Daily Archives: January 30, 2017

Today’s Holiday:Up-Helly-Aa

Today’s Holiday:

This ancient fire festival is observed by people of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. In pre-Christian times, their Norse ancestors welcomed the return of the sun god with Yule, a 24-day period of feasting, storytelling, and bonfires. The last night of the festival was called Up-Helly-Aa, or “End of the Holy Days.” Today, a group known as the Guizers builds a 31-foot model of a Viking longship in honor of the Viking invaders who remained in Scotland. On the night of Up-Helly-Aa, the Guizers dress in Norse costumes and carry the boat to an open field. There, they throw lit torches into the ship and burn it.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Today’s Birthday:Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (1919)

Today’s Birthday:
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (1919)

Robinson, a vocal member of the Civil Rights movement, was the first African-American baseball player in the modern major leagues and the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1949, he led the National League in both stolen bases and batting average and was named its most valuable player. In recognition of his accomplishments both on and off the field, Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s number in 1997. How many times did he “steal home” during his career?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Quote of the Day:Edgar Rice Burroughs

This Day in History:
United States Launches Explorer I (1958)

Explorer I was the first American satellite. It was launched four months after the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, was put into orbit by the Soviet Union, beginning the so-called space race. Although it carried a number of instruments, Explorer I was relatively small, weighing just 30 lbs (13 kg). It stopped transmission of data later in 1958, when its batteries died, but remained in orbit for more than 12 years. Where did it make its fiery reentry?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Quote of the Day:Edgar Rice Burroughs

Quote of the Day:
Edgar Rice Burroughs

They say that none of us exists, except in the imagination of his fellows, other than as an intangible, invisible mentality.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Article of the Day:Tessellations

Article of the Day:

Tessellations are patterns of carefully juxtaposed, non-overlapping shapes—like the multicolored tiles of a mosaic—that fill a given surface. They have been used throughout history, from ancient architecture to modern art, and are frequently found in the works of M.C. Escher. Regular tessellations, which are highly symmetrical and made up of congruent, regular polygons, can only be formed using equilateral triangles, squares, or hexagons. Where can tessellations be observed in the natural world?: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Word of the Day:shoestring

Word of the Day:

Definition: (noun) Marked by or consisting of a small amount of money.
Synonyms: shoe string
Usage: The manager was expected to run the department on a shoestring budget, so to save money, he fired a few a few of the salesmen and accountants.: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tfd.mobile.TfdSearch

Chiesa della Martorana, Palermo

Chiesa della Martorana, Palermo


Fetiță cu bonetă albă – Nicolae Tonitza / 1886, Bârlad – 1940, Bucureşti- ulei pe placaj, 50 × 38 cm, realizat 1924-1925.

Pantheon, Roma

Pantheon, Roma

Big cat

Big Cat

Adorable Picture of the Year

Adorable Picture of the Year

,,O singură frontieră merită cucerită: cea a cunoaşterii. Din păcate, sunt puţini agresori.”

,,O singură frontieră merită cucerită: cea a cunoaşterii.

 Din păcate, sunt puţini agresori.”

The Sibiu Crucifixion:Artist Antonello da Messina ( 1454-1455)Location Brukenthal National MuseuSibiu, Romania

The Sibiu Crucifixion 

Artist Antonello da Messina

Year 1454-1455

Type Oil on wood

Dimensions 39 cm × 23.5 cm (15 in × 9.3 in)

Location Brukenthal National Museum

Sibiu, Romania 

An early work appearing to be influenced by the Flemish school, the Sibiu Crucifixion was formerly attributed to an unknown 14th century German painter. A symbolic view of Messina is depicted in the background, probably an allusion to Jerusalem as requested by the unknown client, in a typical fashion of the time.

France 24 : Iraq asks US to ‘reconsider’ travel ban

Iraq asks US to ‘reconsider’ travel ban


Iraq has asked the United States to reconsider the travel ban on its citizens, the foreign ministry said on Monday, taking a more diplomatic line than the Iraqi parliament, which had demanded the government “retaliate”.

“It is necessary that the new Americanadministration reconsider this wrong decision,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Noting their cooperation in fighting the Islamic State group, the statement added: “We affirm Iraq’s desire to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.”

The ministry issued the statement following a parliamentary vote Monday calling on the Iraqi government to “respond in kind to the American decision in the event that the American side does not withdraw its decision”, a parliamentary official who was present for the vote told AFP.

By executive order on Friday, President Donald Trump banned US entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – and temporarily halted the admission of refugees.

Trump said the ban was needed to make America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists”.

The travel restrictions, which come on the heels of repeated assertions by Trump that the US should have stolen Iraq’s oil before leaving in 2011, risk alienating the citizens and government of a country fighting against militants the president has cast as a major threat to America.

Trump’s decision led to the detention of incoming refugees at US airports, sparking protests, legal challenges and widespread condemnation from rights groups.

And it has led to a growing backlash inside Iraq that could undermine relations between Baghdad and the US amid the battle for Mosul, the largest military operation yet in the war against the Islamic State group.

Security impacted

The parliamentary vote came a day after its foreign affairs committee made a similar call for Iraq to respond in kind to the US measure.

Hassan Shwairid, the deputy head of the committee, said that the call did not apply to the thousands of American military personnel in the country as part of the US-led coalition against IS.

But US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Trump’s ban would impact on military cooperation and security in other ways.

“This executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement.

“Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” they said.

The Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful paramilitary umbrella organisation that includes Iran-backed Shiite militias that fought against American forces in past years, called Sunday for US citizens to be banned from the country.

Both units from the Hashed and American troops are deployed in the Mosul area as part of the operation to retake the city from IS, and heightened anti-US sentiment among militiamen could increase the danger to Washington’s forces.

Trump’s travel restrictions also drew condemnation from populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, America’s bete noir for much of its 2003-2011 war in Iraq.

“Get your nationals out before removing expatriates,” said Sadr, scion of a powerful clerical family who rose to widespread fame due to his condemnation of and violent resistance to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.


BBC News: Trump: Executive order on small business regulations

I saw this on the BBC and thought you should see it:

Trump: Executive order on small business regulations – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38800090

France 24 : France charges suspected Brussels bomber over Paris attacks

France charges suspected Brussels bomber over Paris attacks


Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat” bombing suspect from the Brussels airport attack, has been charged in France over the November 2015 Paris assaults, his lawyers said Monday.

Belgium has handed over Abrini to France for questioning about the 2015 Paris attacks, federal prosecutors said earlier.

Abrini was captured in Brussels in April over his suspected involvement in the March 22 Brussels attacks and the Paris killings, both of which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

“In the framework of the investigation related to the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, Mohamed Abrini was surrendered to the French judicial authorities for a period of one day,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman, told AFP that the decision is based on “mutual agreements” between the two countries.

“It’s not uncommon that suspects in different cases are surrendered for one day or a few days,” Van Der Sypt said.

Belgian investigators have said the Brussels airport and metro bombers who killed a total of 32 people were part of the same Brussels-based cell that orchestrated the November 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 dead.

Abrini, dubbed the “man in the hat” from images caught on security cameras, fled the airport without detonating his suitcase bomb after his accomplices Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui set off theirs, killing 16 people and themselves.

Several sources close to the Belgian-led investigation have told AFP that the three bombers targeted passengers travelling to the United States and also Jewish and perhaps Russian targets at the airport.

“That understanding has held up with later investigations, including with Abrini’s alleged confession,” a US law enforcement source told AFP.

US sources said they are confident the airline check-in counters for flights to the United States, Israel and Russia were targeted.

Abrini had a record as a long-time petty criminal who grew up in the troubled Molenbeek area of Brussels with Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the group that carried out the Paris attacks.


Nicknamed “Brioche” after his days working in a bakery, Abrini is thought to have given up training as a welder at the age of 18 before eventually gravitating towards extremism.

The Belgian of Moroccan origin was seen at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the November 13 attacks with prime suspect Abdeslam, who drove one of the vehicles used in the attacks.

Belgian authorities have charged Abrini with “participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders” over the massacres in the French capital.

Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He was known to security services for belonging to the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

France 24 : Benoît Hamon: Brave new Socialism in an age of mass extinction

Benoît Hamon: Brave new Socialism in an age of mass extinction


The Socialist nominee’s bold platform for the presidency “isn’t unrealistic, it’s unthinkable”. The question is, can he get enough French voters to change the way they think?

“What would Benoît Hamon be without the Socialist Party?” pondered President François Hollande in March 2015, during one of hisnotoriously candid exchanges at the Élysée Palace with Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme. Hamon, a former education minister who quit Hollande’s government in protest at its right-ward lurch, had recently joined the growing ranks of the “Frondeurs” – the party’s dissident leftist faction. His was the first recognisable name in a festering rebellion that would ultimately prove fatal to Hollande. But, at the time, the French president dismissed the threat, answering his own rhetorical question with a laconic: “Nothing much.”

Two years on, Hamon has supplanted Hollande as the Socialist nominee for the presidency,trouncing his rivals in a two-round primary contest – with the incumbent too unpopular to even take part. On Sunday, the 49-year-old Breton, who wants to legalise cannabis, tax robots and give everyone in France a €750 living wage, picked up around 59 percent of votes cast in the run-off, defeating Manuel Valls, a pro-business former prime minister and the primary’s nominal favourite. In the process, he breathed new life into a battered ruling party that is struggling to stay alive in the shifting sands of French politics.

The victory caps a remarkable run by the Socialist “nothing much”, who was long seen as a side-kick for leftists with greater panache. It mirrors trends seen across the West, “where the mainstream left has been mauled by a decade of crisis, rising unemployment and surging inequality”, said Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at CEVIPOF in Paris. Pointing to parallels with Britain’s Labour Party underJeremy Corbyn, Spain’s anti-establishment Podemos, and leftist firebrand Bernie Sanders– all of whom Hamon has singled out as sources of inspiration – Cautrès added, “Many Socialists dream of a return to the left’s core values.”

Out of the ‘fringe’

When Hamon announced his candidacy for the presidency last summer, few took his bid seriously. A Socialist “apparatchik”, Hamon enjoyed little recognition beyond the party’s confines. His first cabinet post, as junior minister for the “social economy”, was hardly a headline-grabber. The subsequent upgrade, to education minister, lasted just 147 days. He was elected to the European Parliament once, in 2004, and the French National Assembly a decade later, but suffered as many defeats.

Of the four Socialists vying for the party’s nomination, Hamon was – on paper – the least formidable. “Little Benoît” lacked both Valls’s notoriety and the flourish of Arnaud Montebourg, the fiery former economy minister. Nor did he enjoy the intellectual aura associated with the fourth candidate, Vincent Peillon, who preceded him at the education ministry. Though all four were part of the same generation of former Socialist ‘Young Turks’, alternately allies and rivals, Hamon was very much the junior member – in age, fame and deed.

Hamon’s “lightweight” team reflected his junior status. When it came to picking a candidate, cabinet ministers rallied behind their former boss Valls, a boxer in his spare time; most of the “Frondeurs” supported Montebourg; and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo threw her lot behind Peillon. None of the Socialist heavyweights backed Hamon – not even his friend Christiane Taubira, a former justice minister, nor his patron and one-time party chief, Martine Aubry, who waited until the second round to back him. The dearth of prominent endorsements comforted the notion that Hamon was a radical outsider lost on the party’s hard-left fringe – in the manner of Labour’s Corbyn.

“In fact Hamon is far less of a radical within the party than is commonly assumed,” argued Michel Wieviorka, a prominent sociologist who is close to the Socialists. He added: “Hamon has strong ties with Aubry and others social democrats on the centre-left, and continues to cultivate a loyal following among members of the party’s youth wing, which he once led.”

Not a man of providence

With his working-class family background, impeccable left-wing credentials and understated coolness, Hamon was a perfect fit for the Mouvement des Jeunes Socialistes (MJS), whose leadership he took over back in 1992. Ironically, it was Valls, five years his senior, who helped the young Breton into the youth wing. To this day, Hamon is known as the man who secured the MJS’s autonomy within the party, turning a docile, obedient club into a formidable force, capable of mobilising large crowds and challenging the top brass.

Like Valls, Hamon spent the following 25 years working the party apparatus, securing jobs and patronage, and nurturing ties with a broad network of associations, including feminist and anti-racist groups, that gravitate around the Socialists. Crucially, he never drifted away from the party, even at the height of the “Fronde” – when others, like Montebourg and Peillon, opted for a brief exile in the hope of later reemerging as the Socialists’ saviour.

“I don’t believe in Heaven-sent men,” Hamon repeated throughout the primary campaign, opposing his platform of direct democracy and “collective intelligence” to the personality cult he associates with his rivals. The strategy appears to have paid off, turning his lack of notoriety and experience into an asset, and placing his ideas – rather than his person – at the heart of the debate.


The first to throw his hat in the ring last summer, Hamon cast himself as a moderniser firmly rooted in the left, with a more inventive edge than Labour’s Corbyn. He dominated the primary campaign and televised debates with a slew of bold proposals that include a costly universal basic income – a fashionable idea that involves giving all citizens a basic wage, regardless of personal wealth.

Hamon has argued that the digital age calls for a new social model in which wealth and the shrinking workload are spread out more evenly across society, people get more leisure time, and robots pay taxes on the wealth they create. He says work-related “burnout” should be recognised as an illness. And while critics say France’s 35-hour work week is too short, he wants to cut it further.

During the four primary debates, Hamon’s rivals lampooned his proposals as ruinous and unrealistic. Montebourg – whose more traditional leftist pitch was undercut by Hamon – claimed the latter’s costly flagship reform would lead to “fiscal caning” for French taxpayers, and “confine the Socialist Party to the dustbin of history”. But even as they blasted the former education minister, Hamon’s opponents gave him and his policies unprecedented publicity, helping to shape the national profile that had so far eluded him.


Analysing the factors that propelled Hamon to victory, Wieviorka highlighted “his vision, his platform, or, one might say, his utopia”. He pointed to “traces of [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras, Podemos, Corbyn and Sanders”, though hinting at a form of pragmatism not typically associated with the radical left. Hamon, he cautioned, “has the capacity not to corner himself in a form of radicalism that leads to a dead-end”.

Another of Hamon’s assets is his broad appeal among Green Party voters, whose candidate for the presidency, Yannick Jadot, is struggling to build momentum around his campaign. Ahead of Sunday’s run-off, some in Jadot’s camp were rumoured to be mulling an alliance with the Socialists in the event of a Hamon win. Prominent green activist Nicolas Hulot, a man whose endorsement presidential candidates have been coveting for the past decade, expressed his admiration for the Socialists’ rising star in a widely quoted interview.

“Hamon’s ecological convictions are seen as genuine, and not merely dictated by political convenience,” said Florence Faucher, an expert in environmental politics at Sciences-Po Paris. “He is at ease discussing important but technical issues that are rarely part of the mainstream political discourse, such as banning endocrine disruptors,” she added, referring to chemicals that have been proven to interfere with hormone systems – an issue that the Socialist candidate routinely addresses, alongside more traditional topics such as welfare and taxation.

Quiet strength

A third factor in Hamon’s rise was voters’ hostility towards his main rival in the primary. A divisive figure on the left, Valls was burdened with the legacy of his deeply unpopular government, which he led until December. Wary of carrying the favourite’s tag in a time of electoral upsets, the Spanish-born former premier endured a wretched campaign, marked by spectacular policy U-turns as well as a flour-bombing and a face-slapping in broad daylight. His crushing defeat capped the great overhaul of French politics that has seen virtually every old-timer, from Hollande to Nicolas Sarkozy, swatted aside.

In between the primary’s two rounds, Valls stepped up his attacks on Hamon in an increasingly desperate bid to close the gap, targeting his opponent’s supposed “ambiguity” and “appeasement” in dealing with radical Islam. But many on the left were uncomfortable with the former premier’s hardline stance on French secularism, including his support for a notorious ban on full-body “burkini” swimsuits. Critics warned that his rigid interpretation of secular rules threatened to antagonise the country’s large Muslim population, parts of which already feel discriminated against.

“Valls’s attempts to appear authoritative bordered on the authoritarian,” said political analyst Thomas Guénolé, opposing the former prime minister’s martial rhetoric to the “natural authority” projected by his rival during the debates. In contrast to Valls, he added, “Hamon turned out to be remarkably confident, calm and gentle, developing the charisma of a man with quiet strength”. The nerve with which he embraced the derogatory sobriquet “Bilal Hamon” – coined by Islamophobes to discredit him – is evidence of this aplomb.

A new paradigm

Hamon’s praise for the current leader of the UK’s Labour Party gave Valls – an admirer of the New Labour-style politics abhorred by Corbyn – a stronger line of attack. When Hamon reiterated his support for the veteran British leftist, as well as Sanders and Podemos, an angry Valls was quick to hit back. Corbyn “has chosen to remain in the opposition” rather than aim for government, Valls fumed, opposing his own “credible, responsible” brand of left-wing politics to Hamon’s “unworkable and unfundable promises”.

The Socialists’ new nominee has been astonishingly unmoved by claims his universal basic income will double France’s already sizeable debt burden. When challenged on the subject during the last debate, he pointedly ignored the question, arguing instead that the planet’s “ecological debt” is a far greater threat to society.

Guénolé described Hamon’s flagship welfare reform as “the logical consequence of a new paradigm”, one already espoused by climate scientists. “The premise is that we are in an age of mass extinction and therefore have to change our social model,” said the writer and analyst. “If we stop pursuing unsustainable growth and the mirage of full employment, then a new form of redistribution of wealth is necessary,” he added. “Hence the universal income, financed through an overhaul of the tax system.”

In the short term, Hamon’s priority will be to avert the Socialist Party’s extinction. Bruised and fractured by five gruelling years in power, France’s ruling party now enters the 2017 race in earnest, well aware that opinion polls have condemned it to a humiliating defeat. In picking the boldest programme, Socialist voters have certainly made a big gamble at a delicate time, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen poised to feature in the May 7 presidential run-off. “Hamon’s platform is not unrealistic, it’s unthinkable,” said Guénolé. The challenge, now, is to get enough voters to change their way of thinking. Judging by the primary, some already have.

An earlier version of this article was published on January 25, 2017.