23 Jul 2014

Kazimir Malevich Perfume Bottle

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malevich-perfume

Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) is currently enjoying a major retrospective at the Tate, devoted to “the fierce beauty” of his non-objective paintings, like Red Square (Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions), 1915, nothing other than an in-fact red square.

‘Charles,’ said Cordelia, ‘Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?’

“‘Great bosh.’

“‘Oh, I’m so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn’t try and criticize what we didn’t understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her.’”

Brideshead Revisited, Bk.II, ch.1

But Malevich was capable of more than great bosh. Just a few years earlier, needing money, the artist accepted a commission from Brocard & Co, a perfumier, to produce the above 8″ tall bottle.

23 Jul 2014

Deresiewicz Attacks the Ivy League

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Commons
Yale’s University Commons, the freshman dining hall

William Deresiewicz criticizes American elite education from what might almost be a conservative perspective, but in the end he thinks the answer has to be a Utopia in which “you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.” Good luck with that, Bill.

If there is one idea, above all, through which the concept of social responsibility is communicated at the most prestigious schools, it is “leadership.” “Harvard is for leaders,” goes the Cambridge cliché. To be a high-achieving student is to constantly be urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society. But what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to. I don’t think it occurs to the people in charge of elite colleges that the concept of leadership ought to have a higher meaning, or, really, any meaning.

The irony is that elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things. As of 2010, about a third of graduates went into financing or consulting at a number of top schools, including Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. Whole fields have disappeared from view: the clergy, the military, electoral politics, even academia itself, for the most part, including basic science. It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker. “What Wall Street figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.” …

Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school. It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate.

Deresiewicz is right and he is also wrong.

Elite culture in America always worshipped money and success. What is different today is that elite culture no longer respects its past or feels any meaningful connection to the rest of the country or the rest of society, except for recognized victims groups, patronage of which is useful for credentialing of the elite.

He’s right that race-based affirmative action is silly, and efforts at egalitarianism ought to be based on family finances and geographic representation. But, he fails to recognize that the education of national elites is not, in the end, about leveling. It is about building a leadership class, and our problem today is that American society has lost touch with its own identity and has replaced everything including conservation and transmssion of culture and paideia itself with left-wing power games based upon ressentiment.

23 Jul 2014

Undine Drops By

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Undine
Johann Heinrich Füssli, Undine kommt in das Haus der Fischer [Undine comes into the house of the fisherman], 1821, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

Via Theo.

22 Jul 2014

James Garner Memorial Posting

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Americans were saddened this week by the passing of the good-looking and always affable James Garner. It seems appropriate to remember Garner with a look at a few of his best-known roles.

Bret Maverick takes on Clint Eastwood (1959):

———————–

GarnerHartley

Garner’s late 1970s-early 1980s Polaroid commercials with Mariette Hartley were considered one of the advertising industry’s biggest hits. Garner tended to play the graceful loser in the battle of the sexes. Their badinage was so persuasive that a lot of people believed that Garner and Hartley were really married.

22 Jul 2014

Halbig v. Burwell Will Free More Than 57 Million Americans From The ACA’s Individual & Employer Mandates

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Tweet56

Michael F. Cannon, writing in Forbes before today’s DC Circuit opinion, describes the significance of the court’s decision striking down Obamacare subsidies on federal exchanges.

Halbig is one of four lawsuits challenging the legality of the health-insurance subsidies the IRS is dispensing in the 36 states that did not establish a health-insurance Exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare,” and thus have Exchanges established by the federal government. Though the PPACA repeatedly states those subsidies are available only “through an Exchange established by the State,” and there are indications IRS officials knew they did not have the authority to issue subsidies through federal Exchanges, the IRS is dispensing billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies through federal Exchanges anyway. The Halbig plaintiffs are employers and individuals from six federal-Exchange states who are being injured by the IRS’s actions because those illegal subsidies trigger taxes against them under the PPACA’s employer and individual mandates. The plaintiffs want relief from those illegal taxes, and the only way to get it is to ask federal courts to put a stop to the illegal subsidies. Recent media coverage of Halbig, driven by one-sided blog posts from the consultant group Avalere Health and the left-leaning Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has misrepresented the impact of a potential ruling for the plaintiffs by ignoring three crucial facts: (1) a victory for the Halbig plaintiffs would increase no one’s premiums, (2) if federal-Exchange enrollees lose subsidies, it is because those subsidies are, and always were, illegal, and (3) the winners under such a ruling would outnumber the losers by more than ten to one.

Avalere Health’s Elizabeth Carpenter blogs, “nearly 5 million Americans would receive an average premium increase of 76 percent if the courts ultimately rule that consumers in the federal exchange cannot receive premium subsidies.” In another brief post, Linda Blumberg, John Holahan, and Matthew Buettgens of the Urban Institute estimate “7.3 million people, or about 62 percent of the 11.8 million people expected to enroll in federally facilitated marketplaces by 2016, could lose out on $36.1 billion in subsidies.” These brief analyses are either misleading or outright false, because they fail to note three crucial facts.

First, a victory for the Halbig plaintiffs would not increase anyone’s premiums. What it would do is prevent the IRS from shifting the burden of those premiums from enrollees to taxpayers. Premiums for federal-Exchange enrollees would not rise, but those enrollees would face the full cost of their “ObamaCare” plans.

Critics will respond that, as dozens of economists who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the government have predicted, a Halbig ruling would also cause the full premium to rise by unleashing adverse selection. This claim is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Halbig and the PPACA. If a lack of subsidies in federal Exchanges leads to adverse selection, Halbig is not the cause. The cause is Congress tying those subsidies to state-established Exchanges, and 36 states refusing to cooperate. Halbig will not and cannot cause adverse selection. It merely asks the courts to apply the law as Congress enacted it.

Second, Avalere Health, the Urban Institute, and media outlets that have repeated their estimates typically neglect to mention that a victory for the plaintiffs would mean the second-highest court in the land ruled the Obama administration had no authority to issue those subsidies or impose the resulting taxes in the first place – that those taxes and subsidies are, and always were, illegal. Regardless of one’s position on the PPACA, we should all be able to agree that the president should not be allowed to tax and spend without congressional authorization. That’s what’s at stake in Halbig. It is why the Halbig cases are far more important than “ObamaCare.”

The termination of those subsidies and the taxes they trigger takes on an entirely different flavor when we introduce that small detail. …

[Which] doesn’t change the fact that 5 million people have been deeply wronged, it does clarify who wronged them: not the Halbig plaintiffs or a few judges, but a president who induced 5 million low- and middle-income Americans to enroll in overly expensive health plans with the promise of subsidies he had no authority to offer, and that could vanish with single court ruling.

Third, these reports and the ensuing media coverage uniformly neglect to mention that a victory for the Halbig plaintiffs would free not only those plaintiffs but tens of millions of Americans from the PPACA’s individual and employer mandates. Indeed, Halbig would free from potential illegal taxation more than ten times as many people as lose an illegal subsidy.

——————————-

And Jonathan H. Adler just reported the ruling striking down those subsidies in the Washington Post.

This morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit released its much awaited opinion in Halbig v. Burwell. In a 2-1 opinion, the Court held that the Internal Revenue Service regulation authorizing tax credits in federal exchanges was invalid. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, concluded, “the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges ‘established by the State.” In other words, the court reaffirmed the principle that the law is what Congress enacts — the text of the statute itself — and not the unexpressed intentions or hopes of legislators or a bill’s proponents.

22 Jul 2014

The Meaning of Life

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21 Jul 2014

“The Gunfighter”

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NSFW

Via Theo.

21 Jul 2014

The Evolution of Windows

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WindowsEvolution

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

21 Jul 2014

The 317,000,000 Country Solution

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317000000solution

The Onion has figured out the answer of how to achieve an enduring Middle East peace.

NEW YORK—Marking the latest and most ambitious attempt to bring stability to the region, the United Nations announced Wednesday that every single person in the Middle East will receive his or her own sovereign nation as part of a historic 317,000,000-state solution.

The broad and extensive compromise, which affects more than 3,000,000 square miles formerly occupied by the territories of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen, Egypt, and Jordan, will reportedly draw over 750,000,000 new borders in what experts claim will help drastically curb sectarian violence.

“Given the incredibly complex and volatile sociopolitical landscape throughout the Middle East, a 317,000,000-state solution is the only realistic means of achieving lasting peace,” said U.N. Security Council president Eugène-Richard Gasana, noting that the treaty was reached after lengthy negotiations, which brought together each of the more than 300,000,000 independent factions. …

“We are confident that with every man, woman, and child possessing his or her own autonomous area of sovereignty to run as he or she sees fit, we will avoid many of the conflicts that have plagued this part of the world for centuries and left countless dead,” Gasana added. “This is a bright new future for the Middle East.”

According to U.N. officials, the newly demarcated Middle East now consists of 8,000,000 independent Jewish states, 4,000,000 independent Palestinian states, 112,000,000 Shi’ite Islamic republics, 156,000,000 Sunni Islamic republics, and 19,000,000 Kurdish nations, as well as approximately 18,000,000 territories that include various Christian, Bahá’í, Druze, Zoroastrian, and secular countries.

Read the whole thing.

21 Jul 2014

Diplomacy

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stab

David Hill goes back in time to relive the scheming, the negotiations, and the double-dealing of the old-time board game Diplomacy.

If you’ve ever heard of Diplomacy, chances are you know it as “the game that ruins friendships.” It’s also likely you’ve never finished an entire game. That’s because Diplomacy requires seven players and seven or eight hours to complete. Games played by postal mail, the way most played for the first 30 years of its existence, could take longer than a year to finish. Despite this, Diplomacy is one of the most popular strategic board games in history. Since its invention in 1954 by Harvard grad Allan B. Calhamer, Diplomacy has sold over 300,000 copies and was inducted into Games Magazine’s hall of fame alongside Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble.

The game is incredibly simple. The game board is a map of 1914 Europe divided into 19 sea regions and 56 land regions, 34 of which contain what are known as “supply centers.” Each player plays as a major power (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, England, France, Russia, Germany) with three pieces on the board (four for Russia) known as “home supply centers.” Each piece can move one space at a time, and each piece has equal strength. When two pieces try to move to the same space, neither moves. If two pieces move to the same space but one of those pieces has “support” from a third piece, the piece with support will win the standoff and take the space. The goal is to control 18 supply centers, which rarely happens. What’s more common is for two or more players to agree to end the game in a draw. Aside from a few other special situations, that’s pretty much it for rules.

There are two things that make Diplomacy so unique and challenging. The first is that, unlike in most board games, players don’t take turns moving. Everyone writes down their moves and puts them in a box. The moves are then read aloud, every piece on the board moving simultaneously. The second is that prior to each move the players are given time to negotiate with each other, as a group or privately. The result is something like a cross between Risk, poker, and Survivor — with no dice or cards or cameras. There’s no element of luck. The only variable factor in the game is each player’s ability to convince others to do what they want. The core game mechanic, then, is negotiation. This is both what draws and repels people to Diplomacy in equal force; because when it comes to those negotiations, anything goes. And anything usually does.

Read the whole thing.

It’s been decades since I’ve played Diplomacy, but I remember that Hill is right about the game taking much too long. What he does not mention is how uneven the initial positions of the various countries are. England is sitting pretty, but nobody I ever saw ever won playing Turkey.

20 Jul 2014

German Compared to Other Languages

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20 Jul 2014

How Long Will the Dollar Remain the Reserve Currency?

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dollar-is-toast

Liam Halligan, in the Telegraph, wonders aloud.

It is this “exorbitant privilege” – as French statesman Valéry Giscard d’Estaing once sourly observed – that has been the bedrock of America’s post-war hegemony. It is the status of the dollar, above all, that’s allowed Washington to get its way, putting the financial squeeze on recalcitrant countries via the IMF while funding foreign wars. To understand politics and power it pays to follow the money. And for the past 70 years, the dollar has ruled the roost.

This won’t change anytime soon. Something just took place, though, which illustrates that dollar reserve currency status won’t last forever and could be seriously diluted. Last week, seven decades on from Bretton Woods, the governments of Brazil, Russia, India and China led a conference in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza to mark the establishment of a new development bank that, whatever diplomatic niceties are put on it, is intent on competing with the IMF and World Bank.

It’s long been obvious the BRICs are coming. The total annual output of these four economies has spiralled in recent years, to an astonishing $29.6  trillion (£17.3 trillion) last year on a PPP-basis adjusted for living costs. That’s within spitting distance of the $34.2 trillion generated by the US and European Union combined.

America’s GDP, incidentally, was $16.8 trillion on World Bank numbers, and China’s was $16.2 trillion – within a whisker of knocking the US off its perch. The balance of global economic power is on a knife-edge. Tomorrow is almost today.

Read the whole thing.

20 Jul 2014

New Research on Danish Bog Bodies

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TollandMan
Tolland Man

New research on Danish bog bodies from National Geographic.

[O]ngoing research is uncovering an entirely new dimension: When alive, these people of the bog may have instead been special members of their villages, which in the early Iron Age were loosely scattered across Denmark.

New chemical analyses applied to two of the Danish bog bodies, Huldremose Woman and Haraldskær Woman, show that they had traveled long distances before their deaths. What’s more, some of their clothing had been made in foreign lands and was more elaborate than previously thought. …

The research revealed that Huldremose Woman’s body contained strontium atoms from locales outside Denmark—showing she had traveled abroad before she ended up in the bog.

Another study published in 2009 by Mannering revealed that Huldremose Woman’s woolen garments—turned brown by the bog—were originally blue and red: Dyed clothing is a sign of wealth, she says. Mannering and colleagues also found a ridge in Huldremose Woman’s finger that may have indicated it once bore a gold ring before it disintegrated in the bog.

20 Jul 2014

Greek Sling Bullet

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SlingBullet1
SlingBullets1


British Museum

Object type: sling-bullet

Museum number: 1851,0507.11

Description: Lead sling bullet; almond shape; a winged thunderbolt on one side and on the other, in high relief, the inscription DEXAI “Catch!”

Culture/period: Classical Greek

Date: 4thC BC

Excavated/Findspot: Athens

Materials: lead

Dimensions: Length: 43 millimetres — Weight: 105.16 grammes

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