For some 2 + 2 is not always 4

A couple of weeks ago, at a dinner in New York, I asked Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, if he would grant me a few words for my blog, The Florida Dispatch. Besides being a beacon in the field of Economics, Joe is a great guy, and he agreed.

Laura: Joe, now that we are starting a brand new year, what message would you give my readership? Please make it one phrase, so as not to interrupt your dinner too badly.

He has a very powerful message and answered in four words before the main course had a chance to grow cold:

Joe: Watch out for inequality.

There it is, dear readership. Beware inequality –or as called by some a “dual economy”–, where the very rich and the very poor live together but are abysmally divided. A Simon and Garfunkel song famously says that the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls. That afternoon I discovered that the words of the economists too can be found there. As I took a train downtown and boarded a car brimming with human diversity, I was able to see Joe’s phrase not written, but enacted.

A loud voice boomed “Happy New Year!” imageIt come from someone almost six feet tall and 220 lb, although it was hard to tell, he was so bundled up… The passengers actively ignored this man clearly on the side of the have-nots. Or, more precisely, what he had fit inside a supermarket cart. Many would describe him as a bum. I was still digesting dessert and Joe’s words, so I approached him and thanked him for his good wishes. I asked if I could take a picture of him, for this is an equal opportunity blog. His name was Marty. He pointed out to his cart and explained: “People see this and assume I am asking for money, but I truly felt like wishing you all a good year”. Dear readers, please allow me to convey Marty’s good wishes, along with Joe’s words of wisdom.

On Marathons

In a sense, running a marathon is like winning a Nobel prize. After someone gets the phone call from Sweden, who can doubt that the honored recipient –henceforward referred to as “the Noble Prize winner in such and such category”– is a very intelligent person?after all, we were in the Magic Kingdom.

Likewise, whoever runs a marathon –26.2 miles– is set apart as someone a big cut above the ordinary. You need character and stamina and, over strong muscles, a sturdy will and determination are key to running the distance.

I attended my second marathon this weekend  (disclaimer: as a cheering party, not a runner) and stood in awe. Many wore goofy outfits (we were in the Magic Kingdom, after all); some had the fit “marathony look”, as I call it; old people ran; really overweight people too…

A person did it on prosthetic legs, another juggled pins while running. The gregarious did it very socially and the self-absorbed took selfies.

The perfect example of biodiversity.

What am I waiting for to start running? Let’s leave it at “Hail to all who made it to the finish line!”

imageCheering dad & daughter see mom approach the finish line.

Spat between two works of art

spat2worksofartI was walking through an exhibition of impressionist and postimpressionist art in the Museum of Fine arts of Boston when I had the distinct feeling that a couple nearby was having a spat. I stopped, put on my glasses and checked out my surroundings:

In admirable juxtaposition, two works of art seemed to be acting out a theme that has probably been played hundreds of thousands of times throughout history among homo sapiens sapiens: the moment when he angrily turns around to leave and she remains fixed to the ground, all miffed.

I was facing Degas’ little dancer sculpture. She stretches her arms behind her and pulls her breast out. Behind her, the naked man in Gustave Caillebotte’s oil painting “Man in a bath” appears to be angrily walking away from her.

Let’s imagine some probable dialogues for these scene that has played out over 200 thousand years. We can almost hear them in every language:

He: “I’m outta here!” / she: “Good riddance!”

He: “¡Me largo de aquí!” / she: “¡Pues lárgate!”

He: “मैं यहाँ से बाहर हूँ” / she: “तो बाहर निकलना”

He: “Je me casse d’ici!” / she: “Ben, casse-toi!”

He “Είμαι δω” / she: “Μέχρι να βγει”

He: “Aku keluar dari sini” / she: “jadi keluar”

He: “我离开这里” / she: “然后离开”

I ask myself if they will ever get together again in another exhibit.

Where once the blood of cattle flowed…

The 250 slaughterhouses that existed in 1900 in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan are mostly gone, and the area where once the blood of cattle flowed is now one of the hippest new neighborhoods in NY city.

At the clubs, bouncers are busy bouncing people trying to look cool (or cold… some women are wearing sleeveless dresses in this December night).

A low riding Lamborghini scrapes its bottom against the uneven original brickstone pavers that were used over a century earlier, proving that things might change on the surface but the foundations stubbornly remain...

A low riding Lamborghini scrapes its bottom against the uneven original brickstone pavers that were used over a century earlier, proving that things might change on the surface but the foundations stubbornly remain…

imageThe windows of Diane von Furstenberg’s studio slowly change color lights.

I am definitely not hip nor a swank clubber, but great things can spring up in unsuspected places. I walk into a pizza parlor where I get one of the best slices of pizza ever, and take a picture of two girls checking their phones (of course).

Think sudden death…

It is not, by far, the most appealing of subjects, but I invite you to imagine the following: Owing to sickness, crime, or just to the fact that time has worn away the telomeres in your chromosomes, PAF! The day you die arrives.
In remote times, before people thought about living in communities –and thus before the first spat between neighbors erupted– scavengers would probably have gone right to doing their job on you. They would have gradually eaten skin, muscles, viscera and other munchies until they left your bones bare. And that would have been it: a sad but ecofriendly, and free process.
Nevertheless, unless you happen to die under very unusual conditions, our overpopulated habitat guarantees that someone will find your dead body. Dear reader, will death meet you ready for that moment when people will rummage through the objects you left behind and see — in maybe embarrassing detail– who you were in life?
If you are not a hard-core cynic who says: “Me, bother? I’ll be dead anyway”, make a list and spruce up: Are your drawers clean? Do you keep one of those mags that will give your family and friends hours of after-dinner conversation and laughs over your soiled reputation? If you had a pet who now discovers that after all you weren’t its “forever” human, who will take care of the critter?
Just by the number of “+55 restricted communities” I see in Florida, I venture the educated guess that many come to retire –from work and eventually from life, as all things go. So there is a flurry of Estate Sales, which I find are like garage sales, except that almost everything that was part of a life is put on sale (even used toothbrushes).If-sudden-death
I attended such an Estate Sale and went through closets and pantries as respectfully as I could. Then it caught my eye. Lying on the floor beside a Harvard degree was a portrait of a couple.
Synapses connected: they had the slightly discomfited look of the portrait found in Pompeii of the man and wife who I believe were caught by sudden death. Their likeness had been painted between the years 70 and 79… right before Mount Vesuvius exploded.
But I want to end this post on a lighter note. Driving along highway 19 I found this sound advice (and a jewel of advertising):