Monday, March 19, 2018

François Clouet and Renaissance France

François Clouet was painter and valet de chambre to four successive French monarchs: François I (r. 1515-1547), Henri II (r. 1547-1559), François II (r. 1559-1560), and Charles IX (r. 1560-1574). This is a chalk portrait of Cardinal Charles de Guise, one of the political leaders of the era and main instigators of the civil wars between Catholics and Protestants.

Although Clouet is now quite famous, most of his work is unsigned and the attribution of many paintings is disputed. This is one of only two paintings that actually bears his signature, The Apothecary Pierre Quthe, 1562. Quthe (I know it looks like a Star Trek alien or a barbarian from a fantasy novel, but it's a real French name) was Clouet's friend and neighbor.

François Clouet was born some time between 1515 and 1520. His father, Jean Clouet, was also a court painter, and presumably taught his son, although this is not certain because it was common among artisans to apprentice one's sons to someone else. Admiral Gaspard II de Coligny, 1565-70.

This is thought to be Mary Queen of Scots, and it is attributed to Clouet, although neither is certain.

These paintings are very fine, but what blew me away was discovering that the Musée Condé has an archive of more than 300 drawings by Clouet and his workshop. I suppose the finished portraits were given to the sitters, but the drawings were retained. This is Catherine de Medici, c. 1550.

What an amazing record of what the French elite looked like and how they dressed. Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France. This is the expression I strive for when people take photographs of me.

François I de Coligny, Seigneur d'Andelot.

Renée de Bonneval

Antoine d'Halluin, seigneur de Piennes. This is the expression I strive to avoid when people take photographs of me.

Clouet's career also shows the rise in the status of artists in that era. Clouet was not just a court painter but a valet de chambre, that is, a personal attendant to the king. Francois I is recorded praising him by name, a rare compliment received by few who were not nobles. Charles IX.

However, after his death Clouet's paintings were lumped together with those of his father and both attributed to a person called Janet, a nickname sometimes used by both. Not until 1850 did a connoisseur get the story straight and bring Clouet back to the front rank of Renaissance master. Elizabeth of Austria, 1571.

How wonderful that we have this pictorial record of sixteenth-century courts; if only we had something similar for the Middle Ages.

Today's Lesson in Intersectionality

Race, gender and class of course intersect in ways that make things especially bad for some people. But not necessarily the ones you would expect:
Conditional on parent income, the black-white income gap is driven entirely by large differences in wages and employment rates between black and white men; there are no such differences between black and white women.
What the data shows is that black women born into wealthy or middle class households are just as likely as white women to end up in the same class as their parents. But black men born into such families are more likely than any other group to fall in status.

Compare the curves for men and women; pretty stark difference. The data is based on national surveys and is supposed to include all Americans now in their late 30s. I think we can all imagine why this might be, although the study doesn't provide any explanations.

At any rate this study complicates several possible explanations for black-white economic differences in the US. If racism is the cause, it seems to be a racism focused mainly on men. On the other hand the data seems hard to reconcile with any difference in innate intelligence or other inherited skills, since whatever holds back black men does not apply to their sisters.

The study also provides a nice way to put a number on the advantage of being white and male: the average income for a white man born into a median family, is 55% of the median income, while for black men and all women it is 45% of the median.

You can also play with this to get an idea of the inheritability of income. The average outcome for all Americans falls between 30% and 65% of the median, which is not really so bad; those born into very poor families do on average move up, and those born into upper middle class families on average move down. What is different in our age is the return of the super rich, the 1/10th of one percent who don't even fit on this curve.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Art of the Mask

The Art of the Mask on Etsy.

Defamation Suits and Fake News

Lately people targeted by right-wing conspiracy buffs have been taking to the courts to fight back. The latest is Brennan Gilmore, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who was filming the protests in Charlottesvill on August 12, when James Alex Fields rammed his car into a group of protesters, injuring several and killing Heather Heyer:
When Gilmore’s video circulated in the media, Alex Jones immediately claimed he was a “deep state shill” and “CIA asset” who in fact spearheaded Fields’ attack. He published pieces that described the violence in Charlottesville as a “staged” act, one executed by left-wing political operatives and financed by George Soros. In one rant, Jones claimed, “They got State Department and high-level CIA. One guy is paid 320,000 a year on the payroll of Soros. He doesn’t just get money from Soros, he personally is paid 320 a year, and then he is there—CIA, State Department—and he is on the news. And when people pointed out who he was, they took his name of the State Department website and stuff, but Google has all the [screen]shots of it. I mean it’s like WOW, WOW—CIA? Your senior guys?”

The website Gateway Pundit was all in, too: “The random Charlottesville observer who was interviewed by MSNBC and liberal outlets turns out to be a deep state shill with links to George Soros. It looks like the State Department was involved in Charlottesville rioting and is trying to cover it up. But after Deep State got caught they are trying to erase this guy from their records.”

As the Gilmore complaint notes, Jones and Gateway Pundit “quickly mobilized their army of followers to launch a campaign of harassment and threats against Mr. Gilmore.” They published the addresses of Gilmore and his parents online, and he began to be inundated with hate mail, death threats, and hacking attempts. White powder was sent to his home.(Gilmore says the police ultimately told him the powder was harmless.)

The suit, filed by Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic names Jones, InfoWars, Gateway Pundit owner Jim Hoft, reporter Lee Stranahan, former Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida, and others who disseminated such stories. Gilmore seeks a jury trial and damages, and he says he will not accept a cash settlement from Jones, who has been known to pay off litigants or just retract his false stories.
So what are we to make of this? On the one hand there is no legal right to publish personal attacks you know to be false. You can't just say with no evidence that private citizens with cameras are CIA agents and on the payroll of George Soros; making up stuff and spreading it as fact is not protected by the First Amendment. But what if Jones counters that he is just an entertainer and never expects anybody to believe his stories? The tabloids have been getting away with that for decades. And can he really be blamed if his followers carry out a campaign of harassment that he never personally advocated?

I waver. On the one hand this stuff is rotten. On the other hand I have no faith in our legal system and worry about a future flood of lawsuits against web sites that attack people who can afford lawyers. But back to the first hand, is there any other way to fight the flood of lies?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Larry Kudlow's Abysmal Record on the Economy

All the liberal outlets are pointing out that Larry Kudlow, apparently tapped to be Trump's new top economic adviser, has an amazing record of being wrong about everything:
In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. 
So there's one massive error.
Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.
I don't think this is completely absurd, I mean, who knows what the time lag is between actions taken by the government and economic results? But on the other hand it completely contradicts what he had been saying just a few years before.
By December 2000, the expansion had begun to slow. What had happened? According to Kudlow, it meant Reagan’s tax-cutting genius was no longer responsible for the economy’s performance. “The Clinton policies of rising tax burdens, high interest rates and re-regulation is responsible for the sinking stock market and the slumping economy,” he mourned, though no taxes or re-regulation had taken place since he had credited Reagan for the boom earlier that same year. 
You see the pattern.
By the time George W. Bush took office, Kudlow was plumping for his tax-cut plan. Kudlow not only endorsed Bush’s argument that the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — the one Kudlow and his allies had insisted in 1993 could never happen, because the tax hikes would strangle the economy — would turn out to be even larger than forecast. “Faster economic growth and more profitable productivity returns will generate higher tax revenues at the new lower tax-rate levels. Future budget surpluses will rise, not fall.” This was wrong, too.
Was it ever. I remember these debates well. Kudlow and company were vehement that the CBO's economic forecast was not nearly rosy enough, and that people saying "but what if we have a recession?" were foolish Cassandras. Instead, that forecast proved far too rosy, we got a recession, and the deficit soared.

Kudlow then denied we were in a housing bubble and denied that mortgage bonds posed any risk to the economy. When Obama came in he joined the chorus arguing that the stimulus plus the Fed's "quantitative easing" would lead to high inflation, and in fact he spent the next eight years arguing that high inflation was just around the corner, that the CPC was somehow underestimating real inflation, and so on.

It is pretty hard to imagine how any mainstream pundit could end up with a worse record. So of course he is due for a high profile job in the government. . . .

We need to get away from treating economic questions as matters of faith – tax cuts always increase revenue, a higher minimum wage is always better – and use some data to figure out what is really going on.

The Number of "Disabled" Non-Workers is Falling; What Does that Mean?

From the Times:
The employed share of the population 25 to 54 years old — the age range economists generally consider a person’s prime working years — is still almost a full percentage point below where it was on the eve of the Great Recession, and more than two percentage points below where it was before the 2001 recession.

One factor was a steady increase in the number of people not participating in the labor force because of health problems or a disability. In 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 4 percent of Americans 25 to 54 were not seeking work because of those reasons. By mid-2014, the number had risen to almost 6 percent of that age group.

Economists were especially alarmed because the increase appeared tenacious. It was rising before the 2001 recession, rose faster in response to the 2001 and 2008 recessions, then kept rising during the subsequent recoveries.

But then it began to fall: slowly at first and then, beginning in 2016, faster. Over all, the number of prime-age people who cite disability as their reason for not working has shrunk by 7 percent since mid-2014.
When the economy is really humming, even many people who consider themselves disabled can find work.

Which raises a lot of questions about what "disabled" means. I see this as a big problem for America moving forward. I think we absolutely need a government program to take care of people too sick or handicapped to work. But on the other hand the perception is growing that disability is a scam, and all of us have heard stories about people who could work but decide not to. If this perception continues to grow, the program could be threatened – Trump's latest budget proposes a modest cut – which I think would be a disaster.

I have the sense that many working people in America could qualify for disability payments but choose to keep working despite the hardships. After all, disability does not pay as well as any sort of decent job – the average payment in 2017 was $1171/month – plus many people would rather work than endure the shame/stigma of living off disability payments. At the other end there is work that even severely disabled people can do. So disability exists on a continuum, from people who would have great difficulty finding any sort of work, to people who could work but with pain and exhaustion, to people who are well within the norm for the working population but decide for whatever reason to seek disability instead.

And what might that reason be? I think this chart from Forbes provides a clue. You can see that disability applications track the unemployment rate fairly closely. It seems that many people decide to apply for disability after they lose their jobs, or perhaps when they give up searching for a job because conditions are too bleak.

To get back to the continuum I mentioned: I think the variables that determine whether a person seeks disability include the availability of work, how well that work pays, and what sort of work it is. People will endure a lot of discomfort to do a job that provides decent pay and status, or that they enjoy or find meaningful. They will put up with a lot less to be abused by the boss at minimum wage.

Personally I don't have any problem with this. If the existence of programs like Disability Insurance make it harder to hire people for lousy jobs at miserable wages, well, great! In a society as rich as ours, I don't think anyone should have to put up with that just to exist. But I understand why other people disagree; after all it can be galling to see people getting paid not to work when their health problems are no worse than your own.

One of the effects of disability insurance is probably to keep more people in regions with fading economies like coal country or factory-less factory towns. For a fifty-year-old person with a bad back, taking disability may seem a lot simpler than moving to a new city to start over. As a result, areas like Appalachia and northern Maine have disability rates up to twice the national average. If there has been a national conversation about this, I have missed it, but I think it is worth having: how hard should be try to get working-age people move to places with more jobs? Should we pursue policies that may drive certain communities to extinction, or should we consider programs like disability insurance a lifeline to keep struggling towns alive?

All of this seems very complex to me; how would you go about writing a set of rules that provide help to those who really need it but don't encourage slacking? Beats me. But I would rather see the effort put onto the carrot side, luring people back to work with a higher minimum wage and better work rules, than threatening to cut them off.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Republican Bind

The special election in Pennsylvania is the latest sign that Republicans may lose a lot of seats this fall. But they are finding it hard to do much about their problems.

Problem number one is that Donald Trump is not popular in the country as a whole, and he is especially unpopular in middle-class suburbs. His erratic behavior and growing list of scandals won't help. But he remains wildly popular with the Republican base, which makes it all but impossible for any Republican to run away from the president. So Republicans are stuck with this albatross.

Problem number two is that during the campaign Trump positioned himself as a moderate on a range of economic issues, promising to preserve Social Security and Medicare, to be tougher on big banks than Hillary would be, and so on. This seems to have helped him win. But Republican Congressional leaders are strongly conservative on all these issues, and so far they have been driving the agenda. Their plans are not popular with swing voters; Obamacare has gotten a lot more popular since Obama left office, and Social Security reform has always polled horribly. But they are the main thing, pretty much the only thing, to the party's donors and much of its intellectual leadership, making them impossible to abandon. So the Republicans are going into this election with both an unpopular leader and an unpopular economic agenda.

Of course the Democratics have big problems of their own, so I don't see a Democratic wave as a given. But it looks more and more likely.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paul-Albert Besnard

Paul-Albert Besnard (1849-1934) was French artist who did many, many portraits. Here are a few of the better ones. Above, Portrait of Jean Gorges.

Young Woman with Upswept Hair.

Self Portrait at the Age of 18, with Renaissance painter's beard.

Portrait of Sir Henry Hoare.

Space Genes

Scott and Mark Kelly are identical twin brothers — at least, they were until Scott spent a year living in space.

When Scott Kelly returned to Earth after a 340-day voyage aboard the International Space Station (ISS) two years ago, he was 2 inches taller than he'd been when he left. His body mass had decreased, his gut bacteria were completely different, and — according to preliminary findings from NASA researchers — his genetic code had changed significantly. (Interestingly, Scott Kelly has since shrunk back down to his initial prespaceflight height.)

A new NASA statement suggests the physical and mental stresses of Scott Kelly's year in orbit may have activated hundreds of "space genes" that altered the astronaut's immune system, bone formation, eyesight and other bodily processes. While most of these genetic changes reverted to normal following Scott Kelly's return to Earth, about 7 percent of the astronaut's genetic code remained altered — and it may stay that way permanently.
Being in space is not good for you.

Trump Blocks a Merger

It's been a while since Donald Trump did something I approve of, so let's pause to celebrate this small victory. Bloomberg:
President Donald Trump's decision to quash an overseas bid for Qualcomm Inc. was almost certainly the right thing to do. . . .

Broadcom Ltd., based in Singapore, had made an unsolicited $117 billion offer to acquire Qualcomm, a leading U.S. chipmaker. Amid scrutiny of the bid by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. -- a panel that reviews such deals for security concerns -- Trump issued an executive order blocking it. It was only the fifth such deal ever held up by a U.S. president, and the largest by far.

Although Trump didn't explain his decision, the bid raised some obvious national-security concerns. Qualcomm is a major supplier for the Pentagon and holds numerous classified contracts. Its facilities are subject to a security clearance that could be jeopardized by foreign ownership. An acquisition of this kind was bound to raise red flags, whoever was doing the buying.
But that isn't actually why the merger was blocked:
Last week, CFIUS warned that Broadcom, an enthusiastic cost-cutter, might slash Qualcomm's R&D spending in pursuit of short-term profits. In doing so, it could put Qualcomm at a disadvantage in the race to offer next-generation wireless and diminish its influence in setting standards and protocols. That, in turn, could give a leg up to Qualcomm's top competitor, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which has ties to the Chinese government and which U.S. intelligence agencies have deemed a security threat.
Various business journalists have confirmed that Broadcom is a big cost cutter and has done little in the way of research. This seems to me like a great reason to block a merger; if the US is going to stay wealthy, our firms have to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

But then I've never understood why we allow mergers in the first place. The essence of capitalism is competition; mergers reduce competition; therefore, mergers make capitalism less efficient. The only people who win from most mergers are the executives who arrange them and the Wall Street guys who finance them; consumers and workers almost always lose, and often ordinary stockholders do, too. As Adam Smith put it,
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.
Mergers are conspiracies against the public, plain and simple. Trump's administration has already blocked five, and the more they block – for whatever idiosyncratic Trumpish reason – the happier I will be.

RIP Stephen Hawking

They’re named black holes because they are related to human fears of being destroyed or gobbled up. I don’t have fears of being thrown into them. I understand them. I feel in a sense that I am their master.

– Stephen Hawking

Arresting the Body

In 17th- and 18th-century England creditors could seize a debtor's corpse and refuse to release it for burial until the relatives made good on the debts. In 1700 the body of John Dryden was "arrested" in this way.

This ended in 1804 when Lord Ellenborough ruled, in the case Jones v. Ashburnham, that the practice was
contrary to every principle of law and moral feeling. Such an act is revolting to humanity, and illegal, and, therefore, any promise extorted by it could never be valid law.
Via Futility Closet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Graham Sutherland in World War II

British painter Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), best known these days for a portrait of Churchill that Churchill hated and destroyed, spent World War II in the employ of the government, painting bomb damage and factories. Above, The City, a Fallen Lift Shaft, 1941.

Devastation: Burnt Paper Warehouse in the East End, 1941.

Devastation: An East End Street, 1941. It occurs to me that many of the modernist paintings I like depict war and other horrors. Almost as if the only thing modernism is good for is creating feelings of terror and woe.

But not entirely! I like this of Furnaces in Wales, 1944.

And Landscape with Red Sky, 1945.

Foreign Brides in Dark Age Bavaria

Fascinating new study from Germany:
In a handful of medieval Bavarian farming hamlets populated mostly by blue-eyed blondes, more than a dozen women with dark hair, dark eyes, and unusual elongated skulls [center and left in the photo above] would have stood out. . . .

The remains, which date to about 500 C.E., are part of a pattern of elongated skulls found in gravesites across early and medieval Europe and Asia. The Bavarian skulls were unearthed alongside regularly shaped ones [on the right in the photo] near six modern southern German towns along the Danube River starting in the late 1960s. Few clues exist as to their identities, or how and why the skulls were stretched. Curious about the “tower-shaped” skulls, anthropologist and population geneticist Joachim Burger, from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, set out to sequence their DNA.

Burger and colleagues compared the DNA from tiny bone fragments in the graves with each other and those of modern populations throughout Europe and Asia. The DNA of 10 men—and 13 women with normal skulls—most closely matched modern populations in central and northern Europe. Most had genes for blond hair and blue eyes. But DNA from the 13 women with elongated skulls told a different tale. The genetics of these women matched modern populations in southeastern Europe, specifically Bulgaria and Romania, and they had genes for darker hair and eyes, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Well that's cool. Here we have a group of women from an intrusive population who also have a distinctive cultural trait: their heads were shaped in the way that many people on the steppes did, by strapping their infants to cradle boards.

The excavators want these to be "treaty brides", given to secure alliances between invaders and settled people. That seems like a stretch; usually such alliances were secured by one or two royal matches, not a mass wedding of commoners. The woman could equally well have been captives taken after a victory by Bavarians over an invading force, or brought back after a foray to the east. But however they came to be buried in Bavaria, they are another sign of the great mobility and cultural mixing of that age. It really was a time of migration and upheaval.

Monday, March 12, 2018

More Spring

Spent the weekend down in Richmond, where spring is a little farther along than at home.

Terraces at Maymont Park, river in the background.

Italian Garden.

Ben and Clara clowning in the grotto.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Emilio Sánchez Perrier

Emilio Sánchez Perrier (1855 – 1907) was a Spanish landscape painter, born in Seville. His father was a clockmaker and his family just barely in the middle class. But his talent for drawing was such that he was singled out from a young age and attended the best art schools Spain had to offer. Above is the wonderful painting through which I discovered Sánchez Perrier, Andalusia in Winter, 1880.

Sánchez Perrier began his professional career in the Seville in the 1870s. After winning a gold medal in the Madrid salon in 1879 he moved to Paris to broaden his horizons, remaining there for a decade. Evening in Seville, 1870s.

A painting Sánchez Perrier first exhibited in Paris, Garden of the Alcazar, Seville.

Sánchez Perrier had a thing for scenes like this of boats on lazy rivers; this one is from 1886, so painted in France.

And another, undated.

Sánchez Perrier traveled extensively in Europe and did many paintings of Italy. This one is of Scotland.

He also spent time in North Africa, doing paintings that wikipedia and other online sources describe as "orientalist," but I think they don't realize what "orientalist" means. An ordinary Moroccan landscape like this, in no way exotified, is not orientalism. Just a Moroccan landscape. If he did any Seraglio scenes I haven't been able to find them.

After returning to Spain in 1889 Sánchez Perrier founded an artists' colony in in Alcalá de Guadaíra, a forested region near Seville. Trina, 1889.

Landscape near Guisors, 1895. It is these late paintings that I like the best, so it is rather sad that Sánchez Perrier died at 52.