September 2, 2015

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To continue to try to take our minds off the fools in DC we have a few interesting items. The first is from a blog named PulpTastic. It is 20 quotes from children’s books that every adult should know.

Some of life’s greatest lessons can be found in children’s literature, and ironically, most of us only realize this once we are no longer kids. The following quotes are some of our favorites from books we used to read, and they may very well send you down a trip to memory lane. …

“A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” – A A Milne; Winnie the Pooh.



Then Five Thirty Eight has a Nerds Guide to the 2229 Paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. This is a large enough file so that many of the images had to be deleted. Follow the link if you want to see all of those in the article.

Through the lobby thronged with tourists, the line for tickets, the line for the cloakroom, and the line for the ticket taker, up the narrow escalators, past the cafe and bookshop on the second floor, the photographs and drawings on the third, and the installations in progress on the fourth, we finally arrive at the fifth floor of The Museum of Modern Art.

This is where they keep the really good stuff — the paintings reproduced in framed prints and on postcards in the gift shop — giants of impressionism, post-impressionism, abstract expressionism, Fauvism, cubism and color field.

Step off the escalator, and we’re greeted by our first painting: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Glenn.” Press on. To the right is Balthus’s “The Street.” Hang one more left, and we’ve really arrived: Gallery 1. Staring at you or, more accurately, staring at the floor right in front of you, is Paul Cézanne’s “The Bather.” And just feet away, somewhere through that knot of cell-phone-camera-wielding museumgoers and just to the side of that hyper-vigilant security guard, is an image you’ll surely recognize: Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”

The picture, of the view from van Gogh’s room in a French asylum to which he’d committed himself after mutilating his own ear, may well be van Gogh’s highest achievement. But “The Starry Night” — that instantly recognizable image, pulsating with the energy of nature — also goes by another, icier name: ObjectID 79802.

On GitHub, an online data and code hosting service, sits the entire MoMA collection: 123,919 pieces, including 1,656 sculptures, 28,411 photographs, 11,420 drawings, 1,936 films and — most important for our tour today — 2,229 paintings. One of the rows in this giant spreadsheet: ObjectID 79802. …

… At the museum today, we’re armed not only with our love of art, but also with this big pile of data. We’ll appreciate the beauty, to be sure. But if you have questions, I’ll also turn to the hard numbers for answers.

The technical hallmark of “The Starry Night,” as you’ve surely noticed, is its exaggerated brushwork — “a thick, emphatic plasma of paint,” wrote the late, great art critic Robert Hughes. The painting is, emphatically, oil on canvas.

And our data can shed some light on this painting’s most striking feature. “Is this combination of materials typical in modern art?” you ask. Great question — we’re going to have fun! Indeed, oil on canvas is the dominant medium for MoMA’s paintings; nearly half of them use those materials. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas is a distant second. Oil painting, around for some 900 years, still dominates in the modern era. …



Written records of commerce and trade from 4,000 years ago are reported by the NY Times Magazine. This is a fascinating example of the instincts for trade and commerce that are in our genes.

One morning, just before dawn, an old man named Assur-idi loaded up two black donkeys. Their burden was 147 pounds of tin, along with 30 textiles, known as kutanum, that were of such rare value that a single garment cost as much as a slave. Assur-idi had spent his life’s savings on the items, because he knew that if he could convey them over the Taurus Mountains to Kanesh, 600 miles away, he could sell them for twice what he paid.

At the city gate, Assur-idi ran into a younger acquaintance, Sharrum-Adad, who said he was heading on the same journey. He offered to take the older man’s donkeys with him and ship the profits back. The two struck a hurried agreement and wrote it up, though they forgot to record some details. Later, Sharrum-­Adad claimed he never knew how many textiles he had been given. Assur-idi spent the subsequent weeks sending increasingly panicked letters to his sons in Kanesh, demanding they track down Sharrum-Adad and claim his profits.

These letters survive as part of a stunning, nearly miraculous window into ancient economics. In general, we know few details about economic life before roughly 1000 A.D. But during one 30-year period — between 1890 and 1860 B.C. — for one community in the town of Kanesh, we know a great deal. Through a series of incredibly unlikely events, archaeologists have uncovered the comprehensive written archive of a few hundred traders who left their hometown Assur, in what is now Iraq, to set up importing businesses in Kanesh, which sat roughly at the center of present-day Turkey and functioned as the hub of a massive global trading system that stretched from Central Asia to Europe. Kanesh’s traders sent letters back and forth with their business partners, carefully written on clay tablets and stored at home in special vaults. Tens of thousands of these records remain. One economist recently told me that he would love to have as much candid information about businesses today as we have about the dealings — and in particular, about the trading practices — of this 4,000-year-old community. …