Archive for September, 2008

The hungry duck

September 24, 2008

Today, Charlie and I went to the lake in Prospect Park to feed the ducks, swans, and pigeons.

We watched a little girl throwing bread, and Charlie, in his delight, moved very close to a hungry duck. He was pointing, pointing, pointing…and the duck bit his finger.

I’ve never been bitten by a duck, but I assume those hard beaks hurt. Charlie didn’t have a red mark on his finger, but you wouldn’t have known it from his wails, loud and piercing.

He cried big fat tears and buried his head in my shoulder, clinging to me. “The duck scared me,” his cries said. “And…the…duck…bit…me! Betrayed! Betrayed! After I have loved ducks my whole life!”

But my brave little Charlie did not let his violent encounter stop him from getting right up in the faces of the ducks and geese to chase them hither and yon. As soon as the tears stopped, he wanted to tell me all about the duck’s bite and then throw those little biters more food.

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The real GDP

September 24, 2008

Below is an insightful commentary about what’s missing when we discuss our “economy.” The GDP is a number that is not just irrelevant but detrimental to the values we cherish and the lives we hope to have for ourselves and our children.

I’ve selected a few quotes here, but the piece is short and worth a read. I have always felt that profits and stock prices were not everything, but feelings don’t count for much in the workaday world. Jonathan Rowe lays out the details and the history of the wacky GDP in a clear, concise manner.

…Every time you say that “the economy” is up, or that you want to “stimulate” it, you are urging more expenditure and motion without regard to what that expenditure is and what it might accomplish, and without regard to what it might crowd out or displace in the process.

That term “the economy”: what it means, in practice, is the Gross Domestic Product–a big statistical pot that includes all the money spent in a given period of time. If the pot is bigger than it was the previous quarter, or year, then you cheer. If it isn’t bigger, or bigger enough, then you call Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke up here and ask him to do some explaining. The what of the economy makes no difference in these councils. It never seems to come up. The money in the big pot could be going to cancer treatments or casinos, violent video games or usurious credit-card rates…

This, by the way, is not an argument against growth. To be reflexively against growth is as numb-minded as to be reflexively for it. Those are theological positions. I am arguing for an empirical one. Find out what is growing and the effects. Tell us what this growth is, in concrete terms. Then we can begin to say whether it has been good.

The failure to do this is insane. It is an insanity that is embedded in the political debate and in media reportage, and it leads to fallacy in many directions. We hear, for example, that efforts to address climate change will hurt “the economy.” Does that mean that if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy, too–the real economy, that is, though not the artificial construct portrayed in the GDP. It does real work, as we would discover quickly if it were to collapse. Yet the GDP does not include this work. If we burn more gas, the expenditure gets added to the GDP. But there is no corresponding subtraction for the toll this burning takes on the thermostatic and buffering functions that the atmosphere provides. (Nor is there a subtraction for the oil we take out of the ground.) Yet if we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere, we say “the economy” has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.

With families the logic is the same. By the standard of the GDP, the worst families in America are those that actually function as families–that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner, and talk together instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture. Cooking at home, talking with kids, walking instead of driving, involve less expenditure of money than do their commercial counterparts. Solid marriages involve less expenditure for counseling and divorce. Thus they are threats to the economy as portrayed in the GDP. By that standard, the best kids are the ones who eat the most junk food and exercise the least, because they will run up the biggest medical bills for obesity and diabetes.

This assumption has been guiding our economic policies for the past sixty years at least. Is it surprising that the family structure is shaky, real community is in decline, and children have become petri dishes of market-related dysfunction and disease? The nation conceives of such things as growth and therefore good. It is not accidental that the two major protest movements of recent decades–environmentalist and pro-family–both deal with parts of the real economy that the GDP leaves out and that the commercial culture that embodies the GDP tends to erode. How did we get to this strange pass, where up is down and down is up?

To read more about how we got to “this strange pass,” click here for the rest of the article.

From “Our phony economy” in Harper’s Magazine by Jonathan Rowe.

The excerpt in Harper’s was taken from testimony delivered March 12, 2008, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce. Rowe is co-director of West Marin Commons, a community-organizing group, in California.

The economy is stupid

September 24, 2008

After Labor Day, work picked up at my office, so I haven’t had a chance to blog as much as I’ve wanted to. I have been keeping notes, however, on a ragged piece of paper I carry around in my backpack. I have notes on Sarah Palin, the importance of unstructured play, and my thoughts on Obama’s health plan.

I even had some notes on taxes and the economy.

Hmm. Looks like those won’t be much use to me now. What with the Treasury Department asking for trillions of dollars and offering only their “word” that they won’t blow it all on girls and coke.

To some people, it must seem that the folding of the big investment banks and the resulting bail-out have nothing to do with them. Most people don’t have major investments or stocks or a big CEO nameplate on their desk. But if Reagan’s trickle-down economy delusion had any truth to it, we’ll all soon be seeing even thinner wallets. The big guys’ credit crunch will impact the slightly smaller banks that loan to the retail industries that employ most of America, as well as the little banks that loan money to regular people for cars, small businesses, repairs and houses. Lack of credit means us working people won’t be able to make up the difference between what we need to spend and what we can spend.

With wages being stagnant for much longer than they should have been, most Americans have been relying on credit to get them through. And the U.S. economy has relied on every American, rich and poor, to spend money they don’t have. Without credit, that consumer life jacket disappears.

It irks me (in polite terms) that Republicans/fiscal conservatives/whatever-they-are-calling-themselves-these-days believe that a free market, with less government intervention and regulation will somehow work better.

Work better for who?

Corporations are only beholden to their stockholders. No one else. At all. Not their local communities, not voters, not citizens, not their workers. They have a bottom line and a profit margin, neither of which take into account the value of a life well-lived. You know, one with quality childcare, quality senior care, affordable health insurance, family leave, quality education, civic services that provide water, roads, electricity and other “amenities,” such as buildings for churches, hospitals and schools.

There must be some Libertarian or Republican out there who can give me a good argument for why government is “bad.” From where I stand—merely a citizen, not a stockholder—I’d rather have a democratic government run my country. Because, at least in theory, I have a say in a government that’s for the people and by the people. I can’t hold corporations accountable, but I can vote, run for office, start petitions, volunteer or do as my husband does and spread the word of “good government” on the internet.

Us taxpayers are going to bail out these companies, it seems, with hard-earned money we can’t spare. But hopefully Congress will have the common sense not to bail out CEO salaries and to give a little money back to the homeowners who also need assistance. And, if they’re really smart, they’ll throw in a government organization that will hold corporations—and their lobbyist-loving cronies—accountable for this welfare handout their getting.

Then, after Congress has created 11.3 trillion dollars in debt, maybe they can think about ways to invest in the people who will—or will not—be voting for them.

Yes, I’ll take a hand-out. Write my check out to universal health care, please.

Zoo stories

September 23, 2008

Charlie has been talking so much lately. After two years of mostly just reading his body language, the complexity and creativity of his communication is amazing.

Last week, we went to the small zoo in Prospect Park, which we do pretty often. But this time, Charlie got food for the ducks and swans. He held it in his hand and threw the pieces into the water.

He was telling this story for days. He’d hold out his little hand and say, “Feed food hand, ducks swans, eat it.”

He wanted to tell Daddy, Nanny, Pawpaw, Gigi, Grandma Margaret, Jenna, Janelle, and his teachers, Jackie and Marlisa.

He was so proud to have fed the ducks, and he struggled so valiantly to pick just the right long string of words to express what he saw and did. It made my heart turn over with love. He’s such a little person now, with his own version of events.

I’m going to take him to the zoo again sometime soon, just so I can hear what his story will be next time.

On Broadway

September 23, 2008

Last Thursday, I took Charlie to see “The Green Sheep,” a play—on Broadway!—geared to kids ages 1-5. That’s one fun thing about living in New York. You can just pick up and see a show, if you want.

Last week, we wanted, and we did. We played in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, ate a big salad while we watched the clouds, fed the ducks, saw horses pulling carriages then headed to the theater.

The show was great, and they really had thought of the kids. The bathrooms had big, cushy changing tables, and a stool for washing hands. The theater was set up with interactive exhibits (coloring, sheep pictures, puppet-making) while we waited, and the show was done in the round, with lots of repetition, movement and music.

Charlie had a really good time, I think. He was very engaged during the performance and wanted to play with the props afterward. After all, it was about sheep and music—the play was made for him.

Suitcase

September 23, 2008

Charlie has a blue suitcase with his name embroidered on it. (Thanks, Niki, Keith and Jonah; Charlie loves it!)

After our first summer trip, the suitcase made a move out of the closet and into the bedroom where it has found permanent residence. It has held pinwheels and rubber snakes, wooden monkeys and a toy phone. Charlie says, “Mama, A, B, C, D–Charlie!”

Translation: “The letters on this suitcase spell Charlie!”

But my favorite suitcase game is the one where he pulls up the handle, drags it behind him and says, “Bye!”

“Where you going?”

Nanny and Pawpaw’s house. Have fun!”

A few minutes later he turns around, still dragging the suitcase. “I’m back!”

“Great. How was the trip?”

“Good.”

He’s been bitten by his parents’ travel bug already.

What day is it?

September 23, 2008

Charlie: “Mama, going to the laundromat?”

Mama: “No, not today.”

Charlie: “Tomorrow?”

Mama: “No, not tomorrow.”

Charlie: “Friday!?”

Summer tomato face

September 23, 2008

Our trip to Chicago

September 23, 2008

Our last summer trip, which happened not too long after Charlie got stitches, was to Lake Forest and Chicago to visit the DeWitt clan.

Grandma Margaret graciously hosted the whole gang with delicious home-cooked meals and tons of ideas for fun. The yummy breakfast cakes were made by Janelle, who has to take home ec in school even though, as evidenced by the quick disappearance of the peach cobbler, she really doesn’t need it. Charlie had a grand time traveling to and from the neighborhood playground and picking cucumbers fresh from the garden (and then eating them).

[I got a shot of Charlie and Grandma Margaret washing green beans together. It was a very sweet moment, especially since I remember washing okra with my grandma and loving it.]

We spent two days in the city, exploring the Shedd Aquarium and Millennium Park, which has the best water/play sculpture ever. And then we spent a lovely day in Lake Forest gadding about at the town art fair and lounging on the beach of Lake Michigan.

It was a wonderful trip, filled with good conversation, lots of fun, and the loud, raucous craziness that comes with a big clan all under one roof. Charlie nearly drove the newly teenaged Janelle bonkers with his adoration. (“Where’s Janelle? What’s Janelle doing? Janelle!”)

Don’t get too comfortable, Janelle. We’ll be back to visit sometime soon.

Painting with feet

September 23, 2008