Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fun With Numbers

From the April 2005 Harper's Index:

Percentage of born-again US Christians who have been divorced: 35

Percentage of other Amercans who have been: 35

Chances that the divorce of a born-again Christian happened after he or she accepted Christ: 9 in 10

Estimated number of yung Christians in 1995 who had pledged to wait until marriage for sex: 2,500,000

Estimated percentage who waited: 12

These numbers really require no further commentary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Nightmare of the Living Dead (and the Politicians That Feed Off of Its Death Force)

The Terri Schiavo story is already being covered to death, and others have summed it up better than we could but the more we've heard about this, the sadder the situation seems to be for all involved. In fact, it's reacing the point where it's so sad that it's becoming kinda funny, especially when you have people like Bill Frist saying things like "It is a sad day for all Americans who value the sanctity of life".

Now we've never met her and haven't seen her current condition, but the woman has been in this state for almost *15 years* and her husband, every doctor that's come into contact with her, and every judge to whom her case has been presented are all in agreement. Even the Florida Legislature refused to get involved. Unfortunately, the federal Republicans are trying to use this to pay back their debt to the far right wing of the party and in the process have removed any dignity that Ms. Schiavo and her family might have retained (and certainly, her parents et. al. deserve some of the blame for this. Of course they should want to do everything they can for their daughter, but at what point does this become more about them and not about what's best for her. There's a lot of self-serving going on here.). we here at Fightin' Words hope that today's ruling will result in some sanity being brought back to the proceedings, but there's little hope of that. If we were the betting type, we'd be more likely to put money on "Terri Schiavo's body will be eviscerated by an angry mob at her funeral" than "Terri Schiavo's family will be allowed proper distance and respect so as to mourn her passing in a way that won't cause a media circus".

But while the whole thing is sickening on the whole, we've learned a couple of interesting and heartening things:

* How are Ms. Schiavo's copious medical bills being paid? They're covered by a combination of funds from a successful malpractice lawsuit, Medicaid and the generosity of the not-for-profit hospice where her care is provided. Anyone else notice a couple Republican punching bags among that list? Didn't President Bush just propose a budget that cut $60 billion from Medicaid? Oh, the irony.

* What does the general public think of all of this? Well, according to this CNN poll, 56% of Americans believe that her feeding tube should be removed, while another 13% are unsure. Only 31% believe that life support measures should be continued. Whoever the politcians are grandstanding to, it ain't the majority and the Democrats would do well to take notice of this and use it to their advantage (note: that means no grandstanding or fiery rhetoric are needed. just play it straight).

Wherever Mrs. Schiavo ends up, we hope it's a far more peaceful place than her current situation.

For some more interesting takes on this situation, incuding Jeb Bush's blatant disregard for the report of his self-appointed guardian and the staggering hypocrisy of Tom DeLay and his inaction in a similar case in his own state of Texas, take a look at some entries by David Corn here and here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Another call to action

I was considering talking about how we could soon be on the verge of war with Iran and Syria (but remember those Iraqi elections? How they made us all believe again? That was great wasn't it?), but an e-mail from the New York Blood Center snapped me back into acting locally. This isn't really political, but it is necessary. Here's the gist of it:

Blood inventory has dropped to
crisis proportions.

We have only:

300 Type O Negative units
200 Type A Negative units
Less than 100 Type B Negative units
2,000 Type O Positive units

Our area needs 12,000 donations each week.

Regardless of your blood type, they'll be happy to see you. Here's a listing of all the blood drives coming up in Brooklyn (those in other areas, check your local listings). I'll be at the one in Park Slope this Saturday at the Old First Reformed Church at 7th and Carroll.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Minimal Wages, Maximal Effect

Watching CNN last night, Aaron Brown did a segment on child labor that focused on a documentary entitled "Stolen Childhoods". While at first it just seemed like more depressing footage of the type we've all seen and (mostly) ignored many times before, the more I watched and lsitened, the more that certain aspects of it were able to shock me out of my placid state. I'll let portions of the transcript tell the story:

BROWN: The story of the jermalls is part of a new documentary called "Stolen Childhoods." Two filmmakers spent over seven years filming in eight different countries to capture the degradation, and there's really no other word for it, that is the daily reality for 246 million children in the world.


ROMANO: We're dealing with what you should really consider to be disposable people and kind of even a new model of slavery. It used to be that slaves actually were a substantial investment. These children are sold for as little as $5. They breathe silica, all right.

They work in 115-degree heat day in and day out. They carry over a ton of rock on their head and by the time they're 35, they're dead. They bleed. They become tubercular. Their backs give out on them. It is, you know, it is one of the most horrific deaths to watch.

MORRIS: People say child labor is the result of poverty. It is the result of poverty. Poverty is present wherever there's child labor but child labor is also the cause of poverty. It perpetuates poverty one generation after another.

BROWN: And the world's wealthier nations are increasingly less generous. A recent report from Oxfam, the international relief agency, found that aide budgets of the wealthy countries are now half, just half of what they were in 1960. These children share more than their agony. The abuse they endure, the childhood they've lost, all of it, is illegal.

MORRIS: There are laws on the books outlawing all of the child labor that we've filmed but in many cases the people whose principal job should be protecting children are actually involved in the economic exploitation of the children. They partner with the owners and the operators very comfortably to make a buck.


BROWN: What many Americans don't realize is the extent of child labor in the United States. According to Stolen Childhoods, 800,000 children do migrant labor harvesting the food we eat and it's only against federal law for children under the age of ten.

MORRIS: They miss two to four months of school. As a consequence, those same children have a 65 percent dropout rate in high school. The result is that we are creating and perpetuating a permanent underclass of poor children because migrant farm work is the lowest paid work in America. It's not illegal. You can work a migrant child 12 hours a day, seven days a week.


But the real answer, the filmmakers believe, is simpler. It is education. According to the U.N., $8 billion a year is all it would cost to send every child in the world to primary school.

Now hold on a second. $8 billion a year is all that would take? For the love of all that is holy, how can we not be at the forefront of making this happen? We can spend $152 billion and rising fighting a war in Iraq but we can't find $8 billion to make sure that every child in the world can go to school and isn't being subjected to a life a back breaking labor. Obviously that money isn't going to fix all of the world's ill, but it would certainly be an important first step in the right direction. Heck, just getting the close to 1 million child laborers in this country into school would be an important first step, but this stuff doesn't even make it into the national dialogue when we can talk about ridiculous things like how badly a candidate was wounded during his war service or why it's so important to prevent two people who love each other from getting married. Thank you CNN for at least getting it into my personal dialogue. The movie itself is set to open in theaters later this spring.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Nader vs. Sports

Ralph Nader has always been a lightning rod for controversy and attention and indeed some people have used that to criticize him for being an attention seeker or for being obsessed with getting his name in the news. This has obviously continued to the present day as he still featured prominently in the last election as many democrats/liberals/progressives struggled with the dilemma of whether it was more important to vote for the candidate they liked the best or against the candidate they liked the least. One thing that has always struck me about him, however, is that in most cases he is making the moral, responsbile argument on behalf of people. Those seeking morality in this country and in our government would do well to kick the money changers out of the temple and elect someone whose values run deeper than the endless repitition of the words "freedom" and "liberty" as if the words themselves could do anything other than placate the flag-loving, magnetic-ribbon-buying masses.

Something I didn't know about Nader was that he had formed an organization called the League of Fans, which describes itself as: "a sports reform project working to improve sports by increasing awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society, exposing irresponsible business practices, ensuring accountability to fans, and encouraging the industry to contribute to societal well-being." The group takes aim at everything from the corporate welfare of stadium building to performance enhancing drugs to the gay community and sports to one of my own personal hooby horses, the BCS. Somehow I had never come across this before, but it looks like an organization that is more eminently supportable than the lame-os who bitch about salaries being too high. Just today, Nader has posted an article about the over-commercialization of the Super Bowl and its potential detrimental effect on youth (excerpted below). Check out the site and sign up for the e-mail alerts and maybe we'll start to see some changes that will make being a sports fan less of a conflict of interest to those with a conscience. And a big thanks to Jake for the tip.

Those worried that a nationally televised breast is a threat to their children’s well-being should be especially infuriated by the prominent place alcohol advertising has in Super Bowl broadcasts. The reduction of cognitive faculties from excessive drinking increases the likelihood of unprotected sex, which then increases the risk of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Alcohol-related sexual assault and date rape on college campuses are also consequences of excessive and underage drinking.


But the Super Bowl blitz on children’s health doesn’t stop with alcohol. The junk food corporation PepsiCo will be targeting youngsters watching the Super Bowl with aggressive advertising for its Pepsi-Cola sweetened soft drinks and Frito-Lay processed snack foods which are predominately high in calories and low in nutrition. Such items have become unhealthy staples in the daily diets of many young people, increasing the likelihood for the occurrence of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

.....PepsiCo pays millions of dollars for exclusive marketing rights in schools and other locations frequented by adolescents, undermining parents' efforts to provide healthful diets for their children. Another NFL event, the “Pepsi NFL Punt, Pass and Kick,” allows PepsiCo to market directly to more than four million boys and girls (age 8-15) each year.

Not to be outdone, the fast food chain McDonald’s will push its unhealthy junk food with Super Bowl ads as well. Experts at targeting children, McDonald’s uses some of the most beloved characters (Nemo, Tarzan, Winnie-the-Pooh, 101 Dalmatians, Furby, Beanie Babies, etc.), collectible toys and gimmicks to peddle its high-calorie, low-nutrition Happy Meals. The rise of McDonald’s and other fast junk food chains has reshaped the diets of kids, who are encouraged to nag their parents, and has paralleled the boom in childhood obesity.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Barbara Boxer: The Official Senator of Fightin' Words

Senator Barbara Boxer lived up to her name this week, and I hope other Democrats learned an important lesson: if you open your mouth and speak up, people will pay attention. Boxer followed up her ultimately useless but still brave gesture of challenging the election results in Ohio by giving Condoleezza Rice a serious grilling in her confirmation hearing. Coverage of the hearings focused more on the exchanges between Boxer and Rice than on any other aspect. This makes me think that if Democrats had been more outspoken and unified in their criticism of the Bush administration's policies over the past four years, instead of just during election year 2004, we might not be in the position of watching that incompetent right-wing ideologue being sworn in for a second term today.

Those of us who are represented by Democrats should be calling, writing, and/or e-mailing our Democratic senators and representatives and telling them to follow Boxer's example of standing up for what's right. (Keep in mind, Boxer and Kerry were the only two Democratic senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Rice.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Why I Won't be Participating in "Not-One-Damn-Dime-Day" Tomorrow

Many, especially those on the left end of the political spectrum, are calling for tomorrow to become "Not One Damn Dime Day" in which those "who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending". In my mind, however, it's a totally empty gesture designed to make the powerless feel like they still have a voice in the process. Ultimately, it will have no impact on the political process or climate, and therefore I think that it's an action (or non-action if you please) best ignored.

By dismissing it, I don't mean to belittle those who have organized or trumpeted the cause, because I think their hearts and minds are in the right place. It was only a few months ago even that I was reminding people of Buy Nothing Day (the day after Thanksgiving), but I've had a change of heart since then because just as Buy Nothing Day fails to have any impact on our eceonomy, just as boycotts of certain gasoline purveyors fail to bring prices down, so will this fail to drive any message home about the war in Iraq and the U.S. role in it.

Why don't they work? First of all, not enough people participate in them. Even if 10% of the country managed not to spend even $.10 tomorrow (a number I think is highly unlikely) it would be a one-day abberration as cash flows return to normal on Friday. That's not going to be enough to make anyone sit up and take notice. The second reason is hidden in the first: a one-off event like this has, by it's very ephemeral nature, a short time period to make an impact. Without huge turnouts and demonstrations in the street, the impact will be minimal. Thirdly, the logic of not buying anything is flawed because one of two things will happen; people will either spend their money the day before to prepare themselves for spending $0 (i.e. buying something to pack for lunch or gassing up the car the night before); or they will make up for it by spending a bit more in the days following such that the net amount of money pumped into the economy will be the same and any effects will be negated. Meanwhile those likely to be most affected by such a movement are small businesses and their owners who hold little sway over the policies of the Defense Department.

An addict can quit for a day and still be addicted. For those of us addicted to consumerism (and by "those of us" I mean "99.99% of Americans" [to varying degrees]), the only hope to make an impact in this way is to make long-term changes in your purchasing patterns either by reducing the amount you spend or by being more selective about where your money goes. It's certainly not an easy way to state your preference for progressive politics and a sustainable outlook to the environment, but I believe it can have the most impact without requiring huge sacrifices in our day-to-day lifestyles. I don't want to get preachy, but think about this: 10% of people taking a day off from shopping may not have an impact, but 10% of people buying hybrid cars or switching to renewable energy for their home or business or avoiding companies that sell products made in sweatshops would most certainly leave an impression on the consumer landscape. It's the type of thing where a little momentum could go a long way.

As usual, Snopes has it's own quality breakdown of the logical flaws inherent in this idea.