Walt Disney as Collector

This weekend a friend and I saw a new exhibit at the Met on different sources of inspiration for Walt Disney.

It opens with how a trip to France in Walt’s formative years ended up having the French Decorative Arts influence the style of Beauty and the Beast. It was hard not to delight in the collection of visual inspirations and other curios that followed: The Cloisters’ Unicorn Tapestries and Sleeping Beauty; The Swing and Tangled; a table sized drawing of Disneyland drawn over a weekend as a visual pitch deck to investors in 1953; and lots more.

But others will probably ask the question my friend asked when we stepped out of the cinematic exhibit – is it art?

People have asked this for decades. In 1938 Walt Disney gifted a picture of two vultures from Snow White to the Met. Wolf Burchard, a curator at the Met, recently commented how the expected “public relations coup” instead caused a minor controversy:

“Disney’s water color[s] … will be hung under the same roof with the greatest works of the greatest masters of painting, and the Metropolitan isn’t blushing about it.”

The Philadelphia Record

One reply to this sort of criticism is to point out the similarities between Disney’s studio process and the studios of different artistic masters throughout the ages: Walt Disney as studio maestro. Is there a comparable combination of artisan, craftsman, technologist, manager, and businessman? I’m not sure.

But I think this new exhibition at the Met provides another answer to the “It’s Disney, but is it art” question. Walt Disney was a collector.

Tyler Cowen recently asked artist David Dalle to recommend “one actionable step tomorrow to learn more about art.” Salle replied with some advice the first curator of contemporary art at the Met, Henry Geldzahler, gave about the “taboo subject” of acquiring taste:

Start collecting. “Okay, but I don’t have any money. How can I collect art?” You don’t have to collect great paintings. Just go to the flea market and buy a vase for 5 bucks. Bring it back to your room, live with it, and look at it.

Pretty soon, you’ll start to make distinctions about it. Eventually, if you’re really paying attention to your own reactions, you’ll use it up. You’ll give that to somebody else, and you’ll go back to the flea market, and you buy another, slightly better vase, and you bring that home and live with that. And so the process goes. That’s very real. It’s very concrete.

Walt Disney was talented at going to the cultural flea market and making distinctions about it. Transforming the raw materials displayed in the current exhibit into the Disney oeuvre may or may not be art, but it is close to magic. Though maybe not greater than, it as least different than the sum of its parts (in a good way).

In some ways, Disney films are a very commercial deconstruction of cultural codes at the most popular mass market level. Is that art? I don’t know. But as Cogsworth says: “if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!

Silent Singing Souls

The Art Newspaper reported on artist Bill Fontana making a sound recording with Notre Dame Cathedral’s bells. When the bells are “resting” they are actually still picking up the ambient noises from the surrounding city. This can be recorded and amplified. The result is intriguingly alive and soulful. Click on the above link to listen to a video about midway down.

What else has a soul singing in the apparent silence if you take the time or have the tools to listen?

Here are quotes I liked from the article:

“It’s a physical fact that these bells are actually vibrating all the time, it’s like a spirit that’s living inside of Notre Dame. It’s not dead, it’s alive,” Fontana tells The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview. “When I had the opportunity [in July] to climb around in the bell towers, and actually physically access [the oldest and largest bell, named Emmanuel], and put my sensors on it to listen to what’s going on inside of it, I realised I was hearing a sound that probably nobody’s ever heard before that this bell is making and has been making continuously since 1681 [when it was recast]. It’s the voice, soul, the breath of the bell.

To record the cathedral’s voice, Fontana installed an accelerometer on Emmanuel to measure the low-level vibrations the bell emits in response to its environment, which can then be adjusted to levels the human ear can pick up. “You can hear the city sounds in that bell,” the artist says, and in an early test recording sent to The Art Newspaper, which he also shared on our podcast The Week in Art, the whine of sirens and the din of motors can be heard in the ambient hum.

Emmanuel is the oldest of the cathedral’s ten bells, recast on the orders of King Louis XIV in 1681, and considered one of the most harmonically beautiful in Europe, ringing in a clear F sharp. It was the only bell to survive the French Revolution—the rest were melted down to create cannon balls—and it was the first bell to ring out when Paris was liberated from Nazi rule.

Lee Perry Notes

The recent death of reggae producer and artist Lee Perry was covered by two sources in my media diet: Pitchfork and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. I like reggae/Jamaican/dub/Caribbean sounds as much as the next person but my knowledge does not go far past Bob Marley. Lee Perry was a regrettable blind spot for me.

Over the last couple days I have dived into his work and now understand a bit better why his passing received so much attention. In addition to listening to songs like People Funny Boy I would strongly recommend this five minute mini-doc: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at Work. It is a great example of a person with a process producing some magical.

It was fun to look in the Marginal Revolution archives at some older Lee Perry coverage. Why was Tyler so plugged into Lee Perry in 2005?:

  • Oct 2005: It looks like Tyler was as much a fan of Roast Fish and Cornbread 15 years ago as he is today
  • Jun 2005: Did Tyler make a rare miss in not asking Richard Prum about Lee Perry?
  • May 2005: From the post ‘Why satellite radio doesn’t make me happier’ – “I would rather have… a station: “For people who are convinced that James Brown, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Lee Perry, and Pierre Boulez are seminal musical figures of our time.”

Would May 2005 Tyler be happy with the music curation services available today? I am both grateful for today’s music discovery choices but also feel I am lacking a way to really grow my familiarity with different sounds and genres not already in or adjacent to my wheelhouse.

On that point, I cannot over recommend FT Alphaville’s Jamie Powell‘s summer playlist which has been my music discovering vehicle of choice this summer (link to Spotify playlist). It gives and gives.

Other notes:


I liked this line from this interview: Lee “Scratch” Perry: ‘I gave Bob Marley reggae as a present’ (1:45, transcription errors mine)

I don’t believe God is normal. God is not normal. God is mad, I am sure God is mad… if God who takes all these people and makes them, I find that he made a mistake but he says it is no mistake, it is an experiment.


These were some parts from Pitchfork piece I enjoyed as well: https://pitchfork.com/features/afterword/lee-scratch-perry-obituary/

he remained committed to music as a process synonymous with life itself—alive and always changing. “The studio must be like a living thing,” he once said. “Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality.”

For those who believe in sound, Perry’s backyard studio, the Black Ark, was the center of the world from 1973 until the producer allegedly burned it down himself a decade later, in order to, he claimed, rid it of demons.

Simone Bertuzzi of the Italian multimedia art duo Invernomuto, who filmed Perry performing for a 2016 conceptual documentary called Negus, told me: “He was almost 80 years old, and after a five hour drive he jumped in front of the camera for another five hours. At the end we asked, ‘Lee are you OK, are you hungry, do you want to stop?’ He said, ‘I’m a robot, I can go on forever. Whatever is fine for you is fine for me.’” Negus took as its starting point Perry’s notion that the right vibrations—played back over a properly loud soundsystem—can alter the past as well as the future. Countless artists received this type of unbridled, possibility-expanding inspiration from the Upsetter.

So while Perry has phase-shifted to another realm of existence, his body of work continues to echo, feedback, and grow. “As long as me live, I am taking the music to a higher level,” he said this past March. “Because my music has no end, and it make you feel happy, turn you on, and put you to bed.” His recordings captured magic. Now, our task is to dub that magic back into motion.

#notes Old Mobile Money Blog Posts and other links

African startups raised at least $1.3b in 2020, according to Briter Bridges: AfricArena, an African tech accelerator, said African VC investments might drop from $2b to between $1.2b and $1.8b; year-on-year growth calculations are based on scarce historical data, which often results in drawing inaccurate conclusions about the nature and trajectory of their growth


Mpesa: the costs of evolving an independent central bank – But often forgotten is Kenya’s unique circumstances. The M-pesa mobile money system, owned and operated by Safaricom which is 40 per cent owned by Vodafone, was allowed an unchallenged monopoly in the country for a very long time.

To the contrary, if M-pesa has proved useful in Kenya it’s because it has brought digital payment services to areas that were previously unbanked, something that has arguably unlocked trade relationships which never existed before. This in turn has generated new economies of scale which have led to productivity and output growth.

Which leads to the obvious conclusion that mobile money tends to increase the velocity of money, and with it inflationary effects, as much as it increases trade and output.

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To begin with, there’s the issue of liquidity management and the additional cost to the consumer (or someone) of having to hop between multiple platforms. The slow take-up of M-pesa-like systems in other African countries is in part related to the poor economies of scale for users and providers operating in competitive frameworks.

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When the limit is reached — unless the government is prepared to keep borrowing, putting the quality of its own collateral at risk — a telco like M-pesa would either have to entrust its own agents to issue liabilities against newly forged assets in accordance with quality-control and data/information capture conditions or, alternatively, absorb only those assets from the banking network which met its quality and data criteria. On the latter point, M-pesa might even be inclined to share its own data with the banking network, to help them make better loan decisions, and withhold M-pesa liquidity from those that fail to make the grade.

In August 2015, the Kenyan government ended this practice by establishing a formal legal framework for mobile money which banned e-money issuers from earning interest or any other financial return from funds held in its trust and forcing them to hand it over to charity.

There are plenty of EM governments seeking to mimic the “M-pesa” miracle on their own turf in a competitive framework. What few understand is that, unless, like in Kenya, the tech firms are allowed to achieve monopolistic control over the money supply, in a way that cedes state control of state scrip to an external private authority, none of them will prove successful.

Our simple point is M-pesa is not a technology. It’s a stealth political coup by a private operator which profits only from enforcing discipline, control and transparency (via massive data capture) over a wayward system.


Turning mobile money into M0

Mobino’s system aims to cut out as many intermediaries from the debit process as possible by getting you, the customer, to strike up a single direct debit agreement with itself. The company then charges the customer for transactions conducted with partner vendors, whilst the customer deals only with Mobino rather than a multitude of online or retail vendors.


India’s payments revolution

Aadhaar put simply is one of the biggest banks of biometric data in the world. Back in 2010, the Indian government decided it would take full digital fingerprints and an iris scan from each citizen to create a digital identity — this taking the form of a twelve-digit number. About 1.2bn Indians now have a digital identity.

Think of Aadhaar as an “identity rail”, giving banks and fintech companies a secure means to identify would-be customers


Kenya’s mobile money fraud problem

(a.k.a. a type of mobile credit checking system)


M-euro, a lesson in money supply from Kenya (2012)

RAndom thought: Europe is a cathedral, USA is wild west, Africa could be a space ship

There’s actually an element of money creation here. Its origins come from shrewd cell phone users realising there was value in the pre-paid airtime credit they purchased on their phones. So say you bought 60 minutes of airtime on your phone, rather than redeem it you could use it to pay for goods and services elsewhere simply by transferring the credits via the mobile network.

Airtime in this way became base money in its own right, due to its more liquid characteristics. A competing currency to the national shilling, issued not by the central bank but by Safaricom, the company.

So rather than redeeming the credits for talk time, Kenyans abstained to use them as a form of money instead.

You could say, they had created airtime-backed money as a result.

Businesses can operate more effectively: shop-owners don’t need to carry a lot of cash, or to stand in long queues at Banks to transfer money to suppliers. Urban dwellers no longer need to make overnight trips to their rural homes to pay their children’s school fees (or give money to relatives). Women have been empowered because their husbands have a harder time taking their money away. Even macroeconomic policy has become easier because the Central Bank has a better handle on the money in circulation, as mobile money helped to move cash from the mattresses to the market.

In other words, it acts not like a bank, but like a utility.

And since there’s no incentive to hoard, either in a mattress or in a deposit account (because there is no interest), the velocity of M-pesa rises all the time, enriching everyone as it goes.

Indeed, if there’s enough faith in the system, one might envisage a day when Kenyans opt not to redeem M-pesa units for shillings at all. A day which, of course, would probably make Safaricom the single biggest corporate name in Africa (if it isn’t already).


A National Grid for Banking – radical thinking by Errol Damelin, founder, CEO of Wonga.

Radical does not, however, mean it is impossible to achieve. The idea, is in essence, the reverse of privatisation and suggests that the infrastructure, the backbone, the networks of the banking system be placed in public ownership (or at least independent ownership from incumbent FS companies) thus creating a level playing field for businesses to build services on top this infrastructure. A little like the National Grid – for bits, bytes and packets rather than for electricity and Gas.

You could think of this super-bank in the same way as iOS, the operating system for Apple’s iPhones. It is always there, running smoothly in the background, and most people don’t even know about its existence.

LOL, all roads lead to credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonga.com


Mobino Wants to Prevent M-Pesa from Robbing Kenya’s Government

https://www.benkuhn.net/emco/ : emphasizes honesty, transparency and autonomy




Why central banks should take charge of their digital currencies (2013)

Furthermore, unless you have a good working knowledge of “money”, you might miss the most obvious thing about them, and that’s that in many cases they privatise money issuance and charge you, the customer, a fee for the privilege of using money that already belongs to you (rather than for credit, the way credit cards do).

On Journalism

Journalism ought to act as an inhibitor, dampening the febrile spread of misconceptions and misinformation, helping us to make less knee-jerk, more considered judgements. But for it to play that role, we need journalists who positively enjoy the work of undermining narratives, and who take as their mission something close to James Baldwin’s description of the poet’s responsibility: “to defeat all labels and complicate all battles.” Yet we appear to have fewer of those than ever.

The Presumption of Guilt and Banking

Over one and a half billion unbanked globally, most of them poor, undocumented, minority and innocent. That last adjective is important, because the exclusionary nature of our existing financial system is no accident. It is a direct consequence of a system built on a presumption of guilt. 

This presumption of guilt is a minor nuisance for the affluent, but an existential threat to the underprivileged. It’s one reason why poor neighbourhoods feature more pseudo-financial services like check cashers than bank branches, even in rich countries. Laws and regulations make it too hard or expensive for banks to serve these communities. Money that’s issued by a government must play by its rules, however overbearing or unfair they might be.

From FT Alphaville: Providing security services capable of supporting a stable monetary system has always been a dirty and carbon intensive business, argues Omid Malekan.

The purpose of all things: to create loans for banks or other investment groups.

All of that contributes to Rosenberg’s theory that the art world today has one major purpose—to create loans for banks or other investment groups: “The profit now is in lending money for people to buy things. Art is now an investment vehicle.”


August 8, 2021 Sunday links

  1. The three-or-four-hours rule for getting creative work done – exactly what it says
  2. The Tigray conflict began last November, as the world’s attention was focused on the US presidential election; In late June, the TPLF took control of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray; its forces have since pushed east into neighbouring Afar and south into Amhara, where Lalibela is located.
  3. Grinling Gibbons

July 28, 2021 Tuesday links

  1. 37 Comparisons Of The Sizes Of Prehistoric Animal Ancestors And Their Modern Relatives (From MR)
  2. Walter Sickert’s Brighton Pierrots (1915) Tate: “Closer to home, Tate Britain is organising a career survey of the British artist Walter Sickert (28 April-18 September 2022). The exhibition of this painters’ painter (and possibly the greatest British painter since J.M.W. Turner) will look at his relationship with contemporaries such as Edgar Degas and, much like the Frenchman, how the rise of photography affected the composition of his paintings.” – The Art Newspaper
  3. The Constant Gardeners consists of four robot arms each weighing more than a tonne that have been repurposed to gently rake and draw in a bed of basalt and granite gravel. The installation was inspired by traditional Japanese Zen gardening and seen as a way to counter the perception of robots as threatening and inelegant, according to the Jason Bruges Studio, which added: “By programming the robots to perform the role of Zen gardeners, we hope to challenge these notions by displaying the machines in a contemplative, graceful context.”” – The Art Newspaper

July 22, 2021 Thursday links

  1. Intraday Timing of General Collateral Repo Markets (Liberty Street Economics): Specifics, Specifics, Specifics! Love the human details this layers on to a niche-ier technical market mechanism.
  2. Three Things I Think I Think – Learning From Bad Inflation Takes (pragcap): Good points about the need for MMT crowd to acknowledge that demand side is probably at least part of the composition of inflation; QE simply shifts composition of money-like assets in real economy, not quantity; and the measures that monetary policy attempts to impact are mainly determined by fundamentals at the primary level, with the fed’s secondary market operations having only marginal effects.
  3. Linus and Lucy: with the Jerry Granelli Trio (youtube): Jerry Granelli was drummer of the Vince Guaraldi Trio and recently died. “People heard the heart in it. Honestly, I turned left creatively with my career after that and never thought about it for a while; jazz musicians are sometimes not as open as they may seem when it comes to people having hits or things crossing over—everybody gets all uppity. But then I matured enough to realize that it went way beyond music. It was the first entry point to jazz for a lot of people. And now that I’ve got my credentials as an artist, I’m proud and delighted to be a part of it.”