February 2, 2011

Google Introduces Art Project

Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy—with a view on Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”

Wow! This is absolutely astonishing, brilliant, and breathtaking! Believe me, I’m not exaggerating. By using the same process as the Street View vans that trekked through cities and suburbs for Google Maps, Art Project gives people a first-hand look at 17 of the world’s most acclaimed art museums—including, among others, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in London, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence—with a selection of super high-resolution images of famous works of art as well as more than a thousand other images, by more than 400 artists, at one’s fingertips.

It all began, says the head of the Art Project, Amit Sood, in Google’s official blog,

when a small group of us who were passionate about art got together to think about how we might use our technology to help museums make their art more accessible---not just to regular museum-goers or those fortunate to have great galleries at their doorstep, but to a whole new set of people who might otherwise never get to see the real thing up close.

As it was not enough, Amit Sood says that he hopes more museums will join the project and that the project will develop the technology further: “I want to find the technology to capture three-dimensional art such as Michelangelo’s David. It’s not going to be easy but these are the kinds of things we hope to explore.”

So what are you waiting for? Go there and enjoy!

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

Learning From Reagan

What today’s leaders can learn from Reagan (in view of the approaching 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan). Mortimer Zuckerman, in U.S. News & World Report:

He had an instantaneous grasp of the main issue or the true problems, and he was decisive in his responses.
Reagan provided what Americans wanted most: a strong leader who could and would lead in a principled way. To refresh a phrase once used about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, this man was "not for turning." He made that clear early on, to the gratified astonishment of the nation, when he fired the striking air traffic controllers—who quickly learned that this commander in chief was not to be taken casually.
As if born with the instinct to be a transformational president, Reagan knew how to instill confidence in a nation that felt it had lost its way. Add to that his transparent likability, and you can understand why Americans felt so good about him and better about themselves when they listened to him. In the process, he earned an enormous presumption of credibility, affection, and support from the American public, even among those, like myself, who hadn't voted for him.
So today we remember fondly "the great communicator" who loved to frame his public policies in such pithy metaphors. "A recession," he explained, "is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours." And he could be bitingly direct, too. He uttered the most memorable line of the Cold War in Berlin in 1987: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Yet he was ready to form a friendship with the same Mikhail Gorbachev, negotiating agreements, and again bringing forth another pointed slogan: "Trust but verify."

The Great Stagnation

Tyler Cowen 
To be honest, I don’t usually read books on economics, but Tyler Cowen is one of the few economists whose … blog posts I read (or try to read!) quite regularly, in fact, he also runs, along with Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution, a famous economics blog. Yet, despite my own limitations, this post is about a book on economics I have only just started reading, as suggested by my Italian economics guru, Oscar Giannino.

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better is a short take on the US’s recent economic trajectory and was released only in electronic format in January 2011. The book’s central issue is: Why American median wages have risen only slowly since the 1970s, and why this multi-decade stagnation is not yet over? This, according to Cowen, has

a single, littlenoticed root cause: We have been living off low-hanging fruit for at least three hundred years. We have built social and economic institutions on the expectation of a lot of low-hanging fruit, but that fruit is mostly gone.

In a figurative sense, he says elsewhere,

the American economy has enjoyed lots of low-hanging fruit since at least the seventeenth century, whether it be free land, lots of immigrant labor, or powerful new technologies. Yet during the last forty years, that low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are more bare than we would like to think. That’s it. That is what has gone wrong.

The problem, of course, won’t be solved overnight, but in Cowen’s opinion there are reasons to be optimistic: Americans simply have to recognize the underlying causes of their past prosperity—low hanging fruit—and how they will come upon more of it.

This book is about America, but it is also about Europe.

For those who don’t know him, Tyler Cowen is Holbert C. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and a columnist for The New York Times and Slate.