Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The food fight theory of economic reform
Decades ago when I was in college, the food service played a kind of brinkmaship, which occasionally failed.
They would serve us a series of very mediocre dinners, until they could sense the rumblings in the dining rooms, and suddenly we'd get steak, or lasagne, or something special, like lobster.
Then the mediocre meals would continue, until the rumblings would rise again.
But sometimes they failed to recognize the rumblings, or one of the mediocre meals, especially late in series of mediocre meals, was truly despicable. On that evening, you could sense the tension in the dining hall. Maybe the weather was lousy. Maybe it was midterms. But the meatloaf was more than most of us could stand. And then the first foil-wrapped baked potato would fly through the air and strike some unsuspecting sophomore in the head. Next thing you know the air was filled with flatware, boiled-limp vegetables, slabs of ground beef, silverware, sheetcake, plastic cups still filled with dilute fruit punch, glistening polyhedrons of jello, french fries bleeding kethup and stale dinner rolls. A full-fledged, frenzied food-fight would erupt and for less than a minute, when any able hand still had ammunition, and was brave enough to crawl out from beneath a table, it was a veritable thunderstorm of institutionally-boiled-to-gelatinous-consistency fare filling the air. Spent, hungry, but strangely satisfied, we students would leave the room quickly, with our souls nourished.
Today the bankers are on the hill being grilled by Congressional representatives who are trying to tag them in a giant, dangerous and futile game of "you're it." The feckless corporate execs being grilled by the feckless politicians. And when we all still had our jobs, the bread-and-circus comedy of these kind of assassinations by committee, the righteous anger of our elected officials, and the balm of things like American Idol and Paris Hilton, would allow us to sink, eyes glazed, into a stupor.
But I'm beginning to sense a tension in the air akin to that of the dining hall just before a food fight. I have a feeling that if Chris Dodd had the temerity to show his face at a Elks luncheon, he'd get heckled from the stage. I have the sense that Joe Lieberman would be needled mercilessly at any staged diner stop he attempted to make. I know that any bank CEO who happened to get pointed out in the audience at a hockey game, might get checked hard into the boards.
Most of our failed, self-rewarded, feet-dragging leaders don't have a sense of just how angry people are. And I wonder when the first effigy will be burned. I wonder when the mortgage lender will be pulled from his Mercedes, tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.
Yogurt pelting is a new sport in Iceland. In Riga Latvia, hurled ice chunks created new store entrances for looters. Greek farmers have driven their tractors to town to block highways. In South Korea, protestors broke through a legislative blockade of furniture to brawl with lawmakers.
So, I'm waiting, wondering when that first foil-wrapped baked potato is going to fly.