Congratulations, Rest In Peace!

Since times immemorial Chinese believed that man can be happy only in marriage, and unmarried people are socially handicapped and greatly disadvantaged. In earthly life (so short!) everyone aspires to find a mate. After death, in the endless afterlife, every person meets his/her dead friends and relatives. Afterlife is good for those who were righteous in their earthly life for there is no divorce in thereafter. If couples shared a happy married life, they are destined to stay together forever after.

Bachelors, however, are in a great disadvantage because they can never find a mate in the after-world. Chinese people care for their dead a great deal. They simply cannot let their unmarried deceased loved one to be unhappy in the afterlife for eternity. Thus living relatives look for a “dead bride” for the dead bachelor. When found, the “newlyweds” are buried together, to start married life in the “other world.” And this marriage is considered perfectly legal!

The history of a ghost marriage (Chinese: 冥婚; pinyin: mínghūn; literally: “spirit marriage” goes back to antiquity. In those years, the infant mortality was very high, so many had no time to get married before succumbing to death. Hence the tradition of afterlife weddings. Archaeologists often find ancient tombs of opposite sex children buried together. Inscriptions on the graves say that these kids are married.Ghost marriages were officially banned by the communist government after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As the nation began experiencing increased wealth over the last few years though, the ghoulish practice has reemerged, particularly in the northern provinces of Shanxi, Henan, and Shaanxi.

There are varying levels of ghost marriages. The more basic ones involve molds of dough or clay with black beans for eyes, or silver statuettes, being buried next to the deceased male. However, the ‘best’ ghost weddings involve corpse brides, dug up from another grave, reinforced with wire, dressed in new clothing, and reburied next to the deceased single man. The problem is that these corpses are stolen from unsuspecting families who in turn are unable to perform appropriate levels of ancestor worship, such as burning fake money at the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival held every April.

The tradition has gained so much traction in recent years that entire matchmaking agencies of the dead have been established to connect the families of deceased, single males with the families of women who have recently died. The government allows these agencies to function, in part because it recognizes that such activities are a result of the One Child Policy imposed on the nation for over thirty years. However, these agencies are unable to keep up with demand, leading others to steal bodies. The incentives are high for the thieves, with fresh corpse brides fetching over $15,600. In 2011, a man was arrested for killing his wife and then trying to sell her body as a corpse bride. Three years ago, four men were arrested after selling ten bodies for nearly $40,000. Even old, decomposed bodies can be sold for over $760. The thieves are emboldened by the relatively minor punishment for stealing corpses, which is up to three years in prison.Ghost Marriage

With authorities unable to curb the problem, Chinese families have adopted a number of ways to protect their deceased loved ones. Rather than burying the female members of their families on distant mountainsides, families are constructing tombs next to their homes. Others have encased the tombs in concrete. Affluent families have begun building fences around tombs, installing CCTV cameras, and hiring security guards to conduct daily patrols to ensure their dead family members stay buried.

‘Ghost marriages’ on the rise in China as people steal ‘corpse brides’ to marry dead single men.


Meet My Smoked Grandpa!

Dani tribe chief Eli Mabel is pictured holding the remains of Agat Mamete Mabel in the village of Wogi in Wamena in West Papua, an island in the centre of Papua New Guinea.

Dani tribe chief Eli Mabel is pictured holding the remains of Agat Mamete Mabel in the village of Wogi in Wamena in West Papua, an island in the centre of Papua New Guinea.

It’s a boy! No, wait…

Babies born apparently female in Salinas, Dominican Republic, are turning into men at puberty due to a genetic deformity. Above, Catherine and his cousin Carla, who is currently undergoing the transition

Babies born apparently female in Salinas, Dominican Republic, are turning into men at puberty due to a genetic deformity. Above, Catherine and his cousin Carla, who is currently undergoing the transition

This condition of gender transition is so common that the children of Salinas afflicted with it are referred to as Guevedoces, or ‘penis at 12 years’.

Around two per cent - or one in 90 - babies from Salinas, marked above on the map, are thought to be born with the condition, which occurs due to a missing enzyme during pregnancy

Around two per cent – or one in 90 – babies from Salinas, marked above on the map, are thought to be born with the condition, which occurs due to a missing enzyme during pregnancy

This unusual condition was first discovered and described in the 1970s when a scientist from Cornell visited the island.

Babies usually form male sex organs after around eight weeks in the womb, with the change triggered by hormone dihydro-testosterone. A handful of babies, however, do not have the enzyme that triggers the hormone surge and consequently they will not form male genitalia until they reach puberty, when there is another surge of testosterone.

BBC Two’s Countdown to Life – The Extraordinary Making of You explores this remarkable example of human diversity and admits that sometimes even the most complex, crucial to our species processes can occasionally go wrong.

Las Luminarias de San Anton Festival

san antonA man rides a horse through a bonfire in the small village of San Bartolome de Pinares, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Madrid, Spain. In honor of San Anton, the patron saint of animals. Horses are riden through the bonfires on the night before the official day of honoring animals in Spain. (Getty Images)

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On the eve of Saint Anthony’s Day, hundreds ride their horses through the narrow cobblestone streets of the small village during the Luminarias, a tradition that dates back 500 years and is meant to purify the animals with the smoke of the bonfires that is believed to protect them for the year to come.san anton1

Vanishing Tribe Awá

ava8Deep in the Amazon jungle lives the most vulnerable tribe in the world, whose members, trying to protect themselves from destruction, lead nomadic life, constantly moving with children, weapons and pets — Awá-Guajá people.ava77This small tribe found itself  on the verge of extinction because European colonists enslaved them and ranchers stole their land.  And yet they live in harmony with nature in the jungle, that shrinks and vanishes all around them.
Let’s take a look how Awá people live and survive…ava91Very few people have ever met Awá. Photographer Domenico Pugliese  was one of those lucky ones to have spent time with this remarkable tribe and even becoming a source of entertainment for them.

Pugliese first met the people of the tribe in 2009 after his friend, a journalist, offered him an a fellow anthropologist a journey to the jungle areas where Awá lived. “They heard the sound of the boat engine and came down the river bank,” Pugliese recals. “It felt like I suddenly was in another world.”

After they’ve got to know him, Awás even found a reason for ridiculing the photographer. They simply couldn’t understand how a grown man can be alone, without a family. Family is very important for Awá people. The concept of family is not limited only to relatives. Family also includes close friends and animals. After all, animals help them perform their everyday tasks, such as cracking nuts and collect fruit from tall trees. They are as much a part of their families as their children.ava1Most Awá families keep several tame wild animals, which are tenderly breast-fed by the women of the tribe until they grow up.

ava7Awá people keep wild pigs, squirrels, parrots and large rodent agouti, but their favorite pets are monkeys.
ava4Primates are an important food source for Awá, however, if the monkey has been breast-fed as a baby, they will never eat it. Even if such monkey returns to the jungle, they would recognize it as a hanima  — a member of the family.
ava3 Out of tens of thousands of Awá population, who lived in Maranhao 500 years ago before the Portuguese colonists arrived, only about 400 people survived. About 60 of them have never had contact with the outside world.
avaMany died of diseases brought from overseas — smallpox, measles, influenza and others. Surviving people were enslaved and forced to work on rubber and sugar cane plantations.ava9In 1835, after centuries of oppression, Maranhao tribes rebelled against the European invaders. During the 5-year-old uprising, about 100 thousand  indigenous people were killed.awa88After that,  Awás were forced to take up a nomadic way of life to avoid the genocide. Over the next 200 years, they have become skilled hunters and learned how to build home in a few hours, and a day later abandon them and hit the road again. As a result, to a large extent, people have lost  their agricultural skills and even the ability to start a fire.ava6In 1982, the Brazilian government received a loan of 900 million USD from the World Bank and the European Union. One condition of this loan was that the lands of certain indigenous peoples (including the Awá) would be demarcated and protected. This was particularly important for the Awá because their forests were increasingly being invaded by outsiders. There were many cases of tribespeople being killed by settlers, and the forest on which they depend was being destroyed by logging and land clearance for farming. Without government intervention it seemed very likely that the Awá and their ancient culture would become extinct. (Wiki)

The Brazilian Government has announced that all the “invaders” were expelled from the land of Awá in the past year, but today the people of the tribe face even greater danger — fires raging in the Amazon.

The fires that destroy huge areas of jungle on the eastern edge of the Amazon, often instigated by ranchers who want to turn the forest into plantations.

The Morning After

ошеломитThe morning after I published my second post about Amur and Timur, I read the post of one of my favorite Russian bloggers. Here is an excerpt in loose translation from Russian:

The country came to a standstill in anticipation. Every morning, millions begin feverishly browse the news:  what’s new? anything tragic happened?   Journalists share the latest bits of info, sharing catastrophic predictions. Experts are interviewed, spreading their authoritative opinion. What about? The inevitable financial crisis, perhaps? The future of relationship between Turkey and Russia? Europe and Russia? USA and Russia? Or, maybe, there is a mission to Mars, and the story keeps them on the edge of their chairs?

[…] Nope. These days our compatriots are hooked on something else entirely — a complicated relationship of a certain Siberian tiger with his dinner, an insolent goat. The country approves an unprecedented behavior of a courageous goat, who banished the tiger from his shelter when it began to snow and took his place. From that we conclude that our people identify themselves not with a tiger but with a goat.[…]

Indeed, there is a lot to  worry about:   Over every imaginable source of mass information, the park management expressed fear for the fate of Timur, the goat. You see, Amur, the tiger, should soon marry his bride, tigresses Ussuri. Zoologists maintain that vile female might persuade amorous Amur to devour Timur for their wedding meal.

Thus people are seriously worried. Polls are conducted. Bets are placed. How the relationships between Amur and Timur would develop?
25.5% of those polled predict that  Timur will live to see the New Year
3.9% are convinced  that Amur will eat Timur before the year end.
And 70.6% (oh, cynical Russians!) are suspecting that the keepers of the park have limitless supply of “Timurs” that Amur regularly eats for dinner, while blackmailing the administration — “Gimme more or I’ll swallow Timur whole.”

All right. No more about Amur and Timur. There is so much to think and write about. For instance: Elon Musk makes space travel history: Billionaire’s SpaceX rocket blasts into orbit, launches 11 satellites then makes an amazing landing back on Earth.spaceX


Gollum Insult


On Sept. 12, 2014, Aydın-based physician Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi, an employee of the National Institute of Public Health, shared on Twitter a meme that compared Facebook images of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Gollum, the fictional character of the “Lord of the Rings,” known for his grotesque appearance.

Shown side by side, pictures depict the President and Gollum eating, expressing surprise and amazement. Arguably, resemblance is uncanny.

gollum insult

An anonymous complaint followed, and the local prosecutor is pursuing the case. Dr. Çiftçi is being charged  with allegedly insulting the president. He could face up to two years in jail for posting pictures of the slimy and scary creature juxtaposed with photos of the President.  Insulting a public figure is a crime in Turkey.

Consequently, in October 2014, Dr. Çiftçi was fired from his job at the THSK — the Turkish  National Institute of Public Health.

Dr. Çiftçi appeared in court in southern Turkey. He claims that Gollum was not a bad character and that he did not insult anyone.

Hicran Danisman, a lawyer representing Çiftçi, asked Judge Murat Saz in the city of Aydin, whether he had seen the movie series “The Lord of the Rings.” Neither the prosecutor nor the chief judge had seen the movies. Saying that he had seen only seen parts of them, the chief judge postponed the hearing until Feb. 13, 2016.

Meanwhile, judge Saz has asked five experts to determine whether comparing Turkey’s president to “Lord of the Rings” character Gollum should be considered an insult. Two academics, two psychologists or behavioral scientists and a movie or television expert should be weighing in on the true nature of Gollum’s character. Dr. Çiftçi’s fate depends on their assessment.

According to BBC News, from August 2014 to March 2015, 105 people had been accused of insulting the president Erdoğan.

I first read about this in Russian news sources. Obviously, these days, the Turkish president is a persona non grata for many Russians, and this piece of news was met with glee, although everyone sympathizes with brave, if hapless, doctor and wishes him well. After all, Gollum isn’t entirely bad  little fellow, isn’t he?


If Irish Celebrated Thanksgiving Today


A painting by JLG Ferris, “The First Thanksgiving”: A band of starving pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were saved at the last minute by the arrival of a ship from Dublin.

Regardless of all other dates given as the day of the very first Thanksgiving , it was actually celebrated on Feb 21, 1621 when a band of starving pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were saved at the last minute by the arrival of a ship from Dublin, bearing food from Ireland.

If Thanksgiving were celebrated in Ireland today as it is celebrated in the USA, Irish people could have given thanks to their government for the repealing and clearing from the statute books, in March of this year, of exactly 5,782 regulations and orders dating from way before the Republic of Ireland became independent — some over 3 centuries back.

Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said it would “pave the way for further simplification and modernisation measures.”

An Bille um Athchóiriú an Dlí Reachtúil, 2015 Statute Law Revision Bill 2015 lists them all, from simply outdated to peculiar, unusual, strict, frightening, curious and amusing:

    • A declaration of 1654 ordering the removal of Catholic landowners with their wives, children and families from the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Ulster to Connacht.
    • Proclamation warning anybody who criticises the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, dated July 5, 1533 [Steele Vol. 1 p. 15] 
    • Proclamation forbidding anyone to carry a sword in the King’s presence, dated May 16, 1539 [Steele Vol. 1 p. 20]
    • Order offering a pardon in relation to crimes of rebellion before 1 May 1583, dated June, 1583 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 10]
    • Order prohibiting the sale of horses out of the Pale upon pain off death, dated May, 1590 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 12]
    • Proclamation forbidding the import of gunpowder, or its sale except to noblemen, sheriffs and justices of peace, August 20, 1595 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 13]
    • Order requiring regular attendance on public worship in the parish churches and publishing the Act of Uniformity [1560 (2 Eliz.) c. 2], dated October 24, 1605 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 17]
    • Order forbidding foreign travel and recalling children sent abroad for education, dated July 10, 1610 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 19] 
    • Proclamation enforcing certain laws including the prohibition of single women keeping taverns, dated October 31, 1612 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 20]
    • Proclamation banishing idle and wandering persons including Scotsmen without lawful business, dated August 25, 1625 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 28]
    • Order for the punishing of rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars and setting them to work, dated October 22, 1633 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 34]
Illustration by Sergei Kalinin.

Illustration by Sergei Kalinin (obviously non-Irish)

  • Proclamation forbidding drivers and butchers to drive cattle by night and the buying of cattle except from fairs and markets, dated August 22, 1625 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 29]
  • Proclamation providing that beggars and wandering persons (excluding children under the age of seven) are to be arrested, and whipped naked from the waist upwards till blood comes, dated August 24, 1625 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 29]
  • Proclamation ordering all strangers to leave Dublin in one hour, dated October 26, 1641 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 40]
  • Order prohibiting the intermarriage of officers or soldiers with Irish women, dated May 1, 1651 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 59]
  • Declaration offering rewards for the killing of wolves, dated June 29, 1653 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 64]
  • Declaration concerning the licensing of alcohol which is a cause of drunkenness and licentiousness in all sorts of people, dated July 15, 1653 [Steele Vol. 2 p. 65]
  • Order directing churchwardens to cooperate with the Lord Mayor regarding the reporting of immoral behaviour of citizens in their parishes, dated October 14, 1768 [D.G., Issue No. 1956]


If I were Irish, I’d immediately start exercising my new-found freedoms — criticizing the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, driving cattle by night and engaging in immoral behaviour  in front of Lord Mayor and an entire parish.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beneath The Black Square

black square

I’m no aficionado of many “isms” in modern arts, suprematism  being one of them. Many of my posts in the category of arts bespeaks of it. Thus Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square (all  four of them) never stirred any deep emotions in me except for bewilderment and disdain.

I’d seen the “first original” of the painting in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow when it was not quite 50 years old, being first exhibited in 1915. I was young then, and felt quite inadequate, all right, but still couldn’t make myself stand there and appreciate the “cosmic blackness” of the canvas before me, no matter what art critics were saying.

A Short History Of BLACK CANVAS — Square And Otherwise, my earlier post, tells the story of Malevich’s square, which was neither the first nor the original creation. But he was the first one who insisted that the hoax, parlor fun, a mockery of art jotted to fetch a few laughs, is, indeed, a new word in art. And there were people around him who insisted on this concept among the sea of whistles and indignation, and they won.

Kazimir Malevich. Self-portrait.

Kazimir Malevich. Self-portrait.

Tomorrow, the Black Square will become a centerpiece of the Tretyakov Gallery’s current exhibition “The Mark of Malevich,” to commemorate and celebrate the centenary of the unveiling of the artist’s Black Square in 1915.

“The Mark of Malevich. Graphics From the State Tretyakov Gallery’s Collection” will run until February 14, 2016.

However, Wednesday in the Gallery wont’t be the usual shaming of skeptics into recognizing the black blotch on the canvas as a masterpiece. Oh, no. Tomorrow, at an exhibition opening, the gallery’s art experts will present an astounding findings discovered under the layer of black on that famous square…

The museum, which owns one of the three versions of the work, performed an x-ray analysis on the top layer of black paint to uncover the underlying images. The findings could reveal the story behind the groundbreaking artwork.

For years, there were rumors among the skeptics that the artist was unable to finish the picture at the time for the upcoming exhibition, and, mightily frustrated, covered the unfinished work with black paint. The unsuspecting audience lauded the black canvas as the new word in art. Malevich haven’t found the courage to dispel “the spell of the black”, rather, he perpetuated the legend.

He used to say that he had created The Black Square in a mystical trance, under the influence of a “cosmic consciousness” experience.

The suggestions to investigate the canvas for finding the original image under the top layer were made repeatedly. However, scientists and critics felt that the masterpiece could be irreparably damaged should it be subjected to any sort of analysis.

How odd it that! The works of Old Masters — El Greco, Cranach, Breughel, Rigaud, Largillière, Vigée Lebrun, Guercino and Bassano, British artists Raeburn, Lawrence, Romney, Reynolds and Wright of Derby, and 20th century artists such as  Vuillard, Marinetti, Hodgkin, and Jones — were analysed and underwent extensive restorations. But not Malevich — god forbid a spec of black should be disturbed! How would you restore it then!

And now, finally, the sacred black was x-rayed. Similar tests have been known to lead to breakthrough discoveries. Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie used x-rays to determine that a Rembrandt canvas had been repainted by Joshua Reynolds, and a second image was found beneath the surface of another painting by the Dutch master. There was even a new painting added to Claude Monet‘s oeuvre when his signature was found on a “Haystack” painting thanks to a hyperspectral camera.

“It was known that under the Black Square, there was some underlying image,” Ekaterina Voronina, an art researcher at the Tretyakov told Kultura TV. “We found out that there is not one image, but two.”

Malevich himself used to say that he had created “The Black Square” in a mystical trance, under the influence of a "cosmic consciousness" experience. Source: Yuri Somov / RIA Novosti

Malevich at the Tretyakov Gallery. Source: Yuri Somov / RIA Novosti

God in Heaves! He did, indeed, painted over his canvas to cover something else he was painting, and — viola tout! — critics gashed,  “Malevich freed the concept of art from all its traditional rules, signified the square as something new, attached to it a null form, and made it the basis of a new art, which he named Suprematism...”

“We proved that the initial image is a Cubo-Futurist composition, while the painting lying directly under the Black Square—the colors of which you can see in the cracks—is a proto-Suprematist composition.”

The x-ray analysis also uncovered a handwritten note by the artist on the painting’s white border which is still being deciphered. However, according to AFP, preliminary investigations have revealed that the text says “Black men battling in a cave.”

The note may be a reference to an 1897 black square painting by the French writer Alphonse Allais titled Combat des Negres dans une cave, pendant la nuit (“Black Men Fighting in a Cellar at Night.”)

If the preliminary interpretation holds up, it could support a connection to the earlier French painting, demonstrating that one of Malevich’s most famous works was in fact an art historical response or an interpretation of Allais’s piece, showing that the Russian artist’s pool of influences had been much broader than previously thought.


Right. Art historical response. That’s how plagiarism is called in art lingo, I suppose. Notice how oblique and vague is the verbiage used by the art researcher at the Tretyakov, as though painted over… Ah,well, I must be gloating. Can’t help it, though.

Victor Bogorad. To the centennial of The Black Square.

Victor Bogorad. To the centennial of The Black Square.

And another one as a finishing touch:

Time to get out, Malevich is coming.

Time to get out, Malevich is coming.