Well, I can honestly say that I didn’t see this one coming: A hotel in England’s Lake District has taken the Gideon Bible out of its bedside tables, and replaced it with “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. As Helen Perkins reports in The Westmorland Gazette, the hotel’s manager, Wayne Bartholomew, offered an interesting defense of the switch: “The Gideon Bible is full of references to sex and violence, although it’s written using more formal language, so James’s book is easier to read.”
It’s a publicity stunt, of course—Bartholomew was previously a star of “The Hotel,” a British reality show. Apparently there has been a backlash from local churches, and the owners have received angry letters from the United States, where, they say, “people feel much more strongly.”
Even if you don’t quite get the whole “Fifty Shades of Grey” thing, the idea of replacing the Gideon Bible opens up a world of possibility. Maybe with Tolstoy’s “Calendar of Wisdom”? Or, if sexy romance is what you’re after, how about “Wuthering Heights”? “Interview with the Vampire”? “Portnoy’s Complaint”? “Lady Chatterley’s Lover?”
Too connected to fail
“Too big to fail”: Thanks to the financial crisis, it’s a phrase we’re all familiar with. Now a group of European economists and physicists is suggesting that there might be a more useful way to think about banks. In “DebtRank: Too Central to Fail? Financial Networks, the FED and Systemic Risk,” a paper published this month in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the authors argue that it’s not how a big a bank is that matters, but how connected it is. The more entwined a bank is with others, the more dangerous it can be in the event of a collapse.
The problem, of course, is that identifying super-connected banks is very, very difficult. Banks are connected in complex ways. So the researchers devised a method, loosely based on Google’s PageRank algorithm, to analyze financial data and figure out which banks are the most likely to create “feedback” in the banking system. Their DebtRank algorithm, they write, “takes recursively into account the impact of the distress of an initial node across the whole network.” The higher a bank’s DebtRank, the more risk its failure would pose to the financial system as a whole.
What they found is that the banks that are too connected to fail aren’t necessarily the biggest. That’s especially true in the middle of banking crises: In 2008, for example, Wells Fargo had the same DebtRank as CitiGroup, despite being only one-quarter as big. The researchers caution that right now the research is preliminary. In order to produce a truly accurate DebtRank table, they would need access to a much deeper trove of information than the dataset they are currently working with. (Greater financial transparency would help with that.) Still, they write, “Our results suggest that the current public discussion on too-big-to-fail institutions should be broadened to the network-theory notion of too-central-to-fail.”
Down with modernism
Don’t like the modern art museum? Appalled by Boston City Hall? Then you might enjoy an over-the-top and yet still interesting essay by Mark Signorelli and Nikos Salingaros in the conservative arts journal New English Review, in which they argue that modernism is “the great totalitarian system of our times”:
Books that evince a fidelity to modernist principles are the ones that get published. Buildings that conform to the brutal codes of modernism and its derivatives are the ones that get built. Whatever creative efforts spring from other sources of inspiration other than modernist aggression are invariably ignored and dismissed as something antiquated or reactionary.
The piece is full of stuff you can quibble with, or even find downright silly—is it really fair to say the Bauhaus architects “were working for the German industry to sell the industrial products of that time: steel, plate glass, and concrete”? But it does touch on something striking: that the modernist period, which ostentatiously embraced ugliness as an aesthetic value, should be the inspiration for such an overwhelming proportion of the art made today, especially public art, like buildings in city centers. Modernism has scored a total victory, which, the authors argue, is not a good thing. If you don’t enjoy the “starchitect” buildings you visit, you’ll appreciate their vigorous indictment of modern gestures in glass and concrete. To escape this tyranny, the authors argue, it’s time for the art world to find ways to innovate that also respect older values of symmetry and order.