Monday, January 27, 2020

Godunov (2018/2019)

Sergey Bezrukov as Boris Godunov

Svetlana Khodchenkova as Maria Skuratova-Belskaya Godunova
The 21st century has seen Russian television come into its own with superb productions which are close to matching the quality of the theater, ballet and opera of the Russia of the Tsars. One of best historical miniseries ever is Godunov which, like the opera by Moussorgky, captures the turmoil, intrigue, and violence of the early 17th century Time of Troubles, as well as the mystical destiny of Holy Russia, always suffering, always in search of redemption. Filmed on location at many of the original sites of the historical events, I will ever after have trouble watching Russian history depicted by non-Russians outside of the land of the tsars. The sets, costumes, and acting are genuine and most especially the religious ceremonies.

From the Russian blog Awful Avalanche:
Then there are those gorgeous costumes:  An estimated 5,760 hours were spent sewing them!  Tsar Fyodor’s heavy robes and sable coat; the brocade was stitched especially for the film (5 centimeters per day) at an old workshop by master fabric seamstresses of the Novospassky Monastery. Authentic gems and handmade golden thread, everything that distinguished the clothing of the upper classes of that era.  The classy headgear donned by married ladies to cover their hair.  And not to mention the horses and carriages, and even down to individual items of jewelry, like rings. And all this wealth displayed on the screen, as if to say: “There you have it!”
Viewers will also note that the characters spend a lot of time eating and drinking, and all of this is authentic as well, with loving portrayal of Medieval Russian cuisine: honey, mead, cabbage soup, meat, sour cream, sunflower seeds, berries, you name it…A reminder, once again, as I noted in my previous “Giles Fletcher” series, that Medieval Russia was actually quite a prosperous country, in its own way.
What really makes the series good, of course, is the quality of the acting. And the producers did a really good job here, of picking the right actors for the roles. The leads are terrific, and even the smaller roles are well-played.  As actress Irina Pegova (who portrays Maria Nagaya) commented: “It is worth watching just to see such a rare and totally cool acting ensemble.”
Timur Alpatov (who directed, along with Alexei Andrianov): “This is a film about the Russian people, the Russian soul, and we tried to show that soul throughout the entire film.”  In my humble opinion, they succeeded. (Read more.)
[Spoilers Alert] Season 1 of Godunov begins with the end of the traumatic reign of Ivan the Terrible, as the young Boris Godunov, from an old Tatar family, rises in the household of the mad tyrant, becoming indispensable to the Tsar in managing his frequently disordered affairs. Boris is present when Ivan murders his oldest son and heir in a fit of rage, leaving the throne to the kindly but weak-minded prince Fyodor Ivanovitch. Fyodor marries Boris's sister and they encourage Boris to rule the country for them, which he does with justice, always rooting out corruption. Meanwhile, Boris marries Maria Grigorievna Skuratova-Belskaya, the red-haired, feisty daughter of the head of the secret police, Malyuta Skuratov-Belskiy. Boris brings trade and better education to Russia. The jealousy of the boyars grows along with Boris' success, and Maria, his wife, fears what will become of them when Tsar Fyodor dies. So she begins to scheme. The youngest illegitimate son of Ivan the Terrible, Dmitri Ivanovitch, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving Tsar Fyodor without an heir.

Like the great Russian novels, the story of Boris and Maria is interwoven with those of other characters. The close friend of Boris is Fyodor Romanov, a prince who has served the tsars as a warrior and a diplomat. Fyodor encounters a lovely maiden named Xenia who heals him when he is wounded in battle. After losing Xenia, he searches until he finds her in a monastery and they marry and have a son named Michael. Season 1 ends with the death of the Tsar and the people begging Boris to take the throne.

In Season 2, Boris and Maria are Tsar and Tsarina. They have two lovely teenage children whom they have carefully educated. Boris has reigned over a prosperous Russia for several years but the plague strikes and then a devastating famine, causing mass starvation. Maria becomes paranoid, turning to fortune tellers and seers. She fears that their friends, Fyodor and Xenia Romanov, have turned against them, and are plotting to seize the crown. The Romanovs, expecting trouble, hide their little son Michael at the Ipatiev monastery. No sooner do they hide him than Boris arrests them, sending each to a monastery. Fyodor is forced to become a monk called Filaret and Xenia takes vows as a nun, Martha. It is an incredibly tragic episode since the two love each other deeply and have no desire for the monastic life. Fyodor/Filaret is treated with many indignities by the other monks and Xenia/Martha becomes deathly ill, longing for news of her husband and son. Filaret encounters a hermit deep in the forest who reveals to him the reason for his great suffering and how to accept his penance from God's hand.

Boris becomes ill, and the boyars find an ex-monk who claims to be the lost son of Ivan the Terrible, called the False Dmitri. False Dmitri has long lusted after Boris' daughter the Tsarevna Xenia Borisovna. With the help of the King of Poland, the boyars plan to put False Dmitri on the Russian throne. When Boris dies, False Dimitri's men murder Tsarina Maria and her son, while her daughter Xenia Borisovna is thrown in the dungeon, where she is violated by Dmitri. In the hands of Dmitri and his foreign wife Marina, Russia descends into chaos, with Poles, Swedes, and Cossacks pillaging the land. Fyodor/Filaret is summoned by Dmitri to become Patriarch of Rostov, and so he becomes a spiritual leader of his tormented people, while quietly playing off his enemies against each other.

At this point the saga reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, with the main characters separated by war and imprisonment, to be united and separated again, as everyone struggles to survive. Tsarevna Xenia Borisovna is released from prison and seeks to become a nun. However, her spiritual father refuses to give permission for Xenia Borisovna to take vows, saying that she seeks death and the religious life is not a replacement for death but a way of life. Miraculously, after a long siege, the enemies are driven from the land. Michael Romanov, the son of Fyodor/Filaret and Xenia/Martha, is brought out of the Ipatiev monastery and made Tsar. A new epoch in Russian history begins, and the daughter of Tsar Boris is at last allowed to become a nun. Her personal suffering, and that of the Romanov couple, have helped win grace for their country.

My only criticism of the magnificent series is the way the Poles are portrayed as evil Catholic caricatures, complete with a black-robed Jesuit lurking in the shadows, ready to plant Romanism in Russia. But from the Russian point of view, that is probably how it seemed. At any rate, the breathtaking beauty of the forests, meadows and palaces, as well as the mud of the city streets, make watching Godunov a trip into the past worth taking for its realism and authenticity.

My post on the opera Boris Godunov by Moussorgsky is HERE.
 False Dmitri harangues Xenia Borisovna Godunova in prison
Tsar Boris oversees his son's education
Tsar Boris Godunov
Boris Godunov and his children
Murder of the Godunovs

Watch on Amazon Prime with English subtitles:

Life, By the Numbers

From Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing:
Well, to begin with, though all such numbers are a bit uncertain, roughly 55 million people died, globally, last year. And numerous public health organizations intensely scrutinize the slightest increase or decrease in mortality, in a laudable effort to identify what factors may be harming or helping the health of diverse peoples around the world.

That number does not include the number of babies killed by elective abortions, which at one time would have been thought a rare, emergency measure. The Guttmacher Institute, an advocate for abortion, estimates that there are roughly 56 million abortions around the world every year. So allowing for the lack of statistical accuracy, we can say in broad terms that as many innocents are slaughtered every year in the womb as there are deaths from all other causes in the entire world. That’s the kind of mayhem you associate with murderous ideologies like Nazism and Communism, not “reproductive health.”

Because of an ill-advised accord with China, the Vatican refrains from speaking about that government’s persecution, brainwashing, organ harvesting, and interference with the internal life of religious groups, including Catholics. But how about the more than 300 million abortions there since the 1970s, many forced – a number about equal to the entire population of the United States? Or the more than 60 million abortions in America since Roe v. Wade? That’s more or less the population of the United Kingdom or France or Italy; much larger than Spain; a figure close to the populations of Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, and Poland combined.

Would even a materialist utilitarian believe that such prodigal slaughter of the innocents has not and will not have enormous consequences?

At their annual meeting last November, the American bishops, recognizing the moral questions in play during this year’s presidential campaign, tangled over whether abortion was the “pre-eminent” issue.

Or not. (Read more.)

Neanderthals on the Beach

From Haaretz:
As for the aquatic Neanderthal, there is a lot of evidence that they did not shy from water. Separate studies have shown that Neanderthals fished for shells to eat and caught fish in shallow freshwater too. For example, a 2011 study reported on the earliest known consumption of shellfish in Spain, 150,000 years ago – thus debunking the notion that shellfish are a modern human passion. Neanderthals also bored holes into shellfish by the hinge (the umbones) and colored and decorated the mollusks too, 115,000 years ago in Spain. Isotopic studies have indicated that Neanderthals preferred meat but also ate shellfish and fish, whether out of necessity or choice.

Further supporting the theory of aquatically competent Neanderthals: Last year, Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis reported evidence of “surfer’s ear” in Neanderthal skulls – abnormal bony growths in the ear canal that are relatively prevalent among humans who swim in cold water. Presumably the Neanderthals weren’t surfing – but for that painful syndrome to develop, it’s possible they swam for fun as some of us do today, even in icy water (Polar Bear Club, looking at you, uncomprehendingly). (Read more.)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisters

John Everett Millais, Sophy Gray, 1856
Elizabeth Siddall by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in The Loving Cup, 1867

The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London ends today. From Smithsonian:
Per Encyclopedia Britannica, the Brotherhood’s work focused on religious and medieval themes. Painted with maximum realism inspired by 15th-century Florentine and Sienese paintings, the young artists’ naturalistic creations were populated by beautiful women. The cryptic initials “PRB” appeared in the bottom corner of early Pre-Raphaelite works. Simply put, the Brotherhood was a boys’ club that intentionally excluded women.

“Though its goals were ‘serious and heartfelt,’” explains Dinah Roe, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, for the British Library, “the PRB was founded in a spirit of waggish male camaraderie which expressed itself in pranks, late-night smoking sessions and midnight jaunts around London’s streets and pleasure gardens.”

The Brotherhood’s models, who often doubled as the artists’ lovers, were usually at the center of their creations. But some, like Siddal, used their seemingly passive roles as models to fund their own artistic careers alongside their elite husbands. Siddal is among the Pre-Raphaelite women painted over by history. She started modeling not to gain the attention of men, but to fund her own artistic practice. Initially working part time at her parents’ hat shop while modeling on the side, Siddal gained an unprecedented amount of popularity in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, with her likeness becoming a symbol of feminine beauty. (Read more.)

More HERE.

The Plundering of Ukraine

From The Unz Review:
Indeed, John Kerry, the Secretary of State in Obama’s administration, was his partner-in-crime. But Joe Biden was number one. During the Obama presidency, Biden was the US proconsul for Ukraine, and he was involved in many corruption schemes. He authorised transfer of three billion dollars of the US taxpayers’ money to the post-coup government of the Ukraine; the money was stolen, and Biden took a big share of the spoils.

It is a story of ripping the US taxpayer and the Ukrainian customer off for the benefit of a few corruptioners, American and Ukrainian. And it is a story of Kiev regime and its dependence on the US and IMF. The Ukraine has a few midsize deposits of natural gas, sufficient for domestic household consumption. The cost of its production was quite low; and the Ukrainians got used to pay pennies for their gas. Actually, it was so cheap to produce that the Ukraine could provide all its households with free gas for heating and cooking, just like Libya did. Despite low consumer price, the gas companies (like Burisma) had very high profits and very little expenditure.

After the 2014 coup, IMF demanded to raise the price of gas for the domestic consumer to European levels, and the new president Petro Poroshenko obliged them. The prices went sky-high. The Ukrainians were forced to pay many times more for their cooking and heating; and huge profits went to coffers of the gas companies. Instead of raising taxes or lowering prices, President Poroshenko demanded the gas companies to pay him or subsidise his projects. He said that he arranged the price hike; it means he should be considered a partner.

Burisma Gas company had to pay extortion money to the president Poroshenko. Eventually its founder and owner Mr Nicolai Zlochevsky decided to invite some important Westerners into the company’s board of directors hoping it would moderate Poroshenko’s appetites. He had brought in Biden’s son Hunter, John Kerry, Polish ex-President Kwasniewski; but it didn’t help him. (Read more.)

The Legendary Giant Squid

Today, important clues about the anatomy and evolution of the mysterious (Architeuthis dux) are revealed through publication of its full by a University of Copenhagen-led team that includes scientist Caroline Albertin of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole. Giant are rarely sighted and have never been caught and kept alive, meaning their biology (even how they reproduce) is still largely a mystery. The genome sequence can provide important insight.

"In terms of their genes, we found the giant squid look a lot like other animals. This means we can study these truly bizarre animals to learn more about ourselves," says Albertin, who in 2015 led the team that sequenced the first genome of a cephalopod (the group that includes squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus). Led by Rute da Fonseca at University of Copenhagen, the team discovered that the giant squid genome is big: with an estimated 2.7 billion DNA base pairs, it's about 90 percent the size of the human genome. Albertin analyzed several ancient, well-known in the giant squid, drawing comparisons with the four other cephalopod species that have been sequenced and with the . She found that important developmental genes in almost all animals (Hox and Wnt) were present in single copies only in the giant squid genome. That means this gigantic, invertebrate creature—long a source of sea-monster lore—did NOT get so big through whole-genome duplication, a strategy that evolution took long ago to increase the size of vertebrates. So, knowing how this squid species got so giant awaits further probing of its genome.

"A genome is a first step for answering a lot of questions about the biology of these very weird animals," Albertin said, such as how they acquired the largest brain among the invertebrates, their sophisticated behaviors and agility, and their incredible skill at instantaneous camouflage. (Read more.)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sins of the Borgias

And they were Spanish, not Italian. From Air Mail:
Such evil and bravado were all too necessary for success in Renaissance Italy, especially during the last days of the 15th century and beyond, the time when the Borgias attained the pinnacle of their success. Worse still, in Italian eyes, the Borgias were Spanish. The close family guarded their secrets by speaking Catalan among themselves—a language opaque to Italian ears. The Borgias’ detractors labeled them conversos, the name given to Spanish Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition. The secret language spoken among the Borgia family was evidently Hebrew, according to inquisitive outsiders.

 Not surprisingly, the streets of Rome became abuzz with rumors during the time of Alexander VI (the Borgia Pope) that the family were guilty of all the sins and evil practices that had grown up around their reputation. The rumors were for the most part not true, yet they frequently germinated from a seed of truth. No, the Borgias were not incestuous, as the rumors claimed. Yet, as I learned during my research, the spread of rumors was quite understandable: the Borgias were a very close family, often embracing or caressing one another casually in public, in “the Spanish fashion.” And it’s likely that there was more than a hint of Freudian practice at play in their close family relations—Alexander VI seemed to love his daughter Lucrezia with an ardor which would certainly raise suspicions in our more psychologically aware age. (Read more.)

Aborting the Wanted Child

I think we all know of women who aborted because of pressure from others. From The Public Discourse:
Putting these together, I found that by age 28 the risk of affective psychological disorder—meaning depression, anxiety disorder, or serious thoughts of suicide—was almost four times higher (69 percent versus 18 percent) for women who had aborted a child in a wanted rather than an unwanted pregnancy, compared to those who had delivered children in such pregnancies. Clearly, the abortions of children in wanted pregnancies are much more disturbing for women, and their births much happier, than is the case with unwanted pregnancies. 
Wanted-pregnancy abortions most often occur because the mother may want the child, while others involved do not. In the Add Health data I examined in the study, one in five women who had ever had an abortion said that they had aborted a pregnancy by which they had wanted to have a child. In patient surveys by abortion providers, over a third of women reported that they were acceding to the wishes of their partner or parents in having the abortion. A research review by the pro-life Elliott Institute estimates that “30 to 60 percent of women having abortions feel pressured to do so by other persons.” (Read more.)