Titian masterpiece breaks auction record

A 450-year-old work by Italian artist Titian which sold recently in New York broke the auction record for the Renaissance master by a full $5 million.

A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria was sold at Sotheby’s to a European telephone bidder for $16.9 million.

It beat the previous Titian auction record of $11.9 million paid at Christie’s in London in December 1991 for Venus and Adonis, according to the BBC.

A spokeswoman for Sotheby’s said A Sacra Conversazione was “one of only a handful of multi-figured compositions by Titian that remain in private hands,” according to the BBC, adding the work was “the most important to appear at auction in decades.”

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US education failings rest partly with parents

There’s a constant complaint heard nationwide about how American students trail their peers in other industrialized nations in terms of educational achievement.

US kids as a whole rank nowhere near the top worldwide in math or science, for example.

According to a recent study sponsored by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, most US states rank closer to developing countries than to developed countries.

Thirteen developed countries have more than twice the percentage of advanced students as does the U.S., including Germany, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan, Finland and Austria, according to the study, which compared the percentage of US students in the graduating class of 2009 who have advanced skills in math with the percentages of similar high achievers in 56 other countries.

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Remembering a child-like faith

Organized religion has plenty of detractors, many of whom never miss a chance to air their grievances, Festivus-style.

But for every lapsed Catholic or non-practicing Pentecostal, there is a devout believer who finds solace in their faith, even if their fervency isn’t always made known to all who surround them.

The blog Nothingness begins a post called The Church of My Childhood thus:

It was a small church, whose memory has become a part of me. 

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Age catching up with Hitler’s last bodyguard

Adolf Hitler’s last surviving bodyguard has stopped responding to the flood of fan mail the 93-year-old receives, citing old age.

Rochus Misch, who uses a walking frame to move around his apartment, told the Berliner Kurier that with the deluge of letters he receives asking for autographs, it was “no longer possible” to reply because of his age.

“They (letters) come from Korea, from Knoxville, Tennessee, from Finland and Iceland – and not one has a bad word to say,” said Misch, who is believed to be the last man alive to have seen Hitler and other top-ranking Nazis in the flesh.

In the past Misch used to send fans autographed copies of wartime photos of himself in a neatly pressed SS uniform, according to Reuters. Now the incoming fan mail, including letters and packages, piles up in his flat in south Berlin’s leafy Rudow neighborhood.

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Call it what you will, but it was hardly civil

There may be as many names for the American Civil War as there were contributing factors to the bloody conflict, which began 150 years ago this spring.

Some of the more popular monikers for the 1861-65 conflict include the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression and the War for Southern Independence.

Of course, who can forget the Late Unpleasantness and the War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance?

Bob Bradley, chief curator at the Alabama state archives, has come up with more than four dozen names for the war.

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Happy half century to the ‘Great One’

How dominating was National Hockey League legend Wayne Gretzky?

Since he retired in 1999, more than 13,000 NHL games have been played. Yet, only one of his 61 records has been broken.

Gretzky’s 2,857 career points are nearly 1,000 more than runner-up Mark Messier’s total; no one has come close to his 92-goal season in 20 years; and he scored more than 180 points seven different season. The only other player to break 180 was Mario Lemieux, who did it once.

Today, the Great One turns 50 and his influence is still felt throughout not just the NHL, but all of hockey.

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Proof that we’ve all got reason to be ashamed

If negative attention is better than no attention at all, the above map ought to catch the notice of many people.

This map of the United States, from pleated-jeans.com, purports to identify what each state in the union is the worst at. A good bit of it seems like a reach, however.

South Carolina, for instance, is listed as having the highest percentage of mobile homes (18.8 percent). Compared to South Dakota (highest rate in forcible rape, according to pleated-jeans.com), Illinois (highest rate of robbery) and Montana (highest rate of drunk driving deaths), though, this seems hardly worthy of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And many people would probably rather live in a mobile home they can call their own than be cooped up in a run-down apartment complex, if given the option.

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Ancient Transylvanians were flush with gold

Transylvania, the region of Romania today often associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was likely an area of untold riches in gold, suggests a new study of a cache of priceless, snake-shaped bracelets.

Demonstrating “no economy of gold at all,” craftsmen shaped each spiral cuff from an entire ingot, study author Bogdan Constantinescu said, according to a report in National Geographic.

“Most of the 2,000-year-old accessories tip the scales at about 2.2 pounds each — a heft that materials scientist Paul Craddock found ‘surprising,'” according to the report.

“Yes,” Craddock concluded, “they did have a lot of gold.”

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CFO quits – after regulators close bank

Two days after regulators shut down CommunitySouth Bank & Trust, Chief Financial Officer John Hobbs notified parent company CommunitySouth Financial Corp. that he was resigning as CFO of both the Easley-based company and its subsidiary bank.

Given that the bank no longer exists and the parent company is basically non-existent following Friday’s closure of CommunitySouth Bank by the South Carolina State Board of Financial Institutions, the move may seem unnecessary.

However, back on Dec. 31, 2008, Hobbs entered into a three-year employment agreement with CommunitySouth, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Secession was anything but unanimous

A century and a half ago, secession was in full swing throughout the South. South Carolina had left the Union in December 1860 and Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana all followed suit in January. Texas did likewise on Feb. 1, 1861.

But, according to the above map – which breaks down counties based on whether they were for secession, against it or divided – breaking away was anything but unanimous, even in the Deep South.

Not surprisingly, South Carolina was all in for leaving the Union, but North Carolina and Arkansas were also undivided in terms of counties favoring disunion.

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