Tinder and OkCupid have given up on finding you a soul mate. Their ads even admit it. – by Lisa Bonos (Washington Post) 13 Dec 2018

We have reached a new height of dating-app fatigue: Even the online matchmakers have given up on finding you a soul mate.

It’s not that you’re hopeless. You’re wonderful! You’re a unique snowflake – so unique, in fact, that you should keep swiping and stay single as long as possible.

 

If you’ve seen ads for OkCupid or Tinder recently, you might notice something conspicuous: There’s little mention of love or partnership. Instead of trying to convince users that their perfect match is just a click or a swipe or a wink away, OkCupid and Tinder are touting the joy of meeting new people yet remaining unattached.

Both brands are advertising in high-traffic areas in Washington. OkCupid has its edgy “DTF” ads at select Metro stations, and Tinder’s video ad cycles through huge screens on the side of Capital One Arena. Tinder’s ad shows a gaggle of diverse young people throwing their hands in the air and roller-skating under dreamy pink and blue neon lights – as if footage from a night out has been put through the Amaro Instagram filter. “Single is a terrible thing to waste” is superimposed over the carefree images. They skate in single-file, alone together – no one holding anyone’s hand.

OkCupid’s message depicts a range of relationship types. It rebrands “DTF” – that acronym that’s slang for promiscuity, starts with “down to” and isn’t fully printable in a family newspaper – by recasting that F into all sorts of permutations. The images from artists Maurizio Cattelan (the provocateur of golden-toilet fame) and Pierpaolo Ferrari feature interracial and same-sex pairs. A few of the messages depict passion: Down to Fall Head Over Heels and Down to Furiously Make Out. But they’re also playful: Down to Focus on My Chakras. Down to Farmer’s Market. Down to Forget Our Baggage. Some are political: Down to Fight About the President. Down to Filter Out the Far Right. And others make comments about gender politics: One reads Down to Foot the Bill. (The company says those many permutations mirror the dozens of questions OkCupid users can answer to help get matched.)

In these ads, being single is a terrible thing to waste, while other companies’ ads cast it as a terrible thing – to be fixed. A decade ago, commercials for Match.com, eharmony and others focused on reducing the stigma of online dating. They featured smiling, happy couples gushing about how lucky they are to have found each other – and noted how everyone seemed to know of an online dating success story. This kind of magic was theoretically waiting for you, if only you would look for companionship online, too.

Now that the stigma has been dismantled, Match.com still hawks itself as a place to find a committed relationship. But what if you’re not ready for something that serious? OkCupid and Tinder are reminding you that there’s a different app or site for each stage in a single person’s life – and Match.com’s parent company, IAC, owns both of those and more. The longer you’re swiping or searching, the longer these apps can monetize those matches through their premium memberships.

Of course, Tinder can’t say that outright. “We are pro-couples; we want people to meet people,” says Jenny Campbell, Tinder’s chief marketing officer. But, she adds, “We also want to be there when you’re out there exploring.” And that’s exactly what Tinder’s ads communicate: Finding lasting love before 30 would be tantamount to squandering your freedom.

The dating app’s other ads proclaim: “Congrats on your big breakup”; “Single does what Single wants”; “Single never has to go home early.” Based on grammar alone, Tinder is making a statement: Single is a noun, a state of being, not an adjective that might apply for a short time. It’s recognizing that its target 18-to-29 demographic isn’t necessarily looking for that soul mate just yet. The app is also owning up to the criticism it gets – that it’s only for hookups and casual connections – rather than showing you footage from Tinder weddings.

“There’s less of a focus on finding The One and more on finding yourself and living your best single life,” Campbell says of today’s 20-something lifestyle.

These new ads also have an implicit feminist message. One of the goals of Tinder’s ad campaign, Campbell says, was “to help alleviate the social pressures women face. There’s so much judgment out there. This is a time in your life where you should be savoring experiences.”

Similarly, Melissa Hobley, OkCupid’s chief marketing officer, says the site’s DTF campaign is an attempt to take an acronym that can be aimed negatively at women and spin it as a positive thing. “The idea was: We wish there were some things we could change about dating, including the DTF phrase,” she says, noting that “the F should be whatever the F you want it to be.”

These implied meanings and the politically themed “Fs” also reflect how important politics have become in singles’ dating lives. Hobley noted that in the past two years, the dating site has seen a 1,000 percent increase in political terms showing up in daters’ profiles.

But those buying the advertising aren’t always willing to take such definitive stances. Washington’s Metro system rejected OkCupid’s ads that read Down to Fantasize About 2020 and Down to Filter Out the Far Right, with an image of a woman dropping a gun into a toilet. (OkCupid kicked white supremacist Chris Cantwell off its platform in 2017 shortly after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.) Hobley says New York City’s subway system also rejected the ad against the far right.

For both online dating portals, it’s their first foray into formally marketing their products. Tinder got its start through word-of-mouth advertising on college campuses in 2012; OkCupid has been around since 2004 and was ripe for some rebranding.

Both companies seem to be conveying a lightness to combat the drudgery of swiping. Brian Delaurenti, 28, of Portland, Oregon, is one-half of the popular Instagram account @thegaybeards with his best friend Johnathan Dahl. OkCupid is one of the many brands Delaurenti and Dahl have partnered with, partly because they know how hard it can be to be single and looking.

“You start to feel inadequate or you feel rejected,” Delaurenti said in a phone interview. However, OkCupid’s ad campaign “makes you realize [dating] is not so much sitting down and grabbing a drink, but instead reminding yourself that meeting someone and putting yourself out there can lead to all these incredible things you can do.”

Archive

US: Defying Predictions, Labor Union Membership Isn’t Dropping Post-Janus Supreme Court Ruling – By Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene – 10 Dec 2018

The Supreme Court’s ruling was expected to diminish union membership. But so far, many unions have actually increased their numbers since the verdict. Conservative groups are working to reverse that trend in the long run.
December 10, 2018
 

SPEED READ:

  • The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling was expected to lead many members to drop out of unions.
  • But so far, union membership remains steady or is actually increasing in some places.
  • This can partially be attributed to actions that states have recently taken to protect unions.
  • Conservative groups will seek to build on their Janus momentum in state legislatures next year with legislation that further erodes union power.

Five months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt what was seen as a massive blow to unions in Janus v. AFSCME.The justices banned the collection of union fees from public workers who receive union-negotiated benefits but choose not to belong to the union.

The ruling had an immediate negative effect on union finances. In Pennsylvania, for instance, refunding fees to nonmembers resulted in a roughly 15 percent loss of the $42.5 million that unions collected from executive branch members and nonmembers in 2017, according to the state’s Office of Administration.

The court’s decision also led many to predict that massive defections of union members would follow. But so far, even as anti-union organizations wage campaigns to convince members to drop out, most are staying put. Some unions have actually increased their numbers since the Janus verdict.“I think the right wing thought this would decimate public-sector unions, and they were clearly wrong,” says Kim Cook of the Cornell University Worker Institute, which provides research and education in support of unions and workers’ rights.

According to Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, “After the Janus case, public-service workers are choosing to join AFSCME at a much higher rate than those who drop.”

But Ken Girardin, analyst for the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy in New York, says that many employees are still uninformed about their right to leave unions and that it will take a few years to see significant declines in membership.

“Based on what we’ve observed, you will likely see a multi-year drop in membership, driven chiefly by the fact that people aren’t going to join in the first place,” says Girardin. “The next cohorts of employees won’t join at the same rate as the retirees they are replacing.”

In the meantime, state unions are seeing similar trends to AFSCME.

In Pennsylvania, 50,072 state executive branch employees were members of unions at the time of the Janus decision. That number has increased to 51,127, according to the state’s Office of Administration. In Oregon, the Local 503 chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reported in September that new union members have outnumbered dropouts by three to two. In California, data from the Controller’s Office show a small increase in state employee union membership, which totaled 131,410 in October — up a small fraction from 131,192 in June.

“The decision didn’t have the major impact on membership that was anticipated,” says Science Meles, executive vice president of a Chicago chapter of SEIU, which had about 23,800 members in August 2017 and now has about 26,000.

While the National Education Association, which represents roughly 3 million employees of schools and colleges, says it immediately lost dues from 87,000 people who were nonmembers being charged, it has not seen a significant drop in membership. According to Staci Maiers, the group’s senior press officer, “Our affiliates have signed up more new members as of October 1 than they have previously by this point in time.”

Why Hasn’t Union Membership Dropped Since Janus?

Fearing a loss at the Supreme Court, unions have been running aggressive membership drives since before the Janus ruling. Their membership may also be sustaining or thriving because people aren’t aware of the Janus decision or because of actions taken by states to protect unions. As we previously reported, some Democratically controlled states have recently made it harder for public employees to leave unions.

New Jersey limited the time frame when government workers can withdraw from their union. New York banned state agencies from releasing employees’ personal data that could be used by union-busting groups to persuade members to pull out. California, New Jersey and Washington now prohibit public employers from discouraging union membership and guarantee unions full access to hiring orientation sessions so they can explain the advantages of membership. In New Jersey, employers that break this law will be forced to reimburse unions for any lost dues.

Due to procedural hurdles and union tactics, the “number of folks who have successfully resigned post-Janus is much smaller than the number that have attempted to resign,” says Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy for the Freedom Foundation, which has waged an aggressive campaign in the Northwest to urge public-sector employees to give up their union membership.

Meanwhile, labor experts believe that counter-legislation will emerge that seeks to lessen union power. When conservative lawmakers convened at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference last month, Mark Janus himself, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, urged them to champion the model bills ALEC is pushing that would further hurt unions.

In Pennsylvania, a Senate committee held a hearing at the end of October to consider a comprehensive bill that would change the commonwealth’s practices to make it easier to leave unions.

“If the rules aren’t settled now by legislation, they will be determined by aggressive tactics by unions to keep their members,” said Terrence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, at the Senate hearing.

Groups that cheered the Janus ruling are also continuing to take laws that protect unions to court. The Fairness Center, self-described as “a public interest law firm that provides free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials,” is suing AFSCME over a Pennsylvania law that lets unions impose a limited time frame in which members can drop out.

But some say the ultimate survival of public-sector unions will depend not on preventing dropouts but on their ability to convince new employees that union membership is important.

“As new employees are hired, unions have to make a pretty strong case that people should join,” says Cook of the Worker Institute. “We’re feeling good about the lack of impact so far on union membership because of the Janus decision. But that’s no guarantee for the long run.”

France: The Indiscreet Charm of the Gilets Jaunes – by C.J. Hopkins – 11 Dec 2018

shutterstock_1246651888

 

So it appears the privatization of France isn’t going quite as smoothly as planned. As I assume you are aware, for over a month now, the gilets jaunes (or “yellow vests”), a multiplicitous, leaderless, extremely pissed off, confederation of working class persons, have been conducting a series of lively protests in cities and towns throughout the country to express their displeasure with Emmanuel Macron and his efforts to transform their society into an American-style neo-feudal dystopia. Highways have been blocked, toll booths commandeered, luxury automobiles set on fire, and shopping on the Champs-Élysées disrupted. What began as a suburban tax revolt has morphed into a bona fide working class uprising.

It took a while for “the Golden Boy of Europe” to fully appreciate what was happening. In the tradition of his predecessor, Louis XVI, Macron initially responded to the gilets jaunes by inviting a delegation of Le Monde reporters tolaud his renovation of the Elysée Palace, making the occasional condescending comment, and otherwise completely ignoring them. That was back in late November. Last Saturday, he locked down central Paris, mobilized a literal army of riot cops, “preventatively arrested” hundreds of citizens, including suspectedextremist students,” and sent in thearmored military vehicles.

The English-language corporate media, after doing their best not to cover these protests (and, instead, to keep the American and British publics focused on imaginary Russians), have been forced to now begin the delicate process of delegitimizing the gilets jaunes without infuriating the the entire population of France and inciting the British and American proletariats to go out and start setting cars on fire. They got off to a bit of an awkward start.

For example, this piece by Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian‘s Paris Bureau Chief, and her Twitter feed from the protests last Saturday. Somehow (probably a cock-up at headquarters), The Guardian honchos allowed Chrisafis to do some actual propaganda-free reporting (and someinterviews with actual protesters) before they caught themselves and replaced her with Kim Willsher, who resumed The Guardian‘s usual neoliberal establishment-friendly narrative, which, in this case, entailed dividing the protesters into “real” gilets jaunes and “fake” gilet jaunes, and referring to the latter fictional group as “thuggish, extremist political agitators.”

By Sunday, the corporate media were insinuating that diabolical Russian Facebook bots had brainwashed the French into running amok, because who else could possibly be responsible? Certainly not the French people themselves! The French, as every American knows, are by nature a cowardly, cheese-eating people, who have never overthrown their rightful rulers, or publicly beheaded the aristocracy. No, the French were just sitting there, smoking like chimneys, and otherwise enjoying their debt-enslavement and the privatization of their social democracy, until they unsuspectingly logged onto Facebook and … BLAMMO, the Russian hackers got them!

Bloomberg is reporting thatFrench authorities have opened a probe into Russian interference(in the middle of which report, for no apparent reason, a gigantic photo of Le Pen is featured, presumably just to give it that “Nazi” flavor). According to “analysis seen by The Times,”Russia-linked social media accounts have been “amplifying” the “chaos” and “violence”by tweeting photos of gilets jaunes who the French police have savagely beaten or gratuitiously shot with “less-than-lethal projectiles.”Are nationalists infiltrating the yellow vests? the BBC Newsnight producers are wondering. According to Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick,a beast born almost entirely from Facebookis slouching toward … well, I’m not quite sure, the UK or even, God help us, America!And then there’s Max Boot, who is convinced he is being personally persecuted by Russian agents like Katie Hopkins, James Woods, Glenn Greenwald, and other high-ranking members of a worldwide conspiracy Boot refers to as the “Illiberal International” (but which regular readers of my column will recognize as thePutin-Nazis“).

And, see, this is the problem the corporate media (and other staunch defenders of global neoliberalism) are facing with these gilets jaunes protests. They can’t get away with simply claiming that what is happening is not a working class uprising, so they have been forced to resort to these blatant absurdities. They know they need to delegitimize the gilets jaunes as soon as possible — the movement is already starting to spread — but the “Putin-Nazi” narrative they’ve been using on Trump, Corbyn, and other “populists” is just not working.

No one believes the Russians are behind this, not even the hacks who are paid to pretend they do. And the “fascism” hysteria is also bombing.Attempts to portray the gilets jaunes as Le Pen-sponsored fascistsblew up in their faces. Obviously, the far-Right are part of these protests, as they would be in any broad working class uprising, but there are far too many socialists and anarchists (and just regular pissed-off working class people) involved for the media to paint them all as “Nazis.”

Which is not to say that the corporate media and prominent public intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy will not continue to hammer away at the “fascism” hysteria, and demand that the “good” and “real” gilets jaunes suspend their protests against Macron until they have completely purged their movement of “fascists,” and “extremists,” and other dangerous elements, and have splintered it into a number of smaller, antagonistic ideological factions that can be more easily neutralized by the French authorities … because that’s what establishment intellectuals do.

We can expect to hear this line of reasoning, not just from establishment intellectuals like Lévy, but also from members of the Identity Politics Left, who are determined to prevent the working classes from rising up against global neoliberalism until they have cleansed their ranks of every last vestige of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so on. These leftist gatekeepers have been struggling a bit to come up with a response to the gilets jaunes … a response that doesn’t make them sound like hypocrites. See, as leftists, they kind of need to express their support for a bona fide working class uprising. At the same time, they need to delegitimize it, because their primary adversaries are fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and assorted other isms and phobias, not the neoliberal ruling classes.

Nothing scares the Identity Politics Left quite like an actual working class uprising. Witnessing the furious unwashed masses operating out there on their own, with no decent human restraint whatsoever, Identity Politics Leftists feel a sudden overwhelming urge to analyze, categorize, organize, sanitize, and otherwise correct and control them. They can’t accept the fact that the actual, living, breathing working classes are messy, multiplicitous, inconsistent, and irreducible to any one ideology. Some of them are racists. Some are fascists. Others are communists, socialists, and anarchists. Many have no idea what they are, and don’t particularly care for any of these labels. This is what the actual working classes are … a big, contradictory collection of people who, in spite of all their differences, share one thing in common, that they are being screwed over by the ruling classes. I don’t know about you, but I consider myself one of them.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. According to The Guardian, as I am sitting here writing this, the whole of Europe is holding its breathin anticipation of the gilets jaunes’ response to Macron’s most recent attempt to appease them, this time with an extra hundred Euros a month, some minor tax concessions, and a Christmas bonus. Something tells me it’s not going to work, but even if it does, and the gilets jaunes uprising ends, this messy, Western “populist” insurgency against global neoliberalism has clearly entered a new phase. Count on the global capitalist ruling classes to intensify their ongoingWar on Dissentand their demonization of anyone opposing them (or contradicting their official narrative) as an “extremist,” a “fascist,” a “Russian agent,” and so on. I’m certainly looking forward to that, personally.

Oh … yeah, and I almost forgot, if you were wondering what you could get me for Christmas, I did some checking, and there appears to be a wide selection of yellow safety vests online for just a couple Euros.

……………………………..

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.

Ukraine: Maltreated Prisoners of War and Prisoners of Conscience Rotting in Poroshenko Regime Jails – A List – by Gilbert Doctorow – 10 Dec 2018

In the past two weeks, the United States and NATO countries have opened still another line of attack on Russia in their ongoing high pitch information war:  the seizure by the Russian navy of three Ukrainian vessels attempting unsanctioned entry to the Kerch Straits, together with the arrest of their crews who have been treated medically, as necessary, and dispatched to a prison in Moscow for interrogation.

In light of the sound and fury over the Ukrainian sailors,  it seems to me that the moment is especially opportune to bring to the attention of the world community, and in particular to the attention of Amnesty International, the Council of Europe and other institutions and political forces defending the cause of human rights the following inhumane treatment by the government in Kiev of prisoners of war and prisoners of conscience. 

Here the objective is not to score propaganda points but to secure urgently needed assistance to named individuals currently in Ukrainian detention centers.

As happens in cases like this, I received the list from friends of friends serving in the Moscow embassy of an EU country. Accordingly I have every reason to believe in its accuracy and impartiality.

List of prisoners of war and political prisoners in Ukraine who are in need of urgent medical assistance and material aid

1. Medical care is not being provided.

2. Their cases are not really being examined by the courts. The cases are being transferred from tribunal to tribunal, where the court sessions only consider the question of extending the preventive detention measures.

3. Complaints have been filed with international organizations with respect to numerous violations of human rights law, namely :  abuse of power of the forces of law and order, violations during the examination of files by the judges (at all stages of the judicial proceedings). Ukrainian government authorities have responded in a formalistic manner and propose to investigate the violations (practically none of these cases has been brought to trial).

Matt Groening’s new Netflix series ‘Disenchantment’ gets off to a rocky start – by Vikram Murthi – 17 Aug 2018

Elfo, Bean, and Luci falling off a cliff
Image: Disenchantment (Netflix)

It makes a certain amount of sense that Matt Groening’s third TV series would be Disenchantment. If The Simpsons tackles our heightened present through the eyes of a dysfunctional nuclear family, and Futurama skewered an imagined future influenced by the whims of 20th century science fiction, then Disenchantment broadly examines “the past” via the medieval fantasy genre. Like Groening’s previous shows, Disenchantment sports an impressive setting bounded only by the writers’ imagination, in this case the kingdom of Dreamland, and an ever expanding cast of characters, two elements crucial for his brand of humanism and satire to flourish. Anyone weaned on Groening’s work will find that his new series fits exactly in his wheelhouse but with one obvious difference: It’s streaming on Netflix instead of airing on television.

Now, that’s not necessarily a prohibitive factor, but Netflix’s few creative restrictions and seemingly limitless budget constitute a double-edged sword for TV writers, especially those weaned on writing for network. Groening and showrunners Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley are all veterans of the traditional half-hour sitcom, complete with commercial breaks and tight act structure, and they have done some of the medium’s best work within those constraints. Will the platform’s freedoms affect the quality of Disenchantment or will it be business as usual but with ten episodes at once instead of weekly installments?

Unfortunately, Disenchantment’s pilot, “Chapter I: A Princess, an Elf, and a Demon Walk Into A Bar,” falls into a familiar streaming trap: It plays like an extended first act rather than a discrete episode. Written by Groening and Weinstein, the pilot inelegantly introduces the series’ main characters without much regard for pacing or timing, taking its sweet time playing in the world of Dreamland but rushing through the character relationships. It begins haphazardly and ends on a semi-literal cliffhanger, and while plenty of events occur in between, none of it carries much weight or significance. Worst of all, it’s all around light on jokes. “Chapter I” scans as an introduction ostensibly satisfied in the knowledge that audiences will forgive its flaws because they’ll most likely just power through to the next episode right away. While that might be true, Disenchantment’s first impression still isn’t terribly strong. (It should be noted that future episodes of Disenchantment are stand-alone installments and don’t necessarily have this problem.)

Disenchantment introduces us to Princess Tiabeanie (Abbie Jacobson)—the rebellious party animal daughter of King Zøg, ruler of Dreamland—who is set to be married off to Prince Guysbert of the nearby kingdom of Bentwood in order to secure an alliance between the two empires. Naturally, she’s opposed to the wedding, but has reluctantly accepted that her impeding nuptials represent her lot in life. On her wedding day, she discovers that she’s been cursed with her own personal demon (Eric Andre), Luci, who is tasked to steer Bean towards the darkness, unaware that she’s primed for that direction anyway. Meanwhile, in the hidden world of Elfwood, the young Elfo (Nat Faxon) chafes against the cloying cheeriness of his homeland, reminiscent of Smurf Village only adorned with candy. After being caught cavorting with Kissy the Elf, he’s sentenced to death by hanging (from the Gumdrop Tree, of course), but escapes Elfworld in search of a new life. He ends up in Dreamland just as Bean is about to be married. All hell breaks loose and the three eventually escape the kingdom. Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry), Guysbert’s brother and Bean’s new groom after Guysbert is fatally impaled by a chair at the wedding, chases after them at the behest of Zøg.

There are a handful of good moments here and there—Elfo expressing frustration at the nonsensical candy economy in Elfworld, the jester cracking wise at Zøg’s expense only to be thrown out a window by an executioner, the Wish Master being a Wash Master—but “Chapter I” doesn’t put nearly as much effort into establishing character as it does setting. Granted, there’s only so much work one can accomplish in a pilot, but most of the main relationships on Disenchantment feel too convenient (or, worse, arbitrary) because it takes way too long to bring the trio together. Compare this episode the Futurama pilot: Fry meets Leela four minutes into the episode and then meets Bender eight minutes in. Meanwhile, it takes 24 minutes to bring Elfo into the fold.

Sure, Disenchantment relies on some character shortcuts—Luci is the devil on Bean’s shoulder while Elfo harbors what’s bound to be an unrequited attraction to her, whadya need a road map?—but they don’t compensate for the general lack of care involved. By the time the trio are jumping off a cliff together to avoid returning to Dreamland, the show acts like their bound by friendship, but it feels unearned. The world is fully formed from the get-go, but the people are so far too thin. Even Bean feels pretty one note and we spend the most time with her character.

Obviously, Disenchantment will develop and relationships will fall into place, but the goal of a first episode, regardless of whether it premieres on TV or the Internet, should be to get audiences to stick around. It feels like Disenchantment is banking on audiences liking the fantasy world enough to just soldier on, but Groening’s best work always foregrounds character as well as setting, grounding proceedings in balanced emotion. There’s a moment when Bean asks her new companions to identify the feeling inside her that she doesn’t want to drink away, and Elfo believes that it’s hope. It’s a nice moment that connects with the character’s waywardness, but it feels untethered to the wackiness that precedes and follows it. Disenchantment will likely clarify all of this in subsequent episodes, but right now, everything feels like a means to service the world when it should be the other way around.

Stray observations

  • On Disenchantment Signage: 1. “Welcome to Dreamland: Now With 5 Village Idiots”; 2. “Now Entering Enchanted Forest: Beware of Racist Antelope.”
  • I appreciate the numerous Futurama alums in this show. There’s John DiMaggio as Zøg, sporting a Queens accent by way of some Bender, and Billy West, but there’s also Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeile, and David Herman.
  • Out of the three main voice performances, Andre’s comes across as the most natural, Faxon’s is the most forced, and Jacobson’s lands somewhere in the middle. However, voice acting is a unique beast, and actors’ comfort with their characters tends to organically develop over time. I can easily see everyone settling into their respective roles soon enough.
  • My favorite joke of the episode was hands down the Humble Farmers who are appalled at Elfo’s gratitude. As he leaves, Elfo thanks them again for their food. “It was delicious!” he says. “You’re ruining our lives!” they cry in response.
  • Groening and Weinstein take some broad pot shots at religion via the woman leading the service at the church: “I mean, nobody knows anything for sure, but if I talk with confidence, you dopes will believe anything I say!”
  • “On my wedding day, I also had butterflies in stomach. I shouldn’t have eaten so many.”
  • “Yeah, singing while working isn’t happiness. It’s mental illness.”
  • “Hey! He’s making fun of my dreams. That’s what friends do!”

https://www.avclub.com/matt-groenings-new-netflix-series-disenchantment-gets-o-1828414345

Paris Protests: The Young, The Old, The Ordinary – Without Property or Prosperity or Hope – by John Wight – 10 Dec 2018

Macron’s European army has arrived. It goes by the name Gilets Jaunes

Macron's European army has arrived. It goes by the name Gilets Jaunes
 
Anyone who’s ever tasted teargas will attest how unpleasant it is. I tasted it in Paris on Saturday 8 December as the city turned into a war zone.

I am writing these words in a hotel room in central Paris in the aftermath of a day of rage, unleashed by the self-styled gilets jaunes (yellow vests) mass movement of latter-day ‘enrages’ (angry ones) of French revolutionary repute. And it was indeed a day that bore the hallmarks of a revolution underway. Even now, just after 8pm, the unrest continues, with the sound of wailing police sirens and helicopters hovering overhead the unceasing mood music to my thoughts.

This chaos is taking place not in Syria, Venezuela or Ukraine but in Paris, the city most synonymous with the affluence, culture and liberalism of a European continent that increasingly finds itself beset by social unrest and political disruption.

The French capital is now, for all intents, the frontline in a growing struggle against neoliberalism and its bastard child, austerity, across a European Union whose foundations are crumbling. They are crumbling not due to the devilish machinations of Vladimir Putin (as an increasingly unhinged and out of touch Western liberal commentariat maintains), but instead as the result of a neoliberal status quo that provides far too few with unending comfort and material prosperity at the expense of far too many, for whom dire misery and mounting pain are its grim fruits.

Not only is this mass grassroots movement of Yellow Vest protesters a problem for Macron, but it is also increasingly a problem for an EU political and economic establishment that is yet to wake up to the fact that the world has changed, and changed utterly.

Throughout human history hubris has been the undoing of the rich and powerful, along with the empires forged in their name; and hubris is currently well on the way to being the undoing of an EU whose proponents have embraced the unity not of its peoples but of its banks, corporations, and elites.

Emmanuel Macron is a poster boy for ruling class hubris in our time, a leader widely referred to in France as the ‘president of the rich’. His unalloyed contempt for the plight of ordinary people across the country has only woken them up – and from what I have seen, they will not be going back to sleep anytime soon.

From the perspective of Macron and his government the inchoate character of this Yellow Vest movement, which is mounting the most serious challenge to neoliberalism in Europe yet seen, has to be the most worrying aspect of the current crisis. Thus far it is a movement that lacks a concrete programme and recognizable leadership, with neither Macron nor the French authorities, it is obvious, clear about what it is they are dealing with.

All they know at this point is that whatever it is, its momentum elicits no evidence of slowing down – buoyed by a level of public support that governments which genuflect at the altar of austerity can only dream of.

This being said, the lack of a concrete political programme and coherent ideology, though a strength now, may prove the movement’s undoing down the line.  Because it’s quite simple really: if you don’t have your own programme, sooner or later you will inevitably become part of someone else’s. Of this, the fate of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 leaves no doubt.

The traditional Left keeps a distance from these protesters in the street.  Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the middle-class student leader in May 1968, shamelessly slandered the ‘yellow vest’ protests as fascistic, telling Germany’s taz newpaper that “the large majority of the yellow vest movement comes from the National Front, from the reservoir of the extreme right.”  Stalinist General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union leader Philippe Martinez insinuated the same thing, darkly hinting that the “yellow vests” are “people we can’t be seen with.”

The few protesters I talked to were adamant that this is a non-political movement (or perhaps that should be non-politics as usual), with no room for right or left – no support for either Marine Le Pen or Jean-Luc Mélenchon. They are, they said, opposed to the system and political parties in their entirety. They demand Macron’s resignation, a new constitution, and popular referenda in order to return power to the people.

As to the EU, one young man I talked to called David voiced support for a reformed model of European unity – one that places people first. Macron’s EU is finished, he averred. It is not democratic it is autocratic, delivering not justice but injustice; distributing economic pain rather than prosperity to those whose only crime is to be young and old and ordinary in a world governed in the interests of the rich and the connected.

I also talked to Rafiq, a young guy of Moroccan descent. He proclaimed that Macron’s arrogance and indifference to the problems of the people had gone too far. When the people have no hope, he said, they have no choice but to rise up.

But surely, I put it to him, rioting and violence is not the way to go about making change in a democracy. What democracy, he retorted. In France democracy is for the rich. In Macron’s eyes, nobody else matters.

They descended on central Paris, refusing to be cowed or deterred by the heavy police presence, or the warnings issued in the days leading up by the authorities of a heavy crackdown should any trouble break out. Along Boulevard Haussmann they marched towards the Champs Elysees. They were singing, waving flags, shouting anti-Macron slogans and epithets, propelled on by a sense of unity and confidence in their own strength and purpose.

They had come from all over the country, reminding the city’s affluent residents, its bourgeoisie, that Paris is not France and France is not Paris.

But where were they, these rich and affluent shoppers and denizens of Macron’s Paris? Where were the usual fleet of luxury vehicles, the army of tourists and shoppers that normally colonized this part of the city?

On Saturday, rich Paris was in retreat; the Gucci and Louis Vuitton boutiques, the lavish department stores, upscale restaurants and wine bars boarded up to make way for the arrival of the kind of European army Macron did not have in mind when he issued a call for one.

The struggle being waged by the Yellow Vests here in Paris and across France is not indigenous to one country. It is the struggle of millions across a continent who have had enough of being held in contempt by elites who couldn’t give a damn about them or their families. It is a struggle common to the masses in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy – in Ireland and across the UK. It is the struggle of men and women of no property, pitting those who have nothing against those who have everything.

If Macron had expected the Yellow Vests to return to the obscurity from whence they came, after caving into their initial demand of canceling the proposed fuel tax hike, he miscalculated. As Paris burns, so does his legacy – the legacy of a leader who has come to symbolize the end of the road for neoliberal Europe.

……………..

https://outline.com/VzCtAm

 

US Housing Price Boom Is Already Gigantic. How Long Can It Last? By Robert J. Shiller (New York Times) 6 Dec 2018

 

 

 

We are, once again, experiencing one of the greatest housing booms in United States history.

How long this will last and where it is heading next are impossible to know now.

But it is time to take notice: My data shows that this is the United States’ third biggest housing boom in the modern era.

Since February 2012, when the price declines associated with the last financial crisis ended, prices for existing homes in the United States have been rising steadily and enormously. According to the S&P/CoreLogic/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (which I helped to create) as of September, the prices were 53 percent higher than they were at the bottom of the market in 2012.

That means, on average, a house that sold for, say, $200,000 in 2012 would bring over $300,000 in September.

Even after factoring in Consumer Price Index inflation, real existing home prices were up almost 40 percent during that period. That is a substantial increase in less than seven years.

In fact, based on my data, it amounts to the third strongest national boom in real terms since the Consumer Price Index began in 1913, behind only the explosive run-up in prices that led to the great financial crisis of a decade ago, and one connected with World War II and the great postwar Baby Boom.

The No. 1 boom occurred from February 1997 to October 2006, when real prices of existing United States homes rose 74 percent. This was a period of intense speculative enthusiasm — for houses and for financial instruments based on mortgages as investments — and it was also a time of great regulatory complacency. The term “flipping houses” became popular then. People exploited the boom by buying homes and selling them only months later at a huge profit.

That boom ended disastrously. Soaring valuations collapsed with a 35 percent drop in real prices for existing homes, ushering in the financial crisis that enveloped the world in 2008 and 2009.

The second greatest boom, from 1942 to 1947, had more benign consequences. Over this five-year interval, real prices of existing homes rose 60 percent.

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Booms and busts are rooted in popular narratives with complex social-psychological roots. This boom centered on a war-induced housing shortage, an enormous increase in the number of new babies and families who would need housing after the war, and the 1944 G.I. Bill, which subsidized home-buying by veterans. Home prices did not fall significantly after this boom ended.

Today, signs of weakness in the housing market are being taken by some as a signal that the prices of single-family homes may fall soon, as they did sharply after 2006. The leading indicators, which include building permits and sales of both existing and new homes, have all been declining in recent months.

But with few examples of extreme booms, we cannot be sure what such indicators mean for the current market.

Low interest rates — imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks in reaction to the financial crisis — are the most popular culprit in the current boom. There is some apparent merit to this view, since these three biggest nationwide housing booms all included very low interest rates.

But the market reaction to interest rates is hardly immediate or predictable. The housing market does not react as directly as you might expect to interest rate movements. Over the nearly seven years of the current boom, from February 2012 to the present, all major domestic interest rates have increased, not decreased. So, while interest rates have been low, they have moved the wrong way, yet the boom has continued.

Another explanation is simple economic growth. But, as a matter of history, prices of existing homes — as opposed to the supply of newly built homes — have generally not responded to economic growth. There was only a 20 percent increase in real prices of existing homes in the 50 years from 1950 to 2000 despite a sixfold increase in real G.D.P.

The simplest narrative being given for the current boom is just that the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the so-called Great Recession are over and home prices are returning to normal.

 

But that explanation does not cut it either. In September they were 11 percent higher than at the 2006 peak in nominal terms, and almost as high in real terms. This is not a return to normal, but a market that appears to be rising to a record.

It is difficult to assess the contribution of President Trump to the current boom.

It is certainly less obvious than the role of President George W. Bush in the 1997-2006 boom. Mr. Bush extolled the benefits of “the ownership society” and in 2003 he signed the American Dream Downpayment Act, which subsidized home purchases. In his 2004 re-election bid he boldly asserted: “We want more people owning their own home.” This seems to have contributed to an atmosphere of high expectations for home price increases.

The Trump administration’s attitude toward housing is less clear. President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” has overtones of the “American dream.” But provisions of his Tax Reform and Jobs Act of 2017 were unfriendly to homeowners.

Even without major further interest rate increases, there would seem to be a limit on how much the prices of existing homes can increase. After all, people must struggle to cover a range of living expenses, and builders are supplying fresh new offerings to compete with the existing houses on the market.

Perhaps the home price increases are now a self-fulfilling prophesy. As John Maynard Keynes argued in his 1936 “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” people seem to have a “simple faith in the conventional basis of valuation.”

If the conventional basis is now that home prices are going up 5 percent a year, then sellers, who would otherwise have no idea what to ask for their houses, will just put a price based on this convention. And likewise buyers will not feel they are paying too much if they accept the convention. In the United States, we may believe that the process is all part of the “American dream.”

It can’t go on forever, of course. But when it will end isn’t knowable. The data can’t tell us when prices will level off, or whether they will plunge catastrophically. All we do know is that prices have been roaring higher at a speed rarely seen in American history.

Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.

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