When Mooncakes & Underwear
Gauge Your Hopes About the Future
The heart wants what it wants, and the brain makes up for what we can’t see. Since the first cave man dropped his rock and read his pretty girl’s rosy future on a bunch of leaves and sticks, we’ve been desperate to learn what’s coming at least a few moments earlier.
Thousands of years of failed divination and silly games of chance, and we still believe that, out of the merciless natural chaos, we’ll be graced with order, to make sense of it all. Never mind romance, though. Today, our money’s on the cult of economic predictions.
Thus the supposed relationship between the recession and unclaimed corpses, a rise in murders and leaded gasoline, the comfortingly unreliable link of serial killers and the shared economy, and that old, and slightly dirty, classic, the Underwear Index.
Certainly, the fervor about the future is never lost in tabloid horoscopes, the street corner palm reader, the interplanetary dance, or the long-distance psychic. There’s really no logical explanation for the rush to see trends in new babies’ names, or the anxiety about the Groundhog that supposedly calls out the remaining winter days left, climate change notwithstanding.
But nowhere the fever is more profitable (or ruin-driving), and the numbers are revered with such respect than the stock market, which if it hasn’t replaced high-rolling gambling, is still an activity rewarded by how professional is your con of selling investors into your brand of golden pills.
We should know better, of course. But no matter how much we know, we keep coming back for more, watching mesmerized the same static pictures, while believing that the lines are moving, or the face with three eyes, as if it has only two, because after all, it just can’t possibly be.
In fact, it’s frighteningly easy to fool the headquarters of our making sense of the world, the brain, and how naive it tries to compensate for what it doesn’t understand. It’s enough to put in motion, at just the right rate, a series of photographs and bam, we think that there’s movement right in front of our eyes.
Optical illusions are cheap; the persistence of vision is easy to manipulate. And what was once hailed as scientific breakthroughs, the phi phenomenon and the beta movement, are now mere pillars of the dream-inducing predictability of motion pictures. So much for Sci-Fi and visions of tomorrow. At least, M.C.Escher did it with art.
RECOVERY & FRESH UNDERGARMENTS
The financial catastrophe of 2008, which brought the global banking system to its knees by a now well established cast of absurdly wealthy individuals and institutions, had many terrible consequences to the world’s economy and millions of working class families.
It’s also crowned ‘voodoo economics’ as the new law of the land: lots of tricky sidestepping and snake oil selling, while bandits made off with the retirees’ savings. Since it’s hard to know who’s picking whose pockets, we’re left with a bunch of crazy indexes to make sense of our utter inability of knowing what’s coming.
Oh, and it’s coming. According to a now surprisingly respected economic indicator, the economy may indeed be tanking, for sales of lipstick are booming. And so are power toothbrushes, leaving retail shelves like hot cakes. The rationale is that people want to look good, even if on the cheap, and specially avoid the expensive dentist. Who knew?
And what about them cakes? Apparently mooncakes, popularly sold on the streets of Hanoi and other Vietnamese cities, are a reliable way to gauge the pulse of that country’s growth. And they’re getting cold. Not as cold as corpses left unclaimed in morgues all over the world, though. Sadly, people simply can’t find the time, or cash, to retrieve them.
It’s only when they equate hot waitresses with the cooling economy that we begin to smell something. Specially when former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says that men won’t buy new underwear when money is short. Of all the things he himself was short, and wrong, about the economy, that’s truly the biggest stinker.
MURDERERS & LEADED GASOLINE
Curiously, when it appeared that this growing list of clothing items, everyday goods, sport outcomes, and even sperm sales or garbage cans, was destined to end up in a bin full of self-interest guesses and shallow assumptions, a research found a relatively safe way to analyze crime trends, for instance, by measuring the amount of lead in the gasoline.
As we’ve learned more about the effects of lead on the brain, it became reasonably possible that at least part of a general decline in violent crimes in big cities was due to its diminished levels in gasoline, and paint, for that matter. Problem solved? Not quite. Still a theory that New Yorkers, for instance, could get behind, if not finding comfort from it.
And so could São Paulo dwellers, as ethanol became the fuel of choice, and it may be related to a decrease in crime rates in South America’s biggest city. Back to the U.S., did someone mentioned serial killers? A new, sophisticated, if not full of it, theory purports that Americans have become more trusting people, and it reflects in the way they do business.
According to Harold Schecter, a professor at Queens College, there may be a connection between the rise of a ‘shared economy,’ where we hire strangers to split everyday costs, such as a cab ride or a tiny apartment, and the decline of serial killer murders, all non solved, or yet to be uncovered, cases notwithstanding.
Perhaps. Some research does back the claim that psychopaths roaming the streets, searching for victims to slaughter, are becoming rarer, knock on wood. (Wait a minute, who’s there?) Anyway, it’s a theory, and if it makes us all sleep a bit tighter, hey, we’re not the ones to put the kibosh on it. Just keep locking those doors.
ZEN & THE MOMENT OF RECKONING
The fact is that, seeing that the top 1% of the population grew over 30% richer in the past three years, while the remainder 99% barely managed to earn 0.4%, as a study by University of California at Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez shows, we can’t really blame people for searching ‘alternative‘ ways of approaching reality.
The ‘little people,’ who unlike the minority at the top, don’t get to play without rules and regulations, will make it do the best way they can. In other words, wash well your underwear, get some lipstick, and hope the boogeyman won’t catch you. And, of course, let’s have those voodoo drums and dance to the bonfires celebrating our bare survival.
As for the brain, that weary warrior we carry around, and use mostly to overlook the odds of winning the lotto, it may not be so off the mark, after all. It’s working overtime to provide us sense out of a picture that doesn’t have any, and the argument that yes, we could climb up and down those stairs that Escher drew.