Sunday, August 19, 2012

9 Delicious Reasons To Eat Dark Chocolate

I've done blogs before about the health benefits associated with eating dark chocolate, of consuming dark chocolate and red wine, of drinking red wine (are we sensing a pattern here?)

We all know how sinfully good chocolate tastes and there have been enough studies lately to alleviate the guilt feelings about indulging the temptation. And we've also read that it's the antioxidant-rich dark chocolate—the darker the better—that provides those benefits rather than the sweeter fat-laden milk chocolate.

Well…I recently came across another study about the healthy qualities attributed to dark chocolate. More positive information and reinforcement equals less guilt! :)

It Fights Free Radicals
When we eat plant derived foods (chocolate comes from the cacao plant) rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, those benefits are passed on to us. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for aging and also some diseases. Antioxidants protect us from damage caused by free radicals.

It Prevents Heart Disease
Dark chocolate's most researched benefit is its role in preventing heart disease. British researchers found that people who ate the most dark chocolate weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of any heart disease than those who ate the least amount of dark chocolate.

It Decreases Stroke Risk
Swedish researchers found that women who ate 2 candy bars a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. A similar study by British researchers fund that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke. Researchers added that more study is needed to determine exact amounts and how they impact stroke risk.

It Raises Good Cholesterol
Cholesterol-lowering superfood is another label that's been attached to dark chocolate thanks to the cocoa butter which contains oleic acid, the same fat found in heart-healthy olive oil. Scientists believe this can raise your HDL (good cholesterol).

It Lowers Blood Pressure
German researchers found that eating chocolate may help lower blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk. Australian researchers also found noticeable blood pressure benefits. As with cholesterol, researchers believe more study is required.

It Improves Vision
It seems that dark chocolate has something in common with carrots. Test subjects performed better on vision tests after eating the dark chocolate.

It's a Mood Booster
It's not wishful thinking or imagination. Some research supports the idea that chocolate really can improve someone's mood. It's the fatty acids in dark chocolate that do this. More research needs to be done, but studies show that chocolate can make you feel happier and improve your mood.

It Helps Prevent Cancer
There is limited evidence, but it's growing that dark chocolate may play a role in cancer prevention. Preliminary studies in Europe, Asia, and North America show that people who eat many flavonoids or a lot of antioxidant-rich chocolate develop fewer cancers than those who don't.

It May Help You Live Longer
A Harvard University study found that one or two doses of dark chocolate per week could even help you live longer. There is currently more research being done to determine the exact role chocolate plays in longevity.

So…once again Science has given us permission to consume dark chocolate. For medicinal purposes only, of course. :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

9 Worst American Traitors

For those of you who might have flashed on the thought that the subject of this blog is about current political situations—it is not! Only 2 of the people on the list are post World War II and I was surprised to see that neither of them were the infamous Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed for providing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union.

I recently came across an article about what the people compiling the list considered the 9 worst American traitors. While I thought I had a decent knowledge of most of these cases, I was surprised with information I had never heard before in some of the cases.

I don't know why the list is in this order as it's neither alphabetical nor chronological. And I even question some of the choices for the concept of worst on a list of only 9, but here's the list.

You hear the name and immediately associate it with traitor without even questioning it…at least here in the United States. You might also assume the perpetrator of such dastardly deeds was summarily arrested and executed for such betrayal. This was not the case with Benedict Arnold whose military career had him moving quickly toward being an American hero of the Revolutionary War with important victories against the British in New York at Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga. Unfortunately for him, a combination of his quick temper and his lack of knowledge about the ins and outs of politics and bureaucracy soon earned him powerful enemies and side-tracked his military career. When ultimately relegated to a military command in Philadelphia, he made contacts among the American Loyalists and began selling intelligence information to the British. He joined the British army and eventually went to Canada to live out his days. So, although famous (or perhaps notorious?) as a Revolutionary War turncoat, he was never arrested, officially tried and convicted as such.

An interesting and honorable man, not the type that comes to mind when you mention traitor which usually conjures up images of people sneaking around performing clandestine acts against their own country. Perhaps he should not be on this list associated with the traditional concept of traitor. Robert E. Lee continued his family's history of illustrious and exemplary military service. Abraham Lincoln promoted him to full colonel after Texas seceded from the Union. He was approached several times by Confederate conspirators but always swore allegiance to the Union. He was one of only a few people who believed a civil war would be a long and bloody action. As Civil War became inevitable, Lee's allegiance was first to his state of Virginia and second to his country. When Virginia seceded he felt he had no choice but to resign his commission in the Union and join the Confederacy. After the war, he immediately set his goal on reconciliation efforts between the North and the South.

One of two post World War II traitors on this list. Aldrich Ames created the most damage of any mole in CIA history and the most damaging spy in American history until the discovery of Robert Hanssen (#6 on this list). Ames started working for the Russians in 1985. It was 9 years later that the CIA finally noticed that a $60,000 a year desk analysis had paid cash for his $50,000 Jaguar and $540,000 house and also had credit cards with a minimum monthly payment more than his monthly salary. It finally dawned on them that he must have another source of income. After investigating, the CIA finally brought him in. He casually admitted to selling the Soviets information that exposed over a hundred Western agents behind the Iron Curtain, several of whom were executed based on that betrayal. Ames pleaded guilty in order to avoid the death penalty and the American intelligence community called it case closed on the worst leak in our country's history. But only for the time being…

The other post World War II traitor. Robert Hanssen was a computer and wiretapping expert who rose high in the FBI structure while actively spying for the Soviets and the Russian Federation governments for all but the first 3 years of his career. During his 22 year spy career he earned an ill-gotten $1.4 million which comes out to only a little less than $64,000 a year. He maintained a much lower profile than Aldrich Ames. He might never have been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn't spotted a huge stack of cash on top of a nightstand during a visit to Hanssen's house. He was captured in 2001.

A committed Fascist, Ezra Pound was an expatriate poet and literary critic who blamed the international banking system for World War I. He believed that only a Fascist government could implement a system of social credit to replace banks. He moved to Italy and met Mussolini. His poetry took a backseat to his new activities centered on writing pamphlets and giving lectures with anti-Semitic wording and ending with Heil Hitler. During the World War II invasion of Italy, he made propaganda broadcasts to American Troops. He was arrested in 1945, was subjected to harsh conditions in an American prison camp in Italy. It's said the experience drove him insane (assuming he wasn't already there) which deemed him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental institution in 1958, he returned to Italy for the rest of his days.

Although born in Germany, he lived and worked in America since 1928. He was in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group called the German-American Bund. In addition to being an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler's ideas on racial purity and the Fascist system of government, he was also a fan of Hitler's style. But in an odd twist of fate, Hitler was not a fan of Kuhn and his American Nazi party. Kuhn's Bund meetings were often highlighted by dramatic outbursts of violence unknown to the American way at that time. Hitler wanted a powerful American Nazi party, but not one so powerful that it would propel the United States into the war. Kuhn was arrested following a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from the Bund. After he got out of jail, he was arrested as an enemy agent. He was released after the end of the war and returned to Germany.

Germany's Nazi-run SS formed several volunteer and propaganda divisions of non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. French traitors had the Charlemagne Division, British traitors were the Freiwillige Korps, and for years there were rumors about a George Washington Brigade made up entirely of American traitors. The existence of the George Washington Brigade turned out to be a myth, but there were occasional discoveries of SS troops with American accents and names, some naturalized citizens and others born in the U.S. There isn't any information about the specific numbers of Americans who actually fought on the side of the Nazis as soldiers rather than being spies.

One noteworthy American SS was Martin James Monti, an Army Air Corps pilot. In October 1944 he made his way to an Italian airbase, stole a plane, and flew it north into Axis hands to defect. He made a few propaganda broadcasts and eventually became an SS sergeant in the final weeks of the war. His mother was native German, but it's not clear why he chose to defect at a time when Germany was obviously losing the war. When caught in a full-dress SS uniform, he convinced a U.S. Army patrol that he was only a U.S. Army deserter, not a defector. He served a short jail sentence, then was released back into the army. He kept a low profile and actually made sergeant by 1948 when someone at the FBI caught up with the situation and he ended up in prison for the next 25 years.

The list contained a lot of information about Burr the traitor that I didn't know. We've all heard about the infamous duel where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. And we know that Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson's Vice President at a time when the President and Vice President were often from different parties and spent a great deal of time in heated conflict with each other. We also know that Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury. After killing Hamilton, Burr's political career was essentially over. Then came all that other stuff about Aaron Burr (this is the part where my surprise came in). Burr decided on dramatic measures to revive his career. And what could be more dramatic than to take control of the Texas and Louisiana territories and possibly invade either Mexico or Washington D.C.? Unfortunately for Burr, Thomas Jefferson had been keeping a close eye on him and various states were collecting evidence on the Burr Conspiracy. A treasonous letter Burr had written was intercepted and decoded, then published in a New Orleans newspaper in full along with notice of a reward for his capture. He abandoned his small army and went into hiding. He was eventually captured and put up for trial before the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson's push for guilty and execution, the Supreme Court threw out the case based on a technicality. He might have assembled an army of about 100 men, but he hadn't actually done anything with them yet. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe but returned to the U.S. under an assumed name, but even under his new identity couldn't manage to keep a low profile.

And there you have it…a list of the 9 Worst American Traitors, at least according to the list I read.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

10 Common Superstitions And Their Origins

Superstitions—they're all around us, some dating back many centuries and others much newer in origin. We all believe in them to some degree even when we claim not to. Knock on wood…I know it's silly, but it can't hurt. We say it with a self-conscious chuckle while feeling ever so slightly foolish.

Superstitions are defined as beliefs that have no rational basis. None are based on fact but many are rooted deep in tradition/culture and history. Some are merely fun while others might have a much deeper impact on our life choices.

I recently came across a list I'd like to share with you of the 10 most common superstitions in today's society and their origins.

1) Friday the 13th—bad luck
The fear of the number 13 is one of the most common superstitions around, even to the point where hotels often omit the 13th floor and some airlines fly without a row of seats designated as the 13th row. Whether we believe or not, knowing that Friday the 13th is on the calendar for the month does give us a moment's pause. Even though we know it's silly, we still put forth a little more caution than usual on that day. The most popular explanation for the source of this superstition says that Judas was the 13th person at the Last Supper and Christ was crucified on Friday.

2) Itchy Palm—good luck
This one seems to have several variations, but the basic concept of an itchy palm generally refers to money. One variation says if the right palm itches you will meet someone new while an itchy left palm means money is coming your way. Another variation claims an itchy right palm means money coming in and an itchy left palm means money going out. Either way, do not scratch it unless you want to counter the effect. The only way to scratch without countering the effect is to use lucky wood or brass (but I have no idea what designates the wood or brass as lucky).

3) Walking Under A Ladder—bad luck
Common sense tells us not to walk under a ladder for our own safety because something could fall on us. But superstition has more complex reasons: the shape of an open ladder is a triangle which signifies life to some and if you walk through that triangle you are tempting the fates and may also awaken evil spirits living within the triangle.

4) Breaking A Mirror—bad luck
The common acceptance is that breaking a mirror brings 7 years bad luck. And by coincidence, 7 years is also how long it takes to fully rejuvenate the entire physical body. It's bad luck because the mirror was believed to be a reflection of the soul, therefore breaking it was the same as breaking the soul. You can counter the bad luck by taking the broken mirror outside and burying it in the moonlight.

5) Finding A Horseshoe—good luck
This is considered the luckiest of all symbols by some people, particularly if the horseshoe is found with the open end pointing toward you. If you are lucky enough to find a horseshoe, make sure you pick it up with your right hand. Then spit on one end, make a wish, and throw it over your left shoulder. Leave it where it lands. Some of the traditions say that the number of nails left on the horseshoe indicates how many years of good luck will be yours.

6) Opening An Umbrella Inside—bad luck
The obvious problem with opening an umbrella inside is that it can break things or even poke out someone's eye. There are also superstitious reasons behind this as well. In some places an umbrella that shades us from the deified sun is thought to be magical. To open that umbrella inside, away from the sun's rays, offends the sun god. It can also signify impending death or ill fortune for both the person opening it and also the people who live in the home where it happened.

7) Knock Twice On Wood—reverses bad luck
The origins of this superstition go back to a time when some cultures believed gods lived in trees. When asking a favor of these gods, the person would touch the bark of the tree. After the favor had been granted, one more knock would signify a thank you.

8) Throw Spilled Salt Over Your Shoulder—good luck
Throughout history, salt has been considered a valuable substance that purified and warded off evil spirits. Throwing spilled salt over your left shoulder drives away the lurking evil spirits lurking who are there to cause you misfortune.

9) Black Cats—bad luck
During the Middle Ages it was believed that witches kept black cats as companions, sometimes sending the cats out to do their bidding. Some people believed that the cats could turn into witches or demons after 7 years (7 being a number that shows up in many different superstitions).

10) Saying "God Bless You" when someone sneezes—good luck
You may think it's merely good manners, but blessing someone after he or she sneezes is a common superstition. In the 6th century someone who sneezed was congratulated because they were thought to be expelling evil spirits. When the plague swept through Europe in 1665, the pope decreed that everyone should be blessed when they sneezed since they were probably going to die.

So, in conclusion, remember: when you throw salt over your shoulder, knock twice on wood, or bless someone when they sneeze, you're making the world a safer place to live by vanquishing all those evil spirits.

Do you have any superstitions you adhere to in everyday life?