Good Morning Sky Dancers!
Today’s post is illustrated with paintings by two artists who died of the Spanish flu in 1918, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and one who survived his terrible bout with the disease, Edvard Munch.
BBC Culture: Klimt and Schiele, the Artists Who Shocked Europe.
At first glance there is little to suggest a connection between Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Klimt was the archetypical sensualist who portrayed Vienna’s elite in gilded finery whilst Schiele, almost three decades his junior, was a tortured egoist whose twisted depictions of the human body shocked and scandalised contemporary audiences. And yet the two men shared a lifelong mutual appreciation and friendship, determined to follow their own artistic visions whatever the cost, until the flu epidemic of 1918 claimed both their lives.
Klimt turned his back on the conventions of academic painting. Disillusioned with the stifling restraints of the Künstlerhaus, the artists’ society which all Viennese artists felt obliged to belong to, he and a number of other artists broke away to form the art movement known as the Vienna Secession.
His new attitude was provocatively outlined in the 1899 work Nuda Veritas, which Sandra Tretter of the Klimt Foundation sums up as “the Künstlerhaus versus the Secession.” A naked woman holds up the mirror of truth while the snake of falsehood lies dead at her feet. Above her in gilded letters is a quotation from the German dramatist Schiller: “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.” […..]
Klimt’s uncompromising attitude appealed to the young Schiele, who sought out the artist in 1907 when he was still a student at the Academy of Fine Arts and finding the academic discipline frustrating.
A precociously gifted artist, Schiele had revealed his talent as an adolescent by sketching his younger sister in the nude, much to his parents’ horror. For Leopold, also a trained psychotherapist, this fascination with adolescent girls was in part a reaction to his ambivalent relationship with his mother, and would go on to cause great scandal.
Schiele’s undoubted talent appealed to Klimt and he took the young man under his wing, providing models and inviting him to exhibit at the 1909 Kunstchau, although Schiele’s four paintings, all very much in the style of his master, failed to make much impact….
Seeking new means of expression Schiele turned to his own body for inspiration in a manner unprecedented in the history of art. In his first nude self portrait from 1907, based on the notorious female figure in Medicine, he had portrayed himself as helpless and fragile, isolated from the rest of humanity.
Read much more about these artists at the BBC link.
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was another great artist who contracted influenza. He was a contemporary of Klimt and a leader of the modernist school and is best known for his painting(s), The Scream. His patron was Dr Linke, an ophthalmologist who lived in the Northern German city of Lubeck, which now has UNICEF World Heritage listing. Munch visited Lubeck on at least 17 occasions and painted pictures of the gardens of the Linke home and the Linke children, and perhaps these visits helped in Munch’s lifelong battle with depression. In 1919, Munch contracted the “Spanish Flu,” and although he was very ill, he survived. He painted a self-portrait of himself with influenza (now in Oslo) and another of himself recovering from influenza, which hangs in Lubeck in the Behnhaus Museum. As you stand in front of this portrait you see a man suffering from profound depression, perhaps due to a post viral syndrome compounding his long-standing disease. He later wrote that he was fortunate to survive the infection.
This article at Wellcome Collection provides more background on Schiele, Klimt, and Munch as well as other artists who were impacted by the 1918 flu pandemic: Spanish flu and the depiction of disease. It’s quite interesting. This bit about Schiele is heartbreaking:
In 1918, Austrian artist Egon Schiele was at work on a painting of his family. [The painting appears at the top of this post] With his unflinching attention to the human form, he completed the three figures: Schiele himself is at the far back, his sinewy nude body hunched behind his wife, Edith, who looks off to the side, while a child is curled between her feet.
Earlier that year, the rising young art star had been featured in a solo show with the Vienna Secession artists’ association, and, even better, his works had actually sold. That new financial security was particularly important, as Edith was pregnant.
The only thing that disrupts the harmony of the 1918 painting ‘The Family’ is Schiele’s melancholic gaze directed at the viewer. Its sombreness seems in contrast to this scene of domestic tranquillity.
The painting would never be finished. By the end of that autumn, both Edith and Egon were dead; their child was never born. They were two among millions who succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic. The incomplete painting was transformed into a portrait of loss.
And on Munch:
Among the artists who caught the flu and survived was Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, whose lifelong self-portraiture found a harrowing match in the disease. While many of his early self-portraits have morbid fantasies of his mortality, including the 1895 ‘Self-portrait with Skeleton Arm’ or the 1902–3 ‘Self-portrait on the Operating Table’, his Spanish flu series plainly confronted his frailty and vulnerability.
His 1919 ‘Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu’ has Munch wrapped in a gown and blanket, sitting in a cane chair, his tousled bed in the background. Hues of a sickly yellow surround him; his mouth gapes open like a corpse. There’s a feeling of isolation in this personal struggle. Later that year he painted its sequel, ‘Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu’, in which he leans toward the viewer, swirls of paint creating circles around his eyes, but colour returning to his sallow face.
More than 100 years later, we are in the midst of another terrible pandemic, and we have no idea yet how many people will die. Yesterday, Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said that 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the U.S. would be the best case scenario. CNBC: Dr. Birx predicts up to 200,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths ‘if we do things almost perfectly.’
The White House coronavirus response coordinator said Monday that she is “very worried about every city in the United States” and projects 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths as a best case scenario.
In an interview on “TODAY,” Dr. Deborah Birx painted a grim message about the expected fatalities, echoing that without doing any measures they could hit as high as 2.2 million, as coronavirus cases continue to climb throughout the U.S.
“I think everyone understands now that you can go from five to 50 to 500 to 5000 cases very quickly,” Birx said.
Somehow Birx and Anthony Fauci and advisers bearing poll results managed to convince Trump that he couldn’t loosen government recommendations without killing thousands of people. The New York Times: Behind Trump’s Reversal on Reopening the Country: 2 Sets of Numbers.
The numbers the health officials showed President Trump were overwhelming. With the peak of the coronavirus pandemic still weeks away, he was told, hundreds of thousands of Americans could face death if the country reopened too soon.
But there was another set of numbers that also helped persuade Mr. Trump to shift gears on Sunday and abandon his goal of restoring normal life by Easter. Political advisers described for him polling that showed that voters overwhelmingly preferred to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work prematurely.
Those two realities — the dire threat to the country and the caution of the American public — proved decisive at a critical juncture in the response to the pandemic, his advisers said. The first of those two realities, the deadly arc of the virus, has been known for weeks even if disregarded by the president when he set his Easter target. But the second of the two upended Mr. Trump’s assumptions about the politics of the situation and restrained, for a moment at least, his eagerness to get back to business as usual.
The president’s reversal may prove to be an important pivot point in the effort to curb the pandemic, one that in the view of public health officials averted a greater catastrophe.
Right now Trump needs Fauci and Birx to provide some credibility to his public health policies. But how long before he turns on them? Former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI Frank Figliuzzi has some advice for them at Vanity Fair: Hostage Survival Tips for Drs. Fauci and Birx.
Kidnappers can quickly come to regret taking hostages because, quite honestly, their care and feeding becomes almost unbearable. That’s when some hostages find themselves dumped alongside a road or come to an even worse fate. So, you must avoid upsetting the president to the point that he neutralizes you. You’ve already had success in convincing the president to back off the indefensible assertion that the nation can return to normal on Easter Sunday. Dr. Fauci, your minimizing of Trump’s nonsensical notion as simply “aspirational” was masterful in that it helped him to save face and to view you as less of a threat. Bravo. Similarly, Dr. Birx’s praise of the president as “attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data” may have stroked the president’s planet-sized ego to buy you some time.
Second, hostage negotiators must prepare for the abductor’s initial ransom call. Maybe that’s already happened. Maybe that first demand was to reopen the economy by Easter. If so, you handled it well. But more demands are coming. In fact, expect to see that first demand repeated. That’s why successful negotiators select a primary communicator to engage the captor. Two physicians coming at the president at once won’t work. The communicator must present a previously agreed upon message but maintain limited authority. In other words, let’s say you select Dr. Birx (the president seems to view her as less of a threat). Dr. Birx should already secretly know what Dr. Fauci’s position on things is, but when negotiating with the president, should always say, “Let me make sure we have Dr. Fauci’s opinion,” or, “I’ll have to get back to you after I consult the team.” This allows for the negotiator to establish a requirement for what hostage negotiators call a reasonable delay. In life or death hostage crises, reasonable delays can make the difference between the abductor doing something rash and emotional, or doing the right thing.
Third, a real hostage communicator is never a debater but more of an influencer and persuader. Hostage communicators maintain some control by scheduling set times to speak with the abductor. This also allows them to develop their objectives and rehearse responses with their larger team. Hostage negotiators work from a quiet, tucked away negotiation operations center. They plot out anticipated demands and scripted responses on white boards around the room. They have a plan even when the captor doesn’t. Got it? Drs. Fauci and Birx, we need you to have a plan. Our survival may depend on your survival. In a sense, we’re all being held hostage, and you are negotiating for our safe release. Hostages sometimes develop Stockholm syndrome when they start identifying with their captor and his causes as a survival mechanism. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let that happen to us.
Links to more Reads:
Must Read at Vox: Trump is mishandling coronavirus the way Reagan botched the AIDS epidemic.
The Washington Post: The National Security Council sounded early alarms about the coronavirus.
The New York Times: The Medical News Site That Saw the Coronavirus Coming Months Ago.
The New York Times: They Survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust.
Jewish Journal: 101-Year-Old Holocaust And Spanish Flu Survivor Just Beat COVID-19.
The New York Times: For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power.
Leonard Cohen has passed away at age 82. His voice will be missed. His message was always sublime.
I’ve been somewhat out of the loop for the past few days because I’ve had some kind of weird virus that has made it difficult for me to think. If it weren’t August, I’d wonder if it’s the flu. Everything ached. For a couple of days it felt like my skin actually hurt. Anyway I’ve been vegetating in front of the TV watching Criminal Minds reruns and Lifetime movies. I’m feeling better now, although I’m still sleepy all the time.
I’ve been surfing around this morning, and there is quite a bit of interesting news out there. I’ll begin with a fascinating archaeological find. According to a new study reported in Nature, Neanderthals invented tools made of bone that are still used today for leather-working.
Excavations of Neanderthal sites more than 40,000 years old have uncovered a kind of tool that leather workers still use to make hides more lustrous and water resistant. The bone tools, known as lissoirs, had previously been associated only with modern humans. The latest finds indicate that Neanderthals and modern humans might have invented the tools independently.
The first of the lissoir fragments surfaced a decade ago at a rock shelter called Pech-de-l’Azé in the Dordogne region of southwest France. Archaeologist Marie Soressi of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, knew the tool at once, says her colleague Shannon McPherron.
The tools are also known as slickers and burnishers, says McPherron. Soressi contacted luxury-goods manufacturer Hermès in Paris, and found that their high-end leather workers use just such a tool. “She showed them a picture, and they recognized it instantly,” says McPherron. The company’s line includes the wildly popular Birkin handbag, which sells for around US$10,000 and upwards.
McPherron says that a single artefact, however, was not enough for the researchers to draw broad conclusions. “You find one, and there’s always some doubt. You’re worried that it’s not a pattern — that it’s anecdotal behaviour.” But subsequent digs at Pech-de-l’Azé and nearby Abri Peyrony turned up further lissoir fragments, leading the researchers to conclude that Neanderthals made the tools routinely.
The researchers say it’s not clear if these kinds of tools were first invented by Neanderthals or modern humans. It’s even possible that modern humans could have learned how to make and use the bone tools from Neantherthals, although most archaeologists believe that Neanderthals learned the skills from humans. From Live Science:
Neanderthals created artifacts similar to ones made at about the same time by modern humans arriving in Europe, such as body ornaments and small blades. Scientists hotly debated whether such behavior developed before or after contact with modern humans.
“There is a huge debate about how different Neanderthals were from modern humans,” said Shannon McPherron, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Now, McPherron and his colleagues have discovered that Neanderthals created a specialized kind of bone tool previously only seen in modern humans. These tools are about 51,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples of such tools in Europe and predating the known arrival of modern humans.
Yesterday North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a new
voter suppression voter ID law and the ACLU, NAACP, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice immediately filed suit against it. USA Today:
Republicans who backed the legislation said it was meant to prevent voter fraud, which they claim is both rampant and undetected in North Carolina. Independent voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.
“It is a trampling on the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs — black and white — who fought for voting rights in this country,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP. “It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history.” [….]
Barber called the Republican-backed measure one of the worst attempts in the nation at voting reform and said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People considered the package an all-out attack on existing laws long seen as a model of voter participation….
The legislation signed by McCrory and approved last month by state lawmakers requires voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls and shortens early voting by a week, from 17 days to 10. It also ends same-day registration, requiring voters to register, update their address or make any other needed changes at least 25 days ahead of an election. A high school civics program that registers tens of thousands of students to vote each year in advance of their 18th birthdays has been eliminated.
On the same day that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a restrictive voter ID bill into law, Clinton criticized the Supreme Court decision that she believes “stripped out the pre-clearance formula that made [the Voting Rights Act] so effective.”
She noted that Texas, Florida and North Carolina are states whose recent voter legislation has shifted the burden, slamming the North Carolina bill as one that “reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression.”
“In the weeks since the ruling, we’ve seen an unseemly rush by previously covered jurisdictions to enact or enforce laws that will make it harder for millions of our fellow Americans to vote,” Clinton said.
Clinton also went after several provisions of the North Carolina bill that she believes place a greater burden on citizens facing discrimination, including limited voting hours, stricter ID requirements and restricted early voting.
CNN reports that Hillary also plans to discuss national security and transparency in an upcoming speech.
Clinton said her appearance at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association marked the beginning of a speaking series she’ll embark upon that will also include an address on the United States’ national security policies next month in Philadelphia.
Clinton said the September address would focus of issues of “transparency and balance.” The former top diplomat had not yet publicaly addressed the classified National Security Agency surveillance programs that were revealed through leaks at the beginning of the summer.
The move into the political realm marks a new phase in Clinton’s post-State Department life, which was previously occupied by speeches to global women’s organizations and a schedule of paid appearances. She is also writing a diplomacy-focused memoir for release in 2014.
The speeches will likely fuel speculation that Clinton is planning to jump into the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, where she is considered an early favorite.
Well there’s some exciting news! It’s becoming more an more clear that Hillary plans to run for president in 2016.
I’m sure you’ve already heard that James “Whitey” Bulger has been found guilty of murder and racketeering, among other charges. It was always a foregone conclusion. The only surprise is that the jury was only able to find him guilty of 11 murders out of the 19 he was charged with. The New York Times:
BOSTON — James (Whitey) Bulger, the mobster who terrorized South Boston in the 1970s and ‘80s, holding the city in his thrall even after he disappeared, was convicted Monday of a sweeping array of gangland crimes, including 11 murders. He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
The verdict delivers long-delayed justice to Mr. Bulger, 83, who disappeared in the mid-1990s after a corrupt agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation told him he was about to be indicted. He left behind a city that wondered if he would ever be caught — and even if the F.B.I., which had been complicit in many of his crimes and had relied on him as an informer, was really looking for him.
“This was the worst case of corruption in the history of the F.B.I.,” said Michael D. Kendall, a former federal prosecutor who investigated Mr. Bulger’s associates. “It was a multigenerational, systematic alliance with organized crime, where the F.B.I. was actively participating in the murders of government witnesses, or at least allowing them to occur.”
Of course there won’t be any punishment for the FBI except for embarrassment, if that troubles them. And there was only minor punishment for the parade of hit men and other criminals who were given generous deals in exchange for their testimony.
The families of the victims of the 7 murders Bulger was not convicted of were disappointed and angry.
As a clerk read the verdicts in the lengthy and complicated list of charges, Mr. Bulger looked away from the jury and showed no reaction. He was found guilty of 31 of 32 counts of his indictment, the one exception involving an extortion charge. While the jury of eight men and four women convicted him of 11 murders, they found the government had not proved its case against him in seven others, and in one murder case it made no finding, leading to gasps inside the courtroom by relatives of those murder victims and explosive scenes outside the court.
“My father just got murdered again 40 years later in that courtroom,” said the son of William O’Brien, who is also named William….
Perhaps one glimmer of gratification for Mr. Bulger was that the jury reached “no finding” in the death of Debra Davis, one of two women he was accused of strangling. He has long maintained that his personal code of honor did not allow for the killing of women, although the jury did determine that he had killed the other woman, Deborah Hussey. Ms. Davis was the longtime girlfriend of Stephen Flemmi, Mr. Bulger’s former partner in crime who testified against him. Ms. Hussey was the daughter of another of Mr. Flemmi’s longtime girlfriends.
One of the jurors has already talked to local Boston media about how stressful the experience was.
One of the jurors who voted to convict Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger for a string of gangland crimes described how the more than 32 hours of deliberations were “stressful” and involved “all kinds of dissension.”
“Slamming doors,” Scott Hotyckey told CBS station WBZ-TV. “People leaving. Peolpe wanting to get off the jury.” [….]
Hotyckey, juror number 5, said the evidence was overwhelming.
“If you could believe the testimony, and believe what you heard,” Hotyckey said. “I don’t see how you couldn’t find the person guilty.”
But Hotyckey says not all of the jurors believed the testimony they heard – especially from John Martorano, a former hit man who got a plea deal from prosecutors to testify against Bulger.
“There was one juror that constantly said that his testimony was not believable,” Hotyckey recalled. “(He said) over and over again that you couldn’t believe anything (Martorano) said because of the government.”
A study on rats shows that the brain experiences a huge surge of electricity during the moment of death, suggesting that they are experiencing a higher state of consciousness.
It could explain why people claim to see white light or “life flash before their eyes” during near-death experiences.
Dr Jason Braithwaite from the University of Birmingham says that since this surge is happening in rats, it could also happen in humans.
Watch an interview with Braithwaite at the BBC link. More detail on the study:
A study carried out on dying rats found high levels of brainwaves at the point of the animals’ demise.
US researchers said that in humans this could give rise to a heightened state of consciousness.
The lead author of the study, Dr Jimo Borjigin, of the University of Michigan, said: “A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypoactive, with less activity than the waking state, and we show that is definitely not the case.
“If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state.”
Much more at the link.
Now it’s your turn. What stories have caught your fancy today? Please share your links in the comment thread.
Forty years ago on June 3, 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, died in Paris at age 27. He was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Two former members of the band were at the grave site earlier today to mark the occasion.
“James Douglas Morrison, 1943-1971,” reads a plaque on the gravestone erected in the 1990s by the singer-poet’s father, who added a Greek phrase often interpreted as “true to his own spirit”.
Band members Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist, and guitarist Robby Krieger, lit candles at the grave of Morrison, who was known by the nickname the “lizard king”.
Fans of Morrison also paid homage at his grave by leaving flowers there. Some wore black T-shirts with a white drawing of Morrison’s face and the words “40th anniversary.”
I discovered The Doors first album when I was in college in 1967. I had never heard their music and simply bought the record on a whim because I liked the spooky cover art. I went home and put it on my turntable and listened. I was completely blown away. It honestly isn’t over the top to say that the music changed the way I experienced the world. It was that powerful for me.
So here’s to Jim and the great music and performances he shared with us during his brief time on this earth. Here are a couple of my favorites.