Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Economics: Why Everybody Should Live In Big Cities

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like big cities. I live in New York City and I enjoyed visiting London, Madrid, Bangkok, Mexico City and other metropolises. I think everybody should live in big cities. The metropolises have plenty of advantages. I don´t need a car (and I don`t have one) because the distances are short. Most things can be done by walking or using subways & buses. Therefore the costs of getting to somewhere (work, shopping, leisure) are much lower - the money saved can be spend for other things, if everybody would do that it would be a huge boon for the whole economy.

Big cities foster economic growth because they offer more opportunities (jobs, leisure, shopping)  which translates into a higher productivity of their residents  ( newyorkfed ). "When people cluster more tightly together, they become more productive", writes Bloomberg commentator Noah Smith (bloomberg). "Packed city centers are correlated with economic growth, talent levels, and diversity" notices the city expert Richard Florida  (citylab).

If everybody would move to big cities people would burn much less gasoline because they would commute much shorter distances. Americans depend on oil because many live in the hinterland and in the sprawl and they need to drive a lot. Oil - and gasoline - would be much cheaper thanks to the reduced demand - another boon for the economy. Today the US economy is addicted to gasoline and gets hurt when gas prices spike. Nine out of ten of the U.S. recessions since World War II were preceded by a spike up in oil prices, writes Prof. James D. Hamilton, University of California, San Diego ( pdf econweb). In 2008 rising household energy prices constrained household budgets and increased mortgage delinquency rates" (oilprice). Low income suburban homeowners suffered most from the rising gas prices.  Poor homeowners are called "subprime" and their delinquencies are known as "subprime crisis."

Burning much less gasoline would also significantly reduce the emission of CO2 and so global warming - maybe it would even stop it. 

If everyone - who is not already there - would move to the big cities, the sprawl would disappear. Today large areas of the US - and other countries - are covered with concrete: Houses, shopping malls, streets. These areas could be transformed back into the original nature - forests & grass lands - which also would reduce global warming.

 Vertical Cities

If the population of the US - about 320 million people - would live in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and other metropolises these cities would get much bigger of course. Can New York City, Los Angles, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities each have 40 million residents and more? It would certainly need a change of the zoning laws which restrict construction today. The communities would have to permit high rises like in Manhattan, parts of Los Angeles and other metropolis. Skyscrapers  -  especially the new slim towers you can see now in Manhattan - don´t need much space. The new slim towers multiply the number of available apartments per square foot. So cities can grow vertical - and upwards is a lot space, thanks to modern technologies.

Communities, city planers and developers could learn from Singapore, which has to deal with a very limited space. The city-state created a "vertical village",  a building complex that contains 31 stacked’ residential blocks and is six stories tall. The construction includes swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens and roof terraces (independent). If the cities allow much higher buildings and construct vertical villages they would create enough free space between the towers for parks & ponds.

I am aware that these thoughts are just utopian and many prefer to live far away from big cities. But if the communities ease their zoning laws and allow more and taller high rises they would enhance the supply of flats significantly and so reduce the rents. Cheaper living and more modern buildings would make big cities more attractive and so reduce sprawl, CO2 emissions and the dependency on oil. The cities could invest the revenue gains - caused by more citizens, more business, more jobs and higher productivity - into their infrastructure, especially subways, which also would keep street noise, pollution & congestion at bay and would raise their attractiveness further.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Culture: Why I Don´t Visit Art Fairs Anymore

(Drivebycuriosity)s - Spring is coming, season for the art fairs. New York awaits Scope New York, the Armory Show,  Volta New York and many more, Los Angeles prepares for Frieze Los Angeles and others. I am a connoisseur of contemporary art but I decided to skip them. These shows are way overpriced (art-collecting). Admission for the Armory show is $32; Volta charges $25; even the "Affordable Art Fair" costs $18. Ridiculous!

In New York I can visit hundreds of galleries for free. The art dealers have frequently changing exhibitions (usually monthly) with often spectacular art works (here my harvest from last year  driveby ). In New York I also can visit the huge global art auction houses Sotheby`s, Christie`s & Phillips for free. Usually I go there twice a year to see their huge galleries for their bi-annually auctions for impressionists, modern & contemporary art which display the status quo of the art market.

I think the high prices are prohibitive. Maybe they want to keep the crowds away - which would jam their halls - and focus on a professional audience - collectors, artists & gallerists.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Movies: The Wandering Earth

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Cixin Liu is a rising star in the science fiction universe. In 2015 the Chinese author recieved the Hugo Award,for his novel "The Three Body Problem" which I enjoyed very much (here my review ). This drew my attention to the Chinese scifi movie "The Wandering Earth", which is now running in some US cinema theaters (Mandarin with English subtitles  imdb). The film, which is one of the biggest grossing movies in Chinese history, is based on Liu`s same named novella.

The movie starts with the announcement that the sun is inflating and will swallow the whole solar system and therefore destroy the earth. Rising emissions from the sun are already heating up our planet and are causing many catastrophes. Scientists develop a plan to move the earth out of our sun system and transfer it close to another sun which is 4 light years away, a massive project which  of course causes huge problems (this is a spoiler free problem. You can read a synopsis here  wikipedia ).

The movie is wildly imaginative and a gigantic spectacle on an epic scale but based on a lot of physics and logical thinking - real hard science fiction. It is well known that the sun will expand some far away day and turn into a red star. Cixin Liu took just the freedom to transfer our sun´s expiration date into a much nearer future and speculates then what humans could do by using scientific knowledge and advanced engineering.

John W. Campbell, the editor of the influential science fiction magazine Analog, described scifi as "a problem solving medium” (driveby). The film represents the can-do thinking which once characterized American science fiction - the golden age. It seems that Chinese scifi reached a golden age as well. At least "The Wandering Earth" reflects the rising popularity of scifi in China, apparently the genre is there much more popular than in the US (china-science-fiction ). Science fiction is even supported by the Chinese government in order to improve the population’s scientific literacy. (scmp). I get the impression that the rise of Chinese scifi signals a general belief in progress & in technology which existed in America in the 1950s and 1960s when John F. Kennedy initiated the Apollo moon landing program.

I was impressed by the film´s aesthetic. The producers created spectacular tableaus with bizarre fictional landscapes and an elaborate and often massive utopian infrastructure. "Wandering Earth" is cutting edge scifi cinema from which Hollywood could learn from.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Books: First Man - The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

(Drivebycuriosity) - "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" - Neil Armstrong  became a legend for being the first one who stepped onto the moon and speaking these eternally famous words. Last year I enjoyed the biopic "The first man" which inspired me to buy the  biography "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen which the movie was based on (amazon). I learned from the book that in the 1950s & 60s America has been very optimistic and guided by positive thinking and that the Americans believed in progress & in technology. Where has this optimism gone? 

Hansen collected and processed an enormous amount of material and presents his research over 784 pages.  Unfortunately this lead to some lengths and makes the reading exhaustive. So I skimmed some parts and focused on the highlights. The biography starts slowly and focuses in the begin on Armstrong`s ancestors and his hyper-religious mother, too much for my taste, but then its getting better when the plot turns to Armstrong himself.

Hansen describes the character traits of his protagonist which might explain why Armstrong became "the first man" on the moon. Armstrong had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and a memory that remembered like a photograph. "That set him apart from mere mortals". He was "cool, calm, and energized" and approached  problems in an analytical & scientific way. Armstrong combined his mental strengths with strong physical conditions even though he didn`t appreciate physical exercises.
Armstrong joked with friends that exercise wasted a person`s precious allotment of heartbeats. But anyway, he excelled at the sheer endless tests which brought "every possible force and stress and every possible flight condition" on the pilots. Armstrong`s career also benefited from the fact that he learned flying before he became an engineer and "understood what contributed to the flight conditions".

The huge biography also describes the many incidents & accidents during the test flights during the Gemini & Apollo missions and the catastrophes which cost the lives of Armstrong´s colleagues and I learned a bit about how jet planes evolved into space crafts.

I found the book basically interesting but some trimming would have made it better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Movies: Arctic

(Drivebycuriosity) - Imagine your plane crashes in the arctic and you are the only survivor - far away from human settlements and no means to contact them. That´s the story of the movie "Arctic" (imdb). The audience follows a man who is struggling sheer endlessly against forces stronger than him.  Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the survivor, carries the whole film. This reminds me a bit of Tom Hanks in "Cast Away", but the icy & rocky environment is way more harsh and deadly than the tropics (this is a spoiler free blog). 

The movie is about the will to survive, whatever will happen. Nature, especially in the Arctic, does not care if you survive or not, it seems it intends to kill you. The cinematography captures a nature which is both, breathtakingly beautiful and violent deadly. "Arctic" is thrilling and dramatic, go and watch it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Contemporary Art: Rodney Graham @ 303 Gallery New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Contemporary art is full of surprises. During a recent visit of Manhattan`s art district Chelsea I discovered the art work by Rodney Graham, who was unknown to me. The Canadian artist is known for his "ultra-real works that verge on slapstick" (theguardian). If we believe "The Guardian" Graham is "a product of Vancouver’s then-thriving photo-conceptual scene, making large, backlit, staged tableaux that often referenced classical paintings even as they resembled ultra-real documentary photographs".

Gallery 303 displays some of his recent light boxes and paintings (through February 23 2019  303gallery). The people above are inspecting "Tattooed Man on Balcony" (2018, Two painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies).

Above you can see "Vacuuming the Gallery, 1949" (2018, Four painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies; 119 5/8 x 71 5/8 x 7 inches (303.8 x 181.9 x 17.8 cm) each; 119 5/8 x 294 1/2 x 7 inches (303.8 x 748 x 17.8 cm) overall. Edition of 3.

Graham got inspired by " a photograph of New York gallerist Samuel Kootz smoking a pipe in his own gallery during a Picasso exhibition in 1949. On the walls in this image are a series of Graham's own abstract paintings, part of a series of variations based on a single watercolor by Alexander Rodchenko (Abstract Composition, 1941) (pressrelease).

Above the "Remorseful Hunter" (2019, Painted aluminum lightbox with transmounted chromogenic transparency; 89 5/8 x 69 5/8 x 7 inches (227.8 x 176.9 x 17.8 cm) Edition of 5.

I really like the squirrel.

Above "Central Questions of Philosophy" (2018; Two painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies).

Above Graham`s painting "Untitled" (2019, Oil and sand on canvas; 83 3/4 x 100 1/4 inches (212.6 x 254.6 cm) framed

To be continued

Monday, February 18, 2019

Contemporary Art: Relative Equilibrium & More @ Kravets Wehby New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like to visit art galleries and discover new art works. At gallery Kravets Wehby in Manhattan´s classy Chelsea district I spotted some interesting paintings (kravetswehby).

Above you can see  "Relative Equilibrium" by Stan Narten (2019, oil on linen).

Above "Glitter afresh forever" by Sidney Chastain Chapman (2019, acrylic on canvas) followed by "Athena" by Allison Zuckerman ( 2019, acrylic and archival CMYK ink on canvas).

Above "La costa de enfrente" by Manuel Esnoz (2019, oil, glitter and metallic paint on linen).

To be continued

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Movies: Cold War

(Drivebycuriosity) - It`s Oscar season again. The Polish movie "Cold War" collected 3 Oscar nominations: Best Foreign Language film, Pawel Pawlikowski for Best Director, and Lucasz Zal for Best Cinematography (imdb).

I think the film would deserve these awards. It has an interesting plot and it is a feast for the eyes, even though it is shot in black and white. The story runs from1949 through the mid 1960s when there was a sharp conflict between the communist East and the free West. The movie focuses on a Polish musical director who fells in love with a young singer. The plot starts in communist Poland and moves later to other countries (this is a spoiler free blog).

"Cold War" is about love, romance & obsession, but the film is also a historical document. We learn a bit about the political system in Soviet occupied Poland and the ideological pressures the people there had to cope with - a system Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren  & Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to import to the  US. The audience also gets an impression about the sharp contrast between the suppressed & bleak live in the communist system, which was evolving into a gigantic prison, and the freedom people in the West experienced. The title "Cold War" captures these differences perfectly.

I was impressed how the makers reincarnated the looks of the early 50s and how they turned the wintry, dark and poor sights of 1950s Poland into beautiful & esthetical shots.

Go and watch it!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Contemporary Art: Photographic Compositions & Abstracts @ Gallery Artifact New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like contemporary art.  Therefore I am often visiting art galleries in my neighborhood, New York`s Lower East Side. Gallery Artifact  (84 Orchard Street artifact) belongs to my favorite places, because the art trader has frequently changing art shows which are usually amazing.

Some days ago I spotted another interesting show. Above you can see some photographic compositions by the Swedish artist Charlotte Hedberg.

Above some abstract paintings by the Norwegian Artist Gro Folkan. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

To be continued.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Economics: Why China Will Overtake USA Sooner Than Many Think

(Drivebycuriosity) - Today we got disappointing news from the US economic front. US retails dropped in 1.2% from November to December and the year-over-year growth rate slowed to 2.3  (chart below calculatedrisk).

Retail sales are an important part of the consumer spending, the engine of the economy. So today´s numbers signal a slowdown of the already modest economic growth in the USA. Today´s numbers deliver are a sharp contrast to China´s economic numbers. China`s retail sales grew 8.2% in December, faster than in November (plus 8.1% economics).

So, an important part of China´s economy is growing much faster - about 4-times - than the US counterpart. China`s economy will overtake the US very fast.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Contemporary Art: Sleepover & More @ Thierry Goldberg Gallery New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - New York`s fast gentrifying Lower East Side became a magnet for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd and an infamous party & nightlife center. But the neighborhood is also a mecca of art with dozens of respectable art galleries. Thierry Goldberg on Norfolk Street belongs to the most interesting galleries on LES.

This week I saw there again an interesting group exhibition - called "Snow Day" (thierrygoldberg). Above you can see my favorite: Marcela Florido's "Retiro" (2018 Oil on canvas, 60 x 58 inches). The artist  (b. 1988, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Accroding to the press release "Florido uses her work to confront traditions in painting, and investigate where they come from and what histories they communicate. She employs figuration to challenge artistic traditions of her native Brazil, where figuration in art is not widely accepted; women’s bodies, in particular, are often seen as taboo, especially for a woman artist to portray.  Combined with her use of bright colors and unbalanced compositions". Anyway, I love this painting, the painted girl looks fresh & alluring like a tropical fruit.

Above you can see 2 images by Isaac Mann:  "The Dinner Party" followed by "The Sleepover" (both 2018, Oil on canvas). I guess these pictures speak for themselves.

To be continued

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Economics: A Dirge For Opec

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems Opec has a big problem. The cartel is struggling to hike the oil price to former hights, at least back to the $80s where it was last summer. So, they curbed their production, but with not much success so far, the price of oil (Brent Crude) is still in the low 60s as the chart below shows.

source )

Opec has to fight against two trends, two headwinds. In the US, the by far biggest user of oil, the demand for gasoline is shrinking, at least per capita (chart below). Americans seem to be less obsessed with cars & driving and cars are getting more fuel efficient over the time. This trend could accelerate because electric care are getting more popular. 

And there is another trend which could destroy the power of Opec. The US oil production is rising, thanks to fracking (chart below).

Falling - or least subdued - demand for oil and climbing US production could end Opec`s regime soon.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Economics: Lessons From The Earnings Season

(Drivebycuriosity) - The earnings season is coming to an end. Most companies of the S&P 500 (about 60%) have reported their earnings & revenue numbers from the fourth quarter 2018. Their earnings rose on average 16.2% from the same period last year and 71% beat the earnings expectations of the analysts ( abcnews  factset). The earnings growth is much faster than the growth of the whole economy, between 2 and 3%.

The numbers show that the analysts are too pessimistic. Apparently they underestimate the fact that corporations are getting more efficient & more productive over time - thanks to learning processes and the technological progress. Companies are learning organisms because they are managed by humans who are continuously improving themselves and their companies. During the recession 2008 companies had restructured and reduced costs significantly in order to survive. Now they are more fit & more efficient than before.

Company earnings are also boosted by automation.  Since the early 18th century (the first industrial revolution) the technological process has been enabling companies to produce more goods & services with the same amount of employees. More and better machines (robots) are doing the work of people which translates into lower costs, higher profit margins and climbing earnings.

It seems that this process is accelerating again and we are at the begin of new industrial revolution. We are experiencing a rapid advance of information technology, meaning combinations of computers, smartphones, Internet and other digital systems. Software - which is increasingly Internet connected and uses more and more the cloud (access to huge external data centers) - organizes the whole business: Creating new products, inducing machines to run more efficient, finding cheap suppliers, manage customer relations and so on. Car producers and many other manufacturers are increasingly using robots and similar machines to reduce their costs. Companies are also beginning to use 3D-printers to become more cost efficient and flexible.

Company profits are also boosted by the rise of the emerging markets. China, India & Co. create additional markets. Therefore companies can produce more which translates into shrinking average production costs (economies of scale). Emerging markets also deliver cheap supplies (most computers, tablets & smartphones are manufactured there) which reduces the production costs further.

I believe that the learning process will continue and will translate into a long term trend of rising company earnings, the engine of the bull market for stocks.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Movies: Serenity

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Matthew McConaughey is known for playing challenging characters (True Detective),  Anne Hathaway blends intellect with beauty. It seemed to be a good idea to combine both in a mystery-thriller. The result is the movie "Serenity", which is now running in some US cinema theaters (imdb). Unfortunately, it didn´t work out, the film is a flop, tanked by negative reviews.

I had fun watching the flick. I think "Serenity" is not as bad as Rotten Tomatoes tells us. Matthew McConaughey incarnates a fishing boat captain located on a remote tropical island who earns his living by catching tuna & swordfish and transporting paying guests. Suddenly a new customer appears, someone from his past, and makes a huge offer. The plot becomes more and more mysterious and develops into a kind of absurd theater, but makes sense in the final, sort of (this is a spoiler free blog).

McConaughey reminded me of Humphrey Bogart, a man who seems to live only from rum & sex, Anne Hathaway was apparently modeled after Kim Basinger in LA Confidential , but the duo does not convince and the sex scenes were subdued, apparently tame enough for American adolescents, the main clientele. Anyway the plot is funny, surprising & entertaining. I enjoyed the views of the tropical island, the fish & the ocean, and there was a wonderful thunderstorm in the night. "Serenity" is not great cinema, but something to warm up on a dark & chilly winter day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

New York City: Chinatown Celebrates The Year Of The Pig

(Drivebycuriosity) - The Chinese are celebrating their Lunar New Year and the beginning of the Year Of The Pig. My wife and I went to New York`s Chinatown and joined the celebrating crowd and I used the occasion to take some photos. I display my favorite pics here.

It seems that the crowd hat a lot of fun - we too.

Yes, the Chinese love fireworks.

There were lots of colorful flags.

The streets were covered with confetti shot from the myriads of confetti canons.

The event attracted a lot of onlookers of course

Happy New Year Chinatown!