The Puns of Wallace and Gromit

Wallace and Gromit Complete CollectionOne thing that is really interesting in the Wallace and Gromit films is that they are filled with puns. But Gromit is not fond of them. He is forever rolling his eyes at Wallace’s lame attempts at humor. For example, in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, they come to Tottington Hall to find the place overrun with rabbits. Wallace says, “They must be breeding like, well, rabbits.” So it is interesting that so many puns should circle around Gromit’s life — specifically, his tastes in books, music, and film.

There isn’t much of this in A Grand Day Out, except for “Electronics for Dogs.” But then, that film has always seemed rather like a proof of concept. Other than the skiing obsessed machine on the moon, I’m not that fond of it. It is really with The Wrong Trousers that the Aardman folk really get going with fully decorated sets — including walls and bookshelves. (Fun fact: Gromit’s birthday in 12 February!) While sleeping downstairs to get away from Feathers McGraw’s loud music, Gromit was reading The Republic by Pluto — which he is reading at breakfast the following morning. In his dog house, there are four books on the shelf: Kennels, Poodles, Sticks, and Sheep II.

Gromit's Birthday

In A Close Shave, we see Gromit in jail reading Crime and Punishment by Fido Dogstoyevsky. In A Matter of Loaf and Death there is much more. While Wallace and Piella are doing their Ghost thing downstairs, Gromit tries to sleep upstairs in his bedroom where we see a movie poster for Citizen Canine and a record album on the floor of “Poochini.” Later, when Fluffles returns Gromit’s stuff, we see the records “Puppy Love” by Doggy Osmond and a “McFlea” album. After discovering that Piella is a serial killer, he consults, Electronic Surveillance for Dogs.

Probably the best single run of puns is found in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Gromit has put Wallace on a diet — all vegetables. Wallace goes looking for some hidden cheese, on the bookcase. And the books are:

  • The Hunt for Red Leicester
  • Brighton Roquefort
  • How Green Was My Cheese
  • Brie Encounter
  • Swiss Cheese Family Robinson
  • East of Edam
  • Grated Expectations
  • Fromage to Eternity
  • Waiting for Gouda.

That last one is my favorite. And the list is a pretty good run of cheese puns. Later, Gromit plays The Plant Suite for his watermelon. Toward the end of the film, Gromit and the evil dog Philip end up in airplanes taken from a carnival ride “Dog Fight.” It’s all quite wonderful.

I’m sure that I’ve missed a whole lot of things. If anyone would like to point out things that I’ve missed, I would welcome hearing about them. One of the great things about the Aardman productions is how rich they are. Animation has the advantage (from the viewer’s standpoint) that everything has to be created from scratch, so great creativity goes into the productions. For example, I had seen The Wrong Trousers many times before I noticed that The Republic was written by Pluto instead of Plato. I love this kind of stuff — and there isn’t nearly enough of it.

The False Advertising of Austerity

Austerity: the History of a Dangerous IdeaAusterity doesn’t work. Period. Insofar as the fossil record contains a few cases of what look like “expansionary fiscal consolidations,” … these cases are either driven by factors other than what the austerity proponents maintain, or those proponents simply get the case wrong. Expectations leading to confidence fairies really are a fairy story. The few positive cases we can find are easily explained by currency devaluations and accommodative pacts with trade unions. In general, the deployment of austerity as economic policy has been as effective in us bringing peace, prosperity, and crucially, a sustained reduction of debt, as the Mongol Golden Horde was in furthering the development of Olympic dressage. It has instead brought us class politics, riots, political instability, more rather than less debt, assassinations, and war. It has never once “done what it says on the tin.”

—Mark Blyth
Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea

Shortsighted Politics Are Destroying Us

Ted CruzOn Monday, Paul Krugman discussed the upcoming elections in the United Kingdom, Economics and Elections. He noted that the current conservative government is likely to stay in power despite the fact that they’ve done a terrible job managing the economy over the past five years. But the economy has been doing better over the last year or so, and that is all that matters to the voters. This is Politics 101, and I talk about it all the time. It is the reason why I hate things like this week’s Tom Tomorrow, where he mocks the chances of Ted Cruz becoming president. If he manages to get the Republican nomination, he will become president if the economy tanks in 2016.

But Krugman noted one thing that is very near and dear to my heart, “[T]he evidence suggests that the politically smart thing might well be to impose a pointless depression on your country for much of your time in office, solely to leave room for a roaring recovery just before voters go to the polls.” Of course, no one thinks people actually do this. For one thing, it is hard enough to get people to accept the well documented fact that people vote on the basis of the economy shortly before an election. Getting them to believe that voters won’t hold leaders responsible for years of suffering would be a harder sell, even if it is almost certainly true.

I’ve been arguing for years that the American political system is naturally designed to elect Republican Presidents. This is because conservative economic policy is bad. When Republicans get into office, they tend to cut aid to the poor and cut taxes on the rich. While this is very effective at making the rich richer, it is not good for the economy. It just puts more money into the hands of those who already have more money than they can spend. And it takes money away from poor people who would spend it all. But after the bad economic policies of the first year, the economy will slowly adjust. By the fourth year of the Republican presidency, the economy is improving and the president is re-elected.

The situation is the opposite with Democrats. Their policies tend to be better (although not that much better). So things like the Obama stimulus really do help the economy — for a while. But (again) as with the stimulus, these programs run out and the economy declines. So why did Clinton get a second term? Alan Greenspan. Why did Obama? Because the economy was so depressed we even have a decent chance of getting a third consecutive Democratic President.

Obviously, this is just a theoretical construct. Unlike my theory about the New Democrats, there is no empirical basis for this. But I still think it is something that we need to think about. It highlights the fact our political system is screwed up and does not lead to us choosing politicians and parties who actually do perform for us. We shouldn’t have to fear that Ted Cruz could be our next president. But sadly, we really do need to fear it. And if he were elected, there is every indication that he would be re-elected.

The Rich Want You to Focus on “Immobility”

Tyler CowenI get so aggravated by people just repeating the same lies over and over again, with the hope that people will just accept them. Case in point, last week at The Upshot, Tyler Cowen wrote, It’s Not the Inequality; It’s the Immobility. This is a perfect example of a headline used by a Very Serious Person. Yes, silly people like me care about inequality, but that’s not the problem at all! The problem is immobility. I guess Cowen is using the word “mobility” instead of “equality of opportunity” since that phrase has now been totally destroyed as the apologetic drivel that it always was.

Technically, there is a difference between mobility and equality of opportunity. What Cowen is pushing is the old Milton Friedman idea that it doesn’t matter if almost all of productivity gains go to the rich, as long as their rising tides lift all boats. But look at just what a fraud Cowen is; he wrote, “[W]hile we have talked incessantly about the disproportionate gains of the top 1 percent, the wage slowdown in the United States in recent decades is a bigger problem for most people.” He’s right in the second half of that. But does he really expect us to believe that the decoupling of wages and productivity is not a direct result of things like the decline of labor unions that have allowed the rich to capture all of those productivity gains as increased profits?

Very Serious PersonHe goes on to say that inequality shouldn’t necessarily be a negative term. I agree. A certain level of economic inequality is desirable. For example, some people want to work less and are willing to sacrifice the extra money that goes with extra work. And no one has a problem with incentives. But given the staggering level of inequality in the United States and to a lesser extent the developed world, how can anyone talk about inequality being a good thing? If Cowen wants to have this conservation, he can bring it up when corporate CEO wages are back down to 50 times the average worker pay. Until then, inequality is indeed a very bad word.

The entire article is so filled with caveats that it made my head spin. But the point of the whole thing is very clear: let’s not look at inequality! Instead, we are supposed to look at “immobility.” And how? By making it easier to become a doctor or a lawyer? Oh no! We can’t do that. That might cost Tyler Cowen’s friends money. Instead, “[C]onsider the licensing of occupations like interior decorators and barbers.” This is a favorite of upper class columnists everywhere. Those barber licenses are really what’s keeping the poor down! (Note: I think many of these kinds of regulations are stupid. But I’ve written much in the past of the kinds of things that I, as a micro-business owner, find most difficult in making a living. Licensing requirements are greatly overstated as a barrier to doing business.)

He ends the article with some brilliant but pernicious apologetics:

[W]e are likely to be better off if we keep our eye on the ball, identify what really helps people the most and do whatever we can to increase economic mobility. That is a practical program that we all should be able to endorse.

The whole point here is that we shouldn’t pay attention to income inequality. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The fact, however, is that inequality is largely the cause of immobility. Dean Baker took on these issues in an article, Tyler Cowen’s Three-Card Monte on Inequality. In addition to mentioning many of the same things I did, he noted that inequality itself can reduce productivity growth. And most important of all, “[M]any of the policies that would most obviously promote equality also promote growth.” But this is what Cowen — or any of the Very Serious People — wants to talk about. He just wants to talk about how we can improve the lives of the poor by dislocating the middle class. And never, never, never think about the justice of the rich extracting all the productivity gains of the economy for themselves.

Morning Music: Nancy Sinatra

Boots - Nancy SinatraIn 1965, Lee Hazlewood was producing the debut album of Nancy Sinatra, the daughter of one of my favorite singers (despite myself). And he thought she would be perfect to record his song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” He reportedly told her to sing it like she was a teenager who had sex with truck drivers. But not in those words.

I know that the song is supposed to come off as dangerous. And maybe in 1966 it did. But all my life, the song has seemed sweet — like the singer is bluffing. It does sound like a teenager is singing it. I find far more true female strength in “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” or pretty much any Édith Piaf song.

But there is no doubt that “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” has broad appeal. My parents loved the song and owned the album. My older sister loves the song. And so do I. Although it is probably the case that we all get different things from it.

Anniversary Post: Venus de Milo

Venus de MiloOn this day in 1820, the Venus de Milo was rediscovered. I have to admit to being completely ignorant of this. I had just assumed that the sculpture had always been around and that the missing arms were the result of age. But no, the whole thing was lost in a buried niche on the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. When it was discovered, the left arm was present — although broken. The left left apparently held an apple.

There is a fascinating story of how the Venus de Milo became such a well known piece of art. It was rediscovered five years after France had returned the Venus de’ Medici to Italy (it had been stolen during the reign of Napoleon). It is a greater piece of art, if you ask me. But as with most things in the art world, the greater reputation of the Venus de Milo is the result of a propaganda campaign. France wanted to feel better about the fact that they had lost the Venus de’ Medici. And now we are all supposed to think that it is a great sculpture. And it is — just not uniquely so.

Happy rebirthday Venus de Milo!