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Enough to Make You Scream:
Losses to Mankind's Uninsured Cultural Heritage Diminish in Europe, Increase in Iraq

In news that should please painting-fanciers everywhere, the Norwegian police report that they have recovered the versions of Edvard Munch's The Scream and Madonna that were stolen from the Munch Museum two years ago.  When the original theft took place, I had not yet launched the "Art and Risk" category on my law-and-insurance-oriented weblog, so I wrote about it here.   (Munch's portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche put in an appearance here recently in connection with this post.)

The paintings, you may recall, were not insured.  Given the violence involved in the theft -- the frames were recovered promptly, in the getaway car, but the paintings themselves had been forcibly removed -- there had been ongoing worry that the works might be irretrievably damaged, even if they were ultimately found.  The head of the investigation, Iver Stensrud, has not described the paintings' condition in detail, but declares that he has seen them himself "and there was far from the damage that could have been feared."  The AP report adds:

During the hunt for the paintings, Norwegian news media reported that they might have been burned to get rid of evidence.

Stensrud said it was not possible for the news media, or the public, to see the paintings yet.  He also refused to discuss the methods or details of the search that led to the stolen artworks.

Elsewhere on the planet, the loss of artistic and cultural artifacts continues unabated in Iraq, where the ongoing hostilities and lack of order have resulted in the permanent destruction of many ancient sites.  Compounding the likely breadth of these losses, Tyler Green reports on his Modern Art Notes weblog that Donny George, head of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and principal protector of the infamously-ransacked Baghdad Museum, has sealed the Museum's doors with concrete, resigned his post and fled the country, apparently under threat from Shiite elements of the new Iraqi government that have been pressuring for a heightened emphasis on Islamic artifacts at the expense of more ancient Babylonian and Sumerian sites and materials.  (George himself is a member of Iraq's ultraminority Christian community, and seems to have had a broad ecumenical approach to his nation's honorable artistic history.) 

Green adds this note on the unfortunate confluence of humankind's creative and destructive impulses:

[T]he manner in which the United States has allowed the cultural history of a region to be decimated and looted is a special horror.  When the US went to war in Iraq, the plan was for first-wave invading troops to quickly guard cultural sites.  Those troops were supposed to enter Iraq from Turkey.  When the Turkish government refused to allow U.S. forces to enter Iraq from the north, the Pentagon never established a backup plan.

In a Shelleyan mode: "Look what the mighty have done to these works, and despair."


'Come on Danforth, nobody likes a shoggoth!'

No time to post afresh so far this week, so let this serve as a placeholder for whatever comes next, which may be the longish post somewhat related to H.P. Lovecraft that I have been meaning to do for months.  With that in mind, I refer you to this recent interview in which Vladimir Putin comments on the anticipated return of great Cthulhu:

Asked about the possible awakening of the giant mythical octopus Cthulhu, the fourth-most popular question among the more than 150,000 sent to Putin, he said that he believed something more serious was behind the question.  Cthulhu was invented by novelist H.P. Lovecraft and was said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.

Mr. Putin also offers his thoughts on the defensive uses of giant robots.  Really.

My Miscellany's Nothing Like the Sun

I am slipping away with my missus for a slightly extended weekend to celebrate, a few days prematurely, our 20th wedding anniversary.  Here are some items of random and varying interest to tide the weblog over whilst I do so: 

  • This quietly fascinating video for The Mountain Goats' "Woke Up New" seems the opposite in sophistication to the delightful technical primitivism of the OK Go 'treadmills' video:


The director, Rian Johnson, is reportedly on record that the final version was constructed with only two edits -- can you spot them? -- and no post-production compositing or other trickery.  He is sufficiently proud of it that he has made available a high-resolution, downloadable Quicktime version here.  [Link to download via *Sixeyes.]

  • It is often reported that when bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he explained, "That's where the money is."
    • A 1997 column by Steve Cocheo in, appropriately enough, Banking Journal, profiles Sutton and explores the authenticity of his most famous statement.
    • Here, Radley Balko does not cite Sutton, but provides a similarly obvious answer to the question, "Why is there so much Lobbying and Corruption in Washington, D.C.?"
  • There are weblog "carnivals" -- moveable feasts of collected posts -- on innumerable subjects.  (Readers may recall my double-header April Fool's hosting of the law-related Blawg Review.)  "Carnivalesque" is a carnival of pre-modern/ancient/medieval history.   Meg Worley's xoom hosted Carnivalesque XVII in July, and she was kind enough to link my somewhat-period-appropriate writeups of the opera Grendel

A former law partner of mine was, in her undergraduate days, a medieval history major.  Medievalists as a rule tend to be interesting and worthwhile people.  Most of what one really needs to know about humankind was figured out well before the Renaissance, and medievalists are in on the secrets.  Ezra Pound knew this, before he lost his marbles.  xoom -- which is more contemporary than medieval in most respects  -- was added to the sidebar here earlier this month and is recommended.

  • At least once a week, I can count on receiving a visit from someone referred by Mó  As near as I can tell, that page compiles Every Link You Could Possibly Desire Relating to Squirrels, in Hungarian.  The link labeled "Kép az 1800-as évekből" leads here, specifically to the "Moose and Squirrel" archive page.  The Web it is wide, but the World it is small, non?
  • So, you say you want to abandon your dreary dead-end job for the high-flying world of Internationally Successful Fantasy Writer?  But you protest you lack the skills to produce the predictable piffle whose very badness practically guarantees best seller status?  Bad writing, after all, "is governed by subtle rules and conventions of its own, every bit as difficult to learn and taxing to apply as those that shape good writing.  But do you ever find workshops offering instruction in how to write the sort of really atrocious garbage that leers at you from every railway bookstall?"  Well fear not, friends!  Consult "The Well-Tempered Plot Device" and you will soon be on your way to the very pinnacles of SF/Fantasy's equivalent of Grub Street.  Twenty years old, but its lessons are timeless -- and so simple, even genuinely good writers can and do apply them.  [Via John Crowley, whose expressions of interest in undertaking to write a fantasy series have begun to grow disturbing.]
  • Speaking of fantasy: Childhood isn't what it used to be, thanks in part to folks such as the editors of the newest edition of the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature.  Rather than adopting a decriptive posture -- "here is a comprehensive survey of what English- speaking children have read and been molded by over the centuries" -- the editors have opted for the scolding and prescriptive -- "here is a survey of some things we are righteously horrified to know our children have read, and a wider survey of what we are darn well convinced they should read."  A C Douglas is most emphatically unamused.

Suppose you spent the last eight weeks leveling up . . . to obtain a particular armor, only to find out that two days later the online game company took away some of the protective effects of that armor.  Do you have a legal remedy for the devaluation of your virtual property?

[Via Overlawyered.]

  • And what of Fantasy Foreign Affairs?  I realize we are busy trying to Fix Everything in the Middle East, but I want to know what plans the State Department's Africa specialists have to bring democracy to Celesteville.

Quite what [King] Babar knows about the environment is anyone's guess, as his only recognisable expertise is in dictatorship.  In the 75 years that Jean de Brunhoff's creation has been on the Celesteville throne, Babar has shown no inclination to relax the iron tusk in his velvet glove.  Having returned from Paris to the African jungle in 1931, he promptly built a city modelled on western architecture and forced all his subjects to wear western dress.  Any notions of regime change are banished firmly from the page as Babar has never even bothered to go through the charade of a rigged democratic election.

Celesteville Libre!

[Via 3quarksdaily.]


  • LAST MINUTE ADDITION [082506 0945 PDT]:

All modern literature aspires to the condition of McSweeney's.  Additional evidence: Josh Corey lists improbable character names actually appearing in recent fiction.   My favorite is:

"FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast [and] his demonic younger brother, Diogenes,"

though I think I would like to learn more about Gemma Bastian.

Peppy Pop Soup

To the chagrin, no doubt, of readers who arrive here from classy and classical weblogs such as AC Douglas' Sounds & Fury, I remain something of a sucker -- a fool, if you will -- for crafty summery guitar pop tunes.  Thus, it is with no little pleasure that I have been driven recently to study the oeuvre of the band OK Go.

At this point, it seems that everyone has posted a link to the OK-Go-on-Treadmills video for "Here It Goes Again."  Michael Blowhard succumbs to its charms here.   Aaron Haspel linked it in his sidebar [hence no permalink] back on August 6 with the apt observation, "I thought George Balanchine was dead."  And the thing certainly deserves a place of honor, alongside the work of Astaire and Kelly, as an example of the "building a dance out of mundane objects" school of choreography -- Jackie Chan meets Hermes Pan.  (For the few among us who may not have seen it yet, the video's YouTube page is here.)

Unlike many another video, this one has also done the job it set out to do in increasing the band's sales, as reported by Coolfer.

This is not the first time OK Go have produced a clever, low-budget, single-take stationary camera video.  Here, they dance with fewer props but equal aplomb in support of "A Million Ways:"

The Million Ways dance spawned a slew of homegrown imitations, many of which are accessible at YouTube.  Here, though, is an "offical bootleg" version, in which the band treats the crowd to a hoppy, boppy rendition during an in-store appearance in London:

In proper contemporary style, OK Go has embraced the use of their songs in commercial contexts:  They -- seen fleetingly as a poster come to life -- and their song "Do What You Want" are the foundation for this year's J C Penney back to school advert.  [Flash intensive site; click on "'The Spots" to view "the spot."]  Also, as reported in this release, the band's song "Invincible" will feature as the theme for ABC Television Saturday evening broadcasts of NCAA football. 

Here is the official video for "Invincible," which has a nice look to it but is decidedly more conventional than "Million Ways" or those wondrous treadmills.  It resembles the sort of trippy-trendy-shiny ad that Target stores have perfected, other than the part in which an array of tasteful consumer goods are blown to colorful smithereens:

It is always good to be reminded that the pop-song form can wrestle with real world problems.  Here is a timely example from the band Sprites, via stereogum.  Surely we all know someone, perhaps ourselves, who has gone through this sad, sad experience:

Zombie fanciers -- paging Radley Balko -- will enjoy Sprites' sprightly "George Romero," also in that stereogum post.  The title tells you all you need to know.

And speaking of zombie fanciers . . . , please take note that my worthy pal Rick Coencas has revamped his own weblog, Futurballa, and has begun posting actual posts in addition to putting up examples of his skills as a photographer.  Apropos of popular culture, he has recently confessed his sad addiction to certain Marvel comics.  Poor fellow.


¹  When I mentioned the title of this song to my lady wife over dinner the other night, she immediately assumed that it must be a send-up of the Bee Gees' "I Started A Joke."  She was most disappointed to learn otherwise. 

It says here that the Bee Gees' song is "considered by many to be a great example of lyrical story-telling."   Elsewhere one can find at least one rather overblown Interpretive Study of the song.  Message boards have been devoted to teasing out the meaning of the song.  Indications here are that it has none.  I, for one, thought that everyone knew that it's about Hitler.

You've Gotta Fight!
for Your Right!
to Pââââté!!

The dubious Chicago Foie Gras ban takes effect next Tuesday, August 22, and the toddlin' town is toddlin' to its high-priced restaurants for a final taste of the soon-to-be-forbidden avian organs.  Illinois restaurateurs are responding to the ban in the traditional American fashion, by filing suit to overturn it:

Aboriginal_goose 'The argument is that this [ban] violates interstate commerce and the city is usurping the federal government's power by banning a product that's federally approved for shipment across state lines,' said a source familiar with the lawsuit.

Chef Allen Sternweiler of Allen's New American Cafe will be a named plaintiff.  While other Chicago chefs were hesitant about signing onto the legal battle against the city, Sternweiler said, 'If the city wants to send a health inspector to my restaurant every other day for the next five years, let them do it. I have nothing to hide.'

'What's at stake is the ability of adults to order legal products, the production of which has been overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when they choose to dine out in Chicago,' said Chris Robling, a spokesman for the Artisan Farmers Association.

Of related interest:

  • Michael Krauss at points to the on again/off again love affair between the arch-nutitionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and trans fat-laden vegetable oils.
  • California will implement a ban in 2012 on the production, but not on the sale, of foie gras.  I wrote about the California legislation in the long-ago days of the 2004 presidential election campaign, and noted one candidate's fondness for the controversial foodstuff.

[Illustration -- Bark Drawing: Palmated Goose, (Kakadu Tribe), showing internal anatomy, from Baldwin Spencer's Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia (1914), "Chapter XIV: Decorative Art," via the Internet Sacred Text Archive.]

Strung Out and Parched at the Airport

Among the sufferers under new airline security rules: small winemakers and the peripatetic wine drinkers who love them.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

New security measures banning liquids from airplane carry-on luggage have some California vintners seeing red.

Passengers jamming multi-bottle wine carriers into overhead bins and under seats were a common sight on flights departing from San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento airports until [last] Thursday's ban — sparked by the British authorities' foiling of an alleged plot to blow up jetliners.

Since then, unwitting oenophiles have been chugging prized vintages or dumping full bottles of wine into bins with lipstick, sunscreen and other banned liquids.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of cases of wine travel across the country as carry-on luggage, a small but important part of California's $16.5-billion wine industry.

The concourses are slick with the tears of oenophiles as their prized bottles are unceremoniously confiscated and destroyed.  The nation's crazy quilt of laws restricting direct shipment of wine to consumers -- you know, to protect the children -- don't help the situation for thirsty tourists far from home:

Stopping off at a shipping company service on the way to the airport won't help.  UPS and FedEx won't knowingly accept wine shipments from consumers out of fear of violating one of the many regulations that govern the transport of alcoholic beverages.

'If we find out the shipment is a box of wine, we will just hold it wherever we discover the fact,' UPS spokesman Steve Holmes said.  'It might be in the middle of Kansas.  You would have a couple of days to retrieve it or else we are going to dump it.'

If you are prepared to risk the perils of the cargo hold, transporting wine in your checked luggage is still permissible, and some wineries are trying to salvage sales by making that option more convenient.   Per the San Luis Obispo Tribune:

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles posted fliers around its tasting room this weekend to alert visitors of the changes and to offer foam packing containers to allow wine to be safely checked in.

The containers — which are given free to customers — cost the winery $2.73 a piece.

Remember when flying was a pleasure?

Wine lovers are not the only aesthetes suffering in these troubled times.  Writing at, Brian Micklethwait points to musician/weblogger Jessica Duchen's report on heightened airline security and the persecution of the performing arts:

I'm sorry to say that the latest on carrying hand-baggage on flights to/from Britain is that violins appear to be a no-no.

Tom has been carrying his violin into the cabin as hand-luggage for 25 years.  Yesterday we hung on for about ten minutes to get through to the airline on which we are meant to fly to France next month, listening to pre-recorded platitudinous messages about their wonderful customer service.  Finally Tom was told by some idiot of a rep that he can put his violin in the hold.  He explained that he can't: it's liable to be smashed by those shot-putting bag handlers, being 150 years old and worth a five-figure sum.  'In that case you can afford to buy another ticket for it,' said the rep, who evidently hadn't listened to the platitudinous messages about their wonderful customer service.

The news is not all bad: "There's no problem with the French internal flight from Nice to Nantes - the rep we spoke to there seemed to think that Britain and the US have gone completely bonkers . . . ."

O Ca' del Solo Mio:
Randall Grahm Escapes from the Big House

Got to get back to the land and set my soul free . . .

This bit of wine news dates back to the end of July, but it only came to my attention when the Los Angeles Times got around to reporting it in this week's Wednesday Food section:

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard (last featured on this weblog here) has gone and sold off brands accounting for more than half his production.  Bonny Doon will no longer be producing wine under the Big House (200,000 cases/year in Red, White & Pink varieties) or Cardinal Zin (20,000 cases/year of zinfandel from "gnarly old vines") brands.  Grahm is considering selling off or eliminating a number of other Bonny Doon wines, and will be spinning off the winery's remaining lower-priced lines as a separate company "Pacific Rim," to be headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

The goal is to return Bonny Doon to its roots as an outlet for Grahm's pet obsession with wine as an expression of the place where it is grown:

Going forward, what's left of Bonny Doon will have a singular focus: making small-production, vineyard-specific wines using the extreme organic farming philosophy known as biodynamics.  Expressing terroir — the French term connoting wines that reflect the specific place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made — is the goal.

Grahm plans to buy or secure long-term leases for two new vineyards.  One will be planted with grape varieties particular to France's Rhône Valley for Bonny Doon's most ambitious wines, sold under the Le Cigare Volant (Flying Saucer) label.  The other will be devoted to Pinot Noir.  Bonny Doon's 125-acre Soledad, Calif., vineyard will be renovated to reduce the number of grape varieties grown there.

Grahm now is picking through his Santa Cruz-based company's remaining wine brands, discarding some and keeping others to be reconfigured into a company tightly focused on making high-quality wines 'with bragging rights,' he says.  Bonny Doon's current list of more than 30 wines will be reduced to fewer than eight.

The Big House and Cardinal Zin brands have been purchased by The Wine Group, the enormous if low-profile company behind such mass brands as Franzia (which bears the name of but is not in fact  associated with "Two-Buck Chuck" mogul Fred Franzia), Corbett Canyon and [gack!] Mogen David.  The erstwhile Doon labels will be rolled into the portfolio of The Wine Group's recently launched subsidiary, Underdog Wine Merchants.  [Caution: The Underdog site immediately launches a music player playing acid lounge and techno.  Turning down or muting speakers is recommended before clicking.]

As part of the Underdog portfolio, Big House and the Cardinal will join a group of wines from around the world being marketed specifically to "millenials," the young adults who have come of age in the past half-decade or so.  (This July 14 press release articulates the strategy.)  Underdog's wines feature zippy labels with clever-clever brand names such as "Tempra Tantrum" (Tempranillo from Spain), "Pinot Evil" (Pinot Noir from California's Central Coast and from France), and "Devil's Marbles" (Chardonnay and Shiraz from Australia).  They are, in short, everything that Randall Grahm now aspires not to be.

In the LA Times article linked above, Grahm suggests that his decision to prune his winery back to its essences is driven in part by his having turned 50 and become a father in the past few years.  Is his renewed embrace of his youthful ideals a symptom of mid-life crisis?  Is estate grown, biodynamic wine expressing a spectrum of terroir the viticultural equivalent of a flashy red convertible and a blonde?  Time, and a bottle, will tell.

Of related interest:

  • The Bonny Doon site's official biographical sketch of The Founder, featuring a somewhat disturbing moving image of Randall Grahm's head adrift in the audience chamber of Oz, the Great and Powerful.
  • Not linkable, unfortunately, but biodynamics turns up in at least two articles in the current (August 2006) issue of Wine&Spirits Magazine, which by coincidence I picked up yesterday at the Sacramento airport.  One article focuses on current developments in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, where wineries including Quivira and Preston are embracing biodynamic approaches, and the other profiles three of the county's grandest, oldest Zinfandel vineyards.  There's good wine reading to be had there.

Manet are Cold, but Poe are Frozen


I enjoy the work of Claude Monet as much as anyone -- there is or was a wonderful room at the Art Institute of Chicago that I fondly recall, it being close to a decade since last I was in Chicago, as containing nothing but examples of Monet's paintings of haystacks and of the cathedral at Rouen -- but there is something to be said for the notion that a person is making progress in the realms of Art Appreciation on the day he or she (1) knows the difference between Claude Monet and Édouard Manet and (2) decides that Manet is ultimately the more interesting painter.  Or the other way around, as you prefer.

The humanity-packed scene above is Manet's Music in the Tuileries Gardens, currently featured in Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the 19th Century at London's National Gallery.  As the curators point out (also here), Manet included himself in the painting at the left of the frame  He also incorporated other notable figures of his acquaintance, including poet/novelist Théophile Gautier, composer Jacques Offenbach, and poet and critic Charles Baudelaire.  The National Gallery earlier provided a handy spotter's guide to the painting.

Manet_tuileries_detail_baudelaire Baudelaire is perhaps the hardest one to locate, as he appears here as a sort of human silhouette on the verge of disappearing, defined principally by his hat and his distinctive profile.  Manet caught that same profile in an etching that is generally thought to have been made concurrently with the painting of the Tuileries.

(Baudelaire has long enjoyed pride of place on this weblog, providing for the Epigraphs section one of the "forests" in which I fool.)

While he knew, influenced and was influenced by Manet, Baudelaire also famously adored a recently-deceased American, Edgar Allan Poe.

Baudelaire invoked Poe's tale "The Man of the Crowd" in his long essay "The Painter of Modern Life," and that passage is quoted at the outset of Lillian Pizzichini's consideration of the Rebels and Martyrs show for The Social Affairs Unit.  Jonathan Jones, writing about the show in the Guardian, suggests that he has detected the presence of Poe's own ghost, at least metaphorically, in Manet's painting.  (Jones's piece is worth reading in full, providing as it does a reminder that notwithstanding the disappearance of a litany formerly entrenched empires and notwithstanding the extra sophistication with which we humans now mistreat one another, the 19th Century has never really gone away.)

Baudelaire's adoration of Poe is well known: he translated most of Poe's tales into French, as well as crafting a French prose translation of "The Raven."  A separate translation of "The Raven" by Mallarmé later gave rise, to maintain our seamless web of interrelations, to a set of illustrations by, yes, Manet.

Baudelaire's citation of Poe in writing about painting sent me off to the Glendale Public Library, where I found a fine little 1952 collection (apparently now out-of-print) of translations of Baudelaire's essays on Poe.  In his first take on the subject, "Poe - His Life and works" (1852), Baudelaire provides a brief biographical sketch of the American.  We join Poe's life already in progress, following his 1822 return from boarding school in England, at which point after a brief university sojourn Baudelaire's version takes a sharp turn into the highly dramatic:

In 1825 he entered the University of Virginia which was at that time a center of dissipation.  Edgar Poe distinguished himself among his fellow students by an exceptionally lively eagerness for pleasure.  He was an excellent student and made incredible progress in mathematics; he had an unusual aptitude for physics and natural science, which may be noted in passing, since in several of his works there appears a great preoccupation with science; but at the same time he drank, gambled and behaved so wildly that he was finally expelled.  When [his adoptive father] Mr. Allan refused to pay some gambling debts, he broke with him impulsively and ran away to Greece.  It was the period of Botzaris and the Greek Revolution.  Finally turning up in St. Petersburg, his purse and enthusiasm somewhat exhausted, he got into trouble with the Russian government for reasons unknown.  It is said that the situation was so bad that Poe was about to add Siberia to his precocious knowledge of men and things.  Finally, the intervention and help of Henry Middleton, the American Consul, enabled him to return home.

Poe fighting all Byron-like for Greek Freedom!  Poe in Siberia!  What wonderful fantasies these are.  Baudelaire would have made a fine blogger, or perhaps a regular contributor to Wikipedia.  Delightful.

On those lines, here is another little known Baudelairian fact:

Johann Strauss, "the Waltz King," was hugely impressed by Baudelaire's magnum opus, Les Fleurs du mal, so much so that he was inspired to adapt excerpts from it as an operetta, premiering it in 1874 under the collection's German title, Die Fledermaus.

This has been omitted from most of the standard entries on the subject for reasons unknown.


Just because I liked it, and because I haven't the time at the moment to do anything of my own, this from Little and Big, the online journal of novelist John Crowley:

Do writers have an innate fascination with (or attraction to) empires and ramifying ineffectual and unchanging hegemonies?  I like the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire even more the Austro Hungarian Empire, whose passing was a great loss to Civilization.  I know, I know -- but sit down and list the injustices of the Emperor Franz Ferdinand [sic] and his society (snubbing of Jews, snobbism, hidebound conservatism, suppressing nationalisms, closing the odd radical paper, endless pointless ceremony, special privileges and forms of address for the well born) and put them alongside the crimes of all the successor states down to the present.  The old Austro-Hungarians would have been appalled at the crimes and follies that succeeded their ouster.

Crowley follows up here: "Of course I forgot that empires in general and aged ones in particular are omnipresent in fantasy. . . ."  [It will be of interest to some people to know that Tom Disch shows up as a commenter to this second entry.]