Monday, July 26, 2004

A thought while watching the first night of the 2004 Democratic Convention

One hundred years ago, TR worked to break the hold of corporations on American life. He almost succeeded. Now, however, every aspect of our life seems driven by corporate interests, not the needs and expectations of people. As a society, we need to change this. The corporate hold on every aspect of our lives needs to be examined and changed. Calvin Coolidge knew what he was saying when he said, "The business of America is business." But being right does not always mean being correct.

just imagine...

What if we lived in a world where the powerful (for example: those who run large corporations and governments) decided to make the populace sick, frightened, and stupid? What would it take? Food that is processed so as to have lost any real nutritional value; meat so inundated with hormones and antibiotics that children's bodies develop earlier and medicines become less effective; constant warnings that anything and everything can harm us, but no suggestion that we should change our habits in any way; an education system that seeks to dumb everything down to an anti-intellectual pedagogical stance that the right answer is all that matters. Okay, so that's a disingenuous approach, since we already live in such a world.

There are those conspiracy theorists out there who believe that somewhere in a room in Skull & Bones a cabal of freemasons is deciding all of these things in an effort to destroy the world in a craven chase for ever-greater wealth. I'm not one of these theorists--though every time I bring up an example of corporate mendacity and irresponsibility with my step-father, he gets irritated and suggests that I drop my conspiracy theories. So, to address the question briefly, since I think corporations and some in the government do, in fact, look for ways to to turn us into addicted lemmings, metaphorically willing to jump off a cliff after the next fast food promotion, here it is: I do not think the corporate heads gather together to plot how to ensure the longevity of American conspicuous consumptiion, but I do think that there is an unacknowledged assumption that well-informed, healthy people are bad for business.

After all, it is fair to say, I think, that the various food processing corporations would rather not admit to consumers exactly how the food is made, what it consists of, and what it really does to a person's body. It is also fair to say, I think, that clothing companies would rather not sell higher quality clothing because their whole business model is built on a puerile craving for new clothes with each seasonal shift. And the intelligence question? Is there any doubt that an informed populace might actually ask questions before making choices? But we are not that society. Rather we are apparently the society that praises the folksy guy who doesn't seem too smart. We appreciate ignorance as much as we like our high fructose corn syrup.

Friday, July 23, 2004

We will never stop killing ourselves

Walk into any Wal-Mart, Meijers, Target, or K-Mart. Survey the weight of the average person in those places, and you might think that the body shape of the average human being bears more resemblance to Jabba the Hut than to Luke Skywalker. Go to a playground and watch children playing, and you might think the average eight year-old is supposed to supplement baby fat rather than lose it. Pick up a newspaper or magazine, or turn on the network news, and of course, there are the hysterical reports about this epidemic expansion of the average waistline. And yet what does this hysteria get us? Low-carb diets, crustless pizzas, fat-free foods built with artificial sweeteners and synthetic fats, and those are just the food aberrations. What else does it get us? Larger automobiles, complaints about the size of seats in ballparks, larger portions to satisfy larger appetites, and stomach staples. In other words, in classic American fashion, our society's solution is not to look at the cause of the problem and solve it, but how to find marketable means for dealing with our gross tonnage and labor-saving devices to allow people to get even fatter.

But, apologists whine, some people just can't help the fact that they are overweight. There are myriad problems with that logic, however. First and foremost is the rhetorical issue: we're dealing with an explosion of obscene obesity, not simply the relatively small percentage of the population who are, in fact, genetically fat. The bigger problem with that logic is that it completely avoids even a cursory examination of why people are getting fatter and what to do about it.

No, such examinations would not survive the withering legal gaze of the food industry. It is, in fact, the predatory marketing tactics of the corporations constantly introducing new and larger "product," updating and expanding brands that are near the root of the problem (more about the question of personal responsibility later). Plenty of research has been done on the addictive qualities of high fat, high sugar, high salt foods, not to mention caffeine. In addition, the folks in lab coats at IFF do their best research on exactly what tastes and smells trigger a Pavlovian addictive response. And though these corporations purport to sell food, this manufacturing cycle is designed to sell addiction rather than nutrition.

Such facts are never publicized, however, because our corporate structure is based on the fundamental concept that business must always grow and bigger is better. Is it any wonder that our bodies are the ultimate victims?

More on processed food, home-cooking, and personal responsibility later.

For factual support, begin with Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Food Politics by Marion Nestle.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Everyone else is doing it, so why can't I?

Driving to work this morning, I was listening to NPR as usual. Carl Castle (sp?) reported that Sandy Berger had resigned from John Kerry's campaign. He continued on to report that there were concerns that Berger had supplied the Kerry campaign with insider information concerning the 9/11 investigation. This was followed by a sound clip of Rep. Dennis Hastert saying that he certainly hoped there hadn't been improper activity. Of course, Hastert made no direct allegations, but the insinuations were there. Hmm... It's a day before the 9/11 report will be released; Cheney goes to the Hill to meet GOP leaders just before the news is leaked; Kerry's campaign is outfundraising the Bush campaign; Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet; the Berger investigation has been going on since October; the Democratic Convention begins in a week. The timing, however, is still a complete coincidence, right?

How much of this must we endure before public outrage spills over and people actually take action?

Of course, when even the NYTimes and NPR jump on the spin bandwagon with the choicest soundbites, there seems little chance that the U.S. public will ever get an accurate enough picture what is going on. And an uninformed people is an easily manipulated people.

That said, my goal (call it a mission if you want) with this blog is to point up the news stories and corporate messages and how dangerously we the people are being manipulated on a regular basis. Why? Because I want to do whatever I can to make the world a better place for my daughter Anna who turns two tomorrow.