Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bye bye "Gawker" - we will miss you!


By Patrick

Gawker, one of the most iconic websites of this young internet age, will close down - because it was murdered.

The announcement today:


Yes, Gawker was sometimes quite outrageous, but it was also a symbol for the "freedom of the press", as the website had no hesitation to expose inconvenient truths, and no hesitation to publish facts or "rumours" that other websites did not dare to touch. "Gawker" was also known for biting commentary and strong opinions. It was always a breath of fresh air and a hugely popular website.

The demise of Gawker is an historical event. An inconvenient news website was deliberately targeted and killed, setting a horrific precedent.

Gawker itself published an excellent article about the background yesterday.


Quote:

Gawker.com is out of business because one wealthy person maliciously set out to destroy it, spending millions of dollars in secret, and succeeded. That is the only reason.

The strange and embarrassing thing about being the target of a conspiracy, an actual conspiracy, is that it undermines one’s own understanding of the world. It is true that Gawker was always a publication that took risks. It had bad manners and sometimes bad judgment. Occasionally, it published things that it would regret—just as, for instance, the New York Times has published things that it regrets.

But every publication gives itself room to make mistakes, and is prepared to absorb the damage when it does make a mistake. The New York Post was so eager for a scoop on the Boston Marathon bombing that it put a photo of two innocent men on its front page, after law enforcement had already declared that they were not suspects. The Post was denounced, as it deserved to be, for callously crossing the line, and it ended up settling a defamation lawsuit.

Lawsuits and settlements happen to everyone, and everyone carries insurance to handle them. In Gawker’s wildest, most buccaneering years, it never came close to paying a million dollars for crossing a line.

What Thiel’s covert campaign against Gawker did was to invisibly change the terms of the risk calculation. The change begins with the post about Thiel’s sexual identity in a homophobic investor culture, the post Thiel now cites as the inspiration for his decision to destroy Gawker. It was solidly protected by media law and the First Amendment, as were the other posts that, as Thiel wrote, “attacked and mocked people”—specifically, his cohort of rising plutocrats in Silicon Valley. Hurting rich people’s feelings is, in principle, not a punishable offense.

So rather than fighting the material that he really objected to, Thiel went looking for pretexts. Over time, he came up with them. Gawker found itself attracting legal threats and lawsuits at an unprecedented rate. Among those was Hulk Hogan’s complaint against Gawker for having written about a sex video he appeared in, and for publishing brief excerpts of that video. This was the kind of case that, in the normal course of things, would have gone away. Hogan’s first two attempts to pursue it, in federal court, went nowhere, with judges ruling that the publication was newsworthy and protected.

Yet the case kept moving. Suddenly the company had exhausted the limits of its insurance and was bleeding money on legal fees. The business model on which it had thrived—writing things that people were interested in reading, and selling ads to reach those readers—was foundering due to a whole new class of expenses.

The natural conclusion, even for people on the inside, was that the company must have taken too many risks. The willingness to publish things too ugly for other outlets to touch—an account of seeing video of the mayor of Toronto smoking crack, domestic-violence accusations against Bill O’Reilly—had gone over to destructive irresponsibility, and we were being punished for it. The business side began to believe the editorial side was heedlessly dragging the company down; the editorial side began to believe the business side was fearfully prepared to undermine its integrity.

Nick Denton himself, having taunted and titillated other journalists for years with the message that Gawker would do what they wouldn’t, found that message turned back on him. He internalized what his critics and his legal bills were telling him—that the site was out of control, that it had grown too reckless and irresponsible for the power it had grown to wield. In a recurring and nigh comical routine, he took to asking his editors and writers over and over again, in slightly different ways for slightly different occasions, to name the best stories they’d done, to remind him over and over of what the mission was that he had come up with years before.

Former Gawker editor Max Read wrote an account of this era for New York magazine, where he now works. It was Read and executive editor Tommy Craggs who resigned from Gawker in the summer of last year, after the strain between the editorial and business departments—and between the two sides of Denton’s mind—broke into an open rupture over the publication of a post about a business executive’s entanglement with an escort, and over the company’s decision to remove that post.

Read’s assessment of that episode is clear-eyed and self-critical, and is probably as good a rendition of the story of that disastrous post as can be written. It does not, however, explain Gawker’s demise. Having worked closely with Craggs and Read, and having lived through the whole thing firsthand, I found Read’s history of the era unsettling: It is a thoughtful, deeply considered, and on certain levels deadly accurate portrait, but it is still inescapably a portrait drawn by gaslight.

The author concludes:


Gawker always said it was in the business of publishing true stories. Here is one last true story: You live in a country where a billionaire can put a publication out of business. A billionaire can pick off an individual writer and leave that person penniless and without legal protection.

If you want to write stories that might anger a billionaire, you need to work for another billionaire yourself, or for a billion-dollar corporation. The law will not protect you. There is no freedom in this world but power and money.

It is only a matter of time until a similar thing will happen to another inconvenient news website - there are lots of right-wing billionaires out there, after all.

Rolling Stone yesterday published an article about the "10 Most Infamous Gawker Stories."


Our old pal Sarah Palin is included in the list as well, and not only that - this sounds very familiar indeed:


Oh yes, we remember! It was not only Gawker, it was also Kathleen and myself at Palingates who in 2010 published pages from Sarah Palin's hilarious upcoming ghostwritten mess "America By Heart", and we received huge attention from the national media. The quotes from the book were just too hilarious to be ignored.

If you fancy to take a trip down memory lane, see here, here and here.

Do you remember that we were even mentioned on national television?


What happened then was not a surprise - we already "knew the drill" from the previous year (2009), when we published pages from Sarah Palin's "masterpiece of lies", her autobiography "Going Rogue": We promptly (again) received a letter from Harper Collins's General Counsel Christopher Goff, and then we immediately removed most of the pages.

Gawker however fought on and went to court, but they got out of the affair without damage in the end, gaining massive publicity. As you can see, even "Rolling Stone" still remembers the case, more than six years later!

For the old "Going Rogue" posts, see for example here, here and here.

We will miss Gawker. They were fearless, which is the most important thing of all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Comrade Donald Trump


By Patrick

Donald Trump soldiers on, and has great success so far on his mission to destroy the GOP. After this election, there won't be much left any more, as the Republicans are quickly falling apart.

So who is the Donald working for? "Many people say" that he is secretly working for the Russians. This might actually be quite close to the truth,

For example, the "New York Times" revealed in an already historic story that his current campaign chief Paul Manafort was deeply involved in the corrupt practices of the former Ukrainian pro-Russian party, which was called "Party of Regions."

Excerpt:

The papers, known in Ukraine as the “black ledger,” are a chicken-scratch of Cyrillic covering about 400 pages taken from books once kept in a third-floor room in the former Party of Regions headquarters on Lipskaya Street in Kiev. The room held two safes stuffed with $100 bills, said Taras V. Chornovil, a former party leader who was also a recipient of the money at times. He said in an interview that he had once received $10,000 in a “wad of cash” for a trip to Europe.

A page from the “black ledger,” released by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau. This page does not include Mr. Manafort’s name. “This was our cash,” he said, adding that he had left the party in part over concerns about off-the-books activity. “They had it on the table, stacks of money, and they had lists of who to pay.”

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which obtained the ledger, said in a statement that Mr. Manafort’s name appeared 22 times in the documents over five years, with payments totaling $12.7 million. The purpose of the payments is not clear. Nor is the outcome, since the handwritten entries cannot be cross-referenced against banking records, and the signatures for receipt have not yet been verified.

“Paul Manafort is among those names on the list of so-called ‘black accounts of the Party of Regions,’ which the detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are investigating,” the statement said. “We emphasize that the presence of P. Manafort’s name in the list does not mean that he actually got the money, because the signatures that appear in the column of recipients could belong to other people.

The accounting records surfaced this year, when Serhiy A. Leshchenko, a member of Parliament who said he had received a partial copy from a source he did not identify, published line items covering six months of outlays in 2012 totaling $66 million. In an interview, Mr. Leshchenko said another source had provided the entire multiyear ledger to Viktor M. Trepak, a former deputy director of the domestic intelligence agency of Ukraine, the S.B.U., who passed it to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

There is actually more shocking revelations contained in this important story by the New York Times:

In a recent interview, Serhiy V. Gorbatyuk, Ukraine’s special prosecutor for high-level corruption cases, pointed to an open file on his desk containing paperwork for one of the shell companies, Milltown Corporate Services Ltd., which played a central role in the state’s purchase of two oil derricks for $785 million, or about double what they were said to be worth.

“This,” he said, “was an offshore used often by Mr. Yanukovych’s entourage.”

The role of the offshore companies in business dealings involving Mr. Manafort came to light because of court filings in the Cayman Islands and in a federal court in Virginia related to an investment fund, Pericles Emerging Markets. Mr. Manafort and several partners started the fund in 2007, and its major backer was Mr. Deripaska, the Russian mogul, to whom the State Department has refused to issue a visa, apparently because of allegations linking him to Russian organized crime, a charge he has denied.

Mr. Deripaska agreed to commit as much as $100 million to Pericles so it could buy assets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, including a regional cable television and communications company called Black Sea Cable. But corporate records and court filings show that it was hardly a straightforward transaction.

The Black Sea Cable assets were controlled by a rotating cast of offshore companies that led back to the Yanukovych network, including, at various times, Milltown Corporate Services and two other companies well known to law enforcement officials, Monohold A.G. and Intrahold A.G. Those two companies won inflated contracts with a state-run agricultural company, and also acquired a business center in Kiev with a helicopter pad on the roof that would ease Mr. Yanukovych’s commute from his country estate to the presidential offices.

So Paul Manafort can comfortably be linked to organized crime in Russia. Pretty amazing indeed. This is the (current) campaign chief for the presidential candidate of the Republican party. If somebody would write something like this in a novel, it would probably be dismissed as "science fiction."

In any case, Donald Trump is losing really, really badly:



Why? Because Trump is a big fat joke - Stephen Colbert totally nailed it two weeks ago:




But there is more. If you want an even more shocking look at the "real Donald", watch this interview with investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, published five days ago:




Donald Trump will apparently receive his first intelligence briefing tomorrow, and Putin-enemy Garry Kasparov had some stinging comments on twitter:


More from Kasparov on this topic today:


However, absolutely nothing is too bizarre these days!

A Republican candidate who is a fan of infamous conspiray theorist Alex Jones?

Who surrounds himself with Putin-loving people?

Also, bizarrly, Trump advisor Michael T. Flynn now claims to that the Russian propaganda channel "Russia Today (RT)"....




...is just like "CNN", and Flynn also seems to have no idea between the difference of a "state-run-network" like RT and a private channel like CNN:



Quote:
PRIEST: Tell me about the RT [state-run Russian Television] relationship?

FLYNN: I was asked by my speaker’s bureau, LAI. I do public speaking. It was in Russia. It was a paid speaking opportunity. I get paid so much. The speaker’s bureau got paid so much, based on our contract.

PRIEST: Can you tell me how much you got for that?

FLYNN: No.

PRIEST: No? Because you don’t want to get your fees out there?

FLYNN: Yeah, I don’t.

PRIEST: What was the gig?

FLYNN: The gig was to do an interview with [RT correspondent] Sophie Shevardnadze. It was an interview in front of the forum, probably 200 people in the audience. My purpose there was I was asked to talk about radical Islam in the Middle East. They asked me to talk about what was going on in the situation unfolding in the Middle East. … The speaking agreement was done before Russian went into Syria, which was actually more interesting to me because … one of my discussions, I talked about the attacks in France … and the negative role that Iran was playing where I thought Russian could actually have a role. The statement that I made was actually: “Russia ought to get Iran to back out of the proxy wars they are involved in,” to include Syria, so we, the rest of the international community, could settle this situation down.

PRIEST: Have you appeared on RT regularly?

FLYNN: I appear on Al Jazeera, Skye New Arabia, RT. I don’t get paid a dime. I have no media contracts. … [I am interviewed] on CNN, Fox …

PRIEST: Why would you go on RT, they’re state run?

FLYNN: Well, what’s CNN?

PRIEST: Well, it’s not run by the state. You’re rolling your eyes.

FLYNN: Well, what’s MSNBC? I mean, come on … what’s Al Jazeera? What’s Sky News Arabia? I have been asked by multiple organizations to be a [paid] contributor but I don’t want to be.

PRIEST: Because you don’t want to be hamstrung?

FLYNN: That’s right. I want to be able to speak freely about what I believe. There’s a lot of people who would actually like to be able to do that but, for whatever reason, they can’t. … I feel pretty passionate about what’s happening to the country

PRIEST: One more thing about Russia …

FLYNN: A lot of people are making this about Russia. Read my book. You’ll see what I say about Russia.

PRIEST: Let me ask about sitting next to Putin … because that’s the symbol.

FLYNN: Yeah, I know, boring.

PRIEST: But did you think about what the optics would be …

FLYNN: Sure. I didn’t have any problem. What I’m looking for is to make sure, in my view, I see a country that has lost respect for another country and if I have any sort of fiber in my body where I can help out to make sure they understand that we have people in our country who aren’t going to apologize for who we are.

We’re not going to act in a soft way for what we believe needs to be done. I was very adamant about what I said. He knows exactly what I said.

Let's give the last word to Garry Kasparov:


Yep, that sounds just like Donald Trump. Or Putin. They are just very hard to distinguish. These are bizarre times indeed.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A surprisingly modern piece of medieval art history - Open Post

Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait at the age of 13 ( from 1484)

By Patrick

Following our visit to the Albrecht Dürer house in Nuremberg, I continued to read about Albrecht Dürer's art. I ordered a large catalogue from a previous Dürer exhibition in Vienna, and there I discovered something interesting: I never knew that Albrecht Dürer created a wonderful, very modern looking drawing of an African man, dated 1508,

Subsequently I discovered that he Dürer also created a very interesting drawing of a black woman in 1521, who was called Katharina (Catherine), and who according to the inscription was 20 years old.

While the woman was a servant, the man actually doesn't look like a servant at all.

Here are the drawings in high-resolution:


From Wikimedia: Where Dürer met this man is not known: he may have encountered this subject in a major port city such as Venice or even in the imperial city of Nuremberg, where this African may have been a member of a visiting entourage. His serious expression is depicted with extraordinary sensitivity and skill. Dürer's exploitation of the soft, finely grained structure of the chalk in contrast with the white reserve of the paper is evident in his masterful rendering of the way light falls on the man's face and hair.


From Afro Europe blog: Portrait of the Moorish Woman Katharina from 1521.  Dürer saw her in Antwerp, where she was the servant or slave of the Antwerp agent of the king of Portugal. The inscription says "Katharina allt 20 Jar."

When I saw the drawing of the African man, I was struck by the very modern appearance and the respectful way in which Albrecht Dürer portrayed this man.

According to my catalogue, this is in fact the oldest remaining depiction of a black person in European art. - EDIT: It has been pointed out by several readers that there are older depictions of black people existing, for example in Roman and Greek art, and there are also older depictions of Saint Maurice, who became the patron saint of the German city of Coburg. So it has to be concluded that this statement is not entirely correct. The author who wrote this in the catalogue for the Vienna exhibition probably wanted to express that this is the first known "more defined" portrait of a black person in European art, created by a famous, recognized artist.

So who was he? He does not look like a servant or slave, although we cannot completely exclude this possibility, as no information about the history of the picture seems to have survived. I believe that it is likely that he actually was not a slave. Through research on the internet I found another extremely interesting picture from the same period, a painting by the Dutch artist Jan Mostaert, made around 1520 - 1525:



From Artwis:

This unique portrait shows a bearded black man who has assumed a powerful pose, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword while he gazes out of the picture. He is dressed quite soberly, in a Flemish cap, doublet, shirt, tabard and hose. More luxurious items are the white kid gloves, the pouch decorated with a fleur de lis and the sword. The man’s pose, clothing and attributes indicate that the subject of this portrait is a soldier.

This unique portrait shows a bearded black man who has assumed a powerful pose, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword while he gazes out of the picture. He is dressed quite soberly, in a Flemish cap, doublet, shirt, tabard and hose. More luxurious items are the white kid gloves, the pouch decorated with a fleur de lis and the sword. The man’s pose, clothing and attributes indicate that the subject of this portrait is a soldier.

The painter of this work has been identified by Jan Piet Filedt Kok with reasonable certainty as Jan Mostaert. As far as is known this is the only painted portrait of a black man from the early sixteenth century. Around the same time, in 1521, Dürer drew a portrait of a black woman, Katharina, in Antwerp; in 1508 he had also drawn a portrait of a black man who coincidentally seems to bear some likeness to the man in Mostaert’s painting.

However, another website has more detailed information about the painting:

I’m reading about pilgrim badges right now, and this piece was called out for the gold badge on Christoph’s hat. Here is the accompanying text:

“As soon as Charles heard the news in 1519 that he was to be crowned King [of the Holy Roman Empire], he went…on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Halle, a sanctuary not far south of Brussels. Charles had been there before and had bought badges of silver and gold for himself and his close retinue, as well as pewter and lead ones for the lower ranks. One of his personal guards, a certain Cristoph le Mohr, got such a badge of precious metal.” - p. 199, Jos Koldeweij, “Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges” in 'From minor to major: the minor arts in Medieval art history.'

EDIT: There is much more information about this painting on Wikipedia.

I find this all very fascinating, and I am sure that Americans in particular will find this very interesting as well. Albrecht Dürer's drawing of the black man is very remarkable in many respects. I really like the proud and sincere expression on his face. This in fact a very modern and very inspiring drawing.

BONUS:

A little bonus - you liked Albrecht Dürer's rabbit so much, so I am sure that you will love this lion as well:


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The ultimate video about Donald, the born con man: Trump contradicts Trump, over and over again - UPDATE: Donald Trump advocates the killing of Hillary Clinton and/or her appointed Supreme Court judges


By Patrick

Hi guys, Kathleen and I are still on holiday, but we can make it short and simple. A new, excellent video has been published, and this one is great for sharing. Trump says the opposite of Trump, over and over again, this really needs to be seen.

Watching Donald Trump's contradictory statements is like a journey into a fantasy world, a world that only exists in Donald Trump's head. It's like black magic. He is a born con man, a person who only says what people would like to hear, and it does not bother him at all if he said something completely different in the past. Unfortunately, some people are stupid enough to believe him.

(h/t Mother Jones)

Watch:



+++

UPDATE:

I absolutely knew that Trump would say something like that at some point - sooner or later.

The older guy with the white hair, sitting behind Trump on the right, immediately realizes that Trump said something very shocking - watch:




It can only get worse from here....

Friday, August 5, 2016

Open post: Kathleen and Patrick on holiday - The Albrecht Dürer-House in Nuremberg


By Patrick

I have to admit that I cannot stop reading about Donald Trump these days, because it is just too fascinating how he is falling apart, but this post won't be about him, because we need a little educational break! Kathleen and I are traveling again, visiting some more nice spots in Germany. This time: Nuremberg.

I lived in Nuremberg for a few years in the past, but Kathleen had never been here before. It is a beautiful city with lots of important history, medieval and more recent. We visited several places, and today I would like to present the Dürer-house. Albrecht Dürer is one of the most famous painters of the Renaissance, and his legacy is on display in Nuremberg, his home town, as his former house survived and has been turned into a museum.

The house itself and the medieval square in front of the house survived the war and is a beautiful monument of medieval Nuremberg, with the Imperial Castle in the background (click on pictures to enlarge):



The Dürer-house:


Inside the house - a working example of a press for copper engravings:




Several plates on dispay:



The tools for woodcuts:


The making of paint in the middle ages on display:





Next to the Dürer-house, an exhibition room was built. On display are several excellent copies of Dürer-paintings, as the originals are invaluable, and in the possession of major museums around the world. The most stunning picture was an exact copy of the famous "Adam & Eve" painting:


The old kitchen:


The staircase:


View from the house to the Imperial Castle:


Finally, I would like to present Dürer's most famous copper engravings, his three so called "Master engravings" (also called "Master Prints") - click here for more details. Kathleen and I were very lucky to find perfect copies of the first two engravings in a shop next to the museum. These were produced by the German State printing house in 1947. The German state was the institution which in the past produced perfect copies of Dürer's engravings (not any more, though), and they are quite rare to find.

Please click to enlarge (high-resolution pictures), I recommend right-click and "open in new tab":

"Knight, Death, and the Devil":


"Melencolia I":



"St. Jerome in his Study":


Have a nice weekend, everybody!

+++

BONUS:

Our reader "Gavidis" gave me this idea - here is Albrecht Dürer's "Young Hare" in its full glory, again in high-resolution:


+++

ADDITION TO THE BONUS:

Reading about the picture "Young Hare" on the internet, I learned a very fascinating fact: The level of detail in Albrecht Dürer's picture is so high, that Dürer actually included the windows of his workshop as a reflection in the right eye of the hare!

The high-resolution copy I found so far was not sufficient to see that, but fortunately the "Google Art Project" offers the "ultra high-resolution", so to speak.

Here is the eye in the highest resolution - screenshot:


+++

BONUS 2:

Here is a high-resolution picture of Albrecht Dürer's famous "Adam & Eve" painting, which is on display in the Prado in Madrid.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Khan!


By Patrick

Sometimes our post do not need words at all, because others are speaking powerfully enough.





Click to watch Khizr Khan and his wife on Lawrence O'Donnell. As important and powerful as the original speech.


Their son, Humayun Khan:




INFORMATION FROM THE ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY WEBSITE (EXCERPTS):





When I hear about fallen soldiers, I often have to think about this song:





Monday, July 25, 2016

The Democratic National Convention has started! Now let's stick together and save the USA and the world from a madman!


By Patrick

Well, it's game on! You can have a lunatic as a president who loves dictators, or you can have Hillary Clinton, who is an accomplished politician whose husband left the the USA with a very strong economy and a big budget surplus when he left office in 1998.

Quite a lot of people want this guy, apparently:




A guy whose favorite book looks like this...




...and whose policies won't make America great again:




Some people who "felt the Bern" might think like that:



But in the end, we all need to be united: