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THE NIGHT WATCH

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This week for our cultural article, we will be examining Rembrandt’s (1606 – 1669) 1642 painting, “The Night Watch.”

“The Night Watch” represents a style of painting that was unique to Holland and the northern Netherlands during the 17th century: the Schuttersstuk. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s rendition is, in and of itself, a highly original rendition in that it does not rely upon the typical rows of figures common to the style. Instead, Rembrandt’s painting featured animated subjects engaged in the various duties and responsibilities of the Civic Guard.

Painted using oils on a 142.9 by 172.0-inch canvas, “The Night Watch” is Rembrandt’s largest painting. Despite its title, the painting is actually set during the day. The reason the painting’s background looks so dark is that the varnish Rembrandt used darkened over the years. It was restored to its original glory in the 1940s, but the name “The Night Watch” stuck. On a side note, it is interesting to observe Rembrandt’s well-known use of the technique ‘chiaroscuror’ (Italian for ‘light-dark’) which uses light and dark to create dramatic contrasts and a sense of three-dimensionality.

Painted during the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt was commissioned to create the painting by the Kloveniersdolen – the guild hall of the Amsterdam Civic Guard Company of Musketeers. In the Netherlands, Civic Guardsmen were tasked with the defence of their cities, the maintenance of law and order, firefighting, and forming a strong presence during festivities and parades for visiting royalty. Each company of Civic Guardsmen had its own guild hall decorated, according to tradition, with group portraits of distinguished members. These portraits were designed to evoke a sense of affinity between the members of the company and asserted their power and status within the cities they protected.

CASABLANCA

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For our weekly cultural article, we will be looking at the film Casablanca. Released in 1942, Casablanca delves deeply into themes of morality and human sacrifice, tentatively exploring both the good and bad aspects of humanity.

BACKGROUND

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The American Film Institute ranks Casablanca as the second greatest film of all time (ranked behind Citizen Kane).

The fact that Casablanca is still so revered, even after seventy-five years,  is nothing short of a miracle. The film was made on a tight budget in the style common to the studio system of the time, having been made on set with a studio director, studio writers, and studio actors.

Its script has been voted by the Writers Guild of America as the greatest ever written. That, too, is a miracle. The script was based on a play that was never performed: “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, by Murray Burnett (1910 – 1997) and Joan Alison (1901 – 1992).  The task of adapting the play to film was given to three separate screenwriters, who completed their task in three different locations.  Julius G. and Philip G. Epstein (1909 – 2000; 1909 – 1952) would finish theirs just a few days before filming began. Howard Koch (1901 – 1995), on the other hand, wouldn’t hand his in until filming was well underway.

And even then, scraps of dialogue and scene rewrites were being rushed to the set, the ink still wet on the page.

THE FILM

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Perhaps one reason for its long lasting success is its refusal to be categorisedCasablanca is one part war film – being presented against the backdrop of the Second World War, one part love story – Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) are embroiled in a bitter love triangle, one part political thriller, and one part allegory – presenting both the best and worst aspects of human nature.

Another reason is the stellar cast it boasts: Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) – considered the greatest film star of all time by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman (1915 – 1982) – one of film’s most naturally beautiful women,  Claude Rains (1889 – 1967), Sydney Greenstreet (1879 – 1954), Paul Henreid (1908 – 1992), and Peter Lorre (1904  – 1964).

SUMMARY

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Naturally, no one thought Casablanca would be a hit, people weren’t even sure if the allies would win World War Two.  However,  as Alrean Harmetz wrote in Round Up the Usual Suspects: the Making of CasablancaCasablanca seemed almost destined to be a film classic:

“There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself – tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made – the early  days of World War II – and the psychological needs of audiences decades later.”

I believe Casablanca‘s long lasting success boils down to its depiction of the goodness of human beings in the wake of great evil. Early in World War Two, Casablanca was Vichy France, and therefore Nazi German, territory. In the film, Casablanca is depicted as a world of corruption, a crossroads where Nazis, members of various resistance forces, criminals, spies, and traitors come together. It is a fascist society where the oppressors imprison millions, where human life is a commodity to be traded for benefits. No one cares about anyone, save for themselves.

The imprisoned respond to their imprisonment in different ways: some fight against it, others try to escape it, and others try to profit from it. In one scene, a man is shot dead trying to escape. He falls under a poster of Marshall Philippe Petain (1856 – 1951), the Chief of Vichy France. We learn he was clutching a Free France handbill.

Desperate attempts to escape to freedom are understandable. But the film also presents us with an array of lowlifes and criminals, and, remarkably, even asks us to express pity for them. Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) is a shrewd and callous gangster who, it is suggested, profits from the sale of human beings.

The total disregard for human life is depicted in a scene where Ferrari offers to buy Rick’s friend and piano player, Sam, portrayed by Dooley Wilson (1886 – 1953). Rick refuses, saying “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” “Too bad”, Ferrari replies, “that’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”

Then there’s Signore Ugarte (Peter Lorre), the North African black market dealer who represents disorganised criminal who profits from the misery of others. Rick ignores his pleas for help as he is arrested for murdering two German couriers in order to steal non-rescindable, French General Marshal Weygand signed, letters of transit.

Ultimately, Casablanca is a film of redemption and human sacrifice. It asks its audience to not only imagine winning the loves of their lives but asks them to imagine giving them up for the greater good.

Rick starts out as a cynical and resentful anti-hero. “I stick my neck out for no one”, he tells us at one point. By the end of the film, he has been transformed into a selfless hero. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”, he tells Ilsa.

In the end, Casablanca shows the power of sacrifice and brotherly love over tyranny and evil. Even when everything is lost, hope can be found among those few human beings who are willing to put their personal needs aside and sacrifice themselves for others.

SKINNY REPEAL FAILS

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The latest attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare has failed after a senate vote of 49/51.  The defeat occurred after Republican Senator for Arizona, John McCain, Republican Senator for Maine, Susan Collins, and Republic Senator for Alaska, Lisa Murkowski crossed the floor to vote with the Democrats.

The latest attempt at repeal, known as ‘skinny repeal’, has been seen by many as a last ditch effort to repeal and replace certain elements of Obamacare.  It was met with opposition from Democrats, the Congressional Budget Office – who claimed it would leave sixteen million people uninsured (presumably because they would no longer be forced to pay for health insurance),  and health insurance companies – who claim that skinny repeal would be disastrous for the market.

In a statement, Senator McCain explained his reasons for voting against the repeal:

“While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens. The Speaker’s statement that the House would be ‘willing’ to go to conference does not ease my concern that this shell of a bill could be taken up and passed at any time.”

Both McCain and Murkowski supported a 2015 repeal and replace bill which was more extreme in its contents than the latest version. Collins, meanwhile, has never expressed any true desire to repeal and replace.

The mainstream media has responded to McCain’s decision by claiming that has “given a lot of Americans something to believe in.”  President Trump responded by tweeting: “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal. Watch!”

In the end, the latest defeat is not all doom and gloom. The fact that the latest vote was 49/51 shows how close the Republicans were to repealing and replacing Obamacare. It is perfectly possible for President Trump and other Republicans to find means to persuade McCain, Collins, and Murkowski to change their vote.

A DIVIDED HOUSE: JEFF SESSION’S RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP SOURS

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Tensions between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions continue to rise over Session’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

President Trump has been engaged in a series of attempts to publicly humiliate Sessions, who he blames for the Justice Department’s Russia probe.  On Twitter, and in public, Trump has expressed disappointment in Session’s decision, and has referred to him as ‘beleaguered’ and ‘weak.’

Sessions defended his decision to recuse himself, telling Fox News:

“I am confident I made the right decisions, a decision that is consistent for the rule of law. An  attorney general who doesn’t follow the law is not very effective in leading the Department of Justice.”

Sessions also referred to Trump’s attacks on him as ‘hurtful’, although he expressed sympathy commenting that the Russia investigation had been a ‘big distraction’ for the President:

“Well, it kind of is hurtful. But the president of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again. And he’s had a  lot of criticisms, and he’s steadfastly determined to get his job done, and he wants all of us to do our  jobs and that’s what I intend to do.”

The Trump-Sessions conflict may cause significant problems for the Trump Administration if it continues to fester.  Many Congressional Republicans have warned Trump against firing Sessions, pointing out that it may be seen as an attempt to kill the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP SIGNALS A CHANGE TO US MILITARY TRANSGENDER POLICY

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On Wednesday, Donald Trump announced on Twitter that his administration would be reversing the previous Obama administration’s decision to allow transgender individuals into the US military:

 “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States  Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical cost and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.  Thank you.”

The decision has been met with negative reactions from both Democrats and from disgraced soldier Chelsea Manning (who was convicted of releasing classified documents to Wikileaks and received a pardon from Barack Obama, presumably because he was transgender). Californian Democrat Senator Kamala Harris referred to it as “discrimination, plain and simple”, whilst Manning tweeted:

“So, biggest, baddest, most $$ military on earth cries about a few trans people but funds the F-35? Sounds like cowardice”

In June, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis made the decision to delay the Obama administration’s decision by six months to give military service chiefs the chance to review whether allowing transgender people to enlist would affect the military’s capabilities.

The order to allow transgender people to serve openly in the US Military, undergo gender reassignment surgery (paid for by the military), and change their gender in Pentagon systems.  Under the decision, military service personnel could not be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied re-enlistment purely only the basis of their gender identity.

 

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN STRICKEN WITH CANCER

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Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with primary glioblastoma, a highly malignant (cancerous) brain tumour. The tumour, which carries only a four-percent survival rate, was discovered during surgery to remove a blood clot in the eighty-year-old Senator’s brain.

The Mayo Clinic released the following statement in relation to the matter:

“On Friday, July 14, Sen. John McCain underwent a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix.  On Friday, July 14, Sen. John McCain underwent a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix.  Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumour known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot. Scanning done since the procedure (a minimally invasive craniotomy with an eyebrow incision) shows that the tissue of concern was completely resected by imaging criteria. The Senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care team. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.  The Senator’s doctors say he is recovering from his surgery ‘amazingly well’ and his underlying health is excellent.”

Similarly, McCain’s Senate office also released a statement:

“Senator McCain appreciates the outpouring of support he has received over the last few days. He is in good spirits as he continues to recover at home with his family. Senator McCain appreciates the outpouring of support he has received over the last few days. He is in good spirits as he continues to recover at home with his family in Arizona. He is grateful to the doctors and staff at Mayo Clinic for their outstanding care, and is confident that any future treatment will be effective. Further consultations with Senator McCain’s Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate.”

McCain, who endured torture during his years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, has received prayers and well-wishes numerous people in both politics and media. President Trump issued  a statement saying:

“Senator John McCain has always been a fighter. Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family. Get well soon.”

Ben Shapiro, conservative journalist and editor at large for the Daily Wire, referred to McCain as an ‘honourable man.’ Former President Barack Obama commented: “cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against”, whilst Steve Scalise tweeted that McCain was “one of the toughest people I know.”

 

 

HOUSE OF LORDS REPORT ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING

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The House of Lords has compiled a report to act as an overview on human trafficking across the globe, and in relation to the United Kingdom. The report, which was published on July 18th, 2017, has been published in preparation for World Day Against Trafficking on July 30th.

The United Nations General Assembly defines human trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016, which covered one-hundred-and-thirty-six countries between 2012 and 2014, found there to be 63, 251 victims of human trafficking in one-hundred-and-six countries and territories.

Similarly, the Home Office concluded there to be an estimated ten to thirteen thousand victims of human trafficking in the United Kingdom. These figures were confirmed to be the most likely to be accurate by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The House of Lords report, using NCA statistics, found that out of 3,805 potential victims of human trafficking:

  • 1,936, or 51%, were female
  • 1,864, or 48%, were male

Out of the 1,936 female victims of human trafficking:

  • 1,209 were exploited sexually, including
  • 888 adult females
  • 321 female children

Similarly, the same report found that out of the 1,864 male victims of human trafficking:

  • 1,325 were exploited for their labour, including
  • 925 adult males
  • 400 male children

The 2016 United Nations Human Trafficking Report, also found sexual and labour exploitation to be the most common. However, the same report found that human trafficking victims were also exploited by way of sham marriages, benefits fraud, pornography production, and illegal trade in human organs.

In 2015, the David Cameron Coalition Government enacted the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The legislation, which consolidated all previous anti-slavery and human trafficking legislation in the UK, required large businesses on reports on the steps they’re taking towards preventing and removing human trafficking in their supply chains, created an independent anti-slavery commissioner, created new maritime enforcement powers, and increased criminal penalties for human trafficking and slavery crimes.

 

 

 

 

WHITE HOUSE HOSTS AMERICAN COMPANIES FOR MADE IN AMERICA WEEK

 

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The White House hosted a showcase of American made products on Monday for ‘Made in America’ week. The products, made by companies across America, ranging from wool blankets to fire trucks, were showcased by company leaders on the South Lawn and on the State Floor.

Whilst touring the displays, President Trump donned a Stetson cowboy hat and, with Vice-President Mike Pence, even climbed into a fire truck.

The purpose of the showcase was to display the commitment and efforts of American companies in producing American products. Improving industrial relations and employment remains a key objective of the Trump administration. “Every member of my administration shares the same goal, to provide a level playing field for American workers”, President Trump stated.

President Trump went on to say: “we want to build, create, and grow more products in our country using American labour, American goods, and American grit. When we purchase products made in the USA, the profits stay here, the revenue stays here, and the jobs — maybe most importantly of all — they stay right here in the USA.”

During the event, President Trump signed a proclamation making July 17th ‘Made in America’ day,  and July 16th through 22nd ‘Made in America Week.’

 

ENGLAND AND WALES: MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE ON THE RISE AMONG THE OVER SIXTY-FIVES

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Couples aged sixty-five and older are getting married and divorced at greater rates in England and Wales, a recent release from the Office of National Statistics has revealed. The release reveals that the rates of marriage among couples aged sixty-five and older have increased from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014, an increase of forty-six percent.

ONS statistics reveal men to be taking up the lion’s share of this increase in marriage. In 2014, fifty-six percent of men aged sixty-five and over got married to younger women, compared to twenty-six percent of women. A statistic easily chalked up to the fact that men prefer younger women.

Divorce rates among the over-sixty-fives have also been on the rise. While divorce rates in England Wales have decreased by twenty-eight percent between 2005 and 2015, it has increased among older couples by twenty-three percent for men and thirty-eight percent for women. The ONS believes this increase to be the result of higher life-expectancy, higher rates of older workers, and an increase in the number of older people using the internet, particularly online dating.

Perhaps, as the ONS suggests, the increased rate of marriage and divorce among the over sixty-fives comes as a result of an ageing population. Between 2004 and 2014, the percentage of people aged sixty-five and older increased by twenty-percent.