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The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’: Or, How to Turn a $1,000 Art-Auction Pickup Into a $450 Million Masterpiece. / Vulture

Few observers issued as forceful a critique as Carlo Pedretti, a longtime scholar of da Vinci and a former chair in Leonardo studies at UCLA. In an opinion piece for the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Pedretti pointed out that years earlier, another Salvator Mundi, “a better version,” in his estimation, had been floated as the original. Whether it was — the scholarly consensus today is that it wasn’t — the public, Pedretti went on, should be cautious of “the sophisticated marketing operation” surrounding Simon and Parish’s version. “There is … much in circulation in the art market,” he wrote, “and it would be wise not to chase chimeras like the case of the ‘rediscovered’ Salvator Mundi, which in the end explains itself. Just look at it.” A condition of Simon and Parish’s loan of the Salvator Mundi to the National Gallery was that the painting not be actively on sale, or “in the trade,” in art-world parlance. Still, it escaped the attention of no one in the art world that the Salvator Mundi would be the only painting in Syson’s upcoming exhibition to be privately owned, and by a consortium of dealers at that.

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Increasingly Competitive College Admissions: Much More Than You Wanted to Know / Slate Star Codex

Acceptance rates at top colleges have declined by about half over the past decade or so, raising concern about intensifying academic competition. The pressure of getting into a good university may even be leading to suicides at elite high schools. Some people have dismissed the problem, saying that a misplaced focus on Harvard and Yale ignores that most colleges are easier to get into than ever. [...] The stories I hear about this usually focus on how more people are going to college today than ever, but there’s still only one Harvard, so there’s increasing competition for the same number of spots. As far as I can tell, this is false.

Heaven or High Water / Popula

The sea level in Miami has risen ten inches since 1900; in the 2000 years prior, it did not really change. The consensus among informed observers is that the sea will rise in Miami Beach somewhere between 13 and 34 inches by 2050. By 2100, it is extremely likely to be closer to six feet, which means, unless you own a yacht and a helicopter, sayonara. Sunset Harbour is expected to fare slightly worse, and to do so more quickly. [...] I ooohed and ahhed over the view, quite genuinely, because if you don’t think about the fact that it’s filled with thousands of pounds of post-Hot Pilates ceviche poops, Biscayne Bay is breathtaking. I asked how the flooding was. “There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.” “Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.” I asked how the hurricanes were. He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense. I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.” Wow, I said, just in the last three years . . . “They’re not worried about sea level rise?” “It’s definitely something the city is trying to combat. They are fighting it, by raising everything. But so far, it hasn’t been an issue.” I couldn’t wait to steal this line, slightly altered. “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.” [...] She said the main thing is just that Miami was being very forward thinking. She mentioned Amsterdam, and how they were making it work, and how the Dutch were just the poster child for how this worked, and that they were sorting out a way to make this work. “I think the takeaway is just that Miami is doing something about it.” There are several problems with comparing Miami to the Netherlands.

Reading ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ in Baghdad: What Vonnegut taught me about what comes after war / Washington Post

It was Spring 2006. I was leaving for Iraq soon, and I had a big problem. There was no one to receive my romantic letters, but killing and romantic letters are the chief concerns in a war, if I understood films correctly. I found Lauren on MySpace. It got romantic. Handwritten notes crisscrossed vast oceans, and one of them asked if I had ever read a particular novel. It was by Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote about war and time travel, and how the past isn’t really the past. Never, I wrote back. But please send books, I told her, because I had learned that the third chief concern of war is killing time. A package traveled across vast oceans. It had various books, beef jerky, a romantic note and a new copy of “Slaughterhouse-Five.” I tucked it into my cargo pocket and read it, cover to cover, as fast as I could, and I read it again. It came with me to guard posts in Baghdad and primitive outposts in the Diyala River valley. I passed it among my platoon mates to read under a red lens at night.

The mental rigours of being US president / BBC

But Mr Trump - who maintains he is "a very stable genius" - is by no means the first US leader to find himself written off as a lunatic. John Adams, the second president, was described by arch-rival Jefferson as "sometimes absolutely mad". The Philadelphia Aurora, a mouthpiece of Jefferson's party, assailed Adams as "a man divested of his senses". Theodore Roosevelt, the contemporary Journal of Abnormal Psychology theorised, would "go down in history as one of the most illustrious psychological examples of the distortion of conscious mental processes". While Roosevelt campaigned in 1912 to return to the presidency, prominent US historian Henry Adams said: "His mind has gone to pieces… his neurosis may end in a nervous collapse, or acute mania." After Woodrow Wilson had a stroke, his critics claimed the White House had become an insane asylum, pointing out the bars installed on some first-floor windows of the executive mansion.

Jeopardy! Legend Ken Jennings on James Holzhauer / Wired

In his 11-game run, James Holzhauer has dominated Jeopardy! like no one before. That’s no exaggeration. He already holds the four highest-scoring games in the show’s history, and his $771,920 regular-season winnings surpass all but one player in the Jeopardy! firmament: Ken Jennings. You remember Jennings. In 2004, he went on a 74-game, $2,520,700 romp, shattering Jeopardy! records along the way. No one since has lasted more than 20 games, and no one has come anywhere near as close to the money record, especially not this quickly. In fact, at this same point in his own streak, Jennings had accumulated less than half of Holzhauer’s haul so far. At this rate, Holzhauer will surpass Jennings by the end of May. [...] Ken Jennings: First of all, I’m just gobsmacked by James. It's absolutely insane what he's doing. Like, I thought I had seen everything on Jeopardy!. And this is something I would have thought was just impossible, these numbers. Statistically1, he’s playing at as high a level as anyone who’s ever played the game. And then he’s got these incredibly confident wagers. He’s maximizing money. He can make two or three times what any other player ever has with that same level of play, which again is top-shelf. He’s as good as anybody. I’ve always wanted to see somebody play that way, you know?

Are Americans More Divided On #MeToo Issues? / FiveThirtyEight

So we looked at 2016 and 2018 data from The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, which polls large segments of the U.S. electorate to track changes in attitudes and beliefs, including what Americans think about issues of sexual harassment and misconduct. And what we found is that on the whole, since 2016, Republicans have grown more skeptical of women who report harassment and the motivation behind their claims. However, members of both parties were more likely to acknowledge that sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a problem in the U.S. in 2018, compared with 2016 — so there is some evidence that more people from both parties view sexual harassment as a problem today than did before.

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The Most Dangerous Stuff in the Universe - Strange Stars Explained / YouTube (Kurzgesagt)

Inside neutron stars we can find the weirdest and most dangerous substance in the universe: Strange matter. What is strange matter, how dangerous is it and what can it tell us about the origin of the universe?

Follow-up: I found two identical packs of Skittles, among 468 packs with a total of 27,740 Skittles / Possibly Wrong

This is a follow-up to a post from earlier this year discussing the likelihood of encountering two identical packs of Skittles, that is, two packs having exactly the same number of candies of each flavor. Under some reasonable assumptions, it was estimated that we should expect to have to inspect “only about 400-500 packs” on average until encountering a first duplicate. So, on 12 January of this year, I started buying boxes of packs of Skittles. This past week, “only” 82 days, 13 boxes, 468 packs, and 27,740 individual Skittles later, I found the following identical 2.17-ounce packs [..] So, what’s the point? Why bother with nearly three months of effort to collect this data? One easy answer is that I simply found it interesting. But I think a better answer is that this seemed like a great opportunity to demonstrate the predictive power of mathematics. A few months ago, we did some calculations on a cocktail napkin, so to speak, predicting that we should be able to find a pair of identical packs of Skittles with a reasonably– and perhaps surprisingly– small amount of effort. Actually seeing that effort through to the finish line can be a vivid demonstration for students of this predictive power of what might otherwise be viewed as “merely abstract” and not concretely useful mathematics.

The Disconnect Between Biological Time and Standard Time Reduces Health / Marginal Revolution

Exploiting the discontinuity in the timing of natural light at a time-zone boundary, we find that an extra hour of natural light in the evening reduces sleep duration by an average of 19 minutes and increases the likelihood of reporting insufficient sleep. Using data drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Census, we find that the discontinuity in the timing of natural light has significant effects on health outcomes.

A new super-Earth may orbit the star next door / National Geographic

Subtle shifts in the motion of the nearby star Proxima Centauri suggest that it may host not one but two alien worlds.

Rebuilding the Notre Dame with Strong Trees and Laser Scans / Kottke

According to an expert, France doesn’t have any of the large, old trees necessary to replace the burned wooden beams in the roof of the Notre Dame. [...] This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about future planning (possibly apocryphal). [...] So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.” Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks has been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

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