Archive for June, 2011

So how do you move many billions of dollars in art through Philadelphia?

“Very carefully,” says Barnes spokesman Andrew Stewart.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the transportation of paintings from the Barnes Foundation to a new building six miles away near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The move includes more than 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 by Paul Cézanne and 59 by Henri Matisse – including the mural The Dance II.

This reminded me of documentary I saw last year, The Art of the Steal, all about the contentious battle for ownership of the Barnes collection, which will culminate in next month’s move. It also reminded me of how I felt the documentary finished – that the art world is just as murky as Wall Street but at least on Wall Street they are honest enough to admit that it is all about the money.

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David Beckham

Matthew Futterman has an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal asking why no American has become an international football star :

“The United States has won more than 1,000 Olympic gold medals. It has produced 26 British Open champions, 14 No. 1 tennis players and two winners of the Tour de France. It’s the birthplace of swimmer Michael Phelps, volleyball legend Karch Kiraly and chess master Bobby Fischer. An American nicknamed “the dump truck” nearly became the grand champion of sumo.

But there’s one feat that this wealthy and populous nation hasn’t achieved yet and, if recent events are any indication, won’t achieve any time soon.

No American man has ever become a bona fide international soccer superstar.”

The piece blames the standard of coaching but I would suggest a few other reasons :

– they don’t call the sport by its proper name i.e. FOOTBALL;

– the terrible standard of play in the MLS (which I have seen for myself);

– more US players need to play in Europe, such as  Tim Howard at Everton ;

– Americans like winners so it won’t happen until the US team comes close to winning the World Cup.

By coincidence today is the one-year anniversary of Landon Donovan’s dramatic goal in the last World Cup against Algeria which took the US into the second round. Business Insider, with typical American understatement, describes it as the “greatest sports moment of your lifetime.”

It was painful to be reminded that the next World Cup is three years away (big sigh).

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Ben Greenman is running a campaign in The New Yorker to make June 22 You Cannot be Serious Day as it is the 3oth anniversary of John McEnroe‘s famous tirade at Wimbledon. Greenman writes :

McEnroe, as the recent HBO documentary “McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice” explained, shocked England precisely because he was a stereotypical Ugly American: brash, arrogant, indecorous. But he was also importantly American for other reasons. He was brilliant but callow, like the nation sometimes was. And he was constitutionally unable to hold his tongue. (The New Yorker’s Sporting Scene blog)

I am old enough to remember the outrage at the time, but also old enough to have seen McEnroe  completely rehabilitated.
Who would have guessed 30 years ago that McEnroe would become a Wimbledon commentator for the BBC and completely idolised by the crowds ? Life can work in wonderful ways.

The Sporting Scene: McEnroe’s Courtly Behavior : The New Yorker.

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I don’t usually write about finance on my blog but I couldn’t ignore the news from Greece as the eurozone, yet again, tried to avoid making any hard decisions.

It seems an appropriate time to revisit a blog post from Paul Mason back in November when he reminded us about the 30s.

A few months before he killed himself, the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig wrote this, about the 1930s:

All the pale horses of the apocalypse have stormed through my life: revolution and famine, currency depreciation and terror, epidemics and emigration; I have seen great mass ideologies grow before my eyes and spread, fascism in Italy, national socialism in Germany, Bolshevism in Russia and above all the ultimate pestilence that has poisoned the flower of our European culture, nationalism in general.”

In his wonderful book, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World, the clearest and most well-written explanation of the mis-steps which led to Great Depression,  Liaquat Ahamed also quotes Zweig: “It was an epoch of high ecstasy and ugly scheming, a singular mixture of unrest and fanaticism.”

Ahamed comes to the depressing conclusion :

The Great Depression was not some act of God or the result of some deep-rooted contradictions of capitalism but the direct results of a series of misjudgements by economic policy makers, some made back in the 1920s, others after the first crises set in – by any measure the most dramatic sequence of collective blunders ever made by finance officials.

The BBC’s Robert Peston does not have much confidence in the current crop of  policy makers:

The eurozone ministers’ decision to postpone the definitive decision on a further 12bn euros of bridging loans for Greece is not likely to scare Greece’s austerity objectors into submission.

It could well persuade the Greek opponents of fiscal retrenchment that eurozone ministers are all talk and no trousers, that they are so disunited on how to fashion a fundamental solution to Greece’s excessive debts that Greece is better off taking direct control of its own economic destiny.

However, if this eurozone brinkmanship nudges the Greek parliament to reject the further budget squeeze, we’ll be closer than is remotely prudent or sensible to a 1930s-style financial and economic disaster.

No-one can say we weren’t warned – but even that may not be enough for the hapless eurozone to get its act together and take action.

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– loved this commencement speech by Atul Gawande, surgeon, New Yorker writer and bestselling author.  My favourite part is below , but I suggest you read the whole thing  :

“Developing a skill is painful, though. It is difficult. And that’s part of the satisfaction. You will only find meaning in what you struggle with. What you struggle to get good at next may not seem the exact right thing for you at first. With time and effort, however, you will discover new possibilities in yourself—an ability to solve problems, for instance, or to communicate, or to create beauty. I never imagined I’d find beauty in surgery. But with time I discovered there could be beauty in the way that I put things together under the skin, beauty no one might ever see, but still strangely satisfying nonetheless.

I said there are at least two kinds of satisfaction, however, and the other has nothing to do with skill. It comes from human connection. It comes from making others happy, understanding them, loving them. The relationships you’ve made are what you will miss most about college. I suspect you did not find forging them nearly as difficult as your classes. Most of you are more worried about the skills and work you will have in your future than the relationships. But neither will you find easy.” (Gawande.com)

– in the same vein, the American Psychological Association finds freedom and personal autonomy are more important to people’s well-being than money;

– this will make you smile. A list of famous opening lines from novels updated for the modern age:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an internet startup to call his own. (McSweeney’s)

– The Guardian has a list of a different kind: the 100 greatest non-fiction books

So get reading and have a good weekend.

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This Janelle Monáe song is from last year but I just listened to it for the first time in ages. I had forgotten how good it was – and the video rocks as well.

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Jackson Pollock is one of my favourite artists and I love hanging out at MOMA where there is a room of his paintings.

 Dripped is a wonderful and beautifully animated French short film by director Léo Verrier, paying homage to the great artist. (Brain Pickings)

Dripped: French Animated Homage to Jackson Pollock | Brain Pickings.

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