Sunday, March 29, 2009

China's Two Face Policy

China, China, China. With over 5 millenniums years worth of experience in the political arts, yet the lesson seems lost again about saying one thing and doing another. The Peoples Republic of China's political wunderkinds are having a collective communist mind melt over being exposed in a Pentagon report to Congress detailing their military aims and growing capabilities. China wants a more flowery emphasis placed on their economic prosperity and growing private sector. In light of their boom and owning the loan papers on a multitude of US debt, China is making a loud case to increase their role in the International monetary Fund (IMF). Popcorn & MRE's all around, this is going to take armies of diplomats to hash out between two nuclear superpowers with space satellites. (Reuters)

After 5 Chinese ships hemmed in a US warship, USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea, plowed through A Tibet-belongs-to China annex anniversary without the number killed last year by the military and rolled over the Dalai Lama's freedom rhetoric, more joint military exercises with Russia, obligatory perennial warnings to Taiwan & an interfering USA that they will backup a One China policy at the point of really big guns and missiles, now with the cyber warfare the Canadians caught from deep inside the land of one time zone happening to 1295 computers in over 100 countries, pulling the camouflage over a hypersensitive world's eyes is tough to brazen out. Canada's report from The Information Warfare Monitor, "Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network" does not attribute the malware directly to the Chinese state. The US military already had suspicous hacker activity attributed to the Chinese at the Pentagon almost eighteen months ago. Those magisterial moments during the 2008 Olympics are over. It leaves China unencumbered by world community threats to showcase its military might on center stage. Only the US military preemptively released their annual assessment on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Dalai Lama's office raised suspicions about being hacked.
Computers -- including machines at NATO, governments and embassies -- are infected with software that lets attackers gain complete control of them, according to the reports. One was issued by the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies in conjunction with the Ottawa, Canada-based think tank The SecDev Group; the second came from the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.

Researchers have dubbed the network GhostNet. The network can not only search a computer but see and hear the people using it, according to the Canadian report.
"GhostNet is capable of taking full control of infected computers, including searching and downloading specific files, and covertly operating attached devices, including microphones and web cameras," the report says. (Internet map - portion)
Tuesday, President Obama leaves Washington DC for the G-20 Summit hosted in a protest-ready and poorer London after already having words with China's Ambassador to the US over US Naval ships in international waters. The Chinese ambassador made sure the press knew there were concerns about the US currency amidst a global crisis. Warfare, cyber and otherwise, is definitely practiced economically. China is spreading the wealth around and making more inroads and cyber tracks in the Western Hemisphere. France & China have a frosty relationship after President Sarkozy took a meeting with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, Thailand is pretty pissed about their computers while Austrailia is defending its ties at home with China. This summit will be like a giant Hollywood party where people were married to each other, divorced and married former friends while everybody is ensuring all is truly cordial because the cameras are on.

President Hu Jintao will warmly greet President Obama. The pictures will be pretty and the words carefully chosen to convey maximum strength on both sides as they speak as if at a tennis match. China will hear about the lack of government safety control in their manufacturing and food production environments, the US will get slammed over the health of the Dollar, return serve on the artificial price pegging of the Yuan with a volley back on the stupidity of Iraq, followed by the human rights issues in Burma and Darfur with pointed questions about China's designs on Latin
America, followed by talks about climate change with the US saying new rules. And that's just Secretary Hillary Clinton's part in the meeting. President Obama will hear much mutterings on the scale and scope of the US military industrial complex's sales of armaments and delivery systems. China claims they are nowhere near able to keep up on that military scale. Um, yeah... just the end user better hope they have some quality control in the stuff they get from a booming China.

Mixing modernity with the mastery of the ancient eastern tradition makes for compelling reading about China's geopolitical growth spurts. Ralph D. Sawyer chronicles the inside political gamesmanships Chinese generals do on each other and other nonconventional means of projecting military might. China is not adverse to using every tool at their command and this China expert shows us how many means and methods they have already used in The Tao of Deception: Unorthodox Warfare in Historic and Modern China.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pope Benedict's African Adventure

His Holiness is creating firestorms everywhere he puts his red loafered feet in Africa and that was before his rant against witchcraft and sorcery in Angola and his plea to get Catholics to help convert those who practiced such nonsense. Memo to Pope Benedict XVI: you are urging people to convert from sorcery to believe in a Man that was born of a Virgin, turned fishes and loaves of bread into enough to feed the masses and rose from the dead to walk the Earth before ascending into Heaven. The condescending approach may not be the best introduction to Catholicism while leaving out the Church's participation in the Crusades and the Inquisition, but it confirms the suspicion that this pope seems zone and tone deaf. I think he was still stunned by President's Biya's wife with her Mount Kilimanjaro of curled hair greeting him at the airport.
On Tuesday, Benedict’s visit began in Cameroon, where, among other issues, he dealt with the church’s competition for souls with Islam. On Friday, he moved to oil-rich Angola, his second and last stop, where he immediately spoke out against corruption and the disregard of the poor by the wealthy.

On Saturday, at St. Paul’s, he addressed the accommodations of faith bysome Africans who mix their Christianity with animism living “in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers.”

The pope asked rhetorically: “Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth,
and we have ours.” He then answered that there was no injustice in presenting the ways of Christ to others, granting “them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves” and offering them “this possibility of attaining eternal life.”

Human rights groups may well appreciate Benedict’s decision to raise the issue of sorcery. In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, thousands of children are accused of witchcraft and are cast out of their homes, blinded or killed, according to advocates for the youngsters. (Photo of Baka Pygmies)
Well, the Pope certainly isn't winning every friend and influencing everybody on the continent as he lists what is wrong with Africa at each stop. In many cases, he is being greeted warmly and does have parts of his message that emphasize Christian charity that people are their brother's keepers. Eradicate corruption was the Holy See's message of the day for war weary Angola, formerly colonized by the Portuguese, on Friday. His exhortations to give to the poor while speaking to large enthusiastic crowds of the impoverished living on roughly $2 per day while remaining undereducated is a bit depressing.

Pope Benedict is an ultra conservative celibate guy who told other people not to practice safe sex with condoms in sub-Saharan countries where AIDS is decimating families. That pronouncement to the press, flies directly in the face of common sense and buttresses the worst leaders in Africa who continue to deny the extent of the problems caused by AIDS. The pope's remarks were so intemperate that the Curia back in Rome watched in horror some of the condom pronouncements while wringing their prayer beads about whether this will cripple his four year old papacy. It is kind of odd that the one thing President Bush got right was his approach to Africa and providing the funds to back up AIDS activists among others. Meanwhile, other papal mistakes continue to fester. (Photos courtesy of NYT/Joäo Silva)
The pope has admitted making mistakes over the lifting of the excommunication of a holocaust-denying bishop, saying the church will make much greater use of the Internet in the future to help avoid such controversies.

In a letter to church leaders, Pope Benedict XVI says the church should have been aware of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson.

"I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on.
Some sort of edict on using teh Google is in the offing at the Vatican.

Putting Aretha Franklin's Inauguration chapeau to shame, the next morning on his first stop in Cameroon, the president's wife decided to embellish her lady bountiful lacquered red gold curls with a jaunty little pink and white
ode to Christianity top hat atop matching ensemble that put all the other hats in the vicinity to shame. The Pope needed his Mega Pontiff hat he uses for Mass at the Basilica to reign supreme over this confection. The president and the pope are wearing virtually the same official ceremonial outfits as the day before. The pope did get a gift from Baka Pygmies of a turtle that promptly got a seat in first class with the entourage before leaving Cameroon. Unfortunately, moments of humour came to an abrupt halt as the trip moved on to Angola.

Saturday's horror was the stampede that left two people dead right before his Angola address as 30,000 people slammed against the closed gates trying to get into the Luanda stadium in a stifling heatwave. Sunday, a Papal Mass for a half million was prayed for a population that is regarded as almost 60% Catholic. The pope, distressed by the deaths, offered his prayers for the perished and his warm wishes for those recovering. He also mentioned the "clouds of evil" that hung over Africa. Angola, was the final stop in Africa before he and the popemobile head back to Rome where a discussion of how the trip went will be the topic as a trip is set for the Middle East in May. (AFP photo)

Personal testimonies are the means to reach the human heart. Included in this seminal book, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa from Stephanie Nolen are the origins and pathology of the African AIDS epidemic and who is claimed by the disease that seems without end or mercy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Water Works in Turkey

Twenty thousand strong of the world's most water delegates filed into Istanbul's host facility to debate the use misuse of one of Earth's most precious resources, blue gold, known as water. From 18 March through the 22March, the fifth World Water Forum (WWF), sponsored by World Water Council is given the watered down sobriquet of Bridging the Divides for Water for the approximate 150 countries, principalities, kingdoms and nations in attendance. The conference name does not paint a dire enough image for the mind's eye to the degree of disease and devastation that is happening from the lack of fresh water, the lack of toilets, the lack of media attention on a crisis just as severe as the world fight to fend off potential global financial bankruptcy. That just might be because the forum sponsors is a business think tank that provides corporations procuring water rights, like Nestlé, with research papers. (photos AFP)

A UN report, released to coincide with the forum, paints a grim future for the planet's fresh water supplies.

The forum will also host an increasingly determined opposition movement which is questioning international water policies and warning of the dangers of private, corporate control of the world's water resources.

"Water is a political issue," said Daniel Zimmer, the associate director of the World Water Council, an international body representing the water industry, and the organisers of the forum.

"But politicians need to understand why they should care more about water," he said.

A report from the UN, "Water in a Changing World", delivers a punch to the stomach and leaves the throat quite dry clearly stating that 50% of the world will live in an area of acute water shortage by 2030. Water is everybody's national security nightmare and the tinder blocks are set in motion for the problem to grown exponentially. This is not a UN official event even though Prince Albert of Monaco, Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, are attending.

Tension is high at the forum in Turkey, because the forum's mission is under attack - is it about conservation or exploitation of the existing water supply, especially since distribution and the control of it is up for grabs in so many areas. There are counter-forums and panels, like those from the Polaris Institute, within the forum setting that make it clear group think will not be the issue. Turkey is sensitive to the topic after experiencing a severe drought over the past year. No surprise that protests and subsequent arrests by Turkish police after using tear gas marked the first day of the forum. The UN's point person on water, Maude Barlow, objects to the mantle of the UN being improperly used to tout the forum or as she calls it, the tradeshow, for water companies to peddle their wares to politicians and others. She sides with the protesters even with armored up police.

By 2050, population estimations are to go to 9 billion people. Currently with a count of 6.7 billion, people and businesses are pitted against each other in whether water is a human right or a Darwinian capitalistic tool to be manipulated by the markets. Exploitation of aquifers,irreplaceable underground water, is pushing the world to peak water. There is no more once those are empty and they are being drained like swamps the world over. T. Boone Pickens perfected the exploitation process with the munificent ancient Ogallala Aquifer in the US and its rampant in Bangladesh and India. Mix in more droughts and flooding in populated areas as well as farmland and a sense of urgency to address water holistically is profound. The point of view from which this conference emanates is what is causing massive suspicion acted out in protests. Maybe its fitting that the brand new refurbished facility,Sütlüce Culture and Conference Centre that is hosting the business conference on water is a former slaughterhouse.

Not shy about profound criticisms, water activist Maude Barlow spells it out in crystal clear terms what is happening with the water supply and the businesses that are trying to control it as commoditized profit production in Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleopatra, True African Queen

An Egyptian Queen/Pharaoh savvy enough to rule with two of the Roman Empire's legends, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, then escaped a third by clutching an asp to her chest as if it were a string of pearls rather than lose to self-styled first Roman emperor Augustus, still keeps the world enthralled thousands of years later. Cleopatra's ethnic heritage, because she spoke ancient Greek and had a catalogue of political liaisons, enjoyed centuries of debate. New evidence demonstrates her lineage to originate from Africa with much less in the Grecian Caucasian formula. Her sister's remnants have been found and the CSI-like forensic evidence shows interesting results in light of the fact that history believes Cleopatra VII ordered the murder of the sister, Princess Arsinoe. There's a solid gold trivial pursuit question.

Cleopatra, the last of the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt, descended from the first Ptolemy. Cleopatra's mom, Cleopatra V, one of several to get the Tryphaena, and dad, Ptolemy XII Auletes, were brother and sister. Her mom, the first Queen dies under a cloud of mystery supposedly at the hand of Cleo's older party hearty sister Berenice IV who gets executed on orders from the Pharaoh after he concludes his negotiations in Rome. Meanwhile Cleopatra VII grows up and marries one of her brothers, but gives birth to only four children from her famous lovers, a son of Caesar's, then girl and boy twins followed by another boy from Mark Antony. It's all quite murky though the historians debate as the first run at celebrity in the era of antiquity played out.

It seems Cleopatra's younger sister interfered first with Caesar and her sister, receiving an exile one way ticket to Ephesus, Turkey. Then to just dot the i's and cross the sarcophagus for Antony's and Cleopatra's strategic plans, came their supposed orchestration of her murder. Finding her body in 1926, but using the carbon dating tools of today's times builds a new way to look at the Ptolemaic history. But goodness, were the ides of March upon the archeology when they first opened the octagonal shaped tomb, they only took the skull for serious study and then they lost it during the rampaging of World War II. Somehow fitting.

The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatra’s true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.

Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinöe’s skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, ndicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives.

In the early 1990s Thür reentered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s sister. Her theory was considered credible by many historians, and in an attempt to resolve the issue the Austrian Archeological Institute asked the Medical University of Vienna to appoint a specialist to examine the remains.

Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, reconstructed the missing skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s. Using computer technology it was possible to create a facial impression of what Arsinöe might have looked like.

Neil Oliver on BBC One has a documentary luridly titled: Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer due for airing mext Monday. On 31 March, scientific papers will be presented backing up the analysis and findings at The Medical University of Vienna at the American Association of Anthropologist.

The most iconic image of Cleopatra remains Elizabeth Taylor at her zenith in a film of that name. That film also gives the impression that Cleopatra was fair skinned like the English beauty that played her, only now the evidence shows something else entirely with her African roots an area needing further development in the 2,000 year old story that is Cleopatra. The Bard himself did a playwright treatment of the most famous Queen that stands the test of time in Antony and Cleopatra.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

French Workers Hold CEO Hostage

For eighteen hours, the CEO of Sony's Division in France understood what its like to not be in control of the business and cut off to the outside world. In modern times, most French workers suffered continuous massive unemployment rather than layoffs. The current worldwide pandemic of economic meltdowns is being felt from the tiniest hamlets to the most gilded ivory towers. In France, strikes and shutdowns are the most common civil disobediences showing displeasure with the government and the captains of industry. This is a new twist boss knapping, kidnapping the ultimate bad news bearing boss, that is happening with greater frequency.

CEO, Serge Foucher, floats in from plush corporate Headquarters in Paris to give very bad news of a full plant shutdown in a month, bid them all a fond adieu with expectations to blithely float back out leading his flock of executives, except this time the doors were barred by 311 irate workers, who in a communal Howard Beal moment, were not going to take it anymore. The terms and conditions of their unilateral surrender of their jobs were unacceptable and Foucher and Roland Bents, the head Human Resources genius, were staying during the negotiations on severances no matter what!
"We hope that this time our voices will be heard," unionist Patrick Achaguer told Reuters news agency.

Mr Foucher's visit to the plant on Thursday was to be his last before its closure, the AFP news agency reports.

Workers, unhappy that their pay-off is less generous than for staff at other closed French Sony plants, decided to strike and barricaded the site to stop the company executives from leaving.

Cheap payouts that decrease benefits and without equality to similar circumstances have sparked protests in the United States at an Illinois window factory. Those workers barricaded themselves in for days. The French workers gave them food and drink, but the dapper management brigade had wrinkles in those suits from sleeping on the floor the next morning. No five star accomodations for the heartless. Trucks were used to block the entrances. The real problem began with a public pronouncement to the Sony workforce from some executive theoretical bubble that they would convert to a green facility making solar panels, except then it was deemed impractical and the plan shelved for the Pontonx-sur-L'Adour plant going from job to no job. Oops.
"Local officials persuaded us to release our bosses and continue with supervisednegotiations at a council building.

"This time we hope they listen to our concerns properly."

The move is the latest clash between unions and management in France, which is being hit by a wave of factory closures and big lay-offs because of the global economic downturn.

Workers at a Continental tyre plant in northern France hurled eggs at managers yesterday to protest against the loss of 1,200 jobs with the closure of the factory by the German car parts group.

Insult to injury was the lack of consideration of those who worked past age of 55. The final decision to be made by Sony management is whether to press charges for thier captivity. Hmmm, could get ugly. After 18 hours, the best the CEO gave was they would reconsider their exit packages for the workers. Hmmm, corporate speak for no comment of what I really think until I am safely ensconced back in my Parisian rarefied arrondisment.

Well, there certainly is a choice - buy less of Sony's products, thereby forcing them to reduce staff more or buy more to ensure those with a job keep it. Except nobody is dicussing the matter civilly in these times. To that end, a wonderful book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking About Broken Promises, Violated Expectations and Bad Behavior, from expert Kerry Patterson may perform the right rescues.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teachers In Space

Wednesday is launch day, actually night 6:20 pm PDT, for space shuttle Discovery to photogenically blast into the heavens to park at the International Space Station (ISS) with parts for recycling pee into the clean drinkable water machine, a $300 million USD 31,000 pound truss segment to support the additions to the ISS, more items for the solar arrays and two teachers. Discovery's crew has to vacate and finish their spacewalking and scientific chores by March 26 because the Russians booked the penthouse suite with the Soyuz capsule making a grand entrance and bringing a new ISS crew. One space visiting team at a time and there is no place to fill up with rocket fuel in space yet.

More solar equipment means more power to tun the increasingly sophisticated apparatus at the ISS. Recycling urine is important because May heralds doubling the size of the crew from 3 to 6. The US space shuttle program is due to end in 2010. Up to this point there have been a multitude of spectacular successes and tragic failures accompanied by loss of life. Honoring the pioneer of teacher in space, NASA reopened its program for teachers after the 2003 mission failure and two teachers are now fully fledged astronauts hurtling out in maximum G's on STS-119. Those two teachers, Joe Acaba and Richard Arnold, are actually each going to don a spacesuit and go out for a spacewalk. (Discovery photos courtesy Reuters)

Richard Arnold started by teaching college preparatory courses in Morocco, then moved on to schools in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Romania. Joe Acaba, an ex-Marine, found his calling in the classroom after a tour in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps.

“As an educator,” Arnold said, “you presumably believe in the notion that education can take you anywhere. Here we are. We’re knocking on the door. We’re about to go to space.”

Selected for the space agency’s educator-astronaut initiative, Acaba, 45, began training in 2004 with nine others. 41, and ArnoldNow, NASA has put them on the same shuttle flight.

“We were both surprised when we were assigned,” Arnold said. “I was really happy to be flying with a classmate, and I was really happy it was Joe.”
Watching such a vivid night launch via NASA webcast is going to be fun. The weather forecast looks great barring any equipment failures like the one that scuttled the February 12th launch. Right now the crew aboard the ISS is doing some routine maintenace and spacewalking chores before Discovery arrives on Friday. The space station is nearing completion with all of the cool gadgets like Canada's robotic Mr. Dexter, Japan's Kibo Room (and a Japanese astronaut is on board this flight) and the view of Earth from the ISS space "porch" is said to be unparralelled. What a great teachable moment in science.

Just because I love his books and his whole attitude about science, I will tout Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest wonderful snarkfest in book form, The Pluto Files. It would be the perfect book to take into space when you have some downtime at the International Space Station.

Oh well, the space shuttle seems like its not going anywhere today due to a gas leak. (3/10)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thieves Nabbed Trying to Sell Masterpieces

When Mom helps out on the conspiracy, the thieving and then cutting a deal with the insurers of the priceless art, it is clear that the genetic material is not made of strong moral fiber or intelligence genes. Twenty two years after Renoir, Pissarro, as well as notable 17th and 19th century painters, a German man domiciled in Dubai, his dear old mum and another rather elderly gent from Walem approached the insurance company to fence the stolen goods and collect millions of euros.  The insurance company had already paid 2.9 million US after the theft and these folks obviously did not have a television, newspaper or the world wide web to see that the world economy is collapsing and insurance companies are feeling downright penny pinched. 

The detective, Ben Zuidema, said that he was contacted out of the blue by a man wanting to sell the paintings back to the insurers for €5million (£4.5 million). Included in the offer was €1 million for Mr Zuidema to facilitate the deal.

“Immediately I passed information to the investigators,” said the private detective. “Since then I have co-operated with them to find the paintings.” A sting was arranged with the police for the canvases to be handed over for €1 million, according to reports in the Dutch media.
The Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office said that this led to the recovery of the paintings by David Teniers, Willem van de Velde, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Eva Gonzalès, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Paul-Desiré Trouillebert.(Ruben Schipper photo)
Add to that the thieves were brutes and badly damaged some of the paintings by folding the revered collection of Europen artists in half, as if they were the best of a kid's schools competition for glorious refrigerator art.  But the coupe de grâce, is the 60 year old gallery owner who died a couple of years ago under suspicion from the Dutch police after buying and fully insuring right before the spectacular heist.  Turns out Mr. Noortman has a room named after him in London's National Gallery that is dedicated to the Dutch masters.  Paging Hollywood....

(Photo courtesy Ruben Shipper/EPA of Jan Brueghel's painting)
The original theft took place in Maastricht, a Dutch city, near the German and Belgian borders, known for its well preserved historical sites and disputes as to whether it is Netherlands oldest
city while in today's cultural climate is quite filled with European urban chic.  In the time since the 22 pieces art disappered into thieving hands from the Noortman gallery in 1987, The Maastrict Treaty was negotiated and signed on 9 February, 1992 formalizing the European Union and the monetray unit of echange the euro, not art.  In an interesting aside, the selling of cannabis and other drugs in cofee shops and the like prompt tourism and controversy too as the mayor tries to congregate the shops and the customers all in one spot.  Its only right that the Dutch police multi-task on different front.  Today, recovering stolen art and nabbing the thieves and tomorrow....

'The suspects were apparently trying to sell the artworks to the insurance company that had paid out 2.27 million euros (S$4.43 million) after they went missing,' the statement said.

The modern-day value of the paintings had yet to be determined.
The paintings did not all reside together during their captivity nor were they treated as priceless cultural artifacts.  Six were found in a quaint southern town, Valkenburg and two more in cough, Walem, where the oldest member of the trio resides.  It is stongly hinted that a ninth painting was somehow destroyed by the gallery owner who is unable to defend himself.  Pierre-August Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Paul Desire Trouillebert now await the fate of their work in the hands of art historians, curators and the rooms of restoration.

One restoration that shall live in infamy was a painting that was found in an Italian village full of spiders, dust and knick knacks.  It was a famed Italian Baroque painting by Caravaggio, a murdiring evil genius art fiend who was a poet with a paintbrush.  Jonathon Harr writes the story of the lost masterpiece and then once the provenance was secured all manner of burecratic bungling ensued in its restoration.  The Lost Painting is a great read for just about $10USD.