Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Media: Binge Watching "Spiral" ("Engrenages") On Netflix

(Drivebycuriosity) - I love the new media. Platforms like Netflix & Amazon Prime open the world of cinema and TV for little money. There are so many gems to find. Recently my wife and I discovered "Spiral" ("Engrenages") on Netflix and we started binge watching the French cult TV series (imdb). The production, which began in 2005 and expanded into 5 seasons so far, is a real jewel. We are watching the show in French with English subtitles.

The show, which is set in Paris, focuses on a police captain, a single woman between 30 and 40, and her squad. The team behaves almost like a family, there are conflicts and black sheep, but also a lot of solidarity, which is often needed. Their universe is accompanied by other important characters, like an idealist assistant prosecutor, a highly dedicated judge (investigating magistrate) and a scrupulous female lawyer (about 30). A season stretches over one large criminal case, often with grisly murders, which is accompanied by other minor cases, which are not directly related. There also is much room for the personal interactions between the characters, which gives the production the spice.

I think "Spiral" is more realistic and more honest than the typical US production. The producers don´t shy away from messy & ghastly images and frank sexual references, they also give a dark picture of the French law system and the political environment. It seems that the law enforcers have more to struggle with themselves and against powerful & corrupt politicians than with their investigations. "Spiral" is complex, intelligent and highly entertaining.

                                                             Intelligent & Addictive

The cast is superb. My favorite is Caroline Proust as the very ambitious & stubborn police captain Laure Berthaud, who often acts outside the rigid law to hunt down the villains. The Guardian describes her role as "feminist anti-hero" (theguardian). The actress displayes convincingly the strengths and frailties of her character.  Audrey Fleurot as a hyper-ambitious lawyer is the beauty and the beast in one person and Philippe Duclos as a highly dedicated investigating magistrate gives the show some humor and tragedy as well. 

"Spiral" is one of these TV series which are addictive. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Economy: China - Waiting For The Baby Boom

(Drivebycuriosity) - Finally. Yesterday China´s government announced the end of the one-child policy which was implemented in 1979. Back then China was a poor and had a slow growing economy. Feeding a fast expanding population was a challenge. It would have lead to a stagnating or shrinking income per capita as you can see in some African countries. But since then the republic experienced decades of phenomenal growth. Today China´s economy is catching up swiftly to the US with a growth rate of about 7% annually and has already a huge affluent middle class. Salaries have been rising very fast so the Chinese incomes are supporting larger families.

The one-child law did not just reduce personal freedom, it also reduced the proportion of female births drastically thanks to the unfortunate Chinese obsession with male heirs. The low number of female infants had been depressing China´s population growth drastically leading to an aging population like in Europe & Japan (businessinsider). The change to a law which permits two children per family could restart population growth in China (today 1,355 billion wikipedia). It also could reduce the average age of the population or at least slow down its rise.

I think the end of the one-child law could ignite a baby boom in the coming years. Couples, who want to have two children, but were hold back by law, could do that in the coming years, if they are still in a proper age. There could be a backlog.

A stronger population growth should be a boost for China´s economy, especially for consumption, which will last for decades to come. More babies don`t just mean  more diapers, baby food and toddler toys, they also mean more health care spending, more education, more houses, more demand for textiles, electronics and other goods - more demand for everything. And this for a very long time.

Faster growing population and consumer spending will strengthen the domestic Chinese economy and will reduce the country´s dependence from exports and from the global market. This also will stimulate China´s transformation from an emerging country into a large modern economy like the US.
China´s boosted consumer spending also should fane imports fostering so the global economy for many years to come.

P.S.: For illustration I used a painting by the Chinese artist  Zhang Xiaogang. Maybe a couple who wants to expand?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Science Fiction: The Lowest Heaven

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like to buy anthologies of science fiction short stories. Usually I get a lot of interesting ideas for little money. The collection "The Lowest Heaven" attracted me with a price tag of below $5 for the Kindle version (amazon.).

The book - edited by the national Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London -, contains 17 stories (370 pages). I finished reading 5 of them.

I enjoyed "Golden Apple" by Sophia McDougall. A couple breaks into a laboratory to steal sunlight which has been transformed  "into a solid object". What do they purpos with the strange burglary?

There were more passable stories:

In "The Jupiter Files" by Jon Countenay Grimwood a private detective is chosen by the US government, to meet an alien who offers an important deal. The funny story, set in San Francisco around 1950, is strongly influenced by Philip K. Dick.

"A Map of Mercury" by Alastair Reynolds describes the encounter with cyborg artists who have adapted to live in the vacuum of space. It is not one of his best stories, but interesting anyway.

The complicated novella "Ashen Light" by Archie Black describes a murder which happened on a terraformed Venus. The plot reminds a bit of Truman Capotes`s novel "Cold Blood" and could have happened on earth, but it is blended with an elaborate descriptions of a life on a transformed sister planet.

"The Comet´s Tale" by Matt Jones is an old fashioned story about a group of people who got talked into leaving earth on a comet. Entertaining but no science fiction at all.

The book isn´t as strong as the Year´s Best collections by Gardner Dozois (driveby) but I had to pay per story I read and liked just one dollar.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Economy: US Oil Reserves - Buying Expensive, Selling Cheap

(Drivebycuriosity) - Yesterday the US government announced that they plan to sell a part of the official oil reserves, beginning in the year 2018 (bloomberg). Holy cow. They had build up the reserves in the recent years as the price of oil hovered above $100 and now they want to sell it when oil costs less than halve!

According to Bloomberg the US government wants to raise cash. I guess they will by disappointed. It is highly unlikely that they will get their investment back. Nobody knows how much oil will cost in the years 2018 and beyond. But it is reasonable that the commoditywill be not much more expensive than today. The futures on the financial markets signal prices around $60 (cmegroup). I assume oil will even get cheaper. Beginning next year Iran will be allowed to export oil and expand the global supply thanks to the lifted sanctions.And the cost of the US oil production (fracking) are falling swiftly thanks to the rising productivity (driveby).

Buying oil when it is very expensive and selling it for half price or below doesn`t look like good business. China is taking advantage of the oil price drop and filling its oil reserves now. It seems that the communist government has more sense for economics than the leaders of the free world. Buying oil expensive and dumping it cheap is a big waste of tax payer money and a sign of economic illiteracy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Contemporary Art: Let`s Get Figurative & Abstract Too @ Nicelle Beauchene & Jack Hanley Galleries, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Many pundits claim that we live in a sharing economy. Fast growing companies like Uber or Airbnb are living from sharing. Even some art galleries follow the trend. The galleries Nicelle Beauchene & Jack Hanley share a building on New York´s Lower East Side (327 Broome Street artinfo). There is now a show called " Let`s Get Figurative", but there are some abstracts too (nicellebeauchene).

I enjoyed the variety of ideas & styles. Here you can see my favorites from the show, as usual a very selective selection. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

                                                                Sex & Violence


Monday, October 26, 2015

Books: Rome - An Empire´s Story By Greg Woolf

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am fascinated by Rome. I am impressed that an ancient village transformed into a megalopolis that could accumulate & feed about one million residents at her peak and was able to rule almost the whole known world for centuries. Therefore I bought "Rome - An Empire´s Story" by Greg Woolf (amazon).

I think Rome´s history is way too complex to put it in just one book, but Woolf did a good job. He tried to describe "what circumstances and technologies made the creation and maintenance of an empire possible, in just this place and just at that time" (on 378 pages).

The first chapter - called "The Whole Story" - gives a short summary of Rome`s rise and fall.  The following chapters are like a collection of thoughtful essays on different topics like "who were the Romans?"; "how did Rome´s empire grow?";  "why did Rome succeed when its rivals failed"; "why did Rome`s expansion come to a stillstand or "why did the empire shrink until it was, once again, a city state". One chapter is dedicated to the emperors and their dynasties, another chapter portraits generals who influenced Rome´s fate like Sulla,  Pompey and of course Julius Cesar. Woolf also tried to explain Rome`s decline which happened when the empire switched from polytheism  to Christianity - coincidence?

Being an economist I enjoyed most when he describes the economic aspects of Rome´s rise & decline. In chapter 3 ("Rulers of Italy") the author outlines how a cluster of villages "gradually coalesced to form what by ancient standards was a massive city" and tried to explain "what factors made Rome emerge out of the general poverty of Latia culture to rival the great cities of Etruria" with the cities comparative advantage over its rivals. In chapter 4 "Imperial Ecology" (page 59) he speculates how climate changes might have influenced Rome`s rise and fall: The ascend was accompanied by a warmer climate which permitted better crops that could feed more people; the decline occurred in a chilling period. A colder climate might have inspired northern tribes to move south and to invade Rome. He also reports about advances in agriculture & transportation which made it possible to feed a million citizens.

The author also showed that the Greek had a strong influence on Rome´s culture - even as the city state had conquered their kingdoms & cities. Even imprisoned and enslaved Greek were highly respected in Rome´s society.

Woolf also described the importance of slavery for Rome`s economy: "Slaves worked in the fields and the mines, served at the table and in he bedroom, were teachers" They were luxury "the price in today`s terms is about that of a new car". But  "Romans famously freed many of their slaves and gave them a limited form of citizenship.

"Rome - An Empire´s Story" is a valuable introduction into Rome´s complex and rich history, especially that Woolf adds a lot of additional sources and refers to plenty of further reading.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Economy: Federal Reserve - Why It Is Time To Hike Interest Rates

(Drivebycuriosity) - Wall Street is waiting for the verdict. Next Wednesday the Federal Reserve Bank will announce her interest rate decision. At the latest meeting in September Janet Yellen & Co. shied away from the interest rate hike that many had expected. We learned that several members of the monetary committee saw a risk that the additional downward pressure on inflation from lower oil prices could persist (calculatedrisk).

On Friday oil (brent crude, the international oil gauge) cost $47, about the same price as on September 17th, the day of the latest Fed meeting ($47) and close to the low from January ($46.59). So, since January oil didn´t get any cheaper! (bloomberg) The downward pressure had already disappeared in the recent months! It seems that the oil price is sticking close to the $50 mark bolstered by reports about a shrinking US oil production. Meanwhile the basic inflation rate is advancing. The US core inflation rate (without food & energy) advanced in September to 1.9% (August 1.8%), driven by climbing rents and more expensive services, especially rising health care costs.

Fed´s decesion against an interest hike in September might als have been influenced by the turbulences on the global financial markets in August & September, but since then the markets calmed: Wall Street (S&P 500) gained 4%, China´s stock market (Shanghai Composite) jumped more than 10% and the Chinese currency (Yuan) stopped her decline as well.

Zero interest rates don´t fit to a growing economy. US weekly jobless claims are on a 40 years low (bloomberg), retail sales are growing with a solid speed (ex-gasoline plus 4.8% on a YoY basis calculatedrisk) and on Friday we heard that manufacturing in US & Europe rebounded this month (capital).

It is likely that in the coming months the tightening labor market will drive wages and therefore labor costs upwards which should translate into higher prices for services and labor intensive goods. And we are already experiencing rapidly climbing rents and health care costs. Zero interest rates for too long could lead to an overheating labor market and push the core inflation rate higher.

Contemporary Art: The Bold Sister Of The Pirelli Calendar @ Garis & Hahn, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Photographers, who want to be recognized as artists, need to find inventive ways to distinguish themselves. And sometimes they have to provoke. Cindy Sherman became famous with her elaborated and funny self portraits. It seems that Andrea Mary Marshalis is following her example.

The ambitious New Yorker art galler Garis & Hahn (263 Bowery garisandhahn) has now an exhibtion with photographies by Andrea Mary Marshall,  called "The Feminist Calendar 2016" (through NOVEMBER 14, 2015 ). The artist created a calendar with monthly pictures, which are all self portraits. The show looks like the bold sister of the Pirelli Calendar. The larger prints (60 x 40 inches) have a price tag of $10,000.

I display her my favorites from the show. As usual a very subjective selevtion. Let the pictures speak for themselves.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Urbanism: Is Gentrification Really So Bad?

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Everybody is talking about gentrification. Gentrification foes claim that the quality of life is shrinking because cities like New York, London or San Francisco are  changing swiftly. And it looks like that the gentrification process is even accelerating. Since 2012 I have been living in New York City´s Lower East Side and even in this short period I notice almost any day that something has changed. There is so much noisy construction going on. The rents are going up, favorite neighbor shops and restaurants disappear and streets are crowded with tourists and bridge and tunnel people (coming from New Jersey, Connecticut and where else).

I can understand parts of the complaints, yes, rising rents hurt and some people get squeezed out. But this problem isn`t new and not limited to fashionable places like New York City. Recently I watched the Italian film "Umberto D", a classic from 1952 (wikipedia).  The movie tells the story of a man who lives from a small pension and cannot afford the rent for his tiny room anymore. Greedy landlords are global and have been around for a while. New York City, where I live now, alleviates the problem with regulations. Many flats in the metropolis are "rent controlled" or "rent regulated". Tenants, who have the luck to rent one of these flats, pay rents below the market rates and their rents rise slower.

I think a large part of the critique is overdone and often ideological. Take for instance the rant  "Hyper Gentrification, the Monster that ate new York" (vanishing).  Is gentrification really a "monster"?   Jeremiah Moss, the author of the rant and the owner of the popular blog "Jeremiah´s Vanishing New York", claims gentrification is "racism and classism" and whines that the streets are crowded with " “normals,” young, white, traditional heterosexuals in button-down shirts and pleated pants". Holy cow, what is wrong with being "normal, young, white, traditional heterosexual"? Moss` critique sounds intolerant and arrogant!

Moss isn´t alone. David Byrne, a rock star from the 1980s,  laments that in New York City a "culture of arrogance, hubris and winner-take-all was established" (theguardian).  And the late urbanist Neil Smith declares that "gentrification is a product of globalization and neoliberal urban policies, a return to the 18th-century brand of laissez-faire liberalism that assumed the free and democratic exercise of individual self-interest led to the optimal collective social good and that the market knows best" (smith). It seems that these critics have problems with the market economy in general, but socialist countries - like the defunct Soviet Union - aren´t known for better living conditions.

The black filmmaker Spike Lee laments that "black neighborhoods" are getting invaded by affluent whites (nymag).  He complains that "many white people moved in to neighborhoods that had been predominantly black for decades and more". What´s wrong with that? There are no traditional "black neighborhoods" in New York City. Manhattan was originally owned by native Americans, the nation of Lenape (wikipedia). They might complain, but they aren´t around anymore.

The American author James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851 ) described in his novels already the radical changes in the 18th century, even that he might not have known the term "gentrification". Already in the 18th century things have been changing and people got confronted by new life conditions. In the beginning New York was a Dutch city, then it became English, parts were for some times German and changed then into Chinese and Italian neighborhoods. Spike Lee´s blacks came late to the party and they had replaced others who had lived there before them.

Long time New Yorkers tell me that around 30 years ago Manhattan´s Lower East Sid was filthy and crime infected. I was told that you couldn´t get milk there, but at each block somebody offered you drugs. Gentrification turned NewYork`s slums - like the Lower East Side -  into  cool & friendly neighborhoods. Yes, I miss some of the places which had disappeared in the recent years - like Pink Pony on Ludlow (driveby) or WD 50 on Clinton (driveby) - but these places had replaced other less classy places which had existed before them. Today, I really enjoy the mixture of well sorted shops, art galleries, restaurants, bars and the crowd on the streets (nymag bloomberg slate  theatlantic).

Change is the only constant, writes the historian Greg Woolf. I think that gentrification is just a part of it. It is a tradition to replace old things with new ones. Even the old Romans repalced old mansions, temples and bathhouses with new and more majestic constructions. And gentrification is speeding up because the whole society - and technology and culture - are accelerating. We know this phenomena from Moore´s law, but - as the scientist Ray Kurzweil described - everything is accelerating (kurzweil).  Technology, society and culture are changing with a growing speed - and so does a city like New York. And it is not surprising this metropolis is attracting people & capital from all over the world. Rome did it in her heydays and Babylon more than 2000 years ago. The world is changing - relax and enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Economy: The Days Of Opec Are Counted

(Drivebycuriosity) - "Opec is about to crush the US oil boom", writes Bloomberg (bloomberg). The media service reports that the cartel has been raising oil production in the recent months and so enlarged the oversupply on the global oil market. OPEC is pursuing lower oil prices in order to make US oil production unprofitable, explains Bloomberg.

I think that the days of Opec are counted anyway. There are at least 2 trends which are working against the cartel and which could destroy it in some years:

1. The costs of fracking are falling. According to most sources  today the costs to extract an extra barrel of oil (break even point) in the US vary around $60 - with a range of range from around $40 to more than $70 a barrel (marketwatch).  At current oil prices - in the moment of writing the US Type of oil WTI costs about $44 - many wells are unprofitable and are getting shut off. This explains the slight fall of US oil production since summer. But, the productivity of fracking is rising swiftly which leads to shrinking costs. (economics21  oilprice). A study by BP explains that fracking is "a standardized, repeated, manufacturing process" and "manufacturing productivity has led to a trend decline in the prices of goods relative to services" (forbes).

So the break even point has been moving lower and will continue to fall in the coming years.  If the oil price doesn`t drop much deeper, the US production will come back. Opec is not only fighting new producers, the cartel is also struggling against the technological progress.

Falling costs of fracking also raise the chance that in the coming years the US oil producers will  be accompanied by oil producers from China and other countries."In June 2013, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a world shale oil and gas reserve assessment that showed 32 countries outside the United States have substantial reserves locked up in 137 different formations - units that can be exploited using Bakken-like technology....The EIA placed China third behind Russia and the U.S. in tight shale oil reserves - with 32 billion barrels considered technically recoverable." (bismarck).

2. But Opec has not just the problem that producers from outside the cartel will pump more oil thanks to the technological progress. I think that in a few years the demand for oil could start shrinking. A huge amount of the commodity is used for distilling gasoline. But soon the world might burn less gasoline thanks to the advance of electric cars. Tesla, the pioneer and market leader, plans to introduce a more affordable model in 2017 (price about $35,000 huffingtonpost). Apple is supposed to produce electric cars beginning in 2019 and other automakers are working on electric cars as well. It is likely that electric cars will become common after the year 2020. Self-driving cars, which need less gasoline because they drive more efficient, will also put a dent into the gasoline demand (medium).

The energy for electric cars - and other uses of electricity -  comes already from power plants which burn natural gas, which is abundant in the US and Russia. The cost for alternative energies like solar and wind craft also are falling (more technological progress) which will reduce the demand for oil further.

So, Opec has to fight not only with producers outside the cartel, the organization also will have to face a shrinking demand for their products. I reckon that Opec will lose - the already reduced - control of the oil price not far in the future.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Contemporary Art: Idée Fixe @ Denny Gallery, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do you like intense colors? Then you might enjoy an exhibtion @ Denny Gallery on NewYork´s Lower East Side (261 Broome Street   dennygallery). They have a show, called Emily Noelle Lambert:  "Idée Fixe". The artist created "intuitive, vibrant paintings and sculptures that draw from diverse art historical movements, cultures, and styles", explains the press release.

In German language we call this style "quietschbunt", sorry, there is no English word for it. It describes colors, which are very loud, almost squeaking, maybe gaudy. But I like the joyful stile anyway.

I display here my favorites from the show, as usual a very subjective selection. Let the pictures speak for themselves.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Economy: Will Dining Out Get Turned On Its Head?

(Drivebycuriosity) - "Dining out is about to get turned on its head" claims the magazine Eater (eater). Really? They report that Danny Meyer, who owns some popular restaurants in Manhattan, will eliminate tipping and charge higher prices instead. Other restaurants in New York and Los Angeles have also  started a "no tipping' policy" (dailymail). Will the days of the American tipping culture - usually 20% - come to an end?

In Germany - where I grew up - there is no tipping culture. Waiters are paid by the restaurants.  I used to give tips - in cash because the credit card bills don´t have a space for the tip - but just some percentages. Service in German restaurant is usally ok and often fast. But I am impressed how friendly and nice American waiters behave. There is a tangible difference. Often you are treated like a good friend even when the staff doesn´t know you.

The positive attitude of American waiters is not surprising. When your income depends on how your services are evaluated you will  be more motivated.  The US tipping culture is an additional motivation to be extra friendly. How will American waiters respond if they will lose the tips? I guess they will stay friendly but will behave a bit less inspired.

The magazine writes further that Meyer wants to hike pries further maybe 30% or 35%. It looks like that the change in the tipping culture is just an excuse for a planned price hike. How will the customers respond when they have to pay more for a less motivated service?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Contemporary Art: Tell Them Stories @ Mark Miller, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Painters are often story tellers. Mark Miller Gallery, one of the legion of art sellers on New York´s Lower East Side (92 Orchard Street markmillergallery ),  has a group show, called: "Tell Them Stories: Origins" (through November 1st, 2015). The curators have assembled 18 artists who responded to popular culture and created "commentaries on our times that blur the lines of demarcation present in art world hierarchical standards", says their press release.

I display here my favorites from the show. As usual a very subjective selection. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

On Top of this post you can see "The Arc of the Narrative" by Adam Caldwell  (2015, Oil on canvas).

Above follows the almost "Invisible Woman" by John JacobsMeyer (2004, Oil on canvas).

Peter Drake`s "Parade" (2008, Acrylic on canvas).

"State of the Union"  by John Brosio  (2011, Paper print 16/50 limited edition).


Monday, October 19, 2015

Economy: China - Right On Track

 Before you continue  reading I have a much newer and updated version here

Technology: Can Computers Lie? - "The Cure" Playing In A Mexican Restaurant?

(Drivebycuriosity) - This morning I got an e-mail from "Bandsintown", a renowned website which announces rock concerts and links to ticket providers. The mail was called "The Cure just announced a new concert!" (screenshots). The mail told me that "The Cure" will play at Mexical Live at Teaneck, New Jersey (USA).   I googled the place, it is a Mexican restaurant in a tiny town which shows local bands.

Really? Will "The Cure" play in a obscure Mexican Restaurant? Another Google reseach showed that  Mexical Live had anounced a concert by a band called "The Cause and the Cure" (screenshot). It seems that the computers at "Bandsintown" picked just the word "Cure" and spreaded it over the mailing lists. It doesn`t occure to a computer that a band like "The Cure" does NOT play in a Mexican restaurant.

Don´t trust computers. Sometimes they lie.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Contemporary Art: The Engineeress & More @ Castle Fitzjohns Gallery, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like to go to art galleries because they are full of surprises. Castle Fitzjohns gallery on New York´s gallery mile Orchard Street (98 Orchard castlefitzjohns) has now a group show, called "Urban Development " (through October 30, 2015 ). I enjoyed the displayed variety of ideas, styles and techiques. I present herr my favorites from the show, as usual a very subjective selection. But the pictures speak for themselves.

On top of this post you can see "The Engineeress" by Ori Carion & Benjamin Armas (2015, Brick mortar, wood, acrylic paint). For just  $9,500 you could take her with home.

Above Ori Carino`s, "New World" (2015, acrylic paint, mineral pigment, airbrush, fine brush on canvas) price tag $25,000.

"Memories of the Boombox" by Marcus Jansen (2013, Acrylic, mixed media on canvas) $12,000

"Vandal Gummy (Chanel)" by WhisBe (2015, Acrylic, ink, diamond dust on canvas) $5,500. Nice kid, isn`t it?

Krista Louise Smith`s 201#, (Oil on Linen). For $4,800 she will be yours.