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Archive for January, 2014

Curral das Freiras, Madeira

January 30, 2014 Leave a comment

File:CurralDasFreiras-2013.JPG

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what with the winter cold and all, RT has been feeling the need for warmer climes; here is his contribution to reviving the spirits of spring and summer…  RT

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PhotoThe village of Curral das Freiras, Madeira, photographed from the old road out of the valley, from the south. Author: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

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State of the Unions. 2014

January 29, 2014 5 comments

File:Global European Union.svg

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RT never could resist a puzzle. But life is life, and during, say, the last 15 years, he hasn’t had much time for puzzling things out, so he has confined himself to just a few puzzles, among them putting Gilgamesh to verse and figuring out what a world government might look like. For better or worse, if it’s smaller than a world, it doesn’t interest him.

Take, for instance, President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. Devoted readers will remember that RT thinks that Obama is about the best thing that’s happened to American politics since, well, it’s hard to say. FDR’s election, maybe? The censure of Joseph McCarthy? Something like that. And RT will  say that he thought that last night’s SOU was yet another example of Obama’s gift for public speaking. As for content, as far as RT is concerned, if all Obama does in his last years of office is get America trundling along the road to immigration reform, he will have done more good in office than all but a handful of the Oval Office’s best occupants.

And now, thanks to European ingenuity and harsh historical memories stretching back 100 years, America has a control population to check its political progress against: the European Union.

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Ah, fellow Americans loyally picking apples on family farms, just what might this creature, the EU, be? The short answer is: a new political structure struggling to be born. As such, its institutions lack the simplicity and grandeur of those specified in the American constitution, but they do reveal the guts of a bureaucracy and legislative process in a most helpful, if somewhat complicated, way. Consider the following chart:

File:Political System of the European Union.svg

What the heck is that? you’ll be wondering. What does it mean for constitutional law, not to mention history and the well-being of the EU’s 508 million citizens and 28 member states? The beauty of the answer is that no one knows yet. But RT is willing to wager that the EU is good news for Europe, and even for America’s purple mountains’ majesty (RIP, Pete Seeger, though actually Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem that the unofficial American national anthem, “America the Beautiful,” is based on.).

Let’s look at the EU’s structure in terms of the familiar American political system. The EU has:

1) a bicameral legislature, composed of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Note these differences from the American system: while the EP is directly elected by EU citizens every five years, the CEU consists of one minister from each member state, with the council’s presidency rotating among states every six months (and the actual ministers switch depending on which subject (e.g., agriculture) is being discussed).

2) a collective presidency, the European Council, consisting of the heads of state from all the member nations. The EC is charged with determining the EU’s priorities and overall direction. Without formal powers, it nonetheless exercises considerable influence over the EU’s political agenda.

3) a judiciary, the Court of Justice of the European Union, charged with ensuring that the treaties that underlie the EU are observed.

4) a bill of rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (adopted 2009).

5) a central bank, the European Central Bank, which issues a common currency, the Euro. Please note that several member states, including the United Kingdom and Poland, have not adopted the Euro.

6) a graduated division of powers between the EU and its member states. The EU treaties create a spectrum of authority, with the EU responsible for items such as financial and commercial policy, enjoying priority of responsibility in others (e.g., the internal market), sharing responsibility in still others (e.g., technological development and humanitarian aid), and playing a support role in areas such as industry and disaster prevention.

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This is just a quick overview of what seems to be an evolving and in some ways difficult political reality–the EU at this point is no longer an economic union but not yet a political federation. If RT could single out a specific feature of the EU system for praise, it would be the detailed, graduated sharing of power between the union and its member states. When one considers the either/or situation created by the American constitution, where the federal government has de facto priority over the 50 states, leaving individual states to champion important improvements (e.g., the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage). Of course, in this situation, the federal government can be the one on the right side of an issue (as during, most famously, the civil war). But then, come to think of it, there’s the mediating power of the judiciary to consider…

And it’s also worth noting that a trend seems to developing in the EU’s division of powers: the EU is taking responsibility for the more scientific and economic powers, leaving the members states with more individual matters such as culture and language (and dare RT say it, poetry!) To be sure, the division is hardly exact, and reflects a developing thread in RT’s thought, the genius of place.

The EU drama is not played out, RT surmises, and the ongoing story of the struggle to create a peaceful and just Europe will continue to fascinate us on the other side of the pond.   RT

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Map Projection: The European Union (2014). Author: S. Solberg J. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported. EU Chart: Political System of the European Union. Author: 111Alleskönner. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Share Alike Germany.

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Coney Island and my Grandfather

January 14, 2014 4 comments

Coney_Island_beach_July4--CC2.0generic

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Information can appear from unexpected sources. My grandfather the actor registered for the draft (WWI) in 1917 while he was performing in Montreal. He gave a Coney Island address near Mermaid Avenue; the building has apparently been torn down. The chronology I’m compiling of his life is spilling over onto page 5, with new plays being added at a fairly regular clip.

Just what was Coney Island all about? It appears to have had several incarnations: as a distant resort for New Yorkers in the mid-19th century, then as a day trip once NYC transit arrived at the end of the century, then as the amusement park/area in the 1920s…and then into decline after the WWII…and now reviving again with a stadium for minor-league baseball (don’t quote me on all that, but i think it’s more or less correct).

Which was the Coney Island that my grandfather knew? Why did he choose to live there? Was he, in his mid-20s, in possession of sufficient cash to be able to send money home to his mother, as he claimed on his draft card (“supporting mother”)? To that last question, given his steady work and good reviews, RT is inclined to answer, yes.

And by the by, just exactly what did actors get paid in say, 1915?

Stay tuned for more…  RT

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PhotoBeach patronage on Coney Island, New York on Fourth of July 2006. Author: Jaime Haire. WikiCmns. CC 2.0 Generic. 

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Picture of the Day- January 9, 2014

January 9, 2014 2 comments

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some happiness from Ireland…enjoy!   RT

(reposted from Natalia Maks)

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Picture of the Day- January 9, 2014.

Zinaida Serebriakova

January 8, 2014 Leave a comment

File:Serebryakova SefPortrait.jpg

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Zenaida Serebriakova (1884-1967), Russian aristocrat through and through,  was nonetheless a revolutionary to the bone. One of Russia’s first woman visual artists of note, she was born into a refined family–the Benois, whose founding ancestor, Louis Jules Benois, was a confectioner (pardon the pun)  who settled in Russia after fleeing the French Revolution.

Serebriakova received thorough instruction in painting, studying under Osip Braz, spending time in Italy, and finishing with a period at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris. She came to prominence when the above self-portrait, At the Dressing Table, was exhibited in 1909. A trip to Paris in 1924 to paint a large mural turned into decades-long exile when she was unable to return home. Her two younger children  joined her soon thereafter, but the Soviet government prevented her from resuming contact with her older children until the late 1950s.

Serebriakova traveled a great deal, especially in Africa, painting Arab and African women in native dress. Throughout her career, she remained dedicated to capturing the beauty of the world.

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Self-Portrait: At the Dressing TableZenaida Serebriakova. 1909. (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow); WikCmns; Public Domain.

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U.S. Politics in 2014: Poverty, Pills, and Marriage

January 5, 2014 2 comments

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File:U.S. Distribution of Wealth, 2007.jpg

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RT has long been of the opinion that the best way to address political issues is to determine what the worst problem a country faces is and then fix it.

Having just perused the above pie chart, he humbly submits that poverty is the worst problem in the United States.

Now, he is also of the opinion that things have been getting somewhat better on the financial equality front in America, primarily because of the administration of Barak Obama and, in particular, the Affordable Care Act, which came into full force at the beginning of 2014. The ACA should inject a considerable sum of money (and healthcare) in just the place it’s needed: the bottom 40%.

He’s eagerly awaiting the chance to test the ACA’s prescription provisions; he’ll have the chance in the next couple of days and will report back.

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In other news, RT is plain boggled by the rapid advance of the liberal agenda in certain areas. In particular, he notes the Federal ruling in Utah striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Until this ruling, RT thought that same-sex marriage would be legalized in mostly in the northern and western states that have already extended some form of recognition and protection to same-sex couples. But now we have a judge legalizing gay marriage in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country. This is just as bold and radical as it gets: despite the historic and necessary role of federalism in the United States, despite a 2004 Utah referendum that amended Utah’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, despite the doctrine of the Mormon Church, the founding institution of Utah, the law must go: it violates the right of gay couples to due process and equal protection under the law.

RT was moved by the photos of gay couples waiting at county courthouses to get married. They have waited long enough. This is one of the moments when RT is proud to be American. This is what makes America a leader of the free world, not its vaunted military strength. We have a right to call ourselves a leader because we have the courage to strike down laws that persecute and discriminate against minorities, be they cultural, religious, racial, or economic.

And then, as if all this isn’t enough, another Utah judge strikes down Utah’s ban on cohabitation of consenting couples. This doesn’t legalize polygamy, but it comes close by permitting multiple individuals (as long as they have only one marriage license) to live on the same premises. RT will freely admit that, while he knows several gay couples, he knows no polygamous family. As a single man, never married, he has no idea of what taking care of many children might be like. But as long as the union is consensual and no other laws are being broken, he is willing to give the institution a chance. Fair is fair.

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And by the way, just what more should we be doing to help the bottom 40 percent get a bigger slice of the pie? RT senses another post in the offing…

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Pie Chart: U.S. Distribution of Wealth,2007; Source: Edward N. Wolff, Working Paper No. 589: “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007”, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, pp. 44, March 2010. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

UV Earth

January 5, 2014 2 comments

File:Earthinuvfrommoon.jpg

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Here’s an eye-catcher to start the year with: the Earth, taken in ultraviolet light from the surface of the Moon. Open your eyes, folks…   RT

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Photo: Earth in Ultraviolet Light from the Moon’s Surface. NASA. Public Domain.

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