I’ll start with a question:

Which aspect of American culture, or that of your country of origin, do you want to see changed?

1) Technology

A unique device based on sniffing – inhaling and exhaling through the nose – might enable numerous disabled people to navigate wheelchairs or communicate with their loved ones. Sniffing technology might even be used in the future to create a sort of ‘third hand,’ to assist healthy surgeons or pilots.
 
Developed by Prof. Noam Sobel, electronics engineers Dr. Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod and research student Lee Sela in the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, the new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals. The device was tested on healthy volunteers as well as quadriplegics, and the results showed that the method is easily mastered. Users were able to navigate a wheelchair around a complex path or play a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick.

From the Weizmann Institutes’s press release:

http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/site/en/weizman.asp?pi=371&doc_id=6174

“The most stirring tests were those we did with locked-in syndrome patients. These are people with unimpaired cognitive function who are completely paralyzed – ‘locked into’ their bodies. With the new system, they were able to communicate with family members, and even initiate communication with the outside. Some wrote poignant messages to their loved ones, sharing with them, for the first time in a very long time, their thoughts and feelings.’ Four of those who participated in the experiments are already using the new writing system, and Yeda Research and Development Company, Ltd., – the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute – is investigating the possibilities for developing and distributing the technology.

Sniffing is a precise motor skill that is controlled, in part, by the soft palate – the flexible divider that moves to direct air in or out through the mouth or nose. The soft palate is controlled by several nerves that connect to it directly through the braincase. This close link led Sobel and his scientific team to theorize that the ability to sniff – that is, to control soft palate movement – might be preserved even in the most acute cases of paralysis. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) lent support to the idea, showing that a number of brain areas contribute to soft palate control. This imaging revealed a significant overlap between soft palate control and the language areas of the brain, hinting to the scientists that the use of sniffing to communicate might be learned intuitively.”

“One patient who had been locked in for seven months following a stroke learned to use the device over a period of several days, writing her first message to her family. Another, who had been locked in since a traffic accident 18 years earlier wrote that the new device was much easier to use than one based on blinking. Another ten patients, all quadriplegics, succeeded in operating a computer and writing messages through sniffing.”

2) Religion 

With many religious groups experience declining membership, the number of number of Amish has increased nearly 10 percent in the past two years alone, to a total population of 249,000, compared with about 227,000 in 2008. That figure was just 124,000 in 1992.

From an article in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/07/28/us/AP-US-Thriving-Amish.html?ref=global-home

”They are sort of challenging some of the mainstream assumptions about progress and how you achieve the good life and happiness,” said Elizabethtown professor Don Kraybill, the study’s director. ”They’re not merely surviving; they’re thriving, and growing at this very rapid rate.”

The highest rates of growth over the past year were recorded in New York (19 percent), Minnesota (9 percent), Missouri (8 percent), Wisconsin (7 percent) and Illinois (7 percent). High-growth areas for Amish in the past five years also include Kentucky, Kansas and Iowa.

The newest state to get an Amish settlement is South Dakota, after a group of at least six families bought several farms near Tripp in the southeastern part of the state. They have planted forage for their cows, built barns and established a weekly bake sale.”

3) International

Lawmakers in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia voted to ban bullfighting on Wednesday, dealing the most significant blow so far to a tradition considered by many Spaniards to be an essential part of their cultural patrimony.

In many ways the ban reflected less on the animal rights than on a political debate over Catalan identity and a push by local parties for greater independence from the rest of Spain. With the strong support of separatist parties, the ban passed by a larger margin than expected: 68 to 55, with 9 abstentions. It is to go into effect in 2012.

I doubt the bulls care why the ban was voted.

From an article in the British online newspaper, the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/28/bullfighting-ban-spain-catalonia

 “But now bullfightning is to be banned from Barcelona and the rest of the north-eastern region of Catalonia after the local parliament today dealt a blow to Spain’s most emblematic pastime and unleashed a political battle over what some see as a threatened cultural treasure.

Deputies voted by 68 to 55 in favour of a people’s petition calling on the bullfight to be banished from a region that once played host to some of the world’s greatest fights. The last matador in Catalan history will sink his sword into the last half-tonne fighting bull at the end of next year, with the ban starting in 2012.

“It is the worst attack on culture since our transition to democracy,” said the Catalan poet Pere Gimferrer.”

While some mourned the loss of a cultural jewel, the vote was hailed by animals rights campaigners worldwide. Ricky Gervais and Pamela Anderson were among the 140,000 who signed an international petition to the Catalan parliament.

“It sickens me to know that people are still paying money to see an animal suffering in such a horrific way,” Gervais said before the vote. About 13,500 fighting bulls die in Spain every year – many in bullfights funded by local authorities who are estimated to pay out up to €550m (£457m) in subsidies.

In Spain, critics pointed to dark, if barely-disguised, political motives. Bullfight fans claimed many Catalan nationalist deputies had voted out of spite, because the fighting bull is an emblem of Spain – where it is known as the “national fiesta” – rather than of Catalonia.

The local El Periódico newspaper reported that several nationalist deputies had decided to back the ban only after Spain’s constitutional court struck down parts of the region’s 2006 autonomy charter earlier this month. At least 430,000 people, or 6% of all Catalans, protested on 10 July in Barcelona against the court’s decision ,which declared Catalonia was not legally a nation.

Advertisements