip plates made of clay or wood as a symbol of their strength and self-esteem, according to Shauna LaTosky, a social anthropologist from the Max Planck Institute.

A Mursi woman with a lip plate

A Mursi woman with a lip plate

The gradual, painful enlargement process starts about one year before a girl is married, but nowadays young girls around the age of 15 to 18 can choose whether they will wear a lip plate or not. Women who do chose to wear them, they do it with pride and they joyfully decorate the plates with some personalized ornamentation. There is enough room to be creative because the final diameter of the lip plate can range from 8 cm to more than 20 cm.

This Ethiopian group isn’t the only one that takes pride in this traditional practice, but also isolated Amazonian tribes in South America and indigenous groups that live on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America have invented lip plates for various purposes, such as symbolizing leadership and the eligibility to become a wife respectively.

Unfortunately, tourists associate these customs with primitiveness and they objectify the Mursi people and others like them, which in turn makes the tribes very aggressive with those whose sole purpose is to photograph them like animals in the Zoo, but gladly welcome those who are willing to learn about their vanishing culture.

For further information, I recommend you visit the following pages:

A Short Book Review: Childhood’s End

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke is a science fiction novel published in 1953 and it follows the coming on Earth of an alien race nicknamed ‘the Overlords’. Their invasion is peaceful and it marks a new beginning for mankind. Wars, famine, crime and injustice – they all come to a halt.

Karellen, the supervisor of the alien visitors, stays out of the sight of humans for half a century, safe in his ship, anchored high above the ground. He promises to show up when the world will be prepared, hoping not to repeat the same mistake they did thousands of years ago when their first contact with humans occurred. Humanity waits patiently and when the time comes people finally understand where the root of ancient superstition comes from, for the appearance of the Overlords is shocking. The book is extended on the span of a hundred years, following the lives of several characters whose actions are utterly insignificant compared to those of their watchers.

I must confess I am not a fan of science fiction books, but this particular one was pretty good. There were some passages where the details provided were totally irrelevant, from my point of view, but the overall story was fantastic. The world Clarke tried to describe is way beyond our imagination, therefore his words may have been vague describing a certain scene, but the feelings those words have aroused sometimes made me feel emptied by all humane worries.

We are small here in our darkened corner of the Universe and maybe just now we are learning that we are not so important after all as all the religions of the world claim. We finally start to understand that there’s nothing we can do to disrupt the course of things in the complex universal net. Acceptance is painful, but our world is new and fragile, thus our very existence may be seen as fallen snow on a spring day that the blazing sun will soon melt away into oblivion.

The Unseen Face of Charles Darwin

Many people in the world today are suffering from a crippling long-term condition that affected even some of the greatest minds in recent history, such as Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Nikola Tesla, and Vincent van Gogh. It is nothing more and nothing less than anxiety; and it is here to stay.

Darwin battled anxiety most of his life, being prisoner to a multitude of symptoms including chronic fatigue, nervousness, vomiting, hysterical crying, severe stomach pain, spasmodic flatulence, insomnia, dying sensations, rashes and boils. We all know about Darwin’s epic journey on board of HMS Beagle, but very few people know that the great scientist spent much of his trip feeling very sick.

During the years he wrote his masterpiece book On the Origin of Species, Darwin was mostly housebound, spending a great deal of his day either in bed or vomiting. From reading his journals it is obvious that he was frustrated to no end with doctors who couldn’t cure him, especially with his father, Dr Robert Waring Darwin. Some of his friends have suggested he tried Dr James Gully’s water therapy at Malvern in Worcestershire, which temporarily improved his mental health without actually curing him. Another doctor from the Victorian era, John Chapman, tried to treat Darwin with the application of ice to the spinal cord, but needless to say the treatment was utterly fruitless.

Darwin’s terrible symptoms have been a source of debate for the past century and a half and they have been attributed to a long list of conditions such as lactose intolerance, gout, peptic ulcer, duodenal ulcer, amoebic infection, Chagas’ disease, chronic brucellosis, and many others, but anxiety is the most logical explanation for Charles Darwin’s poor health because whenever he would stop working and go walking or riding, his health would immediately be restored.

After all let’s not forget that Darwin lived in a society where the belief that God made the Earth and all its creatures was the norm, including his beloved wife, who was a devout Christian, therefore publishing his controversial theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859 imposed a great deal of stress on him. He suffered from an early age from social stress, but ultimately it is the undeniable need to tell the world about his discovery that led to the worsening of his anxiety, thus showing his complete fact-based belief in the truth behind his revolutionary idea.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by MARY ROACH book is dynamic and vibrant, it can make you laugh and cry in the same time. I simply devoured it, or maybe devour isn’t the right term to use given the book’s subject: cadavers. Mary Roach has a unique writing style and it is a must-read for medical students, but with its easy to understand language, it is accessible to anyone who has the stomach to give it a try.

The first chapter is about practicing surgery on the dead, especially on their heads. The author writes in a comical way, maybe to distract us from the brutality of anatomical practices from the dawn of the first surgical attempts on humans.

Further reading reveals crimes of anatomy in history, such as body snatching, a necessary activity for both medical students and for those willing to gain some money. The terrifying things that the human mind can think of and do are just at the beginning.

The third chapter is about the preservation of human bodies after death and methods that can slow down the decay.

The fourth chapter is about the use of human cadavers as test dummies in the science of impact tolerance.

Furthermore, Roach writes about plane crashes and how body often tell what happened and what was the cause of the accident, playing the part of an organic black box. As if this wasn’t enough, cadavers were put on the front to test various bullets or even bombs.

In chapter six, the author tells us how human heads and catapults had quite a good time together some hundreds of years ago.

Chapter seven is about crucifixion experiments and continues with tales about scientists in search of the soul, live burials and organ harvest.

Chapter nine is about decapitation, reanimation and human head transplant. From my point of view, this chapter is the most shocking in the entire book. At some point it says the story of a French physician named Beaurieux who used the Paris’s public scaffold as his lab. He experimented on a freshly guillotined head that belonged to a man known as Languille, and observed:

Here, then, is what I was able to note
immediately after the decapitation: the
eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked
in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about
five or six seconds…[and] ceased. The face
relaxed, the lids half closed on the
eyeballs,…exactly as in the dying whom we have
occasion to see every day in the exercise of
our profession….It was then that I called in a
strong, sharp voice, “Languille!” I then saw
the eyelids slowly lift up, without any
spasmodic contraction…such as happens in
everyday life, with people awakened or torn
from their thoughts. Next Languille’s eyes
very definitely fixed themselves on mine and
the pupils focused themselves. I was not,
then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look
without any expression that can be observed
any day in dying people to whom one speaks. I
was dealing with undeniably living eyes which
were looking at me.
After several seconds, the eyelids closed
again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on
the same appearance as it had had before I
called out. It was at that point that I called
out again, and, once more, without any spasm,
slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably
living eyes fixed themselves on mine with
perhaps even more penetration than the first
time….I attempted the effect of a third call;
there was no further movement—and the eyes
took on the glazed look which they have in the

Tenth chapter reveals more shocking stories about medical canibalism, a practice that started thousands of years ago, from China to Arabia.

The next chapter brings pros and cons to ‘another ways to end up‘, as the author refers to cremation and composting respectively. Cremation is a polluting agent and it should be illegal, but too many times religious beliefs are far stronger than ecological ethics. Composting is totally organic and eco-friendly, but its sordid and nothing less than that. It is actually a dry-freezing method followed by the cadaver being broken into pieces and buried in airy earth, very near to the surface. The author says that composting a body next to a tree will allow the molecules of the cadaver be absorbed by the roots of the tree and it is the closest to reanimation science ever came to be.

The final chapter is a personal one in which Mary Roach says how she would want ‘to end up‘. Ultimately she realizes that it doesn’t matter what she wants to be in the end, buried, cremated or composted. All that matters is that the way of ending up is easier to cope with for those who loved her and are still alive.

It really doesn’t matter to us, who pass away, but it affects those we leave behind. Pompous funerals and the spiritual, poetic cremation is nothing more than a white lie, something that makes us accept death easier. This book also made me understand that nothing should be let to waste and that is why I agree with organ donors.

In the end I would like to post an excerpt from Chapter 8. It is about a cadaver that donated organs and saved three lives.

But H is different. She has made three sick people well. She has brought
them extra time on earth. To be able, as a dead person, to make a gift of
this magnitude is phenomenal. Most people don’t manage this sort of
thing while they’re alive. Cadavers like H are the dead’s heros.
It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand
people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with
sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more than half of the people in
the position H’s family was in will say no, will choose to burn those
organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon’s scalpel to save our own
lives, our loved ones’ lives, but not to save a stranger’s life. H has no
heart, but heartless is the last thing you’d call her.