December 31 – Happy Birthday, Henri Matisse

Posted on December 31, 2015

Was he a Wild Beast?
An artistic rebel?

Or was he someone who upheld tradition?

I guess that French artist Henri Matisse was both!

There was an entire group of artists in the early 1900s who were called les Fauves, the Wild Beasts. They used strong colors rather than sticking with realistic colors as they created their paintings. Also, their works were painterly, because these artists allowed visible brushstrokes and impulsive daubs of color rather than a more careful, smooth application of color meant to create accurate shading.

Henri Matisse was considered the leader of les Fauves!

Fauvism only lasted a few years as an art movement, but Matisse create art works – prints and sculptures as well as paintings – for more than half a century. By the 1920s, Matisse was being hailed as someone who was upholding the classical tradition in French painting.

How and why?

Henri Matisse was born on this date in 1869. When he was 20, something bad happened: Matisse had an attack of appendicitis. I'm not sure if he had an operation or no, but I read that it took Matisse a while to recover.

Then something good happened: Matisse's mom brought him art supplies while he was still convalescing from the illness.

Then something REALLY good happened: As he painted, Matisse discovered a “kind of paradise” (his words).

Even though he had studied law and worked as a court administrator, Matisse now wanted to become an artist. He went to Paris to study art....

And that's when something else, something kind of bad, happened: Matisse's father told him how deeply disappointed he was in his son's choice of art over law.

I'm not sure if Matisse's dad just didn't value art, or if he worried that his son would always be the stereotypical “starving artist,” or what – but if Matisse had knuckled under to his dad's hopes and dreams for him, I'm pretty sure he would never have become well known, and we wouldn't be talking about him today. Luckily, Matisse followed his passion, made his imprint on the world, and lived a long, interesting life.

By the way...

Matisse chose to stay in France when it was occupied by Nazis during World War II, because he felt that leaving France would be deserting it. (His son had arranged for him to flee to Brazil.) Matisse apparently didn't actively work with the Resistance, his son Pierre, his estranged wife Amelie, and his daughter Marguerite all did.

Pierre helped Jewish and anti-Nazi artists escape occupied France and enter the United States, and he held an exhibit in New York City called “Artists in Exile.” (According to Wikipedia, that exhibit became legendary.) 

Amelie was a typist for the French Underground. She was jailed by the Nazis for six months!
Matisse's daughter, Marguerite
And Marguerite was a true hero. She worked for the Resistance during the war, but then she was captured, tortured almost to death by the Gestapo, and sentenced to a concentration camp. When the Allies made an air strike on Germany, the train Marguerite was on, bound for the concentration camp, was halted; she managed to escape the train and survived in the woods. Finally, she was rescued by fellow resisters.

Wow! That's quite a story!

A coincidence...

As I read about Henri Matisse, I noticed that he died the year I was born.

Then I read about his daughter, and I noticed that SHE died the year my oldest daughter was born.

They both lived long lives – Henri died at age 84, and his daughter died at age 87.

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December 30 – Happy Birthday, Dendi!

Posted on December 30, 2015

Today is the birthday of “eSports” hero Danil Ishutin, aka Dendi.

If you've never heard of Dendi, you might not live in the Ukraine AND you might not be into Dota 2. But you might be impressed to learn that Dendi is the 24th highest earning professional gamer in the world. Just 26 years old today, he has earned more than $600,000 U.S. dollars from various tournaments.

Dendi was one of the three Dota 2 players featured in the documentary Free to Play, and his YouTube stream is pretty famous.

Okay, so what is Dota 2?

Dota 2 is a free-to-play MOBA.

And a MOBA is a multiplayer online battle arena video game.

Dota 2 was created by Valve Corporation. It is a sequel to DotA, Defense of the Ancients. And DotA is a mod (modification) of a video game called Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.

And Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is an official expansion pack to Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

(I hope you're taking notes. There will be a test at the end of the post.)

I've heard of World of Warcraft (WoW), the most popular MMORPG in the world, and the highest grossing video game of all time. (MMORPG means massively multiplayer online role-playing game.) Well, World of Warcraft is the Warcraft game that follows Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.

Ahhh....there are people who play video games...for money?

I mentioned that Dendi was an eSports hero; eSports are competitive video gaming, also called pro-gaming. Most eSports competitions are organized multiplayer video games – real-time strategy games, first-person shooter games, and of course MOBAs. (Apparently, many fighting game players shun the eSports label.)

Nowadays, many eSports tournaments provide live broadcasts of competitions and provide prize money and salaries to the competitors.

Competitions have been a big part of video game culture since the beginning, but pro-gaming has become way more common and popular now. As a matter of fact, many video game developers now create the games with features that are especially designed with such competition in mind.

The biggest games in pro-gaming are MOBA games Dota 2 and League of Legends, the real time strategy game StarCraft II. Shooting games like Call of Duty have had some success as eSports—but not to MOBA or StarCraft levels.

The biggest nation in eSports is apparently South Korea, which has been officially licensing pro-gamers since way back in 2000! In contrast, it was just a few years ago, in 2013, that the first American pro-gamer received a special “Internationally Recognized Athlete” visa – a sign that the U.S. is finally beginning to recognize eSports as sports.

So...this is really a thing!?!

In 2013, more than 71 million people worldwide watched competitive gaming. By this year (2015), eSports have reached 134 million people! This is bigtime growth! Check out Superdata's report on the growth of eSports popularity. 

If you want to know more, check out – one of the most popular streaming media platforms – and Major League Gaming – the professional eSports organization. 

Um...where's the test?

I was just kidding about the test. But I noticed that there are a lot of names and acronyms when discussing eSports. Like anything else, video gaming has its own vocabulary!

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December 29 – A Language Goes Extinct (kinda sorta)

Posted on December 29, 2015

Have you ever thought about languages being endangered or going extinct? Some people do think about such things, and some of them even strive to learn about languages before such extinctions wipe out a little more human culture and diversity.

On this date in 2003, the last fluent speaker of Akkala Sami died.

Some people peg this as a language extinction event, but others point out that there are at least two people still alive (although they are in their 70s) who have some knowledge of Akkala Sami. 

Also, there are descriptions of the language, a few published writings in the language, and at least a few audio recordings of the language.

Although Akkala Sami is one of the most poorly documented languages, we have at least some knowledge of the language that isn't likely to disappear any time soon. So, some experts say, Akkala Sami isn't wholly extinct – it's just very highly endangered.

Where do the Sami live?

The Sami people live in the Arctic are in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola peninsula of Russia. They used to be called Lapps by English speakers, and they are famous for herding reindeer

The Akkala Sami live in the easternmost part of their land, in Russia.

Should we care about languages going extinct?

According to a PBS show called The Linguists, languages are “repositories of thousands of years of a people's science and art.”

Of course children in small communities will want to speak the language of the majority group, the language of power – in the case of the Akkala Sami, probably Russian; in the case of other language communities, quite likely English or Hindi or Mandarin or Spanish. But when there are no more speakers of a particular language, we often lose the oral or written histories of the people, their myths and legends, their observations about the healing properties of a particular kind of leaf or about the climate changes of the land.

Another point is that a greater diversity of languages to study broadens our view of what is “normal” or even possible. To give examples just from a few languages from New Guinea: one language in New Guinea has 90 sounds (English has only 44); one language in New Guinea uses the same word for eat, drink and smoke; one language in New Guinea has 11 different ways to say on.

Of course, the loss of one of the less-spoken languages causes some loss of cultural identity. I think most of us like the idea of a melting pot and understand why people might want to, say, marry and start families with people outside of their own community and assimilate with the dominant culture. But I think we also “get” why it is important for most people to remember the traditions, holidays, religion, stories, and, yes, language, of their ancestors.

A final possible reason to care about the dying out of a language is that bilingualism (or multilingualism) is healthy for individuals, and it would be far better for kids in minority-language communities to learn both their ancestral tongue and the language of the dominant culture. Why settle for just one?

Also on this date:

Scientist Carl Ludwig's birthday (he's a pioneer in the study of urine!)  

Explorer and scientist Joaquin de Acosta's birthday

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December 28 – Holy Innocents' Day in Mexico

Posted on December 28, 2015

Today in Mexico many people play jokes on others, pull funny pranks, tell outlandish tall tales as if they were true, even make bragging (but lying) Facebook posts. Some newspapers have two front pages – one with astonishing headlines, and the other with actual news.

In other words, today is the Mexican version of April Fool's Day!

Being only a few days after Christmas, schools are still on vacation; this holiday encourages everyone to revel in childish (innocent) joy over joking.

After a joke is successfully played, the jokester commonly says:

Inocente palomita,
Que te dejaste engañar,
Sabiendo que en este día
Nada se debe prestar.

Innocent little dove,
You let yourself be fooled,
Knowing that on this day
Nothing should be lent.

Or the jokester might just say, “Inocente Para Siempre!- which means “Innocent Forever!” in Spanish.

By the way, this holiday is supposed to be the anniversary of King Herod killing all the young boys and babies in Bethlehem, in his attempt to kill Jesus. That's a grim beginning to a holiday of joy and frivolity!

Also on this date:

They're Always Changing the Map Day

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