h/t DownWithTyrannyStirling Newberry (Miscellany)
This is the house that Jack bought.This is the mortgage that paid for the house that Jack bought.
This is the fraud, that the mortgage processor committed to get the loan, that paid for the house that Jack bought.
This is the bank, that dished off the loan, that was obtained by fraud, to pay for the house that Jack bought.
This is the quant, who sliced up the loan, by fudging the numbers, so he could take the dished loan, that was obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, the Jack bought.
This is the dealer, who without checking the numbers, shipped off the tranches, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, that was obtained by fraud, to pay for the house that Jack bought.This is the monoliner, that papered the tranches, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house that Jack bought.
This is the investment bank, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house that Jack bought.This is hedge fund, that sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is the tax break, that fed to the hedge fund, that sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.This is deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.This is the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is the takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.This is the pink slip, because of the Takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is Jack's layoff, that is on the pink slip, because of the Takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.This is the foreclosure, brought on by Jack's layoff, that is on the pink slip, because of the Takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is the Fed, that bollixed the policy, to deal with the foreclosure, brought on by Jack's layoff, that is on the pink slip, because of the Takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.This is the Congress, that backed up the Fed, that bollixed the policy, to deal with the foreclosure, brought on by Jack's layoff, that is on the pink slip, because of the takedown, that accelerated the downturn, that followed the War, that ate up the money, that ballooned out the deficit, caused by the tax breaks, that fed to the hedge fund, sold the Default Swap, that securitized the the foreclosure, shipped off by the dealer, with the the quant's fudged up numbers, from the dished out loan, obtained by fraud, to pay for the house, that Jack bought.
This is Bush, they still let him fuck things up. Maybe it would have been different if he had been impeached. We will never know, now will we.I don't know about you, but Jack is looking pretty fucked right now.
Finally, shop stewards continue to disappear at an alarming rate. The latest to go missing is Blotto Bugberry, who vanished without a trace on November 28. The usual rumors of elf bells turning up in reindeer droppings are already making the rounds, but the safety commissioner has found no evidence to support such claims and urges all members to refrain from alarmist talk.
BY MIKE RICHARDSON-BRYANMeeting Update
Over 300 members attended the meeting of November 15, 2008. Most were clearly drunk, and some continued to drink throughout the meeting. Boisterous refrains of bawdy drinking songs did little to expedite union business.
We heard a special presentation by Huffy Hugabug of the Pixie Dust Abuse Hotline. Members were instructed how to recognize the signs of pixie-dust addiction. Half an hour was wasted searching the room for a sample dime bag that predictably went missing during the look-and-learn segment of the presentation.
It was once again proposed that we amend Section 29 of the constitution. Several members convincingly argued that a strident call for the destruction of Israel has no place in the constitution of a labor union. As usual, Tinky Muhammad al-Tunklenut rose to the defense of Section 29, and the matter was referred to committee yet again.
Ten new members took the Toymaker's Oath. Three current members were presented with their journeyman letters. One member was subjected to a prolonged chair beating for reasons not reflected in the minutes.Notices
The next general meeting will be held on Friday, January 16, 2009, at 7 p.m. in the Lodge Hall.
The Occupational Health and Safety Committee will offer a ladder-safety refresher course on Friday, January 9, 2009, at 9 a.m. in the Lodge Hall. All members less than 5 apples tall must attend in order to maintain their certification.
The Elfwives Auxiliary will hold an all-day bake sale on Saturday, January 27, 2009, at the North Pole Fire Hall. Proceeds will go to benefit the Elf Amputee Society, the Severe Burns Survivors Network, and the Belt Sander Accident Awareness Coalition.
The Elvish Mental Health Society will present a workshop on multiple-personality disorder on Friday, January 23, 2009, at 7 p.m. in the Lodge Hall. The guest speaker will be Dr. Fig Foofaraw, best-selling author of Me, My Elf, and I.
The annual toy drive has once again been canceled, due to outright hostility and some arson.Workplace Health and Safety Update
The following elves were killed on the job in November:
* Durnk Dumblebum: overcome by fumes in the Play-Doh silo
* Pongo Plumfoot: asphyxiated on the Mr. Potato Head line after becoming lodged in the ear chute
* Nudge Nickwick: death by the Marburg virus, contracted during research-and-development work on the Actual Barrel of Actual Monkeys prototype
* Snuggy Snufflebottom: succumbed to Nerf lung
* Nobby Niblick: thrown from a rocking horse into an unattended punch press
* Pip Pennypants: incinerated in a suspicious Easy-Bake Oven accident
* Boffo Boggins: mauled by a feral Furby
In addition, Cubby Crumbpot, Pudge Proudtoe, and Winky Whippoorwill were all killed in the deplorable nail-gun fight of November 3.
Finally, shop stewards continue to disappear at an alarming rate. The latest to go missing is Blotto Bugberry, who vanished without a trace on November 28. The usual rumors of elf bells turning up in reindeer droppings are already making the rounds, but the safety commissioner has found no evidence to support such claims and urges all members to refrain from alarmist talk.Ask the Expert
Each month, our own resident expert on labor law, Conker Cobnobble, answers letters from members just like you.
I'm having trouble with a co-worker. He's not a bad elf, but he's always using my tools and then misplacing them. Should I hire a goblin to kill the bastard, or should I do it myself?
Short and Angry
Dear Short and Angry,
Killing a co-worker is something we all enjoy, and no self-respecting elf should pass up the opportunity to thin the herd himself. If detection is an issue, however, then hiring a pro is perfectly acceptable. If you do decide to go with a goblin, remember that it's half now, half later, no exceptions. Just to be sure, you might want to hire a troll to whack the goblin later on, because you know what those guys are like when they hit the pub with a pocketful of blood money. Better torch the pub, too.
- - - -
Do you have a question for Conker? Send it to Ask the Expert, Elf Local 315, Lodge Hall, North Pole.
For you union busters out there:
The economy as a whole requires a large number of people making decent wages and thus having disposable income to spend, while individually companies would like to lower their own labor costs by paying their workers as little as possible. In a sense, companies that pay good wages subsidize those that don't, at least until a tipping point is reached and the pool of well-paid workers is no longer large enough to support poorly paid production. Individual self-interest leads to collective ruin, and it is important to note that both cycles are self-reinforcing, as the worse things get, the more people wish to hoard and the more companies look to cut costs. This is probably why anarchy never really caught on as a political option.
The Economic Case for Unions, (and how they help us all)
In economics, you are taught to look at the labor market as though it was no different from any other market, in which the forces of supply and demand determine the price and quantity. In a perfect world, competition would result in everyone earning their marginal product of labor, a fancy way of saying you’d get paid what you’re worth.
Nearly every conservative rant against unions or raising the minimum wage begins with that assumption. This would be a good example of that. Living wage legislation is “little more than another welfare program”, and accepting unionization akin to drinking kool-aid at Jonestown. After all, if you allow for competition, everyone gets paid what they are actually worth and minimum wage laws and unions interfere with that, right?
Of course, the world is far from perfect, and a large part of the reason it isn’t is that one of the underlying assumptions of a competitive economic system that results in an equitable and fair distribution of resources is that the parties to every contract are equals.
An employer-employee relationship is not one of equals, particularly when you are job-hunting. Rare are the times where the power is tilted the individual employee’s way. A year or two ago in Fort McMurray would be an example, where both the cost of living, isolation, and surplus of very high-paying tar sands jobs meant that companies like Wal-Mart found themselves forced to limit their hours of operation and possibly be forced to shut down due to a lack of people willing to work for their incredibly low prices. Of course, with the collapse in oil prices, that may not be the case much longer. More typically these days, one of the stories at memeorandum a couple of days ago noted that for 8,000 positions in the Obama administration, there are 300,000 applicants. In environments like that, what kind of bargaining power do you think the average worker has compared to their employer?
The more common reality of the employer-employee relationship can be seen in today’s news with the announcement that one of the most notoriously anti-union corporations on the planet, Wal-Mart, is settling a whole host of class-action lawsuits brought against it by its employees for multiple violations of nearly every labor law and all of the even minimal obligations our anti-union conservative friend above said that employers do owe their employees.
An employee making minimum wage or little better is in no position to bargain effectively with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation like Wal-Mart, and, as is the case in most inherently unequal relationships, abuse tends to follow. As much as our conservative friend bemoans the mostly fictitious lack of accountability for union employees who do slovenly work and violate regulations, the fact that it is nearly impossible for individual workers to hold their employers accountable for violations should lead to the same conclusion, committing of these violations with increasing frequency, as today’s Wal-Mart decision shows.
(And before someone blathers on about how this decision shows that Wal-Mart has been held accountable and thus individual employees do have some recourse, please note that the above cases were all class-action lawsuits, brought collectively against the corporation, and even then with considerable outside assistance. And I’m willing to bet that very few of those employees who brought up the abuse cases against Wal-Mart still work there. One employee versus the corporation equals bug-squashing time. Plus, let us not forget that most of those labor laws exist in the first place due to the battling of striking workers from back in the days when such things were illegal and worthy of having the police and National Guard called out to bust up and occasionally kill said strikers. Or, “another form of welfare” forced upon us all by the damned socialists.)
Anyway, back to main point, collective bargaining is born to offset the power of large employers versus tiny employees in labor negotiations. One employee can do very little to affect a large corporation, but all of them combined can at least force a Mexican stand-off by shutting down its operations. Unions put the relationship between employer and employee on a more level footing, and are therefore the proper economic answer to corporations in moving towards a more equitable and efficient distribution of resources.
Read Jonathon Cohn’s article on the auto union’s evolution and note the conditions on the factory floors before the unions were recognized. Not too surprisingly, employees lived in fear of their supervisor’s capriciousness, particularly when times were rough and jobs were tight. And it required government legislation before the unionization efforts were finally recognized and the start of halfway sane labor laws began to take shape.
Cohn’s article also notes that the UAW was behind nearly all of the progressive “welfare-state” reforms of the intervening decades up to the 1970’s, which I figure explains a great deal of the Republican anger towards them. That legacy is a large part of what the non-unionized work force owes them. Most of the labor laws Wal-Mart is paying off former employees for violating wouldn’t even exist without the unions efforts.
The second part of what non-unionized employees owe the unions is the competition they provide. Or perhaps that should be worded, the fear of competition they provide. From Cogitamus, this story from the LA Times:But what the foreign car companies want is to level -- which is to say, wipe out -- the union. They currently discourage their workforce from organizing by paying wages comparable to the Big Three's UAW contracts. In fact, Toyota's per-hour wages are actually above UAW wages.To which Sir Charles adds:
However, an internal Toyota report, leaked to the Detroit Free Press last year, reveals that the company wants to slash $300 million out of its rising labor costs by 2011. The report indicated that Toyota no longer wants to "tie [itself] so closely to the U.S. auto industry." Instead, the company intends to benchmark the prevailing manufacturing wage in the state in which a plant is located. The Free Press reported that in Kentucky, where the company is headquartered, this wage is $12.64 an hour, according to federal labor statistics, less than half Toyota's $30-an-hour wage. If the companies, with the support of their senators, can wipe out or greatly weaken the UAW, they will be free to implement their plan.In other words, non-union workers benefit by the very existence of the threat to unionize. Companies frequently pay wages that are only slightly below the union scale to keep workers from organizing. In the construction industry, it is not unusual for employers to pay a higher take home wage than union workers get while providing much more modest (or no) benefits. Such a strategy works particularly well with young men, who are by definition immortal, and immigrant labor, which often wants to maximize money that can be sent home to waiting families.The anti-union forces like to add the legacy costs of the Big Three to the current workforces compensation to make their case that union employees are overpaid. As noted above, the reality is that they are no better paid than their competitors, because if they were, resentment and envy would likely start turning to thoughts of opportunity, and all the anti-union propaganda and corporate-friendly legislation in the world wouldn't have kept the foreign auto plants non-unionized for long. Their good wages are a testement to the union's power.
Eliminate the union "threat" and there is no reason for an employer to be so generous. What people seem to fail to comprehend is that any concession made in a unionized environment can be met and exceeded in a nanosecond, completely unilaterally by the non-union sector. . . .
Mark my words -- if the UAW were to cease to be a viable entity because of what the Republicans are doing, the wages of the workers at the foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S. will be cut in half within a short time -- exactly the wrong recipe for an economy that is seeking to recover.
Yesterday, Fester noted the “Bugger Thy Neighbour” philosophy driving individuals these days, where it is collectively in our best interests for people with disposable income to spend it, but individually prudent to hoard your own money for the plausible bad times ahead. Over at The Beav’ is the corporate version of said philosophy. The economy as a whole requires a large number of people making decent wages and thus having disposable income to spend, while individually companies would like to lower their own labor costs by paying their workers as little as possible. In a sense, companies that pay good wages subsidize those that don't, at least until a tipping point is reached and the pool of well-paid workers is no longer large enough to support poorly paid production. Individual self-interest leads to collective ruin, and it is important to note that both cycles are self-reinforcing, as the worse things get, the more people wish to hoard and the more companies look to cut costs. This is probably why anarchy never really caught on as a political option.
Governments can't, or at least in my opinion shouldn't, be able to force people to spend or invest their wealth, though they do fiddle with interest rates and tax codes to make certain options more attractive. On the other hand, minimum wage laws and allowing the formation of unions, (as it allows the formation of corporations), are well within government's mandate, and should allow for some collective action and more sound economic bargaining to soften the impact of the coming downturn.
Finally, an argument against Christmas from a socioeconomic perspective. It's a long one, but well worth the Scroogie read...
Why I Hate Christmas
The Grinch has it right
James S. Henry, The New Republic Published: December 31, 1990
When I was a kid in Minnesota my family had a huge Scandinavian feast every Christmas Eve, complete with two dozen relatives, three feet of snow, a mountainous evergreen trimmed to the top, a six-course dinner with lutefisk and turkey and eight or ten pies, long-winded after-dinner stories about baseball and World War II, and, of course, lots of brightly wrapped presents. It has taken me three decades of rigorous economics training and life on the East Coast to shake off the warm nostalgia of those holidays. But I am now willing to say out loud what I suspect many Americans are muttering all across the country at this time of year: Christmas has become a net loss as a socioeconomic institution.
Although for many years Christmas has been justified on the grounds that it is "merry,'' rigorous quantitative analysis establishes that the opposite is the case. Despite claims advanced by proponents that the holiday promotes a desirable "spirit,'' makes people ``jolly,'' etc., the data show that the yuletide time period is marked by environmental degradation, hazardous products and travel, and -- perhaps most important -- inefficient uses of key resources. The holiday is an insidious and overlooked factor in America's dwindling savings rates, slack worth ethic, and high crime rates. Nor does Christmas truly fulfill its purported distributional objective: the transfer of gifts to those who need them. Moreover, the number of people rendered "joyous'' by Christmas is probably equaled or excelled by the number made to feel rather blue. In short, as shown below, although Christmas is an important religious observance that provides wintertime fun for children (who would probably be having fun anyway), it fails the test of cost-effectiveness.
Christmas consumes vast resources in the dubious and uncharitable activity of "forced giving.'' First, it is necessary to factor in all the time spent searching for "just the right gifts,'' writing and mailing cards to people one ignores the rest of the year, decorating trees, attending dreary holiday parties with highly fattening, cholesterol-rich eggnog drinks and false cheer, and returning presents. Assuming conservatively that each U.S. adult spends an average of two days per year on Christmas activities, this represents an investment of nearly one million person-years per season. Just as important is the amount that Americans spend on gratuitous gifts each year -- $40 billion to $50 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department's monthly retail trade sales. Extra consumer spending is often considered beneficial because it stimulates the economy, but the massive yuletide spike creates numerous harmful externalities.
Mistargeted giving is one indication of this waste. According to New York department stores, each year about 15 percent of all retail dollar purchases at Christmas are returned. Allowing for the fact that many misdirected gifts are retained because people feel obliged to keep them (such as appliances, tablecloths, etc., which must be displayed when the relative who gave them to you comes for a visit), and allowing for the widespread inability of children to return gifts, this indicates that up to a third of purchases may be ill-suited to their recipients. Christmas is really a throwback to all the inefficiencies of the barter economy, in which people have to match other people's wants to their offerings. Of course, money was invented precisely to solve this "double coincidence of wants'' problem. One solution would be to require people to give each other cash as presents, but that would quickly reveal the absurdity of the whole institution.
"Forced giving'' also artificially pumps up consumption and reduces savings, since it is unlikely that all the silly and expensive presents given at Christmas would be given at other times of the year. One particularly noxious aspect of Christmas consumption is "conspicuous giving,'' which involves luxury gifts such as Tiffany eggs, crystal paperweights, and $15,000 watches that are designed precisely for those who are least in need of any present at all ("the person who has everything''). Most such high-priced gifts are given at Christmas; the fourth quarter, according to a sampling of New York department stores, provides more than half the year's diamond, watch, and fur sales.
Naturally, gratuitous spending delights retailers. Christmas accounts for more than a fifth of their sales and two-fifths of their profits, which suggests a Marxist explanation for the holiday -- a powerful economic interest underlying the season's gift-centered ideology. But for the nation as a whole it increases the burden of consumer debt (almost a quarter of Christmas season sales are financed by credit cards or charge accounts, and January is the peak month for credit card delinquencies) and reduces our flagging savings rate (now below 5 percent of national income).
For parents, one especially exasperating aspect of Christmas is mindless toy fetishism. Christmas now accounts for 60 percent of the United States' annual $17 billion expenditure on toys and video games, according to the Toy Manufacturers Association. Much of this rapidly depreciating toy capital consists of TV-show tie-ins (there are 350 separate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle products and scores more of Ghostbusters and Bart Simpson figures) and expensive gadgets that do not work or hold interest for more than a day. According to the toy association, the country now spends nearly as much on video games like Nintendo's Super Mario and Gameboy (nearly $4 billion), activity figures like World Wrestlers ($500 million), and dolls like Barbie and My Pretty Ballerina ($1.1 billion) as on all retail book sales ($6.6 billion). Since six of the top ten toys are made by Japanese companies, one might adduce a subtle long-run Japanese strategy here.
What's more, toys are unusually hazardous consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that each year there are thirty-three deaths and 148,000 emergency room admissions due to hazardous toys, plus 1.2 million toy recalls. (The comparative figures for deaths caused by books and book recalls are zero and zero, respectively.) If these deaths, injuries, and recalls are allocated in proportion to seasonal sales, Christmas emerges as the cause of most of them. And one has only to visit any Toys 'R' Us or Child World at this time of year to see the impact of this season's extraordinary pressures on child-parent relations: distraught mothers dragging tiny toy addicts kicking and screaming away from the latest high-priced, cheesy offerings. All of this unproductive consumption would be much better spent on pencil sharpeners, calculators, and green eyeshades.
Christmas increases congestion. At least in large urban areas, it is by far the most unpleasant time to shop, travel, dine out, or go to the bathroom in a mall. Just when stores are at their most crowded, shopping becomes mandatory; just when everyone else is making family visitations, they are de rigueur. December 21 and 22 are the year's peak dates for air travel, according to the Air Transport Association of America, with 1.7 million Americans per day jamming the nation's airports, as against a year-long daily average of 1.14 million. Twenty-three million travel during the period from December 19 to January 4 -- just when the weather is often at its worst and the airlines charge their highest prices.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, the volume of mail traffic more than doubles to 220 million letters and 6 million parcels per day the week before Christmas, battering a system already weakened by tens of millions of catalogs and advertisements during the previous two months. Telephone calls reach as high as 131 million per day in the month from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, according to AT&T. At many stores and post offices, there are long lines, and costly second and third shifts have to be added to handle them, which consumers ultimately pay for. All of this "peak loading'' at Christmas means that airlines, mail delivery, stores, banks, warehouses, telephone systems, roads, and parking lots must be built much larger than if activities were distributed more evenly throughout the year. That wastes precious capital.
Christmas destroys the environment and innocent animals and birds. These have perhaps not been traditional concerns for economists. But when one takes account of all the Christmas trees, letters, packages, increased newspaper advertising, wrapping paper, and catalogs and cards, as well as all the animals slaughtered for feast and fur, this holiday is nothing less than a catastrophe for the entire ecosystem. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 33 million Christmas trees are consumed each year. Growing them imposes an artificially short rotation period on millions of acres of forest land, and the piles of needles they shed shorten the life of most household rugs and pets. All the trees and paper have to be disposed of, which places a heavy burden on landfill sites and recycling facilities, especially in the Northeast.
This year, according to the Humane Society, at least 4 million foxes and minks will be butchered just to provide our Christmas furs. To stock our tables, the Department of Agriculture tells me, we'll also slaughter 22 million turkeys, 2 million pigs, and 2 million to 3 million cattle, plus a disproportionate fraction of the 6 billion chickens that the United States consumes each year. To anyone who has ever been to a turkey farm, Christmas and Thanksgiving take on a new and somewhat less cheerful meaning. Every single day during the run-up to these holidays, thousands of bewildered, debeaked, growth-hormone-saturated birds are hung upside down on assembly-line racks and given electric shocks. Then their throats are slit and they are dropped into boiling water.
Christmas introduces sharp seasonal fluctuations into the money demand. This makes it more difficult for the Federal Reserve to cushion the crests and falls of our economy. This is the peak season for people carrying large denominations around, and currency is a popular Christmas gift mostly among employers. The volume of currency in circulation peaks each year in December, then declines by about 4 to 5 percent.
Christmas leads to a sharp rise in absenteeism and a slump in labor productivity that is unlikely to be recaptured the rest of the year. Many U.S. companies shut down entirely for the two-week period from Christmas to New Year's. For those that stay open, on-the-job performance often plummets because of the season's wild parties and high jinks. Although there is no precise data on absenteeism, according to Labor Department experts, industries like manufacturing and construction are likely to have lower productivity while retailing's productivity is likely to increase.
Far from being "the season to be jolly,'' Christmas is really the season of sadness and despair. This period's compulsory merriment, hypercommercialism, heavy drinking, and undue media emphasis on the idealized, two-child, two-parent, orthodox Christian family makes those who don't share such lifestyles or religious sentiments feel left out, lonely, and even somewhat un-American. And even in so-called normal families, media hype about the season's merriments often raises expectations and sets up many for disappointment. According to Dr. Quita Mullen, a psychiatrist in Boston, many women in particular exhaust themselves trying to meet both the demands of full-time jobs and the more traditional expectations about what holidays are supposed to be like -- provided in part by their (non-working) mothers.
There is also a great deal of emotional stress associated with compulsory overspending and compulsory displays of affection. (Many people reportedly become highly anxious at the sight of mistletoe.) Police, psychiatrists, and hospitals all report that there is a dramatic rise in alcoholic "slips,'' drug overdoses, domestic quarrels, hotline calls, and emergency medical calls at this time of year. "Any redolent setting can be very sad for people who don't have a dancing partner,'' says Mullen. "Christmas is one of those times.''
Christmas is one of the most hazardous times of the year. The combination of trees, lights, blazing hearths, yuletide passion, and other indoor festivities results in more household fires at this time of year than any other. The fire department in Washington, D.C., reports that fire calls in December are 40 percent above its monthly average; New York City had 2,800 residential fires last December, as compared with a 2,000-per-month average.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, December is the peak month for drunk driving and "DWI'' arrests, which last year totaled 1.8 million. Not surprisingly, it is also the peak month for accidents -- because of drunkenness, congestion, and bad weather -- with more than 460,000 last year, compared with a monthly average of only 386,000. In just the three days around Christmas last year, 374 people died on the nation's highways. The only consolation is that last year's Thanksgiving was even worse, with 402 deaths. Of course, weather is a compounding factor -- for most of us in the colder climes, life would be much easier if we could at least agree to observe Christmas in the summer, when the lutefisk is ripe.
December is also the peak month in the United States for robberies. Last year the number reached about 54,000, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, and it is the second highest for auto theft, with about 136,000. Police suspect that all this property crime is because criminals too are propelled by the need to fill their family stockings. December 1989 had nearly 1,900 murders, a disproportionate share. "Christmas is a crazy season,'' says Sag Harbor, New York, Police Chief Joseph Ialacci. "It's a potpourri of emotional extremes -- either quiet or all hell breaks loose. There are more assaults, barroom brawls, and family altercations.''
Excessive eating and drinking are used to compensate for the tribulations of Christmas. According to the Distilled Spirits Council and the Department of Agriculture, in the six short weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year's, this year we will consume $18 billion of alcohol -- including 81 million gallons of hard liquor -- 1.1 billion pounds of turkey, and a huge quantity of ham, cookies, pies, eggnog, stuffing, plum pudding, and other trimmings. All this indulgence does little good for the nation's waistline: Christmas is one of the single most important contributors to obesity -- the average American consumes more than 3,500 calories at Christmas Day dinner alone. Naturally, January is the peak month for diet plans, many of which end up in failure and despair.
Perhaps most important of all, from a purely distributional standpoint, Christmas almost certainly aggravates inequality, since most gift-giving takes place within the family or the same social class, and doesn't reach the people who really need our help. Salvation Army drum-beating aside, Christmas almost certainly reduces our capacity for charity by draining us of wealth that we might otherwise give to the needy, and of our charitable impulses. This is hardly what the person for whom the holiday is named had in mind.
Overall, the message is clear: Christmas imposes a huge efficiency tax on our economy, is hazardous to our health and safety, and does little to further social justice. And the efficiency tax may well be growing in real terms -- an analysis of long-term changes in the seasonality of the U.S. economy suggests that the Christmas buying season has been getting longer and longer. Christmas commercialism, of course, is a modern innovation. The ancient Christians did not even observe the holiday until the fifth century, medieval Christians observed it much more modestly, and the Puritans sensibly refused to celebrate it at all. Only in the last fifty years, with the perfection of mass-market advertising and the commercialization of religion in general, has it become such a command performance.
Modern Christmas is like primitive Keynesianism, a short-run-oriented economic experiment that has been tried and found wanting. It is the flipside of the positive contribution the "Protestant ethic'' once made to capitalism -- Christianity's high holiday now almost certainly makes us feel worse off. What is to be done? I suggest an experimental two- to three-year moratorium on the whole affair, to let us pay our bills and recover some of the distance we've lost. This may sound like tough medicine to youngsters, and to all the other interest groups that have acquired such large commercial stakes in this annual ritual -- from bulb manufacturers to ambulance drivers. But the rest of us can no longer afford it. If we celebrate this holiday at all, we should do so mainly because it is over for at least one more year.
When will we address the achievement gap as it relates to, well, reality? Here is a start:
Study Cites Impact of “Low Quality Parenting” on Achievement
by Robert Pondiscio on December 23, 2008
“Low-quality parenting” can determine the ‘school readiness’ of children from low-income backgrounds,” according to a new report from Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel.
Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook of the University of Bristol in the U.K. analyzed data on 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 and 10,000 children born in the United States in 2001. The children in both studies were followed from the age of nine months onwards, and completed tests in language, literacy and mathematics skills at ages three, four or five. The authors write:During the crucial first few years of life, low-income children experience poorer environments in terms of factors that would promote their cognitive, social and health development.They are more likely to begin school with deficits in their learning ability and social behaviour – and, as a result, they progress more slowly than their more affluent peers and achieve fewer educational qualifications, even in circumstances in which schools serve all pupils equally.The research also shows that “higher-income mothers interact more positively with their children” when they are as young as nine months old, show greater sensitivity to their needs, are less intrusive and provide more cognitive stimulation. These types of behaviors are then strongly related to children’s performance at the time of entry to school, and in particular to language development.Our research identifies lower quality parenting behaviours as a key factor behind the deficits in school readiness of low-income children in the US. If that is indeed the case, the question naturally arises of what can be done to improve parenting skills in the poorest families.A BBC report on the study carries the subhed, “Poor parenting is the key factor behind the significant gaps in readiness for school between children from low and middle income families.” It’s a testament to how deeply ingrained the idea that teachers and schools should be able to overcome all deficits that such a headline seems mildly shocking to American eyes.
The study appears in the University of Bristol’s Research in Public Policy; a podcast with Elizabeth Washbrook on the report is available here.
Steven Weber says it best about Christmas:
Christmas is the Dick Cheney of holidays: it purports to be there for noble purposes but blatantly demonstrates wholly unholy ones. Why even bother pretending to be an elected servant of the people or a joyous time of reflection on the birth of a savior? Go fuck yourself to all and to all a good night.
Is It True Every Time You Hear an Accordion an Angel Gets Kicked in the Nuts?
As Christmas trundles onto the main stage to provide the audience with another gaudy burlesque, I am reminded that the Jesus kid, were he around today, would probably either be trying to put a stop to all the slander his good name has endured by slamming Western culture with a high profile lawsuit or else have his own line of chic yet affordable Shroud of Turin loinwear. For once again, we are treated to a holiday season which doesn't even bother to put up any pretense to its origin, opting instead to be brazen and sans irony about its true purpose: to bring Americans to a fevered, panting orgasm of consumerism.
Christmas is the Dick Cheney of holidays: it purports to be there for noble purposes but blatantly demonstrates wholly unholy ones. Why even bother pretending to be an elected servant of the people or a joyous time of reflection on the birth of a savior? Go fuck yourself to all and to all a good night.
Even though the idea of Christmas can still stir some emotion in my secular spirit I know that it's based not on the vestigial good will I may have toward my fellow citizens but on nascent hopes I entertained as a child, susceptible to such sentimental catalysts like A Charlie Brown Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. Rather than imbue me with an optimism that was applicable in every day life, they resulted in emotions wrung out in response to these and other expertly crafted flickering fairy tales; more manipulation for marketing's sake. Kris Kringle and Charlie Brown were put upon and tortured for our sins and Macy's, Gimbel's and Snoopy had more than capably replaced the three wise men.
And yet, there is real sensual enjoyment to be gotten from the rituals associated with this time of year: the sight of a humble but gorgeously bedecked Christmas tree; the sound of snow crunching under foot on the way to midnight mass; the perfect timbre of a chorale---all of which makes your soul feel as though it's being plucked by a universal luthier. You vibrate sympathetically as though your body were answering an ancient call to participate in something bigger than could ever be imagined by the limits of religious iconography or the Made in Taiwan flimsiness of seasonal bunting.
Since the species seems for the most part to be tumbling headfirst into a cyber abyss (thanks, Facebook, for becoming the physical manifestation of six degrees of separation---how could one NOT fall into that ego-oubliette?) it is sentiment rather than intellect which remains the best hope of defining our humanity in this cold consumer culture. While reason may have failed us, or perhaps more charitably brought us to a point where actual, physical participation is no longer expected or required, our need to find our way through sweet memories of sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells formed in our youthful, hopeful stages before we awoke to the monolithic, monetary reality of Christmas® may be our way back to a more meaningful observation of the holiday. Because with every passing moment of ersatz representations of holy days and holy men, reality becomes so much less inviting.
So why not wallow in or at least savor---if briefly---the sweetness of simplicity and celebrate Christmas within the sentimental realm of the senses? In times like these, it's the best gift money could never buy.
I want to thank The Daily Howler for all his work exposing Rhee for what she apparently is--a resume padding, story embellishing, misrepresenting, KJ loving, liar who is framing the whole conversation about education to the detriment of students, teachers, districts, and research:
This brings us to our topic today: The way Amanda Ripley profiled Rhee on the cover of last week’s Time.
Let’s be clear: Rhee may turn out to be an excellent superintendent of schools in DC. In our view, it’s OK that she’s inclined to bang heads (though she may be inclined to overdo it a tad); we think you should probably err on that side if you’re running a big urban system. But Rhee is a darling of press corps elites, who often know nothing about urban schools. That has led to some unfortunate journalism—as in this important passage from Ripley’s profile of Rhee:RIPLEY (12/8/08): After Rhee graduated from Cornell University in 1992, she joined Teach for America. She spent three years teaching at Harlem Park Elementary, one of the lowest-performing schools in Baltimore. Her parents visited and were stunned by the conditions of the neighborhood. "The area where the kids lived reminded me of a scene after the Korean War," says her father Shang Rhee.Including its gratuitous slam at those bad fourth-grade teachers, that’s the classic foundational tale of the “Rhee is a Miracle Worker” myth. Except for one small fact: The miracle claims attributed to Rhee have been vastly downsized here. In Ripley’s telling, Rhee “started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests”—but after two years of miraculous work, “the majority were at or above grade level.” But that is not what Rhee has said all through her flashy public career. Last year, the Washington Post’s Nikita Stewart actually quoted her long-standing, undocumented, boast:
Rhee suffered during that first year, and so did her students. She could not control the class. Her father remembers her returning home to visit and telling him she didn't want to go back. She had hives on her face from the stress.
The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says. (Baltimore does not have good test data going back that far, a problem that plagues many districts, so this assertion cannot be checked. But Rhee's principal at the time has confirmed the claim.) The experience gave Rhee faith in the power of good teaching. Yet what happened afterward broke her heart. "What was most disappointing was to watch these kids go off into the fourth grade and just lose everything," Rhee says, "because they were in classrooms with teachers who weren't engaging them.”STEWART (6/30/07): Rhee’s résumé asserts that the students made a dramatic gain: "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”On balance, that is a much more dramatic claim than the one Ripley described in Time. According to Rhee’s long-standing claim, she worked so major a miracle that ninety percent of her floundering students ended up “scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” That is a truly astonishing claim—and, in Ripley’s profile of Rhee, that claim has been massively downsized.
That’s right, readers! “A majority” of kids “at or above grade level” is a much more modest claim than the claim which helped Rhee get where she is. So how about it? Has Rhee actually changed her claim? Twice last week, we e-mailed Ripley through the “Contact” mechanism on her web site, hoping we could find out:E-MAIL: I'm wondering about the following passage from your Time profile of Michelle Rhee:We don’t know if Ripley got our request. But we got no reply.
"The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says."
I'm wondering if that is an accurate account of something Rhee said in your interviews with her. I ask because Rhee has made much stronger claims about her students' achievement in the past. For example, on her resume, Rhee was still saying this in 2007: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher." That is a much stronger claim than the one you report.
I realize that you don't quote Rhee in that part of your profile, but I'm wondering if that was an accurate account of something Rhee said about her students' test scores. This would be for further treatment at my web site, The Daily Howler.
With thanks for any help you can give, [etc. and so forth and so on.]
Does this question actually matter? Yes, it does. Here’s why:
Dionne’s “reformers” build their world around the idea of improving the stock of public school teachers. This is a perfectly valid objective—although, in some hands, it can quickly devolve into brainless, old-school union-bashing.
To these heroic “reformers,” Rhee is a leading figure. And if you believe her self-glorying tales, you might start thinking that the only problem in low-income schools involves those lazy teachers. According to Rhee (and others like her), when teachers roll up and their sleeves and get to work, even the lowest-scoring kids end up in the top ten percent. If you really believe such inspiring tales, it’s hard to see why we should waste our time with all those other types of “reform.” We should just send high-minded Princeton kids into the schools and let the miracles happen.
Rhee may turn out to be a good superintendent—but no, we don’t believe her tale. And we think Wendy Kopp should go to jail for that crap she told Charlie Rose last summer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/08). But Charlie just sat there and let her blab, with nothing resembling a real question asked. And this morning, Dionne restricts the use of the loaded term “reform” to Kopp and her tellers of tales.
It matters if Rhee’s hero tale is correct. Tales like that have created bogus ideas about low-income schools for the past forty years now. Unfortunately, Time sent an unschooled scribe to profile Rhee, and through some process or another, she vastly downsized Rhee’s long-standing claim—perhaps without even realizing. Last week, we asked her how this change had occurred. But in the world the Dionnes and Roses have built, you don’t really question “reformers.”
Meanwhile, low-income kids can go hang in the yard; our journalistic world is built around pleasing tales, not the real search for “reform.” Press elites have always found it pretty to believe pleasing tales like Rhee’s. For ourselves, we don’t believe her inspiring tale—and we think the search for real success will surely be hard, and quite long.
This just in from the ivory tower: Uh-oh! Both camps in Dionne’s column have valid objectives. But read back through the two sets of reforms. Neither group mentions instructional practice! Such fluff isn’t mentioned at all.