Felix Salmon presents the above chart, showing that the art market is actually remarkably stable, as “the top quintile of art works will always accounts for 90% of the value of the art sold”:
[T]he fact is, statistically speaking, that the distribution of art-market values never really changes at all. What’s true today was true yesterday, and was true a decade ago as well. The only difference is the way in which the art-market caravan has moved on and anointed a new set of art works as being the “masterpieces” worth spending insane amounts of money on.
Similarly, every season there’s breathless coverage of new auction records — a long list of artists, all of whom just saw a work sell for more money than that artist has ever received at auction before. The auction houses love to present those auction records as a sign that the market is particularly healthy. But in fact, it’s more of a sign of how fickle both the auction houses and the art market are. Each season, a new artist is hot, and sells for high prices; the superstars of yesteryear, by contrast, aren’t even accepted for auction at all, much of the time. Today’s masterpiece is tomorrow’s mildly embarrassing reminder of how bad our taste used to be.
Relatedly, Jed Perl fears that the “art world has become a fantasy object for the professional classes”:
To argue that an artist whose work sells for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars is superior to an artist whose work sells for millions is to invite condescension if not outright ridicule. The relationship between culture and commerce is frozen, with commerce invariably the winner.
Chris Beam praises a new Chinese film, A Touch Of Sin:
Critics argue that for all the movie’s negativity, it goes easy on the country’s highest powers. The villains are all rotten individuals: local officials, corrupt businessmen, highway robbers. Blame falls on bad men, not on the system. This notion squares nicely with President Xi Jinping’s recent anti-corruption campaign. The problem, according to this logic, lies in the greed of BMW-driving, Rolex-wearing local officials—not, say, the absence of rule of law, a functioning court system, or political accountability.
But this read doesn’t give Jia enough credit. It’s clear from the film that evil deeds stem at least in part from a crushing system. Dahai reaches for his gun only after trying and failing to petition the central government. Xiaohui snaps not just because his boss is cruel, but because the factory doesn’t have insurance to pay for his friend’s injury.
This isn’t exactly the image of China the Communist Party wants to project. Even though Jia cooperated with censors, agreeing to cut dialogue that was deemed inappropriate, the film’s takeaway—that violence is understandable, if not justified—can’t sit well with a government dealing with the fallout from two recent high-profileattacks. The irony of suppressing A Touch of Sin, of course, is that the movie is about the unintended consequences of suppression.
“The problem of poverty is complicated, different in important respects from in the past, and defies simplistic partisan explanations. The solutions certainly extend beyond the actions of government. Indeed, misguided government policies have done a great deal to perpetuate inter-generational poverty. But it’s hard to argue that politics and government don’t have significant roles to play, direct and indirect, both in putting an end to failed policies and in supporting what works. And certainly the Republican Party has to do better than declaring utter indifference to the poor (which was the approach some otherwise very impressive individuals took in the 2012 presidential race).
Helping those most in need should be considered more than a peripheral virtue; and like Jews and Christians of old, we should all make more room in our moral imaginations for the care of the poor. Certainly if we’re told that God identifies with the least of these, so should we,” – Pete Wehner, Commentary.
Foreigners are well advised to begin with Sie, but they should not be surprised at how quickly Germans may now switch to du. Just after my first lunch with the press spokesman for a big German company, for example, I was surprised to hear, as we said goodbye, “by the way, my name is Thomas.” We’ve been du ever since.
Robert Lane Greene sees Sie going the way of “thou”:
This spreading informality has been slower in Asian languages (which often have more elaborate systems of pronouns and honorifics than the mere formal “you”). But in Europe, the change may be unstoppable. This is a result of the breakdown in respect for traditional authority (elders, the upper classes, the church, etc), which began in the 1960s. But also it is probably accelerated by the more recent breakdown in the distinction between private and public. In age of share-everything social media, when everyone has hundreds of “friends,” it’s little surprise that formality is falling from fashion.
Jathan Sadowski uses flimsy logic in being against kids learning computer programming. Of course, illiteracy is a problem and should be addressed, but nobody is arguing to sacrifice the study of history, music or gym to tackle the problem. Assuming it is a matter of allocating time and resources, I truly believe that most Americans would be better served learning coding basics, in both a practical and educational way, rather than any math beyond basic algebra and geometry.
I’m not sold on the idea that coding should be mandatory in K-12 education, but I do think it is important. Actually, I think it’s important enough that it should be a included in the core curriculum requirements for any college graduate. I say this because, as a recent college grad, an overwhelming percentage of jobs I’m looking to apply for require some coding experience. I’m going back to school next semester to take two coding classes. The hope is my new knowledge will open up job opportunities I might otherwise have missed out on.
I learned some basic coding in Matlab during undergrad, and I thought I would hate it, but it was great.
A victim of both domestic abuse and vengeful former assistants, the British chef Nigella Lawson found herself on trial today for past use of cocaine and pot. It’s a gruesome story, and the tabloid vultures were circling when I was over in London last week. I can’t help but feel for any woman held hostage by a bullying husband. You can read the full story here. Money quote:
In five hours of testimony, she painted a picture of a 10-year marriage to Saatchi that was “difficult at many stages and also deeply happy at some stages”. She said it included moments of “intimate terrorism” and spoke of Saatchi’s “emotional abuse that was very wounding and difficult”, “bullying” and how she believed he had set his lawyers onto her with a simple instruction: “get her”.
Lawson described how Saatchi held her by the throat in a photographed incident at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, not because he believed she had been taking cocaine but because she remarked she was looking forward to being a grandmother. “He grabbed me by the throat and said ‘I am the only person you should be concerned with. I am the only person who should be giving you pleasure’”.
That’s a rather brilliant description of domestic abuse, isn’t it? “Intimate terrorism.”
American officials plan to present the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with detailed ideas about security arrangements on the West Bank under a possible peace agreement with the Palestinians, senior State Department officials said on Wednesday.
That suggests a newly confident Obama administration willing to knock a few heads (at last) to get a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. As with the potential Iran detente, such a detailed proposal would call Israel’s bluff about a two-state solution and unite almost all the great powers in favor of a sane, sensible partition instead of Greater Israel’s demographic and democratic suicide. Again, it’s worth looking at the long game here. Obama will likely get nothing out of the Congress but obstruction and nihilism and maybe impeachment in the rest of his term; but he has the ACA under his belt and the Iranian rapprochement abroad to concentrate on. Both, as I’ve argued before, are historic shifts in US policy, domestic and foreign. And both remain potentially huge legacies for the first black president. Do not be surprised if the last meep is on Netanyahu.
(Photo: Nigella Lawson leaves Isleworth Crown Court after giving evidence on December 4, 2013 in Isleworth, England. Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, who worked as assistants to Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi, are accused of defrauding them of over 300,000 GBP. By Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.)
This time around they gave another meh performance (NYT) on the Programme for International Student Assessment, a standardized test administered every three years to 15-year-old students around the world:
[Americans] score in the middle of the developed world in reading and science while lagging in math, according to international standardized test results being released on Tuesday. While the performance of American students who took the exams last year differed little from the performance of those tested in 2009, the last time the exams were administered, several comparable countries – including Ireland and Poland – pulled ahead this time. As in previous years, the scores of students in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea put those school systems at the top of the rankings for math, science and reading. Finland, a darling of educators, slid in all subjects but continued to outperform the averages, and the United States.
Joshua Keating is one of many bloggers calling out China for gaming the exam:
The three “countries” at the top of the PISA rankings are in fact cities – Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong – as is No. 6, Macau. These are all big cities with great schools by any standards, but comparing them against large, geographically dispersed countries is a little misleading. Shanghai’s No. 1 spot on the rankings is particularly problematic. Singapore is an independent country, obviously, and Hong Kong and Macau are autonomous regions, but why just Shanghai and not the rest of China?
As Tom Loveless for the Brookings Institution wrote earlier this year, “China has an unusual arrangement with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the organization responsible for PISA. Other provinces took the 2009 PISA test, but the Chinese government only allowed the release of Shanghai’s scores.” As you might imagine, conditions in a global financial capital are somewhat different from the rest of China, a country where 66 percent of children still live in rural areas. … Despite this, we’re likely to see quite a few headlines, as we did in past years, about “Chinese” students outperforming Americans.
An exasperated Rick Hess calls the international tests “a triennial exercise in kabuki theater”:
[T]he whole things provides a depressing excuse for the usual suspects use PISA as an excuse to shill their usual wares. Common Core boosters cheered for that. Dennis van Roekel said it’s all about poverty. Arne Duncan touted the need to embrace Obama administration reforms. Yawn.
“What Democrats know keenly — and Republicans seem never to learn — is that positive beats negative every time. Thus, we see MSNBC’s clever montage of Republican negativity: A series of unfriendly faces decrying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with apocalyptic language. Which would any everyday American prefer? The healer or the doomsayer? The elves or the orcs?” – Kathleen Parker.
Perhaps the most important development of the last year – and it overlapped with Benedict’s ill-fated regnum – is that the question can now actually be discussed. Here are some practical, modest reforms on the table:
Expand the number of women in professional roles in each dicastery. Increase the number of women who serve on advisory councils to each pontifical congregation and council, and expand the pool of candidates who are called to serve in such advisory roles. Restore women to diaconal ministry. Appoint women to the diplomatic corps and to the communications apostolate. Ensure in the selection of bishops that criteria include a candidate’s ability to relate well to women. Review the current Lectionary and reclaim the many Scriptural passages with women as protagonists that have been left out of the readings heard at Mass. Ponder the effect and impact such exclusion has had over time in the catechesis and participation of women and girls in the life of the church. We also address the perceptions many have of the church with regard to its treatment of women. One suggestion is to consider as a theme for the pope’s next celebration of the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, “The Church in Solidarity with Women and Girls.” Perceptions matter.
America magazine – which scored the exclusive interview with Francis – recently devoted an entire issue to the question of women in the church. It’s a rich, challenging read.
Derek Thompson, who recently lost his mother to a 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer, reflects on the emotional toll of watching her die:
We never spoke of the food she couldn’t eat, the thick hair she couldn’t grow back, or the weight she couldn’t keep. Instead, riding home from New York once a month and bounding onto her bed, I’d serve a feast of happy stories harvested from a life spent trying not to worry. I cried often, but privately, in the stairway at work, on the train behind a pair of sunglasses, and in my apartment, indulging a memory behind a locked door. But I only lost it twice in front of her, both times trying to say the same thing: What makes me saddest isn’t imagining all the things I’ll miss, but imagining all the things you’ll miss. The wedding dances, the wine-fueled parties, her birthday cards, each emblazoned with ludicrously incorrect ages. For Mom, who drew kinetic energy from every drip of living, as if by photosynthesis, and braved the winter of life with spring in her heart, smiling like a sweet little maniac all the way to the end, cancer was such cosmic robbery.
Two weeks ago, transcribing [grief researcher George Bonanno's] interview in a coffee shop in New York, I was typing this passage:
“In the Asian cultures, the idea is that the person isn’t really gone. You honor them. You appease them. You can still make them happy, elsewhere.”
Tears burned in the gutters as I reread those words. “You can still make them happy.” It would be so nice to think so. But for those of us who cannot believe in God and afterlives, this is just one of the things you lose forever when you lose a person: the ability to make them happy.
This year the US ranked 19th out of 177 countries and territories, with an overall score of 73. Scores range from zero to 100, with a higher score indicating less corruption. While the US score remained unchanged from last year, other countries have improved their performances relative to the US. The UK, for example, which was ranked 17th in 2012 with a score of 74, has now climbed to 14th place. Denmark and Finland share the top spot.
Afghanistan’s score on the CPI also remains unchanged in 2013 – as does the fact that it continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the index. Afghanistan scored an 8 on the CPI this year. This is the lowest score listed on the index, and is shared by Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea.
Myanmar jumped from #172 in 2012 to #157 in the index, the largest single change in this year’s report. This leap in the rankings largely stems from positive perceptions of the country’s democratic reforms as it shifts away from its recent history of authoritarianism. But, as the report notes, those perceptions are not reflective of an actual decrease in corrupt practices, which is all but impossible to measure given the deliberately obscure nature of corruption. …
We’re at the same level of the food chain, technically:
[Ecologists] have a statistical way of calculating a species’ trophic level – its level, or rank, in a food chain. And interestingly enough, no one ever tried to rigorously apply this method to see exactly where humans fall. Until, that is, a group of French researchers recently decided to use food supply data from the U.N Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to calculate human tropic level (HTL) for the first time. Their findings, published today in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, might be a bit deflating for anyone who’s taken pride in occupying the top position: On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the score of a primary producer (a plant) and 5 being a pure apex predator (a animal that only eats meat and has few or no predators of its own, like a tiger, crocodile or boa constrictor), they found that based on diet, humans score a 2.21 – roughly equal to an anchovy or pig. Their findings confirm common sense: We’re omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals, rather than top-level predators that only consume meat.
To be clear, this doesn’t imply that we’re middle-level in that we routinely get eaten by higher-level predators—in modern society, at least, that isn’t a common concern—but that to be truly at the “top of the food chain,” in scientific terms, you have to strictly consume the meat of animals that are predators themselves.
(Photo of onion and anchovy pizza from Flickr user Elin B)
Arit John summarizes remaining legal challenges to the ACA. A big one:
As we explained earlier this year, Halbig v. Sebelius is a case launched by conservative small business owners in states using the federal exchange. They argue that, because the Affordable Care Act only specifically mentions subsidies for exchanges ”established by the state,” the federal exchange can’t grant subsidies. And if they can’t get subsidies, then the insurance becomes unaffordable, so they want the court to block the IRS from implementing the law. The government argues that, obviously, they meant for everyone to get subsidies, and the case is ignoring all the prep work the administration has done to provide subsidies in all states.
David Trujillo waits for a bus to work, in bone chilling temperatures, in Lakewood, Colorado on December 4, 2013. A larger winter storm has moved into much of Colorado bringing freezing temperatures and snow. By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images.
“I think that we should proceed with sanctions so that the Iranians know that this is not an American deal with them … this is a Kerry/Obama deal with them and that the rest of Congress is not behind them,” – GOP congressman Duncan Hunter, in an interview in which he also supported nuclear war on Iran.
This man is not a fringe character. He is senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee. In contemplating whether to give Republicans control over foreign policy again, we truly have to grasp how radical they have become. Pre-emptive nuclear war is where the logic of neo-conservatism is leading us.
Update from a reader:
You’ll probably get a ton of emails about this, but Duncan D. Hunter isn’t a senior member of House Armed Services. He’s a member, alright, but pretty rank and file; it’s only his third term in Congress and he’s not even a subcommittee chair. The confusion is easy, though, because his father, who he replaced – also Duncan Hunter – was chairman of the committee for two Congresses before running for president in 2008.
A report released yesterday by the National Research Council (NRC) cautions that “the uncertainties associated with passing tipping points in the climate system are dangerously large.” Dan Vergano puts it in context:
The new report differs from past ones in taking continued global warming as inevitable and looking for impacts on humanity and animals, not just geophysical and weather effects like melting glaciers or drought. “The report is a break from the past in that it includes abrupt changes in the environment that can result from even small, steady increases in temperature or other climate change effects,” says geoscientist Peter Clark of Oregon State University in Corvallis, who was not on the report panel. “I think that is an important point [that] the report is making.” …
In coming decades, the report forecasts a high risk of the disappearance of summertime Arctic sea ice—an abrupt climate change impact already under way—and extinctions in the ocean and on land.
[T]here is no reason that the drones cannot be incorporated into a hub and spoke model of their own. I think people are taking video Bezos showed to 60 Minutes of a drone leaving the warehouse and going straight to someone’s home a little too literally. You could, for one example, have the autonomous robots … loading packages into self-driving trucks that transport the packages on highways to just outside the city limits. Then once they’ve covered the longer haul from the fulfillment center to just outside the city the top of the truck opens and the delivery drones come out to fly to the final destinations. This would focus the drones on the notoriously expensive “last mile problem” of transportation, and would mean you don’t need thousands of drones making a redundant journey from warehouse to city limits.
Chinese entrepreneurs are already toying with commercial applications for drones: