Antiques Roadshow identifies Van Dyke work

magistrate of brussels

Long before Antiques Roadshow became a mainstay on American public broadcasting channels, it was popular on British television.

But in the 36 years the show has run on the BBC, it has never identified a more valuable painting than that first brought in by Father Jamie MacLeod in June.

The work, of a Renaissance official, was purchased by MacLeod for approximately $660 from an antiques shop in Cheshire, England.

After it caught the eye of Antiques Roadshow folks earlier this year, the painting was cleaned and restored, after which it was verified to be the work of Flemish master Anthony Van Dyke, and worth nearly $660,000. The pronouncement was made this past weekend on the program.

Van Dyck (1599-1641) served as court painter in England under King Charles I. The work is a portrait of a magistrate of Brussels and probably was made by Van Dyke in preparation for a 1634 work showing seven magistrates, according to the BBC.

The painting was authenticated by Van Dyck specialist Christopher Brown as a genuine piece by the Flemish artist.

MacLeod runs a retreat house in north Derbyshire. He told the BBC he wants to sell the painting and buy new church bells from the proceeds.

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Love of learning not an innate quality

colliers encyclopedia yearbook

A wise man once said “Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building.”

I am not that wise man; I have enough trouble trying to shepherd my own children in their studies.

Because my kids are products of a divorced household, my time with them is limited and the lure of video games, television and iPods at their other house has proven, more often than not, stronger than dad’s admonitions.

In fairness to them, had I spent the majority of my time as a youngster in a house essentially filled with children my own age and stocked with more games and toys than a small retail department store chain, it’s likely that reading and studying would have been well down on my list of priorities, as well.

Heck, growing up my home featured neither an army of co-conspirators nor a legion of amusements and I still avoided studying whenever possible, usually hightailing it out the door for the closest fishing pond or ball field.

My one saving grace was that I loved to read. Pretty much whatever I could find I would at least pick up and attempt to peruse.

This proved particularly useful when, as a youth, I would find myself banished to my room for various transgressions. (As I got older, my mother finally tired of wearing out her arm wielding the “spanking spoon” and decided exile a more suitable punishment.)

When I was around the age of 9 my parents received a collection of Collier’s encyclopedia yearbooks, years 1955 through 1973. They’d probably received them from friends who had relocated and didn’t want to lug the large, heavy tomes. My guess is that we must have gotten them in 1974, judging from the date of the last issue.

These were set up in a small bookshelf in my room, which proved convenient during my expulsion.

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Nothing beats being dragooned into decency


Call me Scrooge, Grinch, Mr. Heat Miser or whatever other holiday-related term of derision you like, but I long ago had my fill of such amorphous concepts as “paying it forward,” “giving back” and the always-inane “random acts of kindness.”

The above actions celebrate that which was once recognized as simple decency.

But in today’s world, where the navel-gazer is king, it’s not enough to be good to one another: Lack of recognition would almost appear to invalidate civility in the eyes of many.

First, the terms “pay it forward” and “give back,” logically speaking, make little sense.

You can’t pay something forward.  You can do something nice for someone without them knowing it – but, of course, if you crow about it, you’re really just serving your own purposes.

And “giving back” implies that you took something in the first place. Athletes, entertainers and corporate bigwigs like to throw around the term “giving back,” particularly when visiting their old stomping grounds.

Unless they had their athletic, entertainment or business talents conferred upon them, like royalty bequeathing a title on a noble, they probably had to work very hard over many years to reach their level of accomplishment.

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Family seeks new trial for executed 14-year old

George Stinney 1Ten days after the Allies landed at Normandy, a 14-year-old black youth was executed for the murder of an 11-year-old white girl.

At just 5-foot-1 and 90 pounds, George Stinney is said to have had to use the Bible he carried to the execution chamber at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, SC, as a booster seat when he was positioned in the electric chair on the evening of June 16, 1944.

Stinney had been found guilty by an all-white jury in the death of Betty June Binnicker, who, along with Mary Emma Thames, 7, had been killed in Clarendon County, SC. Both had been beaten with a railroad spike and left in a ditch in a rural part of the county.

The girls were killed in late March 1944; Stinney was tried and convicted of Binnicker’s death a month later. He would have the ignominious fate of being the youngest individual executed in the US in the 20th century.

Next month, however, attorneys representing relatives of Stinney will take the first step in what they hope will result in a new trial for George Stinney, according to The State newspaper.

At a hearing in Sumter, SC, Stinney family attorney Steven McKenzie is expected to present witnesses who will give evidence that he hopes will convince the judge to grant a new trial.

“In a legal brief, McKenzie has said his new evidence includes affidavits by surviving Stinney siblings who didn’t testify at his 1944 trial,” according to The State.

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Fame’s fickleness shown in population centers

biggest cities in the world chart

The above chart of the world’s biggest cities since 4000 BC, created by Business Insider, demonstrates, among other things, that urban growth has not always been steady and sure.

Consider that at around Year 1 of the Christian era, Rome was estimated to have had a population of 1 million while Chang’an, an ancient Chinese capital today known as Xi’an, boasted about 500,000 inhabitants.

Yet, within 600 years, the largest city in the west, by now Constantinople, had but 125,000 individuals, while the biggest in the east, although still Chang’an, was down to half its former size.

Clearly, urbanization was a fluid concept, influenced by disease, warfare and trade.

Another interesting takeaway is that while Rome may have been the largest city the world had ever known around the time of Christ, if you fast-forwarded 1500 years, Constantinople, then the largest city in the west, was a staggering 90 percent smaller than Rome had been at its height.

In fact, it would be more than 1800 years after Rome’s apex before another city in the west would again reach the 1 million level.

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You better watch out, Santa’s got a ‘brand’

santa logo2Brand Books are often used by corporations and other large entities to highlight inside details, goals and marketing techniques.

Created to help bring consistency to the way a brand is communicated, the goal, to paraphrase one Brand Book, is to provide the necessary tools to present the brand correctly and consistently in any and all forms of communication.

They feature a collection of the brand elements and a detailed description of “the brand.”

Brand Books influence every marketing campaign, communication and product. By covering every aspect of the brand from mission statement and logos to color palettes and typography guidelines, it serves as a strategic guideline.

Brand Books are often, but not always, created by advertising firms, and, not surprisingly, tend to be riddled with ad jargon.

To that end, United Kingdom communication consultants The Quiet Room has spoofed its own profession by creating a Brand Book for Santa Claus, defining Father Christmas’s “entire being as if he were dreamt up by a team of obsessive brand ‘experts,’’ according to

“The result is the *Santa* Brand Book, which spoofs branding strategies used by companies all around the globe. Some prime examples you can find within the book include a meaningless mission statement, acronyms, excessive jargon, obligatory diagrams, and official style guides for the Santa ‘brand,’” adds the PSFK site.

As the *Santa* Brand Book’s cover states: “*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea,” adding, “It begins with the Hiss of Power and ends with the Ah of Surprise.”

You can view the entire *Santa* “Brand Book” here. It’s not only good for a few laughs, but offers an interesting and instructive insight into how major advertising agencies operate.

(Above: Page taken from *Santa* Brand Book, a spoof created by The Quiet Room, a UK advertising agency. Click to embiggen.)

Last survivor of Polish-Soviet War dies at 113

Polish Uhlans

Among the multitude of conflicts that erupted during 20th century, the Polish-Soviet War is all but forgotten.

The 1919-1921 confrontation featured the newly formed Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine against the Poland and the Ukrainian People’s Republic.

Poland, which had just been re-established by the Treaty of Versailles after spending nearly 125 years under the rule of various other countries, including Russia, wanted to secure its borders and independence.

Soviet forces were seeking to spread revolution into other parts of Europe.

Ultimately, the Soviets were defeated, but Polish efforts at an eastward invasion of Ukraine and Belarus were equally unsuccessful.

“The Polish-Soviet conflict is famous for decisively thwarting a Russian advance into the West and Central Europe following the Polish victory at the Battle of Warsaw (Vistula River) in August of 1920,” according to the Warfare History Blog.

The war resulted in the deaths of approximately 110,000 soldiers, according to historians.

Although the conflict ended 93 years ago – fighting concluded in October 1920 but a peace treaty wasn’t signed until March 1921 – its final survivor died only last week.

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Photographer captures meteor, aurora borealis

meteor through aurora borealisThe above spectacular image of a meteor streaking through the green glow of the aurora borealis was captured last Friday by Shannon Bileski, a Canadian photographer.

Bileski, who operates Signature Exposures, snapped the photo at Patricia Beach, along Manitoba’s Balsam Bay in Lake Winnipeg.

Bileski was at the beach attempting to photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club when she caught the rare image.

The aurora borealis was on and off all night, but at 11:10 p.m., just as everyone else was packing up their camera gear, the green glow in the sky intensified, according to PetaPixel.

“Suddenly, during one of the eight-second exposures, there was an intense streak of light in the sky and bright green flashes,” the website added. “It was a meteor that had broken up in the atmosphere, and Bileski captured the whole event as the photo above.”

Bileski described the conditions, timing and good fortune in capturing the image as “Amazing.”

(HT: Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)

Canine crime wave ends as culprit captured

cato the dog clinton, sc

It didn’t take much sleuthing to discover the identity of the thief who made off with pig ears, beef bones and dog food from a Dollar General store in Clinton, SC.

Twice within a few minutes earlier this week, items were pilfered from the store, located in South Carolina’s Upstate region.

Store manager Anastasia Polson was at a loss as to how the items could have been lifted so she turned to store surveillance cameras.

The video showed the culprit in action – a local resident well known to area customers: Cato, a husky that apparently has learned that crime does indeed pay.

The video shows the canine walking up to the doors at 9:38 a.m. this past Wednesday, but they closed before he could get into the store. However, the clever canine waited and then tagged along when a customer entered. He came back out less than a minute later.

A quick learner, Cato made another trip inside a short time later, spending about three minutes inside before leaving, according to Charleston, SC, television station WCSC.

“We had to lock the door to keep him from coming back in,” Polson said.

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Bees’ value to agriculture underestimated

bee strawberries

The economic importance of bees is significantly undervalued, according to a European study released this week.

Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value than fruit that was self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, researchers in Germany reported Wednesday.

Bee pollination strongly increased the commercial value of strawberries by producing well-shaped fruit of increased weight, according to the study.

In addition, it increased shelf life, enhanced coloring and lowered sugar-acid ratios of most varieties of strawberries.

The study, by a team at the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Göttingen in Germany, comes on the heels of a 2011 report by the UN Environment Program that showed that pollination by bees and other insects contributed about a little more than $204 billion, or 9.5 percent, of the total global value of food production.

But the most recent analysis offers evidence that the 2011 estimate could have substantially devalued the agricultural impact of the bees.

The Germany team conducted its study by planting nine commercial strawberry varieties in an experimental field. Plants were either covered with special gauze bags to allow pollination by the wind or other parts of the plant, or were left open for visiting by bees.

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