Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

“Two Octopi”

John Singer SargentI’ve seen a lot of John Singer Sargent’s work over the years, but never this delightfully pulsating oil painting of two octopuses of 1875 until very recently. Sargent was about 19 when he painted this, and it’s one of the first oils in his oeuvre.

Cephalopods still had a bit of mystique about them in northern Europe, where another name for them was devil fish. These were seen and painted in Brittany. Sargent, who was born in Florence, was familiar with them from the Mediterranean, and he probably also knew they were good eating. I’m afraid they are rather delicious, especially grilled a la Grecque. I’ve stopped eating them since discovering how intelligent they are.

The word octopus comes from the Greek for eight feet. Octopi therefore shouldn’t be the plural since it’s cod-, if not dog-, Latin, but that is how the picture is known. It’s evidently in a private collection. The lucky so-and-so.

Free Malheur NWR

NWRIt has now been more than two weeks since a ragtag group of armed men took over buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

Our nation’s representatives in the west have long been terrorized by a right-wing movement which wants to convert public land to their own profit wholesale. This has been well-funded by extractive business enterprises and their ideological drones. The foot-soldiers may be crackpots, but what they represent is the worst of American history. For it isn’t enough that ranchers, miners, and foresters are subsidized to profit obscenely on the nation’s patrimony with grazing, mineral, and logging rights. They want it all, unconstrained, just like it was before the federal government moved in to stop the wholesale exploitation of natural resources and animal life, the devouring of the common heritage of us all.

A nasty mix of racist, fascist, paranoid delusional, and religious extremisms, the “patriot”/”militia”/”sagebrush rebellion” types are heavily armed, thanks to this nation’s being held hostage by a metastasized gun industry and its lobby. Eschatologically, they’re hungry for martyrdom (the blundering of federal agencies in response to earlier eruptions of such apocalyptic sociopathy has not helped). The closer you look, the more disturbing this crew is: the thieving patriarch of the Bundy family believes blacks would be better off re-enslaved. (Which should remind us that armed African Americans and/or Native Americans in such a context would not be treated with the same kid gloves.)

Yes, people have been making fun of the Bundy Bunch yahoos and their lack of snacks, but they’re smart enough to hack Malheur’s computers to go after the personal records of federal employees.

While the grotesque circus of horrors vying for the Republican Presidential nod have distanced themselves from the Bundy Gang, the anti-government rhetoric, conspiratorial paranoia, and the nativist-racist atmosphere this takes place in are very much Republican constructions. Trump and Cruz, the leaders in the polls, are unabashedly nativist and fascist in their appeal, but the second fiddles are as disturbing. Now, that appeal is limited, and the harping on polls of likely Republican voters is deceiving; probably no more than 20% of the population, tops, yearns for the jackboot in their face. (Of course, these fools and dupes think it’ll be planted in someone else’s face, but it doesn’t tend to work that way for long.) But remember that this minority is in the context of a majority of America who do not vote. In addition, GOP efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering have perpetuated their minority-appeal power for decades now. One-in-five Americans has been enough more than once, as the so-called “Gingrich Revolution” and “Tea Party” can attest.

Against this fetid tide stands the idea of a national wildlife refugee. A far from perfect mechanism to protect varied habitats and the the richness of the diversity of life, NWRs nonetheless make a point of reminding us that humans are not the only animals on this planet. The notion that this is all of ours means that these pirates have struck deep into the idea of America itself. They call themselves patriots, but are quite the opposite.

Turf and Owl

I’ve been reading Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation, a deeply thought-provocking work even with its sprawling and superficial, in the best sense, scope. I wanted to make a note of Dürer’s famous rhinoceros, highlighted in a chapter on the master, in these pages of blog, but a pebble dropped into the mines of memory made me wonder if I’d done so before. I had, on the occasion of reading MacGregor’s earlier History of the World in 100 Objects.

In this new book, MacGregor writes that so powerful was Dürer’s image that 215 years later, the makers of Dresden’s porcelain menagerie modeled their rhinoceros on it, even though Europeans had a pretty good idea what rhinos actually looked like by then.

So instead of Dürer’s rhino again, I present his Das große Rasenstück, the Large Piece of Turf, a 1503 watercolor. Although he never saw a rhino, you can imagine what a fine job he would have done with a representation of the actual animal, instead of just a written description. He was a very close observer of nature.800px-Albrecht_Dürer_-_The_Large_Piece_of_Turf,_1503_-_Google_Art_ProjectAt least nine plants have been identified here.

Of course, one can easily go on and on with AD. I also favor his Klein Eule, Little Owl, another watercolor (for someone so well known for his copper plate work) of 1508.the-little-owl-1506.jpg!Blog

UPDATE: It turns out that the authorship of the owl painting is quite contested. It is certainly attributed to AD, but controversially so. Fritz Koreny’s Albrect Dürer and the Animal and Plant Studies of the Renaissance, the catalog of a 1985 exhibition, is quite sure it isn’t. The monogram and the date being added later, the brush strokes different, etc. Still, a lovely piece. Let me know if you have further information.

When Drones Attack

At first it seems as if the raptor-versus-drone videos are a win for the birds. Rah, rah, nature over technology and all that. I’ve seen about half a dozen now, though, and don’t think it’s good for them at all. Which is why I won’t link to any here: publicity begets copycats, drone-heads eager for the confrontation because it will draw viewers, the precious currency of the internet. (Witness the ghastly let’s-scare-the-hell-out-of-the-cat-with-a-cucumber thing, which is cat-stress-inducing entertainment for armchair sadists.)

Since raptors are territorial birds, drones seem to be perceived as a challenge. The birds must defend their air. So although the videos suggest that the machine is being attacked because you get its point of view, it’s really the drone which is the aggressor. Raptors have enough hazards to deal with already in the human-controlled world, like rat poison, high-tension wires, windmills, glass, and etc.

Since raptors live by their talons, hitting a hovering machine won’t be good for their feet.

Sure, there are legitimate remote-sensing applications for drones, but that’s not what the majority of people are using them for. For these people, it’s another gee-whiz toy, a piece of technological corporate commodity to be used without thought or consequence.

Drones aren’t supposed to be flown from city parks, but there are specific model aircraft zones that can be used. Floyd Bennett Field, part of Gateway NRA, has another model airplane field: the annoying buzz of the planes there — think machines a yard long, not hand-held models — is a constant in summer. Luckily, the sports into this steroidal childishness can’t take the snow and cold, so the big birds that may visit FBF in winter, like Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks, are generally unmolested.

It seems there are no specifically anti-drone laws in the city, but operators using them in the streets (yup!) and parks could, and should, be charged with public endangerment as they are flown overhead.

No to TNR

A bill before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposes to fund TNR programs around the state. These are efforts to Trap, Neuter and vaccinate, and then Release feral cats back in the places they were found. Feral cats are our number one invasive species. They kill enormous numbers of birds and mammals every year and are an abject plague upon the natural world. I wrote about this disaster, citing some of the relevant studies and details, for JSTOR Daily.

This law, sponsored by no-kill shelters (who will get money out of it, btw,) and very selective “animal lovers” is totally wrong-headed.

Cuomo has until October 26 to sign it into law, veto, or (hello, Governor Cuomo!) do nothing and just let the bill run out of time. That last option is the pocket veto, preferred by politicians everywhere.

The bill is A2778/S1081
Call the governor’s office at 1-518-474-8390
Email the governor.

UPDATED 10/27 Cuomo has vetoed this bill. Here’s the American Bird Conservatory on why this was the right thing to do

Man Ray’s Sea Horse

manrayseaAfter enjoying immensely the Sargent exhibit at the Met, I ran into this Man Ray gelatin silver print of 1930, “Histoire naturelle.” The text panel describes it as a petrified sea horse, at rather larger-than-life scale, supposedly as part of a Surrealist effort to defamiliarize ordinary objects. Simpler times.

A Better Way To Plant

Green-WoodThis patch of native meadow in Green-Wood Cemetery was a revelation on a recent afternoon when it was absolutely pulsing with life as numerous species of butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, and beetles gathered pollen and nectar and munched on plants and each other. Green-WoodI gather it’s an experiment. I hope it thrives, and that those burying their dead here and elsewhere see the relevance and importance of such landscaping and start demanding it. The old-fashioned lawn of a cemetery is no more conducive to life than a suburban lawn and comes from a similar era and ideology. But if you do decide to go the burial route, forest burial and meadow burial should be options for an age with much more concern for ecology and fostering habitats. Sure, direct access to a tombstone is made more difficult, if not impossible, in this kind of situation, for relatives. So I assume that family members had to give permission for this, if there were still any on record for this crowd. And yet what a beautiful thing to visit: flowers in bloom through the summer, grasses heavy with seed in the fall, winter’s stubby potential. While we were there, the animals were buzzing as a breeze blew up the Harbor Hill Moraine and cicadas and Mockingbirds staked out their territory.
meadowSuch a difference from the fake flowers often stuck in front of graves. meadowmeadow7


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