Tuatara nesting in New Zealand


This video is called Tuatara-My trip to New Zealand.

From British daily The Independent:

Dinosaur-age reptile nesting in New Zealand

Friday, 31 October 2008

A rare reptile with lineage dating back to the dinosaur age has been found nesting on the New Zealand mainland for the first time in about 200 years.

Four leathery white eggs from an indigenous tuatara were found by staff at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in the capital Wellington, during routine maintenance work, conservation manager Rouen Epson said.

“The nest was uncovered by accident and is the first concrete proof we have that our tuatara are breeding,” Ms Epson said. “It suggests that there may be other nests in the sanctuary we don’t know of.”

Tuatara, dragon-like reptiles that grow to up to 32ins, are the last descendants of a species that walked the earth with the dinosaurs 225 million years ago, zoologists say.

They have unique characteristics, such as two rows of top teeth closing over one row at the bottom. They also have a pronounced parietal eye, a light-sensitive pineal gland on the top of the skull. This white patch of skin – called its “third eye” – slowly disappears as they mature.

A native species to New Zealand, tuatara were nearly extinct on the country’s three main islands by the late 1700s due to the introduction of predators such as rats. They still live in the wild on 32 small offshore islands cleared of predators.

A population of 70 tuatara was established at the Karori Sanctuary in 2005. Another 130 were released in the sanctuary in 2007.

The sanctuary, a 620-acre wilderness minutes from central Wellington, was established to breed native birds, insects and other creatures securely behind a predator-proof fence.

Ms Empson said that the four eggs – the size of ping-pong balls – were unearthed today but that there were probably more because the average nest contains around 10 eggs.

The eggs were immediately covered up again to avoid disturbing incubation.

If all goes well, juvenile tuatara could hatch any time between now and March, she said.

Jan Wolkers, painter, sculptor, author


This Dutch video says about itself:

A tribute to Jan Wolkers, a Dutch multi-talent … cremated today [oct.24th 2007] in Amsterdam – the Netherlands; music by Ramses Shaffy “Zing Vecht Huil Bidt” …

Today, to the Jan Wolkers exhibition, in the Lakenhal museum.

Jan Wolkers (1925-1907) was a graphic artist, painter, sculptor, and author of novels, short stories, poems, and a theatre play. This exhibition opened exactly one year after he died.

Wolkers was born and grew up in Oegstgeest, then a religious Roman Catholic and Protestant village west of Leiden city. To escape from his strictly Calvinist family, he often walked on the Rijnsburgerweg road, which he called “the road to freedom”, to Leiden.

Already when he was ten years old, he visited the Lakenhal museum for the first time. It inspired him to become a visual artist himself. So, it really is appropriate that the Wolkers exhibition now is in the Lakenhal. Much of the work exhibited is owned by Karina, Jan’s widow.

Painters in the Lakenhal collection which inspired Wolkers included Rembrandt, about whom Jan Wolkers wrote a poem when he was eighteen years old. And the late medieval-Renaissance Dutch painters Cornelis Engebrechtsz and Lucas van Leyden; eg, Van Leyden’s self-portrait.

During the Second World War, Wolkers had to hide from the nazi occupiers looking for forced labour. However, he managed to study at the Leiden art school. The studies included making drawings of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, based on the art school’s plaster copies of them.

The first halls of the exhibition contain much early graphic work from 1944 and a bit later. Self-portraits. Landscapes, of Poelgeest castle in Oegstgeest and other surroundings of Leiden. In 1945, Wolkers painted a Vanitas: a skull and bones, reminding viewers that life is not infinite. Vanitas is a well-known theme in seventeenth century Dutch painting. Though Wolkers painted with much rougher brushstrokes than most seventeenth century painters, the painting is an example of how twentieth century “modern” painters still had links to artists in earlier times. Other examples of this are El Greco, Rembrandt, the Impressionists and others as inspirations for Pablo Picasso. What the modern artists did not do, and conservative critics hated them for that, was copying old masters in slavish and sugar-coated ways.

Until the late 1950s, Wolkers’ paintings and drawings, though looking avantgardist to conservatives, were figurative. That goes for his sculpture, depicting a cock, a woman with a cat, and other subjects, as well. In the late 1950s, Wolkers’ work became abstract, and would basically stay so until the artist’s death.

Much of his later sculpture was made from glass. Well known examples of this are his monument for the people killed by the nazis in Auschwitz concentration camp; and his 2005 monument for Rembrandt. Most of the glass sculpture of the exhibition was smaller work, including a model for the Rembrandt monument.

Wolkers used unusual materials in his later paintings, including gold paint and cow dung, sometimes combined in the same painting. Sometimes, pieces of wood protrude from the paintings, making them three-dimensional.

Some of Wolkers’ work hangs between works by earlier artists, from the sixteenth century to Floris Verster, 1861-1927. Between earlier artists’ works to which it has relationships. Also, poems and quotations from novels by Wolkers hang on the walls of the Lakenhal regular collection halls, next to art to which they have relationships.

Something I missed a bit at this extensive exhibition were Jan Wolkers’ views on society and politics (except for a mention of his Auschwitz monument).

In the 1960s, he made election billboards for the Communist Party of the Netherlands; and posters against the Vietnam war; about Che Guevara; and against the colonial war of the Portuguese fascist regime, supported by NATO, in Africa.

When the Yugoslavia war broke out in 1999, unlike Blairite trendy pseudo-lefties, Wolkers did not support that war, but spoke out against it.

I still fondly remember him reading his poems in the Leidse Hout park; not far from where he was born; and featuring in his stories and novels.

Many of the visitors at the exhibition today were primary schoolchildren with their teachers. This is a kind of ironic justice: as in the 1960s secondary school students were often discouraged from reading Wolkers. He was considered too sexually explicit by puritans.

Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch restored


Raphael, Madonna of the Goldfinch

From Wikipedia:

The Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch is a painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, from c. 1505-1506. A 10-year restoration process was completed in 2008, after which the painting will eventually be returned to its home at the Uffizi in Florence. The painting was replaced in the gallery with an antique copy during the restoration.

In this painting, as in most of the Madonnas of his Florentine period, Raphael arranged the three figures – Mary, Christ and the young John the Baptist – to fit into a geometrical design. Though the positions of the three bodies are natural, together they form an almost regular triangle.

The Virgin is holding a book, with identifies her as Sedes Sapientiae (“Seat of Wisdom”). The goldfinch is a symbol of Christ’s future violent death. St. John offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future.

The Madonna was a wedding gift from Raphael to his friend Lorenzo Nasi. On November 17, 1548 Nasi’s house was destroyed by an earthquake and the painting broke into seventeen pieces. It was restored shortly afterwards, but the damage is [was] still visible.

(European) goldfinches have red on their heads, seen as a symbol of blood.

Vasari recounts in his book The Lives of the Artists that Raphael, who died aged 37 at the peak of his powers, was brought down by excessive passion. This view of health is medieval: the body is controlled by humours, health depends on a balance of humours, and Raphael’s was destabilised by too much action in bed. Well, it’s a theory: here.

Soldiers returning deaf from Afghanistan


Another video from the USA used to say about itself:

The Army estimates up to 20 percent of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from TBI, traumatic brain injury.

From the BBC:

Deafness fears for Afghan troops

Hundreds of UK soldiers are reportedly returning from Afghanistan with severe or permanent hearing damage.

Problems ranging from tinnitus to total deafness are said to have been brought on by roadside bombs, close-combat clashes and coalition aircraft.

The Times, which obtained data from the Ministry of Defence through freedom of information requests, said affected personnel were often undeployable.

Senior British officer in Afghanistan believes ‘chronic underinvestment’ in armoured vehicles led to military deaths; and resigns; here.

Robinson Crusoe and archaeology


This video is about Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile, in the Pacific Ocean.

From World Science:

“Real” Crusoe’s isle said to yield clues to sojourn

Oct. 30, 2008

Courtesy Maney Publishing and World Science staff

Cast away on a des­ert is­land, sur­viv­ing on what na­ture alone can pro­vide, pray­ing for res­cue but fear­ing the sight of an en­e­my boat. These are the im­ag­i­na­tive crea­t­ions of Dan­iel De­foe in his fa­mous nov­el Rob­in­son Cru­soe.

Yet the sto­ry is thought to be based on the real ex­pe­ri­ence of sail­or Al­ex­an­der Sel­kirk, ma­rooned in 1704 on a small trop­i­cal is­land in the Pa­cif­ic for more than four years.

New clues sup­port con­tem­po­rar­y records of his stay on that is­land, ar­chae­o­lo­gists say. A pa­per in the re­search jour­nal Post-Medieval Ar­chae­o­lo­gy de­scribes ev­i­dence of an “early Eu­ro­pe­an oc­cu­pant” from a dig on the is­land of Aguas Bue­nas, since re­named Rob­in­son Cru­soe Is­land.

The fore­most ev­i­dence is a pair of naviga­t­ional di­vid­ers which could only have be­longed to a ship’s mas­ter or nav­i­ga­tor, as ev­i­dence sug­gests Sel­kirk was, re­search­ers said.

An ac­count by Sel­kirk’s res­cuer, Cap­tain Woodes Rog­ers, of what he saw on ar­ri­val at Aguas Bue­nas in 1709 lists ‘some prac­ti­cal pieces’ and math­e­mat­i­cal in­stru­ments amongst the few pos­ses­sions that Sel­kirk had tak­en with him from the ship.

The finds al­so pro­vide an in­sight in­to how Sel­kirk might have lived on the is­land, in­ves­ti­ga­tors added. Post­holes sug­gest he built two shel­ters near to a fresh­wa­ter stream, and had ac­cess to a view­point over the har­bour from where he would be able to watch for ap­proach­ing ships and dis­cern wheth­er they were friend or foe.

Ac­counts writ­ten shortly af­ter the res­cue de­scribe him shoot­ing goats with a gun res­cued from the ship, and even­tu­ally learn­ing to out­run them, eat­ing their meat and us­ing their skins as cloth­ing. He al­so pas­sed time read­ing the Bi­ble and sing­ing psalms, and seems to have en­joyed a more peace­ful and de­vout ex­ist­ence than at any oth­er time in his life, ac­cord­ing to researchers.

“The ev­i­dence un­co­vered at Aguas Bue­nas cor­rob­o­rates the sto­ries of Al­ex­an­der Selkirk’s stay on the is­land and pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight in­to his ex­ist­ence there,” said Da­vid Cald­well of Na­tional Mu­se­ums Scot­land, one of the re­search­ers. “We hope that Aguas Bue­nas, with care­ful man­age­ment, may be a site en­joyed by the in­creas­ing num­ber of tourists.”

Sel­kirk was born in the small sea­side town of Low­er Lar­go, Fife, Scot­land in 1676. A young­er son of a shoe­maker, he was drawn to a life at sea from an early age. In 1704, dur­ing a pri­va­teer­ing voy­age on the Cinque Ports, Sel­kirk fell out with the com­mand­er over the boat’s sea­wor­thi­ness and chose to re­main be­hind on Rob­in­son Cru­soe Is­land where they had land­ed to overhaul the worm-infested ves­sel. He ap­par­ently did­n’t sus­pect five years would pass be­fore he was pick­ed up by an Eng­lish ship vis­it­ing the is­land.

Pub­lished in 1719, Rob­in­son Crusoe is one of the most fa­mous ad­ven­ture sto­ries in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture. Whilst it is un­clear wheth­er De­foe and Sel­kirk ac­tu­ally met, De­foe would cer­tainly have heard the sto­ries of Sel­kirk’s ad­ven­ture and used the ta­les as the ba­sis for his nov­el, ac­cord­ing to Cald­well and col­leagues.

Conservationists call for drastic action to rescue the Juan Fernández archipelago’s biodiversity from alien invaders: here.

Alejandro Selkirk island marine life: here.

Chile Creates Large Marine Reserve at Sala y Gómez Island: here.

Last week was a fantastic week for the oceans. Chile’s president announced the creation of a marine reserve around Sala y Gómez Island in the Pacific Ocean that will protect a biodiverse marine habitat larger than Montana: here.