Warning America: Cubist Boobs! Cubist Boobs!

Les Femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') - Pablo Picasso - Blurred

When WNYW, the New York Fox (Not Fox News, people!) affiliate did a story on the ridiculous $179.4 million auction price for Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), they blurred out the breasts. It makes sense. Those cubist breasts might poison the minds of cubist children living in the greater New York area.

For the record: Pablo Picasso was a horrible human being and likely the most overrated artist of all time. And I am especially underwhelmed by this painting. So the fact that some rich idiot paid that much for the painting really says something. Imagine how many truly great pieces of art this idiot could have bought for this amount of money. But I’m sure that the purchaser (who is unknown) cares more about the price paid than the art acquired.

Les Femmes d’Alger was a series of fifteen paintings that Picasso did in the mid-1950s — long after his best days. The series is based upon a painting by the great French master Eugène Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger Dans Leur Appartement. It is a fantastic work. Now it should maybe be blurred out. It features concubines with a hookah — most likely used for opium to make life bearable. But more than that, just check out the beautiful design elements of the piece:

Femmes d'Alger Dans Leur Appartement - Eugène Delacroix

This masterpiece is currently at the Louvre. But I assume that if it came up at auction, it would not fetch anything close to $180 million. All the most expensive paintings are modern or post-impressionist (except for Salvator Mundi, which might have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci). There’s a reason why we call them the useless rich. What wastes of space they are! How entirely predictable and banal.

But I’m sure you want to see Picasso’s cubist breasts, so here they are:

Les Femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') - Pablo Picasso


Education for the Future is Not “Practical”

The End of EducationSad to say, some of America’s most important political leaders believe that one who learns how to be useful economically will have learned how to be an educated person. A headline, early in 1994, announced: Clinton Tells Educators Youths Are Not Getting Practical Skills for Jobs.The story quotes the President as saying, “In the nineteenth century, at most, young Americans needed a high school education to make their way… It was good enough if they could read well and understand basic numbers. In the twenty-first century, our people will have to keep learning all their lives.” Of course, in the nineteenth century it was also desirable for people to continue learning all their lives. In fact, there was far more technological change in the nineteenth century than is likely to occur in the twenty-first. The nineteenth century gave us telegraphy, photography, the rotary press, the telephone, the typewriter, the phonograph, the transatlantic cable, the electric light, movies, the locomotive, rockets, the steamboat, the X-ray, the revolver, the computer, and the stethoscope, not to mention canned food, the penny press, the modern magazine, the advertising agency, the modern bureaucracy, and, for God’s sake, even the safety pin. But let us suppose the President did not learn about this in Arkansas schools and was advancing the standard-brand argument that with continuing, rapid technological change the job market will require people who are adaptable to change, who can learn new concepts easily, and who can discard unusable assumptions without trauma. This is a very difficult task for the schools, and one that John Dewey held to be of the utmost importance. The President’s solution is to provide the young with more practical vocational skills, which appears to be, not surprisingly, the same solution offered to California educators by Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Education Secretary Richard Riley. Of course, this is exactly the wrong solution, since the making of adaptable, curious, open, questioning people has nothing to do with vocational training and everything to do with humanistic and scientific studies. The President’s speech and the advice of his colleagues demonstrate that they themselves have difficulty discarding outmoded assumptions, including their belief that if something is not working — for example, training people for jobs — then what is needed is more of it.

—Neil Postman
The End of Education

Bill Maher Only Now Figures Out Rand Paul?

Bill MaherAlmost every time I see Bill Maher, I sigh, “Really, Bill?!” Now he’s upset with Rand Paul because the Senator has turned his back on everything he once stood for. That’s just silly. The only thing that Rand Paul ever stood for is the idea that Rand Paul should be president. Hell, I was calling his father a libertarian pretender in 1988! And Rand Paul doesn’t even swim in the same ideological pond as his father. Do I have to repeat the smoking gun? Rand Paul is (grudgingly) in favor of legalizing cannabis. That is not a libertarian position. That is a paternalistic one, “You can have the one currently illegal drug that I think is acceptable.” And that’s about as close as Rand Paul has ever gotten to libertarianism.

Can Bill Maher really be so deluded as to think that Rand Paul was ever a different kind of Republican? Maybe, because Maher has shown himself to be a singularly limited and facile thinker. What both of the Pauls stand for is not libertarianism but neo-confederatism. They just want local control and it doesn’t take King Solomon to figure out what they want that control for — and even more what their supporters do. And let’s be clear: no one is a serious libertarian who thinks that a zygote deserves full citizenship rights. That’s either someone who is silly or hates women. Again: it don’t take Solomon to figure that one out.

Rand PaulBut Maher doesn’t even blame Rand Paul. To him, it is all about the Republican Party. He said, “It’s all just proof that, to be competitive, Republican candidates must say to their base, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, ‘I feel your crazy.'” But nothing is making Rand Paul call for more military spending or turn against same sex marriage or demagogue Jade Helm 15. It’s all what I wrote last year in, Why Republicans Will Nominate Rand Paul in 2016. Rand Paul is the ultimate postmodern president: he doesn’t believe in anything.

I’ve come to wonder over the years why it is that the libertarians find they fit so nicely into the Republican Party. The truth is that I have a lot of libertarian beliefs and after years of being a libertarian, I came to the conclusion that it was the Democrats who more pushed in the proper direction. As I always say: vote for a libertarian, get conservative policy. The libertarians will provide tax cuts for the rich, an end to environmental regulation, and the decimation of the social safety net. But what about the other side of libertarianism: destroying government oppression of the poor, ending drug laws, stopping wars and cutting the military, getting the government out of our bedrooms? Let’s just say that even under the best of circumstances, these are not the priorities of libertarian politicians. So libertarians fit in perfectly in the Republican Party.

But Rand Paul? The only reason he even tries to brand himself a libertarian is so that he can build on his father’s base. And now he is trying to broaden it by dropping all the non-conservative libertarian ideas while still talking the talk. And this seems to work, because I see libertarians everywhere who love him. They just apologize for him, “Well, he has to say that to get elected!” Really?! It is ridiculous to think that once he was elected he would suddenly become a dove and end the war on drugs. He will be just another Republican president, cutting taxes for the rich and destroying necessary regulations.

I suppose we should be grateful that Bill Maher has figured out that Rand Paul will not be his “Republican option.” But he should have always known that.

Job Creation During Recent Presidencies

Bill McBrideBill McBride wrote a very informative article over at Calculated Risk, Public and Private Sector Payroll Jobs: Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. The general information should not surprise anyone: Democratic administrations are much better for job growth than Republican administrations. Of course, we need to remember that this isn’t necessarily a question of policy. The truth is that the economy did well during Reagan and Clinton largely because of Federal Reserve policy. The Fed always has a big impact — for good and (more usually) for bad. And there are other issues.

We don’t have a parliamentary system, so presidents don’t usually get to do what they want. But George W Bush did during his first term. Despite what conservatives say today, for four years, the country got exactly the kind of policy that conservatives claim is so great. And the results were terrible. As you will see in the table below, during Bush’s first term, the country lost 844,000 jobs. That’s a record that is unprecedented in the modern era.

The other side of this is Obama who, despite policy victories in many important areas, saw his ability to grow the government eliminated. Most presidents in the modern era have seen public sector growth of about a million jobs per four year term. In Obama’s first term, he saw a reduction of 702,000 public sector jobs. And in his second term thus far, there have been basically no public sector jobs created. Despite that, his second term private sector job creation will likely one of, if not the, best in the modern era.

Despite all the caveats, the data are pretty hard to get past. There are really only two explanations that conservatives can offer. The first, I’ve already touched on: the idea that Republicans didn’t get to enact true conservative policy. There are a few problems with this. First, Democrats have been even more stymied in enacting liberal policy. Second, this argument devolves into the libertarian fallacy where non-perfect policy is to blame. The implication of this is that conservative policy will make everything worse the closer you get to the ideal, and then right at the end, everything will be great. Almost nothing in the real world works that way.

The second explanation for this is better: the Republicans just had bad luck. But it is still terrible. Reagan, for one, benefited enormously during the middle of his presidency (“morning in America”) because of the pent-up demand brought on the recession at the end of Carter’s term and action by the Federal Reserve at the beginning of Reagan’s. George W Bush similarly benefited, but still managed to have a bad economic recovery.

Here are all the data combined into a single table:

Term Jobs Created (thousands)
Private Sector Public Sector
Carter 9,041 1,304
Reagan I 5,360 -24
Reagan II 9,357 1,438
GHWB 1,510 1,127
Clinton I 10,885 692
Clinton II 10,070 1,242
GWB I -844 900
GWB II 381 844
Obama I 2,018 -702
Obama II 6,044 30

Note that in the table, Obama’s second term only includes the first 27 months. Assuming the same growth for 48 months would lead to 10,745,000 private sector jobs (second highest in this list), and 53,000 public sector jobs.

One thing on this table that may surprise people is that Carter had a really good term in office. There are two reasons that people don’t think of good times when they think of Carter. First, there was a recession at the end of his term. That is, by the way, why he lost re-election. People seem to only remember the ends of presidents’ terms. This is why Obama is likely to be remembered fondly and why Bush is still persona non grata among conservative elites. But the bigger reason is that the narrative is set by the power elite. During Carter’s time in office, there was high inflation. The rentier class will never forgive him for that (not that it was his fault), and they will not let the rest of us forget it.

This is the way that we should think about the economy. Jobs are what matter. GDP is also important. But as we’ve seen for the entire period that we’ve been talking about, there is little relationship between the growth of the economy and how that translates to the lives of ordinary Americans. Of course, from a political standpoint, none of this matters. The people will continue to vote on how the economy does in the nine months leading up to the next presidential election. And if the economy stalls out in 2016, the electorate will put a Republican in the White House — most likely with predictable results.

Morning Music: the Meaning of “Pablo Picasso”

The Modern LoversWith this Pablo Picasso painting getting sold for $179 million, it got me thinking of the song by The Modern Lovers off that first great album, “Pablo Picasso.” I’ve never spoken to Jojo about it, but I’m pretty sure that everyone misunderstands the song. To start with, it is not about the Pablo Picasso. It is just about a local celebrity. That cool guy who all the other guys want to be. The second verse starts, “Well the girls would turn the color of the avocado;
when he would drive down their street in his El Dorado.” You know that guy.

But the main thing in the song is that Pablo Picasso is never called an “asshole.” Not like you! And this is repeated over and over. But that isn’t the point of the song. It isn’t about how some guys are cool and others aren’t. It isn’t even about a cool guy. The hook is repeated a number of times, “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.” And this builds up to the last line of the song, “Pablo Picasso was never called!” This is, tellingly, a line that is normally missing from covers of the song.

Richman’s point is that you can be like Pablo Picasso and be cool and never make a fool of yourself. And if you do that, you will be alone. Your other option is to put yourself out there. Risk being called “asshole.” But then you won’t be alone. You will be called. This goes along with pretty much Richman’s entire song catalog.

The best example is his song “Affection.” It starts off with him repeating, “People all over the world are starving.” And then he ends it, “People all over the world are starving… for affection.” The refrain of the song is this:

People all over the world are good
People all over the world ain’t bad
But if they keep on chickening out
They won’t get what they wish they had… affection!

And that is what he’s saying in “Pablo Picasso.” That is the meaning of that song: don’t be like Pablo Picasso.

Anniversary Post: Louis XVI Marriage

Louis XVI of France and Marie AntoinetteOn this day in 1770, Louis-Auguste — just 15 years old — married Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia — just 14 years old. They would become king and queen of France, better known as Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. And in 1793, they would both have their heads chopped off after the French Revolution. Should they have been put to death? Well obviously, I don’t think so. I don’t believe in the death penalty — even for Hitler or Pol Pot or that boy who bullied me in grammar school. But a better question is whether they were more deserving to die than the kings and queens who came before them. And the answer to that is certainly no.

That’s not to say that they were good people. They would ghastly. They were the kind of people that royalty have always been. As Dr Willis said in The Madness of King George, “Deferred to, agreed with, acquiesced in. Who can flourish on such a daily diet of compliance?” But the general portrayal of them as particularly horrible is wrong. They do, however, seem to have been of above average silliness without the will or ability to manage their finances. And Marie Antoinette did seem to have an understandable fondness for her mother country, Austria, which also created the understandable nationalist resentment of the French people.

But hell: they got a good two decades during which they got whatever they wanted. They lived to their late thirties. Many people at that time and place did not live as long and no one had it as good. I suspect that most people of that time would have swapped their potential long lives for four wonderful decades. So I’m not shedding any tears for them. They still shouldn’t have been killed. But there were much greater injustices done during the Reign of Terror.

Happy anniversary you kids!