Filmmaking with a social conscience

Over the next few weeks Unit One will share exclusive comments by Jade Marmot on the V&P film project. Today’s topic is low-cost filmmaking approaches.

Jade

To understand filmmaking a person has to watch a variety of film types. A good place to start are these four films: Citizen Kane (1941), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), The Celebration (1998) and Sicko (2007). These go over more than 65 years. Admittedly some are more low-cost than others, with Sicko costing $9 million.

François Truffaut (1932-1984) devised auteur theory in the mid-1950s. It stated that the director was the “author” of his work. Great directors, such as Jean Renoir (1894–1979) or Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), have distinct styles and themes that permeate their films. While this invokes a filmmaking style that focuses on artistic intent, it concentrates on a director’s personal creative vision, denying the other participants (cast as well as crew) artistic integrity. Orson Welles’ (1915-1985) Citizen Kane (1941) is a textbook example of an auteur film. Truffaut made his feature film debut with Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) [The 400 Blows].

 

Citizen-Kane-Welles-Podium
Kane (Orson Welles) makes a campaign speech at Madison Square Garden. Citizen Kane

 

In 2006 David Kipen wrote The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History. He argues that auteur theory has wrongly skewed analysis towards a director-centred view of film. Kipen believes that the screenwriter has a greater influence on the quality of a finished work. Much of Scandinavian television production uses this approach in their 10 episode thrillers, with a number of directors being responsible for one or more of the episodes, but with a co-operating script-writing team.

Many low-budget film colleagues refer to themselves as guerrilla filmmakers. Guerrilla filmmaking involves corporate independence, low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props. They shoot scenes quickly in real locations without permits, permission or warning. Corporate independence means that the filmmakers are not accountable to anyone but themselves.

“Guerrilla filmmaking is driven by passion with whatever means at hand”, said Mark Hill, Yukon Film Commission Manager. Guerrilla filmmaking focuses too much on technique, rather than on content. For pacifists, there are also problems with the military connotations of the title. Film critic Roger Ebert described Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) written, produced, scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles (1932-), as “a textbook on guerrilla filmmaking.” If you cannot find this film, an equivalent example is Robert Rodriguez’ (1968-) El Mariachi (1992). It cost about $7,000 to make, with money partially raised by volunteering in medical research studies. While originally intended for the Spanish-language low-budget home-video market, it received international distribution. Rodriguez described his filmmaking experiences in his book Rebel Without a Crew. The book and film continue to inspire filmmakers to make no-budget films.

Sweet-Sweetbacks-Baadasssss-Song
Sweet Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles). Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

 

The Dogme 95 approach to filmmaking turns auteur theory upside down. It codifies filmmaking in a 10-point Vow of Chastity written by Lars von Trier (1956-) and Thomas Vinterberg (1969-) that prohibits expensive and spectacular special effects, post-production modifications and other technical ploys. Filmmaking concentrates on content: the story and actors’ performances. Here the director is a nameless servant; at best a coordinator. One of the most powerful films is Vinterberg’s Festen (1998) [The Celebration]. Note: It can be a bit too powerful for people with assorted family issues that can be triggered. For those people Italiensk for begyndere (2000) [Italian for Beginners] a Danish romantic comedy, written and directed by Lone Scherfig (1959-) is more appropriate.

Festen

Political cinema may refer to films that do not hide their political stance, but this does not mean that they are pure propaganda. Most films are political, including escapist films offering entertainment. In Nazi Germany, the authorities organized a large production of deliberately escapist movies. Today, Hollywood cinema misrepresents black, women, gays, working-class people, and others frequently in the form of stereotypes. Michael Moore (1954-) is one of many political filmmakers, with Sicko (2007) being one of his most popular, and lucrative. It investigates American health care, with a focus on health insurance and pharmaceuticals. The movie compares the for-profit, non-universal U.S. system with the non-profit universal health care systems of Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Cuba. Moore rejects the label of political activism as redundant in a democracy, “I and you and everyone else has to be a political activist. If we’re not politically active, it [presumably USA] ceases to be a democracy.”

That’s it for today!

Come back next time, when Jade Marmot writes about the institution of cinema itself, and its mission to pacify spectators, and how Joyful Marmot Productions aims to change this. Until then, think about the cinema, and how people congregate but do not to act together or to talk to each other, but sit silently, and isolated from each other.

Housing Bubbles

Once again, this blog has been seized by Precious Dollar, who wants to write a short comment about Canada’s housing bubble, which has hit Vancouver, followed by Toronto, hardest.

I’m having to rely on Jesse Ferraras for information that appeared in Huffpost.ca since Capital Economics wants to be paid to let me read their report, “House Price Gains Fuelled by Increasingly High-Risk Mortgages” by Paul Ashworth. Jesse’s article is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/06/20/canada-housing-bubble-end_n_10579398.html

Jesse is not just a “reporter” but adds critical content to Ashworth’s report.

Ashworth makes two important statements.

First important statement: “This is a bubble. A very big bubble. And it is going to end in tears.”

Second important statement: “… the value of asset prices is variable while the value of debt is fixed.”

Lets head back to the future to understand what is happening.

Capital Economics has been wrong and pessimistic about real estate in the past. This time Ashworth felt compelled to support his claims, that the growth of household credit is due to the low cost of debt. Declining interest rates allow households to expand debt without increasing the proportion of incomes needed to finance that debt.

The following chart shows household debt at around 165 per cent of disposable income (2016-Q1).

o-HOUSEHOLD-DEBT-570

While the chart shows that household net wealth is high it is important to remember that  if house values drop in value, the amount of money owed doesn’t change.

Ashworth concludes that it’s Canadians, not foreign money, driving growth in the housing market. This contrasts with Vancouver planner Andy Yan’s 2015 study showing that 66 per cent of west side Vancouver houses  were owned by people with non-anglicized Chinese names. Yan said this suggested they were recent arrivals to Canada. Similarly a 2016-05 Royal LePage survey of 250 real estate advisors saw 66 per cent of them say foreign buying had risen in the luxury home market between 2005 and 2015. More than half of those advisors said foreign buyers mostly came from China.

Data from the U.S. National Association of Realtors has shown that buyers from China made up almost 30% of residential realestate acquisitions in 2015, with average an home purchase price of $831,800, more than international buyers from any other country. These purchases are concentrated along the West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as East Coast New York.

Assessing the influence of international buyers on Canadian housing markets is difficult, because that data isn’t collected.

 

Podemos

Precious Dollar continues her occupation of this blog, with a new series focusing on what ordinary people can do to promote the economic welfare of everyone, rather than on the economic ambitions of the elite.

On 2015-06-16, almost exactly one year ago, Donald Trump announced his candidacy to be President of the United States. Now, he is the official Republican candidate. Yet, rather than representing the ideals of the party, many regard Trump as being a conduit for the disenchanted, the poor and oppressed.

In the United Kingdom, similar rage is being expressed in the Brexit referendum. Again, large segments of the population are letting political leaders know their discontent.  From my perspective, Leavers are contenting themselves at finding a scapegoat for their problems – immigrants. They are blaming the economic ills they experience on these people, rather than looking at the root cause, the unfair distribution of wealth and income.

Podemos is a Spanish political party, founded in March 2014.  It is the successor of the anti-austerity 15-M Movement. It addresses inequality, unemployment and economic malaise that followed in the wake of the European debt crisis.  It seeks full application of the 128th article of the constitution (“All wealth of the country in all its forms and no matter who owns it, is subordinated to the people’s interest”).

The reason Podemos is mentioned is the need to change rage into action. I have not seen anything in Trump’s campaign that indicate an understanding of a need for a new world order, with an emphasis on affordable health and education, and with greater equality in terms of income and wealth. Similarly, I don’t think any reduction in migration in Britain will make any noticeable improvement in the standard of living of the working poor in Britain.

Podemos is not perfect. It is grounded in nationalism, rather than universalism. It is still a political party, with all the evils that represents.

Podemos_(logo_círculos)

This is a translation taken from a post of Cunning Hired Knaves: https://hiredknaves.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/podemos-translated-manifesto/  It is the manifesto titled Mover ficha, which literally means to move a piece on a board game, as in chess, but which might best be translated as Making a move. It is from the new political initiative in Spain called Podemos, literally We can, or We can do it. The signatories are listed at the bottom of the original document.

“Making a Move”

Turning outrage into political change

Just as with other moments in history, we see today a European continent submerged in perplexity. Whilst the majorities look back with nostalgia on the past that is lost, certain powerful minorities, with no criterion other than their own survival, show that enrichment is their flag and impunity their horizon. Never in Europe have there been so many people discontented with their loss of rights, and, at the same time, so few perspectives for challenging this outrage through a voting option that excites while at the same time, shows the capacity to represent the majorities under attack and a capacity for committed and efficient administration that makes the best possible options become real. Many find it intolerable that in the greatest crisis in the system since the crash of 1929, those forces that claim to be progressive are at their weakest point, thereby condemning the majorities in our countries to a kind of melancholy that leads to resignation and political depression. But we have gone through worse times and have been able to overcome the difficulties. Why should now be any different?

The elections to the European Parliament will be held at a time of a profound crisis of legitimacy for the European Union. In our case, we are faced with the greatest loss of credibility for the regime born out of the 1978 Constitution. Movements of political outrage such as the 15M connected with a clear popular will: against the sacrifice of rights on the altar of markets driven by speculation and plunder. The impotence or abdication of responsibility by governments, the voluntary ineptitude of government political parties, the conversion of parliaments into bureaucratic organs deprived of political power and the stupor of the unions have left citizens abandoned to their own fate. As in so many other countries, the confusion is being used to turn private debts into public ones, for the transfer of common goods developed over decades to private interests, and to dedicate what remains of public resources to the funding of narrow and private business interests. We are faced with a financial coup d’état against the peoples of the south of the Eurozone. Those who are in charge are selling off the country and our future in pieces. The rise in repression (with more authoritarian laws, the rise in fines in a situation of economic impoverishment, and even, obstacles to the exercise of civil and political rights) is the final element of a landscape dominated by the deepening of social and gender inequalities and increased plunder of natural resources. It is not strange to see the apparent pessimism and defeatism among sectors who, however, would need only a spark of excitement to exit the trap of despair.

The citizen safety laws (which turn the forms of protest inaugurated by the 15M into offences), the return of the repression of women’s freedom, the curtailment of democracy at the local political level, the greater control over communications media and the control of the judiciary seek to create a scenario where fear suspends democracy. Forms on the pathway to authoritarian regimes wrapped up in electoral processes ever emptier of content. Does it make sense that the 90% of the population suffering the brunt of these policies should have no access to tools to create a brighter future?

But it is not true that we are consigned to defeat. Despite their efforts, we can see that this wall is not unbreachable, and that, from below, it is possible to put a stop to these processes that are dismantling our democracies. Today our demand for a politics that goes back onto to the streets, that talks like the majority of people who have had enough, is a reality. Our demand for a greater generosity from representatives, for a greater horizontality and transparency, for a return of the republican values of public virtue and social justice, for the recognition of our plurinational and pluricultural reality is more real than ever. It is decades since our desire for making our own decisions and answering our own questions was so real. The caste is driving us into the abyss for their own selfish benefit. It is only from the citizens that the solution can come, as happened with the protection of jobs, the defence of families through the blocking of evictions, or the guarantee of public services: small but meaningful victories. Popular mobilisation, civil disobedience and confidence in our own abilities are essential, but so too is the forging of keys in order to open the doors that they want to close on us: to bring to the institutions the voice and the demands of this social majority that no longer recognises itself either in this EU or in a corrupt regime that has no possible regeneration.

In the next European Parliament elections there needs to be a candidacy that offers itself to the wave of popular indignation that astounded the world. We are glad to see the advance of the forces of the left, but we are conscious of the need to do something more in order to set in gear the changes we need. It is a time for courage and for not allowing the closure of the window of opportunity that the commitment of so many good people has opened. We need a candidacy of unity and of rupture, led by people who express new ways of relating to politics and which will entail a real threat to the two-party regime of the PP and PSOE and those who have taken our democracy hostage. A candidacy that in addition to stewardship of what is public, proves able to involve the majorities in the configuration of their own future. A candidacy that responds to the young people who are invited to get out of the country, to workers who day by day see their rights diluted, to women forced to go back to demanding what should obviously be theirs, to older people who are finding it was not enough to have struggled and worked for a lifetime. A candidacy that advances from spaces already conquered and manages to go beyond the present paralysis. A candidacy that makes the move that turns pessimism into optimism and discontent into popular will for change and democratic openness.

  1. A candidacy for the recovery of popular sovereignty: it is the citizens who have to decide, not the selfish minority who have brought us here. People’s needs come first. Austerity and cutbacks are choking the economy and our lives. There must be a derogation of article 135 of the Spanish constitution and a moratorium for a citizen debt audit that determines what parts of the debt are not legitimate; the illegitimate debts will not be paid.  Alternative policies are needed in order to establish a tax on financial transactions and controls on the movement of capital, along with the nationalisation of the private banking sector. Those administrations in our country that have adopted the prescriptions of austerity are proof of how useless they are for resolving people’s problems. We want a candidacy that therefore opposes the cuts that are being applied in the name of austerity by the Government of the Partido Popular in the State but also by the PSOE and other parties in different Autonomous Communities. We want another Europe, one that is just, the Europe of rights and democracy, not that of plunder and contempt for the peoples.
  2. A candidacy that, faced with governments in the service of the 1% minority, calls for a ‘real democracy’ based on the sovereignty of peoples and their right to decide their future freely and in solidarity. Democracy holds no fear for us democrats; we are delighted that Scottish and Catalan people can talk and say what future they desire. As such, one that supports the consultation called in Catalonia for the 9th of November.
  3. A candidacy that defends decent wages and pensions, a progressive tax regime so that those who have the most pay the most, one that goes after tax fraud, that rejects redundancies in profitable firms, and that stands for the sharing of all jobs, including domestic work and unpaid care work. It is essential to defend decent labour conditions for young people condemned to eternal precarity or exile.
  4. A candidacy for the right to decent housing. There must be a programme to build public housing, as well as a model of decent and affordable rents. The human drama of evictions can and must be ended, by suspending every single one and by approving retrospective surrender of houses by way of payment, as demanded by the Mortgage Victims’ Platform.
  5. A candidacy that rejects every form of privatisation of public services and common goods: education, health, justice, transport, information, housing and culture, that stands for its reversal in all of these and opts for their democratic management. They are rights and must be under public control. A candidacy that stands for a radical democracy where binding referendums and popular legislative initiatives form an important part of a new legal order following a constituent process.
  6. A candidacy that combats against gender based violence and defends the rights of women over their own bodies, and as such, the right to decide if they want to end their pregnancy or not. And that also defends freedom of sexual orientation and identity against every form of discrimination and homophobia. A candidacy for the unbreakable right to be and to love as one wishes.
  7. A candidacy that seeks a change in the productive model so that it is at the service of people, through an ecological reconversion of the economy, through the nationalisation and socialisation of energy firms, and through food sovereignty.
  8. A candidacy that defends citizen rights for everyone and demands derogation from immigration laws. A candidacy for a country in which everyone is a citizen and no-one is invisible, prisoner of over-exploitation, persecution or marginalisation due to institutional xenophobia.
  9. A candidacy that rejects military interventions, that stands for an exit from NATO and is a firm defender of relations of solidarity between peoples.
  10. A candidacy that is the result of an open participative process for citizens, in the elaboration of its programme and in the composition of its list, based upon the criteria of the presence of social, political and cultural activists, with role rotation and income equivalent to the average wage. A candidacy with commitment to transparency and accountability, with financial resources independent from the private banking sector and from lobby groups.

Those of us signing this manifesto are convinced that now is the time to make a step forward and that by making it many more will join us. Those at the top tell us that nothing can be done except resign ourselves, and, at best, choose between the same colours as always. We think it is no longer time for giving up but for making a move and pulling together, by offering tools to outrage and the desire for change. In the streets “SÍ se puede” (“Yes, it can be done”) is repeatedly heard. We say: “Podemos” (“We can do it”).

Next time, Precious Dollar will be looking at co-operatives.

Cheapness

Once again, Precious Dollar reports on post-modern economic (and other) values.

One academic game that can be played by almost anyone is to find the start date for post-modern society. While some are very general, Charles Jencks proposes 1972-07-15 at 15:32. It is based on the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe brutalist housing complex in St Louis, Missouri. Another date, favored by some economists is 1971-08-13, the day Richard Nixon ended the last remains of a Gold Standard. If the de facto end is preferred, then one should look to Franklin Roosevelt, and 1933-06-05.  A characteristic of post-modern society is that the rule book has been thrown out. Everything is allowed.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the Clinton administration, was its determination to open the world to free trade, by abolishing tariff barriers. Because of their lower wages, this meant that countries in the developing world, like China, could produce and sell goods cheaper than producers in the developed world, like USA. Clinton tried to sell the American public “cheapness”, but even in the beginning, it was a hard sell.

Bill Clinton’s administration passed trade legislation that lowered trade barriers with other nations. It negotiated about 300 trade agreements with other countries. This alienated many previous supporters, including labor unions. These argued that lower tariffs and more relaxed trade barriers would eliminate American jobs. Clinton argued that free trade would allow the U.S. to increase exports, growing the American economy. He also stated a belief that free trade could result in economic and political reform in developing countries. What that reform would consist of was never discussed.

lawrence-summers
Lawrence Summers

What Clinton failed to do was to place any restrictions on developing country exporters. They did not have to meet any requirements with respect to child labor, slavery, hours or work, other matters affecting working conditions, or protection of the environment. This is far from an exhaustive list. This meant that there was no level playing field. Countries that improved worker safety were penalized, while those who didn’t profited. That is, the owners of the companies profited, the workers simply had to accept their fate.

Clinton’s last Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers, stated that lowered tariffs reduced consumer prices and kept inflation low, and were technically “the largest tax cut in the history of the world.

Fast forward to Ottawa, Canada on 2016-06-01.

Stephane Dion Wang Yi
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, right, meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday 2016-06-01. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lost his temper after Amanda Connolly asked Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion a question about three touchy subjects: Hong Kong book sellers critical of Beijing that have gone missing, the country’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and the detention of Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt in China. “Why is Canada pursuing closer ties with China, how do you plan to use that relationship to improve human rights and security in the region, and did you specifically raise the case of the Garratts during your talks?”

CTV 2016-06-01 Amanda Connolly
Amanda Connolly

After Dion answered, Wang was asked a question by Chinese state-run media CCTV news, a question that within it made accusations about foreign aggression toward China. Rather than answering, Wang attacked Connolly, through a translator, for asking about human rights.

“I have to say that your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance where I have heard that come from and this is totally unacceptable. I have to ask whether you understand China. Have you been to China?” Wang said, then repeated familiar Communist Party of China defenses, becoming increasingly upset. He noted that Chinese law also incorporates civil rights, and ended with ,”I would like to ask you to please don’t ask questions in such an irresponsible manner and we welcome good will suggestions but we reject groundless or unwarranted accusations.”

Ryan Dunch, University of Alberta, China Institute, professor of history and classics said there is a lack of experts who understand the nuances of China. Canada has a knowledge gap that threatens to put Canada at a political and economic disadvantage, unable to protect its own interests when making deals with China.

Dunch said that Canadians need to be able to interpret what’s being said when the government of China scolds or says, ‘We’ve got human rights in our constitution.’ The same protections and legal process to ensure such rights are upheld in Canada do not exist in China, and many Canadians may not understand the difference.

Another example, Dunch said, is the Chinese government’s insistence that it is the definitive voice of every citizen, although China is a vast country with many different views and opinions. China’s current government claims, “an absolute and unlimited mandate to be the sole authoritative voice for the Chinese nation.”

“It’s important for Canadians and Canadian business to be able to develop an informed, critical perspective for understanding the statements coming from the Chinese government and the Chinese media,” Dunch said.

Charles Burton, Brock University, associate professor, notes that the Canadian government has said it intends to address concerns about human rights through trade and engagement, but does not seem to be contemplating any other actions to address human rights issues. Such a passive attitude toward Beijing and a poor understanding of it in the past is something Hong Kong is now coming to terms with. In the 1980s it was generally assumed that after China took over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom in 1997, the country would become more democratic.

Hong Kong residents, who had come to enjoy freedoms that mainland residents did not, were therefore fairly passive towards Beijing’s actions on human rights, expecting it to change. Instead, in 2014, Hong Kong saw massive street demonstrations following Beijing’s refusal to allow the region to hold completely open elections. China no longer talks about democracy as an ultimate political goal, instead referring to it as being a western ideal.

“That realization in Hong Kong I think is what is spawning the localism movement,” Burton said. “A conflict is happening because the expectations of Hong Kong people with regard to the mainland have not been fulfilled, and they were naive to think so.”

Burton said he is concerned about how Canada makes deals with China, noting that many Ottawa advisers don’t speak a Chinese language, let alone have an intimate understanding of the country. The federal government is too reliant on advice from big business more concerned with economic growth than human rights and other worries. “Any government in Canada doesn’t seem to have the sophistication to be able to engage in a China policy that satisfies both Canadians’ concern over human rights and security and our desire to grow our economy. The government just doesn’t understanding the importance of having the expertise necessary.”

“People now have a very determined attitude that our government has to represent Canadian values, and in our dealing with China we cannot compromise the things that make Canada great: our respect for human rights and rule of law,” Burton said.

A Nik Nanos poll shows 76 per cent of Canadians have a negative view of free trade with China.

Kai Nagata of the anti-pipeline group Dogwood Initiative said it’s been evident to him for some time that Canada’s politicians are willing to put Beijing’s concerns ahead of Canadians’. Dogwood Initiative wants Canadians to “stand up to China” over its demand for a pipeline and tanker port in British Columbia as a condition to start free trade talks.

He said China is dangling a free trade deal in front of the Liberal govenment and using it to get Canada to accept an “unusual amount of diplomatic abuse.” He said Ottawa’s timid response doesn’t give him hope the Liberal Government will stand up for Canadians’ concerns. “I wonder how much (China) cares about rights and title of First Nations on the west coast and how much they care about the rights of British Columbians who don’t want more oil tanker traffic through our communities.”

In January, 2016 David H Autor, David Dorn & Gordon H Hanson published The China Shock: Learning from Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade.

China’s emergence as a great economic power has significantly changed patterns of world trade, and challenged thinking about how labor markets adjust to trade shocks. Autor et al are particularly concerned about the substantial adjustment costs and distributional consequences.

They write that these impacts are most visible in the local labor markets in which the industries exposed to foreign competition are concentrated. Here, adjustment is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed (and unemployment rates remaining elevated) a full decade or more after the China trade shock started, usually regarded as 2000, the year China joined the World Trade Organization. Regions that have been hit hard, have not recovered. Workers in these industries and regions don’t go on to better jobs, or even similar jobs in different industries. Instead, they shuffle from low-paid job to low-paid job, never recovering the prosperity they had. Many end up on welfare. This is very different from earlier decades, when workers who lost their jobs to import competition usually went into higher-productivity industries, to the benefit of almost everyone.

Popular opinion seems to be exactly right about the effect of trade with China — it has killed jobs and damaged the lives of many, many Americans. Economist researchers have shown that public misgivings about free-trade reassurances have been completely justified.

Autor et al. sternly rebuke the economics profession for relying too much on theory, and not enough on evidence, when it comes to the mantra that free trade is good. Part of the problem is the definition of “good.” According to most models of trade, reducing trade barriers raises efficiency, increasing total gross domestic product. Unfortunately, efficiency says nothing about fairness. Almost any trade model shows that some people, industries and regions lose out.

If most people experience slight gains from lower import prices, and a few lose their livelihoods and have to go on welfare, economists call that a “good” outcome, because of  the focus on efficiency. The public has more important concerns, regional job losses rank higher than efficiency. This makes people regard economists as callous and out of touch.

Autor et al. see economists as (stubbornly) unwilling to question benchmark theories, even when evidence contradicts them. While total national employment declined in response to trade with China, standard trade models predict that this shouldn’t happen. The authors present evidence that real-world economies are worse at adjusting to big changes than their economic models assume. It is expensive and time-consuming for workers to retrain and relocate. It takes time and money for businesses to change their business models. Evidence shows these adjustment costs overwhelming trade gains.

Autor et al. concede their warning is too late for China. Its economy is slowing and its costs are rising rapidly. No new prospective trade partners will be able to replicate anything close to the China shock. In other words, the China free trade experience is unique.

What Autor et al seem to be saying is that the initial cheapness that free trade provided American and other consumers, will soon be over. Despite this, the harm caused by the shock continues.

Concrete Economics, by Stephen S Cohen & J Bradford DeLong was also published in 2016. They suggest that economists should spend more time studying history rather than ideology. One of the main points made by Cohen & DeLong is that the American economy has been repeatedly reshaped ever since Alexander Hamilton’s first, foundational redesign.

The authors remind readers how the economy actually grew and the major role played by government in redesigning and reinvigorating it. The government not only sets the ground rules for entrepreneurial activity, but invests directly and indirectly in infrastructure.

Beginning with the contrast between Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to continue an agrarian economy, and Alexander Hamilton’s determination to shape an industrial society, through the imposition of tariffs. This encouraged the birth of New England manufacturing at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This work also looks at other pragmatic changes (not all for the better) made over time. The second transformation examined was that from slave to free labour, in the aftermath of the American Civil War. This period also looked at the concept of homesteading, and providing free land, to encourage western settlement.

One of the most critical periods in world history, came with the depression of the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt had to find solutions to a devastated economy. The New Deal was the name of this redesign. It was needed because austerity wasn’t working! In March 1933, one third of non-farm workers were unemployed. Half of home mortgages were in default. The stock market had lost 80% of its 1929 value, farm prices had collapsed, as had house building. Car production was at 25% of pre-depression levels, banks were defaulting on depositors. Even the rich and powerful were scared and powerless. FDR rewrote the rules.

Since then rules governing the economy have been rewritten several times, including during the post-world war II period during the reign of Eisenhower. It was yet again changed by Reagan, and his conservative successors. It is important to understanding how an economy has been redesigned in the past, to provide a blueprint for how it might again be redesigned and reinvigorated for today.

The point being made here is that it is possible to makeover an economy. Economics is not sacred. It can serve different masters, although currently the elite 1% appear to be the only ones fully served. It can be changed at any time.

Remember too, that there are other values that are more important than volatile economic principle of the month. Working conditions, health and environmental concerns take precedence in most people’s minds over cheapness and free trade. Fortunately, the important values can be accommodated into any and every economic system, if there is a will to do so.

Soon cheapness will no longer be an option, and an unpleasant future may await the former middle and working classes, if they continue to allow the elite to determine how the economy is run. If economic change is to occur, one has to ask one basic question. How do you want the economic system to serve you?

http://thetyee.ca/News/2016/06/02/Why-Chinas-Foreign-Minister-Flipped-Out/

http://thetyee.ca/News/2016/06/10/Close-Canada-China-Knowledge-Gap/

http://www.nber.org/papers/w21906

 

 

 

Universal Athletics – Parades

The Olympic Games have their monomyth – the lighting of the Olympic torch at Mount Olympus, Greece, and its transport to the site of the games somewhere else in the world. Torchbearing is good public relations, that brings a lot of public interest resulting in ticket sales and, more importantly, passive television viewing. It also provides historiosity, an intertwined package of ersatz-historic fact, pseudo-myth and quasi-designed torches. Paloma Faith is a typical torchbearer. In her photo from the 2012 London (England) Olympics, below, she demonstrates the Olympic ideals – skyhigh patent red heels, custom white tracksuit,  bare midriff with belly jewelry. If only I knew something about designer sunglasses, hair fashions and makeup, I could comment on all those items too. It doesn’t matter that the flame is missing, when so many other important elements are included.

Paloma Faith
Paloma Faith, Iconic Olympic torchbearer

Each community, of course, has its own myths that are equally valid to promote. Those that never had, or have lost, their myths, can always invent new or adopt different ones.

One way for communities to show their spirit is to hold parades that emphasize the mathematical equation: Unity = Cooperation + (the joy of) Diversity.

Unique Parades

If one googles “unique parades” one of the first items listed  takes you to Huffpost Women, and an article titled Weird and Wacky Parades from Around the World. The first parade listed, “The Mermaid Parade celebrates the sand, the sea, the beginning of summer, and the history and mythology of Coney Island.” Alas, a disappointing parade, just like the two next ones on their list: Running of the Nudes and Go Blonde Parade.

For those of you who were directed here because a search engine found the phrase “mermaid parade” you will be disappointed. This blog is far too honest and un-American to show a female breast with its nipple covered by a miniature sea shell. I have never understood why it is acceptable to display 98% of a breast, but unacceptable to show 2%, consisting of its only working part. The Cony Island (NY, USA) Mermaid Parade will not be discussed further. I gave more serious consideration to including the “Running of the Nudes” through the streets of Pamplona (Spain). This is a more compassionate and fun remake of the “Corrida de toros” or “Running of the Bulls.” I particularly liked their slogan, “Out with the old, in with the nude!” Again, this blog is not in the business of providing gratuitous nudity, even if the purpose of the run is the promotion of animal welfare.

Also missing from this list is the Riga (Latvia) Go Blonde Parade. I appreciate blondes. In fact I appreciate all natural hair colours. I am less enthusiastic about dyed hair, be it black as a replacement for gray, or bright red/ green/ blue as a replacement for mouse brown. My main objection with Go Blonde type of parades is that they exclude non-blondes. Some of my best friends are non-blondes, and I would want them to participate on equal footing in any parade.

Riga Go Blond Parade
Riga’s Go Blonde Parade will not be included here!

Lobsterdog Parade

Pets (believe  they) are people! Many feel they should be included in parades. Naturally, Homo sapiens with pet allergies are not always in agreement. At the Port of Los Angeles there is an annual  Lobster Festival, with a Lobsterdog Parade as a highlight.

Parades, like most cultural artifacts, morph! While searching for an appropriate photo of Lobsterdog, I came across an almost iconic photo of a costumed pooch. It appears to be from the Lakewood, Ohio Pet-Tique Spooky Pooch Parade, in 2010. Not being a dog psychologist, whisperer, trainer or owner I have very little understanding of dog feelings, especially when they are subjected to humanoid whims. However, the mutt in the photo looks sad, and is undoubtedly aware of his loss of dignity.

Lobsterdog parade
Unidentified pooch in lobsterdog costume (photo: Marianne Riccardi?)

Houston Car Art Parade

Cars are (treated as) people. Since 1984,  some 250,000 people (not all certified psychiatric cases) watch over 250 vehicles. It started when Texas artist Jackie Harris spent $800 transforming a 1967 Ford station wagon into a “fruitmobile”.

There are countless variants:  The Friday night “cruise” immortalized in American Graffiti, and countless other tedious teen films; Annual car parades featuring, in alphabetical order, classic cars, hot rods, muscle cars, sports cars, station wagons, touring cars, veteran cars. Most of these variations focus on preservation of past technology, a few allow owners to improve – or at least change it. The big difference with Houston is that the parade focuses on the creation of automotive art.

sunflower art car 2002
Sunflower Car, Houston Art Car Parade, 2002

Bosch Parade

Now we come to one of my favorite parades, Bosch! I’ll let the organizers describe it in their own words. “Every June, since 2010, the waters of ’s-Hertogenbosch provide the venue for the Bosch Parade. A wondrous armada of vessels and objects inspired by the work and ideas of Medieval painter J heronimus Bosch. Artists from all disciplines (art, theatre, dance, music, architecture) collaborate with groups of enthusiastic amateurs and volunteers to create this artistic, water-borne parade. This spawns not only a creative floating parade by and for the city, but also an extensive creativity network throughout the city.” http://www.boschparade.nl/english/

House of Hell, from Bosch Parade 2, 2014
House of Hell, from Bosch Parade 2, 2014

The Olympic Games have their opening and closing ceremonies. Universal Athletics can have as many or as few parades as people want. Hopefully, this will provide some inspiration.

Soul & Landscape

Brigand Brewer continues his investigation of Cascadian poets, this time looking at the spiritual in the landscape. Most people referenced in the text are teachers or students taking Cascadia College’s Innovative Cascadian Poetry course.

Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is a good starting place to understand the relationship between a poem and its landscape. Within the monomyth – poetic or otherwise – a  hero (m/f) undertakes a single supernatural and archetypal journey into the landscape; the landscape being home to innumerable heroes, and some unimaginable number of archetypal journeys.

Wobbly Rock

Lew Welch
Lew Welch (1926-1971?)

With respect to Lew Welch’s poem, Wobbly Rock, I appreciated Joe Chiveney’s reference to Gunter Nitschke’s explanation that the garden of Ryōan-ji does not symbolize. Finally, we have an artifact representing the non-symbolic. The qualities incarnated include materiality, location, abstraction, multiplicity, composition and functionality. Like a fiery orator rousing a crowd to rebellion, this Zen temple garden at Kyoto incites the visitor to meditation.

Greg Bem questions the concept of value. I am tempted to reference Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windemere’s Fan” where Darlington defines a cynic as ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.‘ Perhaps we are all cynics unable – in this material world – to appreciate the beautiful and orderly chaos that sustains our biological existence. Perhaps, a spiritual realm encountered after death will reveal a fuller meaning of the experiences that constitute a life.

Michelle Schaefer interprets “I have travelled, I have made a circuit….. When I was a boy” as an acknowledgement of the past as sacred. Then she goes on to add that every moment is sacred, as shown in  “and now all rocks are different and all the spaces in between. Which includes about everything. The instant after it’s made.”

I appreciated Brent Schaeffer’s classification of the poems being discussed.

Soudough Mountain Lookout

Philip Whalen
Philip Whalen (1923-2002)

Mengyu Li presents two of the key lines in Philip Whalen’s Sourdough Mountain Lookout:

BUDDHA: “All the constituents of being are
Transitory: Work out your salvation with diligence.””

The confluence between the passivity of meditating at the garden of Ryōan-ji and the world of restrained action at the Sourdough Mountain lookout is that everyone, in fact – every organic life form, is marching irrevocably, one day at a time, towards its ultimate death. Buddha suggests that our salvation, perhaps more understandably our status or situation after death, is dependent on our actions while we live. It will be too late to regret or to repent for our mistakes after we have left this organic world!

Carol Blackbird Edson notes that she experiences “a resonance of a changing consciousness” in the poems and commentaries selected. My understanding is that she regards the poems, despite their temporal and cultural limitations, as maps to explore the Cascadia bioregion, allowing the reader to enter into deeper relationships with primal nature found therein, and to gain a better understanding of themselves. I’m not quite sure how primal nature differs from other forms of nature, but that is one of my limitations.

Michelle Schaefer comments, “… our bodies are as sacred as our surroundings and they interact together.” I’d like to respond to this by bringing up the Baha’i concept that the essence of human identity is a rational and immortal soul, with the body being a temple temporarily housing the human spirit.

Brent Schaeffer adds to an understanding of the poem with, “Whalen’s exploration of ‘sacred’ is the folkloric/bildungsroman idea of returning to where you are, but seeing it different again for the first time. That only after touching the sacred can we see that our ‘mundane’ has always been sacred.”

Things to do …

Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder (1930- ) photo: Beth Nakamura, 2011

We have all had an opportunity to write our own “Things to do …” poem. One non-poetic of Gary Snyder’s poem is that it provides a template that anyone can follow. The real advantage of this form is that it allows a juxtaposition of events that break with chronology. Michelle Schaefer comments on the line, “Do pushups. Sew up jeans. Get divorced” I am not sure that I agree with her that these represent sacred moments, even if I do admit that they provide insight into human vulnerabilities.

Oceans

In Wobbly Rock, Welch refers to the Pacific Ocean with the lines:

“I like playing that game
Standing on a high rock looking way out over it all:

“I think I’ll call it the Pacific”

Wind water
Wave rock
Sea sand

Thankfully, Welch makes no mention of the Atlantic, which is a foreign intrusion into Cascadia. In contrast, Whalen makes no mention of the Pacific, in Sourdough Mountain Lookout, but does mention the Atlantic, with these lines:

“Everything else they hauled across Atlantic
Scattered and lost in the buffalo plains
Among these trees and mountains “

Oceans are important in terms of our sense of identity. One can regard a continent in its uninhabited state as a succession of barriers, inhibiting movement. An ocean is a flat surface, encouraging movement. Admittedly, storms happen, and there is a need for some form of propulsion. Oceans connect people. The connections may be good (trade?) or bad (war), but mostly somewhere in between.

I have difficulty using the word Pacific in creative works. It invokes a feeling of alienation. Originating with Ferdinand Magellan, who first used it in 1520, finding calm waters after rounding Cape Horn in a storm.

Teresa Lea Schulze brings up the point that, “We are shaped by what is around us…. Humans may think they are unique, but we are connected to all around us. Poems and poetry strip away the ‘over word usage’ and uses the minimal amount to convey the largest picture…” One of the most effective ways we have of conveying the largest picture is to use names. Yet, the name Pacific is presenting a false image – peacefulness. Peaceful is not the essence of this vast ocean, as can be attested by countless sailors. Cascadians have managed to find an appropriate name for the Salish Sea. I hope they will also find an appropriate name for the Ocean that touches their shore.

Markers of Time

Mount Saint Helens
Louwala-Clough (Mount Saint Helens)

As seen in the poems studied this week, places are sacred or, at the very least, have a spiritual component. Just as places in the Cascadian bioregion function as markers of place, so too do events function of markers of time. As the world experienced on 18 May 1980, with the explosion of Louwala-Clough (Mount Saint Helens), Cascadia is an active participant in the Ring of Fire. This event was one of the most important regional time markers. A larger eruption 500 years earlier (1480) was another time marker.

I’d like to thank all of the people who posted before me. They have given many ideas to reflect on.

Brigand

Fake Authenticity

Real authenticity requires too many virtues.
It need continuous maintenance.
Time costs money,
and I haven’t found a store
that sells virtues
at a discount.

Fake authenticity requires only a vice or two,
and comes with automatic upgrades
included in the price.
Stores selling fake authenticity
are found everywhere
at an affordable full price.

I’ve lost track of my version number.
Fortunately, Google knows.
Version 271 is available today
at a variety of prices.
There are not many choices
for fake sustainability.

I opt for fake pseudo-sustainability
that comes in two versions
and a variety of colours.
Which should I choose?
A Zenbook with contrasting Zenfone
or a Macbook Air with matching iPhone?

A Prison Diary

verdal fengsel
The School at Verdal Prison

Four social classes: Prison staff, Inmates, Externals (teachers, nurses, doctors), Visitors.
Day shift: Five guards, five administrators.
Sixty inmates (fifty-four men, six women).
Two teachers, a cleaner and a nurse (two on Mondays).

Four buildings surrounding a square.
Behind:  the pallet workshop.
To the right: the cafeteria with offices (above).
To the left: the warden’s house, now the women’s residence and school.
Built in the 1950s as a civil defense camp.
Shared in the 1960s as a winter prison,
for speeders and drunk drivers.
Now, it is a year round prison
for crimes involving violence, vice and drug addiction.

The gate:
A student, hired as a temporary guard uses his card and pin code,
the gate magically opens.
A teacher, at the prison for an eternity, presses a button and waits
“Yes?”
I answer what they already know, “It’s Brock from the school.”
“Welcome, Brock.” And the gate opens by remote control.
Driving in, I park beside the nurse’s car.

The guardroom (part 1):
Using my card and pin code I enter building 2.
The card works here, but not at the gate.
Social distinctions.
The guards assign me an alarm and a key
mostly the pink one, seldom the green.
I leave through the entrance used by the inmates.

The school:
If the classroom is dark, I turn off the building alarm.
If the lights are on, I know S has been cleaning, and turned the alarm off.
My tasks:
Empty the dishwasher, make coffee and boil water for tea.
LB arrives. Today she will select inmates for the forklift-driving course.
We sit near the entrance, drinking coffee.
At 8:30, five of the six inmates arrive at the school. Usually, one is sick.
LB and I welcome them by their first names.
(The guards use their building, cell and bed numbers)
Most go to their PCs, log in, and read online news.
Some drink coffee, others tea, each year a few drink nothing hot.
Some want to sit down and chat.
Some want to avoid the teachers.
At 9:00, school begins.
LB goes upstairs to her office and calls in potential fork-lift participants, one by one.
In the classroom, each student works alone on his or her studies.
One is eager, but most are not.
Some days I teach some math.
Most of the day I listen.
At 11:45, lunch.
The students go to the cafeteria, and sit at their fixed places for a head count and lunch.
LB and I sit downstairs, eating, drinking water and chatting.
At 12:30, school begins again.
At 13:00, a documentary screens.
The latest was about the Klondike Gold Rush.
Before that, it was about women pop-art painters.
At 14:30, the school day is over (for the students)
I make notes on each student’s work.
I load the dishwasher and turn it on.
I turn on the building alarm and lock the school building.

The guardroom (part 2):
I turn in my key and alarm.
I wait for the guard to let me out of building 2.
I drive to the gate, and wait for the guards to notice me
The gate opens.
I am a free man.