Category Archives: culture

The dark beauty of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno is made greater by the illustrations of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the work. You can find a number of his work over at this page of Brain Pickings, including this one:

Dore's Inferno

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 George Saunders on writing

Yesterday I mentioned Robert Caro and his writing routine. Today, here’s a good piece by George Saunders and what writers really do when they write in The Guardian. Well worth a read.

A cautionary tale of what low taxes and libertarianism brings

Amish women on the beach
There can be many lessons that can be drawn from the story here: The Rise and Fall of the ‘Freest Little City in Texas’

The ones I drew were

  • You get the society you pay for. In this case, the people of this part of Texas were unwilling to pay for anything, and they got nothing in return. It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said in this age, but apparently it does.
  • Even basic services cost money. That money comes from taxes or service fees.
  • Those services are expensive to pay for individually: it makes much more sense for people to pool their money (in the form of taxes),  to make it cheaper overall for everyone.
  • Taxes are only part of what makes a society, but a society that is based on money and that does not have taxes is no society at all.
  • Only a society that does not depend on money can get away without taxes. Typically those a tightly knit,  cohesive, pre-money communities that depend heavily on sharing and barter. These communities are more socialist or communist in nature as opposed to libertarian. More like an Amish community or hippie commune or a religious community of some form.
  • The best way to have a libertarian society is to have one of great abundance. Scarcity requires people to share and work together if they want to survive.

It’s a good story. Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

(Photo above is Amish women on the beach)

Uber is reaching an inflection point (and may be reaching a crisis point)

Why? According to Bloomberg:

After touting profitability in the U.S. early this year, the ride-hailing company is said to post second-quarter losses exceeding $100 million.

A main source of the losses: subsidizing Uber drivers. As Christopher Mims commented on Twitter, “So Uber is a giant machine for transferring wealth from venture capitalists to underemployed Americans”. This is both clever and something that can’t go on indefinitely. It makes clearer to me now why Uber is keen to make self driving cars work. Sure, Uber could charge more for cabs or pay cab drivers less, but in either case, they risk losing market share.

The losses this quarter certainly are an inflection point. It remains to be see if it is a crisis point. That will depend on how the VCs see this loss. I believe they will have patience and they haven’t reached a crisis point yet. Uber should hope that their investors have the same patience that Amazon’s investors have.

For the rest of the story, see: Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016 – Bloomberg (Image above via the Bloomberg article)

On the rise and roots of our current minimalism

Minimalism is a foreign concept to some Westerners, especially as it is practiced in parts of Japan. Indeed, this line:

Fumio Sasaki’s one-room Tokyo apartment is so stark friends liken it to an interrogation room. He owns three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and a meagre scattering of various other items.

You see “interrogation room” and “meagre”, which gives you some insight into how this writer sees it. The article which this comes from (and which is linked to below) does get more insightful and you gain a better insight into Japanese minimalism, from its cultural roots to its practicality (such as the real problem of how earthquakes make home objects dangerous).

Minimalism seems to be growing as a cultural concept throughout the world, and it’s good to know more about it, how the Japanese see it, and to think about how it should differ in Western cultures. To do that, see:

Three shirts, four pairs of trousers: meet Japan’s ‘hardcore’ minimalists in The Guardian

Want to know why it is so expensive to get tickets to special events?

Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:

What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.

On declining ebook sales (two thoughts and some good material to consider)

If you are interested in books and ebooks in particular, you should read this: On the declining ebook reading experience. Two beliefs I have on this topic:

  1. Book sellers have become more competitive. In Canada, Indigo’s prices seem to be much lower and they sell books using low prices stamped prominently on the cover.
  2. He doesn’t say it, but the author hints that Apple should step in and make their own Kindle. I certainly would like to see Apple step up and make their own Kindle. The device and the user experience would be great, I am certain. It would blow the Kindle out of the water and likely make me switch over to becoming a bigger ebook reader.