Saturday, September 23, 2017

Is Capitalism Dying?

For your edification, I present a few remarks by famed economic historian Niall Ferguson. Interviewed for an audio documentary on the health of capitalism, Ferguson addressed a number of important issues in political economy. The link will take you to the video itself. For our purposes, I quote the transcript. I take full responsibility for the questions: they may be slightly different from the interviewer's, but they provide some narrative connective tissue.

Question 1: Was the Trump election a rejection of capitalism?


In recent elections we didn’t see a rejection of capitalism. The victory of Donald Trump, in particular, was the election of a capitalist to the highest office in US politics. Trump’s critique wasn’t of capitalism but of globalisation and its various manifestations – notably free trade as it has been constituted and immigration, and out-sourcing. The backlash we have seen from within certain advanced democracies has largely been against a globalisation that occurred too quickly, and without adequate checks and balances – rather than a reaction against the economic system that overcame socialism in the 1980s.

Capitalism is one thing. Free trade and globalization are others. It’s one thing to be against free trade and quite another to be against the way certain trade deals were negotiated.

Question 2: Why has unionization declined?

The decline of unionisation doesn’t explain falling wages at bottom end – it’s simply a reflection of declining demand for unskilled labour, especially in developed countries. Most deserving of blame are the education systems in developed countries – the US & UK in particular – where, despite more and more taxpayers’ money being spent, rates of literacy and numeracy are actually going backwards for large numbers of children. National governments are simply failing to prepare their citizens for the new economy and research by Raj Chetty, a colleague at Stanford, shows the significant contribution of bad schools and bad teachers to widening inequality in US.

Our educational systems have failed to produce workers who are capable of doing the more technical jobs that are now being offered. America has a bad schools and bad teacher problem. We are not, he suggests, going to fix it by increasing the power of unions. Certainly, not by empowering the teachers' unions.

Question 3: What’s wrong with western economies?


As I argued in The Great Degeneration, the current weakness of much of the western world isn’t rooted in capitalism but in fundamental weaknesses of the State – including its structural fiscal deficits, complex and burdensome regulation, and world-trailing public services, where even some gains in public health are being reversed. State failure is not capitalism’s fault – but the fault of inadequate politicians, ineffective public administrators and and public sector unions that are too powerful.

Then again, if you work for the government or if you believe that we need government to control greedy predatory capitalists you will never find fault with government. Ferguson retorts that the problem lies with the state and with the public sector unions that control the bureaucracy.

Question 4: What lessons did we learn from the market crash in 2008?


We’re learning precisely the wrong lessons from the crash by embracing the “silly” but easily understood argument that we need more regulation. The crash of ten years ago began in the part of the financial sector – the banks – where regulations existed “in profusion”. The crash didn’t come from the largely-unregulated hedge funs, who worried regulators before the events of 2007 and 2008. Because the regulations were so complex the banks gamed them. 

And also:

The real explanation for the crash lies in the cosy relationship with the State that the complex regulations brought about. Banks were able to behave as recklessly as they did because they calculated (correctly in all cases but Lehmans) that they were too big for the State to let them fail. Although friends of capitalism have this more accurate explanation for the crash – of excessive closeness between regulators, politicians and the banks on Wall Street and in the City of London, the “fairy story” put about by the likes of Paul Krugman, that it was all about deregulated markets has gained credibility because it’s simple. The result is, since the crash, we’ve learnt precisely the wrong lesson and enacted enormous amounts of extra regulation – which is, at best, “besides the point” and, at worst, damaging and encouraging of moral hazard.

We understand that politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are making a very good living by promoting more regulation of banks and markets. Ferguson makes the salient point, namely that the crash and great recession arose in the hyper-regulated banks, not in the far less regulated hedge fund industry. He adds that the multitude of regulations caused the banks to game the system. Twas always thus. As Confucius said, over-regulation dulls the moral sense.

Question 5: Is capitalism in crisis?


The big problem is not that capitalism is in crisis (because it’s not). The big problem is that socialism is making a comeback. Fed by the post-crash narrative, younger voters, who have no memory of the economic troubles of 1970s and the turnaround of the 1980s, are ready to embrace Jeremy Corbyn and his promises of jam tomorrow, jam the day after and regulations to stop anything and everything they don’t like. You only need to spend a day studying economic history, or the current economic breakdown in Venezuela to realise the danger he represents

One recalls the old song: When will they ever learn? When will Western progressives get over their love affair with socialism? Communism failed and failed miserably. Cuba has failed. Venezuela is in a death spiral. Yet, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders want to give us more socialism.

They are addressing themselves to an economically illiterate millennial generation, a generation that knows nothing of history but that believes itself entitled to a living without working too much or too hard.

Good luck with that.

Valerie Plame's Anti-Semitism

In case you forgot, Valerie Plame was a CIA officer who gained fame and fortune for having been outed by the Bush administration. Instantly, she became a hero to the left. Anti-Bush politicians used her as a cudgel to beat up Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other administration figures. Because, all's fair when you are fighting Republicans. As it happened the person who outed her to journalist Robert Novak was Richard Armitage. Since he was considered a good guy no one cared.

She the incident Plame moved on to become a bundler for Hillary Clinton and has cast herself as a leader of the Resistance to Donald Trump.

The Washington Examiner has Plame’s story:

A young beltway socialite, Plame was catapulted to stardom in 2003 when her name appeared in a Washington Post column. While working as a CIA operations officer, according to conservative columnist Robert Novak, she had recommended sending her husband, a former ambassador, to investigate the production of yellowcake uranium in Niger.

The Left accused the Bush White House of outing Plame in the press as retribution for her husband's opposition to the war. (It came out much later that Novak had actually learned about her involvement from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.) She was cast as a victim, becoming a cause célèbre overnight. She was quoted, booked on television, and handed a book deal.

Plame's star faded when Bush left office and she found other pursuits. Recently she was a bundler for Hillary Clinton's ill-fated presidential campaign and launched a campaign to buy Twitter in-order to delete President Trump's account.

Now, in a story you will not read in the New York Times or any mainstream media outlet, it turns out that Plame is a flaming anti-Semite.

Plame recently retweeted a link to an article entitled from “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars.”

Naturally, Plame responded by saying that it was an honest mistake. The Washington Examiner looked into the matter and discovered that it was all part of a pattern:

An especially embarrassing gaffe for a veteran intelligence analyst, the article in question asserted, among other things, that Jews "own the media," that Jewish people should wear labels while on national television, and that their beliefs are as dangerous as "a bottle of rat poison."

One doesn't need training in espionage though to recognize the bigotry of the piece. One also doesn't need to be some sort of covert agent to recognize the flimsiness of her excuse.

While Plame insists that she was unfamiliar with the source of the bigoted article, a quick search shows that she frequents the website and often shares its content. Since 2014, Plame has posted nine UNZ articles including one titled "Why I Still Dislike Israel" and another about "Dancing Israelis" on 9/11.

Think about it, a leftist media darling exposed as an anti-Semite. Who could have imagined that the party of Jeremiah Wright’s protégé and Louis Farrakhan’s protégé and Al Sharpton could attract and glorify anti-Semites. We are now awaiting progressive politicians expressing their outrage. You know, the ones who insist that all Republicans denounce David Duke and other alt-right figures. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Do You Want To Be a Wife?

Dubbing herself “Greatly Appreciative” a young woman shares her existential dread with therapist Lori Gottlieb. At issue is marriage. At greater issue is whether or not GA should ever get married. To that Gottlieb responds, more or less correctly, the GA fears that no man will find her sufficiently lovable.

By the terms of her letter, she is dabbling in abstract thinking. In reality, most human beings will ask whether they should marry him or her. Better yet, they will want to know whether he or she wants to marry them. Such questions seem not to be at issue for GA. Thus, GA is flailing.

And she offers the kind of psycho explanation that the therapy culture burdens her with. She believes that she feels insufficient love for herself. Ergo, according to the accepted psycho wisdom, no one will ever love her.

Of course, GA does not understand marriage. Self-love, the kind of narcissistic self-absorption that the therapy culture is doling out in dollops is precisely what you should not bring into a marriage.

And yet, in our deviant culture, more and more people, infused with the gospel of self-esteem, think that marriage should be a therapeutic journey toward self-actualization. I have addressed the issue on this blog here and here.

Here is the text of the better part of GA’s letter:

I’m 32 and I’m dead scared of getting married. Most women I talk to who have been married for a while aren’t happy, and most of the men aren’t either. I’m wondering why we even get married in the first place.

Everyone I’ve talked to seems trapped. They stop being themselves, they lose their passions, and become kind of owned by that other person. And doesn’t everyone get tired of having sex with the same person? Especially men? If I’m with the same person for years, are they still going to have sex with me but always secretly want to be with someone else?

The prospect of marriage is overwhelmingly frightening to me. I think at the root of all this is the need to love myself; I think if you love yourself, you’re better able to love someone else and not rely on their opinion of you to make feel you beautiful or wanted or lovely or enough.

One’s initial reaction is that she should choose her friends better. She seems to have surrounded herself with a band of malcontents—doubtless, feminist malcontents—who can do nothing more than whine about the misery that marriage has brought down on them. Or perhaps they have all read the psychologists who told them that marriage should be a way to self-actualize.

For those who prefer to read between the lines, it might also be the case that said friends are being generous to GA because they are married and she is unattached. If they tell GA, who apparently is not even involved in a relationship, that marriage is wonderful, they will make her feel bad about her current manless state. Thus, they talk down marriage….

Being a woman of her times, GA makes it all into a philosophical issue. She puts nothing of herself into the letter, except for her anguish. So, we know nothing about her. We know nothing about her friends. We know nothing about her romantic attachments or her family life or her career… or much of anything.

Like many of the women who write to New York Magazine’s advice columnists, she is a perfect cipher. She is unattached and serves to be the receptacle for her friends’ complains about their marriages. She might have asked herself why her friends are all so discontented. She might ask herself why they are so indiscreet. She might have asked herself whether the therapy culture, with its emphasis on self-esteem and self-actualization has ruined her friends’ marriages.

She might also ask herself whether her friends have waded too deeply into the ideological swamps… and are suffering for it. After all, if you believe that marriage is a way for the patriarchy to oppress women and destroy their chances for happy careers, you have been indoctrinated in the theories of Friedrich Engels and feminists like the late Kate Millett. If that is your belief, your happy marriage will betray your ideology. And we cannot have that.

Being a product of a deviant culture, GA she has no understanding of marriage… whatsoever. She does not talk about self-actualization but believes that marriage is an extended love affair whose success depends on whether both partners will want to have sex with each other, exclusively, for an extended period of time.

True enough, sex is part of the marital equation, but it is not the entirety of the equation. GA is not describing a marriage. She is describing an affair. If you reduce marriage to a love affair you have stripped it of its social significance, removed the rules and roles and doomed yourself to misery.

If it’s a love affair, once the fires of lust are extinguished, you have nothing left. The party is over.

Until relatively recently, no one really thought that marriage was an expression of romantic love. People understood what GA does not see and that Gottlieb does not explain to her.

Getting married means becoming a wife and functioning as same. If GA and her friends do not understand that the role comes with rules and obligations, duties and responsibilities to other people, they will inevitably fail at marriage. Their failures will breed resentment and that, in and of itself, will throw a damp blanket over their desire.

Back in the day, when women consulted with me because they wanted to get married, I used to ask them a simple question: Do you want to be a wife? Often enough, they were horrified by the question. They took grievous offense. Their looks seemed to say, What kind of woman do you think I am?

Today’s younger generation, having imbibed the dual elixirs of psycho self-esteem and of feminist ideology, has gotten marriage wrong. Young women are acting like mistresses within a context that requires them to be wives.

If they do not want to be wives, they should not marry. There is no law that forces them to do so. If they do marry, they should act like wives. Their husbands should act like husbands. They might not want to observe all of the proprieties associated with the traditional division of sexual labor. They might want to change the rules to serve their lives. But, they ought not to make their marriages into political statements. They ought not to politicize their marriages or to think that they can use their marriages to achieve a therapeutic goal. If they do, they will find misery.

Marriage is an alliance between families. It is the most significant and most important social alliance. We wish all married couples the greatest sex imaginable, but in truth married couples are engaged in a cooperative enterprise. They must know how to work together, to negotiate compromises, to engage in give and take, to be responsible, reliable, trustworthy and loyal, to stop thinking that their marriages should feed their narcissism and to stop expecting that their spouses should be masters of BDSM.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Another Casualty of Therapy

She calls herself “Help” and she shares all of her inchoate negative feelings, with her favorite advice columnist: Ask Polly. In this regard Polly is a kindred spirit.

I will spare you Polly’s advice, in which she displays her own self-centered vulnerability and suggests that Help, who feels like shit, should embrace her bad feelings. Help must have known that she was going to hear such blather from Polly. She has probably heard it before. The more she hears it the worse she feels.

You will notice that Help does not share very many details about her circumstances. We can conclude that she has cut herself off from the real world and has gotten lost in her emotions. This means that she has a serious problem, but it might also suggest that she has been taught that she can solve her problems by ignoring them and bathing in her feelings.

Anyway, since she is a millennial, she is not alone among her friends to be suffering from anomie:

I feel like I’m just walking in circles, forgetting each step as I take it. I’m relearning the same lessons over and over again, and there’s so much to remember. Do you feel better now than you did in your 20s? Does anything make more sense? My friends and I are all struggling, all sad, and all hoping for a time when we don’t feel like we’re frantically juggling all the shit and trying not to let too much fall.

I am not sure why these young women do not feel liberated from patriarchal oppression but you can probably guess.

What is Help’s problem? Simply put, she got out of her first relationship and now she feels less than good about herself. The decision seems to have been hers. It seems to have been a bad decision. She did not understand what would happen to her life once she tossed the man aside in the name of independence and autonomy:

Yeah, yeah, it’s another indulgent 20s letter. I don’t know who I am, blah blah. I got out of my first relationship this year, and I’m having a hard time believing that so much can be for nothing. Not just with him but with the friends I lost along the way. What was the point of it all? What benefit is there to the memory of him looking at me in that particular way when someone really sees you for the first time? What the fuck?

She is so confused that she seems no longer capable of making decisions. She is trying to follow her intuition, but, she was following it when she dumped her one true love. Now she seems incapable of accepting that she made a mistake:

If you’re in a tough situation, can you rely on your own intuition to guide you, rather than trying to figure out the right course based on what you think you should do but don’t trust yourself on, because doing what you thought was right at the time was actually really selfish and inconsiderate and wrong and you’ve really hurt people? I feel like I was born without a compass that other people have. A lot of the time, I feel confused about what the right thing to do is, at all. It’s like I now approach every question with all my lists and with opinions from everyone else and try to figure out the best way forward. But I never know which way is the right way, and which way will cause the least harm, and yeah, sure, which way will convince everyone I’m still a good person. (I’ve done enough therapy to know that’s embarrassingly important to me. Especially with now-ex-friends, and especially with now-ex-boyfriends that I’m still in love with.)

You will have noticed the parenthetical remark that gives it all away. She say that she has done enough therapy. Music to my jaded ears. Though, of course, she has done too much therapy.

She must have decided to do this as a result of some half-assed lame therapy. I am not surprised to see that it produces such bad results. After all, don’t therapists induce their charges to grow up and to become less dependent on a man, to feel more independent and autonomous?  Don't they want their female patients to explore their sexuality with a multitude of partners? The message may have been explicit. It may have been implicit. When she put it into practice she hurt herself, she hurt her ex-boyfriend and disrupted her social world. Many of her friends will not forgive her selfishness.

Now, she is writing to Polly, who likes telling young women to get into therapy and to feel their feelings. If she had a moral compass Help would be telling Polly that her advice sucks. After all, she did what Polly suggested. She got lots of therapy and felt her feelings. She also got lured into an ideology that wants women to be independent, autonomous and alone. Who knew that it was a formula for solipsistic self-involvement and bad decisions?

What does Polly have to offer her: more falling, more failing and more feeling. Anything is better than admitting that she did too much therapy and is incapable of accepting that she made a mistake.

Energy In the Wind

Nature lovers far and wide are kvelling over renewable energy sources… by which they mean wind and solar. By their imaginings more natural, less industrial energy sources will help us to return to nature. Isn’t that what we all want?

Now, Matt Ridley explains the truth about wind energy. (via Maggie’s Farm)  It’s a harsh truth, so, take a deep breath before plunging in:

Even put together, wind and photovoltaic solar are supplying less than 1 per cent of global energy demand. From the International Energy Agency’s 2016 Key Renewables Trends, we can see that wind provided 0.46 per cent of global energy consumption in 2014, and solar and tide combined provided 0.35 per cent. Remember this is total energy, not just electricity, which is less than a fifth of all final energy, the rest being the solid, gaseous, and liquid fuels that do the heavy lifting for heat, transport and industry.

Such numbers are not hard to find, but they don’t figure prominently in reports on energy derived from the unreliables lobby (solar and wind). Their trick is to hide behind the statement that close to 14 per cent of the world’s energy is renewable, with the implication that this is wind and solar. In fact the vast majority — three quarters — is biomass (mainly wood), and a very large part of that is ‘traditional biomass’; sticks and logs and dung burned by the poor in their homes to cook with. Those people need that energy, but they pay a big price in health problems caused by smoke inhalation.

If we relied on wind, how many turbines would we need to build? Ridley has the answer:

If wind turbines were to supply all of that growth but no more, how many would need to be built each year? The answer is nearly 350,000, since a two-megawatt turbine can produce about 0.005 terawatt-hours per annum. That’s one-and-a-half times as many as have been built in the world since governments started pouring consumer funds into this so-called industry in the early 2000s.

How much land area would the new turbines take up?

At a density of, very roughly, 50 acres per megawatt, typical for wind farms, that many turbines would require a land area greater than the British Isles, including Ireland. Every year. If we kept this up for 50 years, we would have covered every square mile of a land area the size of Russia with wind farms. Remember, this would be just to fulfil the new demand for energy, not to displace the vast existing supply of energy from fossil fuels, which currently supply 80 per cent of global energy needs.

Do not take refuge in the idea that wind turbines could become more efficient. There is a limit to how much energy you can extract from a moving fluid, the Betz limit, and wind turbines are already close to it. Their effectiveness (the load factor, to use the engineering term) is determined by the wind that is available, and that varies at its own sweet will from second to second, day to day, year to year.

And, of course, you want to know how much energy it would take to build all of those wind turbines:

It gets worse. Wind turbines, apart from the fibreglass blades, are made mostly of steel, with concrete bases. They need about 200 times as much material per unit of capacity as a modern combined cycle gas turbine. Steel is made with coal, not just to provide the heat for smelting ore, but to supply the carbon in the alloy. Cement is also often made using coal. The machinery of ‘clean’ renewables is the output of the fossil fuel economy, and largely the coal economy.

A two-megawatt wind turbine weighs about 250 tonnes, including the tower, nacelle, rotor and blades. Globally, it takes about half a tonne of coal to make a tonne of steel. Add another 25 tonnes of coal for making the cement and you’re talking 150 tonnes of coal per turbine. Now if we are to build 350,000 wind turbines a year (or a smaller number of bigger ones), just to keep up with increasing energy demand, that will require 50 million tonnes of coal a year. That’s about half the EU’s hard coal–mining output.

The solution is not in wind and solar. It lies in natural gas. I am sure that you knew that already:

The truth is, if you want to power civilisation with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, then you should focus on shifting power generation, heat and transport to natural gas, the economically recoverable reserves of which — thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — are much more abundant than we dreamed they ever could be. It is also the lowest-emitting of the fossil fuels, so the emissions intensity of our wealth creation can actually fall while our wealth continues to increase. Good.

And let’s put some of that burgeoning wealth in nuclear, fission and fusion, so that it can take over from gas in the second half of this century. That is an engineerable, clean future. Everything else is a political displacement activity, one that is actually counterproductive as a climate policy and, worst of all, shamefully robs the poor to make the rich even richer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Postmodernism and the End of Art

To one ‘s shock and dismay one discovers, upon finishing Jason Newman’s article about postmodern art, that young Newman is a student journalist. This is shocking and dismaying because his article is so remarkably good. One cannot imagine an American student, no less an art critic, doing as good a job. 

Newman begins with a salient point. However much the world is gaga over Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can boxes and Brillo boxes—a critique of consumer capitalism, didn’t you know?— the artist filled his own home with the real thing, with art that had withstood the test of time:

However, when he died in February 1987 the world got a real look at Andy Warhol and what he really considered to be “worthwhile art.” Behind the doors of his neo-classical townhouse the rooms were not furnished by piles of Brillo boxes or indeed stacks of soup cans but objects of a rather different style. Classical busts sat on mahogany tables, portraits lined the walls, and on many surfaces sat fine antiques. Warhol had chosen to adorn his house with pieces that had stood the test of time, pieces that followed the old rules on aesthetic value, but most importantly pieces that would have been shunned in the art world he had created and dominated.

What is modern art? Newman tells us that it’s a fraud, a con perpetrated on unknowing collectors who want to feel like they are part of the intellectual elite. I know what you are thinking: it couldn't have happened to a nicer group of people.

He says:

… the mantra of the modern artist: willing to expose society’s greed, consumerism, and corruption so long as he receives generous compensation for doing so. The contradictions of Andy Warhol’s public and private tastes, along with the inherent contradictions present in modern art, expose it for what it really is – a fraudulent enterprise that does not stand up to close scrutiny; a con perpetrated by talentless hacks and the elitist snobs who give them both funds and oxygen.

One feels constrained to point out that a few collectors treat these artworks like penny stocks. They buy tons of it from young artists and hope that some of it will be worth a fortune. Of course, it’s all a game of musical chairs. You might end up with your walls covered in junk, looking like the biggest fool. Like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes—dutifully quoted by Newman—you will feel sorely inconvenienced if anyone, especially a student journalist, tells you that it’s all junk.

Such art is offered up to the intellectual elites, especially to the know-nothing elites called celebrities:

The fact is that from the time of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to Damien Hirst’s pickled shark and beyond, the only people able to afford these modern art pieces have been the elite. An elite who, afraid they might fall behind the latest trend, nod their approval at a giant sculpture of a pair of buttocks (a Turner Prize-nominee), eager to show that they, like their elite friends but unlike the masses, “understand.”

It has all, Newman continues, lost the value to shock. It has become boring:

The whole modern art scene has become stale; the ugliness, the obsession with the scatological, and the gratuitous levels of sexually explicit content are now tiresome clichés. While conceptual artists no doubt like to see themselves as being experimental, revolutionary, and unorthodox they have simply become boring. From painting with it (The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili) to tinning it (Artist’s Shit by Piero Manzoni), the uses of faeces has well and truly been exhausted by these charlatans. Pieces that were once seen as shocking no longer shock, the taboo has been broken, displaying a sexual explicit piece is now no more revolutionary than painting a bowl of fruit.

Obviously, anyone can do it. It requires very little skill and no craft. It’s a world where talent does not matter:

Behind the grandiose pieces and the attention grabbing works created purely for shock value lies a very important question: “Where is the skill and ability in all this?” No skill is required to place a rotting cows head in a glass cube with an insect-o-cutor (A Thousand Years by Damien Hirst). No ability is needed to set up a room with a light that switches on and off (Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off by Martin Creed, a work that won him the Turner Prize). It is most probably the case that the electrician who installed said lights and the abattoir worker who severed the cow’s head possess more skill and expertise than either Mr. Hirst or Mr. Creed.

Among the intellectual patrons of this nonsense is the Frankfurt School. The thinkers associated with this school peddled Marxist fairy tales and wanted to stand firm against fascism. Recently, they have been treated as near-prophets for having predicted the rise of Donald Trump. Of course, no one cares to remark that their crystal balls became especially murky when they failed to understand the catastrophe of Marxist governance.

Newman describes the Frankfurt School:

Like the Dadaists, their genesis was in the interwar years but also like the Dadaists their influence really only started to be felt in the post-War years. They too came out of the first half of the 20th century traumatised. They were appalled by the rise of fascism, but also crestfallen at the failure of Marxist-Leninism to deliver utopia. Having conducted a postmortem on Marxism, they formed their own new ideology, still heavily influenced by Marx but with a new emphasis on the cultural rather than the economic. Like the Dadaists, they also felt the old traditions should be thrown on the rubbish heap of history – faith, family, and the nation had to be destroyed. And, like the Dadaists, they were convinced the subjective was king and objective truth was dead. Affirmation and construction were to be abandoned for desecration and destruction.

Have these postmodern artists finally destroyed art. One expects that they did not. One hopes that a new generation will restore the value of art… that is, if they have the skill to do so:

Having succeeded in destroying the underpinnings of art, declaring everything to be art–and moreover good art–while emptying the word ‘beautiful’ of meaning, modern artists are now stranded on an open prairie. With no fences to restrain them or give them direction, they wander aimlessly, often getting lost in the process. The very term “art” now means nothing. For if everything is “art” then “art” is everything, therefore why define it as “art” at all? Why have galleries or exhibitions?

Pigeons Deserve Dignity and Quality of Life

The story does not come from The Daily Mail. It does not even come from The Onion. Hold on to your hats, this story was reported by the Wall Street Journal.

It’s about Lisbon, Portugal’s war against its indigenous pigeon population. Apparently, the situation is so completely out of control that a small group of pigeon lovers has tried something new and more humane. Instead of gassing the pigeons or feeding them to the reptiles at the zoo, this group has created a pigeon hotel, a facility where pigeons can feel good about themselves, where they are treated with respect and dignity. If they lay their eggs in the pigeon hotel, the volunteers remove all but one egg… apparently, to make omelets. They believe that this will control the pigeon population... without even using contraception.

As I said, this is from the Wall Street Journal. The report begins thusly: 

In Lisbon, where city officials say the bird population is above the normal level of five for every human, pigeons swarm cafes in search of table scraps. Their droppings crown the city’s statues and coat its antique architecture.

One Lisbon resident spoke for many:

Cristina Saiago, who is fighting a losing battle to keep bird feces off the flowers hanging from her balcony, is one of many Lisboners whose view of the birds is considerably less munificent.

“Pigeons are flying rats,” she said.

How are things working out in the pigeon hotel? The Journal explains:

The obvious question, of course, is whether coddling pigeons is an effective way to hold down the population. So far, only a dozen pigeons have moved into the house, and Mr. Vieira, the hygiene director, said his office still gets 300 to 400 calls a month from citizens whose homes, cars and clothing have been slathered in droppings.

“We want to give the pigeons security and a space that is only theirs,” says Joana Antunes, a 28-year-old lawyer who oversees the house with five other volunteers.

“Pigeons deserve and need dignity and quality of life,” she says.

After all, pigeons have rights too. But, dignity and quality of life. Offering dignity and quality of life by using a cheap trick to turn their progeny into omelets. Someone has completely lost her mind. You knew it would be a lawyer.

How is the new plan working out? Glad you asked:

Since the shelter opened in May, the birds haven’t exactly flocked to it. A dozen of the house’s 63 total nests are occupied. As a result, only 111 eggs—including some found outside the house—have been confiscated. The city continues to catch and gas the birds, killing anywhere between 20 and 400 on a given day for a cost of €500.

One would like to say that the pigeons were smart enough to see through the ruse. But, truth be told, they are not smart enough to avoid being gassed by the municipal authorities.