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“The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two percent of the world’s population”*…

Perhaps that’s an oversimplification; but as a new McKinsey Global Institute study suggests, perhaps not by much…

We have borrowed a page from the corporate world—namely, the balance sheet—to take stock of the underlying health and resilience of the global economy as it begins to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. This view from the balance sheet complements more typical approaches based on GDP, capital investment levels, and other measures of economic flows that reflect changes in economic value… [and] provides an in-depth look at the global economy after two decades of financial turbulence and more than ten years of heavy central bank intervention, punctuated by the pandemic.

Across ten countries that account for about 60 percent of global GDP—Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the historic link between the growth of net worth and the growth of GDP no longer holds. While economic growth has been tepid over the past two decades in advanced economies, balance sheets and net worth that have long tracked it have tripled in size. This divergence emerged as asset prices rose—but not as a result of 21st-century trends like the growing digitization of the economy.

Rather, in an economy increasingly propelled by intangible assets like software and other intellectual property, a glut of savings has struggled to find investments offering sufficient economic returns and lasting value to investors. These savings have found their way instead into real estate, which in 2020 accounted for two-thirds of net worth. Other fixed assets that can drive economic growth made up only about 20 percent the total. Moreover, asset values are now nearly 50 percent higher than the long-run average relative to income. And for every $1 in net new investment over the past 20 years, overall liabilities have grown by almost $4, of which about $2 is debt…

The rise and rise of the global balance sheet: How productively are we using our wealth?,” from @McKinsey_MGI

(Image above: source)

* Bill Bryson

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As we recalculate: we might spare a thought for composer, musician, director, and producer Frank “anything played wrong twice in a row is the beginning of an arrangement” Zappa; he died (of pancreatic cancer) on this date in 1993 at age 52.

“Politics is the entertainment branch of industry”

“The bottom line is always money”

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“Christmas may not bring a single thing; still, it gives me a song to sing”*…

Our reviewer

At the same time, as Mahalia Jackson said, “if you want me to sing this Christmas song with feeling and the meaning, you better see if you can locate that check.”

Novelist and publisher Tariq Goddard reviews this year’s crop of seasonal songs, for example…

Kelly Clarkson and I at least meet as equals, neither of us having heard of the other, although 25 million album sales mean more people have heard of her than they have me. Her handle on Christmas is not that much more assured than mine – she knows only what the seasonal songs that use the same formulas as hers tell her, which is of course a game of diminishing returns. There is the odd nod on When Christmas Comes Around to modernity (‘Christmas Isn’t Cancelled (Just You)’), but her trite take on tradition, if heard in a public space while experiencing another of life’s seasonal setbacks, may just bring the number of shopping trips down this Yuletide. Meghan Trainor, A Very Trainor Christmas, is more evidence that reality is multi dimensional, a Christmas euphemism for, ‘Are they all fucking mad or are we?’ Meghan is a hyperbolically successful young American whose version of ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ makes Kim Wilde and Mel Smith’s version sound like Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis — which is unfortunate as her frightened and life-denying version of the track is also by far the best thing on the record.

Billy Idol‘s Happy Holidays was the record I was most looking forward to, and like the later odes of Holderlin, is a lot stranger than you might expect. Idol starts in the only way the voice behind ‘Rebel Yell’ would be expected to, bullishly, going for broke on ‘Frosty The Snowman’ like he wants him to cry more, more, more. Eschewing howling axes for triangles and bells, the song is a Carry On Christmas-style piss take with a wink to music hall, full of fruity nudge nudges and spoken asides, which – unlike the awkward office party singalong it could have been – works because Idol sounds like he is having fun. He is a Bill Sykes that plays to the gallery and not to his demons. Unfortunately by track two he is beginning to grow a little more jaded, as if it is slowly occurring to him that just because we all grow old and still need something to do, that something doesn’t actually need to be this. Still, the realisation that a whole album of this stuff is going to be overkill, does not stop his version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ from keeping Richard Harris company in the astral bar that never closes, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a risk if ever there was one, is genuinely spooky, more Fagin watching the gallows being built from his cell than a new beginning in January.

So much more at “Jingle Hell: Tariq Goddard Reviews Christmas Music,” from @theQuietus. Via always-illuminating The Browser.

* Charles Dickens

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As we hum along, we might on the other hand recall that it was on this date in 1955 that Carl Perkins recorded “Blue Suede Shoes,” at Memphis Recording Service (later known, for the record label with which it shared a building, as Sun Studios). Written by Perkins and produced by Sam Phillips, it combined elements of blues, country, and pop music– and is thus considered one of the first rockabilly records.

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“‘It’s magic,’ the chief cook concluded, in awe. ‘No, not magic,’ the ship’s doctor replied. ‘It’s much more. It’s mathematics.’*…

Michael Wendl (and here) dissects some variants of the magic separation, a self-working card trick…

Martin Gardner—one of history’s most prolific maths popularisers [see here]—frequently examined the connection between mathematics and magic, commonly looking at tricks using standard playing cards. He often discussed ‘self-working’ illusions that function in a strictly mechanical way, without any reliance on sleight of hand, card counting, pre-arrangement, marking, or key-carding of the deck. One of the more interesting specimens in this genre is a matching trick called the magic separation.

This trick can be performed with 20 cards. Ten of the cards are turned face-up, with the deck then shuffled thoroughly by both the performer and, importantly, the spectator. The performer then deals 10 cards to the spectator and keeps the remainder for herself. This can be done blindfolded to preclude tracking or counting. Not knowing the distribution of cards, our performer announces she will rearrange her own cards ‘magically’ so that the number of face-ups she holds matches the number of face-ups the spectator has. When cards are displayed, the counts do indeed match. She easily repeats the feat for hecklers who claim luck…

All is revealed: “An odd card trick,” from Chalkdust (@chalkdustmag). 

* David Brin, Glory Season

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As we conjure, we might spare a thought for Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet died on this date in 1131.  While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of the quatrains that comprise the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period.  He is the author of one of the most important works on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle).  His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar.  And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology, and Islamic theology.

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“The wind has its reasons”*…

For Theo Jansen, it’s all about the wind…

Many of us hit the beach to enjoy some sunshine or catch a wave. But for Dutch artist Theo Jansen it’s all about the wind. Jansen’s been working with this limitless natural resource for 30 years to create a fabulous array of giant beach creatures—brought to life by the wind. With every gust, his wondrous seaside sculptures become more lifelike, ambling along the coast like creatures in their own right…

Jansen started designing them in the 1990s after reading about rising sea levels threatening the low-lying Netherlands—a country famous for the fact that one third of it is below sea level. He had a dream of creating a herd of wind-powered coastal sentinels, perpetually piling sand high onto the dunes to keep the water at bay.

What he ended up building took a different turn, with Jansen developing the idea to explore evolution as the primary creative force behind all life on Earth, capturing people’s imaginations in the process…

An artist’s moving tribute to nature’s powerful resource: “Fantastic Beasts Brought to Life by the Wind,” @HoeveMarie in @NautilusMag on @StrandBeests.

* Haruki Murakami

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As we feel the breeze, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that Richard StraussAlso sprach Zarathustra (Opus 30) was first performed (in Frankfurt).

“The merit of all things lies in their difficulty”*…

Francesco Libetta tackles the toughest…

Critic Harold C. Schonberg called Leopold Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études “the most impossibly difficult things ever written for the piano”; Godowsky said they were “aimed at the transcendental heights of pianism.” In the “Badinage,” above, the pianist plays Chopin’s “Black Key” étude with the left hand while simultaneously playing the “Butterfly” étude with the right and somehow preserving the melodies of both. One observer calculated that this requires 1,680 independent finger movements in the space of about 80 seconds, an average of 21 notes per second. “The pair go laughing over the keyboard like two friends long ago separated, now happily united,” marveled James Huneker in the New York World. “After them trails a cloud of iridescent glory.”

The studies’ difficulty means that they’re rarely performed even today; Schonberg said they “push piano technique to heights undreamed of even by Liszt.” Only Italian pianist Francesco Libetta, above, has performed the complete set from memory in concert.

Francesco Libetta takes on Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études: “Extra Credit.”

* Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1619, after the Vigil of the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, that Rene Descartes had his famous dream (actually a series of three dreams that night)– that ignited his commitment to treat all systems of thought developed to date, especially Scholasticism, as “pre-philosophical,” and– starting from scratch (“Cogito, ergo sum”)– to create anew.

Of these three dreams, it is the third that best expresses the original thought and intention of Rene Descartes’ rationalism. During the dream that William Temple aptly refers to as, “the most disastrous moment in the history of Europe,” Descartes saw before him two books. One was a dictionary, which appeared to him to be of little interest and use. The other was a compendium of poetry entitled Corpus Poetarum in which there appeared to be a union of philosophy with wisdom. Moreover, the way in which Descartes interpreted this dream set the stage for the rest of his life-long philosophical endeavors. For Descartes, the dictionary stood merely for the sciences gathered together in their sterile and dry disconnection; the collection of poems marked more particularly and expressly the union of philosophy with wisdom. He indicates that one should not be astonished that poets abound in utterances more weighty, more full of meaning and better expressed, than those found in the writings of philosophers. In utterances which appear odd when coming from a man who would go down in history as the father of Rationalism, Descartes ascribes the “marvel” of the wisdom of the poets to the divine nature of inspiration and to the might of phantasy, which “strikes out” the seeds of wisdom (existing in the minds of all men like the sparks of fire in flints) far more easily and directly than does reason in the philosophers. The writings of the professional philosophers of his time, struck Descartes as failing to supply that certitude, human urgency, and attractive presentation which we associate with a wise vision capable of organizing our knowledge and influencing our conduct.  (Peter Chojnowski)

And so was born the Modern Age in the West, and the particular form of Rationalism that characterizes it.

Many scholars suggest that Descartes probably “protests too much” when he insists in his autobiographical writings that he had abstained from wine for some time before the night of his oh-so-significant slumber.

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