Austerity Bites–The Hunger Games

by on May 26, 2013

Despite the collapse of any intellectual justification for cutting deficits during times of economic weakness and the political defeat of those factions supporting such so-called “austerity” policies, both tired and largely ignorant defenses of deficit cutting continue (even from the so-called “left”) and even governments elected on opposing austerity have continued to cut spending and increase taxes.  The results, as Krugthullu never tires of pointing out (and has increasingly been naming names in doing so), have been predictably catastrophic.  Unemployment, in particularly long-term unemployment (and let’s be clear here, it would be better to call this “the never to be employed again”) has been stubbornly high in the United States and spiking everywhere in Europe.  Economic performance is anemic at best–thus proving the austrians and their supporters “spectacularly and obviously wrong,” and yet data is waved away with the conviction of a bunch of evangelicals presented with dinosaur fossils.

Yet for an historian, the obvious metric to judge all these claims is a very simple one–hunger.  While it is difficult to measure hunger (we are at times reduced to such approaches as counting famines and measuring army recruits), the effort is always worthwhile since those societies stressed by rising rates of what economists rather euphemistically call “food insecurity” are likely candidates for collapse, political instability or rampant disease.  Such societies, mind you, may not be countries with declining agricultural productivity–indeed, large-scale food exports are often linked to the increase of hunger:  Russian peasant famines in the late Tsarist period went hand-in-hand with Russia’s massive grain exports (see Stalin, too, who played this hunger game), the Irish have been mystified (well, not really) to this day how their culture was destroyed by the blight on one crop while so many other foodstuffs were exported to the industrial cities of Britain.  Thanks to such theorists as Thomas Malthus and bureaucrats as Sergei Witte, the victims of such impoverishing government policies were always found to be the authors of their own distress.  As the great Russian historian Kliuchevsky observed, “As the state grew fat, the people grew thin.” (Although other folks, including the radical geographer Mike Davies would probably amend this to “As the empire grows fat . . . ).

By this reckoning, the leading Western nations aren’t doing so well.  In fact, they are doing rather poorly.   A new Pew report indicates that survey results indicate that many more people are having trouble feeding their families than did prior to the Lesser Depression.   Olga Kazan in The Atlantic has broken the numbers down into handy chart form and they paint a picture of massive, austerity-produced pain.  Pew asked respondents, “Have there been times during the last year when you did not have enough money to buy food your family needed?” The numbers answering “yes” have spiked up to and even past the 20% threshold.

Have there been times during the last year when you did not have enough money to buy food your family needed? (c/o The Atlantic)
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Opera Of The Material World

by on May 20, 2013

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Occupy The Dept Of Justice

by on May 20, 2013

BKuz-N_CcAIQcwy.jpg_large Victims of illegal foreclosures and other outraged citizens have taken their protest to the doors of the US Department of Justice today, armed with furniture as well as banners, anger and wit.



Barricades coming down, couches coming in, banks stole our homes, so we’re moving in.

For color commentary, with photos, follow Alexis Goldstein on Twitter (it might not make the TV news), or check out her story-fication of events.


For a primer on the mortgage scam from Matt Taibbi, click here.

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Victoria Day Doo Dah

by on May 20, 2013

Happy Victoria Day!

Victoria aged 4

(And to our readers outside Canada, psst, it’s Victoria Day) Queen Victoria: longest reigning British Monarch, first to be crowned Empress of India (a tad presumptuous), last of the House of Hanover, longest-lived British monarch until Elizabeth II recently surpassed her. Victoria’s reign saw 20 British governments come and go, and her name is evocative of the height of Empire, of the flowering of British sciences, letters and invention, of the Dickensian horrors of industrialization, and of class rigidity, pomposity and prudery. So enjoy the day, but keep your pleasures confined within the limits of British decency, and keep those suggestive table legs covered up.

…in nómine partridge and fillet of herring…

Vivian Stanshall as a Pied Piper in a Garret in the Palace

More doo dah after the break.
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by on May 14, 2013

It must be Friday. Two colleagues are making rounds of the cubicles. They carry thin cardboard boxes, limply open, full of slices of spongy and creamy cake wrapped in cellophane. A friend with a camera follows. You take a piece of cake and you have your picture taken with the cake giver.

It’s the cake giver’s last day at work and this is the tradition. It’s been a few weeks since the last one. Some months it’s every week and sometimes it’s not just Fridays.  Usually I don’t know the person but I often still get a piece and a picture. Today I know one of them.

A few weeks ago as I waited by the bathroom for the cleaners to finish, Jane turned in her chair and motioned to me. 

-I have a secret. Promise not to tell?

-You’re leaving.

-How did you know?

– It’s the only secret people tell me.

My colleagues, fresh from university and at their first job, work hard. They are well paid, jumping straight into middle-class from the first day, but I imagine the working life which they once thought glamourous disappoints with long hours and weeks away from home. They lack the evenings and weekends spent at part-time work at movie theatres shovelling popcorn or at fast food places mopping floors. They don’t know that the better life is trudging days.

And most have options: some are hunted, some have found other things, and some just want a break. They think that the job around the corner is better – better pay and less overtime. But it’s another job. At four years, I am a veteran. It’s not just the factories and the construction companies that suffer from high turnover. A booming and diversifying economy brings options to educated people with experience, even only a year.

With the cake comes email. Long, flowery, overly earnest and sentimental, the message thanks everyone. Frequently 500 words or more, the messages read like high school yearbook essays – friends forever, keep in touch, miss you. They are less filling and more saccharine than the cake but equally well-intentioned.

The cake is eaten, the message deleted.


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Maywa Denki – Dedicated To Whimsy

by on May 14, 2013

Innumerable species play, and many – certainly many primates – laugh and tease and jest. But are we alone in our ability to grasp, appreciate, and delight in the absurd? How stands the octopus on Dada? (On his head-foot, of course.) As this video of the Maywa Denki group illustrates, true nonsense requires a most subtle and flexible mind, and whimsy takes dedication.

Via Laughing Squid

Originally posted May 24, 2011

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Are You A Hippie, And If Not…Wherein Not?

by on May 14, 2013

In this 1968 episode of Firing Line, William F. Buckley and sociologist Lewis Yablonsky attempt to put Hippie-ism, in the persons of a gooned and pugnacious Jack Kerouac and Ed Sanders of the Fugs, under the microscope. A stilted sort of hilarity ensues. Buckley smirks, Kerouac blunders, swinging wildly, Yablonsky drones and Ed the Fug, alone, emerges with personal dignity intact.

Via Open Culture

William F.: Do you draw any generalities on the basis of the behavior of the Soviet Union [in Czechoslovakia] which instruct you in assessing other political situations…

Ed the Fug: Yeah, like Mayor Daley in Chicago.

William F.: What are those?

Ed the Fug: Those are, when you attempt to, essentially peacefully, gather together to press a point about a war, about freedom, or about freedom of journalism, that you are confronted by people like the Soviet leaders, like the leaders in Chicago, namely Mayor Daley… …you’re confronted with essentially the same position. No, you’re not allowed. You are clubbed. You are maced. You are gassed, freaked, zapped, pushed over. If you are an old lady, you get thrown through a plate glass window. If you’re a cripple, you are thrown against a street light. If you are a peaceful, long-haired, loving protestor, you are smashed and knocked down. If you are a camera man, you are bricked and your camera is destroyed, and your blood is splattered all over you… I mean it’s a nefarious scene.

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Legendary Maritime folksinger and feminist Rita MacNeil has died, at the age of 68

by on April 17, 2013

The Cape Breton singer died on Tuesday as a result of complications from surgery. She recorded 24 albums over her career, and her song “Working Man” will live on as an evocative and emotional tale of mining-culture in the mid-Twentieth century. I would describe her sound as Celtic showtunes, or 80s adult contemporary imbued with local flair. MacNeil’s Christmas TV specials were a delight. At the core of each song—the lyrical heart—was an evident love of the east coast life.

In 2008, it was widely reported that the RCMP had maintained a file on MacNeil in the 1970s, before she had embarked on a singing career, tracking her “Women’s Liberation” activities. As noted in a Toronto Star article from August 2008,

In the early 1970s, MacNeil was a married mother of two children and living in east-end Toronto. Every Tuesday night, she’d attend downtown meetings with women from all walks of life where, MacNeil says, they talked mostly about equal rights. The Mounties infiltrated the Toronto Women’s Caucus, starting in the late 1960s. The force kept tabs on the group’s activities and compiled biographical sketches of its members, including MacNeil.

In the article MacNeil quips, “What’s radical about equal pay for equal work? And trying to empower women to reach the potential that they have? The only thing I’m sorry about now is I didn’t know I was under surveillance, or I would have got them to drive me home.”

Rita represented the women and men of the Maritimes with her beautiful, genuine, and passionate voice. Her music will be missed.

On Rita & Cape Breton

ECMA Tribute to Rita in 2005:

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BC Film And Television – All Quiet On The Western Front?

by on April 17, 2013

BC FilmA precipice has been steadily building over the last five years and with the collapse of the global economy, parity of the Canadian dollar and an aggressively competitive marketplace, BC’s film and television production industry is teetering on the edge of it. What used to be the third largest producer of film and television in North America next to Los Angeles and New York is now slipping past fifth place. Film and television production in BC was a 1.2 billion dollar a year industry. Now the twenty-five thousand workers directly employed in this sector have their livelihoods hanging in the balance. What is behind this monumental slide and why is the present government refusing to do anything about it? I pursued veteran actor and UBCP board member, Ellie Harvie and current face of Save BC Film, Wayne Bennett, for answers.

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Explosions Rock Boston Marathon

by on April 15, 2013

Two people were killed – including an 8-year-old boy – and at least 100 were injured as two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, today.

The attack occurred without warning, and the devices appear to have been planted in the spectator section. Boston Police have no information on who was responsible at this point, but they are not ruling this out as an act of terrorism. No individuals or groups have claimed responsibility, at this time.

In a statement, President Obama has said that “we still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this … Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

In this video: a scene of chaos, as the second bomb goes off:

Why the Vatican? Because Mussolini

by on April 14, 2013

CGP Grey provides a pithy tour of the worlds only elected, non-hereditary, absolute monarchy.

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Tears For Madam Medusa

by on April 8, 2013

Richard Thompson ~ Mother Knows Best

So you think you know how to wipe your own nose
So you think you know how to button your clothes
You don’t know shit
If you hadn’t already guessed
You’re just a bump on the log of life
‘Cos Mother knows best
She tells everybody she was born in a ditch
She backcombs her hair till she looks like a witch
Wolves in her train, serpents suckle at her breast
Don’t forget to wash behind your ears
‘Cos Mother knows best
O you lost your job, well ain’t that a shame
Got nobody but yourself to blame
You deserve everything you get for such carelessness
And don’t eat your peas off the knife
O Mother knows best
So your baby’s hungry
So your baby’s sick
Don’t make babies, that’ll do the trick
Put another string of barbed wire in your little love nest
It’s better than a cardboard box
Mother knows best
She got a zombie army to serve her well
She got a thousand bloodhounds from the gates of Hell
She got a hundred black horses with sulphur and coal on their breath
And she rides the unbelievers down
Mother knows best
She says, bring me your first-born
I’ll suck their blood
Bring me your poor
I can trample in the mud
Bring me your visionaries
I can put out their eyes
Bring me your scholars
I’ll have them all lobotomised
Mother knows best

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