Myanmar’s New Parliament Holds Opening Session
Following the Myanmar general election which took place last November – the first open general election held in the country since an annulled vote of 1990 – on Monday the new parliament held its opening session.
In the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of Myanmar’s bicameral legislature, 255 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took their seats alongside 30 members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the nominally civilian political wing of the military council. 38 seats went to members of nine other parties plus one independent, while 110 seats in the house remain reserved for military appointees. In the Amyotha Hluttaw, the upper house, the NLD took 135 seats, with 11 for the USDP, 10 for the Arakan National Party, 12 others, and 56 seats reserved for the military.
This is the first freely elected parliament Myanmar has seen since the military coup of 1962, with political branches of the military having ruled the country ever since. Popular demonstrations which culminated in August 1988 saw the ruling military council agree to call multi-party elections, which were held in May 1990. The fledgling NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi – the daughter of Aung San, who in the 1940s had been influential in securing Burmese independence from Britain – emerged with 58.7% of the vote, but the military rejected the results.
Aung San Suu Kyi spent fifteen of the next twenty years under house arrest, until her release in November 2010. In April 2012 the NLD entered parliament for the first time, winning 41 of 44 contested seats at by-elections. With enough seats in parliament now for a majority over both the ousted USDP and those appointed by the military, the first act of parliament on Monday saw the NLD’s U Win Myint appointed as Speaker of the lower house. U Ti Khun Myat of the USDP will serve as his deputy.
The NLD’s control over parliament will allow it to determine Myanmar’s next president, a process which is due to be concluded next month when Thein Sein steps down from his post. But the constitution prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from taking the presidency herself, as both of her sons are registered as foreign citizens, British rather than Burmese.
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Kjarvalsstaðir Reopens as Part of Reykjavik Museum Night
The thirteenth iteration of Reykjavik’s Winter Lights Festival was held between Thursday and Sunday, intending to stimulate the cultural life of the city across some of the coldest days in the Icelandic year. The festival opened on Thursday with a ceremony, light show, and snowboarding party at Harpa concert hall, and its attractions included Museum Night on Friday and Pool Night on Saturday, before the fun came to a close with a Snow Fest on Sunday at Bláfjöll Ski Resort.
Organised by the City of Reykjavik, around 150 events were connected to the Winter Lights Festival, all free to attend. Museum Night meant the late opening, until midnight on Friday, of 40 of the city’s museums and art galleries, while Pool Night the following evening saw the late opening of ten geothermal swimming pools. Elsewhere there were guided tours of the city in several languages, dance and theatrical performances, live music, film screenings, fashion shows, yoga classes, lectures, and readings of poetry and literature.
Headlining Museum Night, the National Museum of Iceland offered special viewings of its temporary exhibits, including Breeze, which places black and white landscapes by the contemporary photographers Claudia Hausfeld, Daniel Reuter, Joakim Eskildsen, Kristín Hauksdóttir, and Lilja Birgisdóttir alongside images by Arngrímur Jónsson and Sigurður Tómasson from the museum’s permanent collection; A Woman’s Place, which examines the working lives of Icelandic women from 1915 to 2015; and Independent Mothers, a series on single mothers in Iceland photographed by the Canadian artist Annie Ling.
Meanwhile the National Gallery of Iceland provided guided walks in Icelandic, English, and French through the Þingholt neighborhood, stopping by the old studios of Ásgrímur Jónsson, Ásmundur Sveinsson and Einar Jónsson. Other exhibitions were put on by 700IS, the ASÍ Art Gallery, and the museums of Design and Applied Art, Photography, and Living Art. And events were hosted further afield at Hafnarborg and Gerður Helgadóttir’s studio in Kópavogurand.
Beyond late openings of Hafnarhús, which shows the collection of the postmodern artist Erró, and Ásmundarsafn, the former home and studio of the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, on Museum Night Reykjavik Art Museum reopened Kjarvalsstaðir after an extensive refurbishment. The specially designed building, which opened in 1973, is the permanent base for the paintings of Jóhannes S. Kjarval: a prolific artist who remains one of Iceland’s most beloved for his uniquely abstract landscapes, dense, vividly coloured, often utilising a flattened perspective which magnifies and embellishes the textures of the natural world, which strangely combine the Impressionist, Expressionist, Cubist, and Surreal.
Kjarvalsstaðir reopens with a new exhibition spanning both the building’s East and West galleries, entitled Jóhannes S. Kjarval: Mind and World. Many of the works on show come from the rarely-displayed private collection of Þorvaldur Guðmundsson and his wife Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir, covering the extent of Kjarval’s career, and incorporating key works such as Lífshlaupið (The Story of Life), a fantastical large-scale mural which the artist completed in 1933 in his studio on Austurstræti. Jóhannes S. Kjarval: Mind and World will run until 21 August.
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New York Fashion Week: Men’s
Launched last year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the second season of New York Fashion Week: Men’s took place between Monday and Thursday at Skylight Clarkson North in west Soho. Bomber jackets, monochrome, reversible tops and multifunctional zips, vaping, face paints, and outfits inspired by David Bowie were among the fledgling trends; Public School gave a public showing at Milk Studios, Tyson Beckford returned to the runway for Greg Lauren, and there was the debut of Brandon Capps and Shane Fonner’s Palmiers du Mal; with Duckie Brown, Tommy Hilfiger, Siki Im, Orley, and Alexander McQueen among the other names putting on display their fall collections.
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French Spelling Reforms Stir Upset Over Circumflex
Back in 1990 the Académie Française – the council whose forty fixed members, known as ‘les immortels’, determine all matters pertaining to the French language – suggested changes to around 2,400 French words. The intent was to standardise modern French, in the process making the language easier to learn. Among the Académie’s suggestions were the removal from many words of the circumflex (ˆ), the hat that sits atop the vowels and affects the pronunciation of a, e, and o, indicating the former presence of a consonant, typically the letter s, which has fallen away over the course of linguistic evolution. The Académie considered that the circumflex could be safely withdrawn from the vowels i and u, where the accent does not affect pronunciation.
Also advised by the Académie was the removal of the hyphen in compounds such as porte-monnaie (purse). Other incidentals included allowing the word onion to be spelled ognon as well as oignon, and switching chariot to charriot to better harmonise with charrette, both words for a type of cart. But the Académie’s revised spelling list was recommended rather than enforced, and while dictionaries carried both the old and new versions of words, habit and a fondness for old forms meant the circumflex and company remained commonplace.
This week an article by TF1, the French television channel, stirred feeling as it indicated that the 2,400 revisions suggested back in 1990 will become compulsory in schools starting from September. The news appears to follow several memos to the same effect issued quietly since 2008 by the Ministry of National Education – so quietly that the TF1 article was met with the shock and indignation of traditionalists and language purists, soon inspiring the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCirconflexe.
Le Parisien swiftly declared the changes ‘impossible to apply’, a student union group condemned education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem for ‘believing she was authorised to overturn the spelling rules of the French language’, and the president of the National Schools Union, Pierre Favre, explained ‘What makes this subject so controversial is that people are passionate about it. To change spelling touches on their childhood, reminds them of the pain, the effort, the successes needed to learn the rules and triumph. The circumflex accents are a kind of trophy’.
The furore compelled the education ministry to vow that the old spellings will continue to be accepted alongside the new, as the ministry averred ‘It’s just that the publishers of schoolbooks have got together and decided to apply the reforms as of the next school year’. The president of the school curriculum board, Michel Lussault, offered a rare defence of the reforms, acknowledging ‘This has been the official spelling in the Republic for 25 years. What is surprising is that we are surprised. There were strange spelling anomalies linked to historic shifts so the Académie really made sure these changes were understandable’.
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International Garden Photographer of the Year Competition 9
The winners of the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition were announced on Friday. Now in its ninth iteration, self-described as ‘the world’s premier competition and exhibition specialising in garden, plant, flower and botanical photography’, the announcement coincided with the opening of an annual exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The competition is open to photographers across the world, with no distinction drawn between amateurs and professionals. There are eight regular categories – ‘The Beauty of Plants’, ‘Beautiful Gardens’, ‘Wildlife in the Garden’, ‘Breathing Spaces’, ‘Bountiful Earth’, ‘Trees, Woods, & Forests’, ‘Wildlife Landscapes’, and ‘Greening the City’ – plus a Young Garden Photographer of the Year award for those under the age of sixteen. This year, special categories were held with the subjects ‘Captured at Kew’, ‘Capability Brown Today’, ‘Spirit of Swedish Gardens’, and ‘New Shoots’, with the competition also incorporating the European Garden Photography Award.
The overall winner this year was Richard Bloom, for his photograph of the blue lupins at Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand. The judges said:
‘This picture is totally immersive and a joy to behold. The eye is led to the horizon by the diagonals of the stream and the trees, with the cool blue notes in the foreground complemented by the warmth of the rising ground in the distance. The cobbles of the stream and endless lupins beautifully orchestrate the picture’s structure and texture whilst the trees soften the scene, making this an elegant symphony of plants and nature.’
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North Korea Announces Launch of Kwangmyongsong-4
Early on Sunday North Korea announced the launch of an earth observation satellite, Kwangmyongsong-4. The satellite was sent into orbit at 00:30 UTC using an Unha launch vehicle, from the Sohea Satellite Launching Station in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, close to North Korea’s northern border with China.
A statement broadcast on Korean Central Television hailed the success of the launch, affirming that the satellite had reached orbit less than ten minutes after lift-off, and depicting in grandiloquent terms ‘The fascinating vapour of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star’. North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration dubbed the occasion ‘an epochal event in developing the country’s science, technology, economy and defence capability by legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes’.
But North Korea’s critics, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea, were quick to condemn the launch, claiming its real purpose was to test banned missile technology. Unha is an expandable carrier rocket, which utilises a delivery system in common with the Taepodong-2 long range ballistic missile.
South Korea suggested it would begin discussing with the United States the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system, while US Secretary of State John Kerry called the event a ‘flagrant violation’ of UN resolutions and warned of ‘significant measures to hold the DPRK to account’. An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council later on Sunday saw its fifteen members unanimously decry the launch, with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon terming it ‘deeply deplorable’ and urging North Korea to ‘halt its provocative actions’.
The launch of Kwangmyongsong-4 bears similarities to the successful launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 at the end of 2012, but despite coming in at double the payload – with South Korean sources estimating the weight of Kwangmyongsong-4’s payload at 200kg – it is still thought to be too light for a functioning satellite. Sunday’s development swiftly follows the underground nuclear detonation carried out at the Punggye-ri Test Site on 6 January, which North Korea conveyed as the test of a hydrogen bomb, although other sources suggest the tested device was more likely a fission bomb.
Only China, North Korea’s closest ally, responded to Sunday’s launch with the language of conciliation, stating its ‘regrets’ but urging ‘relevant parties […] to refrain from taking actions that may further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula’.
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British Football Managers The Pits
By the end of the footballing weekend the Premier League table had taken a curious, almost Jekyll and Hyde form. The top ten places in the league were occupied by, in order, Leicester, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, West Ham, Southampton, Everton, Liverpool, and Watford. None of these teams currently possess a British manager, with only Liverpool labouring under a Brit during the early stages of the season, before determining to sack Brendan Rodgers in early October.
On the other hand Brits are commonplace among the league’s bottom ten clubs: Stoke, Crystal Palace, Chelsea, West Brom, Bournemouth, Swansea, Newcastle, Norwich, Sunderland, and Aston Villa. Of these only Chelsea have stumbled through the season without suffering the added indignation of a Brit in charge, Jose Mourinho being replaced in December by Guus Hiddink. Stoke, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Bournemouth, Newcastle, and Norwich have all endured Brits for the duration of the campaign. Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa and Garry Monk at Swansea faltered with their respective clubs until October and December, before being sacked in favour of Remi Garde and Francesco Guidolin. And Sunderland made the opposite gesture in October, when Dick Advocaat made way for Sam Allardyce.