Thursday, March 29, 2018

Netflix: Binge Watching Babylon Berlin

(Drivebycuriosity) - In the recent days I have been binge watching the TV series "Babylon Berlin" on Netflix ( in German with English subtitles). I really enjoyed it. The ambitious German production can easily compete with HBO series. The plot is set in Berlin in the year 1929 - the late roaring twenties - as the metropolis was wild, flamboyant, kinky & dangerous. It tells an alternate history, a fictional past where a young police officer arrives from Cologne to investigate a blackmail case in the porn scene, but the story evolves soon into something much bigger (this is a spoiler free blog. You can find more here wikipedia ).






The directors, Tom Twyker, known from "Lola Runs",  Hendrik Handloegten & Achim von Borries, who also wrote the script, created a complex but enthralling plot (loosely based on a novel by Volker Kutscher faz.net). The investigation gets drawn into a vortex of crime & politics caused by the fragile situation in Germany. In these days the fledgling post-war democracy was challenged from left & right - a fertile soil for lots of criminal activities.

"Babylon Berlin" mixes an intelligent political plot with superb entertainment and blends decadence, bohemian culture, violence, romance and much more into an amusing cocktail. The Babylon  Berlin team took a lot of efforts and money to reconstruct the Berlin of 1929 - a rough but fascinating world - and choreogrpahing action scenes. The series was shot at 300 different locations with a lot of elaborated actions scenes including a trainjack. The amazing soundtrack (curated by Bryan Ferry who also wrote some of the songs) enhance the pleasure considerably.




The best pieces are the decadent night club scenes, especially when Severija Janušauskaitė inspires her audience with her song "Zu Asche, zu Staub". The Lithuanian multi-talent (wiki ) plays an important role as a Russian immigrant who has a strong influence on the case. I also enjoyed Liv Lisa Fries`performance as an ambitious and easy going girl. Her character is fearlessly working on her social rise and has another major part in the investigation. Volker Bruch as the war-traumatized but zealous investigator impressed as well.

"Babylon Berlin" is gripping, sexy, kinky and highly entertaining. Watch it!

PS On top of the post you can see an image by the German illustrator Kat Menschik.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Economics: Why A Trade War With China Would Hurt Americans Most

(Drivebycuriosity) - Do we approach a trade war? Trump`s announced massive tariffs on Chinese products could easily escalate into a full fledged trade war.

Trump - and his supporters on the right & left - claim that free trade with China is hurting the poor in the US. Their argumentation is simple: Unskilled US workers are losing their jobs because people buy Chinese products that are cheaper thanks to low wages in China.  The China trade haters claim that Chinese workers are undercutting American workers and so stealing their jobs. But they are wrong.


Every American benefits from cheap Chinese goods, especially the poor. Imports from China, including apparel, hardware and toys, are reducing the cost of living in the US. And they make many things like smartphones, laptops and other electronics more affordable. These cost savings allow the poor to spend more money for other goods and services - they gain more life quality. Money which isn´t spend for apparel, hardware & Co (because of the lower prices) will be spend for domestic goods & services and will create new jobs in the US - compensating the job losses at least partly.

Free Trade with China - and with the rest of the world - also creates a healthy competition. If US producers would be protected by trade restrictions as Trump & Sanders demand, they would become monopolists - more or less. Then they could hike prices and reduce the quality of their products (lower quality means lower productions costs = higher profits). So the free trade with China not only implies lower prices it also yields a higher quality and more variety. And the competition with China forces the US industry to become more efficient & productive.

Due to the low prices China has a trade surplus meaning that the country exports more goods to the US than it imports from there. China uses these surpluses to buy US government bonds (treasuries) with a value of trillions of dollars (investopedia).  So the Chinese workers are financing the US public deficit and indirectly the US public spending. Without the Chinese treasury purchases the US government would have to pay higher interest rates and maybe reduce the public spending which could cost US jobs.

A trade war would hike prices and interest rates, both would reduce American consumer spending & slow down economic growth considerably, it might even cause a new recession. Beware of a trade war.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Contemporary Art: Structural Color @ The Hole New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Some galleries have funny names. "The Hole" on Manhattan`s popular entertainment mile Bowery (312 Bowery, New York  theholenyc) seems to specialize in experimental art. They have frequently interesting shows (I have reported about this gallery before  here  here). Obviously the location attracts a cool crowd who make the shows even more appealing.



Yesterday I enjoyed an exhibition with works by Joe Reihsen, called "Structural Color" (through April th 2018 ). The press release explains:  "In this new show, “Structural Color”, Reihsen has again invented a new way to make an abstract painting….. These works are made more like a monoprint, paint from one surface is transferred to another surface by being stuck onto plastic. Elaborate armatures and physical effort were deployed in creating these paintings, especially the twelve-foot pieces".
.


The press release continues: "These pieces are both super smooth surfaced and iridescent with color. Almost metallic looking, the new paintings shimmer and glow almost in the manner of a butterfly wing, soap bubble, peacock feather: what is known as structural color. While not microscopically textured to interfere with visible light (as are some feathers, beetles, or berries are) the paintings instead have an almost lenticular design, where opposing sides of each painted “cliff” are hit with different hues. The paintings look wet with color, sticky with it, yet touching them (please don’t touch them!) reveals they are totally smooth."




I  like the structures and the explosive compositions.


 Sometimes filigree elements combine into majestic wall filling murals.





Above some detail shots, all acrylic on canvas.

The gallery also shows work by Holton Rower. some of them you can see below.


Stay tuned.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Economics: In Defense Of Driverless Cars

(Drivebycuriosity) - Driverless cars are under scrutiny. A woman got killed by a self-driving car. A video shows that the victim suddenly stepped into the way of the car. A human driver could not have reacted either and and wouldn`t have been able to avoid the accident. The missing human control didn´t change the event.

But it seems that the luddites are abusing the accident as an argument against driver-less cars.  I think they are mistaken and the world will be better with self-driving cars.  Car accidents - with human drivers - killed 37,461 people alone in the US in 2016 (usatoday). Do we prohibit cars? Do we prohibit human drivers? Machines have a shorter response time which would reduce this number significantly.

Self-driving will cause much fewer accidents. They don`t drink and drive, they don´t text while driving. Robots don`t drive aggressively, they aren´t distracted, they don`t have to impress by speedy driving, they do note engage in car races, they don´t fall asleep while driving and they adapt their speed to the traffic situation.

Computers cause way fewer accidents because they don´t make mistakes and they don´t behave unlawful. A computer needs just a nanosecond to respond to a surprising event (like a child on the street), much faster than a human brain. And with the assistance of sensors the computer can respond to the traffic situation (hydroplaning, ice, potholes) much better than a human driver. Fewer accidents mean less lost lives and save a lot of costs for the economy.

Self-driving cars are more efficient, because computers can calculate the optimum speed, track and driving rhythm. Therefore they use less energy to go from place A to place B. Self-driving cars will burn less gasoline which reduces the consumption of fossilized energy and exhaust, dampening the greenhouse effect.

Fewer accidents will translate into lower insurance costs so driving will get cheaper which also will reduce the costs for Uber and taxi rides.

Welcome driverless cars!
 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Photography: Late Winter In Tompkins Square Park


(Drivebycuriosity) -  Officially the spring has begun. But winter came back, at least for one day. Today one of the nasty North·Easters is covering New York with wet & heavy snow. But mistress winter has some charm as well.



I used the occasion to take some winterly pictures in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan`s East Village. As you can see the saturated snow is coating benches and trees, creating a kind of fairy tale landscape.




Enjoy

Economics: The Costs Of Xenophobia

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems that the Americans are driven by xenophobia. Many are afraid of evil foreign powers who do harm to them and the whole world. The main culprits today are Russia, Iran & China. Hence the Americans, or at least their government, want to punish them, by implying sanctions and tariffs.

Unfortunately these punishments come with high costs - for the Americans. Russia & Iran belong to largest global oil producers of the world. Implying new sanctions against Russia and reviving old ones against Iran would reduce the global oil supply and hike the price of oil. The price of oil already climbed more than 30% in the recent 12 months and could jump above $100 if the supply of Russian & Iranian oil is disrupted.

Unfortunately the US economy is very sensitive to oil prices. It seems that the Americans are addicted to driving and gasoline consume. In January the US retail sales already dropped because Americans spend more money on the gas pumps and bought less other goods & services. If the oil price rises to fast and too high the damage could get much worse.




A trade war against China will harm the US most, especially low income groups. Americans would have to pay much higher prices for many goods, including cars, clothing, electronics and more. Low income families would have a lower standard of living because they would have to spend much more for apparel, hardware, toys and multiple other from China imported goods and could therefore purchase less other goods & services. China also could retaliate and punish US companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, McDonald's and many more.

A combination of spiking oil prices with sharply reduced China exports & imports would slow American´s economy and could even lead to a new recession  - a very high price for economic illiteracy and xenophobia.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Economics: Why Is India So Far Behind China - The Gandhi Effect

(Drivebycuriosity) - Why is India still so poor? India`s per capita income is just $7,200 (cia.gov/library ). The chart below shows that the South Asian country lags far behind China which reached a per capita income of $16,600.





China`s rise is the result of a fundamental change. In the late 1970s, China has moved from a closed, centrally planned system to a more market-oriented one. China has implemented reforms in a gradualist fashion, resulting in efficiency gains that have contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978 (cia.gov).

India instead was kept back by the Gandhi effect. After becoming independent in the year 1949 India`s economic politics was strongly influenced by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, who was an anti-capitalist and an ascetic (wikipedia). He didn`t believe that humans behave rational and are guided by self-interest. The activist cared less about accumulating wealth and economic prosperity. Instead he rejected materialism and preached a policy of self-sufficiency. Gandhi also called for the boycott of foreign-made goods (Swadeshi movement)

In the second half of the 20th century India mostly followed his philosophy and implemented an Gandhian-economics (wikipedia). Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India said: “Never talk to me about profit, it is a dirty word” (Economy). India`s policy tended towards protectionism, with a strong emphasis on import substitution (Ghandi`s self-sufficiency), meaning replacing imported cars and other products with Indian made things, even though they cost much more and had a lower quality (Ghandi`s Swadeshi movement). India also focused on economic interventionism (politicians decide what and how much to produce & consume), a large government-run public sector, business regulation, and central planning.

The result was an anemic economic growth at least through the 1990 and the majority of the population was kept in an extreme poverty. I visited the country in 1994 and stayed there 6 weeks. I was surprised how bureaucratic the whole country was organized which slowed  everything down and caused high costs. The Gandhi effect suppressed large parts of the country. I felled depressed that so many people lived on a stone age level.

India`s policy began to change in the 1990s, first slowly, but gaining speed after the millennium  change. Today India`s economy is growing about 7% annually, a bit faster then the Chinese economy (6,5-7%). I think this acceleration is mostly owed to Narendra Damodardas Modi, who became chief minister in 2001 and India`s prime minister in 2014. According to Wikipedia  Modi's government focuses on privatization and liberalization of the economy, based on a neoliberal framework (wikipedia).

That´s good news for India`s population. But, even if India manages to keep the actual economic growth rate of about 7% annually they will need decades to reach the current income level of China.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Movies: Red Sparrow

(Drivebycuriosity) - The world is changing, but there is always business for spies and always material for good spy stories. The film "Red Sparrow", which runs now in US cinema theaters, belongs to the best recent spy movies (imdb). A former ballerina of Moscow´s Bolshoi Theater needs a new profession. Her uncle, a high ranking Russian spy, recruits her for the Russian intelligence. After attending a special education in seducing & deceiving, she calls it "whore school", the ex-ballerina is send on a mission which starts a vertigo of events & experiences (this is a spoiler free blog. You  can find a synopsis here wikipedia).

I had a lot of fun watching the movie. The producers took their time to develop a complicated but plausible plot with a lot of twists and surprises which reminded me a bit of John le Carré`s classics but also of the spy series "The Americans".  Over 2 hours 40 minutes director Francis Lawrence & screen writer Justin Hayth send their the protagonist and the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. The film is smart, sexy, beautiful shot; hot steamy scenes are followed by brutality & violence and turn then again in sheer beauty.




"Red Sparrow" is build around Jennifer Lawrence who incarnates perfectly the ballerina turned spy. The director had worked with her before in several "Hunger Games" movies, but this film is for an adult audience. Jennifer shows more intelligence, more style, more power and , yes, more sex, she`s not afraid to present her beauty in some nude scenes. The actress - and her character - combines high intelligence with an amazing beauty. Often the camera focuses on her face and the audience gets mesmerized by her eyes.

I also indulged into the performance by Charlotte Rampling as a Russian spy instructor, tough, unforgiving & decadent - priceless. The rest of the cast impressed as well, especially Michael Schoenaerts as the "helpful" uncle (with a makeup which let him look a  bit like President Vladimir Putin), Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds (known as Cesar in HBO´s "Rome") and Mary-Louise Parker, whom I had admired in "West Wing" as a bitchy but alluring person. She has developed her bitchiness well over the years. Cinematography and soundtrack amplify the pleasure watching this movie.






"Red sparrow" is a perfect action movie and the proof that contemporary spy movies can be smart & highly entertaining as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Economics: Welcome Back Art Market

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last year the global art market staged a comeback. After two years of decline, the global art market grew about 12 percent in 2017, with about $63.7 billion in sales (artnews).

I  had already expected this recovery and had denounced the early claims of an art market peak. In February 2017 I supposed "that the global art market will follow the stock markets and will reach record sales & prices as well" (driveby). In 2017 the US stock market, (represented by the S&P 500) gained 19.42% and the art market accompanied him. History shows that stock markets & art markets walk side by side. Art is not only bought by collectors, who love it and want to own it, art is also purchased by investors & speculators, who hope to sell it later for a higher price. Economic growth and gains on real estate & stocks raised the wealth of potential art buyers and encouraged them to take more risks.


I believe that both, stock market & art market, will continue climbing this year, fostered by a growing global economy and stronger investor optimism which are lifting all boats.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Culture: Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Brooklyn Steel

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like powerful atmospheric rock music. Fortunately my wife shares this taste. Yesterday we went to Brooklyn Steel, a rock venue in Brooklyn, to attend a gig by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The Canadian instrumental band delivered mini symphonies, very dark & beautiful pieces.



Each piece lasted more than 10 minutes. They began soft and very slow, but got stronger & more powerful over the time. Godsped´s dark music - a synthesis of violin, guitars & drums - created intense acoustical images of a cold & sinister world, somewhere in the North. The concert reminded me a bit of Mogwai, Sigur Rós, Pink Floyd, Sibelius and Scandinavian black metal bands.

The hall was kept in dark, just illuminated by the films which were projected on a large screen behind the band. The monochrome movies displayed frugal landscapes, simple architecture, a burning plane,  scenes of violence and sometimes abstract compositions which fit perfectly to the dark sound. Music & films merged into a psychedelic piece of art which could fit into an amazing museum like New York´s MoMa or the Broad in Los Angeles. The finale escalated into a furious crescendo setting a perfect punch line.

Thanks Godspeed for this amazing experience.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Economy: Who Would Lose A Global Trade War?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Are we approaching a global trade war? President Trump´s tariffs on steel & aluminum could provoke retaliatory actions and the European Union, China & other nations could punish US producers. History shows that trade wars often escalate. In the year 1930 the US implied high tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods (Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act) which provoked countermeasures by England & France. As a result global trade imploded and the recession became the Great Depression (smoot-hawley).

In a global trade war everybody will lose, but I believe that a global trade war will harm the US most, especially low income groups. Americans would have to pay much higher prices for many goods, including cars, clothing, electronics and more. Low income families would have a lower standard of living because they would have to spend much more for apparel, hardware, toys and multiple other imported goods and could therefore purchase less other goods & services. A trade war would also reduce competition on the US markets. If American companies don´t have to compete with foreign companies they gain monopoly power. Then they could hike their prices further and reduce the quality of their products & services because their customers cannot change to foreign products.

China and other countries would certainly respond to new American trade barriers and would restrict their American imports as well. They did it before. Not long after Barack Obama took office, US trade and commerce authorities announced a 35% import tariff on Chinese tires. In response, China took retaliatory steps of imposing tariffs on US chicken and automotive products. Both China and the US suffered losses as a result. From then on, the Obama administration waged no trade war against China.

If Trump goes into a full fledged trade war, American companies could lose their oversea markets. Beijing could replace Boeing orders by Airbus, halt purchases of US cars and iPhones and reduce the massive imports of US pork, corn, soybean & maize. According to Bloomberg US multinational corporations - including Starbucks & McDonald`s - have more than $228 billion invested in China (bloomberg).  Many US companies & farmers would lose customers and would be forced to fire employees. Many Americans would lose jobs, income & purchasing power.

I assume that China, Trump`s main enemy, would be hurt much less.  China with about 1.3 billion people is much stronger than Europe was in the 1930s. The United States absorbs only 16% of Chinese exports (nytimes). The huge country is already transforming into a modern economy and reducing her dependence on exports & manufacturing. A trade war could accelerate China`s transformation into a modern society which is based on domestic demand and services like the US. Chinese retail sales are already growing 1about 10% annually and will so compensate a part of missing exports at least. Alibaba (E-Commerce), Xiaomi (electronics)  and other companies, who cater the domestic market, are rising fast. Beijing can compensate at least some shrinking US demand by stimulating domestic demand through reducing taxes & less regulation, lower interest rates and by pumping more money into the domestic economy (infrastructure investments).

If Trump really starts a global trade war the rest of the world could respond by reducing existing tariffs & other trade barriers and could trade more with each other. No country is a free trader. China could compensate reduced exports to the US by selling more to the rest of Asia, to Europe & to Latin America. Beijing is already talking with Japan & South Korea about a trade pact (reuters). A trade war inflicted by Trump could foster these attempts and Australia, European Union, UK, Mexico and other Latin American countries might join.

If Trump would start a trade war he certainly would throw a lot of sand into the gearing of the global economy. He certainly would dampen global growth. But the diminished global relevance of the US would limit the damage. And the rest of world could even limit the damage by trading more freely with each other, for instance by creating an European-Asian free trade area. America would lose this trade war, would weaken her economy, impoverish low income groups and get insulated.  Does Trump really intend to ruin America´s economy which would certainly cost him a second presidency?

PS For illustration I used an image by the American artist Richard Prince called: "Cowboy".
 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Movies: Annihilation

(Drivebycuriosity) - Are there alternate universes? Some scientists believe that our universe is not alone, they think that there can be trillions of parallel worlds with very different life forms. These worlds could follow very exotic laws of nature. What will happen if one of these worlds mingles with our? The film "Annihilation" might be a take on this question (imdb).

"Annihilation"is another masterpiece by Alex Garland, who had already impressed with "Ex Machina". The director enthralls his audience again, albeit "Annihilation" is not quite as outstanding as his first movie. Garland picturized a sci-fi novel by Jeff VanderMeer. Somewhere on the US south coast are strange things happening. Suddenly a shimmering electromagnetic field appeared, called the "shimmer", and began to spread. The world inside differs substantially from our world and people who went inside, didn`t return. Anyway, a  group of bold females, scientists & ex soldiers, takes the risk and enters the "shimmer" (this is a spoiler free blog. You can find a synopsis here wikipedia).

I enjoyed the speculative but logical plot and the surreal world inside the "shimmer". Apparently a very peculiar evolution is happening there.  The "shimmer" is a dangerous place but also fascinating and so beautiful that I would have liked to explore it by myself - thanks to the amazing cinematography and the art of SX effects. There are of course influences by other sci-fi movies like "Alien" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".

The movie is a proof that well made science fiction could be a lot fun and also be thought-provoking.