December 02, 2006
Goat Rope is pleased to introduce a new weekend contributor, Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Sheg-AY), a boxer and resident Goat Rope Farm film critic.
He intends to use this space to share his cinematic expertise by discussing well-known films.
(We must warn the reader, however, that Mr. Sege has suffered from a head injury whilst chasing squeaky toys and has been known to transpose the plots of movies. We ask the readers indulgence and believe that his unique insights more than compensate for this regrettable problem.)
Again, it is our hope that these weekend features will elevate the level of discourse and promote greater appreciation of the arts, humanities, and animalities.
A BOXER EXPLAINS "CASABLANCA"
Yeah, I'm a film critic. I got to be a film critic cause I love popcorn. Sometimes Moomus and Doodus watch movies and eat popcorn. Popcorn good. Especially with butter.
When you're a film critic, you get popcorn because it's part of the job. That's why I didn't go into dentistry.
So the first film I want to talk about is Casablanca. There's like this American guy in North Africa who runs a night club and the Nazis are taking over everything.
And then this woman walks in that he used to know and wants his help.
She's like a singing nun, except she's not a nun anymore and has all these kids. They sing too.
The other nuns got rid of her because she sang too much. And she couldn't play the reindeer games cause she had this red nose.
And when she comes, they're not in Africa anymore but somewhere in the Alps.
The social significance of this movie is about global climate change.
And then the guy and the ex-singing nun who is no longer a nun but still sings and the kids try to get away from the Nazis but first they have to go on a secret mission to Vietnam to bust out the POWs. Man, they blow up a lot of stuff.
And the thing is, they couldn't have done it without her red nose cause it was really foggy. After that, she's famous.
But what you don't get unless you are a film critic is the symbolism. For example, the guy represents a guy and the woman is sort of a symbol for all women who sing but aren't nuns AND for all nuns that sing. The kids who sing symbolize musical little humans. And the secret mission is psychological like about confronting the unconscious and blowing up stuff.
And the whole red nose thing is like sometimes you think someone can't do anything because they have a red nose but sometimes you need one so it's OK.
I want some more popcorn. Doodus!
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
December 01, 2006
Caption: Ferdinand the peacock knows all about asset building.
It hasn't been that long ago that President Bush talked a lot about his idea of "the ownership society," which consisted of privatizing public goods like Social Security, shifting tax burdens from wealth to wages, and transferring wealth upward.
"Owner class" society might have been a more accurate term.
But the basic idea of promoting wide ownership of assets--such as homes and savings--is a good one as long as it doesn't come at the expense of the common good.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund has an interesting idea to do just this:
Congress should protect Social Security's guaranteed benefit and promote ownership with a new Universal 401(k) that offers all Americans a private retirement account on top of Social Security. The Universal 401(k) would include generous $2 to $1 government matching contributions for initial savings of low income families, and $1 to $1 matches for middle income families...Finally a Universal 401(k) system would include a single, portable account that benefits families by continuing to provide savings incentives for those between jobs or for parents who take time off to raise children.
This could help millions of families save and build assets and promote economic growth without threatening the safety net provided by Social Security.
That one might be a keeper.
FINAL WORD FOR NOW ON METAPHORS, MIXED OR OTHERWISE
El Cabrero is starting to think that thinking too much about metaphors can be a losing proposition, like robbing Peter to spite your face or going around with an albatross on your sleeve.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ANALOGOUS TO A HIGH FLYING CONDOR
November 30, 2006
Caption: Castor says "Take a look."
International Human Rights Day is celebrated on Dec. 10. For the past few years, the labor movement and allies have used this occasion to push for basic economic rights, including the right to organize.
That will continue to be the focus this year. In a welcome change from the past, the Employee Free Choice Act will soon face a friendlier atmosphere in Congress.
Passage of that act, which would make it easier for workers to organize and harder for companies to retaliate against and intimidate workers, would probably do as much as any realistic measure to rebuild the middle class and put the country back on the road to shared prosperity.
BONUS WEST VIRGINIA RANT
Recently in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, we witnessed the (fortunately unsuccessful) spectacle of a coal baron attempting to buy the state legislature and claiming to want to do this "for the sake of the kids."
The claim was even made that the totally uncontested domination of the coal industry and one company in particular would reduce or eliminate poverty.
That would make a possum laugh.
History shows abundantly that the main reason for poverty here is a colonial economy where resources like coal have been sucked away to profit absentee owners. The same counties where coal is king are usually the ones with the greatest poverty.
Don't get me started on this one. Instead, check out this Gazette op ed on the subject by El Cabrero's amigo John David.
JUST ANOTHER WORD ON METAPHORS.
Speaking of metaphors, which we weren't, have you ever noticed that looking for the perfect mixed metaphor is like looking for a needle up the wrong tree?
And yes, that was a simile.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
November 29, 2006
Caption: Seamus McGoogle, defender of the toiling masses, continues his tireless efforts to raise the minimum wage.
More than half the states have gotten tired of waiting for the federal government to raise the minimum wage (the count is 29, according to the Economic Policy Institute).
Opponents of an increase typically predict that taking this long overdue step will cause the moon to turn to blood, the dead to rise from their graves, and lead to shameless cohabitation between dogs and cats.
Whatever may be the case about the last possibility, the apocalypse seems to be deferred.
A new study by EPI finds a significant absence of cosmic destruction in the wake of state minimum wage increases.
Specifically, the study found little effect on employment or labor supply in states with higher minimums:
Between the last time the federal minimum wage was increased, in September 1997, and the end of 2005, 17 states and the District of Columbia raised their own minimum wages a grand total of 47 times. By the end of this period, the median minimum wage of these states was $1.40 (more than 25%) higher than the federal value. Examination of several demographic groups for which wages and employment are thought to be sensitive to minimum wages found some positive effect on wages and scant effect on either employment or labor supply. The same can be said for employees working in eating and drinking establishments.
To quote Dylan, "You will not die. It's not poison."
In the wake of the elections and thanks in part to the many state campaigns, there is a good chance of a long overdue federal increase. For more on this with the latest updates, check out the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign.
BRIEF METAPHORICAL FOOTNOTE OR ACTUALLY A REAL FOOTNOTE REGARDING METAPHORS. Several people contacted me by various channels yesterday regarding mixed metaphors. I would like to reply in some detail but must make hay while the iron is hot.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
November 28, 2006
Caption: This man has moved from the ranks of the wealthy to those of the very wealthy.
While El Cabrero has been busy ranting about the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else, another gap in income and wealth has emerged.
According to yesterday's New York Times, the new gap is the one between the wealthy and the very wealthy.
One out of every 825 households "earned" at least $2 million last year, double the proportion in 1989 when adjusted for inflation. In terms of wealth, one in 325 households had a net worth of $10 million or more in 2004, which is more than four times the rate in 1989.
Some of the very wealthy have turned to philanthropy, the best known examples being Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. This is commendable, although it's no substitute for economic justice.
Mark M. Zandi, founder of Economy.com, whose net worth is in the eight figures (presumably without decimal points) agrees:
"Our tax policies should be redesigned through the prism that wealth is being increasingly skewed," Mr. Zandi said, arguing that higher taxes on the rich could help restore a sense of fairness to the system and blunt a backlash from a middle class that feels increasingly squeezed by the costs of health care, higher education, and a secure retirement.
Speaking of the squeeze, an article today shows some interesting trends over time.
Over all, average incomes rose 27 percent in real terms over the quarter-century from 1979 through 2004. But the gains were narrowly concentrated at the top and offset by losses for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, those making less than $38,761 in 2004.
The bottom 60 percent of Americans, on average, made less than 95 cents in 2004 for each dollar they reported in 1979, analysis of the I.R.S. data shows.
The next best-off group, the fifth of Americans on the 60th to 80th rungs of the income ladder, averaged 2 cents more income in 2004 for each dollar they earned in 1979.
One third of the whole increase went to the top one percent and more than half of that went to the top tenth of a percent. Adjusted for inflation, that group had $3.48 in 2004 for every dollar they had in 1979.
When you add in the effects of the tax cuts for the wealthy, that jumps to $3.94 in 2004 for each 1979 dollar.
A nice gig if you can get it.
BONUS FEATURE: MIXED METAPHORS. This has nothing to do with anything, but El Cabrero has been reading about and thinking about metaphors lately, especially mixed ones. A while back, I heard a friend unintentionally come up with the best one I've ever heard:
Let's not pull the trigger until the cake is baked.
Do you have any idea what I would have given to come up with something like that on purpose? I guess the shoe is on the other artichoke now...
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: YAWNING
November 27, 2006
Caption: These guys have a lot of social capital because they don't watch too much television.
Back in the summer, Goat Rope ran a series about social capital and the research of sociologist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. You can find it in the archives for June 25-29.
Very briefly, social capital can be defined as all the formal and informal relationships and networks that individuals and groups have. Strong and diverse networks of social capital can help in solving many kinds of problems.
Unfortunately, Putnam found that social capital has been declining in the US for the last few decades. He suspected television to be a major culprit.
Some recent evidence backs him up.
According to the Nov. 20th Business Week, when Harvard economist Benjamin Oklen studied TV viewing in the Indonesian island of Java, he found less civic-mindedness in areas with good television reception. Specifically,
Olken found that the availability of one extra channel was linked to a 7% decline in the number of a village's social groups and an 11% decline in the number of school, neighborhood, or savings circle meetings the average adult attended.
The article did not state whether "Baywatch" or "Law and Order" reruns were more to blame...
On a totally different subject, I am still reeling from a recent report that compared alcohol consumption in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia to other states.
Members of the Mountain State tribe have long come to expect WV to be at or near the top or bottom of any list. This time we rank 49th in the country in--of all things--heavy drinking. Only Utah drinks less...
Dionysus is going to be ticked.
In what can only be interpreted as a blatant attack on Episcopalians, the federal government, dominated no doubt by schismatic temperance advocates, defines heavy drinking as more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women in a given month.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED