Girl with a Pearl Earring returning to US

One of the best-known works of the Dutch Golden Age is returning to the United States for the first time in nearly two decades.

Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring will be touring museums in Atlanta, San Francisco and New York next year.

The exhibition, titled “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” features 35 paintings by Dutch Golden Age masters, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Frans Hals.

The exhibition will take place while the museum that holds the works – the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague – undergoes a major two-year renovation and expansion.

The collection will move to the Gemeentemuseum, also in The Hague, from April 28-May 28, 2012, and then a portion of it, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, will begin a world tour.

Other works included in the traveling exhibition include The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, Steen’s The Way You Hear It Is the Way You Sing It and Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds.

The 35 masterpieces will first go to Japan, from July until mid-September 2012 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, then move on to Kobe’s City Art Museum until January 2013.

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UK scientists: Mass grave holds Vikings

The south English county of Dorset is noted for being home to Thomas Hardy, the famed writer who used bucolic descriptions of the region in many of his novels, including Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Return of the Native.

It’s also the site of a mass burial ground for dozens of Viking mercenaries, decapitated en masse and placed in shallow graves a millennia ago.

The burial site features the bodies of 54 men who were decapitated and their heads piled to one side. It was discovered in 2009.

Carbon dating and isotope tests revealed the bodies were Scandinavian and dated from the 11th century, according to the BBC.

This coincides with the period in which Vikings were constantly attacking Anglo-Saxons on the English south coast. It is believed the men were captured during an attempted raid into the area.

The skeletons are all of males, with almost all aged from their late teens to around 25 years old, with a handful of older individuals.

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Back scratching, at expense of SC taxpayers

A cohort at the S.C. Policy Council recently detailed one the most egregious examples of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do that I’ve seen in a long, long while.

Rick Brundrett highlighted the fact that while South Carolina state law required state agencies to have filed their proposed budgets for the upcoming fiscal year by last Nov. 1, the state’s General Assembly apparently doesn’t feel itself beholden to that statute.

In fact, both the S.C. House and S.C. Senate routinely unveil their proposed budgets months after other state agencies have done so, according to Brundrett’s story in The Nerve.

Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, a state lawmaker on the House’s budget-writing committee, even acknowledged that the normal budget-hearing process traditionally hasn’t been applied to House or Senate chamber budgets.

What that means is legislative leaders can add in large budget increases for their respective chambers much later, typically at the very end of the legislative session, when the media and public are focused on the budget as a whole, rather than individual aspects.

Brundrett pointed out that the House quietly slipped in a $2.3 million increase for itself for this fiscal year on the last day for regular legislative business last June.

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Volunteers resurrecting Polish steam engines

Volunteers have joined forces with railroad museum officials in central Europe to bring Poland’s steam locomotives back to life.

They’re not only gathering to scrap away decades of rust and soot in an effort to restore the a handful of the nation’s old steam engines to their former glory, but often pay for the privilege, adopting the locomotives, some of which date back to the 1890s.

“This steam train symbolizes liberty,” Janusz Boratynski, an immunology professor in his 60s, told Agence France-Presse. “When I was little, it transported me from my city of Wroclaw, ruined by the war and teeming with rats, to a holiday spot on the other side of the country.”

Boratynski jumped at the chance to adopt one of the engines in particular: the Tki3, a brooding hulk of red-trimmed black metal built in the early 1900s (see above photo).

In return for his adoption fee, about $500, which covers the cost of a new coat of paint, Boratynski will have his name etched into a plaque on the antique locomotive, once famed for having set a speed record of 110 kilometers per hour, or nearly 70 miles per hour, according to the wire service.

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A glimpse back at SC’s dissonant past

Conventional wisdom holds that the subject of race in the South is an inflexible, immutable issue, separate and distinct as regards blacks and whites. Just as importantly, it always has been, according to popular notion.

A couple of cursory examples:

  • Southern blacks today are overwhelmingly seen as being aligned with the Democratic Party, while a solid majority of Southern whites are Republicans; and
  • If you visit a so-called “black church” or a “white church” you’ll rarely find many people of the opposite race on hand.

But as selectively segregated as some institutions may appear to be today, there’s no doubt that race relations have thawed considerably in the region over the past 40 years. Obviously, Jim Crow didn’t do a whole lot to bring people of different backgrounds together prior to that, nor was it designed to.

However, one occasionally stumbles across a glimpse of a past that shows that not everything was as neatly delineated between the two races as today’s stereotypical view of yesteryear might have us believe.

If one looks hard enough, there are examples that show the South, like any part of the United States, was and is an infinitely more complex region than today’s television pundits and political opportunists would have us believe.

Case in point: Earlier this month while rambling through the South Carolina Upstate, I came across New Enoree Baptist Church, located in rural Newberry County, about six miles northeast of the town of Newberry.

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Long-lost letters reveal the young Voltaire

More than a dozen letters penned by French Enlightenment figure Voltaire nearly 300 years ago have been uncovered recently and are now being studied by a British professor.

Oxford academic Nicholas Cronk said the discovery reveals how much the famed Frenchman – whose real name was François-Marie Arouet – profited financially and intellectually from his stay in England in the 1720s.

The missives include a signed acceptance from the 18th century iconoclast for a £200 grant from the Royal Family, according to the BBC.

While in England, the writer and philosopher abandoned the French spelling of his first name instead styling himself “Francis,” which Cronk says is hardly surprising, given that Voltaire was “hugely opportunistic.”

All told, there are 14 newly discovered letters which are being studied by the Oxford-based Voltaire Foundation.

The foundation is carrying out a mammoth work of scholarship in which it will spend, all told, a half century to produce a definitive collected work of all Voltaire’s writing. It is expected to be completed by 2018.

Cronk, the foundation’s director, says the new letters were found in US libraries.

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Life lesson: blast fishing & no teeth a bad idea

Reason No. 375 why newspapers are struggling: The stories just aren’t as captivating as they once were.

Take the following account from the June 18, 1943, Morning Bulletin of Rockhampton, Australia, recounted by the blog buried words and bushwa:

CAIRNS (Australia) – Defying all attempts at removal, a small fish which entered Samuel Attard’s throat, head first, while he was swimming in the Russell River this afternoon, was the cause of a most unusual tragedy.

Attard, who was a maltose cane cutter, aged 34, had been swimming in the river with a mate, who on missing him, searched and found him at the foot of a 30 ft. bank in distress. At first they were unable to find the cause of the trouble, but when the tail of a fish was seen in the back of his throat the ambulance at Babinda, 13 miles away, was sent for. Their efforts to remove the fish failed and artificial respiration was unavailing. So completely had the fish blocked his throat that it was impossible to pass a tube. Later an attempt to provide air by way of an opening in the throat was also tried, but it was unsuccessful.. When a doctor arrived he pronounced life extinct.

Buried words and bushwa didn’t leave it at that, however. The blog followed up the newspaper story by reading about the coroner’s inquest.

It turns out that Attard’s demise came because he employed a method of fishing known as dynamiting, or blast fishing, which consists of tossing explosives into a body of water, then scooping up stunned and dead fish when they float to the surface.

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New flower species found in South Pacific

Eighteen months after being discovered on Fiji’s Kadavu Island, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has confirmed the existence of a new flowering plant.

The plant belongs to the scarce Medinilla group and is one of nearly 200 known species, which includes several varieties found only in Fiji, a South Pacific island nation.

“Although the plant was first found in August of 2010, it has taken this long to go through the process and verify it,” Ewa Ewa Magiera, a spokeswoman for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told Agence France-Presse.

The plant was found during a biodiversity assessment of Fiji’s Nakasaleka district carried out as part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Water and Nature Initiative, Magiera said.

There are some 193 known species of Medinilla in Madagascar, Africa, South Asia and the Pacific Islands, according to the conservation body.

Of the 11 that can only be found in Fiji, they include the Tagimoucia flower, the country’s floral emblem.

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What do the Caymans have over Belize?

For a Friday puzzler consider the following two countries and then try to determine which is more prosperous:

Belize and the Cayman Islands are both small former English-speaking British colonies located in the Caribbean with similar climates and roughly the same mixed racial heritage.

Belize has a population about six times greater than that of the Caymans, and has a much larger and more varied land area, with many more natural resources, including gas and oil, and some rich agricultural land that the Caymans lacks.

Both have nice beaches, but Belize boasts the second-largest barrier reef in the world and also has the tourist appeal of Mayan ruins.

So, which is the richer country? If you said Belize, which has been fully independent for more than 30 years, you’d be wrong.

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Ty Cobb’s connection to Augusta, Georgia

You can’t swing a dead cat in Augusta, Ga., sports circles without hitting a reminder that the great Ty Cobb began his pro career in the Garden City.

The Georgia Peach made his pro debut as an 18-year old with the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League on April 26, 1904, in a game against the Columbia (SC) Skyscrapers.

What’s conveniently forgotten is that Cobb’s first go-round with the Tourists lasted just two days, as the future Major League Hall of Famer was quickly cut.

He then signed with the Anniston (Ala.) Steelers for $50 a game and spent three months in the Tennessee-Alabama League before being recalled to Augusta in July by new owner and manager Harry Wingard.

Cobb’s first season with Augusta was less than auspicious, as he finished with a .237 batting average in 35 games.

The next year was a different story: by mid-summer Cobb was leading the Sally League in hitting and the Tourists sold him to the Detroit Tigers for $750.

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