Green Card Even Worse 22 Years Later

Green CardIf you are looking for a tedious film to slog through tonight, you could not do better (Worse?) than 1990’s romantic comedy sensation Green Card. Rarely has Gerard Depardieu been less annoying, and by that I mean really annoying, but not as annoying as in, says, My Father the Hero or The Man in the Iron Mask. And never has Andie MacDowell been more or less lifelike. But neither of these “fine” actors (As in: those two? Actors? Fine! Whatever!) are really what makes this such a tedious slog. No, the real problem is the script.

Green Card is written, directed, and produced by Peter Weir. Ah, that got your attention, didn’t it?! He’s directed some good films: Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Year of Living Dangerously, and The Truman Show. But here’s the thing: he didn’t write those films. Wanna know why? Because he can’t write.

The film has its moments. Gerard Depardieu is amusing at times. Andie MacDowell smiles in some scene. Frowns in others. But overall, the film isn’t any one thing. It is just a little comedy here, a little romance there, and little farce some place else. A good example of this is how the film deals with MacDowell’s current boyfriend. He is chased off by Depardieu, claiming that he will find out what’s going on. We never see him again. Whatever!

Gerard Depardieu and Vladimir PutinAnd “Whatever!” is right. Because the plot of Green Card is the second worst thing about it. The very worst thing about it is that the characters have all the depth of Andie MacDowell’s acting. That’s right: the characters are make-up thick. Weir seems to be capable of creating two kinds of characters: stereotypes and boring types. The best friend, the boy friend, and the Frenchman are a stereotypes. The female lead is a nonentity, which at least explains why they picked MacDowell: type casting.

So why did I pick Green Card to watch tonight? Part of it was that I wanted to see if the film was better than I remembered it being 22 years ago. In fact, it turned out to be much worse. But it was fun to hate it so much, knowing what a fucktard Depardieu is. Look at him there with Putin.


Arnold LunnI was listening to the NPR show Says You! today. I quite like the show, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it. This is a little strange, because it is the perfect show for literary wannabes and pedants everywhere. The centerpiece of the show has one team try to guess which of the three definitions of an obscure word the other team offers. Today, the word was “phrop.”

The first definition was that it is the stage on which a flea circus is performed. The second was that it is a bill introduced to kill another bill. We had an example of this in the recent California election. Proposition 38 was put on the ballot to kill Proposition 30. So such things exist. The third definition was an insincere comment like, “We must do lunch!”

One member of the guessing team asked if flea circuses were real. When she learned that indeed they were, she was sold. And I have to admit, it does sound reasonable: there probably is a word for the flea circus stage. I thought the insincere comment seemed most likely. And so did the rest of her team. But she said something that was very true of the verbally clever group that plays this game, “Don’t you think if ‘phrop’ meant an insincere comment we would all know it?” Everyone laughed—me too. But it also sold them: they are all quite used to such insincere comments (Aren’t we all?!) and they would certainly have heard from a similarly minded person about such a word.

I thought that was a very good observation, but it didn’t change my mind. Words used for these segments are by definition not things that have caught on. They are normally specialty words or relatively recent words. Regardless, they are words now or once used by a small subset of the English speaking world. And indeed, “phrop” is not in most dictionaries. It was coined rather recently by Arnold Lunn, inventor of slalom ski racing. Wikipedia defines it thusly:

A phrop is an attempted neologism used to indicate a polite statement used in social contexts where the true meaning is the opposite of what is expressed. An example is the parting comment We must have lunch sometime, meaning We don’t particularly want to meet again.

I have a feeling now that it’s been on Says You! it will become popular with literary wannabes and pedants everywhere.


Here is (apparently) a real flea circus from 1949 France:

Matt Yglesias Whitewashes Economic Dispute

Matt YglesiasThere was a big fight in San Diego this weekend, but it wasn’t even on pay-per-view. It was on the effects of government stimulus between Paul Krugman and UC San Diego professor Valerie Ramey at the American Economics Association conference. Unfortunately, the only coverage I’ve read of it comes from Matt Yglesias in the article whose title demonstrates its problems, The Frustrating Fiscal Stimulus Debate. In as much as Yglesias presents a blow by blow account, it seems that Krugman scored a technical knock out. But Yglesias’ commentary is classic false equivalence.

The argument he makes is that the economics profession pretty much agrees when you get right down to it. Ramey was arguing that stimulus wasn’t very effective throughout the 20th century. But, Yglesias notes, Krugman agrees: there are very few times when government stimulus is high effective. It is just that right now is one of those times. And that, I fear, is where Yglesias goes off the rails.

The problem is that conservative economists are ideologically constrained. Krugman is a liberal. But you don’t see him claiming that there wasn’t stagflation in the 1970s. He doesn’t claim that stimulus is always the answer. But conservative economists certainly do claim that stimulus is never the answer—at least as long as a Democrat is in the White House. What’s more, Ramey wouldn’t be arguing as she is if she thought that stimulus worked now. And we have plenty of examples of conservative economists this last four years claiming that the recession was due to some supply shock.

Yglesias ends his article by speculating what is driving conservative and liberal economists. “I get the overwhelming impression that with a few exceptions the issue is basically that right-of-center economists generally think the existing level of government spending is too high and that additional government spending is likely to be wasteful.” He says the reverse can be said about the liberals.

There are a couple of problems here. First, the issue of stimulus is not about money being well spent or not. The idea is to get the government started. World War II was not useful spending. But apart from this, the claim that stimulus money is wasted is just an excuse for not doing anything. It is like oil company funded politicians who claim to be for tighter regulation, but there are somehow always minor problems with any bill that comes for a vote. If the multiplier of a stimulus bill was thought to be 2.2 instead of 1.2, the conservatives would claim that any multiplier under 2.5 was wasteful. So Yglesias is treating these economists as though they are honest players. Certain the behavior of Kevin Hassett, Glenn Hubbard, Gregory Mankiw, and John Taylor this last year should have put such nonsense to rest.

What’s more, Yglesias’ claim that conservatives think government spending is too high was dealt with in a recent Krugman article. He was talking about politicians, but I don’t see how it is any different with economists. Conservatives think the the government is too big. But they don’t have a clue what about the government is too big. I don’t know what Valerie Ramey would say on this issue. But I doubt she could say any more than conservatives will generally say in private: kill Social Security; kill Medicare; kill Medicaid. But the people see things differently—making these the most popular of government spending.

The whole push of conservative economists to show that stimulus is just never quite effective enough to be done is nothing but apologetics. And apologetics is not about science. The very fact that these conservatives are feverishly hunting around for some information—Any information!—that will justify their favored policies shows they have a real problem. They are not engaged in science. And thus, they are doomed to failure, even if some of their favored policies turn out to be right.

My Favorite Ice Cream

Ice CreamI was at the Supermarket yesterday, and a song came on. It was pretty typical pop—offensive only in its design to be utterly inoffensive. The singer was a typical American Idol style screecher. But the first lyrics struck me, “I want someone to know my favorite ice cream.” That is basically the whole song. For the next three minutes or so, she hammers home that theme that it’s nice to have someone around who gives a shit about you.

As Jonathan Richman said, “I don’t feel so alone—I got the radio on.”

The song is by a forgettable singer-songwriter, Rachel Platten. It is called Take These Things Away because in the chorus she sings, “No one can take these things away.” This makes no sense. With this line, she destroys the metaphor I originally liked. It isn’t literally that you want someone to know your favorite ice cream. You want them to care enough to know your favorite ice cream. And when they dump you, they may remember it, but they don’t care.

This is the best thing about a relationship. I think it goes back to having parents—mothers especially. When I was growing up, it seemed that my mother was more in tune with what I was up to than I was. It reminds me of a Christmas episode of The Waltons. The father was late getting back for Christmas. When he did, he arrived with presents. The present for John-Boy was writing tablets and pencils. How did his father know about his strong but unstated desire to write? Because we are not as opaque as we’d like to think, and good parents see right through us. As do good friends and good lovers.

So I like that line. Of course, I don’t have a favorite ice cream. But I want someone to know that I don’t like coffee flavored ice cream.


Here is part of the song performed in a living room. It works well. And at a minute and 43 seconds, you get to know what the song sounds like without having to listen to it all.

Media More Conservative Than Public

NPR - NRP: Not Really ProgressiveFor years, I’ve been arguing that journalists are centrists in their political orientation. What’s more, those that identify as liberal are generally only socially liberal; on economic issues, they are conservative. Up to now, I have based this on my observations; it wasn’t based upon research. But I just came upon a study that Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) performed back in 1998, that shows exactly this.

There are two claims that conservatives make to justify their belief that there is a liberal media bias. The first is that the framing of news is from a liberal perspective. Eric Alterman in What Liberal Media has destroyed this idea, but many others have as well. Still, the liberal media bias myth lives on with a second claim: most reporters are liberal. This is based upon surveys that show reporters tend to be registered with the Democratic Party. But Democrat hardly means liberal.

My focus is always on economic issues. I care very much about social issues, but as long as our economy is as unequal as it has been these last 35 years, social issues don’t really matter. For example, the rich can always fly to France for an abortion, regardless of the law in the United States. Anyway, access to abortion or even birth control might be practically unable to the poor even if they are legal. My problem with most mainstream journalists is that they are upper and upper-middle class in income, and thus in their economic concerns. The situation is even worse than I had thought.

The journalists involved in the the story are overwhelmingly in the upper class. In 1998, making more than $75,000 per year put you in the upper class (top 20%). Making $133,000 put you in the top 5%. Only 5% of respondents made less than $50,000 per year. Even at that level many probably found themselves at the bottom of the upper-middle class. The largest group (43%) had incomes between $50,000 and $100,000. The entire distribution skews high, but assuming it is evenly distributed, that would put 21.5% in the upper-middle class. Putting all this together, making assumptions that will understate where these journalists sit relative to the population they serve, we get the following:

Middle Class: 5%
Upper-Middle Class: 21.5%
Upper-Class: 73.5%
Top of Upper Class (5%): 41.5%

So it is no wonder that these people tend to think that free trade agreements and low taxes are great for the country. After all, such things are great for them. This fact is clear in the survey results. Most of the respondents consider themselves centrists. However, a large minority (30%) consider themselves liberal when it comes to social issues. But that large minority collapses when it comes to economic issues. Only 11% consider themselves liberal in this area. While only 9% consider themselves conservative on social issues, 19% consider themselves conservative on economic issues.

Specific issues just make things look worse for our journalists. Only 5% rated the economy as fair or poor. But 34% of the general public rated the economy thusly. This should come as no surprise. The economy was working rather well for these “objective” journalists. It is interesting to note that the same percent who said the economy was bad is the percent of journalist making middle class or less salaries.

On all specific policies, the journalists were far more conservative than the people. They thought entitlement “reform” was a top priority. They didn’t think that providing healthcare was nearly as big a priority. And above all, they thought that NAFTA was great and should be expanded. The public was not nearly so keen.

FAIR is not claiming that journalists are conservative. Nor am I. It is more complex than this. FAIR, in particular, focuses on the structural nature of the problem: corporate news will produce corporate friendly stories. But I think these results show clearly that the problem is more fundamental than even this. Despite their claims to the contrary, journalists are not objective. They dependably report the way that we would expect someone from their social classes to report.