October 9, 2015 – St. Denis’s Day, patron saint for those who have lost their head

October 8, 2015

Dear Reader: My apologies. As Cecil might say, we’ve been fighting ignorance since 1974, and it’s taking longer than we thought.  My hopes to retire this post have not been realized.  Heck, it doesn’t even need much editing from past years. Saints save us, please!

We might pause to reflect, too:  Recent years have seen the media rise of actual beheadings.  This practice, which now strikes many of us as barbaric, occurs in reality as well as memory and literature; unlike St. Denis, those beheaded do not usually carry on to do anything at all; like St. Denis, they are martyred. Vote well in your local elections, and national elections.  Your vote should be directed at preventing anyone’s losing their head, even just figuratively.

October 9 is the Feast Day of St. Denis.

Who?  He’s the patron saint of Paris (and France, by some accounts), and possessed people.   Take a look at this statue, from the “left door” of the Cathedral of Notre Dame  in Paris (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: portail de gauche).  He was martyred by beheading, in about 250 C.E.

English: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: porta...

St. Denis greets vistors to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: portail de gauche)

Our trusty friend Wikipedia explains:

According to the Golden Legend, after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked two miles, preaching a sermon the entire way.[6] The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was made into a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France. Another account has his corpse being thrown in the Seine, but recovered and buried later that night by his converts.[2]

Clearly, he is the guy to pray to about Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rush Limbaugh, Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, intelligent design, and the Texas State Board of Education, no?  In 2013, we added Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Louis Gohmert, the entire Tea Party, and the entire GOP crew of the House of Representatives.  You catch my drift.

Perhaps you can use this factoid to some advantage, enlightenment, and perhaps humor.  In Catholic lore, St. Denis is one of the “14 Holy Helpers,” and his aid is sought to help people with headaches, or who have been possessed.

Crazy GOP members who I suspect of having been possessed give me and America a headache.  St. Denis seems to be our man. Or saint.

Who else do you know of in this modern, vexatious time, who keeps talking after losing his/her head?

As Rod Stewart sang, just “let your imagination run wild.”  Maybe St. Denis is listening.


Statue to St. Denis, in Cluny

Another portrayal, in sculpture, of St. Denis. Notice how this one’s face doesn’t really look like the one above? Ouvre du Musée de Cluny, Wikipedia photo by Guillaume Blanchard (Aoineko), June 2001, FinePix 1400Z.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. I had hoped to have to retire this post someday.  I still hope.  Perhaps this will be the last year we’ll have so many wackaloons running loose. Pray to St. Denis.

Windows on art: Happy birthday, Mark Rothko, wherever you are

September 25, 2015

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City:

“Silence is so accurate.” —Mark Rothko, born on this day in 1903. http://met.org/1Wjh0gO

From a Tweet by the Met: “Silence is so accurate.” —Mark Rothko, born on this day in 1903. http://met.org/1Wjh0gO

So many take satisfaction in claiming Rothko simple. My experience is museums buzz with alertness wherever his paintings are displayed. Good conversation starters for modern-eras in history, and not just art history.

Mark Rothko was born September 25, 1903, in Daugavpils, Latvia.  He defied categorization, but is usually regarded as an abstract expressionist, a member of the New York School.

In the photo:

Who is the woman in the photo?


Powers of Ten – Charles and Ray Eames’ brilliant, before-its-time film

May 23, 2015

Images from

Images from “Powers of Ten,” 1977 edition. From IconEye

AMNH’s “The Known Universe” is a cool film. Putting up that last post on the film, I looked back and noted that when I had previously written about the brilliant predecessor films from Charles and Ray Eames, “Powers of Ten,” the Eames films were not freely available on line.

That’s been fixed.

I like to use films like this as warmups to a year of history, and as a reminder once we get into studying the history of space exploration, of just how far we’ve come in understanding the universe, and how big this place is.

Of course, that means wer are just small parts.

The Eames’s genius showed the scale of things, from a couple picnicking in a park, to the outer reaches of the universe, and then back, zooming into the innermost reaches of a human down to the sub-atomic level.

There’s a series of these films; this one, published on YouTube by the Eames Office, was done in 1977, one of the later versions.

How can you use this in class, teachers? (I recommend buying it on DVD, as I did; better sound and pictures, generally.)

Film information:

Uploaded on Aug 26, 2010

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward- into the hand of the sleeping picnicker- with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell. POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC (Available at http://www.eamesoffice.com)

At the Eames Office Youtube site, you may find the film in with Mandarin Chinese, German, and Japanese translations (no Spanish?).  If you’re unfamiliar with the work of this couple — you would recognize much of the stuff they designed, I’m sure — check out a short film on an exhibit on Ray Eames (which has concluded, sadly):


The very recognizable, famous Eames Chair, from Herman Miller. Ideally, you can sit in your Eames Chair while watching

The very recognizable, famous Eames Chair and Ottoman, from Herman Miller. Ideally, you can sit in your Eames Chair while watching “Powers of Ten.” Herman Miller image.

Pat Metheny’s 42-string guitar, in action

May 16, 2015

Before I new much about him, back in the late 1970s I fell into tickets to see Pat Metheney and his band (with Lyle Mays) at the old Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. (If I recall correctly; anyone know better?)

The amplifier lineup, as I recall, was most impressive, long before the musicians got on stage.  There were two massive pillars of speakers that reminded me much of Blue Cheer and their claim to be the loudest band ever.  When Metheny opened up, it was by far the loudest concert I’d ever heard (no, I never did make it to hear Blue Cheer).

I was hooked.  It’s been fun watching his journey through many incarnations of his own band, and working with others including Joni Mitchell on the Shadows and Light Tour.  I can’t keep up with every release of bands I like, but we have several Metheny discs in vinyl and CD.

I’d heard he has some custom-built instruments, including a 42-string monstrosity.  But today on ran into a photo of the beast on Pinterest.

Pat Metheny's 42-string harp guitar, called a Pikasso guitar (I don't know why).

Pat Metheny’s 42-string harp guitar, called a Pikasso guitar (I don’t know why).

That made me curious, so I nosed around and found this video of Metheny and a band in performance, in which he plays this thing.  From a 2007 concert, Jazzaldia; the piece is called “The Sound of Water”:

In the video you can see a cord coming out of the instrument. How are the pickups set, and what kind does it use?


Young public school artists draw award-winning inspiration from endangered species.

May 1, 2015

Young artists inspired by #endangeredspecies:1st prize D Starovoytov,6th grade http://1.usa.gov/1Koe2RY  @EcoSchoolsUSA  From @USFWSRefuges

Young artists inspired by #endangeredspecies:1st prize D Starovoytov,6th grade http://1.usa.gov/1Koe2RY @EcoSchoolsUSA From @USFWSRefuges

Maybe someone can make that 6th grader’s day, or life, by asking to purchase that piece (watercolor?) for a few thousands of dollars, to go into a college fund.

The USFWS blog, A Talk on the Wildside, announced the winners of the agency’s 2015 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.

David Starovoytov, a sixth-grader from California, won the Grand Prize with his art of a Kentucky arrow darter, a beautiful fish found only in eastern Kentucky. During the breeding season, the males are blue-green with scarlet spots and scarlet-orange vertical bars on their body.  The Kentucky arrow darter is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Federal candidates warrant ESA protection but are sometimes precluded from listing by other higher priority listing actions (other species are more imperiled and take priority).  Each year, the Service publishes a list and summarizes the current status for all candidate species in its Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR). The CNOR helps landowners and natural resource managers plan conservation to address threats to candidate species. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has identified the Kentucky arrow darter as a species of greatest conservation need and has been hard at work conserving it through captive breeding and other projects.  A key threat to the Kentucky arrow darter is degradation of habitat through surface coal mining and other human activities.  Changes in water quality have a profound impact on all aquatic species, including the Kentucky arrow darter.

The darter itself has an interesting story. Cool that a California kid heard the story, and made such a nice work of art.

The rest of the press release, and other winners:

AlligatorFourteen-year-old Seungeun Yi, of California, took second place with art of an American alligator, actually one of our greatest ESA successes. As recently as the 1950s, American alligator populations were at all-time lows as market-hunting and habitat loss decimated the species. ESA protection prohibited hunting, and the alligator began to recover, and states throughout the South helped make sure the population increased. We declared the animal fully recovered in 1987, but related species are still in trouble, so the American alligator is listed as “threatened due to similarity of appearance.

San Francisco garter snake

Another Californian, Mark Deaver, 8, won the Grades k-2 Category with his art of an endangered San Francisco garter snake. The San Francisco garter snake with its turquoise body and orange, black and red-orange stripes, is often called the most beautiful snake in the United States. Because they are so beautiful, some people collect them illegally. But the more significant threat comes from habitat loss. We are working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and other partners to provide habitat for the snake.


Difei Li, 10, of New Jersey, won the Grades 3-5 Category with art of a bald eagle. Perhaps the ESA success story, the bald eagle population bottomed out in 1963 with just 417 nesting pairs in the contiguous United States. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting and the widespread use of DDT had sent the eagle population plummeting after World War II. Protecting habitat, banning most DDT use and a host of conservation actions by the American public helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery. Though removed from the endangered species list in 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently, bald eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.

Northern aplomado falconClaire Noelle Kiernicki, 12, of  Illinois, won the Grades 6-8 Category with art of an endangered Northern aplomado falcon. Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, the aplomado falcon disappeared in South Texas in the 1940s and 1950s because of widespread loss of habitat.  An aggressive captive breeding and re-introduction effort has improved population numbers and the aplomado falcon is making a comeback in southern Texas.


Adam Pavan, 15, of California, won the Grades 9-12 Category with art of an endangered Hawaiian hoary bat. Also known as the ‘ope‘ape‘a, populations are believed to be threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, predation, and roost disturbance. Its decline may be primarily due to the reduction of tree cover in historic times, and they may be indirectly impacted by the use of pesticides. Conservation plans guide the management and use of forests to reduce negative efforts to known bat populations and, continued support for the ‘ope‘ape‘a research cooperative.

Congratulations to all the entrants and thank you for helping spread the word about the endangered species of  the United States and its waters.

True story: Yellow Rose of Texas saved Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto

April 21, 2015

This is mostly an encore post, for the 179th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.

After suffering crushing defeats in previous battles, and while many Texian rebels were running away from Santa Anna’s massive army — the largest and best trained in North America — Sam Houston’s ragtag band of rebels got the drop on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836. Most accounts say the routing of Santa Anna’s fighting machine took just 18 minutes.

San Jacinto Day is April 21. Texas history classes at Texas middle schools should be leading ceremonies marking the occasion — but probably won’t since it’s coming near the end of the state-mandated testing which stops education cold, in March.

Surrender of Santa Anna, Texas State Preservation Board

Surrender of Santa Anna, painting by William Henry Huddle (1890); property of Texas State Preservation Board. The painting depicts Santa Anna being brought before a wounded Sam Houston, to surrender.

San Jacinto Monument brochure, with photo of monument

The San Jacinto Monument is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument

How could Houston’s group have been so effective against a general who modeled himself after Napoleon, with a large, well-running army? In the 1950s a story came out that Santa Anna was distracted from battle. Even as he aged he regarded himself as a great ladies’ man — and it was a woman who detained the Mexican general in his tent, until it was too late to do anything but steal an enlisted man’s uniform and run.

That woman was mulatto, a “yellow rose,” and about whom the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written, according story pieced together in the 1950s.

Could such a story be true? Many historians in the 1950s scoffed at the idea. (More below the fold.) Read the rest of this entry »

Chess games of the rich and Famous: Marcel Duchamp and John Cage make music together

March 11, 2015

Duchamp was a chess-playing fool.

John Cage plays white, Marcel Duchamps plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are.

Marcel Duchamp plays white, John Cage plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are. Toronto, 1968. Teeny Duchamp at far left, camerman in the background.  This was a performance.

Composer John Cage sought him out in Duchamp’s last years, and made a point of meeting with the artist at least once a week. Cage experimented with a chessboard designed to generate music depending on the positions of the chess pieces on the board (hence, the wires).  This photo came from a performance at a festival in Toronto in 1968.




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