Archive | September 2012

Barack Obama: Factory Job Killer? Not.

Manufacturing Employees per Capita

I keep reading that Obama has killed manufacturing jobs. The only gains in manufacturing jobs (per capita) since Bush was elected have occurred during Obama’s term. Granted, many of these gains have been the result of factories coming back online after the crash of 07/08, but still, the claims are entirely disingenuous.

Bush never existed. I have to remind myself of this every once in a while.

Manufacturing jobs have been declining for decades, however. There is no evidence that a Romney presidency will change this trend.

It’s also interesting that there were no dramatic gains during Reagan, who is credited with loosening regulations and cutting taxes. Both Bush and Reagan saw steady drops in manufacturing. The only time there has been any stability in the manufacturing sector was during Clinton.

It is even more interesting, that Bush’s manufacturing decline after the collapse of the tech bubble saw neither gains nor a flattening of job numbers, but rather an uninterrupted drop.

I feel as this wasn’t an issue in the election of 2004. It’s debatable as to how much power a President has to determine the state of the economy but the idea that there haven’t been gains in jobs under Barack Obama is just outright fantasy.

The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories

Today, I’m sitting in on the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories symposium, a research dissemination event bringing film scholars working in the field of East Asian cinema.

While I don’t speak the same academic language as many of the presenters, it’s enjoyable to be here and see so many people working diligently on a subject as obscure as East Asian cinematic history. It is fascinating to sit and listen to discussions of Japanese colonial cinema, the philosophy of Maeda Ai, and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun’s “amateur” analysis of an obscure Japanese writer’s 1941 work on Democracy and cinema. Wow.

As always, I am struck as the paucity of discussions of modern cinematic and artistic history. I remember when I was an undergrad, studying German literature and cinema, being frustrated by the seeming reluctance of academics to work with current literatures and cinemas. While it is certainly safe to work in spaces where philosophies and criticisms are recorded, accepted and preciously interpreted, academic thought cannot progress by resting forever on the laurels of Foucault, Derrida and what academic libraries are willing to provide shelf space for. Admittedly, this impression is entirely based on the limited number of presentations I have seen to this point and likely not fair to those whose work I am not so familiar with, but this impression is what sticks.

Orignally, I had intended to go to graduate school in the humanities, specifically in Japanese film studies. Life, of course, got in the way and things turned out differently. I am most satisfied with the ways things turned out, but I am happy to have a background in the humanities. I often question to utility of segregating academics into the disciplines, the borders between which are often artificial and created for reasons other than academics. I find that we have much to offer one another, though little opportunity to interact. For someone as intellectually schizophrenic (if that can be considered a positive) as myself, I think that’s a shame.

Tonight, Ozu’s Tokyo no Yado, a Japanese silent, will be shown to live musical accompaniment and dialogue performed by a practicing benshi. Before talkies, silent films in Japan were narrated live. Often the narrators (benshi) were more popular than the movies themselves. Kataoka Ichirou is one of 15 practicing benshi in Japan and is visiting Ann Arbor for the next six months. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly last night. Hopefully I will be able to interview him before he leaves.

I was Interviewed by Mark Maynard on the Problem of Food Prices

And I’m still reeling. Tonight, I’ll be giving a haphazard lecture on the problem of rising food prices and the issue of agricultural commodity financialization for NWAEG (New World Agriculture and Ecology Group) here at the University of Michigan.

Mark was kind enough to interview me for the event, vastly overstating its relevance (my talk, the issue is very relevant).

Unfortunately, though, Mark is going to forego to the event to watch comedian and former Republican hopeful, Herman Cain.

You can find the interview here.

My Life as a Welfare Parasite

How the right views the poor (from a right wing blog).

Mitt Romney has finally spoken for the American right and the news is that they hate me. So that we can get it all out on the table, I thought I’d make a list of all the assistance I’ve received from the United States government.

I’ve gotten aid from government programs for most of the years I’ve been on this planet. Here an abridged version of my “dependency” story. I have estimated my total cost to tax payers in a table following.

First, My father died in an accident in 1974 while a graduate student at and in the employ of the University of Michigan. My mother and I qualified for payments under Workman’s Compensation. This benefit would last until I turned 18. We also qualified to receive Social Security benefits until I turned 18.

In a moment of insanity (sorry mom), my mother quickly married a drug addicted sociopath. I seem to recall that he had a job at some point, though the facts are probably as hazy as the Darvocets left him. Given that he liked to spend the household money on drugs, we never had much food. The Social Security payments and Workman’s Comp (and my mother’s later paychecks) were the only things that kept us even minimally fed. Even as an young child, I was conscious of this lifeline. One can certainly blame my mother, if one felt so inclined, but the fact is, at 5, I had nothing to do with it.

Second, in the Fall of 1989, my girlfriend and I discovered that she was pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an option, though we had no clue as to how to go about birthing, let alone caring for, a child.

My child’s mother was under 21 so we qualified for full medical care under Medicaid. The federal government and the State of Michigan paid 100% of medical costs at the University of Michigan Hospital. Naturally, we qualified for food assistance under WIC and Food Stamps.

Lastly, job prospects for near drop outs of Mississippi public schools (GPA: 1.5, priceless) were nil, even in 1990. Being literate and looking at a life of washing dishes, my only option was to return to school, which required the assistance of the federal and state governments. I worked my way up through publicly funded community college, and then the University of Michigan.

So here it is, as far as I was able to estimate:

Total Estimated Government Aid

This is, of course, incomplete. The government has also picked up the tab for the interest on my student loans, part of my graduate education was supported by a federally funded program, my wife receives financial aid as well, etc. etc. In total, my family and I have probably taken advantage of more than a quarter of a million dollars in government support. Neither I nor my parents ever made any significant financial contribution to offset this money (unlike programs like Medicare) prior to receiving it.

My point here, though, is that this money was not wasted (I hope). Without that support, my world (as trailer trash) and my education would have been impossible. Some of the reasons I’ve taken this road of serving the public good include the generous support I received from publicly funded programs. Knowing how people live at the bottom doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s easy to be cynical about the failures of government and difficult to recognize the successes of publicly funded programs. Efforts to improve the lives of the public through publicly funded programs can, and do, work every day. I also know that I’m not alone, having been surrounded by formerly impoverished individuals who now have gone on to productive careers.

In contrast to fostering “dependence,” public assistance has instead made me, and other low income students, wholly independent. Having an education behind me, I will never, ever need food assistance again. If I’m lucky, I will be able to partially forego income and medical assistance in old age. If I’m lucky, I will be able to leave a chunk of money in a small private fund to help out others like myself. At least that’s my hope.

So, I very much thank you, tax payers. I promise that your sacrifice will not have been in vain.

Tuesday Night Jams: A.P.E.S. (Adam Autrey,Pete Larson, Erik Talley, Scott Nydegger)

I was making dinner tonight and put my MP3 player on random. On comes a tune, and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, this guitar player sounds great!” 10 minutes later, I realize that the person playing guitar is myself.

Erik Talley is a violinist and luthier from North Carolina. If you listen to the tunes, you will hear how good he is.

Adam Autry is one of the craziest drummers alive and used to play in the legendary Olneyville Sound System. Both Adam and Erik live in Providence, RI. Both are far better musicians than me.

Rounding out the group was Scot Nydegger of Sikhara/Radon Records fame. For some odd reason, we had him playing bass (he normally plays percussion).

We recorded this in either late 1999 or early 2000 at my warehouse space in Providence, “the Bulb Clubhouse” where we used to host live bands and spontaneous recording session. I probably hadn’t listened to this since the day we recorded it, but it still sounds great. The guitar player is less impressive to me, after realizing that he’s me, but it still makes some great cooking music. Enjoy.

You can download it here:
Single zip file of all mp3s and artwork

or just listen to it here:

Late Night Break In
Stolen Window
Nigerian Church
A Jeweler’s Nightmare

Rising Food Prices Might Be Causing Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa

Rising food prices and food riots

Last week, I put together a small post hypothesizing that rising food prices are associated with protests in South Africa. I showed how the pattern of newspaper reports on protests follows the current pattern on rising food prices, as measured through the FAO worldwide Food Price Index.

Turns out, researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute had the same idea, but they applied it to food riots in the Middle East and North Africa. The results of their research are presented to the left.

The pattern is the same. Riots tend to be clustered during rapid price increases, and sparse (non-existent) when prices drop.

I have already written on the influence of Wall Street on price rise and volatility. This frightening pattern is no accident. If this result and mine are any indication, unrest will continue. Food prices will likely continue rising, with some intermittent drops.

My feeling is that the recent explosion of protest in Islamic countries is less related to a childish video, and more about individuals unable to properly feed their families. Given the United States financial sectors complicity in creating these conditions, they are right to be angry. Until the Americans become proactive toward regulating food commodity speculation, this situation will only worsen.

It is my opinion that this will be the most important issue of our time, and could very lead to massive instability and violence.

Anti-Japanese Sloganeering in China Turns Revolutionary

Chinese vendor bites back


I have been following the recent row between China and Japan over a small set of islands north of Taiwan. While most of the rhetoric publicly available from the Chinese side is pretty standard nationalistic nonsense (“Kill all Japanese!”), the following was an intriguing twist.

The sign reads:


No medical insurance, no social security, yet the Diaoyu Islands must be in your heart.

Even if the government does not take care of the elderly, we should recover the Diaoyu Islands.

No property rights, no human rights, but [our nation] contends for the sovereign rights of the Diaoyu Islands.

[We] can’t buy a home, can’t build a tomb, but we contest every inch of ground with the Japanese.

It made me think of similar nonsense at home, but clearly their situation is much worse. Senseless violence over territory and blind ideology is pretty useless if a country can’t even take care of its own people.

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