Wednesday, November 30, 2016


In the current battle between the civilized West and the medieval Middle East, news accounts are quick to point out the barbarous behavior of ISIS toward its enemies. One of the most unspeakable crimes committed by these monsters is the beheading of their enemies.

There’s several dimensions to this issue. In the case of beheading, it seems that there’s been a change in attitudes toward the practice. A few hundred years ago beheading must have been regarded favorably in the West. First of all, we know this from the history of western art. Two of the most frequent subjects of European art, when its focus was on religion, were the stories of David and Goliath and Judith and Holofernes.

Countless paintings and sculptures were made of the combat between the heroic Israelite champion David and his giant Philistine opponent Goliath. Many of these art works depicted the immediate aftermath of the conflict, David holding the severed head of Goliath. This beheading was apparently seen as a positive event by Christians. 

Gustave Dore', David and Goliath 1866

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One of the great heroines of the Old Testament and Christianity was the widow Judith. She offered herself to the Assyrian leader Holofernes and after catching him in a weak moment decapitated the fellow, turning an Israelite defeat into victory. This was the subject of European art works for centuries.
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At some point, however, beheading must have lost its lustre. Maybe after the French Revolution, since the Guillotine, a mechanized head removal device, was invented then to speed the process along. In the case of judicial capital punishment, beheading was never popular in the American colonies, hanging being the preferred method. In fact, killing without intentionally disfiguring the victim became the norm. This was reflected in the shock and dismay displayed by Americans when it was revealed that native Americans routinely dismembered US cavalrymen killed in battle, cutting off their arms, legs and genitalia. Even now Yankees are upset by the desecration of their fighting men while being little disturbed by members of either side being blown to smithereens by artillery, bombs or even atomic weapons.

As in all funereal practices, it's basically a scientific fact that nothing that's done to a corpse can be felt by the former owner, no matter if it's believed that the individual is on his way to paradise or the depths of hell. Beheading then is an affront to the sensibilities of the unbeheaded. That's why the bad guys to do it. To offend the survivors, and intimidate them. It seems to be working.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Politics and the English Language

In 1946 English writer George Orwell composed an essay that included this:

"The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot. The Soviet Press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

 Image result for george orwell

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Is It A Frans Hals Or Ain't It?

This portrait was determined to be produced by the hand of 16th century Dutch artist Frans Hals, which led to its subsequent sale for $10 million. Now it seems that it's not.

Which makes one wonder why the works of Hals or any other artist should be worth such fabulous sums of money if experts can't reliably tell one from another. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Raising Legislator's Pay

In the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota voters will decide this fall whether to amend the state constitution to establish a compensation council that will be able to raise legislator salaries, according to this opinion piece in the Minneapolis  Star-Tribune. Voters won't select the members of the council.

"If the amendment passes, a 16-member salary council — eight DFLers, eight Republicans — would be formed to decide legislator pay every two years. The governor and the Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice would choose its members"

You'll note that the council will be limited to ostensible members of the two dominant political parties. Thus we see that two separate entities, government and politics, are increasingly merging into one, marginalizing any other competition for influence in the public arena.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Kids' Appreciation Day

On September 25, the Minnesota Twins declared their last home game of the season "Kids' Appreciation Day". There were a lot of younger folk in the small crowd. As is normally now the case at all sporting events, prior to the beginning of play the US flag was raised by an honor guard of veterans, followed by the singing of the national anthem.

The Twins management missed a chance, however, in demonstrating something to the kids that they may not have considered. The Twins should have invited all the kids in attendance down on to the field and then over the loudspeaker explained to them that in the future a certain percentage of them would be sent to foreign countries where they would be tasked with killing the residents. They should have also pointed out that another percentage of the youngsters would be maimed or killed in this process.

Rather than celebrate the old timers' contribution, why not pay respect for a change to that which will be made by those in the future?  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Poll: Clinton, Trump in virtual dead heat on eve of first debate

Here we go again. Newspapers and the media in general are supposed to be capable of using language in a sensible manner. But they don't, as this headline in the Washington Post shows.

This is the actual reference:

We've had some primary elections and soon we'll have real elections. In the run-up to these elections we'll hear the results of little phony elections that candidates, parties and news organizations like to hold so they can pretend to predict the future. These phony elections are called polls and their results cause millions to be spent or withheld in individual races and provide endless fodder for commentators and pundits that analyze the supposed preferences of likely (maybe) voters and provide reasons why one candidate is sizzling and another flaming out. However, if the polls reveal that two candidates for a post have nearly the same potential support at the polls, those two are said to be in a "dead heat". A dead heat is a term from horse racing. It describes a race result where two or more horses have reached the finish wire at exactly the same instant. It doesn't have to be for first place. There are dead heats for second or third or other placings as well. In modern racing cameras are used to determine the placing of runners and the occurrence of a dead heat. The term is never used to describe the placing of the runners at any time during the race. While the race is being run, the horses could be neck and neck, or side by side or together but there is no dead heat until the race is completed. For this reason the use of the term "dead heat" in the typical political context is erroneous and stupid.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bob Dylan Becomes Artist At Age 75

Bob Dylan, nee' Zimmerman, who supposedly took his professional name from generally intoxicated poet Dylan Thomas, has moved on from oddly popular and over-rated music to the world of similarly obscure art. In this case he's constructing a piece called Portal, a gate that's going to serve as an entrance to a new casino in Maryland, per this account in ARTNEWS.

Image result for bob dylan portal

The masterpiece hasn't been put in place yet but from its appearance it very much resembles the sort of thing that bored farmers assemble in the winter months from pieces of obsolete equipment and then use to decorate their yards.

Of course, if Mr. Dylan was one of those farmers, his found-art project would be of little interest to anyone except the neighbors down the road.