Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On skewering Imus but missing the point:

What Don Imus said is inexcusable and it is probably appropriate that he was fired, if only because access to a national radio audience is not something that should be awarded someone who repeatedly uses the platform to utter rude remarks. (I probably would have said the same thing about Imus even before the “nappy-headed hos” comment.)

Firing Don Imus may allow the media storm to blow over and CBS to find a reliable new source of ad revenue, but the thing is: firing one person doesn’t do much to address our societal problem with race. (Keep in mind, several other “luminaries” have been embroiled similarly in recent memory with no discernible or lasting impact.) Actually I’m not all that surprised by Imus’ behavior. I am more disappointed in the resulting “moral outrage,” which has been a little, um, weak and obligatory. We’re having a knee-jerk P.C. reaction rather than seizing an opportunity to look deeply at our national disease, with intent to cure it once and for all.

I think the things Imus, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson and the others have said are so telling because they slip out despite the expectations that we behave. These are the famous (now infamous), whose every word is listened to by many and/or recorded. How many others “slip” under the radar in insidious ways which, taken together, prevent real equality?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but unlike most of the pundits, I have spent some time thinking about the real problem. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Possible solution: Reparations

I don't know if we as a society are ever going to get over the race thing because I don't think most white people think they do anything to oppress black people or that they have any responsibility in the present because of the past. Despite some talk of reparations, society has never made amends for what it has done to black people. I don’t think most white people really think reparations are owed—witness the way many white people react to affirmative action. But making reparations in tangible form ($) would be the societal analog of the heartfelt apology in a family relationship. It would absolve the oppressors of guilt, while acknowledging the herculean struggle of those who have been oppressed these several hundred years, and helping to reverse the damage in real terms.

Possible Solution: Get to Know Each Other Better

I think deep down many white people think there is a lot of truth to the stereotypes of black people and what's complicated about stereotypes is that that's always the case. But all human beings are complicated and multi-dimensional. Black people have contributed so much to our culture-- and white people show their respect/envy/awe (interesting that the synonyms of awe in my thesaurus are: fear, terror, dread, fright, trepidation, fearfulness) of that in a way by copying, usurping, imitating black people in music etc. a la Elvis Presley right through Emminem-- but there's still no broader respect. It may be the same mentality that allowed masters to beat a slave one day and make babies with her the next... and then beat them too. Call it morbid fascination or (God forbid) jungle fever. What it is really is xenophobia—fear of the other.

What we need is for everybody to really know and care about some people from each of the other groups. Knowing real people with all their complexities makes it easier to see the similarities among us and harder to subscribe to stereotypes. To do this, we need to take down the institutional walls that still divide us from healthcare to red-lining to education to salaries.

Possible Solution: Become Color Blind?

I don't think race, which is not real but a construct so, more accurately, color will ever be something we don't see. And I agree with all that greeting card sentiment about America as tossed salad rather than melting pot. Diversity makes life rich and interesting, why would we want to ignore it? Much harder is to see people as they are and value people who are different from us anyway.

King didn’t say the goal was to be color-blind. He said someday he dreamed we’d see people not for the color of their skin but for the content of their characters. Those women on the Rutgers team have shown who they are: hard-working, talented, accomplished, poised as well as black. Don Imus looked past all that and saw the same old stereotype (or maybe even dredged it up purposely to neutralize strong women who embodied the anti-stereotype). He’s not an aberration. If we keep pretending he is, we will never live King’s dream.


Monday, April 9, 2007

On throwing it all away:

At a time when we are facing what is perhaps the worst crisis in human history--man-made global climate change-- why are we adding more throw away items to the pantheon of consumer products? Do we need disposable everything? Is a little convenience worth the demise of our planet—our only home?

I’m talking about throw-away mop heads, toilet brushes, bibs, food storage containers, dusting cloths, as well as products that increase the amount of cleaning product you use to do a job like cleaning your toilet or shower by automating it. I’ve never tried one of these things but I’ll hazard a wild guess: you probably have to scrub at least occasionally anyway. (Personally I find that good old (cheap old) baking soda and vinegar, along with a little elbow grease, clean just about everything very well and anything else can be dealt with by Citra-Solv or Ecover All Purpose Lemon Cleaner.)

The marketing strategy of cleaning products companies is fairly transparent. Disposable mop heads and toilet brushes mean you need to buy more products from them! Gizmos that continuously and automatically spray or drip chemicals into your toilet or shower are wasting your money as well as our environment.

Disposable diapers and their attendant disposal contraptions may be the worst offenders of all. People think I’m a little crazy because I cloth diaper my son, but it’s really not that difficult. Ask any mother of a baby or small child, she’ll tell you she does laundry (and has close encounters with poop) almost every day anyway. And our diaper bucket barely smells. We don’t individually wrap every paper and plastic-heavy diaper in its own plastic bag or shrink wrap bubble or take the trash out every day because the kaka is where it belongs: in the toilet! (By the way, technically it is illegal to put human waste in the trash. If you don’t believe me, check the small print on a bag of disposable diapers!) The clincher? Cloth diapering will save you approximately $3,000 by the time you potty train each kid! (source: www.babyworks.com)

It’s not just paper or aluminum that counts. Everything that you buy, use, even recycle, puts additional demand on all kinds of resources: trees, water, fossil fuels (which in turn pollute our atmosphere) through not just its manufacture, but its packaging, transport and disposal.

If more people put a little extra thought into their purchases and a little extra elbow grease into their household chores, we might all get to live here on Earth just a little longer.

If you love convenience mops like many of my friends, check out new products with removable, machine washable mopheads by Casabella (available at Linens ‘n Things, Whole Foods and The Container Store), and other brands at www.gaiam.com and www.realgoods.com

If I haven't quite convinced you that you want to cloth diaper but you want to do a little better than plastic-heavy diapers and a Diaper Genie there are some good eco disposables out there: Tushies Gel-free are my favorite for traveling, Seventh Generation and Whole Foods are non-chlorine bleached, and new g diapers are semi-reusable. With any diaper, you can knock most of the kaka into the toilet easily saving you from using another layer of plastic to save yourself from the smell.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

On killing our food and killing ourselves:

Why is it that because one or a few cases of e. coli, salmonella or listeria have occurred in a food, we have to either avoid it altogether or cook the hell out of it or mandate pasteurization for everyone all the time?

Many foods are more nutritious and safer in their raw state because they have enzymes that help our bodies use the foods, and beneficial bacteria that actually protect against contamination by dangerous bacteria. These live components and some nutrients are lost during pasteurization. Already, it is almost impossible for people in many parts of this country to gain access to raw milk, one of the only sources of vitamin B6 (which is found only in animal foods and destroyed by heat). Now the government and almond processors have decided to “pasteurize” all almonds starting this fall. These pasteurized almonds may be labeled “raw” so you will not even know whether you are eating the whole food or a processed approximation.

The pro-biotics in whole, unprocessed, living foods support the immune system and prevent disease and infections. “A sterilized diet weakens the immune system, increasing vulnerability to cancer, osteoporosis, asthma, allergies, Crohns, IBS, Colitis, GERD, chronic disease, infections, and ulcers-- to name a few.” (Weston A. Price Foundation Action Alert) Have you noticed, like I have, that these afflictions seem to be more and more common?

Contrary to popular belief, we cannot get everything we need from a pill. We need whole food. The foods in the traditional human diet are designed perfectly to provide everything we need. Then along come processors, who have their own agenda (which is not to worry about your health but to make money). Processors change and denature our food until it becomes burdensome to the body (the body has to draw on its nutrient stores to process refined foods) or poisonous rather than beneficial—witness hydrogenated oils. Or they make into “food” things which are really minerals or synthetic chemicals. In the new book Twinkie, Deconstructed, Steve Ettlinger explores the origins of the 39 ingredients in Twinkies and finds that these American “classics” contain such tempting treats as “food grade” plaster of Paris and ferrous sulfate , an iron compound (used widely to fortify refined flour) that is also used as weed killer.

Nobody should have to worry about deadly pathogens in her food. Most of the outbreaks of food-borne illness are caused by the factory farming or processing of foods, the pathogens are not in the nature of the foods themselves and do not result from traditional production methods. I do not know of any outbreak of e. coli, listeria or salmonella that was associated with organic products or small farm products. If we insist that our food is raised by sustainable, preferably organic, methods, and processed minimally at smaller local facilities, we are unlikely to have this problem.

Yes, this is a litigious society and people want their asses covered. Let them put disclaimers on my raw milk and raw almonds but let me decide whether I want to risk eating them. I would rather take my chances with the food nature provides than with “food grade” plaster of Paris and weed killer.

For more information on probiotics, live foods and analog nutrients needed to process food in the body, link to the Weston A. Price Foundation below. Natren and Radiant Life are resources for supplements.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

On a thinking person’s prerogative:

Why is it so deadly to change your mind in politics? Don’t we want our public figures to have the ability to learn and grow and for their ideas to evolve with that new knowledge?

Bush is very proud of the fact that he never changes his mind, no matter what the evidence that he’s got it all wrong. Is that something we want to encourage? According to conservative pundits and the media John Kerry is a flip-flopper. Is that really the case or is he someone who can see the necessity of taking different tacks when dealing with complex issues, or of playing a little politics to work within our legislative system as it exists? (Legislators are often accused of flip-flopping when their voting records are scrutinized. The reality is, bills often contain various provisions and lawmakers are often forced to compromise and vote for measures they don’t love in order get others passed.)

Yes, there are those politicians who seem to shift positions with the political winds. It does seem disingenuous when they pretend they haven’t changed their minds, but I submit that they may do that because they fear the political backlash against honesty in this regard. John Kerry was honest about how his stance changed regarding Vietnam and they used it against him.

I would like to point out that our representatives are supposed to do just that—represent their constituents. So if one realizes that her constituents feel strongly about a particular issue, she may consider voting accordingly without being branded weak or a liar. I would like to point out that these people we accuse of playing politics, as if it is a crime, are in fact politicians-- so what can we expect? I would like to point out that changing one’s mind is sometimes the mark of an open-minded, thinking person.