A Nobel gesture

Congratulations to Richard Thaler on his 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics. The professor took some hardly veiled shots at the Preznit, but also offered some “gee, I just can’t figure it” about the stock market:

“His ratio of certitude to knowledge is nearing record highs,” Thaler said on Bloomberg Radio with Tom Keene and David Gura. “We all need a lot of humility, and especially about the economy.”
Thaler also expressed surprise that the stock market is returning good performance with few disruptions during what he sees as uncertain political times. Congress is grappling with a tax reform proposal, but infighting among Republicans has called into question whether a package will ultimately pass.

“Who would have thunk that the stock market would just continue to go up” during “what has to be the most uncertain times of my lifetime,” Thaler said. “Surely it can’t be based on the certitude that there will be a massive tax cut, given the seeming inability of the Republican Congress to get their act together. So I don’t know where it’s coming from.”

Well, who knows? If you read PK, he seems clear headed about it, if full of Robert Hughes allusions. But how about this: Maybe the indices keep going up, despite the uncertainty and turmoil, because as a set of money-making wagers, they actually feed on that level of chaos. Maybe as a ruse, or cover, for the Ponzi nature of the games being plied and played. The ‘it’s all so complex and confusing, who knows how it works’ absolutely accrues to the benefit of some. See the bankster/fraudsters of 2008 and how they have ascended to far more dizzying heights in the time since, and the extent to which questions about all this convenient success equal nothing more than conspiracy theories. They don’t even bother with calling people Commies anymore.
Quite a trick.

Femen against the isms

inna shevchenko - femen recruit women in france, reuters - 13700806

Have you heard of Femen? It’s an international women’s movement, working mostly in France and the Ukraine but many other places as well, and their tactics are serious and shirtless. The courage it takes to confront the establishment(s) in this way, especially in the Arab world, is empowering just to consider. The images are supposedly NSFW but this says more about our workplaces than it does about their movement.

It was the movement’s fifth birthday earlier this week, on April 10. Happy, happy.

Image: Reuters photo of Femen leader Inna Shevchenko, Paris, 2012

Means as Message


The Times returns to a past series on driving distractions to look at LED billboards:

Some cities and states are debating whether to prohibit or regulate this new form of advertising for fear that it can distract drivers and raise the rate of accidents.

new study concludes that there are environmental reasons to avoid digital billboards as well. Digital billboards, which are made of LED lights, consume lots of energy and are made of components that will turn into e-waste once the billboard’s life has ended.

But wait, you ask, isn’t LED lighting quite energy-efficient? True, notes the report’s author, Gregory Young, a Philadelphia-based architectural designer and urban planner. But traditional billboards are lit by only two or three lamps, albeit inefficient ones, and only at night. By contrast, digital billboards have hundreds if not thousands of LEDs, which are illuminated day and night. And LEDs function poorly at high temperatures, so the signs need a cooling system.

This would seem to be the worst of both worlds so, of course: we all want one. Turn your interstate into a lame version of the Vegas strip. Really, it’s another brilliant move by the outdoor advertising industry, who you should assume has all your best interests at heart – they’re looking out for you, just like all the health care companies and financial planning institutions that pay their biggest fees. But even outside of the inherent dangers of looking up from your iPad burrito Four Loko steering wheel and general eco-lessness of these forms of advertising, I’m more concerned about the sort of dull feeling about our surroundings that actually emanate from them, much more strongly than any other intended message. Beaming lights in articulation of a come-in and/or otherwise recognizable logo design is our current version of anti-beauty. And as much as LED billboards seem like some sort of natural evolution of the kind of eye-poison to which we’ve all become so accustomed and accommodating, they’re not. They are their own form of dystopia. I.e., an actual sign of something.

Since some call this the season of beauty, everyone should just take some time and re-load on the most agreeable things you can find. It will help us not be so accepting of these kinds of invasions into our mental space, especially through the pollution of actual space, using actual pollution to do it. Three birds: meet my friend, stone.

Two forms of sacrilege

When we live as though certain things do not matter, we should not be surprised at the result. What do you have to learn from beauty? From the essay by Roger Scruton:

Those thoughts return us to my earlier argument. We can see the modernist revolution in the arts in Greenberg’s terms: art rebels against the old conventions, just as soon as they become colonised by kitsch. For art cannot live in the world of kitsch, which is a world of commodities to be consumed, rather than icons to be revered. True art is an appeal to our higher nature, an attempt to affirm that other kingdom in which moral and spiritual order prevails. Others exist in this realm not as compliant dolls but as spiritual beings, whose claims on us are endless and unavoidable. For us who live in the aftermath of the kitsch epidemic, therefore, art has acquired a new importance. It is the real presence of our spiritual ideals. That is why art matters. Without the conscious pursuit of beauty we risk falling into a world of addictive pleasures and routine desecration, a world in which the worthwhileness of human life is no longer clearly perceivable.

The paradox, however, is that the relentless pursuit of artistic innovation leads to a cult of nihilism. The attempt to defend beauty from pre-modernist kitsch has exposed it to postmodernist desecration. We seem to be caught between two forms of sacrilege, the one dealing in sugary dreams, the other in savage fantasies. Both are forms of falsehood, ways of reducing and demeaning our humanity. Both involve a retreat from the higher life, and a rejection of its principal sign, which is beauty. But both point to the real difficulty, in modern conditions, of leading a life in which beauty has a central place.

Read the whole thing, especially the bit between the lines. Unfortunately, kitsch represents the ultimate in sustainability. Fortunately, remedies abound.

Thanks, Andy.