American Museum of Natural History, Take 2

New York, Elk (?)
The American Museum of Natural History, like The Met, is so large it takes more than a day to see.  Here is a somewhat random selection of exhibits from our second visit.  Above we have elks …

New York, Mountain goats

… and these are Mountain Goats.  Just a couple of the many large three-dimensional dioramas, quite impressive in themselves though with a slightly archaic nineteenth century ethos to them.

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This is an opalised ammonite shell from Alberta (inland western Canada).  It is from 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were about to evaporate and Alberta was under the sea.

New York

This is a full scale replica of the Aztec Stone of the Sun.  It is twelve feet in circumference and the original weighs over twenty tons.  In the centre is the sun god Tonatiuh.

Mayan sculpture, American Museum of Natural History

A Mayan sculptural facade from the “nunnery” quadrangal at Uxmal in the Yucatan.  Removed in 1840.

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A model of The Castillo at Chichen Itza, in cutaway style to show an earlier building buried within, in a Mayan equivalent of Russian dolls.

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A model of Temple IV at Tikal.  The original is the highest of all Mayan buildings at 212 feet.

Model of Mayan temple in Tikal, American Museum of Natural History

A model of another Mayan building.  This might be the Red House at Chichen Itza, I’m not sure.

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An American Indian headdress from the Amazon.

2 November 2011.

Duke Robillard at the Iridium

Duke Robillard at the Iridium
The previous night we had turned up at the Iridium, intending to see Duke Robillard and saw the Les Paul Trio instead.  This night we saw Duke Robillard (music on MySpace).

Duke Robillard at the Iridium
Les Paul was also watching on from the wall.

Duke Robillard at the Iridium

New York

Duke Robillard at the Iridium
Duke Robillard is a Blues musician who also plays Jazz.  Most of his CDs are Blues but some are entirely Jazz.

Duke Robillard at the Iridium
He cofounded the band Roomful of Blues in 1967, which still continues to this day and left it in 1980.

Duke Robillard at the Iridium

New York
From 1990 to 1993 he played with The Fabulous Thunderbirds but after leaving Roomful of Blues has generally played in his own bands.

Duke Robillard at the Iridium

It was another great night of Blues with a small audience in an intimate setting.

1 November 2011

Halloween and Subway

Times Square, Halloween night

From the Les Paul Trio and the Iridium it was only a few metres to Times Square.  By now it was after midnight and since it was Halloween there were lots of people in strange costumes and much posing for photographs.

Times Square, Halloween night

Subway

A little later, we were down in the metro, waiting for a train.

Subway

A train turned up and most of the people climbed on.

Subway

The sax playing busker turns towards me in a moment of recognition.  The train is pulling away.

Subway

Another train is at the platform and the crowd has thinned out.

Subway

The sax player holds the attention of the few remaining people.

Subway

… and a bit further down the platform, people wait for the next train.

When the train left the station, it had two lights on behind
Well, the blue light was my baby and the red light was my mind

1 November 2011 (early morning).

(Posted out of sequence)

Islamic Art Exhibition at the Met

We made a special return to the Met to catch the opening of an Islamic Art exhibition.

Islamic Art Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)

Giv discovers Kai Khusrau
by Qadimi and ‘Abd al-Vahhab c. 1525-1530

After a seven-year search for the future Shah, the persistent Iranian knight Giv finally discovered the prince Kai Khusrau.  Faithful to the story, the painting features an idyllic spring landscape, the remoteness of which is indicated by the barren hill in the background.  The black pool next to Kai Khusrau and the stream flowing away from it would have originally been silver, which has now tarnished.

Islamic Art Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)

Bahram Gur Slays the Rhino-Wolf
by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz c. 1530-1535

Shah Shangul asked Bahram to rid the world of a monstrous rhino-wolf, which tore the hearts from lions and the skin from leopards.   Bahram strung up his bow and sped towards the rhino-wolf, pouring a mighty hail of arrows onto the beast.  In this painting, the image of the rhino-wolf breaks through the rulings of the painting into the marins, lending the composition dynamism and suggesting the extension of the setting beyond the confines of the page.

Islamic Art Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)

The Concourse of Birds
by Habiballah of Sava c. 1600

The poetic text of ‘Attar’s @Mantiq al’Tair comprises a series of parables narrated by the Hoopoe, who leads a gathering of birds on a difficult journey to find the mythic Simurgh.  Perhaps the best known image from the manuscript, this folio illustrates the small, crested hoopoe bird addressing his companions before their departure. This charming painting is one of four added to the original manuscript in the early seventeenth century at the court of Shah ‘Abbas (r. 1587-1629) and is signed by the painter Habiballah.

1 December 2011

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio at the Iridium

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio at the Iridium

Les Paul Trio

We had intended to turn up to see Duke Robillard but accidentally turned up to a Jazz band.  Duke Robillard was the next night.  Fortunately, they were very good indeed.

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio at the Iridium

Les Paul Trio

As well as that, the audience was quite small and we were able to sit very close to the band.

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio at the Iridium

Les Paul Trio with Marshall Crenshaw on the right

Les Paul invented the solid bodied electric guitar which was eventually commercialised as the Gibson Les Paul.  He also invented overdubbing (multi-track recording) and a number of techniques that later became influential in Blues and rock.

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio at the Iridium

Marshall Crenshaw & the Les Paul Trio

Les Paul was primarily a Jazz musician.  For many years he played every Monday night at the Iridium Club up until his death in 2009.  There are obviously more than three people here but I think it includes two of the trio who played with Les Paul.

31 October 2011

#Occupy Wall Street!

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park

On the 31st of October we visited Zuccotti Park, the focus of the Occupy Wall Street movement, still fully in place at this time.   The occupation had begun a little over a month earlier, on the 17th of September.  A fortnight after our visit, the police would clear all protestors from the park.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park

The Occupy Movement is remarkable as a practical exercise in anarchy.   There is a commitment to non-violent action and collective decision-making with no leadership and no hierarchy.

The people who gathered in Zuccotti Park were open and inclusive and provided food and shelter to all comers.  One unanticipated though predictable consequence was that they became a magnet for people such as the homeless and the mentally ill who Society has largely abandoned.  They did what they could to assist those people but they did not set out to be a welfare group and this often made political coordination more difficult.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park

“We are the 99%” is the clarion call of the Movement.  It refers to the vast inequality of income and opportunity in the United States in particular and Western societies in general.  It is an issue of key relevance to the vast majority of people.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park

The website Occupy Together also lists other key issues including excessive influence purchased by large corporations, student debt, home foreclosures due to irresponsible practices of banks, “too big to fail” banks, profiteering of private institutions in healthcare, a living wage to the 99% and budget cuts affecting the 99%.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park – Stencil for application to T-shirts

Starting here in Zuccotti Square, the movement spread across the world to 95 cities in 82 countries, with numerous Occupy camps such as this one.  Though all the camps are now gone, they had considerable political impact and the movement continues in other ways.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park – The tent city, with elements of Halloween

The USA has the most unequal income distribution of any developed country, far worse than the best examples of Japan and the Scandinavian countries.  In the early 1970s, the top 1% of earners in the US earned less that 10% of national income; by 2007 this proportion had risen to nearly 25%.  The contrast is even greater in terms of wealth.  The top 1% own 43% of US wealth, while the bottom 80% own 7% only.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

We can see a peak in this graph for the share of the top 1% in US income in 2007, just before the global financial crisis.   Tellingly, the previous peak was in 1928, just before the Great Depression and there has been a long fall and a sharp rise since then.

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Square

Occupy Wall St, Zuccotti Park.
(It is worthwhile clicking on this image to see it larger. There are many curious details).

Currently the top marginal tax rate in the US is 35% but it was not ever thus.  At the end of the Second World War it reached a high of 94%.   Through the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy years it stayed at 77%.  Even in 1972 when the top marginal rate was still 70%, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate George McGovern was alerting the electorate to the fact that over a certain level of income, effective payment of taxation actually declined.  By the end of the Reagan era the top marginal tax rate had declined to 28% and then it  recovered somewhat to 39.6% during the Clinton years.  Recent Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney provided a dramatic example of the extent to which very wealthy people can avoid taxation.  He declared that he paid 13% in taxation as though this was a virtuous level of contribution to the US economy & people and even then he was highly evasive.

New York

Building at the edge of Zuccotti Park

At this point in time, it’s hard not to characterise the US as a declining country.  In 1950 the US accounted for 50% of world income; this has now fallen to somewhere between 17% and 18%.  Yet the US still accounts for 50% of world military expenditure.  This is likely to be a significant factor in the relative economic decline because military expenditure usually contributes little to economic growth.  It is also self perpetuating because once in place, a large military generates demand for their own activities.  This is also a relatively recent phenomenon.  The Second World War was the first time that the USA did not demobilise after a war.

from Zuccotti Square

Buildings at the edge of Zuccotti Park

It is common for many in the US to eulogise about freedom.  Yet freedom without justice and equity is an illusion.  Poor people who are effectively deprived in terms of education, health, housing and work opportunities can never be free to exercise the same choices as the wealthier members of their communities.  This kind of dispossession is what a deterioration in the distribution of income produces.  It’s not unique to the US but the US is leading the way by a wide margin and it’s not a good form of leadership.    This is not just a social concern.  Such inequalities mean that opportunities are equally uneven and in the long term all will suffer as fewer opportunities are available to capable people in the vast majority of the population.  Consequently, the overwhelming proportion of those who vote to support trickle-down economics are directly undermining their own welfare.

Federal Reserve Police Car in front of Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which has the world's largest holdings of gold according to their web site.

Federal Reserve Police Car in front of Federal Reserve Bank of New York
According to their web site, they have the world’s largest holdings of gold stored here.

I think that remedial action for the US should include to bring back a 70% top marginal tax rate and to change the tax structure so that something equivalent applies in the private sector.   Also, to devise some effective restrictions on the salaries of those who can effectively determine their own levels of payment – politicians, judges, management in large companies.  Then there would be scope for providing genuine opportunities for all, building up infrastructure, repaying debt and crucially, making more progress on sustainable development.

George Washington, Wall St

Statue of George Washington at the Federal Hall National Monument in Wall St.
This is where he took the oath as first President of the US in 1789.  Federal Hall on this site was briefly the US’s first Capitol building though the original building was demolished in 1812.

The same factors apply to Australia and most other countries in the developed world, albeit so far to a lesser extent.  It is of course easier to point out the problems than to specify effective remedies that are politically feasible, particularly since the small minority with an excessive share of resources will resist, together with the institutions that represent them.  Even so, public opinion can make a big difference and the situation has been much better previously so maybe it can be again.

31 October 2011

Lower Manhattan

...

Initially we decided to visit La Liberté éclairant le monde (or the Statue of Liberty as it’s more generally known) but then we saw the queue.  We’re near the end of it here and it stretches out to the right, then back in the distance to the left and then zigzags through the distant building in the far left.  That building is where the ferry leaves and when you eventually get to the Statue you get to stand in a succession of queues again.  So we decided to move on.  You can see the Statue on the horizon in the distance above the runner’s head and the white shape in front of it is a ferry.

National Museum of the American Indian

So instead we found the National Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.  This was much more interesting.  The building was originally the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House which accounts for the maritime decorations in the main halls.

National Museum of the American Indian

This is a feather headdress or cape of the Mebêngôkre tribe from Brazil.  It is quite recent, dating only from 1990.  The collection is quite wonderful but I took few photographs, deciding at the time there was no point recording objects that I could do no justice to.  I did pick up a useful souvenir, though:  a book by Thomas Mann 1491 which offers an eye-opening account of native American societies prior to the arrival of Columbus.

New York

We wandered through Lower Manhattan and found a nice café for a bite to eat.

New York

Lower Manhattan Docks

On the other side of the island we came out at an historic docklands area.

New York

The smaller buildings behind the tall ships are a restored historic area.  The restoration doesn’t quite achieve authentic ambience however.  There is a curious absence of grime, drunken sailors and brothels.

Lower Manhattan Docks

The yellow flag at bottom right (just above the copyright notice) is a water taxi sign.  I think the catamaran coming in on the left is the water taxi though I’m not sure where it’s coming from.

Lower Manhattan Docks

This of course is a parking meter for gulls with Brooklyn Bridge in the background.  And in a clever piece of design flexibility, it doubles as coin-operated binoculars.