I’m illustrating this post with paintings from Vincent van Gogh’s Paris years, because of this story from BBC yesterday: Van Gogh Paris painting goes on public display for first time.
A Street Scene In Montmartre has been owned by a French family for most of the time since it was painted in 1887.
Sotheby’s estimates it could fetch up to eight million euros (£6.9m) when it is sold at auction next month.
Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey told BBC News that this is “the first time we are able to see it properly”.
Small reproductions have been made in the past, often in black-and-white. “What is exciting is that it is a Van Gogh painting which has been hidden away ever since it came off the artist’s easel,” Mr Bailey said.
“It has always been in private collections, so only the owners and their friends knew it.
“It is an interesting picture because it is a transitional work between Van Gogh’s Dutch years, when he painted in dark, earthy colours, and the exuberant works that he did in Provence. It was in Paris that he discovered the Impressionists, and this led him to explore colour.”
It is one of a series of works Van Gogh created while lodging with his brother Theo in 1886 and 1887 a short distance from the street depicted in the painting….
Montmartre was still semi-rural when the scene was painted. A windmill features prominently behind some perambulating locals. The famous Sacré-Cœur church that now dominates the area was under construction at the time.
I’m getting really angry about the treatment of Neera Tanden and Deb Haaland–both women of color–in the Senate. This attack on her by fake good ‘ol boy Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana is really disgusting. Andrew Solender at Forbes: GOP Senator Questions Neera Tanden’s Loyalty To Biden, America – Says Her ‘Allegiance’ Is To Hillary Clinton.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) denounced two of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees in fiery terms Wednesday, questioning Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden’s loyalty to America.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Kennedy expressed pessimism about Tanden’s imperiled nomination, stating, “I’m not saying she’s a smoked turkey, but the smoker is heating up.”
Kennedy pointed to Tanden’s past tweets attacking lawmakers as the main area of concern, but simultaneously launched into his own attacks, claiming there is bipartisan concern that Tanden’s “allegiance is not to America and it’s not to President Biden, it’s to Secretary Clinton.
Kennedy also echoed Republican attacks on Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Biden’s nominee for Interior secretary, as a radical leftist, but said he needs to “do a little more research” and is still undecided, according to pool reports.
Kennedy said he is “not impressed” with what he has seen from Haaland thus far, labeling her a “neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whackjob” who is “living in La La Land,” citing her support for an oil and gas moratorium.
What an asshole. And remember, Kennedy is one of the eight Republicans who in 1918 spent the Fourth of July in Russia sucking up to Putin.
Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Opinion: What terrible things did Neera Tanden tweet? The truth.
At The Daily Beast, David Rothkopf asks: Joe Biden Wants to Repair America. Will Joe Manchin Let Him?
Like 82 million others, I voted last year to entrust America to a moderate Democrat named Joe.
Little did I expect that the Joe who’d end up with the last word on a host of vital national issues would be Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Manchin’s ascendancy came thanks to the Democratic victories in the two Georgia runoff races in January. That gave the party 50 votes in the Senate and control, thanks to the decisive tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, so long as the caucus maintains unity. What they could not count on, it turned out, was Manchin.
On issues from cabinet nominations to the filibuster to the minimum wage, Manchin has seized the power that breaking from the Democratic majority gives him. He does this in the name of being a so-called centrist, a moderate. But the reality is that he is proving to be a MINO, a moderate in name only, embracing views that are more like those of the increasingly radical Republican Senate caucus than they are like those of his Democratic colleagues….
One of the earliest signs that Manchin was perfectly happy to play the spoiler disrupting the aspirations of his own party leadership came even before the Democrats took control of the Senate. While negotiations were taking place between Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell over the new power-sharing arrangements in the 50-50 Senate, McConnell sought to put a stake through the heart of any idea the Democrats might have of seeking to abolish the filibuster, one of McConnell’s favorite tools of obstruction in the Senate, vital to enabling his minority to continue to block key legislation that could not make it to the filibuster threshold of 60 votes.
Manchin publicly announced his opposition to removing the filibuster. His rationale was that of all filibuster advocates, that it was an important institutional legacy in the Senate and helped drive bipartisanship by forcing the majority to seek some minority support for their legislation. Neither of these assertions are true, however. The filibuster was rarely used in the first 200 years of U.S. history and once it began to be used more frequently, from the 1990s onward, it was almost always used to block the passage of legislation rather to leverage opposing sides into dialogue.
Biden needs to start playing hardball with Manchin. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
The Capitol insurrection in the news:
Frank Figluzzi at MSNBC: The Senate asked all the wrong questions about the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
The Senate held its first hearings into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Tuesday. And I have to be honest: I was not impressed.
The cadre of former Capitol security chiefs testifying might as well have played a continuous recorded loop of them reciting in unison, “the intelligence wasn’t there,” in response to senators’ equally redundant questions about the Capitol security failure and why adequate resources weren’t deployed.
But neither the senators nor their witnesses addressed the toughest questions: Why didn’t you see what so many civilians did? What biases fed into the many incorrect assumptions made? And what keeps us collectively — as Americans, as law enforcement, and more specifically, as white people — from perceiving our own as a potential threat? The answers are complex — but the right questions need to be asked first.
The more that former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving, and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger repeated their “intelligence was lacking” mantra, the less intelligent they sounded. Irving stated, “We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no, the intelligence did not warrant that.” Sund testified that “the level of probability of acts of civil disobedience/arrests on Jan. 6 ranged from ‘remote’ to ‘improbable'” and that “none of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred.”
Perhaps the dozens of intelligence professionals on Sund’s staff should include the cost of newspaper subscriptions and laptops in their next budget request. The truth is that there was significant online chatter and numerous media reports that protestors were targeting the electoral vote count. So then, what is it that keeps law enforcement professionals from seeing what’s right in front of them?
As these hearings continue, we will likely hear from the FBI and other law enforcement leaders. Importantly, we can expect to hear about the legal constraints on what that agency can and cannot do about monitoring social media, penetrating protests groups and investigating domestic extremism. These limits rightfully help preserve our civil liberties, free speech and freedom of association. And it’s true that law enforcement can’t possibly see and assess the universe of social media even if such monitoring were allowed. But plenty of social media posts prior to the insurrection spoke of violence, vandalism and targeting the Capitol — those things have little to do with exercising civil liberties.
After the insurrection, two ProPublica journalists interviewed 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers about the assault on the Capitol. They also obtained confidential intelligence bulletins and previously unreported planning documents. Significantly, their reporting provides something other than the convenient “intelligence failure” rationale as to why planning was so poor when it came to protecting our iconic symbol of democracy.
Read the rest at MSNBC.
The cost of repairing damages from the attack on the U.S. Capitol and related security expenses have already topped $30 million and will keep rising, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The events of Jan. 6, he said, were “difficult for the American people and extremely hard for all of us on campus to witness.”
Blanton said that congressional appropriations committees have already approved a transfer request of $30 million to pay for expenses and extend a temporary perimeter fencing contract through March 31.
But more money will be needed, he added: “History teaches us that project costs for replacements and repairs beyond in-kind improvements across campus will be considerable and beyond the scope of the current budgetary environment.”
The price tag will go even higher, Blanton told lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee, if the fence and other security measures are needed beyond March.
Republicans aren’t upset about the Capitol attack though. What they care about is Neera Tanden’s “mean tweets.”
Profiles of two of the insurgents:
The Daily Beast: An NYPD Cop’s Road From Terror ‘Victim’ to Capitol Rioter.
The retired NYPD cop now charged with assaulting a D.C. cop in the Capitol riot that has been called domestic terrorism was previously assigned to guard the ruins of the World Trade Center as recovery teams extracted the remains of innocents killed by Islamic terrorism.
And 54-year-old Thomas Webster once presented himself as a victim of terrorism in a civil suit filed in the same federal jurisdiction where he was accused this week of attacking a District of Columbia police officer “like a junkyard dog.”
Webster can be seen on video wielding a metal flagpole and seeking to tear off the cop’s gas mask with such ferocity that he became known online as “the eye gouger.”
Webster’s transformation from supposed terror victim to accused terrorizer caused him to be denounced by a law enforcement supervisor who directed and participated in the actual removal of remains from Ground Zero while the now retired cop stood guard at the periphery. The supervisor does not remember Webster from those months in downtown Manhattan but had seen the Jan. 6 video from the Capitol.
“I look at it as a further desecration of all first responders,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “It’s taken 20 years, but he managed in my view to be as guilty as any terrorist or terrorist wannabe. You are attacking the very principles of our existence: democracy, the Constitution, the Capitol.”
On January 6, 2021, Riley June Williams, a 22-year-old home care worker from Pennsylvania, was one of roughly 800 rioters who breached the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. While many engaged in property damage and violence that day, Williams’ case stands out given her ex-partner has alleged to the FBI that she stole a laptop from Nancy Pelosi’s office.
This former boyfriend also alleges that her goal was to sell the laptop to a Russian intelligence agency, a claim January court documents say “remains under investigation,” but which has been denied by Williams’ lawyer who accuses the former partner of seeking revenge.
While Williams has not been charged with stealing the laptop itself, something she also denies, she faces multiple charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds as well aiding/abetting others to “embezzle, steal, purloin.”
Footage from January 6 released by ITV News shows Williams urging rioters upstairs towards Congressional offices. In one video from inside Pelosi’s office, a voice that the FBI states it believes to be Williams’ says “dude, put on gloves” before a gloved hand takes a laptop from a table. The affidavit links to a thread of captured Discord posts from a user named Riley bragging, “STOLE SHITT FROM NANCY POLESI [sic]”.
In an interview with ITV on January 16, Williams’ mother described her daughter as getting caught up in the moment. She noted that Riley had been radicalized on far-right message boards but described her daughter’s main political goal as, “…wanting America to get the correct information”.
However, Bellingcat has since received information that suggests that Williams was more than just a Trump supporter caught up in the maelstrom. She is somebody who posted racist and Anti-Semitic content as well as filmed a video that appears openly pro-Nazi and promotes accelerationism (speeding up the collapse of society) as a pathway towards establishing a genocidal white supremacist state….
Several days after Williams was charged in mid-January, an antifascist activist reached out to Bellingcat with a video they believed showed her pledging allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Bellingcat has since shared the footage and findings of its investigation with NBC News.
The 36-second video opens with a young woman dancing in a dress while wearing a hat, glasses and a mask decorated with a skull. These skullmasks were adopted as a symbol by Atomwaffen and similar accelerationist Nazi terrorist groups back in 2017.
But so what? Have you heard about Neera Tanden’s tweets?
That’s all I have for you today. I know there’s lots of other news–what stories have caught your interest?
I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.
Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:
Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.
American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.
The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.
The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:
“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.
The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.
Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.
Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.
The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.
And so, the endless war continues.
Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:
Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.
The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.
“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”
And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.
President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….
Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.
The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.
Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:
Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.
A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.
Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.
On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories. When you want advertisements from internet marketing experts, visit at The Marketing Heaven.
Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”
He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.
Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.
Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.
P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”
President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.
And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:
At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.
Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.
In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.
He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.
Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.
René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.
There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.
And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.
Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.
Finally a couple of science stories:
From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.
The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.
It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.
“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.
The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.
The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.
Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.
The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.
And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.
Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”
But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.
The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.
So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!