Friday, November 25, 2005

Buy Nothing Day

Today is the day on which we are encouraged by counter-culture organizations to buy nothing, in protest against the mindless consumerism of western society. By and large, I think this is a noble idea, but it does crack me up that there are websites where you can purchase t-shirts and stickers supporting the effort to go 24 hours without consuming anything.

This is no stranger to me, though, than the big box stores opening at 5:00AM so people can begin their Christmas shopping as early as possible. The idea of setting my alarm clock for a pre-dawn hour just so I could be first in line at K-Mart or Fry’s Electronics strikes me as heartbreakingly pathetic. On the other hand, I’d like to have a photo printer for 29 bucks, too, just not that badly.

Who are the people who show up these early morning sales, anyway? Last year a woman was seriously injured when she was trampled in a buying frenzy at Wal-Mart, I think it was. I wonder if she’s back this year for more.

The irony of this, of course, is that all over the world, for most people, for most of recorded and unrecorded history, probably every day is buy nothing day. So here’s another one of these odd efforts on the part of modern human beings to make a big deal of something that could hardly be more commonplace. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we have “Use No Computer Day” or “Refrain from Plastic Surgery Day.”

Restraint, however, is to be commended in many cases; there are any number of things I would like to see people stop doing for a day. How about a “Kill No One Day?” Or a “Torture-Free Day?” And you could certainly put me on the mailing list for “Twenty-Four Hours Without Child Abuse.”

But I’ll try to buy nothing today, even though I guess I’ve already bought the idea of doing so.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


You can’t help noticing how right across from the ads for $279.00 serving spoons and $379.00 tins of 7 ounces of caviar and $539.00 a month Cadillacs and $175.00 cheese graters in the New York Times are stories about immigrant laborers in the Dominican Republic who earn less that $10.00 a day. Or locally, the guy selling Real Change newspapers for a buck a piece is standing in front of the Tiffany’s store where silver toothpicks cost 200 times that. Or here’s me on my twenty five hundred dollar bike riding past street kids who have no idea where their next meal is coming from.

How can this be just? How can it even be acceptable? But how can it be any different? If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone equal economically would I? And what difference would it make if we were?

I get to the point where it’s just too exhausting and complicated. You’d think that as well educated as I am, I’d have some sort of idea why it’s like this or what could be done to reduce the inequities.

But instead, I just sit at my computer, listening to the Steelers game on the internet, wondering how to milk 327 words out of my discontent. In a way, I don’t even want things to be any better because if they were, then I’d have to be better, too. As it is, I can wallow in self-pity and self-righteousness without having to do anything about it—beyond merely moaning.

It’s foggy outside today and that’s how I feel on the inside, too. My thoughts and emotions can’t quite see each other across the expanse within; there’s a certain cold comfort in this but it smacks as well of self-indulgence: I could make things clearer, but I’m too lazy to.

I guess I’m no different than the New York Times: on one side are the goodies, on the other, the truth.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Support Our Whoops?

As a citizen of the United States, who enjoys innumerable benefits as a result of my country’s military policy and might, am I morally required to do as the bumper stickers say and “Support Our Troops?” And if so, does this mean I shouldn’t speak out against the war in Iraq and advocate the withdrawal of American forces as quickly as possible?

The standard liberal response is that true patriotism entails freely expressing one’s beliefs; that’s precisely the sort of freedom that this war is being waged to protect. The standard conservative response, on the other hand, is that voicing opposition to the war weakens American resolve and makes our enemies more determined in their effort to destroy our way of life.

So, I’m torn: is it better to exercise my constitutionally-protected right to free speech even if it undermines a vital effort on my country’s behalf or do I keep my mouth shut even if doing so represents an abridgement of the very freedom that is vital to our American way of life?

I feel bad for the servicepeople in uniform should they come to feel that their efforts are not endorsed by the citizens of their country. Conversely, if I were in the army, I would want to know if my fellow Americans thought my mission were a flawed one. In my own life, if I’m doing something I should stop, I want people to tell me—even if what I want most is not be doing something I should stop.

So, when I say that the war in Iraq is an unjust war waged under false pretenses and which should be halted as soon as possible by bringing home the vast majority of troops and material, I believe I’m supporting our troops in the best way I know: I’m saying that if our roles were switched, I’d want them to do what I’m doing—and tell me if I’m doing something that should stop.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Consistent Inconsistency

There’s this group of earnest gray-haired women on the corner of 23rd and Union holding handmade signs protesting Bush and US foreign policy. You gotta love ‘em; at least I do.

Here’s what gets me, though: people drive by in their single occupancy vehicles, honking their horns to show their support. But wouldn’t a more appropriate response be to get out of their cars? Isn’t the fact that they’re driving along by themselves a major reason that the U.S., under Bush, behaves the way it does in the world? Wouldn’t our country have been much less likely to invade Iraq if it weren’t for all the oil there?

Or am I just being a cranky and smug bicycle commuter?

I’m not sure how important consistency is, anyway. I think you can drive to a protest against the oil companies if you have to. It’s okay to wear Nikes to a rally against globalism. Smokers can rail against the corporate policies of R.J. Reynolds. I can even—though barely—make sense of a gay Republican.

But there just seems something so oxymoronic about being against the Iraq war while in the driver’s seat of your car. It’s not that you can’t own an automobile and be opposed to Bush; it’s just that at that very moment when you are burning fossil fuel, it seems false somehow, to give a little toot on your horn to show what you believe in—because if you really did, wouldn’t you do something else?

I often pass by a parked Toyota truck with a bumper sticker that reads “Save the Environment.” As long as it’s parked, I believe the owner’s sincerity. But as soon as he fires up the engine and begins consuming and polluting, I’m not so sure. Of course, as far as I know, he may be driving to the forest to plant trees, but even so, if he passed by me on my bike, I’d still roll my eyes.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Anti Anti-Smoking

Nobody hates smoking more than me. Cigarettes killed both my parents—Dad, heart disease, Mom, lung cancer—and my mother-in-law, whom I adored, succumbed to smoking-induced emphysema. The world would be a much better place had tobacco never been cultivated and I’d be happy to see the entire industry go up in smoke (pun intended). Smokers are pathetic; it’s a dirty, nasty, lame habit that reveals not only a weak character but also a regrettable tendency to be swayed by advertising. Anyone who thinks smoking is cool is a fool; smokers are all simply pawns of a massive public relations hoax perpetrated by the worst elements of capitalism. They are literally killing themselves so a handful of multi-national corporations can make massive profits with no regard whatsoever for the lives of those upon whom their blood money depends.

Nevertheless, I am opposed to the current Washington State ballot initiative 901, which would “prohibit smoking in buildings and vehicles open to the public and places of employment, including areas within 25 feet of doorways and ventilation openings unless a lesser distance is approved.”

For me, it is a case in which my values trump my preferences. While, personally, I would prefer to be able to go out to nightclubs without having to come home with clothes that stink and eyes that burn, it is ultimately more valuable to me that people—both smokers and owners of business that permit smoking—have the liberty to indulge in their foul and disgusting habit should they choose to.

I’m most sympathetic to the appeal to workers’ rights, but frankly, the non-smoking server or bartender can seek employment elsewhere; it’s hard cheese, but once again, in a conflict of liberties (the freedom to permit smoking vs. the freedom to work in a smoke-free environment), it seems to me that liberty should prevail.

Besides, we don’t need to vote smokers out; we just have to wait a few years; they’ll all be dead, anyway.