Monday, January 18, 2010

Love is for all

This weekend, thanks to Christmas extra work and post Christmas sales, I finally bought the latest Rammstein double album (Liebe ist fuer alle da: Love is for all. Universal). You might call it my belated and unlikely Christmas present.

And my use of the word "unlikely" is deliberate. There are few things less Christmassy than a Rammstein album and this one is no exception.

In many ways, this appears to be a typical Rammstein production; in a few others, it seems to me, is rather particular and more extreme. Give me some time to go through the lyrics, though, as my German is limited, and Rammstein lyrics are notoriously complex, containing unexpected literary references, and idiomatic word games.

But today I want to talk about what for me, so far, is the most immediately striking feature of the album: its cover art, by the Spanish photographer Eugenio Recuenco.

Recuenco's work has been described as pictorial. It certainly deserves that description. In Liebe ist fuer alle da, Recuenco's photography evocates early XVII century Dutch/Flemish painting: dark backgrounds; detailed physical and physiognomic details, as if illuminated by a light unable to pierce the surrounding darkness; a mainly black, ocher, and yellow color palette.

Young Woman in Imaginary Costume, by Salomon de Bray.
Johanes Lutma, portrait, and
Venus and Adonis, by Jacob Adriaensz Backer.

Observe the earnest expressions in these portraits: this is the aspect where Recuenco's work diverges from the Dutch painters.

Recuenco's cannot hide Spanish Romantic influences, specifically Goya: his still life paintings and especially, in his later years, the Black Paintings.

Sometimes I have been tempted to describe musical projects like Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson as a contemporary Dada of horror. I feel this description may not be enough.

After this preamble, I confess Recuenco's work -however obviously artistic, valuable and carefully executed- is not for everyone as it is indeed disturbing and macabre, even by Rammstein's standards.

You have been warned: cover art for Liebe ist fuer alle da (5th and 6th rows of thumbnails) by Eugenio Recuenco.

Friday, January 1, 2010

La Vie en Rose: the Irvine Index

Today, having a look at the National Times (The Sydney Morning Herald online opinion section) I found an article by Jessica Irvine titled "The Irvine Index".

These are some lines in Irvine's article:

"THE American Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has called it the 'Big Zero' but Australians have plenty of reasons to celebrate the first decade of the 21st century. (...)"

"However, Australia sailed into its 19th year of uninterrupted growth. So are we better off than we were a decade ago? From a financial point of view, the answer undoubtedly is yes.

"In the noughties the Australian economy burst through the trillion-dollar mark. Average earnings rose from less than $40,000 to more than $62,000, a 58 per cent jump. (...)"

"Australians grew richer in the noughties. Whether we grew happier is harder to quantify."

I, for one, disagree with Irvine's assessment, although she admittedly allows that her comments refer to the financial aspect of growth alone and that there may be disagreement on how "happy" we may be.

These are my comments to Irvine's article (which I'll try to post in the corresponding blog, provided the editors make it open to the public):

Interesting article. However, it could have been much better documented. A simpler way to do this is to consider median (as opposed to average) values, adjusted for inflation.

As I am sure Irvine knows, averages are largely meaningless when it comes to describe total income, wealth and prices. For those interested, have a look at Statistics Every Writer Should Know. Or to my own article "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics" in this blog.

One of the reasons Krugman is not impressed with the American "Big Zero" is that he's conducted studies on income and wealth distribution in the US. By 1992, for instance, "The Rich, the Right, and the Facts" starts with: "The income gains of the 1980s did go overwhelmingly to the rich."

These studies, limited to the US, have been recently confirmed by Emmanuel Saez (from University of California, Berkeley): the top 1% of Americans reaped 2/3 of income gains in the latest expansion.

What is more, Saez extended his analyses to Australia, suggesting Australia during the late 90s-mid 00s was similar to the US in the 80s and 90s: that is, periods of economic "rationalism" with increasing inequality.

I don't believe similar studies have been conducted in Australia, by Australian academic researchers, although I would suggest "Grappling with Inequality", by John Wicks (St. Vincent de Paul Society, 2005).