Month: April 2010

Nostalgia on the high seas?

Only a few ships still make the journey, the best known being the Queen Elizabeth 2. Depending on the number of ports of call, the average trip is roughly 6-14 days, although some are longer. Ships traveling from North America depart from several cities, including New York, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. They terminate their voyage at different locations, including Barcelona, Venice, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Genoa. In between, their stops are determined by the length of the trip and the cost. For example, you can take the Royal Princess on April 11,2000, and take a nice 19 [day] cruise to Barcelona. Your port of departure is Buenos Aires, and in between, you'll visit Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Dakar, Madeira, Casablanca, Gibraltar…not a bad way to get to Barcelona.

There is more here.  I've also been trying to Google how planes traversed the Atlantic during the early years of WWII, although without success.

I believe that volcanoes are an underrated ecological problem and that this story still is being underreported.  Events could prove me wrong in very short order, but I am reminded of the financial crisis, and the associated explanations from governments and the financial sector itself, around the time of the Bear Stearns collapse.

*Russia Against Napoleon*

That's the title of the new and excellent Dominic Lieven book and the subtitle is The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace.  Excerpt:

In many ways the greatest hero of the Russian war effort in 1812-14 was not a human being but the horse.  To some extent this was true of all European land warfare at that time.  The horse fulfilled the present-day functions of the tank, the lorry, the aeroplane and motorized artillery.  It was in other words the weapon of shock, pursuit, reconnaisance, transport and mobile firepower.  The horse was a crucial — perhaps even the single most decisive — factor in Russia's defeat of Napoleon.  The enormous superiority of the Russian light cavalry played a key role in denying food or rest to Napoleon's army in the retreat from Moscow and thereby destroying it.  In 1812 Napoleon lost not just almost all the men but virtually all the horses with which he had invaded Russia.  In 1813 he could and did replace the men but finding new horses proved a far more difficult and in the end disastrous problem.

Lieven's earlier Empire: The Russian Empire and its Rivals is one of my favorite non-fiction books.

Nate Silver wins a lunch date with Vero de Rugy

As it turns out, when controlling for state capitals and a host of other potentially relevant variables, we find that the original findings still hold…Even after taking out the money spent through state capitals, the average Democratic district receives at least 30 percent more than the average Republican district.

That's from Vero, there is more here

Not from the Onion: NYC to stop paying teachers to do nothing

The city will end the practice of paying teachers to play Scrabble, read or surf the Internet in reassignment centers nicknamed "rubber rooms" as they await disciplinary hearings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the teachers union announced Thursday.

The deal will close the centers, where hundreds of educators spend months or years in bureauratic limbo, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

This part is so 'not making this stuff up':

The nickname refers to the padded cells of asylums, and teachers have said the name is fitting, since some of the inhabitants can become unstable.

"There are fights among teachers because some teachers are nuts," said Leonard Brown, a high school teacher who spent four years in a reassignment center in Queens. "They put crazy people in with very sane people."

More here.  Hat tip: Andrew.

The culture that is Norway

Thousands of travellers are stranded throughout Europe as ash continues to rain down from an erupting volcano in Iceland this week. Among them is Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose press secretary reports the official to be “running the Norwegian government from the United States via his new iPad.”

The story is here and for the link I thank vANNilla.  Israel, however, has banned all imports of the iPad, for reasons I don't yet understand.  They are even confiscating iPads from travelers.


Here, courtesy of Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior, is a picture of Chauncy Morlan (1869-1906) who, because of his “freakish” weight, people once paid good money to see as he toured Europe and America with the Barnum & Bailey circus.  Although a tinge of freakishness still attaches to shows like The Biggest Loser the dominant theme is a feeling
of camaraderie and the hope that if the contestants can lose weight then so can anyone
with similar problem and goals.

What would the circus goers of 1890 have thought if they were told that in the America of 2010 Chauncy Morlan would be unremarkable?


Questions which are rarely asked

How did Afghanistan, which was overrun and ruled by a series of foreign dynasties for more than a thousand years, become renowned as the "graveyard for empires" in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries…?

…How did a ruling dynasty established in 1747 manage to hold power over such a fractious people until 1978, and why has the Afghan state since then experienced such difficulties in reestablishing a legitimate political order?

Both of those questions are from the new and excellent book Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, by Thomas Barfield.  Most of all this is a conceptual treatment of the history of the country and its different regions.  The book's home page is here.

Is there a new Michelangelo?

Quite possibly, view it here, previously classified as Workshop of Francesco Granacci.  It is not a small work, dashed off in hours, it is a major painting, 29 by 82 inches.

No, I am not one of these people who thinks high art, or even "modern art," (or for that matter Jeff Koons) is a load of crap.  Still, I have a simple question.  Let's say it is by Michelangelo.  It's not that good.  Since no one used to call this painting a major masterpiece, and it is not being ascribed to "foul juvenalia" (it was painted right before the Sistine Chapel) does it not mean that Michelangelo wasn't as good a painter as we used to think?  Peaks matter but the average matters too (in the meantime, can we downgrade talent assessments on a purely stochastic basis?)

Here is the bottom line on our previous collective, "wisdom of crowds" judgment:

The Met bought the painting at Sotheby's London, along with a companion work attributed to Granacci, which depicts episodes in the life of the Baptist. "I think it's ironic that the Met paid $200,000 for the Granacci and $150,000 for the painting I attribute to Michelangelo," Fahy said.

My favorite bit is this one:

Keith Christiansen, who succeeded Fahy as chairman of the European paintings department and who is a prominent scholar on the Italian Renaissance, told me, "I think Everett has put forward the strongest argument that can be made for it."

Does that mean yes or no?

Christiansen smiled and said, "I don't do yes or no."

Hat tip goes to Kottke.

How marginal tax rates changed boxing

The 1950s was the era of the 90 percent top marginal tax rate, and by the end of that decade live gate receipts for top championship fights were supplemented by the proceeds from closed circuit telecasts to movie theaters. A second fight in one tax year would yield very little additional income, hardly worth the risk of losing the title. And so, the three fights between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson stretched over three years (1959-1961); the two between Patterson and Sonny Liston over two years (1962-1963), as was also true for the two bouts between Liston and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) (1964-1965). Then, the Tax Reform Act of 1964 cut the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent effective in 1965. The result: two heavyweight title fights in 1965, and five in 1966. You can look it up.

That's Henry Fetter, hat tip goes to Andrew Sullivan.