those who are dead and those who are yet to be bored

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Tonight, BBC Four will televise one of the best-loved events of the BBC Proms season, the National Youth Orchestra’s Prom, which was performed on 10 August 2014 to a packed and joyful audience at the Royal Albert Hall. One work from the concert programme will be omitted from tonight’s broadcast, however: Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s three-minute piece Sonance Severance 2000.

The BBC have been quick to confirm that it will be televised, as part of a special BBC Four programme on Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle scheduled for 11 September, and that it is also available on the iPlayer. So that’s ok then. No, hang on, it’s not.  read more

KATAKANA: via Feitclub

I’ve stopped getting blog spam. Does that mean I’m actually dead?

June 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

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Do you see the difference? In state 1, on the left, the head seems disconcertingly to be floating above the collar; in state 2, a shadow has been added behind the head to help it appear to “sit” better on the collar. There are only four surviving impressions of this earliest state (two at the Folger, one at the British Library, and one at the Bodleian), so it seems likely that Droeshout made the change fairly early in its run through the press, and thank goodness for that.

Spotting the differences between states 2 and 3 is a bit trickier…  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Albert Elm

Stan: There’s somebody knocking on the phone. Ollie: See? That’s levity

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

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These 4th, 5th, and 6th graders not only learn how to work their chosen instruments, but with as little as a couple months of experience under their belts, they are encouraged to improvise and compose and this disc documents it. Outside of one Sun Ra tune, everything is created by the kids, and while some may cringe at some of the technical problems young, inexperienced players are bound to have, the creativity exhibited is undeniable. It is also refreshing to hear such unabashed, egoless joy as we have here. Many a seasoned player could stand to give this a listen. I can’t imagine a musician who wouldn’t be moved by this and who wouldn’t find themselves a bit humbled.  listen

ART: Mircea Suciu

Did you take the path by the great barn or try the little track by the river? – Oh, Kate, it was all one to me. I know East Cheap from Golden Lane, but grass is grass

May 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

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  • A remarkable capacity for storing information is coupled with a highly fallible retrieval process.
  • What is accessible in memory is highly dependent on the current environmental, interpersonal, emotional and body-state cues.
  • Retrieving information from memory is a dynamic process that alters the subsequent state of the system.
  • Access to competing memory representations regresses towards the earlier representation over time.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Jung Jihyun

‘The older I get,’ said Daphne, ‘the more I think people get to look like other people. I never did when I was young but now I can hardly look at a face without thinking how much it looks like someone else.’

May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Like Apple a huge number of companies transform unwaged enthusiasm into micro-productivity that, in aggregate, can be folded into profit schemes but could never be paid for as actual wage labor. Valve’s Steam service is building an ecosystem of unwaged user productivity, selling games through its “Early Access” program, essentially allowing game developers to charge players to beta test their games in exchange for the flattering thrill of seeing something before it’s ready.

Coursera has traded on goodwill and charitable idealism to duck expensive overhead costs by using voluntarily donated space while transforming transcription services into student curriculum. Duolingo redirects the desire to learn a language into a business that sells low-cost translations to media companies wanting to syndicate stories into non-English-speaking markets. GitHub has inserted itself into the open source software community by creating a central repository of collaborative coding projects, while charging users to operate private repositories. Google , Facebook, Twitter , have all turned even the most basic acts of daily life into market research micro-labor, and the more personally intertwined we become with each the more productive we become for them.

To a large extent, work has always been a delusional gifting of time and energy to bosses in exchange for the abstract comforts of a purposeful identity in a superstructure of someone else’s making. This arrangement was always transitory, and now that the economies of scale have grown so large that the value of the end product can no longer support the labor necessary for its creation, we find ourselves still desiring of the identity we once derived from serving, a yearning that drives people into charitable forms of giving to for-profit companies while increasingly mistrusting one another. Individuals don’t need help because they’re lazy, uneducated, addicts, or criminals, but companies are always worth contributing to because they do great things for the collective.  read more

FILM: Polly Hudson

Hot like the first three letters of hotel

May 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

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A typical nest is composed of interlocking twigs, often recycled from the old nest, and pieces of wires of various lengths and thickness, gathered from the surrounding, to strengthen the nest structure. Tokyo residents have observed that crows in the city have learned to use coat hangers instead.  look

PHOTOGRAPH: Marianna Rothen

The least desirable way to handle this situation is to play ‘let’s make a deal’ with the rental agency once you’re at your destination ‘ you’d be at a total disadvantage and there may be no acceptably safe cars in the lot anyway. If your machine doesn’t have a 12V DC input jack, then you can still use a battery, but you’ll have to use an inverter. Later on, people feel great when they see their pictures

April 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Piketty wants to provide a theory relevant to growth, which requires physical capital as its input. And yet he deploys an empirical measure that is unrelated to productive physical capital and whose dollar value depends, in part, on the return on capital. Where does the rate of return come from? Piketty never says. He merely asserts that the return on capital has usually averaged a certain value, say 5 percent on land in the nineteenth century, and higher in the twentieth.

The basic neoclassical theory holds that the rate of return on capital depends on its (marginal) productivity. In that case, we must be thinking of physical capital—and this (again) appears to be Piketty’s view. But the effort to build a theory of physical capital with a technological rate-of-return collapsed long ago, under a withering challenge from critics based in Cambridge, England in the 1950s and 1960s, notably Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa, and Luigi Pasinetti.

Piketty devotes just three pages to the “Cambridge-Cambridge” controversies, but they are important because they are wildly misleading. He writes:

Controversy continued… between economists based primarily in Cambridge, Massachusetts (including [Robert] Solow and [Paul] Samuelson) . . . and economists working in Cambridge, England . . . who (not without a certain confusion at times) saw in Solow’s model a claim that growth is always perfectly balanced, thus negating the importance Keynes had attributed to short-term fluctuations. It was not until the 1970s that Solow’s so-called neoclassical growth model definitively carried the day.

But the argument of the critics was not about Keynes, or fluctuations. It was about the concept of physical capital and whether profit can be derived from a production function. In desperate summary, the case was three-fold. First: one cannot add up the values of capital objects to get a common quantity without a prior rate of interest, which (since it is prior) must come from the financial and not the physical world. Second, if the actual interest rate is a financial variable, varying for financial reasons, the physical interpretation of a dollar-valued capital stock is meaningless. Third, a more subtle point: as the rate of interest falls, there is no systematic tendency to adopt a more “capital-intensive” technology, as the neoclassical model supposed.

In short, the Cambridge critique made meaningless the claim that richer countries got that way by using “more” capital. In fact, richer countries often use less apparent capital; they have a larger share of services in their output and of labor in their exports—the “Leontief paradox.” Instead, these countries became rich—as Pasinetti later argued—by learning, by improving technique, by installing infrastructure, with education, and—as I have argued—by implementing thoroughgoing regulation and social insurance. None of this has any necessary relation to Solow’s physical concept of capital, and still less to a measure of the capitalization of wealth in financial markets.

There is no reason to think that financial capitalization bears any close relationship to economic development. Most of the Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, and China, did very well for decades without financialization; so did continental Europe in the postwar years, and for that matter so did the United States before 1970…

To summarize so far, Thomas Piketty’s book about capital is neither about capital in the sense used by Marx nor about the physical capital that serves as a factor of production in the neoclassical model of economic growth. It is a book mainly about the valuation placed on tangible and financial assets, the distribution of those assets through time, and the inheritance of wealth from one generation to the next.

Why is this interesting? Adam Smith wrote the definitive one-sentence treatment: “Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power.” Private financial valuation measures power, including political power, even if the holder plays no active economic role. Absentee landlords and the Koch brothers have power of this type. Piketty calls it “patrimonial capitalism”—in other words, not the real thing.

Thanks to the French Revolution, registry of wealth and inheritance has been good in Piketty’s homeland for a long time. This allows Piketty to show how the simple determinants of the concentration of wealth are the rate of return on assets and the rates of economic and population growth. If the rate of return exceeds the growth rate, then the rich and the elderly gain in relation to everyone else. Meanwhile, inheritances depend on the extent to which the elderly accumulate—which is greater the longer they live—and on the rate at which they die. These two forces yield a flow of inheritances that Piketty estimates to be about 15 percent of annual income presently in France—astonishingly high for a factor that gets no attention at all in newspapers or textbooks.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mie Prefecture Fisheries Research Institute

 

believe nothing until it has been officially denied

April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Soergel was a Bauhaus architect and author of a number of works on design and far more ethereal, floating-castle ideas. His most spectacular contribution—incubated in the mid-1920’s and still clinging by its fingertips as an idea among some current thinkers—was to put a dam across the straights of Gibraltar. The dam would generate electricity of course, but most importantly to Soergel, it would also empty an enormous amount of water (lowering the sea by 200 metres)  from the Mediterranean leaving vast new expanses of land to be developed and colonized over generations into the future. The water of course would have to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Sahara Desert, somehow in its wake creating farmable and productive lands. Soergel was creating a certain, very wide, fantastical future of uncertain monumental prospects.

A “brief outline” of the idea was published in this four-language pamphlet, Lowering the Mediterranean Irrigating the Sahara (Panropa Project), which was published by J.M. Gebhardt in Leipzig in the very bumpy year of 1929. (The Weimar years in Germany were already into deep bumpiness; the rest of the world would follow suit in October of that year.) To be fair, Soergel didn’t plan on emptying the entire Mediterranean, just a bunch of it–at least enough to be able to rename it.

[Here’s a map of the new Mediterranean, or the Mediterranean that would be made to go away. As you can see at this point Sicily and Italy become enormous, and the Greek Islands are combined to form one large land mass–this last bit alone is enough to form total and complete resistance to this idea. Also at this stage perhaps 150 or so miles of new lands have been reclaimed from the sea all along its former borders–more so in Turkey. There is no mention as yet of any new islands that are formed in the sea water’s wake.]  As it turns out Soergel thought that this plan would add at least 660,000 KM2 to the base of the surrounding countries of the Mediterranean, or roughly the equivalent of the combined land masses of Italy and Germany. Having the sea pulled back from hundreds if not thousands of seaside towns and cities would no doubt be a “problem”, for them; but that doesn’t matter to Soergel, as they were inferior thoughts to the grand idea of emerging a new continent.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Juergen Teller

come on she said just make like you want me

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

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What are voices in the head? In pursuit of the origins of spontaneity in 20th century music I have been reading largely forgotten writers who experimented with automatic writing and what William James described as stream-of-consciousness. Mary Butts is one of them, an author whose short and turbulent life included the largely thankless task of assisting Aleister Crowley with the editing of Magick in Theory and Practice. Her novel Armed With Madness (1928) opens with a sentence that makes you want to love it – “In the house, in which they could not afford to live, it was unpleasantly quiet.” A description of listening and silence as uncanny and occult follows, not dissimilar to passages written by Virginia Woolf at almost exactly the same moment in history.

Dorothy Miller Richardson is another. Her Pilgrimage series of 13 novels, the first published in 1915, was a meticulous, if highly selective recording of a life, each instalment given an enticing title, each of which could be the name of a film I would pay to see: The Tunnel, Pointed Roofs, Honeycomb, Deadlock, Revolving Lights, The Trap, Dawn’s Left Hand. The protagonist – Miriam – lives a modest, unspectacular  life. In The Tunnel (1919) she is ecstatic to be renting a dingy room that gives her some measure of independence. Time barely seems to move, yet the cycles of life, day and night, the cruel measurement of work and time off, drudgery, disgust and tea, the tasks to be performed at a given time within the patterns of her job, her walks through a London that feels both hostile and magical, the surging and ebbing of feelings, convictions, confidence and often silenced opinion open out, fold upon fold, light and dark as she learns how to live and finally to write. The reader is caught in the streaming of this interior monologue (as Richardson liked to call it), absorbed, like Robert Ashley, in the particles of life: “As she began on her solid slice of bread and butter St. Pancras bells stopped again. In the stillness she could hear the sound of her own munching. She stared at the surface of the table that held her plate and cup. It was like sitting up to the nursery table. ‘How frightfully happy I am,’ she thought with bent head. Happiness streamed along her arms and from her head. St. Pancras bells began playing a hymn tune in single firm beats with intervals between that left each note standing for a moment gently in the air.”  read more

ART: Jake Brooks

Volatile women are always sexy when you first meet them but two years down the line you’re sort of saying things like, “Can you just put the lids back on these jars, please?”

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The brain was not designed for reading.  read more

ART: Tim Hallinan

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