Month: May 2019

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

A Tale of Two Decisions

Ample discussion has been had over the past several years about the vast income disparities that are present in the United States, and I’m not going to get into differing opinions on how best to address the issue – other to say that it is an issue. If you don’t believe it is an issue you are willfully ignoring the facts.

I happened to read about two decisions that were made this weekend that really hit home in terms of how folks in the 1% choose to spend their vast sums of money. Some pay it forward. Others pay for rabbits.

Paying It forward at Morehouse College

On one side, you have Mr. Robert F. Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners who was the Class of 2019’s commencement speaker at Morehouse College. During that speech, he announced that he would cover all the student debt for every person graduating that day.

So the cynic in me will think that there has to be a catch or there is some way that Mr. Smith will come out financially ahead on this deal – through the PR or some debt to equity play – but that is irrelevant. The bottom line is that he is fundamentally changing the lives of every person in that graduating class by covering their student debt and getting them off on the right foot as they enter ‘real life’. It was estimated that the total bill would come to $40 Million. For a man of Mr. Smith’s means, that is a rounding error. This is an amazing gesture and I sincerely hope that it starts some sort of trend.

And then on the other side of the aisle, you have Mr. Robert Mnuchin – yes, Steve’s Daddy – who dropped $91 Million on a metal rabbit designed by Jeff Koons.

Silver Bunny Is Expensive

A shiny stainless steel sculpture created by Jeff Koons in 1986, inspired by a child’s inflatable toy, sold at Christie’s on Wednesday night for $91.1 million with fees, breaking the record at auction for a work by a living artist, set just last November by David Hockney. Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, made the winning bid for Mr. Koons’s 1986 “Rabbit” from an aisle seat near the front of the sales room. 

NY Times

When put side by side, the optics of that rabbit purchase just looks so frivolous. Actually, looking at that purchase alone makes it look frivolous. Imagine if the elder Mr. Mnuchin took that $91 Mil and helped out some other graduating class? Or put that pocket money to some other use to help people. Something to think about.

Who Is Neil Young?

This is a question that I have pondered off and on over the many years I have been listening to music, and a question that the folks on the Polyphonic YouTube channel documented in a video essay . There is something about Mr. Young and his vast influence on the music world that is really hard to pin down.

From my perspective, my favorite work from Mr. Young’s illustrious career is his solo albums – specifically “Harvest”, “Harvest Moon”. What people forget is that he is from Canada, even though he had a massive influence on United States politics, history, music, and popular culture.

Similar to Johnny Cash – whom I never really appreciated until he was gone – I do make sure to fire up a set of Neil Young songs every once in awhile just to enjoy the unique sounds and cadence of his music.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Rethinking The Obi Wan vs. Darth Vader Fight

Pretty amazing re-work of the iconic Light Saber fight between Ben “Obi Wan” Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars: A New Hope

For comparison purposes, here is the original

The reworked version is so much more compelling. The camera angles do a much better job of engaging the viewer in the urgency and passion of the battle. It makes you feel the hatred that Vader has. From another perspective, the mobility of Obi Wan in the remake is a bit of a stretch as I never felt that he was that nimble on his feet, but I?m willing to let that go.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Know Your History

An article in The New Yorker caught my eye, describing how US universities have seen a noticeable decline in History majors over the past decade or so, give or take. The primary research supporting the article is from the American Historical Association and Professor Ben Schmidt of Northwestern, who found that comparing the class from 2008 and the dawn of the “Great Recession” to 2017 graduating class, the number of students across US universities declaring a History major has fallen by 33%. The impact of the economic downturn on families across the country made college aged students reassess their academic choices since they were living directly with the impacts of the brutal 2008-09 economic downturn. They essentially felt that pursuing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related pursuits would provide them more opportunity in the future.

And taking a longer view of the trend, the decline is even more pronounced as you can see in the graph below, also from Professor Schmidt. The graph may be skewed slightly because the amount of people getting college degrees has expanded a lot over the past 30 years, as has the percentage of international students who generally are more likely to pursuing STEM related pursuits. Even with that to consider, the decline is substantial.

Interestingly, a significant driver of this long term trend is the rapid growth over the same period of women on college campuses, where they now represent around 57% of all college students. Women have never had a huge percentage of History majors and that presence has declined consistently over the past 30 or so years as they too have pursued majors outside of the humanities.

The irony and interesting implied side effect of this trend is its impact on the broader population and their ability to consider what we are experiencing in our broader societal and political discourse compared to what has happened in years past.

“Yes, we have a responsibility to train for the world of employment, but are we educating for life, and without historical knowledge you are not ready for life,” [Yale Professor David] Blight told me. As our political discourse is increasingly dominated by sources who care nothing for truth or credibility, we come closer and closer to the situation that Walter Lippmann warned about a century ago, in his seminal “Liberty and the News.” “Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information,” he wrote. A nation whose citizens have no knowledge of history is asking to be led by quacks, charlatans, and jingos. As he has proved ever since he rode to political prominence on the lie of Barack Obama’s birthplace, Trump is all three. And, without more history majors, we are doomed to repeat him.

The New Yorker

I was/am a History major as an undergraduate at Syracuse University many moons ago. I am proud that my daughter will be starting college next year and she will be pursuing a degree in History. History has, and will continue to be, a very important element of my family’s experience and discourse. And as we continue to experience the rapidly escalating challenge on what is the truth in our society, the lack of understanding by the proletariat population on what has caused us to get to this point in our nation’s collective History will only accelerate the constant death spiral we seem to be riding.

There are people and talking heads that seem to claim we are in a “new normal” with new technology and new methods of communication that should not be compared to experiences of the past. I call ‘bs’ on that. Society in the US and the world has had to deal with disruptive innovation and technology for as long as we have been a going concern as a country, and even before that. Radio changed the game in the 1930s, television changed the game even more in the 1950s and really hit its stride disrupting the ‘world order’ in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and, wait for it, Watergate.

Studying History and appreciating the path that people and society have led to get to where they are today is something that all people should study at one point in their life. Looking back at certain periods of time (e.g. the 1960s), at certain circumstances (e.g. How George Washington’s decision to cross the Delaware when he did changed the fate of the United States), or at unanticipated situations (e.g. how the country’s path changed with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963) and how they impacted life and society will provide everyone with a sense of perspective that is immensely valuable during times like we are in today.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

George Santayana

How to Move A Masterpiece

For 135 years, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” has essentially been in the same place, his former studio in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris. Over that time, it had been moved a total of three times for some exhibitions. Now, it has two more moves ahead of it as it is going up for auction at Sotheby’s in NYC. The first was to move it from Paris to the NYC auction house. And after that, it will need to be moved again to its new owner. The issue is that the artwork is 20 feet wide by 11 feet high, and one does not just pick up that sized piece of art off the wall – worth an estimated $25 – $35 Million dollars – and put it in the cargo hold on a plane to NYC.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” 

Moving this master work the 3,625 miles from Paris to NYC is no small feat, requiring many skilled people with unique knowledge in art curation and conservation.

Over all, the job required around 20 people between the two locations, including a crane operator to get it out of the third-floor studio window and into a truck.

One of the conservators involved in the New York unpacking and restretching, Haley Parkes, called the whole process a “Bouguer-rodeo.”

NY Times

What was interesting about this story was how the curators were able to skillfully remove this massive piece of work from its original frame and then roll it up on a massive cylindrical drum, all without materially damaging the artwork. The article notes that one of the reasons they were able to do this was because the artist used a very light amount of paint to craft the painting, which means that 135 years on, the paint was thin enough on the canvas that it would not crack when it got rolled up.

Image Credit: NY Times (at above link)

For comparison, imagine if a piece of work by Van Gogh was the same size and needed to be transferred to NYC. Van Gogh was known to use notoriously heavy amounts of paint in his works, and the prospect of rolling up one of his works would run the risk of severe damage to the aesthetic of the original piece.

The piece is available for viewing at Sotheby’s and is also featured on their website.