Wednesday Night #1194

January 19, 2005

What is art?

A video news clip of the opening of the Moishe Safdie-designed Desmarais Pavilion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (reported by a very young John Curtin) introduced the discussion and new guest, Marm Rapp. This gave her an opportunity to remind everyone that Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from The British Museum is at the MMFA from January 27 to May 22. Reservations may be made for guided tours before the Museum’s opening hours to the public.
What is art and how well defined are the boundaries of art, the mundane, the obscene and the depiction of hatred as art? What qualifies as good taste? What role – if any – should political correctness play in the subjects of art? Does any object or painting qualify as art merely by virtue of the fact that it is displayed by an artist and/or in a museum? Are automobiles in an auto show art because they convey an underlying sexual message that people pay to see?
Some believe that art, as well as other forms of creativity, is the product of the child’s mind. The child accepts everything that touches its five senses, but in the process of socialization, the senses are bombarded with stimuli that force the individual to censor, eliminating the improbable or that which is deemed impossible or not in compliance with acceptable norms. However, even in adulthood the child exists, at times obscured by the rules of the adult world, producing ideas, images and expression in writing that are uncensored, which may or may not offend others. Society determines what is and what is not acceptable and some Wednesday Nighters express the view that there is an inverse relationship between an individual’s lifestyle and his tolerance to what constitutes art.

Money, friends and politics
It has been said that it is good to have money, because with money, one can buy almost anything and live well. Without money, it is good to have sufficient intelligence to permit one to earn money. Without either, it is good to have friends, but pity the poor person who has neither money, brains nor friends.
The great presidential inaugural bash raises the usual questions of opulence in the midst of poverty, of the motivation of the Corporate America sponsors of the events (generosity or investment?) and the question of the de facto elimination of potentially excellent candidates who haven’t the means (or possibly, wealthy friends) to run a campaign. Is it a question of one dollar, one vote rather than one person, one vote? Some suggest that the American presidential campaign be funded federally with limits on spending. In the final analysis, it is difficult to argue with success and the United States has been very successful in the family of nations.

RFID
At the current price of twenty to eighty cents a tag, Wal-mart has been moving from bar-code product identification to the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. This system may very well gain increasing acceptance in the near future. There are basically two types of RFID, namely a passive form that requires proximity to a reader, i.e. checkout counters, or an active form which broadcasts location. The passive form would certainly minimize shoplifting in big box stores as a concealed item would be detected in the checkout, while the active form would track the movement of goods and people, enabling manufacturers to track where an article (container or pallet) or person is at any given time and its ultimate destination. The checkout reader can detect and record all the items in a basket (or pocket) without passing through a bar code scanner.
Potentially RFID has an enormous number of applications, including the tagging of animals and for example, Alzheimer patients who might have wandered off. In emergencies, implanted tags would be able to link unconscious patients to their medical record, although this application is only valid if records are kept current, which is not the case with the current practice of implanting RFIDs in valuable/valued pets. Also, for humans, the same questions arise concerning the integrity of personal information as for filming people in public areas, physical national identification cards, etc. Whatever the problems, the future of RFIDs is an exciting innovation of the twenty-first century.

[Editor’s Note: David Mitchell adds the following:
” … you probably know that the media downplayed and criticized RFID last year and are now starting to realize that it’s coming at a great rate and they’re beginning to produce more positive stories. The biggest European retail chains are ahead of America but Wal-Mart is the newsmaker along with the US Department of Defense (DoD). With Wal-Mart requiring all its 20,000 suppliers to be on board within two years and the DoD requiring its 43,000 supplier within roughly the same time frame, this is the beginning of a multi-year implementation at all levels.
“It’ll be a multi-billion dollar expenditure or investment, depending on how the suppliers use the data generated; each chip can contain at least 128 bits so it’ll be much more than a Bar Code. The benefit to supply chain management will be enormous. Reduction of theft and loss will be enormous (billions/year). But think of other areas, such as cattle with a RFID chip clipped to their ears at birth. Any BSE or other disease can be traced easily. Think of prescription drugs at home or hospital with an intelligent reader programmed to monitor the presence of the drug and record whether it is taken –or whether the wrong one is administered– with an appropriate alarm. Or in a hospital, for example, the location of every piece of equipment or carton of supplies can be tracked, etc.
“… to my knowledge most of the makers of RFID readers are limited [at this time] to one or a few frequencies whereas RFID can operate, especially in different countries, at many. Only two companies make multi-frequency, multi-protocol readers that are ‘agile’ enough to deal with anything. One is Canadian –SAMsys in Toronto (TSE SMY). SAMsys, at least, sells directly and via OEMs. It has been involved with Metro in Germany and seems to have some sort of collaborate arrangement with IBM (developing software to exploit RFID data) and maybe Microsoft.”]

The U.S. and World Governance
Many are concerned that the U.S. is strong enough to be a destabilizer of the world order (invasion of Iraq), but not strong enough to be in charge of the world. The next four years could be very dangerous as there is no evidence that the Administration has learned anything from its first four years, given that the President has stated forcefully that his re-election is a vindication of U.S. policy in Iraq and this is a strong indicator that a collision course between the Bush vision of the world and reality could reach a crisis point within the next four years. If Bush’s popularity plummets (he begins his second term with the
lowest approval rating of any re-elected president since Eisenhower in 1957) as happened with Nixon, then we may well see an unravelling of the world system structure, with a series of crises one after the other. The interdependence of the world is increasing and we cannot say we are in a safer world than we were four years ago.
Others believe that Condoleeza Rice‘s statements at her confirmation hearings hint at a gradual shift in the attitudes of (some members of) the Administration, a desire to re-establish traditional alliances with Europe, and a hope that the United States will be successful in changing the Middle East.
Whichever view proves true, the future will be exciting (if not dangerous) for the population of the world and it is to be profoundly hoped that the dream of the School of Athens of world governance will, once again, bring the nations of the world together in a supranational body.
[Editor’s Note: this discussion will no doubt resume with a parsing of every word of the Bush Second Inaugural Speech, with its emphasis on the words Freedom and Liberty and the statement that “We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people”.

JACQUES CLÉMENT`S REPORT on THE ECONOMY

Canada – 2005 Outlook
Economic growth is likely to be close to 3% in 2005 after 2.7% in 2004. With moderate energy prices, inflation should be around 2%. Job creation could average 20,000 monthly and unemployment below 7%, the lowest in three and a half years. The economic growth will be the result of stable interest rates and twenty billion dollars of tax cuts, the last tranche of the one hundred billion over five years announced previously. It will also be supported by a higher real disposable income, leading to continuing fairly strong consumer spending, moderate rise in business inventories after a fourteen billion dollar increase in the third quarter last year. Business investments in machinery, equipment and computers will probably increase by10% (double 2004). Government spending will rise at the same pace as last year (2½ %). Corporate profits are expected to rise by 9-10%, leading the T.S.X to 9500, a gain of almost 400 points over the year. The trade surplus, after reaching $7.3 billion in November, the third largest on record, is likely to stabilize in the $4.5 billion to $6.5 billion monthly range. The $10 billion decline in November imports was the result of the record rise in business inventories in the third quarter and should be back to more moderate but volatile numbers in the months ahead.
On the weaker side of the economy, the drop of almost 9% in our exports in the last five months as a result of the 30% rise in the Canadian dollar of the last two years, will continue to prevail, leading to continuing decline in manufacturing new orders, shipments, unfilled orders and employment. Capacity utilization will probably ease from 86% now. Given the high inventories, the auto production and sales could ease from the moderate 2% rise of last year. Following residential construction’s best year in seventeen years, C.M.H.C. estimates a decline of 10% to 210,000. On existing home sales, the Canadian Home Builders Association estimates a decline of 6% to 298,000, but average price rising by 3½%. After declining last year, productivity might rise moderately. The wholesale sector is likely to remain vigorous. As for the savings rate, it is at zero now, the lowest in twenty-two years! On the fiscal side, with $9 billion surplus forecast, the government has already repaid over $10.5 billion of debt in the first six months. Bank of Canada’s pause in its tightening mode will continue to prevail at its meeting of January 25 and well into the second half of the year.
The Canadian dollar 2005 trading range: 80¢ U.S. to 84¢ U.S. Given favourable interest rate spread in the fall of last year, foreigners have bought $17 billion net of Canadian securities in the last three reported months.
Prediction:
– Significant additional tax cuts in the February budget in order to enhance productivity, stimulate small and medium size businesses.

U.S. – 2005 Outlook
The U.S. economy, with 4% economic growth in the last half of 2004, is likely to grow by 3½% – 4% this year, with rising inflation to 3% (core, 2½%). Producer prices last year, rose by 4% (largest in 14 years) and core at 2.2% (6 year high). Consumer prices rose by 3.3% (its highest in 4 years) and core at 2.2% (3 year high) as a result of the significant decline in the U.S. dollar. As the economy is operating close to full capacity, the Federal Reserve will likely tighten monetary policy again by ¼% again for the sixth consecutive time, to 2½% Fed funds on February 2. Following the last F.O.M.C. minutes, they could remove “the measured pace of tightening” from its policy statement. They will continue to drain the excess liquidity injected in 2001/2002. This year, I think that the Fed will probably increase interest rates by nearly 2% (once by ½), before reaching neutrality. After creating 2.2 million new jobs last year, the rise in employment averaging175,000 monthly, will bring unemployment below 5.4%, a three-year low. Strong consumer spending will continue to support economic growth, given rising disposable income (+3½%). Retail sales rose 8% last year. Capital investments in machinery, equipment and computers might rise by 8%-9%. Business inventories will rise substantially. Net government spending will possibly rise at the same pace as last year. Corporate profits are expected to rise by 10% against 20% last year. Capacity utilization has risen over 79%, its highest in four years. Services will remain strong, as will the manufacturing sector. Productivity will continue to rise close to 3%. The economic weakness will come from auto production and sales, given the very large inventories and extended life. Residential construction has peaked, with home sales declining 12% in November last year, the largest decline in ten years. The record trade deficit, at over $60 billion in November and over $600 billion last year, will continue to be a drag on the economy and employment. The current account deficit is now at a record 5% of the G.D.P. The $450 billion fiscal deficit shows no sign of receding.

Trading Range Outlook for 2005:
Dow-Jones: 11,000 (an increase of 460 points) by year end.
Euro: $1.30 U.S. – $1.35 U.S. (It has traded over $1.36 U.S. on December 27)
Gold: $425 U.S. – $445 U.S. (It has traded at $444.50 U.S. on December 27)
Crude: $45.00 U.S. – $50.00 U.S. (It has traded at $49.50 U.S. on January 18, 2005).
C.R.B. +3% versus +3.3% last year

Prediction:
– China’s devaluation of the yuan due to increased pressure stemming from U.S. trade deficit could happen as early as February when the G-7 meets

QUOTES of the EVENING
One has time to do whatever one really wants to do
You can display what you want but should you coerce people into paying for it?
Anything goes (as art) as long as society accepts it
Who becomes the gatekeeper on what society accepts?
To me, the only litmus test on whether it should be shown is whether it provokes hatred
It appears that the goal of government is to produce more and have more, to the exclusion of other goals and to the exclusion of other people
Anybody who is against that
[corporate sponsorship in return for access] must be a communist (Congressman from Nevada)
It’s not enough to implant it (RFID) as it is only as good as the people who keep the records. There is no system in place to update the information.
Money is the oxygen of politics everywhere
The difference between George Bush and God is that God never thinks that he is George Bush

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