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.

Friday, January 14, 2005

We're still here

Obviously things have been a bit on the slow side recently here at Fightin' Words (as a result of business elsewhere), but rest assured that Jim and I will eventually be back with some new and hopefully entertaining and thought-provoking stuff.