Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, courtesy of Jan Steen

I love this painting:

It's called "Het Sint-Nicolaasfeest" (The Feast of St. Nicholas) by Jan Steen.

I discovered it here: The Flemish Claim To Sinterklaas In America.

Yesterday, December 6th, children in Flanders received gifts. These gifts ostensibly come from Sinterklaas with the aid of his Moor assistant, "Swarte Piet". This tradition had strong Catholic origins, which of course made it anathema to 17th century convicted Calvinists. Thankfully, key members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Nieuw Nederland who had roots in officially Catholic Flanders, were unwilling to give up their cultural traditions. [...]

That inspired me to look up the facts about the painting. I didn't save the links, so I'm going to try to summarize what I read about it from memory.

It's believed to be painted around 1665-1668, and shows a Catholic family celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas.

"Sinterklaas" would supposedly come down the chimney while everyone slept, and leave goodies in the shoes of the children. But if the children had been naughty, they would get something that wasn't nice. Thus, the fun begins!

See the boy on the left, who's crying? He apparently had been naughty, and got a lump of coal or something equally disappointing in his shoe. Witness the smirking older girl, probably his sister, passing the shoe around for everyone to see. And another sibling, a younger brother, pointing, who's also pleased by his brother's humiliation, in that way that siblings will do. The father can be seen sitting in the background, looking rather pleased with himself.

In the foreground, the mother is doting on a little girl (often described as "spoiled" in most of the descriptions I read), who is clinging to a doll. The doll is supposed to be a saint (I forget the name) who is known for protecting children.

Leaning against the table next to the mother is an odd piece of decorated bread. It's a special loaf made for the feast. The Protestants at one time passed laws forbidding the bread to be made, condemning the practice as "Papist". But apparently the law was largely ignored.

On the right of the painting you can see a young man holding a baby and pointing upward towards the chimney. He's telling the baby the story of Sinterklaas, and how he comes down the chimney bringing gifts. The little pie-faced boy next to them with his mouth wide open, is singing a song of thanks to the Saint, for bringing all the goodies.

And last but not least, in the background you see grandma, who seems to be motioning to the crying boy to come over to her. Does she have something for him behind that curtain? So it will be a happy Christmas for everyone after all!

The expressions on the faces are so realistic, and all the little things going on, the details... it's timeless. I love it!

A high-resolution version can be seen on Wikipedia. Click on the link, then click on the picture to zoom in even closer:

Jan Steen - Het Sint Nicolaasfeest

Merry Christmas, and best wishes to all for the Holidays.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Gold Fish Substitute: Rosy Barbs

A while back, I posted about the difficulty of keeping gold fish in an aquarium, and using Gold Barbs as a substitute. I've since found anther aquarium fish that's and excellent choice:

Details About the Rosy Barb Fish
One of the most popular types of freshwater tropical fish is the Rosy Barb fish, which is also known as the Red Barb fish. This tropical fish thrives in large groups, 5 or more red barb members. As a schooling fish, it is naturally sociable and peaceful when relating to its own kind, as well as other types of fish in the aquarium. With this kind of temperament, they are perfect for an aquarium with a lot of inhabitants. Here is more information about the Rosy Barb.

Physical Appearance

The body of the Rosy Barb can be described as tall, increasing width vertically as it gets older. It can be easily mistaken for gold fish from the perspective of novice fish observers because of its color which can range from yellow to red, but the most common coloration is metallic silver. The shade of red in the male Rosy Barb becomes more vivid during breeding time, and this is where the name of the fish comes from. The male is generally smaller than the female and it also rarely displays the color yellow on its body unlike the female. The body size and color may vary between sexes, but both of them have black dots in their tail fin and shiny scales that usually come in the color green and are highly reflective. [...]

The golden variety looks particularly like a goldfish:

The ones I have look more like this:

They remind me of Veiltail Goldfish. Very elegant, very hardy, easy to care for. The temperature range they like can go as low as 64 degrees, which is lower than most tropical fish can go. Real gold fish can tolerate much lower temperatures, but that's one of the reasons they do so well in ponds. So Rosy Barbs are more of a temperate water fish, than a cold water fish.

In the wild they can grow up to 6 inches, but in aquariums 4 inches seems to be the maximum size they reach.

I find Rosy Barbs to be an excellent Aquarium substitute for goldfish.

Also see:

Rosy Barb Family: Cyprinidae

Rosy Barb Fact Sheet

So what is holding up Congress?

The media sides with the president and says it's the Republican's "playing politics". But in truth, there is plenty of politics on both sides of the Isle:

Obama on payroll tax cut: "Enough is enough"
President Obama on Thursday continued his campaign on behalf of a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut, blasting House Republicans for holding up a Senate-passed bill and wondering, "Has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it?"

"It doesn't make any sense," he told reporters in a press conference. "Enough is enough."


Mr. Obama, in his remarks, called on Republicans to get this done "sooner rather than later."

"This should not be hard," he said. "We all agree it should happen. I believe it's going to happen sooner or later. Why not make it sooner rather than later? [...]

This article just quotes Obama tut-tuting about the Republicans like an Old School Marm complaining about a naughty child. All too typical rubbishy reporting, that mostly just parrots what Obama says. Anyone would think this is happening for no-reason at all.

This next article looks a bit deeper, and at least attempts to anwswer Obama's rhetorical question, "Why not make it sooner rather than later?":

Understanding Congress' payroll tax cut fight
WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama, the House and the Senate all want to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut and jobless benefits through next year, why are they fighting so bitterly over doing it?

Obama, House Democrats and lopsided majorities of both parties in the Senate want to immediately renew the tax cut and jobless benefits for the next two months, and find a way later to extend them through 2012. House Republicans want to do it for a full year right away.

That doesn't sound like an unbridgeable gap. Yet the fight has evolved into a year-end partisan grudge match with no clear resolution in sight and with huge political and economic stakes.


Q: While they work through these differences, why the fuss over whether Congress first approves a two-month or a one-year plan?

A: For one thing, many freshman and conservative House Republicans are tired of compromising with the Senate and want their leaders to take a stand. They also say a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut would create uncertainty for taxpayers and businesses and problems for employers' payroll systems.

Many House Republicans hate the idea of keeping the issue alive until March 1, when the two-month bill would expire. Democrats have damaged Republicans politically with proposals to pay for the payroll tax cut by boosting levies on the rich. GOP lawmakers solidly oppose that approach, saying it would discourage job creation, and Democrats have used that to argue that Republicans are defending the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

That's not an argument Republicans want to spend the 2012 election year having. As a result, many want to avoid additional votes on the matter next year, and they don't want to let Obama spend next month's State of the Union address discussing it. They would rather spend 2012 voting on issues they feel are on their terrain, like blocking Obama administration regulations, reducing the size of government and cutting its spending.

Q: What about Democrats?

A: They say the tax cut and unemployment coverage must be renewed to protect the millions who would be hurt Jan. 1. They also have no desire to surrender leverage by abandoning the two-month deal negotiated by the Senate's Reid and McConnell.

But they, too, have political motivations.

Democrats cite economists who say the payroll tax would pump enough money into the economy to help it grow slightly next year. Knowing that the 2012 presidential and congressional races are likely to hinge on the economy's performance, they want to take no chances with anything that might tip the economy in the wrong direction. To them, that means the payroll tax cut and extra jobless coverage must be extended. [...]

There are more Questions with Answers within the article that explain things. But for most people, this will be "sound bites" portraying the Republicans as obstructionists. The Republicans had better learn to deal with it. Quickly.