Jones of the Nile

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pray for rain and common sense

It's hard to imagine a world leader who might be a bigger boob that President George W. Bush. But Australia's John Howard is certainly giving #43 a run for his money. In addition to picking a fight with Sen. Barack Obama earlier this year, and continually offering justification for Australia's participation in the Iraq War, Howard is now saying that the way to deal with global warming, and Australia's miserable drought, is to "pray for rain."

This is good news. Now that Howard has enlightened me to the power of prayer, I'm going to pray for an end to my student loan debt. I'd also like bigger muscles, so I'll pray for that too. I'd also like to see the return of "Growing Pains" to the airwaves, so count that among my prayers.

Of course I believe in the power of prayer, but it's kind of like that great quote, "Pray with Scripture in one hand and a newspaper in the other." Meaning that the power of prayer is useless unless you're in tune with your surroundings and realities, and have a sense of the action needed to be taken to create positive change. So it goes with John Howard. World leaders who use prayer as a policy solution ought to turn on the television and see those ice caps breaking away from the poles.

This article by Kelpie Wilson, which talks about the impending wrath of global warming on Australia, is fascinating. It shows how a massive drought, brought on by global warming (which has pushed the temperature in the Southern hemisphere to all-time highs) and the destruction of the ozone layer over the South Pole, is radically changing life in Australia for farmers, birds, yuppie residents in Sydney, and miners.

But the most interesting element of this article is the last bit about Rupert Murdoch jumping on the climate change bandwagon. That's kind of like the vultures jumping to the aid of Prometheus. But Murdoch has made a commitment to go green, having vowed to make his media companies carbon neutral.

You might think this is good news. But as Kelpie Wilson points out, Murdoch "is a master at subverting social movements to his own purposes." If you've always thought Murdoch was Machiavellian, I guess you could say the proof is in the loofah.

More Wilson:
"One view of Rupert Murdoch is that he simply hates to back losers. In that case, it's somewhat comforting to know that he sees global warming as a winning issue. But it's also important to ask how he will skew public awareness toward solutions that bring him and others of his class personal advantage, but aren't necessarily the best for the planet. Our best hope is that people will continue to be way out ahead of both government and News Corporation, and be actively involved in leading the way."

So the moral of this story is to pray for rain and engaged citizens and business leaders to lead the way on climate change. Otherwise, the right may lay their claim to the climate change issue, and before you know it, the biggest solution to global warming and terrorism will be to go shopping.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Did they ever call him Chaz Nelson Reilly?

"The thing that's funny is that everyone thinks I'm dead." - Charles Nelson Reilly

Sadly, now everyone who thinks that Charles Nelson Reilly is dead will be right. Charles Nelson Reilly died on Friday, May 25. For those of us who sometimes turn on GSN to kill time and find themselves watching three hours straight of "The Match Game," this is sad news. And eerie news, too, since Kitty Carlisle, another fixture of The Match game, died just a few weeks ago. Shoot, if Betty White or Vicki Lawrence kicks the bucket soon, I'll start to think there's a curse afoot.

Reilly was one of the few openly gay individuals to be on television in the 1960s and 1970s, and though he once said that being on game shows ruined his career, he was also a Tony-award winning actor. He was also in the campy film "Gaydar," and a voice on Spongebob Squarepants. Who knew!

Anyway, a light posting for Memorial Day. Have a good holiday, folks!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Getting rid of Phil English

Rep. Phil English (at right) has been the scourge of my former hometown, Erie, PA, for twelve years now. There's obnoxious, and then there's Rep. Phil English. I once saw him pounce down the throat of a senior citizen at a town hall meeting on social security. I've also had to see first-hand his ruthless campaign tactics and mudslinging over the last few elections...specifically in 2000, when I volunteered for his opponent, Dr. Marc Flitter. The tactics Rep. English's campaign used in that campaign make Lynne Cheney look like Teddy Ruxpin.

So I nearly jumped out of my chair with glee when I saw that Kyle Foust might challenge him for Pennsylvania's 3rd District. Kyle Foust is a great Democrat, and currently chair of Erie's County Council. While he would enter the race a huge underdog in money, he's got name recognition in Pennsylvania's 3rd District, and there are more registered Democrats in the 3rd than Republicans.

Kyle is also pretty charismatic, at least compared to Phil English, who is 320lbs of nasty man. I can't wait to see how this race unfolds. I hope Kyle can withstand Rep. English and his minions. They're going to be ruthless.

For a great website to keep updated on Congressional races throughout the country, check out Swing State Project. I've been meaning to hype this site for a while. It's not updated daily, but three times a week or so they post on the latest updates around the country. There's also a good diary section. Check it out.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Taking the old bag shopping

That sounds like something my father would say, jokingly, if he were taking my mother shopping. They have that kind of relationship.

But I'm talking about plastic bags. The kind that whip in the breeze, get stuck in fences or hedges, and are used to pick up dog feces. (Unless it's late at night, and the house whose yard your dog is defecating in has all the lights turned off. In which case the plastic bag stays firmly in your pocket, and you run like hell back home after your dog has done his/her business.)

Earlier this year San Francisco's Board of Supervisors approved a city-wide ban on plastic bags, the first such city in the U.S. to do so. The country of Ireland did it even before San Francisco.

On April 2, Leaf Rapids, Manitoba became the first Canadian city to go plastic bag free. Leaf Rapids...isn't that the name of a famous viking?

Non-plastic bag resolutions are now likely to become as popular as Starter apparel circa 1988. So I think the logical next question will these resolutions affect the price of tortillas in Mexico?

Whoa, that's a non sequitur, you might say. But it's not, and globalization is to blame. And maybe Thomas Friedman, who I just never really liked. Thanks to journalist Melanie Tromp for providing the information below. Read her article on this.

Here's the six degrees between non-plastic bag resolutions and rising tortilla prices in Mexico:

Step 1: A city passes a resolution eliminating non-recyclable plastic bags.

Step 2: Grocery stores start supplying "biodegradable" plastic bags in massive quantities. (To give you perspective on how many bags are put out into the world, more than one million plastic bags are discarded worldwide every minute.)

Step 3: "Biodegradable" plastic bags actually require more energy and resources to produce. Corn and soybean oil are often used as components.

Step 4: The demand for corn (in part to produce more "biodegradable" bags) skyrockets. As per supply and demand rules, the price of corn therefore skyrockets.

Step 5: In Mexico, tortillas are the chief starch staple for millions of Mexican people. Corn is essentially the primary ingredient in tortillas.

Step 6: The price of corn, and therefore tortillas, rises at a level of ten times the minimum wage in Mexico. People can't afford to make tortillas. People go hungry. People riot.

So that's how plastic bags and tortillas are connected. More ironic, and the reason I put "biodegradable" in quotation marks, is that "biodegradable" bags only decompose in certain soil conditions.

What's that? That's the sound of a very nice sounding city council resolution - like the kind of resolution that bans non-recyclable plastic bags - bumping up against the reality that, in the end, it's not all that helpful in addressing the myriad environmental problems caused by plastic, whether you throw the word "biodegradable" in front of it or not.

The real solution, as Tromp (and those she interviews) points out, is to couple these plastic bag resolutions with a call to address consumption, and specifically to look at REDUCING the amount of bags we use.

"By taking the old bag shopping just 11 times, the consumer delivers a lower environmental impact than one single-use plastic bag." -- Tracey Saxby, co-founder of Greener Footprints in British Columbia

So here's to taking the old bag shopping, as opposed to picking up new "biodegradable" bags each time we visit the store. Now I just need to figure out a way to scoop up my dog's business sans plastic.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Viva Jody Williams, and down with cluster bombs

This is Jody Williams. She's won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work against landmines. She is good news.

She's in Lima, Peru this week for an international conference on cluster munitions. Cluster munitions (often referred to as cluster bombs) are a hellish weapon, and what they lack in precision they make up for in ruthless destruction. The U.S. dropped them in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lebanon dropped them on Israel. Israel dropped them (pummeled might be the better analogy) on Lebanon.

Why are they so deadly? Because they don't work. Literally, that's the answer. When cluster bombs are dropped, they spread smaller submunitions over an indiscriminate area. Some of these submunitions blow up on contact with the ground (often killing civilians, because it's very hard to pinpoint their trajectory). However, more often than not, submunitions don't detonate on contact with the ground, and instead get lodged in trees, on the side of hills, in grassy fields, inside gardens, stuck on power lines, and more. They sit, and they sit, and they sit.

Until a farmer runs one over with his tractor.

Or until a child thinks it's a toy and picks it up.

Until a car runs over one on the side of the road.

You get the picture. Which, speaking of pictures, here's just one shot of a cluster bomb victim. This is why these weapons should be banned.

This is where Jody Williams comes into play. At the international conference in Lima, Peru, Jody joined four other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (all women, by the way), calling for a complete and total ban on cluster munitions. Joining Jody Williams were Mairead Corrigan Maguire (she won the prize in 1976 for her work in Northern Ireland...on a personal note, she's also entirely cool and one of the sweetest people I've ever met); Wangari Maathai (who won in 2004 for her work planting trees in Kenya); Shirin Ebadi (who won in 2003 for her work in Iran); and Rigoberta Manchu (who won in 1992 for her work in Guatemala). All five women told it like it is: "Cluster bombs have become synonymous with civilian casualties."

Cluster bombs are like landmines, in that they leave indiscriminate destruction in their wake. Landmines have been banned (thank you, Jody Willams). It's time to ban cluster bombs, too.

For more information, visit the Stop Cluster Munitions site.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Robbing from the rich to give to the rich

I don't like beating up on people like Barbra Streisand, because there's already an entire television network devised to do so (hello, Fox News). But I nearly laid an egg when I saw how much Babs was charging for concert tickets over in Europe.

Ticket prices range from just under 50 euros (about $73) to more than 900 euros (about $1,315). However, the cheapest tickets have already sold out.

Several Italian groups are calling for her shows to be canceled, or at least booted from the public venue they're scheduled to be held at. They call the ticket prices "absurd and shameful." That's what I'd say about those split ends!

But it does crank my chain to see progressive celebrities charge more than college tuition to attend their shows. You don't see Joan Baez charging $1,300 a pop for her shows! Perhaps that's because she has integrity, rather than hollow convictions! Even if they won't let her play in Walter Reed Medical Hospital.

Babs, u2, Madonna...I applaud their social activism, but I hope they see the disconnect between what they practice, and what they preach.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Toward(s) Wiser Business

Flipping through the pages of Utne Reader, I came across a quick blurb for what could be a very cool new site. is launching later this year, with a mission to "guide society towards a restorative economy, the cornerstone of which is community-based business."

In another lifetime, their use of the word "towards" would have sent me to the doctor for Lotrel. "Towards" isn't a word. It's just toward. But as long as they're consistent, I no longer really care.

The site looks to use the same technology that makes Wikipedia run to allow consumers and users to "hone and standardize the criteria determining responsible business behavior, link customers' social and environmental priorities directly to companies, and supply companies with the latest solutions" for implementing a set of 'best practices' to achieve socially responsible corporate behavior.

The site is months away from being launched, but you can take a preliminary tour and offer feedback, so that when the site officially launches, it can be all that it can be (to paraphrase the U.S. Army slogan). Click here to take the free tour. And click here for another recipe for fried bananas.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Smiling faces, sometimes, they don't tell the truth

When I think of corporate branding and the smiley face, I think of two companies. The first is Eat-n-Park, which may be unfamiliar to folks outside the mid-atlantic or midwest. Eat-n-Park is a restaurant ala Perkins, IHOP or Denny's, and they make these smiley face sugar cookies with various colors of icing. They are a cavity's best friend, and probably contain as much sugar as a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. Good stuff.

The other company that comes to mind is Wal-Mart. Decidedly less sweet.

Today's NY Times has an interesting piece on Sen. Hillary Clinton's six-year tenure as a director of Wal-Mart's board. I knew she had close connections with Wal-Mart, but I didn't know she was on the board. Check out the photo. Mama mia, that's a lotta old white dudes.

Here's the article in the NY Times. Here's the article in the LA Times. Here's a recipe for fried bananas. In case you're hungry.

The mysterious relationship between the Clintons and Wal-Mart should be getting more attention this election cycle. The CEO of Wal-Mart even camped out at the Clintons' house in July 2006. Sure, the article cites Hillary's efforts to work for incremental change within the company, but it also curiously notes her silence on Wal-Mart's relationships (or lack thereof) with unions.

Glad to see this get some play. It certainly warrants more discussion than John Edwards' haircuts.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Favorite quote of the month: "Burger King, watch the f*** out!"

Out of context, that quote sounds a little funny. Especially given that it was said by Queen Elizabeth on her recent trip to the States.

Kidding. It was actually said by guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. I meant to post about this a few weeks ago, but for those who don't know, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and McDonald's reached a landmark agreement with one another, ending two years of work to get McDonald's to agree to demands that the restaurant take responsibility for the wages and working conditions of migrant laborers who pick its tomatoes. For a great article on this from the New Standard, go here.

First Taco Bell caved into the demands of human rights activists. Then McDonald's. Next? Burger King. Religious leaders have already started to come together to call for the King to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and a local group in Miami has formed to promote fair food in Burger King's hometown (side note: I'd like Miami as a hometown!). According to the CIW, "the Miami Fair Food Committee will reach out to high schools, universities, faith communities, unions, and community organizations in the Miami area to take the campaign to the people of Miami and build a base for action as the Campaign continues to turn the heat up on BK."

Another great website to keep up to date on the Burger King protest is, the website of the Student Farmworker Alliance. If it took Taco Bell five years to comply with demands to take care of their farmworkers, and McDonald's two years, let's see if we can't get Burger King to do it in a few days.

And then Wendy's, (to quote Tom Morello) watch the f*** out!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tommy Hilfiger: Janitor wages are bad for business

Proving that treating your employees like Alec Baldwin treats his daughter is considered high fashion, Tommy Hilfiger has slashed the wages of its janitors from nearly $19 an hour to $8 an hour, and has fired its unionized cleaning contractor and replaced it with a non-union one.

I used to wear Tommy cologne. Now I'd rather wear Joy Behar's sweat.

This was originally covered in the NY Times, but you can only access the link through a subscription. This is the type of story that aggravates me. One, Hilfiger pulled in a whopping $14.5 million last year (in addition to the $66 million he snagged when the company was bought out by a private equity firm), while his janitors now make $8.00 an hour. Try paying for rent in NYC working a job at $8.00 an hour. Hell, try paying for rent in Buffalo working a job at $8.00 an hour. I made nearly $8.00 an hour cutting watermelons when I was 16, and that was 12 years ago! And I didn't have to wipe excess poop off of company toilets, either.

This is also posted at TNR. I might be feeling particularly outraged this morning, but I'm writing the Hilfiger company a letter. You can write them an email here if you'd like.

Hilfiger, if you read this blog (which I'm sure you do), you suck.