Food stamps

This is vile, it stinks to heaven.  I used to be pretty good at teaching public policy in a non-partisan manner (we have some of my former students reading this blog and if I’m wrong, don’t hold back) but the last decade or so has really cramped my style, hooboy.  The insouciant cruelty of fat and happy Republicans simpering about making hungry children dependent (are there no poorhouses?  do the mills not offer employment to a deft eight-year old?) after they engineered the budget deficits they have now decided to rail about, and carried water for the “job-creators” who feathered their nests giving us the recession that’s put so many people on the street and on food stamps, is simply Dickensian.  Eric Cantor is a horrible person, whipping a gang of racists and ignorant, fearful, haters into increasingly unspeakable behavior with fake moralizing and outright lies.

And the horse’s asses he rode in on.

Medicaid expansion, too.  Mississippi, our own Haiti, land of poverty, despair, and early death, turns down free federal money in order that its poorest don’t get medical care?  It can’t even be selfishness among the plutocrats: how is it good for business that its workforce is sicker?  It’s simply cruelty, far beyond the possible bounds of policy debate or the scope of ideology, an abomination no religion can countenance. What did these people’s parents raise them to be? What were they told in Sunday School?

I give up, I’m not up to this.  But luckily, there is Käthe Kollwitz.

kollwitz 1 kollwitz 2 kollwitz 3

and George Grosz.Untitled 4Swim if you can, and if you are too fat, go under (Schwimme, wer schwimmen kann, und wer zu plump ist, geh unter!)

May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.




Weekend movie recommendation: Ghostbusters

Improvisational comedy and big-budget production values rarely mix well. This week’s movie recommendation is one of the rare instances in which the two complement one another beautifully: Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984).

The plot centres on a trio of parapsychologists, comprising Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd, who go into private business catching ghosts after an ignominious removal from their research gigs at Columbia. Sigourney Weaver plays Murray’s prepossessing romantic interest. After an encounter with an apocalyptic kitchen appliance, she becomes possessed by something altogether more insidious than her affection for Murray’s character, and the team is on the case. Supporting cast members include Ernie Hudson as an unassuming latecomer to the Ghostbusters team, Rick Moranis is cast firmly in type as the hapless neighbour competing for Weaver’s attention, and William Atherton plays an officious EPA bureaucrat vying to expose the Ghostbusters’ con.Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 02.32.43

While the first Ghostbusters film is far superior to its sequel (Ghostbusters II [1989]), the ironic conceit underlying the comedy in both movies is the same. Ramis’ and Aykroyd’s screenplays both attribute New Yorkers’ impatience, anxieties, and refusal to communicate with one another to external, supernatural forces, rather than anything to do with New York life itself (as in, for example, Woody Allen films). Make no mistake, however; the Ghostbusters franchise showcases a deep love of New Yorkers’ ability to come together and overcome obstacles when in a bind. Even the final scene is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the misanthropic message of King Kong, with a sweet ending that highlights the American love of barbecue.*

After films like Caddyshack and Blues Brothers, studios were more receptive to the idea that household-name alumni of Saturday Night Live such as Aykroyd and Murray were likely to net big returns at the box office. True to form, the performances in Ghostbusters are, across the board, at the same calibre as the production values. The dialogue is slick and witty, the plot doesn’t drag, and the chuckles keep coming.

With so much emphasis on thirty-year-old special effects, Ghostbusters inevitably looks a bit dated nowadays. But the cheesy lightshows blend with the soundtrack – one of the best in cinema history, in my opinion – for a great 1980s throwback experience. The result is an hour and a half of good-hearted fun. Moreover, with the rare exception of one or two scenes, it’s a thoroughly family-friendly movie.

* Forgive the pun and cheap joke. After all, it was Independence Day this week, and roasted marshmallows were on the menu.

What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.

Evil Empire 2 update, downgrade

A senior Met officer alleges systematic bribery of police by one of Murdoch’s British newspapers.

Clip from The Guardian:

Met deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers [JW: this is the third level in the hierarchy; her job is Head of Organised Crime] tells the Leveson inquiry there was ‘a culture at the Sun of illegal payments’. She also tells the inquiry of emails indicating multiple payments made to individuals amounting to thousands of pounds. In addition, she confirms that a system was implemented to hide the identities of those receiving payments.

The payees of the bribes were Akers’ colleagues, serving MET police officers; public officials by any standard.

The presumably hard evidence behind Akers’ allegations look like a smoking gun for the ongoing FBI investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by Murdoch’s US vehicle News Corp.

This could be even more fun than the kamikaze GOP attack on contraception.

May Day Mayday

This semester I laid on a freshman seminar about Art and Despair, partly because I was already offering Arts and Cultural Policy,  partly because Cal had set up a program to encourage freshman seminars about art and promised Oakleys for any art event on campus.  And partly because at that point in the fall I was particularly uncertain about how to present policy analysis to my students with a straight face as something that could make a difference, or had any relevance, in a world where something aggressively mindless, ugly, and terrifying was slouching towards the ballot box to be born, and a corrosive slime was steadily leaking out of Fox and coating what we used to call public deliberation.

At that time a song popped into my head, which I was unable to put aside.  I hummed it, played on the piano, and listened to it, for example here.  This had ambivalent results. On the one hand, I was further despondent reflecting on the loss occasioned by Wunderlich’s early death falling down a flight of stairs, then by all the other blighted and shortened young lives spent in war and lost by neglect.  But the song is a hymn, the content is neither sappy nor dishonest (Schubert, another life truncated by neglect, paid real dues), and my realist, skeptical intention not to fall for a cheap sentimental anodyne was overcome by the art. A world that has music is worth pushing a pretty big rock uphill for.

“Something is going on here”, I thought.  Continue reading “May Day Mayday”

Egypt’s future

Mark’s cold shower is entirely correct.  But I think he may be insufficiently pessimistic.  The pieces haven’t been all thrown up in the air to fall back randomly; the system has a lot of structure and the dice are heavily loaded in favor of the army, which is the only institution to come out of the recent upheaval intact, even stronger having shed  its Mubarak and Suleiman front men and more important, having shown that it can do the same with the next set.

Before Mubarak was thrown under the bus, Robert Springborg published this very sobering reflection, and this afternoon Professor Sunshine was on NPR describing the pervasive dominance of the Egyptian economy by the military.   Before we get all grateful to this enterprise for sparing us a Levantine Tienanmen Square or Mexico City ’68, it’s worth reflecting that it is more like the Chinese PLA than a normal country’s military. Continue reading “Egypt’s future”

Super Bowl

I don’t care much about pro football, but I care about American values, and this afternoon American values are under attack as never in the last, um, few days or something.

The Steelers are what made America great, a profit-making company that sells TV eyeballs to advertisers and fan chotchkes to all and sundry.  Their logo celebrates a smokestack industry that used to be pretty important in the US, though it’s now mostly scrap recycling (and whose departure from Pittsburgh turned the city from a toxic mess of smokestacks and black snow into a pretty nice town) .  The minute they get a better stadium and tax giveback offer from another city, profit maximization dictates that they load up the trucks to become the Las Vegas Chips or Spokane Chainsaws or whatever.

The Packers, in contrast, are a commie non-profit [think about that word; evil spelled sideways!], collective that’s nailed its feet to the ground for the pleasure and pride of a little town.  In a reasonable-sized market, this franchise could coin real money, so it’s fair to call it job-killing to boot, not to mention the skybox delights rich people in any of several cities are being deprived of.  Their stadium could have the name of a big important company on it, but instead it’s wasted commemorating a beloved team founding father who isn’t spinning off a nickel in franchise payments.

The Packers, in short, are an assault on everything that really matters, and if they win today, as they have rudely done many times in contravention of all theory and theological principles, it will be one more blatant invitation to smite America with an earthquake, or boils, or even a Palin presidency.   Kickoff in about an hour; you know whom to root for.

Political Metaphor Alert: World Series Edition and the Plight of a Democratic Dodger Fan

Nancy Pelosi v. George W. Bush in the World Series? Maybe.

As a lifelong hater of the Evil Empire, I’m never inclined to write off the Yankees.  But with the Rangers crushing them for a third time in a row, and taking a commanding lead in the American League Championship Series, the smart money is on Texas.

Over in the National League, things are far more up in the air, but the Giants are in an excellent position, leading the series 2-1.

So if present trends continue, the World Series will be San Francisco v. Texas.  You couldn’t ask for a better political metaphor. 

 Ever since my grandpa told me about dodging trolleys outside Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Robins, and then took me to Oldtimers Day 1972 at Dodger Stadium, when they retired the numbers of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Sandy Koufax, I’ve been a confirmed Dodger fan. (Okay — when the Prince of Darkness owned the team for a few years, I switched to the Red Sox, and still like them.  But that’s over with now.).

What’s a Democratic Dodger fan to do?  Texas is impossible, but….the Giants?

Answer: Yes, the Giants.  Actually, the real hatred in today’s Dodger-Giant rivalry only heads one way — south.  San Franciscans hate Los Angeles with an unreal passion: I once asked a Giant fan whom he would root for if it was the Dodgers v. Al Qaeda.  He said he just wouldn’t watch.  Angelenos, on the other hand, think of San Francisco as a pleasant enough little town, good for a romantic weekend or a place to take the kids, maybe a way to get out of the summer heat.  Not really a city, mind you, but a nice enough place.

Go Giants!

Blind and deaf in the face of spreading evil

Occasionally my training as an engineer prompts me to ask, “why aren’t conservation laws more useful in social science?”  In economics, everything is held together with bungee cords (which is OK, all physical mechanisms are more or less elastic) but the quantities of everything, including money, seem to be spongy as well.

Analysis of gay marriage, as I understand the opponents, seems to be an exception, and I thought it would be comforting.  They tell us children are better off raised in conventional marriages. OK, but exactly what children are these that will be so raised if we forbid gay marriage? There must be a fixed number of preconception souls and a fixed rate of births, that force soul 43569 to be born in a marriage of a man and a woman (not, of course, to a single careless teenager) when the avenue into a gay marriage is closed. Loony, incomprehensible theology/ontogenic science, but it does entail a conservation law (perhaps that’s why conservatives like it?).

Next line of attack: gay marriage is bad for heterosexual marriage. I get it: marriages are fixed in number, and if we prevent gay people from marrying others of the same sex, they will have to marry someone of the opposite sex, and those will be better marriages, whether a gay guy paired up with a lesbian or a heterosexual married to a homosexual, than the respective partners would have had in like-gendered couples (I’m using gender to denote a sexual identity). Right.

I may have the wrong idea entirely here; maybe good marriage karma is the thing that’s fixed in quantity, and every gay marriage sops up some that is therefore not available to a straight couple. As a co-proprietor of a conventional marriage, I note the  warning that more gay marriage will damage my own, but I despise the community of bigots and haters for giving us absolutely no guidance about how we can protect ourselves against the danger that’s now spreading despite their best efforts to nip it in the bud. It’s like the oil spill: sure, we should prevent blowouts before they happen, but we should also have a backup plan.

Is the evil something that leaks out of the apartment of the gay couple down the street and into our windows at night if we leave them open – can I at least see it (rainbow colored, maybe) in time to put on sunscreen, or a respirator, or long underwear?  Does it go the other way; can sacredness be vacuumed out of our happy home into theirs (and will it be happy there and stay)? Can I get it back while they’re away skiing? Or is it the kind of thing we catch watching Rachel Maddow more than three nights a week, and would more coverage of John Ensign’s and Newt Gingrich’s very straight domestic histories cancel it out?

As important as prophylactic guidance is, we also need public service announcements with symptoms clearly described, and I call upon the gay marriage early warning system to step up. What, dammit, are the seven signals of a straight marriage succumbing to gay marriage injury, and what are harmless distractions we can ignore?  I had to decide between pleated and plain-front chinos in Costco and realized that even recognizing the difference could be a tiny cloud on our horizon; my wife’s last haircut seemed to be a little shorter than the one before.  Are we in trouble? If the Supreme Court leaves us naked before this threat, would firearms help, or more throw pillows on the furniture? Or will we need to hit the streets with pitchforks and purify our neighborhood (in Berkeley, that’s a major project, not to mention who in Berkeley even has a pitchfork? so we’re hoping for something smaller scale, maybe with incense or spells).

Please!  Tell us what we really need to know, and soon: I’m going to a gay wedding in two weeks – will I be OK if skip the cake, or do I have to keep my fingers crossed during the vows?