Friday, August 28, 2015

Viking Coins of Llandwrog

Back in March, a metal detectorist found a horde of Viking silver in Llandwrog, Wales, which just became one of my favorite place names. Study of the horde shows that it was deposited between about 1020 and 1030.

Some of the coins were minted for Sihtric Anlafsson (989-1036), one of the Norse kings of Dublin.

To understand the Viking world you have to turn your mind around and imagine things centered, not at any place on land, but at sea; that was the Vikings' true home, and they and their coins might turn up on any bit of land to which their sea might take them.

Can the Government Get Children to Eat Vegetables?

The Agriculture Department rolled out new requirements in the 2012 school year that mandated that children who were taking part in the federal lunch program choose either a fruit or vegetable with their meals.

...."The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no," Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Not only that:
Because they were forced to do it, children took fruits and vegetables -- 29 percent more in fact. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables actually went down 13 percent after the mandate took effect and, worse, they were throwing away a distressing 56 percent more than before.
Can we please stop putting silly mandates on school systems when they already have enough to do?


The world belongs to me because I understand it.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


I suspect this is just the journalistic hype of a slow news summer, but for what it's worth I am starting to see a lot of scenarios like this:
Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.

Political analyst Tom Charles Huston predicts the establishment Republican presidential candidates will sputter—Trump quipped Jeb Bush puts his audiences to sleep—and the business “donor class” elite will desert them, happy to support Hillary or Joe Biden to advance their crony capitalism rather than moving to a conservative with an edge who might be able to confront Trump—and them.

If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to see any opponent who could rally South Carolina two weeks later, or Nevada. Then on March 1 a half-dozen Southern states will split the opponent’s ranks further. On March 15 Bush could be ousted by Marco Rubio in Florida, with John Kasich winning by a smaller than expected margin in Ohio. Trump could win by losing, saying they were only favorite sons. No one would be left anyway. If he wins either state, it is all over.

So what was impossible a few weeks ago now becomes a real possibility.
If you ask me, better Trump than Scott Walker or Ted Cruz.

The Mildenhall Treasure

The Mildenhall Treasure is a major hoard of Roman silver tableware allegedly found near Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. Based on the style of the work, it has been dated to the fourth century. The hoard consists of:
two large serving platters, two small decorated serving plates, a deep fluted bowl, a set of four large decorated bowls, two small decorated bowls, two small pedestalled dishes, a deep flanged bowl with a deep, domed cover, five small round ladles with dolphin-shaped handles, and eight long-handled spoons (cochlearia).
The circumstances of the discovery are obscure. The hoard "came to the attention of the authorities" (a phrase repeated by wikipedia and the British Museum) in the spring of 1946. In inquest was held that summer, and the hoard was held to be "treasure trove" and therefore the property of the crown. At the inquest, Gordon Butcher said he had found the hoard while plowing n 1942 and dug it up with help from Sydney Ford, for whom he was working at the time. The men said they did not immediately notify the police because they did not realize what they had found. This unconvincing tale led to rampant speculation about the actual origin of the hoard. Because at that time no comparable hoard of Roman silver had been found in Britain, some historians said it must have come from the continent. Since then a handful of other Roman silver hoards have been found in Britain, so that argument is no longer taken very seriously, but there are still experts who dismiss Butcher and Ford's story as a fabrication.

The "Great Dish," and details. The set as a whole seems to depict mainly the rites of Bacchus, but the central image on this dish is Neptune with dolphins in his beard.

A platter.

The two smaller dishes.

The cover.

A bowl. You can see that this is heavy stuff, not thin or flimsy.

Spoon. Each of the many hoards that have been found around the Roman world must have had a story. Only one of the wealthiest and most prominent families of the empire could have owned such a set, so it must have been hidden because of some great turmoil. Could it have been when Constantine proclaimed himself emperor at York, in 306, and took most of Britain's legions to the continent? During the major barbarian incursion of 367-368? Or was it some strictly local, family matter, like a disputed inheritance? To me, wondering about these things raises these objects from the merely lovely to the magnificent and mysterious.

How Much Does a Word Matter?

Thanks to Kevin Drum, I have discovered a nationwide movement to change how we talk about automobile accidents. Emily Badger in the Post:
An "accident" is, by definition, unintentional. We accidentally drop dinner plates, or send e-mails before we're done writing them. The word also suggests something of the unforeseen — an event that couldn't have been anticipated, for which no one can be blamed. That second connotation is what irks transportation advocates who want to change how we talk about traffic collisions. When one vehicle careens into another or rounds a corner into a pedestrian — call it a "crash," they say, not an "accident."

"Our children did not die in 'accidents,'" says Amy Cohen, a co-founder of the New York-based group Families for Safe Streets. Her 12-year-old son was hit and killed by a van on the street in front of their home in 2013. "An 'accident,'" she says, "implies that nothing could have been done to prevent their deaths."
Whoa. Since when does calling something an accident mean nobody was at fault, or that nothing can be done about it? That is, I would say, simply wrong. An accident is something that was done unintentionally, nothing more. Most traffic accidents, to take just one example, are found to be the fault of one driver or the other. Another activist:
"If we stopped using that word, as individuals, as a city, in a national context, what questions do we have to start asking ourselves about these crashes?" says Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives. How did they happen? Who was to blame? An erratic driver? A faulty vehicle? A perpetually dangerous intersection?
Like Drum, I am baffled by this. Are these people saying that we as a society don't care about traffic deaths and are not doing anything about the problem? Drum:
I'm mystified. We already do all that stuff. Collisions are routinely investigated. Fault is determined. The NTSA tracks potential safety problems in vehicles. Municipal traffic departments make changes to intersections. We pass drunk driving laws. We suspend the licenses of dangerous drivers.
After Drum published his first post on the issue, dozens of people took him on on Twitter: 
@DroptheAword: 30k people die on US roads each yr. Acceptance of this as inevitable comes from the “accidents happen” mindset.

@jakekthompson: Calling a crash an "accident" takes blame away from the cause, and removes incentive to fix the problem.
This is magical thinking. Changing the words we use does not change the world; I would say that it rarely changes much of anything. Sometimes it makes people feel better -- which is not an insignificant thing -- but if what you want is to reduce traffic fatalities, you need a better approach.

Reducing the rate of accidents in any dangerous system is a very hard problem. I have written here before about the ongoing battle to reduce hospital errors, which are usually called errors rather than accidents but have not as a result magically disappeared. One thing safety experts say about all such situation is that blaming people who mess up does no good: "Telling people to be careful is not effective." Instead the focus has shifted to designing systems to make human error much less likely. For driving that means separating the lanes of traffic using median strips and roundabouts, and installing sensors and automatic braking systems in cars. One common kind of accident was almost eliminated by designing transmissions so that you can't put the car in gear without having your foot on the brake.

That is taking the problem seriously; tweeting about the word "accident" is not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Spartan Bull

Bull's head rhyton from the excavations at Ayios Vassileios near Sparta, where a Mycenaean palace has been under excavation since 2008.

Daniel Tjongari

Indonesian photographer, born 1977. A portfolio of these storm images has been making the rounds on Tumblr.

But if you visit his web site you discover that he has done all sorts of striking stuff. (Also here.)

This is the ninth century Buddhist temple of Borodur on Java.

Today's Extraordinary, Remarkable, Unbelievable News

Can it really be that this happens in America?
The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress.
Generals exaggerating their success! Unheard of! The next thing you know, salesmen will start exaggerating the merits of their products, professors will exaggerate the novelty of their research, and fishermen will start claiming that the really big one got away.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dave Kleinschmidt, Tridents

Tridents brought as offerings to Guna Devi, near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

The God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

– C.P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Dismaland: What's the Point?

In the English un-paradise of Weston-super-Mare, graffitist Banksy and a bunch of other artistes have erected a sort of faux theme park they call Dismaland. You go there, get roughly frisked by rude guards at the gate, and then wander around being insulted by performers in various booths and admiring grim scenes, which I guess is supposed to show your superiority to the people who go to Disneyland. Mostly I don't really care what Banksy, Damien Hurst, and their ilk are up to, but this installation, or artscape, or whatever it is, is calculated to irritate me and all of my tribe. It inspires people to say things like:
Naomi Woodspring, 66, an academic visiting from nearby Bristol, where she lives, contrasted Banksy’s show with an installation based on Thomas More’s Utopia that she recently attended in London, saying that she saw in Banksy’s exhibition “a visioning of real change.” She added, “It pushes us to envision a whole other way of being, and to begin to live that way of being.”

I don't understand how anybody can look at this and be inspired to anything. What change? What way of being? Isn't there enough rudeness in the modern world without adding to it in the name of art? Most days I just think, you have your thing, I have mine. But sometimes they get to me. They get to me because I think there is something inherently defeatist about the whole culture of artistic negativism. Artists have been skewering the bourgeoisie for so long that there is no longer any target left to aim at, just a pile of dirty straw and a few shreds of red and yellow cloth. Saul Bellow wrote an essay about these people back in 1965 to which I have little to add:
The fact that there are so many weak, poor and boring stories and novels written and published in America has been ascribed by our rebels to the horrible squareness of our institutions, the idiocy of power, the debasement of sexual instincts and the failure of writers to be alienated enough. The poems and novels of these same rebellious spirits, and their theoretical statements, are grimy and gritty and very boring too, besides being nonsensical, and it is evident now that polymorphous sexuality and vehement declarations of alienation are not going to produce great works of art. . . .

The separatism of writers is accompanied by the more or less conscious acceptance of a theory of modern civilization. This theory says in effect that modern mass society is frightful, brutal, hostile to whatever is pure in the human spirit, a Waste Land and a horror. To its ugliness, its bureaucratic regiments, its thefts, its lies, its wars and its cruelties, the artist can never be reconciled. This is one of the traditions on which literature has lived uncritically. But it is the task of artists and critics in every generation to look with their own eyes. Perhaps they will see even worse evils, but they will at least be seeing for themselves. They will not, they cannot permit themselves, generation after generation, to hold views they have not examined for themselves. By such willful blindness we lose the right to call ourselves artists; we have accepted what we ourselves condemn -- narrow specialization, professionalism, snobbery and the formation of a caste.

Unfortunately the postures of this caste, postures of liberation and independence and creativity, are attractive to poor souls dreaming everywhere of a fuller, freer life.  The writer is admired, the writer is envied. But what has he to say for himself? Why, he says, just as writers have said for more than a century, that he is cut off from the life of his own society, despised by its overlords who are cynical and have nothing but contempt for the artist, without a true public, estranged. He dreams of ages when the poet or the painter expressed a perfect unity of time and place, had a real acceptance and enjoyed a vital harmony with his surroundings -- he dreams of a Golden Age. In fact, without the Golden Age there is no Waste Land.

Well, this is no age of gold. It is only what it is. Can we do no more than complain about it? We writers have better choices. We can either shut up because the times are too bad or continue because we have an instinct to make books, a talent to enjoy, which even these disfigured times cannot obliterate.

From what I have seen, there are actually a few flashes of wit in Dismaland, including the statue above. I like what this guy says:
Trey Cruz, 40, who lives in Seattle and works in software development, had a more laid-back take on the exhibition. Mr. Cruz took himself on a monthlong tour of Europe to celebrate his birthday this month. He canceled his flight home when he heard about Banksy’s show; checked into a hotel on Saturday; and visited the show Saturday and Sunday. “I just like that I’ve met a ton of people,” he said. “Just kind of randomly ended up, like, walking around with some people for a little while, then went and met other people.”
That is the only way I can stand preachy modernism; as a conversation starter. Sometimes it is fun to look at this sort of stuff with your friends and mock it or enjoy it as the spirit moves you. But meaning? Change? New ways of being? Please.

Whining is what toddlers do. Artists should have something more to offer.

Brent Scowcroft Endorses the Iran Deal

Another sane Republican, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, has endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran:
Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends. We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve. And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful. . . . I urge strongly that Congress support this agreement.

My generation is on the sidelines of policymaking now; this is a natural development. But decades of experience strongly suggest that there are epochal moments that should not be squandered. President Nixon realized it with China. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush realized it with the Soviet Union. And I believe we face it with Iran today.
Scowcroft was one of the architects of U.S. policy during the first Gulf War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, and he opposed the invasion of Iraq, so I think he has some right to speak on these issues.

The Cruciform Monument of Manishtushu

This fascinating object was found during British excavations in Sippar, Iraq, in 1881 and is now in the British Museum.

It purports to be a grant from the Akkadian King Manishtushu (reigned 2276-2261 BCE) to the temples in Sippar. For example
From Abshan to Akshak east of Durdanum, thirty-eight townships were released to Shamash. I did not covet their labor, and did not call them up to service; they labor for the E-babbar only.
The text concludes,
This it is not a lie, it is the truth. He who damages this monument, let Enki fill up his canals with slime! Let Ninhursaga stop childbirth in his land! Though he make plans, let Adad smash them, and reap in all his descendants!
The style of writing appears at first to be ancient. But it is not; the cruciform monument is a fraud perpetrated in the Neo-Babylonian period, around 600 BCE. Careful examination of the language shows that it is not really ancient Akkadian, and it uses words not attested until a thousand years later. Not only that, but the scribes made an interesting mistake. The monument was recovered from the temple archive. Not far away another copy of the text was found, but this one in correct Neo-Babylonian, with none of the archaisms of the monument. The supposed ancient text recreates the word order and some of the vocabulary of the Neo-Babylonian version, even when they violate the conventions of Old Akkadian. The allegedly ancient version is obviously a translation of the newer text, rather than the other way around.

As to how scribes of 600 BCE knew how to write in the style of 2200 BCE,that is the most interesting part of the story. Neo-Babylonian scribes had built up a whole library of resources showing how to translate texts written in ancient languages and styles. I am not sure in what contexts they needed to do this -- perhaps ancient religious verses? searching out precedents for unusual omens? -- but they they put a lot of effort into it. Above is a fragment of one of these dictionaries, showing the late cuneiform translations for signs in the Old Babylonian style. Using one of these lexicons, a scribe tried to create an Old Akkadian translation of the temples' notion of their privileges. His work does not fool modern scholars, and I doubt it fooled Nebuchadnezzar's tax men, either; after all, they had their own library of dictionaries, and probably more experience with ancient Akkadian grants than anyone does today.

"Black Lives Matter" has a Plan

You all know that my beef with Occupy Wall Street was that they had no plan for fixing any of the problems they called intention to. Instead of trying to change policy, they got all involved in trying to live anarchism within their own tiny community. Predictably, they have vanished and nothing has changed.

What about Black Lives Matter? Would this turn out to be just another moment of anger and passion, or would it make things happen? It seems that some people involved in the movement have been wondering the same thing. They have founded something called Campaign Zero -- for zero police shootings of innocent people -- and they have a Ten Point Plan. With a cool graphic.

Obviously the biggest factor that might make police behavior change is the spread of videocameras, and police body cameras are one of the thing Campaign Zero plans to push. But that isn't the only possible improvement. With the great crime wave easing and public attention focused on the problem, this seems like a good time to push for concrete improvements to police methods, training, and oversight.

Monday, August 24, 2015

St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow

The Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, alias St. Mary's Church, is Krakow's most famous medieval monument. The first church on this spot was destroyed during the Mongol conquest of Poland, in 1241. The church is most famous in Poland for a bit of trumpet music:
On every hour, a trumpet signal—called the Hejnał mariacki—is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city.
Construction of the current church began in 1290, but no sooner was it complete than Casimir the Great rebuilt it, raising the roof, elongating the windows, and making many other changes. That was between 1355 and 1365, and the basic structure of the church dates to that period.The towers and the side chapels were built mainly in the fifteenth century, although the taller tower was not completed until the 17th century.

But anyway the outside of the church is very fine but not especially remarkable.

The most striking thing about the church is the interior, which was completely remodeled in the 18th century.

Baroque designers did not understand the concept of "too much."

The other famous thing about the church is the altarpiece, carved between 1477 and 1489 by Veit Stoss.

It shows nine scenes from the Virgin's career; above, the Annunciation, and the Three Kings.

The Dormition. (Mary "falls asleep" before being taken bodily into heaven.)

The coronation. In 1941 the Altar was dismantled and shipped to Germany by perfidious Nazis. It was recovered in 1946 in Bavaria, hidden in the basement of Nuremberg Castle, which had been heavily bombed. It was shipped back to Poland and restored, and was re-installed in 1955.

An amazing and fascinating place.

Science Fiction and the Chinese Government

Neil Gaiman:
I was in China in 2007, and it was the first ever state-sponsored, Party-approved science-fiction convention. They brought in some people from the west and I was one of them, and I was talking to a number of the older science-fiction writers in China, who told me about how science fiction was not just looked down on, but seen as suspicious and counter-revolutionary, because you could write a story set in a giant ant colony in the future, when people were becoming ants, but nobody was quite sure: was this really a commentary on the state? As such, it was very, very dodgy.

I took aside one of the Party organisers, and said, "OK. Why are you now in 2007 endorsing a science-fiction convention?" And his reply was that the Party had been concerned that while China historically has been a culture of magical and radical invention, right now, they weren’t inventing things. They were making things incredibly well but they weren’t inventing. And they’d gone to America and interviewed the people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and talked to the inventors, and discovered that in each case, when young, they’d read science fiction. That was why the Chinese had decided that they were going to officially now approve of science fiction and fantasy.
Part of a really interesting conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro about genre fiction.

Carbon Dioxide and the End of the Last Ice Age

At the end of the last Ice Age, the level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere soared. As the CO2 level rose, so did the temperature. Behold how closely the two lines track each other in the graph above.

Or in this one.

So you might say that the rising level of CO2 obviously caused the rising temperature, the retreat of the glaciers, and the origins of the modern climate. That's what this new study concludes, after making the most detailed comparison yet between temperature and CO2 levels:
A team of scientists led by Jeremy Shakun of Boston College re-examined the ages of more than 1,100 previously studied glacial boulders by measuring a particular isotope -- Beryllium-10 -- produced by exposure to cosmic rays.

They compared their findings, the most accurate so far, to the timing of the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, data gleaned from ice bubbles trapped in ice cores.

The results were unequivocal.

"The only factor that explains glaciers melting all around the world in unison during the end of the Ice Age is the rise in greenhouse gases," said Shakun.
Well, maybe. But what caused the rise in the carbon dioxide level? Where did all that carbon come from?
Scientists are still not sure what triggered the gradual release of CO2 into the atmosphere starting 19,000 years ago, or exactly where it came from.

"It's fair to say that the reason CO2 went up and down over the Ice Ages is one of the biggest palaeoclimate mysteries out there," Shakun said by email.

The most likely scenario, according to co-author Peter Clark of Oregon State University is that huge quantities of carbon bubbled up from the sea. "The carbon was likely released because of changes in the ocean and its circulation that were triggered by changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun," he wrote in an email exchange.
So does that mean the real cause of the rise in temperature was  "changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun"?

What these authors would probably say -- it's what most climate scientists say, anyway -- is that whatever caused the rise in carbon dioxide at the end of the Ice Age, the rise in carbon dioxide was the mechanism by which the planet was warmed. So the current rise in CO2 -- from 280 ppm over most of the past 12,000 years to about 400 ppm now -- is cause for alarm.

Climate scientists spout a lot of nonsense these days, but the reason they spout nonsense is that they are really freaked out by the red spike at the far right of that top graph. Until 1940 or so, temperature and CO2 tracked each other pretty closely. Since then, the CO2 concentration has soared, and temperature has not. When scientists try to model the climate, their equations keep telling them that those two curves must eventually come back into sync. That is, sooner or later the temperature must rise to match the rising level of CO2, because the two curves have always been so closely aligned in the past.

If you are a skeptic, you might say that we know no such thing. We only know that whatever global processed drove climate change in the past worked that way. Burning coal is something new in history, so maybe it will work out in a completely different way. And it might. But that seems to me like a risky bet that we would be fools to take.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

RIP Svetlana Boym

Svetlana Boym was a Russian-American scholar of literature, memory, and the experience of being in immigrant. Her most famous book was The Future of Nostalgia, 2001. In it,
Dr. Boym grappled with two essential questions: Can a past that has slipped out of reach be reclaimed by means of nostalgia? Should it ever be?

She identified two types of nostalgia, one salubrious, the other far less so. The first, which she called reflective nostalgia, centers, she wrote, on “longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance.”

That condition — a constant companion of the émigré — acknowledges that the past can never truly be reconstructed. In consequence, she argued, it fosters empathy and a bittersweet consolation.

In the other type of nostalgia, Dr. Boym said, lies danger. This type, which she called restorative nostalgia, seeks to resuscitate the past as rigorously as possible.

“This kind of nostalgia,” Dr. Boym wrote, “characterizes national and nationalist revivals all over the world, which engage in the anti-modern mythmaking of history by means of a return to national symbols and myths.”

She added: “Restorative nostalgia manifests itself in total reconstructions of monuments of the past, while reflective nostalgia lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time.”
I like my past ruined, and safely past. People who obsess over history for reasons of contemporary politics creep me out.

A Mural Created in 3 Minutes

Watch my old friend Liz LaManche create a mural for one of her clients in a 3-minute time lapse. More at her web site.

Mars One is not Feasible

On August 13 there was a debate over the feasibility of the Mars One mission between Mars One executives and two MIT students, Sydney Do and Andrew Owens, who took the position that the Mars One plan can't work. According to Tech Insider, the students won easily:
The final moments of the debate made it pretty clear who won: the MIT students.

They circled back to the point that the Mars One mission is fundamentally unsustainable because the cost grows as the number of people living on Mars increases. Both parties agreed a critical step is to figure out a way to efficiently build things and grow food on Mars.

But the most pressing problem is that everything about Mars One's plan is still preliminary and needs further research and development.

"The topic of this debate is 'Is Mars One feasible?'" Do said. "But these projects are very complex. It's a house of cards, if any of them them don't work, then the whole thing fails."

"If you're still developing concepts, then you don't really have a plan," he added.

It seems safe to conclude that in its current state, the Mars One plan is not feasible.
Love that graphic Do and Owens came up with. It compares the hardware of the Apollo mission and its actual cost in 2012 dollars with what Mars One says they can get for $6 billion. Ha ha.

Artists in the Digital Age

Steven Johnson takes a look at the economics of art in the digital age, which many people predicted would lead to an artistic apocalypse. He starts with the incomes of artists:
The closest data set we have to a bird’s-eye view of the culture industry can be found in the Occupational Employment Statistics, an enormous compendium of data assembled by the Labor Department that provides employment and income estimates. Broken down by general sector and by specific professions, the O.E.S. lets you see both the forest and the trees: You can track employment data for the Farming, Fishing and Forestry Occupations (Group 45-0000), or you can zoom in all the way to the Fallers (Group 45-4021) who are actually cutting down the trees. The best approximation of the creative-class group as a whole is Group 27-0000, or Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media Occupations. It’s a broader definition than we’re looking for — I think we can all agree that professional athletes are doing just fine, thank you very much — but it gives us a place to start.

The first thing that jumps out at you, looking at Group 27-0000, is how stable it has been over the past decade and a half. In 1999, the national economy supported 1.5 million jobs in that category; by 2014, the number had grown to nearly 1.8 million. This means the creative class modestly outperformed the rest of the economy, making up 1.2 percent of the job market in 2001 compared with 1.3 percent in 2014. Annual income for Group 27-0000 grew by 40 percent, slightly more than the O.E.S. average of 38 percent. . . .
OES data doesn't track self-employed people, so for that you have to use a different statistical set, the Economic Census:
If anything, the numbers from the self-­employed world are even more promising. From 2002 to 2012, the number of businesses that identify as or employ ‘‘independent artists, writers and performers’’ (which also includes some athletes) grew by almost 40 percent, while the total revenue generated by this group grew by 60 percent, far exceeding the rate of inflation.
So far as we can tell from the employment and income statistics, artists are doing ok. Johnson's overall conclusion:
Why have the more pessimistic predictions not come to pass? One incontrovertible reason is that — contrary to the justifiable fears of a decade ago — people will still pay for creative works. The Napsterization of culture turned out to be less of a threat to prices than it initially appeared. Consumers spend less for recorded music, but more for live. Most American households pay for television content, a revenue stream that for all practical purposes didn’t exist 40 years ago. Average movie-­ticket prices continue to rise. For interesting reasons, book piracy hasn’t taken off the way it did with music. And a whole new creative industry — video games — has arisen to become as lucrative as Hollywood. American households in 2013 spent 4.9 percent of their income on entertainment, the exact same percentage they spent in 2000.
This doesn't mean there haven't been casualties. The music industry has been hit hard, with many jobs lost; revenue from sales of recorded music has fallen by 75%. But if you ask me, the record companies brought that on themselves by forcing people to pay $18 for a cd with one decent song. After a decade of pressure from fans who just wanted to buy that one song, they brought ought cd singles that sold for $8. People felt robbed, and responded accordingly. I worry a little that similar feelings about cable companies might lead to a similar reaction, and it is the high price of cable that has ultimately supported the great creativity of TV in recent years. So cable companies need to get their act together.

That, it seems to be, is the real underlying point. Entertainment monopolies have been smashed, so if you want to make it in the arts, you have to deliver what people want to pay for. So far, that is working out fine for artists and great for the rest of us.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Garden in Late Summer

Some recent pictures of the garden in its late summer messy stage. The light is harsh because I have to take these in the early morning while the morning glories are open.