Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for a happy new year to all!

In lieu of a painting I am posting this cute little antique postcard.

Painting for the Seventh Day of Christmas

This Madonna and Child is by Lucius Cranach the Elder, and was painted around the time Martin Luther was shaking up the religious establishment and starting the Protestant religion. Cranach the Elder was principally a portrait painter, and painted Luther's entire family.

Are you impressed that I have managed to say nothing political during Christmas? In the wake of the Roland Burris appointment by Governor Blagojevich and the announcement by Jesse White that he will not certify the appointment, I suppose I should call upon all citizens of Illinois to speak out against the national press characterizing Illinois as dealing in race based politics . That simply isn't the case. What they are seeing is Illinois Democrats at work, and that the political process is working. I will continue to defend my fellow citizens of Illinois, and continue to assert that our state moved beyond considerations of race long ago. I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: our politicians might be crooked, but they are not bigots.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Too Many Games on the Wii?

Christmas isn't just about Jesus, it's about family fun and togetherness, too. My picture for the sixth day of Christmas is a photo. Everybody loves the Nintendo Wii, but have you ever contemplated what would happen if the strap of a Wii remote broke while flinging it about playing video sports? This is the answer. This is an actual photo of a flat screen TV during the twelve days of Christmas after the Wii remote strap broke and the remote flew into the TV. Before you grow too concerned, the original strap of the remote had been changed by a clever housewife who had color coded the straps for her family members. She was pretty unhappy about the flatscreen, but I am pleased to report that the TV was replaced by the miscreant in a couple of hours.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Painting for the Fifth Day of Christmas

This nativity scene for the fifth day of Christmas was painted by an unknown Flemish master in about 1400. You can see it in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp, Holland. This picture looks very different from the usual nativity scene of that time. Mary has a lady to help her with the baby Jesus, and there are only two animals. Joseph is very old, in accordance with the Bible story, and is busy reading. The numerous visitors shown in so many other paintings of the birth of Jesus in that era are missing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Chilly Fourth Day of Christmas

After yesterday's storm I heard a neighbor running a sump pump, so some of Wilmette must be flooded. It was strange to see the snow disappear so rapidly! It was so windy last night, both our garbage pail lids flew into the yard. After yesterday's warm temperatures, on the fourth day of Christmas, winter is back--maybe. The picture above, Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, 1565, was painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel is considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century and is notable because he painted ordinary people rather than the nobility. Bruegel's painting are also important as visual testimony to climate change half a millenium ago. That period of cold temperature is known as the "Little Ice Age."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Woodcut for the Third Day of Christmas

You might want to click on this woodcut that I chose for the third day of Christmas so it gets bigger. It's from an unknown German artist. I really like it. It's in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Painting for the Second Day of Christmas

I always enjoy the art on Christmas cards, and have a door where I put up the cards we have received so we can look at them over the holidays. This year I seemed to reach a new low in the Christmas cards I send out. Usually I go to one store where they have great cards, but I didn't find any good ones this year and was anxious to buy cards before I went off to the Christmas markets. I got my cards from a display at Wallgreen's that said Hallmark, but there were a number of different brands there. They looked pretty good to me because I was in hurry, and I liked the idea that it was an assortment. Although they had some nice gold on them, there was also some glitter. The glitter started falling all over the table when I addressed them, and I can't imagine how much that will aggravate the people I sent them to. If you were one, I really apologize.

Today I am celebrating the second day of Christmas, and decided to post a few Christmas pictures over the next few days. This picture is by an unknown master of the Cologne School. I wish I had been able to find some cards with this picture; it would have been a great improvement.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

The picture above is detail of an altarpiece by Stefan Lochner, a 15th century painter associated with the Cologne school.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Festivus Already? Time to Celebrate!

Best wishes for a blessed Festivus.

May the airing of grievences be especially meaningful to you and yours!

click on the picture to read the text

Monday, December 22, 2008

Santa Prepares for Takeoff

What? Your children forgot to write to Santa and its almost Christmas? Not a problem, today's modern Santa uses email, so the kids can still drop him a line!

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will be tracking Santa during his journey online and by cell phone using Google Earth and Twitter.

Curious how Santa delivers all those presents in one night? According to Larry Silverberg, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University, that requires controlling time, space and light. While this might seem difficult, Dr. Silverberg has a comprehensive explanation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rod Blagojevich: Where Were You When You Heard the News?

So where were you when you heard about Rod Blogo- jevich? The news travelled far and wide. I had taken the train above, and had been looking at old half timbered houses. The day had become cold and dreary and a snowstorm had begun. I ducked into a little cafe in old East Germany to warm up. There on the hearth was a newspaper which caught my eye. I took it to my table for a closer look. Al Capone was on the cover, with a phrase that I knew meant "The Chicago System." Under the picture was the question "Mafia Methods?" The first words following that were Rod Blago- jevich. The story was continued inside, and I eagerly opened the paper. I knew there was news of home. And there on the inside was a headline "Macht Zu Geld" with a picture of Governor Blagovich pointing his finger. While I couldn't read the article, the message was clear: something bad must have happened to the Governor. A few days later, after most of the snow had melted, I returned to the Land of Satellite TV and heard the story.
But before I caught CNN, complete with Jesse Jackson, Jr. interviews, I saw a few phrases in the article in that cafe that should have told me everything: "Patrick Fitzgerald," "Obama im Senate," and "Frau Jarrett."

Red Country, Blue Win: Presidential Election Results Broken Down by County

The map, above, shows the 2008 Presidential election results broken down by county. The red area is Republican and voted for John McCain. Blue is Obama. For those interested in the numbers behind this map, here is the link. The map above was done by Mark Newman at the University of Michigan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bailout Comment

Click on the picture to read the small print.

h/t reader VM, via email.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

December 7, 1941: The Infamous Myths and Rumors of Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is still a day that remains in infamy. 2,400 persons were killed by the Japanese in a surprise Sunday morning raid on the United States at the naval shipyard in Honolulu.

Over the years, a number of myths have circulated about that attack. These rumors actually started during World War II, and they have pesisted ever since. Ending those myths was made more difficult by the fact that the Congressional Investigation Report on Pearl Harbor was not released until July 26, 1946. While the report contained information that addressed most of the rumors, the Pearl Harbor Attack Investigation Report (PHA for short) was in 40 parts bound in about 23 volumes. Extracting the answers to the bizarre stories that ran rampant was a daunting task for even the most serious researcher.

One of the most persistent and most foul rumors was that US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and sacrificed American lives for his own desire to enter the war. You can read for yourself a year's worth of intercepted Japanese communications, events leading up to World War II, and a diplomatic message from Tokyo to the Japanese Embassy in London to destroy code machine, burn codes dated December 1, 1941.

While everyone knows of the air attack on pearl harbor, less well known is the fleet of 28 submarines sent by Japan to Hawaii to aid in their attack on America.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

Happy St. Nicholas Day! I love to see how other counties portray St. Nick, the 4th century Greek bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly. He is the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students. This good looking group is from Germany, off to leave treats in the shoes of local boys and girls.


It's Hajj, and in Saudi Arabia Muslims are gathering for a religious pilgrimage to Mecca. Over two million people are housed in tents and I thought you would enjoy seeing how many there are. I ran into this video months ago and I was amazed at the size of this temporary town. It is definately quite a sight. It is said that there are 57,000 tents, which are air conditioned and made of non-flammable material.

Because of the vast distances travelled, and the possibility of spreading disease, medical requirements for pilgrims are strict. Inoculations are required for such as typhoid fever, polio, pneumonia, diptheria, tetanus and malaria. Disease and illness can spread rapidly at the Hajj where hundreds of thousands of people move at all times in extremely close proximity. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requires proof of inoculations and a round-trip ticket to home to ensure pilgrims don't linger. If you watch the video you see how closely together millions of people live for a few days each year

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Christmas Markets in Germany

I enjoyed those pictures that I posted the other day of our trip to the Chicago Christmas Market so much, that I decided to put up some photos of a few more Christmas markets I've visited. Above is the medieval Christmas Market in Leipzig, Germany. What looks like little houses are really the booths where the merchandise is sold. Leipzig likes to bill itself as the oldest Christmas market in Germany, although it may not be. Leipzig is the town where J.S. Bach worked most of his life, so it makes a perfect Christmas visit. The medieval Christmas market should not be confused with the main Leipzig Christmas market.

To the left is the Christmas market in Jena, another city in east Germany. They were selling Christmas trees at the entrance to the market. German Christmas markets are probably so popular as it is warmer there than it is here! At the market itself there were a number of signs that said "We speak Russian." This market had the culinary oddity of Bockwurst and kale. It didn't cost too much and it tasted delicious! The portion was big enough for two of us.

To the right is the famous Dresden Streizel-markt. It is famous for stollen, the heavy sweet coffee cake with fruit that they also sell at the Chicago Christmas market. This is a very large market, and dates back to almost two centuries before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth! Dresden is a fantastic looking city, and well worth a visit despite the fact it has been destroyed repeatedly in war.

To the left is the Christmas market in the town of Fulda, which was an important garrison town during the Cold War era, right at the border of the old East Germany. Fulda is also a very interesting town visually, with fabulous churches and half-timbered buildings. The Christmas market is spread out over a large area and has a nice selection of reasonably priced goods offered by the merchants. It's the only Christmas market where I have ever seen outside heaters by some of the food and drink stands. They make a great drink here, the "Schneeman" (snowman) which is hot chocolate and rum with whipped cream. Yum! And it's easy to make at home, too.

At the Chicago Christmas Market, Germany promotes travel to their Christmas markets. That's where I got the idea to go. It's pretty easy. You can either take a bus tour, or just fly to Frankfurt and get on a high speed train right at the airport and go anywhere you wish! You can plan all your train travel (and even print out your ticket on your computer) and your hotel rooms at the Bahn website (in English--I don't speak German), where you also can find plenty of hotels right by train stations. The Christmas markets are within easy walking distance of the train station almost everywhere, and you can find all the information about dozens of markets at the Come to Germany website. When your vacation is over, you just get on a train back to the airport and catch your plane. Now how easy is that? If you take the family, you can give the trip--a week is plenty of time--instead of presents and stay out of malls entirely. That makes for a very pleasant holiday season!

When it Comes to Politics, Best Put Your Head in the Sand

When it comes to politics, if you think I've had my head in the sand lately, you would be so correct. The next President is being hailed with fanatical enthusiasm and a belief that his talents and skills are better than any leader in history, ever. Those cartoon pictures that feature Barack-in-a-manger aren't far from the mark. Despite my grave doubts, I would be very happy if he were to fulfill the promise that his supporters believe he has and prove to be the best President ever, but I am pretty sure that his brilliance ends at soaring rhetoric.

To add insult to injury is the talk of a pardon for George Ryan. No one has done more to advance the cause of extirpating the Republican party in Illinois than Ryan, and the punishment meted out to him was light for his misdeeds. Ryan's criminal acts sickened the average rank and file Illinois Republican, and brought great dishonor to Illinois, who sent America's first Republican President Abraham Lincoln to Washington under its banner. See TA's blog for details.

Meanwhile, the Obama birth certificate controversy rages on. There are a number of differing stories in his family where Barack first saw the light of day. While I assumed the birth certificate issue had more to do with his parent's marriage, the information trend is not good.