Friday, December 21, 2007
Despite recent reports of sightings in South America, news reports and pictures out of Bentonville, Arkansas today confirm our worst fear. Santa is dead. Sources close to the jolly old fellow say he died of a broken heart having layed off the last of his elves due to the crushing competition from the Chinese toy market, coupled with increasing flood damage to his largest North Pole toy manufacturing facility.
As evident from the photo, kids are taking it pretty hard; however, grief counselors have been called in to assist and will be available to meet with youngsters at Wal Mart Stores nationwide throughout the holiday season.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
So how did this role model thing become so damn important in pop culture and what the hell does it really mean? Well, back in the 1950’s (before human sexuality was invented), a noted Sociologist named Robert Merton came up with the notion that people aspired to a certain level of society because of the social groups they associated themselves with. He coined the term, “reference groups” as being a major factor in determining how a person would behave. That’s hardly arguable. If a person identifies with say, upper middle class society, he/she probably won’t be caught dead selling crack on the corner of third and Jefferson Streets. Instead, they will tailor their illicit activities to the acceptable norm of their “reference group”. This was a nice little paradigm. It could hardly be classified as earth shattering insight, but it wasn’t a controversial or provocative theory either; rather, just a nice little piece of sociological mumbo-jumbo to fill the textbooks. Now, fast forward to the 1970s when individuals began to define roles for themselves as agents for social and political change for other to emulate. The term “role model” came into vogue and it has since morphed into the soul and collective conscience of the Nu-Speak Generation.
But what the hell is a role and why does it need to be modeled? A role is a) a character or part played by an actor, b) a social behavior of an individual, or c) a function or a position. It’s easy to see that everyone has a role in their social or professional life, but not as easy to see why it’s mandatory for society to demand the role that an individual assumes. If a person wants to reach a certain goal, he/she may choose to assume a certain role to get there but, again, that’s up to the individual. If a person’s role is of their own choosing, then why on earth should we expect Ellie Mae and Ellie Mite, er, Britney and Jamie Lynn to live up to our expectations anymore than that crack dealer on the corner. Nowhere in their entertainment contracts is the clause requiring them to raise our fucking kids. If we don’t like or respect their behavior, then we ignore them and they slither back to Mudslide Louisiana or wherever the hell they’re from. Obviously, since that hasn’t happened, people like the role they have assumed. But, are they models that others somehow blindly emulate because of some subliminal, Svengali like hold they have on our impressionable psyches? And, is it their obligation as public figures to give a shit? No and no.
The term, role model, is about as meaningless as the importance attached to it. It gives parents something to bitch about and famous people something to capitalize on in their pursuit of fame and money. We as people assume our roles based on our own wit, guile, and goals (or lack thereof) and whether we had a model to help us makes little difference. Think about it. Did you ever once regret something you did, and blamed doing it on an actor, musician, athlete, politician, or Paris Hilton? If the answer to that question is yes, then you should go get a role model.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
It's that time of year again. The bells are jingling and the registers are ring-ting-tingling, too. Black Friday has come and gone, and Cyber Monday orders are in the mail. Now we're wasting time in parking-lot traffic jams and long checkout lines, all the while trying to maintain our holiday cheer.
The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $474.5 billion this holiday season. That's up 4 percent from last year's whopping $456.2 billion spent on clothes, video games, and hot tech toys.
Do we really need to repeat history? Recent tradition, supported by plenty of well-crafted holiday advertisements, says "Yes."
Our current state of consumer mania -- our manufactured wants, must-haves and can't-live-withouts -- was born during the post-World War II era, when our country was trying to rebuild its economy. The best strategy, according to retail analyst Victor Lebow, was to make consumption a way of life. And boy, have we ever!
What began as a strategy to improve the American economy, however, has become an American way of life. Our stuff demonstrates our self-worth, and shopping makes us feel good -- or so we think. We have to keep shopping to keep up with the trends or to replace our outdated stuff. From the limited life cycle of personal computers to rotating wardrobe styles, the products we buy are designed to break quickly or to go out of fashion, requiring speedy replacement either way.
This notion of planned and perceived obsolescence drives the machine of American consumerism year-round. Research shows that up to 80 percent of products in the U.S. are used once and then trashed. All of this shopping is taking its toll.
The cycle of buying stuff, tossing it, and buying new stuff at such a rapid pace is depleting the planet's natural resources, putting our health at risk, and harming communities around the globe. The cycle is also draining us of our time and the energy we need to enjoy the things we really value, like family, friends, and free time. Ironically, we're participating in a system focused on stuff that is designed to make us feel good, but we're not even happy. In fact, as a country, our happiness is actually declining.
Still, watching TV and shopping top our leisure-time activity list. We watch more TV now than ever before, and we shop at double the rate we did 50 years ago. It is an insidious cycle. We watch TV, and advertisements tell us what we need to buy. Then we go out and buy it. And by the time we get home, the TV is telling us that there is still more stuff we need to buy, especially during the holiday season.
It is time we found another way -- a more sustainable and healthy way -- to celebrate the holidays. Maybe we can spend more time together instead of spending so much money on more stuff to give each other. That would be a good start, but there is only so much we can do as individual consumers. To really make change, we need to challenge this system that encourages endless consumption and ask others to challenge it, too.
We need to work together to transform today's throwaway economy into one that prioritizes environmental sustainability and social justice over stuff. Creating that kind of change would really be something to celebrate.
So before you make your holiday shopping list, consider the consumer cycle we're stuck in. Consider the $474.5 billion that retailers and advertisers want us to spend this holiday season on stuff we really don't need. Consider giving a new gift: the gift of change.
Monday, December 17, 2007
From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.
They aren’t lying. Annie Leonard’s (the writer) ability to encapsulate so much into such a brief and totally understandable presentation is quite unique. It can be understood by children and adults and may even be understandable to politicians.
Give it a look and send it to your friends. It may make a difference.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Then there is the dreaded racial inequality rant. There are those that would dare to suggest that Michael Vick's ethnicity has bearing on the sentence he received. They might attribute the harshness of the sentence to those dumb asses of the caucasion persuasion, who concern themselves with such trivialities as sanctity of life, cruelty to the helpless, telling the truth under oath, interstate transport involving illegal activity, gambling, and ill gotten funds. Those misguided cornballs are somehow out of touch and naturally biased against an innocent brother trying to have some harmless fun. "There just dogs!! He wasn't selling crack!!"
To all this, I would humbly offer the opinion that selling a small yacht's worth of crack would be preferable to the actions of brother Michael and his band of merry men. And no, I am not a card carrying member of PETA either. However, I am thankful that all their (and other organization's) efforts to elevate the value of life in the eyes of the public. I am thankful that they have contributed to a reduction in those that would trivialize the value of a dog's life as well as the cruelty of persons that would exploit them.
Ultimately, however, it was not the cruelty against animals that led to the severity of Vick's sentence. It was his blatant disregard for, and violation of Federal law coupled with the failure to take responsibility for his actions (until indicted) that did him in. He's being shipped down the proverbial river for his crime rather than his cruelty. If the cruelty was to be adequately considered, he may have received more punishment. But many times, that's not up to the courts to punish. That's society's job and I hope the responsibility is not shirked. Especially, when one considers he didn't do what he did for the money. He just enjoyed the thrill of the kill. Nice guy huh?
Just dogs my ass.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Having been a major proponent for environmental responsibility for years now, I have often said that the “movement” wouldn’t take off until corporations could figure out a way to make a buck off of it. Well, lo and behold, Madison Avenue has found that ticket in the biggest buzz word of the new millennium: "green". Yep, just like the color of money. How appropriate that is. Not since the advent of the term "lite" , has one little word spawned such a wild eyed media scramble to attack well intentioned citizens who can’t figure out that environmentalism and consumerism aren’t one and the same.
I fear that today’s impressionable consumer will be lulled into thinking that everything will be ok as long as they buy “green”. Think about how the “lite” food and beverage craze averted a whole generation from obesity…. oh right, it didn’t. Today, we are the fattest society in the history of mankind. We are a society of piranhas trained to flock and attack whatever is hot, be it a hybrid SUV or or a free range chicken. Word people: we can’t buy our way into an environmentally responsible society. Just like anything else, accomplishments are earned through effort. Consumerism without conscience got us into this mess but it will take more than a dash of “green” awareness to get us out of it! It is up to us to demand a change be made. How do we do this? We do it by actions that promote change everyday, be they large or small. Here are some suggestions:
Buy Locally – Support local businesses whenever possible and never, ever enter a Wal-Mart store again. Wal-Mart should be everyone’s public enemy number 1 for numerous reasons ranging from human exploitation to CO2 emissions in both the US and China. But if those aren't good enough for you, suffice it to say, you will sleep better for the rest of your life never having to hear another battered child screaming in the toy strewn aisles of that hell hole of a store. I dream for the day we run those bastards out of business.
Move Closer to Your Work – If you long for the country life so be it. More power to you. Just find a way to work there too. We as a society can no longer afford the luxury of commuting 20+ miles each way to work everyday. Urban sprawl and the energy demands that result are killing us all and we have the power to stop it. Be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Live near your work.
Buy Environmentally Responsible Products – Hey, I didn’t say buying “green” was bad. It’s just a part of the solution. Take the time to know what companies and what products promote energy conservation and environmentalism and make it a point to support them.
Rattle Cages – Demand accountability on environmental issues from your elected officials. We all have them and they are there for us to torment. We owe it to them to make their life miserable. The more time politicians spend answering to us, the less time they will have to get into trouble. Citizens of Idaho, take heed to this.
Re-evaluate Transportation Needs – Walk, bike, scooter, fuel efficient vehicle…… what do all these things have in common? They are all better than that 4 ton gas guzzling behemoth you are putting $100 a week into!!!!
Be Willing to Sacrifice Some Conveniences - For the sake of a cleaner world give up something. Be it plastic bags, chemicals for your lawn, the Hummer (the vehicle, not the uhh....nevermind), pick something, anything……
OK, I feel better now.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
There are many that would scoff at the idea of keeping these dogs alive, arguing the potential danger these animals impose; however, I’m not among that school of thought. Mike Vick is responsible for making these 48 dogs the aggressive, unpredictable killing machines they are (he’s the financier anyway) so he, in turn, should be responsible for their rehabilitation and care. If that entails, weekly visits to the day spa, weekend getaways to the French Riviera, or one on one with Dr. Phil, so be it. These innocent creatures just may be salvageable; however, I not so sure about old Bad Newz Mike.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Dr. Crupi went to work interviewing “a broad range” of Richmond’s business leaders to ask them how they felt about Richmond’s future. He then used those interviews to compile a report, issued in 1993, entitled “Back to the Future: Richmond at a Crossroads”. This report, with the snappy little title, infuriated many people, not the least of who were quite highly positioned in political leadership of the City. In fact, then Mayor, Roy West tried to have the City Council censure the report. It’s funny how people get so sensitive when “outsiders” come in and tell it like it is. You see, Dr. Crupi’s report happened to make the observation that Richmond was, in essence, going to hell in a hand basket, largely because the political “keys to the city” had been passed to a group of political officials that didn’t know squat about business and all the business leaders had either left town or run for cover. Well it certainly didn’t matter that anyone with more than a second grade education in Richmond already knew that. This dude with the fancy pedigree was issuing a public report and people were going to read it! It was kind of like the time that emperor bought the see through suit. Bad times ahead for old Richmond, that was for sure. The posturing, posing and collective outcry was heard from the wards to the burbs. Even the good old Times Disgrace got in on the rebuttals to Dr. Crupi’s opus. While he was an outsider and a Caucasian, it was a damn good thing for sure Dr. Crupi wasn’t a yankee. He may not have made it out of town alive.
The inflammatory report did see the light of day however; and the citizens, politicos, business leaders and media have had fifteen years to collectively chew on it. Fortunately, some of its parts were not spit out and we have come to be stronger for the repast. As a result of Crupi’s report (or despite it perhaps), Richmond now enjoys a stronger and more representative government, the City is undergoing a new business renaissance, the tax base is improving, and the core and river front areas are getting a badly needed face lift. All of these things point to a new Richmond ahead…. Right? Well, the answer may not be a resounding yes quite yet.
That old “secret society” of business elite has now become a little more involved these days, not to mention a little younger, and, lo and behold, they invited old Jim Crupi back to Richmond this year for round two. It seems that, just like some of their predecessors, they needed to buy a little clout to issue the same conclusions that John Q. Citizen can make for free (and does constantly). Anyway, Dr. Crupi has left another report on our doorstep entitled “Putting the Future Together”. I would urge everyone to read both reports, but particularly the latest one. I would link it to this blog were I not such an technological failure.
This time, it appears the dear Doctor has learned the importance of mixing some honey with his medicine to make it easier to swallow. He is careful to acknowledge that “Richmond has accomplished much” over the last fifteen years since his last check-up. While some may take exception to his implication that the City’s progress is somehow a result of his 1993 recommendations, few can argue that many of his “observations” have been successfully addressed. Perhaps we can forgive him his trespasses since he was nice enough to pat us on the back for building that nice new renamed airport and creating a strong mayor (indeed) form of government. He even applauds our progress on convincing people not to kill one another! Thank god for his recommendations in that area. We may have never figured that one out were it not for his benevolent intervention. Let me not digress, but get to the point of the matter; being, we’ve got a ways to go folks! As Crupi states, [despite progress] “something is missing. The pieces are not tied together”. Basically, he observes that we are not working together collectively or cohesively to construct a unified vision for a new Richmond. Well, I’ll be damned. Why didn’t anyone ever think of that one! Don’t get me wrong. The dude makes good sense and he makes points that need to be made. Here are some of what I believe to be his best ones:
· The Richmond Metro area has too much per capita motor vehicle traffic (vehicle miles up over 100% in the last 20 years. This is because of what? Urban sprawl! It can’t continue. People need to live closer to where they work. Unrestrained residential development in Richmond’s surrounding counties will kill our City and our economy.
· Richmond needs better mass transit. Period, end of story.
· Richmond needs better schools. It’s not that hard to agree on a solution folks. We know there’s a problem. Let’s address it in a non-partisan way! They aren’t colors, they are kids!
· We need to continue to build and refurbish our core downtown and riverfront (ya think!).
If pushed to come up with one major criticism of Crupi’s work, it would be his antiquated reliance on old paradigms to explain social phenomenon. He continues to draw from the well worn book of “race” and “culture” as a theoretical framework for which to explain and cure all our urban ills. It’s time to get a new book because we’ve read that one too many times. To either explain or address a city’s problems in the context of one group versus another is a recipe for failure. Further, it is offensive to all and beneficial to none when cultural, class or racial lines are drawn between any one group and a tangible goal (in this case building a viable city). Look at this quote from Crupi’s new report:
“Differences in communication styles also contribute to the problem. Opportunities are being lost because perceptions are getting in the way of getting things done. The black community tends to interpret problems in the context of their social consequences while whites tend to view problems in the context of their economic consequences. It’s like watching a discussion between an artist and an entrepreneur. The artist is emotionally expressive and worries about the richness lost by jumping to outcomes while the entrepreneur just wants to solve the problem and views emotional expression as counterproductive.”
I can’t really speak for others but I find this type of stereotypically based crap to be wrong on so many levels. To attempt to explain major issues in this type of sociologically simplistic way is not only lazy but offensive. I believe there to be no more “black” and “white” community. Sure, there are instances where references of this type are somewhat useful; however, this imaginary community of reference can no longer be a vehicle for explaining or addressing the economic or urban issues we are facing. As far as I’m concerned, anyone that seeks to prove their point by referencing people as a collective group, with singular traits and values might as well be selling snake oil. When we fall back on generalizations like this, we become contributing members of a pseudo discipline that has given rise to a kind of conceptual shorthand meant to explain the world in a way that one thinks it should be understood. We are much too multicultural as a population to fall victim to this “old speak” bullshit.
Finally, I believe Dr. Crupi has done a great service to the City of Richmond by blessing us with his learned observations and thought provoking tidbits. But, the time has come for us to strike out on our own. Hopefully, we will not have a need for the doctor to do another follow-up in fifteen years; however, should he feel the need to re-visit, I hope he will be pleased with the progress we have made.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
And, come to think of it, Thanksgiving is not so much of a harvest celebration anymore anyway. We can be thankful of how far we have evolved as humans. You know, how we’re one world without borders now, harmonious, one big world family as it were. We’re thankful that the majority of the world thinks like we do and shares the same values. Hell, they’re playing football (real football, not that soccer crap) in Europe and baseball in Asia. Now that’s really something to be thankful for. And what about those foreign cultures we have embraced in this country? Thanks to our newfound tolerance and respect for others, we now have salsa and Doritos in our party bowls instead of those old chips and French onion dip. I even heard of folks serving sushi at some of those fancier Thanksgiving throwdowns. Thanks be to God, Allah, Buddah and all the rest. One world, under er…, a higher power, with liberty and, uh…, well, we’re thankful anyway.
Let’s not forget the material things we all have to be thankful for as well. Time was, all we could be thankful for was a chicken in every pot. Now we can have an SUV in every driveway, a flat screen TV in every den, and a retailer on every corner to sell it to us. Now that, my friends, is something we can all be thankful for.
And let us not forget to thank our Nation’s leaders for sponsoring a day to watch football and a war to protect and preserve our freedom to enjoy all our material gifts. Without the government’s efforts to democratize the poor savages of Iraq and other backward nations, each and every tradition that we hold so dear in this country would be under constant siege. I don’t know about you my friends but I like our little corner of this world just like it is and I’m thankful we have a government that supports the effort to keep it that way. Happy Turkey Day!!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
One day in the future, OJ Simpson Has a heart attack and dies. He immediately goes to hell, where The devil is waiting for him. "I don't know what to do here," Says the devil. "You are on my list, but I Have no room for you. You definitely Have to stay here, so I'll tell you What I'm going to do. I've got A few folks here who weren't quite as bad as You. I'll let one of them go, But you have to take their place. I'll even Let YOU decide who leaves." OJ thought that sounded pretty Good, so the devil opened the door to the First room. In it was Ted Kennedy and a Large pool of water. Ted kept diving in, and surfacing, Empty handed. Over, And over, and over he dove in and surfaced with nothing. Such was his Fate in hell. "No," OJ said. "I Don' t think so. I'm not a good swimmer, and I don't think I could do that all day long." The devil led him to the door of The next room. In it was George W. Bush with a Sledgehammer and a room full of rocks. All he did Was swing that hammer, time After time after time. "No, this is no good; I've got this problem with my shoulder. I would be in constant agony if all I could do was break rocks all Day," commented OJ. The devil opened a third door. Through it, OJ saw Bill Clinton, Lying on the bed, his arms tied over his Head, and his legs restrained In a spread-eagle pose. Bent over him was Monica Lewinsky, doing what She does best. OJ looked at this in shocked Disbelief, and finally said, "Yeah Man, I can handle this." The devil smiled and said . .
(This is priceless)
"OK, Monica, you're free to go."