The Wolf of Wall Street – a slating review by RT

You can read about Jordan Belfort piece by piece in Wikipedia and then decide if that life is exciting enough for you to see the movie. Sorry to say, it is full of people using the f*** word 522 times, enjoying cheating others and themselves with the help of sex, drugs and the so called high life.

Hollywood is shocked, but provides the golden globe awards to DiCaprio as the best actor in a comedy. Good acting yes, but funny, no. Oh, yes there are scenes where the audience breaks out in laughter, when the guys are pumped so full of dangerous drugs that they are performing circus acts of artistry and clowning, such as the scene when Belfort is totally stoned looking over the wall of the country club wall entrance and then stumbling down the stairs towards his supercar, pitiful yes, funny no.

There are a few memorable scenes in the movie such as the last shot, where our friend is again in front of an audience in awe, asking them to sell him a pen, which of course none of them is able to. However, they are ready to buy whatever the con-artist is offering them. I am sure , there are more of those precious little pieces, once you look carefully, after all Scorsese is an experienced filmmaker, but that does not justify to see anything of that again, after I, all was ready to leave already after one hour, staying only because I was invited by friends to join them.

Will this story wake us up and invest more carefully in the future?  I am afraid not…..but if it only hit 10% it may help. It will certainly impress us one more time that those stockbrokers are damned crooks, which of course a good part of them are not. Like any other Wall Street drama and/or movie it is only a little part of the larger story of financial capitalism, which is colorful, complicated and callous. By now, we have plenty of evidence that the over-expansion of Wall Street has hurt Main Street seriously for decades, in one of which we are right now. Yet we seem unable to tame that beast and let its excesses play out in a Circus Ring of Speculators, well fenced and separated from the real flows of economic life.

One thing is sure, our last crisis has given us much better real stories than this one, and I hope some of the filmmakers feel encouraged to show us those ones.

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How embarrassing. It is really a shame. One year of reading books, going into movie theaters, hearing or playing music pieces, talking to people, inhaling scientific articles, visiting places, staying in a monastery…and I just forget.

Yes, I saw this movie from Woody, that other from Polanski, also Jim Jarmusch… sometimes went into movies twice a week – simply forgot all…read this fantastic books about “True professionalism”, some other about “Possibilities”, “Resilient leadership”…something terrifying by Paul Auster, Bukowski…something great by Ian McEwan – oh yes: “The sweet tooth”… then this lady Nobel prize winner with her short stories… read articles by Hannes Leitgeb about “belief revision”… also some other philosopher Kevin Kelly… heuristics…also the psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer…rediscovered the sex scene “Fuck me” with William Dafoe – what a great actor! – read books about Accounting, Microeconomics, Valuation of Companies…read books about the art of negotiations…rediscovered Schnittke’s choral “The Master of All Living Things” and the classic Bach piece “Ich steh an Deiner Krippe hier”…forgot for sure more than half of all masterpieces that I would need to mention here – well… and now, 2014 is ahead! So what?

Stop reading? Refuse to go to the movies? Stop doing anything? – just stay in your bed and sleep. …I wonder what other remedies one could think of.

End of the world

End of the world (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

RT reviews at least 14 “The End of …”-Stories:

Before 2000, only a few books used “The End of …”  as title, but then it started to come out ever more frequently and flooded the market from history to economics, politics, psychology, biology….you name the field there is an “The End of …” – Story. Most have a subtitle with a question mark, telling us: well if you listen to me, perhaps we can avoid that end. What a farce.

Well, the end of what? Take your pick. It all started in 1989 with Francs Fukuyama’ s “The End of History”, which came out as an essay in the National Review and – after praised and criticized –  ended as big book, telling us that after the fall of the Berlin Wall the world was bound to move towards freer markets and freer people, i.e. towards liberal democracies. He was careful enough not to set a time, so we better keep checking in this century if that is going to happen or not.

Last things in, first things out. Just published in April 2013: “The End of Sex” by Donna Freitas. Oh, my God, after we just read “The End of Men” by Hanna Rosin in 2012, this is really serious. What has the world come to? Rosin lets us know, not all is lost yet, “while the modern economy is the place where women hold the cards,” she admits that male power is far from over. As to sex, we are following Freitas through her field study in colleges, where the large majority are telling here about bad and boring sex, drunken and you don’t remember sex. Are we supposed to feel sorry for those spoiled kids and generalize from those experiences? I hope not. So why not reading the “End of Courtship” by Alex Williams, also published earlier this year. May be we can learn from that.

What about politics? With confrontation and infighting instead of compromise and action in the US and Europe, you should expect the experts coming out with their confessions and advice. Based on his own experience and interviews with the powerful of the world, assembling in Davos and elsewhere, Moises Naim considers “The End of Power” arguing quite convincingly that the limits to political power have been tightened, which may be bad for rapid decision making but probably good for real democracy. No doubt the end of power must be closely linked to “The End of Leadership.” By Barbara Kellerman, the reason of which may be found in “The End of Men.”

With the decline in political power and leadership comes “The End of the Free Market” by Ian Bremmer and “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg. So, here we have the emerging economies with state capitalism growing much faster than the market oriented economies of the West. While the authors maintain that those systems are threatening free markets and the future of the global economy, they come up with a little inconsistency. “Over time, free markets will probably outlast state capitalism.”

More good news come from such wonderful books as Jeffrey Sachs’ “The End of Poverty” and “The End of War” by John Morgan, and also very welcome are the predictions of “The End of Illness” by David Agus MD. These are falling under the category of you could get rid of those evils, if you follow my ideas or advice, some of which is interesting and some is not that new in order to deserve a whole book.

How about for a possible correct forecast in “The End of White America” by Hua Hsu, who predicts on the basis of demographic data that by 2042, the current minorities will make up the majority of the American population. He does not dare to tell us about the political and socio-economic repercussions, but raises a number of interesting issues regarding race and self identification.

So, why would everybody to jump on “The End of Something” bandwagon? First, I assume, the authors and publishers believe that in this age of self-doubt and cultural pessimism people will grab a copy of the book or essay predicting the end of something good or bad and appreciate it for helping them to understand the world better. Secondly, it will raise immediate reaction, both positive and negative and with it critiques, blogs, public discussions …and of course new books exposing the opposite thesis. After Fukuyama wrote “the End of History,” his teacher and later on colleague Samuel Huntington replied immediately: “No EXIT: The End of Endism.” Great.

So, if you get the urge to write something about “The End of Something” you better inform yourself  first who else has already written about that and secondly use a bit of empirical research which is more convincing than the majority of the above mentioned essays and books.

Dear all, I am happy to present you this hot hilarious reading tip by RT: “Love in the Time of Algorithm – What Technology Does to Meeting and Dating, by Dan Slater. Here we go:

Love heart uidaodjsdsew

The majority of us may be math-averse, no matter what sex or age, but when it can be mixed with sex who knows what may be happening. So Dan Slater is exploring that relation in modern-day dating services and the implications it has on personal relations and the economy. After all, alone in the United States it is a 2 billion dollar business. Beyond economics, Slater offers insights which should interest people interested in the fields of anthropology, psychology, sociology, business administration and yes of course math.

Can science predict love? Well, if the mathematicians can model financial flows until they collapse what do you think they do in the matchmaking business? Same thing, well not quite, since their business bosses have a big problem, because they fear that “a happy customer is bad for business.” He or she may be happy after the first round of being matched and could be used as grateful customers who are willing to spread the word, but they also drop out the moment they have found their match, and may be unwilling to bother to be used as advertising tools. So you have to diversify and develop sophisticated models for second and third attempts and – even more important – for special relationships.

Slater goes through the ever-increasing breadth of partner online services. So here we go. In the case of FarmersOnly.com you know what to expect, but what about Ashley-Madison.com? The author tells you: “Life is short. Have an affair.” You get further specialization on DateG-inger.com, if you are looking for redheads etc, etc. .

Now you say how boring, I know all that, but hold on, there is more. Of course there is a “real life” story showing up just in time to catch your attention. Alexis, a young lady (20 +) from New York, who is swinging online and off, after all she lives in the Big Apple, where people meet, right? To what these excerpts are based on a real story is for you to decide but unless you are  one of those urban hipsters who don’t care about spilling your most private acts and thoughts in public, it could be an uncomfortable look into what can be called futuristic despair.

That leads to the question which the author is considering pretty thoroughly. What does this wonderful connectivity of supposedly loving partnerships do, not only  to “old fashioned” courting, commitment and monogamy, but also to well established but threatened institutions like marriage?

In sum, no matter your age and inclination, this book is worth more than a quick glance, especially since it is well written, witty and provocative

Dear all, have fun with the first guest contribution on lenismediareview.wordpress.com on:

Doomsday and Love in Manil Suri’s “The City of Devi”:

Are you ready for a frenzy story of wild mobs in India’s big business blobber city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), getting totally out of hand, as rumours from a leaked communiqué forecast an immediate nuclear Pakistani attack on India?

You better be, because this coincides with the already frenzy frictions between Hindu and Muslims, driven by a crazy adventure film, called “Superdevi” which celebrates the heroic deeds of a poor slum-girl  assuming the superpowers of the avatars and Goddess Devi to fight crime. Hindu politicians exploit the theme and preaching the invincibility of the Hindu gods, they incite their followers to engage in bloody battle with Muslims, who had been their neighbors just a little while ago.

Just when you think enough of that gorish scenario, Suri is leading the reader into a very detailed and intimate “love” story, which describes the search of a young and bright female statistician Sarita for her husband Karun, who disappeared after attending a conference two weeks earlier. As chaos is breaking out around her, she reminiscence about her relationship, wondering why they hugged more than they kissed, with their “lovemaking remaining restricted above the waist.” So she has invented not only a heavenly star system mixed with pomegranates providing aphrodisiac power, she has also – as good statistician – been following the slow progress towards eventual success with precise entries into her diary.

What do you do with a character like Karun, whom we only meet through Sarita’s eyes and thoughts but who remains nothing more than a sweet nerd, a rather passive individual consumed by his own thoughts and problems? You invent a counterpart: In this case a gay Muslim called Jaz. He has wit and sophistication, charm and lust. He is well travelled, successful, ironic and seductive. Wow…but unfortunately he finds himself at the wrong side of the battle of Mumbai, as the Hindu masses are slaughtering the Muslim infidels.

Of course, he meets Sarita, who is still searching for her husband. The place is an abandoned aquarium where all fish have been destroyed except one lonely shark. As they make their way through the increasingly mad cityscape, the story takes on a black fairy tale character of surrounding of chaos and destruction takes place, and while those horrendous pictures of burned prisoners during “religious” ceremonies and the narrow escapes of our two heroes may become too much Bollywood for Western readers, the author leads them back to an ending which is at the same time tender and bittersweet.

So, who wonders, how professor of mathematics, teaching at University at America’s East Coast can write such an exciting story? For those who want to know, read the book (and then may be take a class online). But even for those who have read his earlier publications “The Death of Vishnu” (2001) and the “Age of Shiva” (2008) this is a great third strike they don’t want to miss.

Let me quickly review my reading and entertainment with Chad Harbach ‘s US-bestseller “The art of fielding.”

Get ready. The first 20 pages I thought the story was going to be boring, but then it started off:

While Henry, the gifted, pale, thin baseball talent plays in perfection (in the beginning of the story), after 20 pages he starts to fail as hell. His college roommate, Owen, smashed by one of Henry’s ricochet shots into the face needs  to be taken to hospital. There, Owen’s mother falls in love with the president of the college. The president falls in love with Owen. Henry’s best friend, Schwartzy, falls in love with Pella, the daughter of the president. In the meanwhile, the president and Owen are having a sexual and intellectual love affair and Henry and Schwartzy start to fight  with each other. The daughter of the president start to fight with Schwartzy as well. Henry moves in with the daughter of the president, sleeps with her and becomes anorexic…

At the end, one of them is dead:

  • Owen or
  • The president or
  • The president’s daughter or
  • Schwartzy or
  • Henry ?

I won’t tell.

However, the remaining four will, drunk and at night, exhume the dead body and sink it in the lake in front of the college.

Wow! What a story.

My personal remark: the chaos of erotic interplay and love circles reminded me of “Reigen” (“La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler). The language is very light and readable, it has an entertaining flow and flashy affinity with the writing of genius David Foster Wallace. (However, much less chaotic than Wallace’s style!)

So, do not be afraid that “The art of fielding” has 500 pages!
You’ll get through it very quickly.

Enjoy reading!

Today let me briefly recall the (rather short) novel written by Gabriel García Márquez.

It is lovely and poetic. From my perspective it tells a story about human judgement, love…

For you was I born, for you do I have life, for you will I die, for you am I now dying

…weakness, the fear of people who seem to be different (people claim that the small girl, Maria, is possessed by the devil)…

Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.

…the love despite of any fear

Do not allow me to forget yo

…and faith:

What is essential, therefore, is not that you no longer believe, but that God continues to believe in you.

However, at the end the human failure wins over. The 32-years old priest, Cayetano, who loves the little girl does not dare to completely conquer his fear and fails to save her. She dies due to the exorcist’s treatment.

I like the poetic style by Márquez when he writes about feelings. For me it is quite terrifying that this type of stigmatization was nothing special in the end of the 18th century, when this story takes place.

Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning

Maybe it is even more terrifying that there are still very rigid forms of government, societies and groups of human people who like to stigmatize. Maybe our human brain just likes to stigmatize? What do you think?

However, apart from these political or psychological questions which came into my mind while reading, this novel is a light, short, enjoyable and poetic narration about love, fear and faith.

Enjoy reading!

How to choose the right axioms for the foundations of ethics?

As promised in the previous post, here is the review of the final lecture given by Dagfinn Føllesdal on the 7th of December 2012 in the course of the Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker-Vorlesungen at the University of Hamburg.

In the previous talk, Føllesdal emphasised that ethics are not only based on axioms which cannot be justified further. Instead, these axioms should be regarded as hypotheses.

Hence, how to choose good hypotheses? Føllesdal’s point is (the quotations in this post are rephrased):

One should look at what is called axioms as hypotheses that have to be revised in view of data, in the case of ethics the emotions that arise in us through empathy.

Føllesdal recalls Hume:

We learn to compensate for physical quantities (e.g. size of an object and it’s distance from the observer). However, we do not learn to compensate for ethical quantities such as empathy and feelings in relation with emotional closeness.

So, how can we proceed in this desperate situation?

Føllesdal suggest (according to Husserl) that we actively go out and search material (extra observation) in order to get an intersubjective point of view. Of course, we start with our subjective point of view, than we arrive at intersubjectivity and thus approach objectivity.

And the key for this is, guess what? —> “Bildung“!

Wow! Føllesdal closes his loop:

  • In his first talk in the course of the Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker-Vorlesungen at the University of Hamburg, Føllesdal started with the importance of Bildung for the formation of empathy and personal bullshit-metres!
  • In a follow-up talk, he illustrated the fundamental similarity of any type of science:  hypotheses are built and supported by argumentation.
  • Føllesdal showed in the next talk the challenge for ethical theories: how to choose hypotheses on which an argumentation for ethical theories can be based upon?
  • Finally, Føllesdal closed the loop by concluding that intersubjectivity and hence empathy and Bildung are the key.

From my perspective, not only his consistent line of thinking and structure of the whole lecture series was very enjoyable and esthetic.
On top, I passionately think that his message is simply beautiful:

“Bildung” is the key for empathy and bullshit-detection
– which are our basis for ethics!

What is the consequence for my personal life?

Actively go out and search extra observations!

In summary, from my part, I want to thank Dagfinn Føllesdal for opening my eyes on several issues. His visit to Hamburg was very inspiring for me, concerning the content (the academic as well as the pragmatic) as well as the format (take time to make your line of argumentation 100% clear) and the conclusions for my life.

Thank you!

All of those who will soon have the chance to hear a talk by Føllesdal: Enjoy it!

How similar are maths and ethics?

I will briefly recall another stimulating lecture given by Dagfinn Føllesdal: Ethical Aspects of Risk. This lecture held place on the 7th of December 2012 in the course of the Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker-Vorlesungen at the University of Hamburg.

Føllesdal introduced us into a consequentialist model (which I will not describe here, but let me know if you are interested – then I will -) and he invited us to several thought experiments, for example:

Consider you were a regional politician who had to decide on the construction of a traffic light at a busy road. You would read a statistic of victims (lives) per year at that road (some number) for risk assessment. You would get the information of the costs of the construction of the traffic light. You would try to make a reasonable decision.

It would be very easy to calculate how much value you, as a rational politician, assign to a life.

Now, consider your mother had died at that very road. How much would you value her life?

It is no news that the readings of statistics depends on the sample: If you personally know a victim your judgement changes.

Summarized in Føllesdal’s words, this means that:

Feelings can be very different in situations which are ethically equivalent.

Or, in the idea of David Hume (1711-1776):

The strength of our feelings os no reliable measure of the rightness or wrongness of our acts.

Well, this sounds like a desperate situation. How the heck can we decide about the ethical justification of our actions? Is there no reliable backbone?

Here comes the answer:

Ethics and mathematics are very similar since both can be based on axioms which – at some point – cannot be justified further.

This statement is based on Spinoza – Et voilà, this is also the answer to the introducing question. Quel horreur!

However, Føllesdal goes beyond:

One should look at what is called axioms as hypotheses that have to be revised in view of data, in the case of ethics the emotions that arise in us through empathy.

In conclusion, we need to decide which axioms or hypotheses to choose. Føllesdal stopped his talk without giving any hint how to do this. How unsatisfying! However, there was still his final talk to come… and when I considered the talks which Føllesdal had already given in that week, an idea popped up in my mind…

…I will give the survey of the final lecture in the next post.

What is the objective of “Bildung? (‘Bildung’ = education/ formation)

I would love to briefly recall the inspiring lecture given by Dagfinn Føllesdal on The Role of Science in ‘Bildung’. This talk held place on´the 3rd of December 2012 in the course of the Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker-Vorlesungen at the University of Hamburg.

I am completely passionate about the learnings from this lecture. Here is my personal selection of two key-points:

 1. We need ‘Bildung’ for the creation and learning of empathy.

‘Bildung’ increases the capability to understand the point of view of other people: how they see the world, what they think, what they feel.’Bildung’ increases empathy and this should be the main objective of it.

Isn’t this beautiful? Honestly, I think that Føllesdal’s message in this talk is again powerful, striking, wise and esthetic. Here comes the second point:

2. To create ‘Bildung’, the encouragement of critical thinking and detection of bullshit is necessary.

The goal of universities should be at least to equip students with a bullshit-metre!

Føllesdal also had a concrete tip how to do this, how to foster critical thinking: Give your students or kids “seemingly plausible argumentation” which is NOT plausible and only seems to be plausible at first sight. Then give your students the task to find the bullshit!

I think that this is a great idea and a valuable hint for all teachers, parents and professors. We could definitely have more of this bullshit-detection in school and at the universities, don’t we?

In summary, from my part, I want to thank Dagfinn Føllesdal for opening my eyes on this issue. ‘Bildung’ is indeed not an egoistic and narcissistic endeavor. In conclusion, we need ‘Bildung’ for increasing our human, peaceful and happy togetherness in our society!

Thank you!

All of those who will have the chance to hear a talk by Føllesdal: Enjoy it!