Mona Lisa’s Skeleton, Festive Edinburgh, Mischa Maisky….


Last week, Huffpost reported on the latest developments in the apparent discovery of Mona Lisa’s grave. Pretty awesome if the tomb does indeed hold the remains of Lisa Gherandini. Perhaps even more exciting than finding Mona Lisa herself, are the forensic techniques employed to identify her:

Mona Lisa’s Supposed Skeleton May Finally Solve Centuries-Old Mystery

For historical background on Lisa Gherandini, her husband Francesco del Giocondo, and their Florentine milieu, see the following Mona Lisa Foundation article. It is lengthy, but interesting for all the famous names woven into Lisa Gherandini’s family circle. Apparently, “Mona Lisa” was related to Amerigo Vespucci and may have been acquainted with Machiavelli:

Francesco [Lisa’s husband] also had a relative, Giannetto Giocondo, operating a branch of the family business in Lisbon. In turn, Giannetto had business dealings with Amerigo Vespucci, a relative of Agostino Vespucci, who was Machiavelli’s assistant. The Machiavelli and Gherardini families both came from the same parish: Santa Trinita. So between inter-marriages, family, business and political connections, it is not surprising that a lasting union between the Gherardini and del Giocondo families was arranged.

Who knew?

Who were Francesco del Giocondo and his wife Lisa Gherardini? » The Mona Lisa Foundation

Arts news from elsewhere:  In Scotland, the Edinburgh International Book Festival launched its 30th season coinciding with the Fringe, the alternative performance arts festival. This year it runs from the 2nd to the 26th. The Book Festival runs from the 10th-26th.

About Us | Edinburgh International Book Festival

About us | Edinburgh Festival Fringe



Sadly, now that the Fringe has grown so large, it might be experiencing some growing pains. Or maybe something else has happened to the great happening in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh festival: are we in a fringe recession? | Stage |

Pippa Bailey’s article is embedded in the Guardian link, but I thought I’d just draw attention to it because I think her primary concerns hold relevance beyond the evolution of the Fringe:

Reflections on Fringe | Biding Time



Inserting a digression here on political theater and dramatic comedy… backing up to move forward… I found this in my stack of obscure things, and it seems fitting to mention it here in the context of creative theater…. it’s a spitting invective against plays,  players and the role of the stage in society, published 1587, entitled A Mirror of Monsters.

The full title, entertaining in and of itself (edited for spelling):

A Mirrour of Monsters wherein is plainely described the manifold vices, & spotted enormities, that are caused by the infectious sight of playes, with the description of the subtile slights of Sathan, making him his instruments.

A couple of choice bits (edited for spelling):

Players are caterpillars and cankers that cleave to the branches of forward wits… What men are these? (nay rather monsters) that thus corrupt so sweet a soil: such are they, as in outward show seem painted sepluchres, but dig up their [deeds], and find nothing but a masse of rotting bones.

I’m rather partial to the word cleave because it denotes dual and diametrically opposed meanings. Depending on its usage it could mean “to stick” or “to split.”  Another fragment:

They color their vanity with humanity: Some term them comedians, othersome players, many pleasers, but I monsters, and why monsters? Because under color of humanity, they present nothing but prodigious vanity. These are wells without water, dead branches fit for fuel, cockle amongst corn, unwholesome weeds, amongst sweet herbs, and finally, fiends that are crept into the world by stealth, and hold possession by subtile invasion.

Give me the unwholesome weeds any day. As to weeds, I encourage them in my garden. I even have pet weeds that overgrow the sidewalk to cushion my step. Who wants to walk on hard concrete? I took some snapshots of the darling masses which serve as my “walking weeds;” they make lovely patterns in between the cracks of the sidewalk. Here’s an engaging clump of variegated weeds that keep my foot steps cushy:


walking weeds


Meanwhile on the biodiversity front, another mirror of monsters…

33 undiscovered species of predatory ants surface in the New World. This new cache of ants will apparently give you the willies according to Jack Longino, the myrmecologist who has described them:

Their faces are broad shields, the eyes reduced to tiny points at the edges and the fierce jaws bristling with sharp teeth.

They look a little like the monster in ‘Alien.’ They’re horrifying to look at up close. That’s sort of what makes them fun.

New Ant Species Named After Hellish Mayan Demons : Animals : Nature World News

NPR’s interview with Longino and some good photos of the ants:

Jack Longino, ‘The Astonishing Ant Man,’ Finds 33 New Species : NPR

100 new species of predatory beetle discovered in Tahiti:

Tahiti: A very hot biodiversity hot spot in the Pacific | e! Science News

And a new species of cave fish is found in Madagascar:

New species of cave fish identified – CBS News


Fairy Tale Eggplant


Of course nothing stimulates the appetite like ants, beetles, and fever-inducing cave fish…. and as it happens I’ve found a couple of really excellent recipes for the new variety of eggplant I’m growing in my garden. The fairy tales (pictured at left) are smaller than the classic eggplant, and they look a bit like the purple eggplants Tom Philpott uses in his Baba Ghanoush:

Tom’s Kitchen: The Coolest, Easiest Summer Eggplant Trick | Mother Jones

Apparently, fairy tales don’t need to be leached of bitterness like classics do, the skins are edible, and excellent for grilling. I haven’t tried it yet, but from what I understand, it’s super easy. Just slice them lengthwise in about 1/2″ strips, brush with oil and seasonings then grill on each side for one minute to one and a half minutes.

And now for something entirely unrelated, just because I dig it:



That’s what’s on my mind this afternoon, what’s on yours? Anybody have ideas for eggplant?

Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to focus on some interesting news today and ignore politics. We’ll see how well I do.

BBC News reports that “an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan has broken away from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland”. You can see the NASA satellite picture at the link.  Is this yet another symptom of global warming?

Scientists have raised concerns in recent years about the Greenland ice shelf, saying that it is thinning extensively amid warm temperatures.

No single event of this type can be ascribed to changes in the climate.

But some experts say they are surprised by the extent of the changes to the Petermann Glacier in recent years.

“It is not a collapse but it is certainly a significant event,” Eric Rignot from Nasa said in a statement.

Some other observers have gone further. “It’s dramatic. It’s disturbing,” University of Delaware’s Andreas Muenchow told the Associated Press.

“We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before,” Mr Muenchow added.

Okay, here’s another one of my grave stories. No “seriously”, it’s another story about a grave.  This time they think they may have located Mona Lisa’s remains in Florence.

Scientists claim that they might have found the skeleton of the woman who posed for Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous painting.

Most art historians agree that Lisa del Giocondo was the woman who inspired Da Vinci to create his iconic work.

Now the archaeologists working in Florence are pretty convinced they have found the remains of the lady, merchant Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini.

The skeleton was unearthed beneath the medieval Convent of Saint Ursula in Florence. Knowing she became a nun after her husband died and lived in the convent until her death in 1542, a team of archaeologists began excavation works at the abandoned convent last year.

Sheila Bair is still on the stump for financial regulation.  She answered some questions on Wednesday on the state of Dodd-Frank.

Horwich: So going after systemic risk suggests safety, it suggests caution. Then we have this other important aspect of our economy where we say financial institutions are supposed to be taking risks on deserving people and businesses. How do you reconcile what seems like a real contradiction there?

Bair: Well, I think we do want banks to take risks but we want them to take risks on economic activities that have some real economic benefit. I mean, trading CDS indexes with a bunch of hedge funds — I don’t know what kind of positive economic benefit we would get from that. It’s the kind of risk you take and whether you’re taking a well-measured, well-understood, well-evaluated risk, that’s really the question.

Horwich: There are many people out there who would have liked to have seen and might still like to see banks fail — especially big banks fail — that they think have been misbehaving. What do you say to them?

Bair: Well, I say that we should have a let a couple fail. It makes me angry that we didn’t and I think there were tools there that could have been used that were not. You know, there were a couple of institutions that were clear outliers in the terms of their mismanagement — the risks that they took — and they should have been put into a bankruptcy-like process and they weren’t. I think if we had done that; that would have been more powerful than all the rules that we’re writing now to try to correct these misbehaviors. Be that as it may it’s a legacy of the bailouts and it’s something we have to deal with now.

Here’s one of my favorite Brit Economists Robert Skidelsky on “The Bad Society”. He raises some interesting points on income inequality.

There is a strange, though little-noticed, consequence of the failure to distinguish value from price: the only way offered to most people to boost their incomes is through economic growth. In poor countries, this is reasonable; there is not enough wealth to spread round. But, in developed countries, concentration on economic growth is an extraordinarily inefficient way to increase general prosperity, because it means that an economy must grow by, say, 3% to raise the earnings of the majority by, say, 1%.

Nor is it by any means certain that the human capital of the majority can be increased faster than that of the minority, who capture all of the educational advantages flowing from superior wealth, family conditions, and connections. Redistribution in these circumstances is a more secure way to achieve a broad base of consumption, which is itself a guarantee of economic stability.

The attitude of indifference to income distribution is in fact a recipe for economic growth without end, with the rich, very rich, and super-rich drawing ever further ahead of the rest. This must be wrong for moral and even practical reasons. In moral terms, it puts the prospect of the good life perpetually beyond reach for most people. And, in practical terms, it is bound to destroy the social cohesion on which democracy – or, indeed, any type of peaceful, contented society – ultimately rests.

Is Syria collapsing and what will this to do its ally Iran?  Better yet, what will this do to further instability in the region?

The fall of the Assad government would remove Shiite Iran’s last and most valued foothold in the Arab world, and its opening to the Mediterranean. It would give Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states their long-sought goal of countering Iranian influence in the region, finally splitting the alliance between Tehran and Damascus that has lasted for decades. And it would further erode Iran’s role as a patron of the Middle East’s revolutionaries, a goal that moderate Arabs and the United States have long sought.

Already the militant Palestinian group Hamas, long dependent on Syria and Iran, has thrown its support behind the Syrians in the streets seeking Mr. Assad’s overthrow.

Worse might follow, from Tehran’s point of view. Iran and Syria’s last revolutionary ally, the Hezbollah party that dominates Lebanon, would lose its source of weapons and financial support. And Lebanon’s fragile sectarian balance might be torn apart, raising the threat of another civil war there.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah was quick to respond to the government’s worst day so far to make its strongest declaration yet that it would not abandon Mr. Assad.

Meanwhile, intense global pressure is being brought to bear on Putin and Russia. Russia and China once again vetoed a Syria resolution.

Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution Thursday aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad’s government to end the escalating 16-month conflict in Syria.

The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis by Damascus’ most important allies.

The defeat leaves in limbo the future of the 300-strong U.N. observer mission in Syria, which was forced to suspend operations because of the intensified fighting. Its mandate, to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, expires Friday.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who sponsored the Western-backed draft, said he was “appalled” at the third double veto of a resolution aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria and creating conditions for political talks. The resolution had threatened sanctions if the Syrian regime didn’t quickly stop using heavy weapons.

“The consequence of their decision is obvious,” he said. “Further bloodshed, and the likelihood of descent into all-out civil war.” Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians.

“The consequence of today’s action is the situation will continue to deteriorate,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.

The Smithsonian Magazine tell us that Ocean Acidity is just as much of a challenge for us as Climate Change.  WTF are we doing to Mother Earth and Mother Nature?

Rising ocean acidity is now considered to be just as much of a formidable threat to the health of Earth’s environment as the atmospheric climate changes brought on by pumping out greenhouse gases. Scientists are now trying to understand what that means for the future survival of marine and terrestrial organisms.

In June, ScienceNOW reported that out of the 35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide released annually through fossil fuel use, one-third of those emissions diffuse into the surface layer of the ocean. The effects those emissions will have on the biosphere is sobering, as rising ocean acidity will completely upset the balance of marine life in the world’s oceans and will subsequently affect humans and animals who benefit from the oceans’ food resources.

The damage to marine life is due in large part to the fact that higher acidity dissolves naturally-occurring calcium carbonate that many marine species–including plankton, sea urchins, shellfish and coral–use to construct their shells and external skeletons. Studies conducted off Arctic regions have shown that the combination of melting sea ice, atmospheric carbon dioxide and subsequently hotter, CO2-saturated surface waters has led to the undersaturation of calcium carbonate in ocean waters. The reduction in the amount of calcium carbonate in the ocean spells out disaster for the organisms that rely on those nutrients to build their protective shells and body structures.

The link between ocean acidity and calcium carbonate is a directly inverse relationship, which allows scientists to use the oceans’ calcium carbonate saturation levels to measure just how acidic the waters are. In a study by the University of Hawaii at Manoa published earlier this year, researchers calculated that the level of calcium carbonate saturation in the world’s oceans has fallen faster in the last 200 years than has been seen in the last 21,000 years–signaling an extraordinary rise in ocean acidity to levels higher than would ever occur naturally.

So, today we have a moment without US Presidential Politics.  Take a deep breath, then tell me what’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Saturday Reads: the Mona Lisa and War on Poverty edition

Photograph: Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis

Good morning, news junkies! My Saturday offerings, hot off the presses…

On this day, January 8th, in 1962, the Mona Lisa was exhibited in Washington, marking the first time it was shown in America. From the link, which goes to the History Channel website: “Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Andre Malraux, the French minister of culture, arranged the loan of the painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris to the United States.”

You may have caught the following story on the Mona Lisa from December, but in case you didn’t… From Tom Kington in the Guardian: Mona Lisa’s eyes may reveal model’s identity, expert claims… Silvano Vinceti claims initials – possibly the model’s – are discernible in the left eye of the iconic Da Vinci painting.” Stephen Bayley wrote a piece in the UK Telegraph on this story as well called, Mona Lisa: Leonardo was a genius, let’s leave it at that.

Another piece of historical trivia for January 8th… In 1964, LBJ declared a “War on Poverty” in the US. (Link takes you to an essay hosted on

Who has taken up the call to fight the war on poverty today? Hillary spoke of and to “invisible” Americans when she ran in 2008, but the powers-that-be railroaded her and kept her powerful voice off the domestic stage. John Edwards tainted his “Two Americas” rhetoric on poverty with his “narcissism,” as he himself characterized it. Elizabeth Edwards, who was the genuine advocate for the least of these in that power couple, is no longer with us, though she left behind a body of thoughtful writings and interviews to guide us, much in the way she wrote a journal to her children. The other Liz–Elizabeth Warren–is fighting for us, but her hands appear to be tied.

Every day of this Administration that President Obama fails to govern for the people who elected him, he instead tries to win the approval of the corporations who will never openly adore him enough for all his efforts… because nothing he does for them will ever be enough. More and more, his former supporters are coming to realize that they endorsed an empty suit in 2008, which brings me to my first newsy item. From today’s NY Times: Obama the Centrist Irks a Liberal Lion… ‘By freezing federal salaries, by talking about deficits, by extending the Bush tax cuts, he’s legitimizing a Republican narrative,’ Mr. Reich says. ‘Why won’t he tell the alternative story? For three decades we’ve cut taxes on the wealthy while real wages stood still.'”

I’ll answer Reich’s question with a question. When will the left understand that Obama fears and thus respects the Republican narrative and does not do the same when it comes to the liberal narrative? The so-called “caving” to Republicans is by design.

Bob Herbert has some good stuff covering the same ground today; I had a hunch he would:Misery With Plenty of Company…Consider the extremes. President Obama is redesigning his administration to make it even friendlier toward big business and the megabanks, which is to say the rich, who flourish no matter what is going on with the economy in this country. (They flourish even when they’re hard at work destroying the economy.) Meanwhile, we hear not a word — not so much as a peep — about the poor, whose ranks are spreading like a wildfire in a drought.”

Indeed, but I’ll get off my rantbox for now. Here are some other headlines that struck a chord with me throughout the week…

Read the rest of this entry »