Once again, my commentator has left me a response that has made me think. (See his comment on my entry, Perspective.) He and I don’t seem to agree on much, but I will say this: he clearly thinks about the world, just as I hope it is clear that I think about the world. Even if our conclusions are different, I find much to admire in other people who understand that this life and this planet deserve a mindful, thoughtful approach, and that a life lived mindlessly is a life wasted.

I think Brutus has read me way wrong in one way, I think — I have nothing against prosperity and in fact am pretty prosperous. My point is also not strictly about environmentalism although specific posts may be, and it may be skewed in that direction at the moment because that’s where my head is. (Now, next month when I write the article the DBNJ commissioned from me about decluttering your life, you may see a shift!)

Two things: one, I don’t think what big business tells us we should equate with prosperity is making very many of us happy. It doesn’t work — at least, not for anything except the corporations’ bottom lines. Part of the reason I started this blog is because of how many people I saw around me who seemed to be in the same boat I’m in — overwhelmed by stuff and meaningless commitments, tired of being told to ignore the little voice inside that says “buying that will not make you happy,” and disgusted at the recklessness of our lifestyles with regard to the wellbeing of other human beings — as well as, admittedly, to other species and the world as a whole.

But that’s only part of it. Another point (not the only other point, but another point) is this: if you listen to the world’s oil experts (the scientists, not the paid mouthpieces), you’ll hear some disturbing truths about the difference between what actually exists and what OPEC says exists. Some of my “slowing down the rampant consumerism” rant and “making changes now” rant have very much to do with how little prepared we are for an economy or a lifestyle post-peak-oil, and how very much I don’t want to have to walk nine miles to work every day or have filling my gas tank cost the equivalent of pimping out my ride.  So yes, I think the time is now to give up the SUVs, not just because of global warming but because they get crappy gas mileage. And yes, I think the time is now to reexamine how much we really NEED a new cellphone every six months, because the oil that makes the plastic (not to mention the 6000x its weight in oil/gas every computer chip uses up just to get itself made) is non-renewable and we’re going through it like that doesn’t matter.

Nowhere have I said that our entire lifestyle should be turned upside down. Do I believe that until we get past some of our challenges, everyone is going to have to change some habits? Yes. Do I believe it would be easier and less painful ultimately to do so in small ways now, rather than getting slapped hard later? Yes.

Look at Atlanta. Did you see the news last week (and for the last several months) about its water shortage, now deemed so severe that one of its main sources may be dry by next year? They’re looking at regulating laundry, dishwashing & showers for literally almost half the state, as well as forbidding ALL outdoor water use. Bye bye garden, bye bye yard, bye bye swimming pool. Ok, I could live with that — but bye bye doing my laundry when I want?

What haunts me is not that I might have to make difficult changes at some point in my life. It’s that I could have made a bigger difference sooner by doing something smaller, earlier. And its hugely this: I’d rather make easy changes voluntarily than have the hard ones visited on me by circumstance and authority.

It’s also this — a reordering of priorities. If you ask me which is more important to me, having a teakwood desk or having a world where scarlet macaws still exist, the macaws are going to win every time. Now, that’s my choice, my priority, and I’ll live by it — but someone else may choose differently.

Brutus, my boy, I think in the end that the primary difference between us is where we believe circumstance will lead us. I’d love it if you were right and we COULD maintain the status quo, and that even if we chose to make improvements here and there, they would be done from choice and not necessity. I’d love it — but I’m not betting the farm on it. And either way, I’ll probably choose to live more simply and more thoughtfully because it feels better, for me, to do so. (PS — the last sentence in no way implies that you don’t live thoughtfully. I think if you see paragraph one, you’ll realize I have formed quite a different opinion of you.)

To my other readers — sorry it’s been so long, I’m working on novel number two, and I’ve written 42,000 words in the last two months — just not many of them HERE. I’ll try to do better.

Many of you know I just canceled my Hotmail account. I want to tell you why. Early in September, Hotmail stopped forwarding my subscription e-mails from Truthout.org. Note the use of the word “subscription” there — I CHOOSE to receive e-mails from Truthout and, despite the fact that I’m well past the age of majority and legally able to make my own choices, AND that this country allegedly enjoys freedom of speech, HOTMAIL unilaterally decided to call my subscription “spam” and stop forwarding it.

Mind you, it did NOT stop forwarding me “get your viagra here” e-mails, phony stock-scam e-mails, “easy russian bride” e-mails or a host of e-mails offering me advice on how to enlarge my penis. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m a woman.) THOSE aren’t considered spam, apparently.

But my e-mails from Truthout — which generally consist of links to stories from respected news outlets worldwide — apparently are. I’m not talking the Wack-Job Sun Times, here, people. I’m talking about the Washington Post. The New York Times. The LA Times. The New Orleans Times- Picayune. The Miami Herald. Reuters. The Associated Press. The Christian Science Monitor. A host of foreign news outlets.

I asked Hotmail to justify its actions and it quickly put the blame on Truthout. But it admitted to Truthout that it was “blocking and throttling” its e-mails. And it’s doing it to everyone who subscribes to Truthout from a Hotmail account, not just me. (There are also allegations that it’s doing it to the Independent Institute, but I don’t have confirmation on that.)
There are also allegations that AOL is doing the same thing.

Guys, this is serious. Communication consists of a speaker, a listener, and a medium of transmission — be it spoken voice traveling through air or electrons passing over the Internet. Those who would control our access to information can’t stop me from listening, and they haven’t yet dared shut down the media outlets from investigating and writing, so they’re attacking the vulnerable link between. This is censorship. And it’s wrong.

Everyone, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, should be up in arms about this. The party in power in this country changes regularly. Our right to be informed by anyone we choose to listen to should not.

I CHALLENGE YOU TO DO WHAT I DID: Vote with your dollar. Ditch Hotmail. If you’re having the same trouble with AOL, ditch AOL. Tell them why. Donate what you would have spent on Hotmail or AOL to Truthout, so they can continue their effort to put a stop to this censorship. More is at stake here than just Truthout — they’re small, non-corporate sponsored, and vulnerable, which makes them a good starting point. They’re also the place where this needs to end.

Cross-posted at Buck Naked Politics.

This is a follow-up to my previous post about the actual cost of a candy bar. I decided to try to find out what the candy folks were lobbying for, just to see where my money is going.

Here’s just one example. In 2005, California was considering a law that would require candy manufacturers importing candy from Mexico to both test for and eliminate lead in their candy and candy wrappers. You read that right — lead. I’d had no idea this was a problem.

The candy lobby — the National Confectioners Association — lobbied against it. Yep, you read THAT right too — the candy manufacturers who sell candy to children wanted to win the right to continue FEEDING THEM LEAD.

So, you say, well, who cares about candy from MEXICO, because I eat Hershey and M&Ms. Well, guess what? Once the sugar subsidy in this country got too ridiculous, American candymakers started outsourcing to — you guessed it — Mexico. Including Hershey and M&M Mars, both of whom have facilities there.

Now, the law in California passed, despite the candy lobby’s efforts. But — that’s California. Who knows what they’re feeding us elsewhere? That’s bad — but to me, the worse thing is that given something that should be a moral imperative — we’re talking about a known poison being given to an audience that consists largely of children — the candy lobby picked the wrong side. And used my money to fund it.

Rather puts a hole in the idea of candy as comfort food for me!

Marketing Coolness

July 14, 2007

I watched Frontline’s “The Merchants of Cool” this week and in some ways it was chilling. It was about the lengths to which corporate America goes to market to the huge group that is the American teenager. The amount of money that group has to spend is staggering, and the amount it talks others (read “parents”) into spending is likewise staggering.

So these companies have to figure out what is going to be cool next and how to market it. Enter the mook and the midriff. The mook is male, and feel free to think of some of the gross and humiliating things you see young males do in movies these days — those are mooks. The guy diving into the sewer for fun or shoving beans up his nose or — like Eric Cartman, making his friends eat their own dead parents unbeknownst to them — those are mooks. Midriffs — well, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton (people South Park refers to as stupid spoiled whores) personify this.

It was fascinating, to say the least.

But the question that is most compelling to me and one which it can’t yet answer is “what kind of consumers are these kids going to be 20 years from now?” Will they still be spoiled and rushing off to buy every “latest new thing” whether they need it or not? Will they still be susceptible to marketing, or will thought have intruded into the process? Will they be the brainwashed automatons the corporations would like them to be, or will they be responsible citizens of Earth?

You ever notice how sometimes several things you are reading or watching seem to coalesce? I’m also reading a book called “The High Price of Materialism” by Tim Kasser. Among his findings: people who focus heavily on materialism are less happy, less fulfilled, and more likely to participate in anti-social or unhealthy behaviors. Not surprising, because most of us have heard ideas to that effect. But Kasser actually did studies to find out if that widely-held impression was just that, or if it had validity. It’s valid.

So another compelling question is this: Are we as a society, with the help of corporate America, deliberately raising a generation of people who will be unhappier, more likely to be anti-social or engage in unhealthy behaviors, and unable to fight their way out of it because the only tool they’ve been given for coping is to acquire more and more of what they don’t really need?

Kellogg has taken a first step toward ceasing marketing of unhealthy products to children under 12, including in schools, according to a report on ABC News. They’re also embarking on a new-but-flawed labeling program for their foods that will give people nutritional information on the front of the box (I say flawed because the labeling information will be based on a 2,000 calorie [read adult] diet, even though many of the products are intended primarily for children, who require far fewer calories.) It’s a start.

Kudos to Kellogg for taking this first step without forcing a long court battle and without hiding behind the lack of federal regulation, of course, and like they, I hope other companies will jump on. But the darts and laurels procession doesn’t stop there:

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Last week, I noticed that my local grocery store was now advertising its milk as RBGH-free. What, I wondered, is RBGH? I have since found out.

I won’t go on at length about it. I’ll just give you the bare bones and the sources.

RBGH stands for Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and it is administered to cows (through the kind offices of its manufacturer, Monsanto) to increase milk production, which it does. It also makes the cows far more likely to contract several illnesses, including mastitis.

I watched a little segment about this very issue in a documentary called “The Corporation” (which I highly recommend) yesterday, and one eyewitness said the pus generated by the cows in trying to fight off the mastitis ends up in the milk.

Well, that was enough for me, but it turns out it isn’t all the bad news.

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