Archive for March, 2010

Republican Lite

March 28, 2010

When Mitt Romney criticized the health care bill, the Huffington Post pointed out that it’s essentially the same plan he imposed on Massachusetts when he was governor there. In their smugness over Romney’s hypocrisy, the liberals are ignoring the most important fact: Obama’s health care bill is a Republican bill. This should not be surprising. After all, Obama has continued most of the policies of his Republican predecessor. However, Obama’s election did result in change, in the sense that political discourse in this country has shifted to the right (although people’s actual views have not.) This is due to the necessity of maintaining the pretense that Obama is somehow liberal or progressive, necessary for the campaign rhetoric of both Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans’ strategy of appealing to the lunatic right seems to be starting to backfire – just as it did during the 2008 election. Stirring up the troglodytes seems to be the only thing they can think of doing, now that Obama has taken over their agenda. As for the supposed size of the tea bagger movement, only a few hundred showed up for the demonstration during the vote on the health care bill. If that’s all they can do, then they are not truly a mass movement.

Those who think the tea baggers are a populist movement should read this article in Socialist Worker. Among other things we learn the following:

    Of those “active” supporters, 60 percent were male, 80 percent were white, and 66 percent made more than $50,000 a year. In fact, the largest income group of tea party activists (34 percent) was those making $75,000 or more per year. More tellingly, 87 percent said they vote for Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives (as opposed to 46 percent of all respondents), and 77 percent described themselves as “conservative.”

This is the same section of U.S. society that in the past gave us such groups as the John Birch Society (who believed that Eisenhower was a Soviet agent). What motivates these people? Trotsky used to say that the petty bourgeoisie are terrified of being pushed down into the ranks of the proletariat. It seems to me that something similar is at work here. The idea of social welfare is frightening to these people, because they see it as somehow a repudiation of their middle class status. (Although that doesn’t stop these people from accepting Social Security checks or Medicare, perhaps because they see these as part of their middle class privilege.)

The last time we saw such an upsurge in the looney right was during the early days of the Clinton administration. That culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. It remains to be seen where this will go.

Fish Tank

March 24, 2010

This is the second time in the past six months that I have seen a British film in which a teenage girl has an affair with a much older man. What this says about the current state of British society, I don’t know. However, the two films, An Education and Fish Tank – both of them very good – are also very different. The first difference is class: An Education is about middle class people, while in Fish Tank, the characters are working class. The second is that while A.D. ends on an upbeat, redemptive note, F.T. is darker and more disturbing. At the end, the heroine’s future seems uncertain.

Many of the scenes in Fish Tank seem to have been shot with a hand-held camera, which gives the film a loose, spontaneous feel that I rather liked. However, at first I found it hard to become emotionally involved in this movie. This was largely because I found it hard to like the characters at first, but also because I found the English vernacular hard to follow at times. (Seriously, they should start putting subtitles on British films.) Nevertheless, I ultimately found the film moving. Highly recommended.

One small criticism: the older man in this film is apparently a security guard, yet he lives in a neighborhood that looks middle class and he drives an expensive car. I don’t know about in Britain, but here in the U.S. most security guards are paid crap money and often have to work very long hours.

A Bitter Pill

March 21, 2010

Somebody once defined a fanatic as someone who redoubles his efforts after he’s forgotten what it is that he’s trying to do. I suppose that by that definition the Democrats and their supporters qualify as fanatics. The only important thing to them is that Congress pass a health care bill. The question of what the bill will actually do is irrelevant. Michael Moore and Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean all say that we must support this legislation because… well, because it’s labeled “health care reform”. Isn’t that a good enough reason for you?

Supporters of this bill would do well to ask themselves why the bill is designed so that most of the provisions won’t take effect until 2014. (Interestingly enough, this will be after Obama stands for re-election.) Could it be that the authors of this bill realize that when the full impact of it is felt, people won’t like it?

Thirty-three states are planning legal challenges to this bill. This could be significant. (You may recall that it was lawsuits by states that stopped the Bush administration from going through with its plans to issue national id cards.) Of course, most of these states are probably opposed to the legislation for all the wrong reasons. That’s the sorry state of U.S. politics today: we have to rely on reactionary state governments to defend us from reactionary legislation that’s been gussied up to look “progressive”.

Update: I have since learned that the quote is from George Santayana. His exact words were: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.”

I watched some of the final debates on TV. They were about abortion, as if the health and welfare of Americans were matters of secondary importance.

The White Ribbon

March 16, 2010

I recently went to see The White Ribbon, a film by the Austrian director, Michael Haneke. It is set in a small town in northern Germany, Eichwald, just before the outbreak of the First World War. The story, which is told in a series of vignettes, takes place over the course of one year. During this time, a number of violent crimes are committed. The local school teacher (Christian Friedel) gradually comes to the conclusion that a group of children are behind them.

Life in Eichwald is suffused with brutality, mostly psychological, but sometimes physical. This brutality stems from two things: the feudal social relations in the town, and the severe Lutheranism preached by the pastor (Burghart Klau├čner). Most of the people in the town are peasants, and half of them work for the local baron (Ulrich Tukur). The tensions this creates are illustrated by, among other things, the fact that the residents of the town are servile towards the baron, while the baron’s pampered son, Sigi, becomes a target of violence by the local children. (The town doctor (Rainer Bock) is the only character who doesn’t seem to fit into the class dynamics of this situation. Unlike the others, he seems to be motivated by pure selfishness. Perhaps this is Haneke’s view of the middle class.) It’s not hard to see that we’re meant to view the events of this film in the context of Germany’s history in the twentieth century.

The White Ribbon is a haunting and disturbing film, all the more so because the issues are left unresolved at the end. It’s the type of movie that you keep thinking about for days after you see it.

As I was watching this film, I couldn’t help thinking of the picture books of Wilhelm Busch, which were hugely popular in Second Empire Germany. These often told stories of children who play cruel tricks. The most famous of these is Max und Moritz, which inspired the first American comic strip, The Katzenjammer Kids. The book is funny, but at the same time there is something kind of awful about it, because of the sheer nastiness of the children’s pranks. In one episode, they put gunpowder in a man’s pipe. When he smokes it, it explodes, blackening his face and burning all his hair away. (Needless to say, Busch graphically illustrates this.) Elsewhere, we see Max and Moritz laughing and cheering while a man falls into a rushing river and nearly drowns. It could be argued that that Max and Moritz are the literary forebears of Bart Simpson. I would be interested to know if Matt Groening has read Busch’s books.

The reason I bring all this up is that I suspect that Haneke may have had Busch in the back of his mind when he was writing the script. However, there is nothing humorous about the children’s crimes in this film. I must say, though, this movie might have benefited from a bit of comedy. The scenes in which the schoolteacher awkwardly tries to woo a painfully shy girl, Eva (Leonie Benesch), are vaguely humorous and provide a much needed respite from the brutality in much of the rest of this film.

As I said before, though, The White Ribbon is worth seeing. It is one of the more memorable movies that I have watched recently.

Credit Unions

March 12, 2010

I keep my money in a credit union. CU’s are supposed to be better than banks, though I have found that this is not necessarily the case. Last week, I made a purchase using my ATM card, unaware that I didn’t have enough money in my account to cover the purchase. Instead of declining my card, which is what banks used to do in the old days, the CU covered the purchase and charged me $25. This happened three more times before I caught on to what they were doing. By then they had charged me $100. I went to the bank to see if I could get the charges reversed. The woman I talked to said she would refund me $25 as a “courtesy”, which still leaves me out $75. What burns me up is this woman actually expected me to be grateful for this.

She told me it was my fault that I got hit with these fees. Well, yes and no. Yes, I should have kept better track of my account. However, if they had declined my card, I would have used my credit card instead and everything would be fine. (And isn’t this type of situation what a credit card is supposed to be used for?) Instead I’m out $75 because of their “courtesy”.

Credit unions are supposedly non-profit, but one thing I’ve learned in life is that some things that are “non-profit” actually aren’t. If these people aren’t making a profit, then why do they need to hit people with $25 fees? I smell a rat here.

I Get My Sheepskin

March 12, 2010

After all these years, I’m finally getting a college degree. I am graduating from the University of Oregon with a double major in Art and Digital Arts. I might have gotten a degree a long time ago, if I hadn’t wasted my youth chasing rainbows and making an ass out of myself in general.

The downside to this is that I will lose my job at the University, because it’s classified as a “student job”. I will also lose my medical insurance. It’s not going to be fun to be looking for a job in the middle of a recession. I am working on an online portfolio, which seems to be the way to go in my line of work (graphic design) nowadays.

At the UO, I was what they call a “non-traditional student”, which is a polite way of saying “old fart”. The other students were nice to me, but the age difference made it hard for me to form close friendships. My age was a disadvantage to me in other ways. I just took a letterpress class. It was interesting and fun in a lot of ways, but it was also a lot of work. We only had two weeks to work on our final projects. Many of the students pulled all-nighters and put together beautiful projects. I am simply too old to pull all-nighters. My project looked somewhat feeble compared to my classmates’ work.

All in all, though, college was a good experience, and I am a better person for having gone through it.