Genius On Diet


Nobel and Chocolat
We are what we eat. Yep, pretty much so. We hear (and often ignore) this simple verity. Apple a day, broccoli on the side, whole grain but preferably gluten free bread will make us healthy, wealthy and… gluten free.

Two years ago almost to a day, New England Journal of Medicine reported on a peculiar study. Geniuses among us are more likely to eat lots of… broccoli? No, chocolate. Good heavens! 

Franz Messerli,  a doctor by persuasion, hypertension expert from New York, who researched the phenomenon, reports a highly significant correlation between a nation’s per capita chocolate consumption and the rate at which its citizens win Nobel Prizes.

Food of Geniuses -- chocolate violin

Food of Geniuses — chocolate violin

The flavanols in chocolate may be responsible for stimulating cognitive performance. Messerli  wondered “whether there would be a correlation between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and its population’s cognitive function.” The number of Nobel Prizes serves as a surrogate for “the proportion with superior cognitive function” in a country. Messerli then attempted to analyze the relationship between the number of Nobel laureates per capita in a country with that country’s per capita chocolate consumption.

According to the paper, there is, indeed,  “a close, significant linear correlation (r=0.791, p<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons in a total of 23 countries.”

Interesting that Sweden, the home of the Nobel Prize, was removed from the calculations. As it happens, Sweden has more Nobel laureates than would have been expected based on its chocolate intake.

“[...]one cannot quite escape the notion that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent patriotic bias when assessing the candidates for these awards or, perhaps, that the Swedes are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition.”

Switzerland, on the other hand, “was the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel Laureates and chocolate consumption.”

Eat chocolate and smarten up! As simple as this. Great news for aspiring geniuses and chocolate lovers.

Well, not so fast. Messerli duly points out that correlation does not prove causation.

“[...] since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates. Obviously, these findings are hypothesis-generating only and will have to be tested in a prospective, randomized trial.”

In a word, staffing yourself with chocolate may or may not make you a genius. In the very least, it might heighten your cognitive abilities to realize you aren’t a genius after all.

Messerli is not averse to the idea of reverse causation: “enhanced cognitive performance could stimulate countrywide chocolate consumption.” That is, inherently smart people eat more chocolate. Smart!

Some people — chocolate haters, perhaps? — raise a quizzical brow:

A randomized controlled trial is warranted to validate the hypothesis raised by this study. The pressing question, in my opinion, is who would sponsor such a study – the chocolate makers or the Nobel Committee? (Sanjay Kaul )

Drink of a Genius -- milkA somewhat similar study was conducted in Britain a few years prior. British experts have turned their attention on milk, and found a definitive link between the number of Nobel laureates and its consumption. It explains the “Swedish mystery” quite differently. It turned out, a statistical Swede (in a country’s 31,855 awards to 10 million people) drink about 350 kg of milk per year, whereas a statistical putinChinese —  only 50 kg per year.

Russia wasn’t included in either study. Perhaps, because such inclusion would’ve greatly undermined the results of both studies.  Chocolate consumption (appr. 4.5 kg per person per year) would
have put statistical Russian somewhere in the middle of the “chocolate rating”, between the United States, Netherlands and Australia. Nobel Chocolate Rankings, however, makes Russia an exception from the rule. Whereas United States and the Netherlands have 10 winners for 10 million of their population, and Australia — 5.5, Russia has only 1.614.

Dairy figures: Russian consumption (246 kg per person per year) is nearly equal to the American (250 kg), while the number of winners is much lower.
So, either Russian cows are inferior bovines or Russian metabolism is screwed up big time.

Unless there is an additional factor here… And there is! Either scientifically or in jest, the statistical Nobel laureate killer is… yes, you guessed it – alcohol.

He could've been Nobel laureate...

He could’ve been a Nobel laureate…

 

According to WHO (World Health Organization), Russia consumes 15.76 liters alcohol per person per year, ranking 4th in the world, while in the US the number is considerably lower — 9.44 liters per person per year (57th place). Thus — simple arithmetic to the rescue! — it is easy to calculate every additional 0.7 liters of alcohol per capita kill one Nobel laureate, metaphorically speaking.

Rabindranath Tagore

On the topic: Indian writer, Nobel Prize winner (literature, 1913) Rabindranath Tagore drank fresh goat milk every single day of his life. He was keen on bringing his favorite goat to Stockholm for the award ceremony in 1913, but the Nobel committee and the organizers of the award ceremony gently but firmly refused to allow such extravagance.

Memento Mori

Memento Mori

Alarm clock, mounted on model of coffin, probably English, 1840-1900

Death before modern times was a common thing. Epidemics and disease destroyed entire cities and decimated population. Skulls, bones and dead bodies, arguably, were the commonest things people were exposed to during their lifetime.

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800.

Thus, centuries ago, the attitude toward death and images of skulls was quite different. Everyone was afraid of the Great Ripper, but people believed in the afterlife, in one form or another and, in the bustle of their mundane life, nothing reminded them of Death and upcoming thereafter than images of skulls.

1280px-Cripta_Cappuccini

Cripta Cappuccini

Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete.“We were what you are; and what we are, you will be,” speak the skulls of the Capuchin brothers in the catacombs, anterooms and subterranean chapels beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. Disassembled bones, skulls and teeth of the departed Capuchins have been arranged to form a rich Baroque architecture of the human condition set in bones:

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d'Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d'Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d’Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d’Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

WLANL - mennofokke - Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

WLANL – mennofokke – Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. No. 109982. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Symbolism of chance (Fortuna’s wheel) divine justice (right angle and plumb-bob) and mortality.

Variety of depictions of skulls decorated the interiors of palatial houses, and, in itself, were considered absolutely normal and even fashionable, from the 16th until the 20th century.

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And this is a contemporary artifact:cocaine skull

A life-size human skull is a contemporary artwork, entitled Ecce Animal. It is  sculpted by Dutch artist Diddy. Notice a certain illicit white substance crumbling from the base of the piece. This is — of all things — a concoction of gelatin and cocaine. The author did not check the quality of the drug, but laboratory tests showed that the purity of it is about 20%. Due to a binding non-disclosure agreement with the work’s patron, Diddo is unable to reveal any details regarding the work’s price or worth. Was the artist fascinated with Death or cocaine?

Life Extention

Игра со смертьюShe might be an excellent chess player, but we all know hers is a loosing game. She might intend to live forever, but the best she can do is to die trying.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. (–Steve Jobs)

УйгурHowever, as life marches on, Death is loosing its preeminent dominance of the playing field. Although the outcome of the  endgame remains predetermined by the Cycle of Life — no stalemate here — there is a light emerging from the horizons of science. The tumult of extraordinary recent scientific developments transpired this year alone.

Once it was a myth. Now it’s a dream. And soon it will be an expectation. Suddenly the science of life extension is producing remarkable results. New papers hint at the possibility of treatments that could radically increase human longevity.(–George Monbiot, The Guardian, Monday 7 July 2014)

In July, Trends in Genetics reported that a class of enzymes called sirtuins  could, in the affirmative, increase longevity in mammals.

It followed a report in the June issue of  Aging Cell about a synthetic small molecules that can stimulate the production of sirtuins in mice, extending their life span and improving their health. The results show that it’s “possible to design a small molecule that can slow aging and delay multiple age-related diseases in mammals, supporting the therapeutic potential … in humans”.

A no less fascinating discovery reported in scientific papers concerns an external hormone (a pheromone) secreted by nematode worms, called daumone. When daumone is fed to elderly mice, it increases their life expectancy by 48% across five months. In short, “daumone could be developed as an anti-aging compound.”

Great, isn’t it? Who would not want to extend the time before the ultimate checkmate?

Peter Pen

To deny great benefits of life extension is considered by some a blasphemy: political leaders who resist funding of life-extension projects should be charged with manslaughter, one recent article insisted.

Aubrey de Grey is a Cambridge University researcher, heads the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) project, in which he has defined seven causes of aging, all of which he thinks can be dealt with. (Senescence is scientific jargon for aging). De Grey also runs the Methuselah Mouse prize for breakthroughs in extended aging in mice. Right,  Methuselah, a Biblical old man, the one that “altogether, lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.”

"I think it's reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely." -- Aubrey de Grey

“I think it’s reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely.”
– Aubrey de Grey

De Grey has no doubt that “a lot of people alive today are going to live to 1,000 or more”. He lists and immediately dismisses four common concerns of “living forever, rejecting them  as “unbelievable excuses … for aging”, “ridiculous” and “completely crazy, when you actually remember your sense of proportion.” 

The first concern  – “wouldn’t life be crushingly boring?” – can be easily dismissed, indeed. Life is as worthy of living as one makes it. Give and take economic and various other considerations, if it becomes too unbearable, meaningless or simply boring, one can choose the exit door and stop taking medication. As  Seneca said, “Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all.”

Many argue that Aubrey de Grey dismisses  other, more serious concerns without due consideration, by simply ridiculing it.

“How the society would support forever-young-old? Would the major distribution problems, evident now, be greatly exacerbated by a new reality?

What about the proposition that “Dictators would rule for ever?” The political power longevity offers goes hand in hand with the economic power, and it’s not impossible to see how a thousand-year life could lead to a thousand-year reign of indestructible political system long overdue for a change.

What if, beyond a certain point, longevity becomes a zero-sum game? What if every year of life extension for those who can afford the treatment becomes a year or more of life reduction for those who can’t? On this planet of limited resources  and hyperconsumption it’s hard not to be concerned about a direct competition for the means of life, which some must win and others must lose…

There are terrible side effects of getting old, no doubt about it. However, it seems like there will be no bucolic vistas in the future where those who can afford it live 10 consecutive lives.

Interview with Aubrey de Grey

De Grey on Colbert:

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/myptag/aubrey-de-grey

In fact, he is all over the internet. Look him up.

 

 

Goldfish Salvation

Riusuke Fukahori

The Sun Japanese sushi oke, resin, acrylic 2013 16.25 inch diameter x 4 inches

Riusuke Fukahori is a graduate of Aichi Art University’s Department of Design.  Since 1995, he pursued artwork full-time, however, by 2000, his artistic career was moving nowhere fast. So happened, he suddenly became fascinated by his goldfish. It was very much alive despite being neglected for seven years. Riusuke calls this incident Goldfish Salvation — goldfish becomes artist’s favorite if not exclusive subject.

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Warewan ni Byaku Wood bowl, resin, acrylic 2013 3 x 3.5 x 4 inches

“I think of goldfish as a living sculpture with man-made modifications. It never reaches the completed form; the goldfish’s vulnerability and imperfections bring out our motherly instinct. I’ve been bewitched with the strong energy of life of goldfish that has inherited mutations for more than 1500 years, continuously changing forms by man’s hands.” says Riusuke Fukahori.

Riusuke Fukahori92

Riusuke Fukahori ‘s style of painting is rather unique. Image is applied layer by layer, similar to the “cuts” of the 3D-printer, resulting in a voluminous, 3 dimensional and incredibly realistic artwork.

“I’ve been depicting an uncountable numbers of goldfish in my work, but the mysterious pull towards goldfish will never die for me. The impulse of exploration, “What are goldfish” drives me to create more. Where and how they want to swim, and what they think; these are the questions that I’ve been asking myself when I paint goldfish. I believe this process will help breathe life into the goldfish in my works.”

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How he does it?

Cute And Wet

rain-gif-18Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about singing in the rain. Or as a very least, looking impossibly cute when wet. When it is rain…
дождьDeluge — is a different matter. A year to the date, deluge came to Boulder county, Colorado. No one was singing, everyone was waiting for the storm to pass. It did eventually, leaving behind sad vistas of destruction.

To commemorate the Boulder deluge — here is wet gallery. (Please note: Not every animal is roaming the streets of Boulder, Colorado or foothills of the Rockies.)

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Лужа

Plagiarism: How To Make Her Story Yours

plagiatFirst, let me plagiarize a few passages about plagiarism and make it sound fresh and original — in a word, MINE.

I’ll take a phrase “Plagiarism is a species of intellectual fraud that an author claims is original but has been copied from another source without permission or acknowledgment, thus deceiving and harming the reader.” Never mind the source. In the best tradition of true plagiarism, no attribution is forthcoming. Here I go: Plagiarism is a fraud. In its most blatant form, plagiarism is nothing less than a theft of intellectual property. Have I plagiarized the original? Actually, no.  Although I lifted an idea from the source (plagiarism is theft), I hardly used the source verbatim. No copy-pasting here.

plagiat2

My bad. Let me try again. The original: Plagiarism is apparently so rife these days that it would not be surprising to discover that “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has itself been plagiarized. Plagiarized version: These days, plagiarism is so rife that I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has been plagiarized from some obscure blog buried in the backwaters of internet and show up on page 834,756 of Google search results.”

That’s better. Fresh and original, isn’t it? This time around, I used some of the verbiage of the source on top of copy-pasted original, which may or may not be plagiarized itself — one never knows unless one checks.

Creating this example, I march in step with the greats (and not-so-greats): Shakespeare stole the plot of Romeo and Juliet, Manet’s Olympia is a reworking of Titian’s Venus d’Urbino, Kaavya Viswanathan novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life  is lifted from Megan McCafferty, and numerous excerpts from Cassie Edwards’ novels generously borrowed from magazines and nonfiction books.

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So? Writers of any genre, academics, bloggers, politicians, students and almost anyone who uses and publishes words — nearly everyone who writes, lectures and/or speaks — plagiarize sometimes. Those who don’t plagiarize like to have fun parsing published sentences, mining for word thieves. It’s easy — there is a software to do it, such as turnitin, widely used to detect heavy borrowing in student papers.

Is plagiarism a crime? Many authors who found themselves victims of thievery say a resounding yes.

Not so fast, says Richard A. Posner, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, expert on intellectual property, author of The Little Book of Plagiarism, mentioned above. Posner’s assessment of plagiarism is that it is an “embarrassingly second-rate” offense, “its practitioners… pathetic,” and that plagiarism should remain an ethical rather than a legal offense, punished by public shaming.  He dismisses the idea that good art must be totally original. Plagiarism? Wrong term, he says, although not in the same words, but I am done plagiarizing. Creative imitation is a more appropriate name for the phenomenon in question, says Posner.

Years ago, Ian McEwan was harshly criticized for filching details from another book in his 2002 bestseller Atonement. Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day) has defended McEwan in a letter to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, saying that if the writers of historical fiction were not present at the events described in their novels, they “must turn to those who were.” Richard A. Posner would’ve agreed — all power to creative imitation.

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And now, a recent case in point. In August of this year, a Utah author, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, cut and pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book, plagiarizing her Christian romance novel, adding graphic sex scenes, and then passed it off as her own.

Nunes’ book Love to the Highest Bidder, published in 1998, came out as a slightly revised e-book, A Bid for Love, recently, is about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love.

Rushton’s manuscript, The Auction Deal, is about an art dealer who goes to Beverly Hills to bid on a rare sculpture and meets a successful gallery owner from Chicago. A true fit of creative imagination.

Here is an example from the case:

Nunes, the “source”, a sample line from chapter one: “For six years, he had put up with her overt stares and innuendos because she was not only his boss and sole owner of the gallery but also his friend.”

Rushton (writing under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens), from chapter one: “For ten years, I’d tolerated her overt stares and innuendos because she was part owner of our gallery and always seemed to find opportunities with new clients that helped the gallery that I could not.”

Use your creative imagination, change names of characters and places (use replace all), infuse lots of graphic sex, then some more sex (it makes readers’ skirts fly up) and voila! — her book is your book. The niche Christian story Nunes wrote is recast into a sizzling book by Ms. Rushton with mass appeal (good Christians might read it under the blankets).

The case, Nunes hopes, would expose plagiarism as a plague of online self-publishing. It is unknown to what degree Ms. Nunes’ decision to pursue this matter was influenced by Ms. Rushton’s bizarre behavior — an unprecedented barrage of cyber-bulling. Speak of ethical rather than a legal offense! If interested in further details of this incident, read  UTAH SCHOOL TEACHER CHARGED WITH PLAGIARISM, CYBER-BULLYING.

 

 

Leo Tolstoy At War And Piece With Himself

t99A GIANT AND PYGMIES: LEO TOLSTOY AND CONTEMPORARY WRITERS, says the caption under this old caricature by unknown artist. Only a few minutes ago Google stopped to remind me of Leo Tolstoy’s 186 birthday: the author of War and Piece and Anna Karenina was born September 9,1828.

lt1

Leo Tolstoy enjoyed what would ordinarily be considered an extremely successful and comfortable life. By the end of it, however, he was plagued by a feeling that each individual act he undertook, and the totality of his life, were completely devoid of meaning. His life felt like a “stupid, mean trick played on me by somebody.”

Meaninglessness of life and a kind of intellectual crisis he found himself at the dawn of his life, and how he struggled with these issues and — so he thought — recovered from it is at the heart of his short and powerful essay A Confession.

Art, too, lost its lure and significance for the writer. Art is insignificant because life is, for art is a reflection of life in one form or another. At the very best, Tolstoy notes, art provides empirical description of human life and even its content, but it is unable to explain what, in anything, is the meaning of life.

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Only one of the photographs in the gallery above is slightly photoshopped. Which one?
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In A Confession, Tolstoy confides that after long observation, he came to believe that faith alone could provide meaning to human life. The great majority of people do not agonize over meaninglessness of their lives, although great many live in extremely dismal circumstances. What these people have in common?

Tolstoy thinks, it is their faith. Faith alone fills human existence with purpose and value. Tolstoy — for most of his life — believed faith is in constant conflict with reason. Still, he came to believe that faith was the ultimate answer to the questions that so wholly consumed him. In the end, he seemed to have embraced it.

 

 

Read My Brain, You Rat!

A few months back, I came across an article in BBC Radio Science. A team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina have connected the brains of lab rats, allowing one to communicate directly to another via electronic link. The wired brain implants sent sensory and motor signals from one rat to another, thus creating the first ever brain-to-brain interface.

The rat receiving the signal could correctly interpret the information. One replication of the experiment successfully linked a rat at Duke with one at the University of Natal in Brazil.

The information was transmitted in real time, but it took about 45 days of training participating rats, an hour a day. How well the decoder animal could decipher the brain input from the encoder rat to choose the correct lever? About 70% of the time.

The researchers first trained pairs of rats to solve a simple problem:  for the reward of a sip of water, rat had to press the correct lever when an indicator light above the lever switched on. Then the rodents who successfully completed the training were placed in separate chambers, their brains connected by arrays of microelectrodes — each roughly one hundredth the diameter of a human hair.  One rat was designated as the “encoder”. Once this rat pressed the correct lever, its brain activity was delivered as electrical stimulation into the brain of the second rat, designated the “decoder”.

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Both rats had the same types of levers in their chambers. The encoder rat sees the light and presses a lever to receive a reward. As it does so, the brain signal is sent to the decoder rat’s brain, which receives no other cues indicating which lever it should press to obtain a reward and has to rely on the cue transmitted from the encoder via the brain-to-brain interface. (Details of the work are outlined in the journal Scientific Reports.)

The idea could be extended to humans, researchers say. Once perfected, the concept might serve to develop a technique of  exchanging information across millions of people without using keyboards or voice recognition devices or the type of interfaces that are routinely used as I write and you read.

Great story, I thought then. I’ll make it into a sequel to  Rats! — the story of Sam and Gladys, the two lab rats, trying to mess up a scientific experiment — I’ve posted last June.

But as Russians say, don’t put off until tomorrow what can be put off until after the morrow. While I kept postponing writing about Sam and Gladys talking brain-to-brain, researchers achieved  yet another breakthrough.

An international team of scientists demonstrated what they call the first direct brain-to-brain communication, sending the words “hola” and “ciao” between two people thousands of miles apart.

“We were able to directly and non-invasively transmit a thought from one person to another, without them having to speak or write,” study co-author Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a Harvard Medical School professor, said in a written statement.

The study was published online Aug. 19 in the journal PLOS ONE.  It isn’t immediately known whether or not the human participants of the experiment were rewarded with a sip of water for good performance. o-BRAIN-TO-BRAIN-COMMUNICATION-570 People Talk ‘Brain-To-Brain’ For First Time Ever has a video of the experiment’s set up.

“We hope that in the longer term this could radically change the way we communicate with each other.” (Dr. Giulio Ruffini, a theoretical physicist at Starlab in Barcelona and co-author on the study, told AFP.)

Years ago, I worked with a man from India, a computer programmer. Once, matter-of-factly, he mentioned that he hadn’t exchanged a word with his wife in over two years, although the two of them were happy together, lived in the same house and communicated constantly, although not in a “normal” fashion but… telepathically. Both of them almost daily sought advise from their guru, a saintly man who never left Tamil Nadu, also telepathically. Just like Sam and Gladys… Go and figure.

Pop Goes A Sonnet

Shakespeare
Artwork by Rafal Olbinski

Until very recently I was innocent of Beyoncé, so to speak. However, a few days ago I came across Erik Didriksen’s Tumblr “Pop Sonnets referenced by several recent articles in very favorable tones. Erik Didriksen attempted — and brilliantly succeeded — to render a number of pop songs by several artists in the form of Shakespearean sonnets.

Strictly following the Sonnet poetic form — three quatrains and a couplet — Pop Sonnets is fun read for poetry lovers, I’m sure. I’m not sure, however, that pop lyrics lovers would be too thrilled having to figure out  that “beckons like a Siren’s song” in Shakespearean stands for “got it goin’ on.” Never mind that love, loss, death and jealousy are eternal themes regardless of the form of expression.

While at it, I learned that today is Beyoncé’s birthday, She reached the age of Jesus. Congratulations! For that very reason, of all the gloriously Shakespearean Didriksen’s pop sonnets I’ve chosen the one that “rephrases” Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. 

BeyonceSonetTo familiarize myself with the original masterpiece, I found Beyoncé’s Single Ladies lyrics. I realize Beyoncé’s fans remember every word beyond a few lines I post here:

BeyonceCause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it

Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh
Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh

The Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh needs no “Shakespearization”. The Great Bard himself, I’m sure, wouldn’t have said it better, no? Erik Didriksen, obviously, is of the same opinion.

Didriksen, by his own admission, got his inspiration from a Shakespearean treatment of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. His major challenge was conjugation of the verbs after thee and thou.  Extensive research and background in music helped him to attain nearly perfect sonnet rhythms.

Thou surely knowest that I am a man (Majic!, “Rude”)

In a way, Pop Sonnets took a high-minded look at the lowest common denominator of Pop Music. Interesting, no?

No, tell me not; I fear what might unfold
If out two fondest hopes should not agree (Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way”)

Adventures of St Luke, Part 2

Return of St Luke1
Pushkin Museum in Moscow

1965. St Luke, a painting by Hals, was stolen from the Pushkin Museum of art in Moscow before the opening day of the Dutch Art exhibit. See previous post for the beginning of the story.
Return of St Luke121While the army of detectives, KGB operatives and Moscow militia searched for St Luke far and near (mostly far), the anxious thief, indeed, was panicking right under their noses.

While everyone was looking for a rogue criminal, ruthless and evil, 26 year old Valery Volkov was neither.

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Valery Volkov, 26

He dreamed of becoming an artist, studying at the Surikov School of Art but was denied acceptance. His desire to belong to the world of art was so strong that he forged a diploma and got a job at the restoration lab of the Pushkin Museum. To his girlfriend he introduced himself as a successful young artist. He treated her so well that soon found himself head over the hill in debt.

Volkov decided it was about time to improve his circumstances. A close friend of his, a lot more resourceful fellow, suggested Volkov should take advantage of his close proximity to the works of great masters. This alone might one day make him rich!Return of St Luke11

And Volkov did. It was simple, really. When no one was looking — and no one was — he cut one of the “Odessa canvas” out of its frame, just like that, with a blunt knife. In heist, he hardly noticed what exactly was his loot, and walked away with it hidden under his coat. Only to return to work the next day and find that all hell broke loose.

As every single museum employee, he was questioned by detectives. Volkov managed to feign disbelief and innocence convincingly enough, no worse than any other of his disbelieving and innocent coworkers.

Return of St Luke12

Where was St Luke all this time? Behind a wood burning stove in the house of Volkov’s girlfriend, tightly rolled up. Hapless thief had no idea what to do with it next. His hopes to profit from his crime was quickly fading: to find a buyer for the painting was the task beyond impossible. The robbery that kept KGB and militia on their collective toes virtually disseminated an underground art market, and visiting foreign art dealers were kept under the watchful eye of so many agents.

Valery Volkov grew increasingly desperate, stress drove him to a breaking point in the relationship with his girlfriend. St Luke must be either removed from its hiding place and disposed of, hopefully both, after 5 months baking to a crust behind the stove.

Since no trace of the paining was yet discovered, this crime would never have been solved if not for luck that turned its back on anxious thief. After yet another  quarrel with his girlfriend, Volkov resolved to find a buyer, hopefully some random monied foreigner, to dump the painting.

On the lookout for the suitable foreigner, he came across a person that looked like one. The gentleman was dressed up to the nines in brand clothes, smelled of expensive cologne, his Gucci shoes shone and he had this special “foreign” sheen that was a clear giveaway.sl1

Volkov risked approaching the gentlemen and offering to sell a painting of a master “of Rembrandt quality”, in his own words. He asked for a 100,000 rubles — an unheard of sum in those times.

The man replied that he was not interested in art, however, he might be able to find a buyer. They agreed to meet the next day. Little did Volkov know:  a person he mistook for a foreigner was an employee of the German Embassy, the Russian fellow and, as it often happened, a clandestine KGB agent, although not directly involved in the case. What luck! Not for the thief, obviously.

The pseudo-foreigner immediately notified the agency of his encounter with Volkov. KGB operatives instantly developed a script for a clandestine operations to catch a thief, the Hals’ picture in hand.

The “transaction” was to take place on August 28 in a designated place.  KGB agent, posing as a buyer, arrived in a foreign car and wearing designer suit. Volkov explained that the paining must be retrieved from its hiding place and suggested “the buyer” followed him. Increasingly nervous, he quickened his pace, zigzagging through the alleys. However, numerous agents, variously and imaginatively disguised, weren’t far behind Volkov and his “client.”

In the dark alley Volkov disappeared. The agents panicked, thinking he’d escaped, but shortly afterward Volkov reappeared carrying an elongated box.

In a blink, Volkov was detained.   The box, examined immediately, contained the canvas tube. Badly damaged from exposure to heat, with horizontal cracks and creases from being rolled up, it was St Luke nonetheless.Return of St Luke114

Canvas was almost completely destroyed due to poor storage conditions. First, he is recognized as irretrievably lost, but then the restoration effort brought St Luke back to life again. The painting was returned to the Odessa museum and put on display, next to St Matthew.Return of St Luke

The stills in this post courtesy of a documentary about the case and the last one is from the Russian movie “Return of St Luke”, which is highly fictional, and shown to the public without any mention that is was based on a true crime story.

It was, indeed, a well kept secret. Until now.