Sunday, November 26, 2006

Process versus Product: America's Obsession with Immediate Gratification

If you read the title of my blog or have read my initial entry, you may already know that in addition to politics, hiking, and my dog, I have another obsession. Knitting. Pictured here are a hat and scarf set I have been working on for myself for several weeks now. Knitting, in many ways, goes against the current American obsession with immediate gratification and "getting a good deal". I paid about $30 at my local yarn store to make this hat and scarf set. I'm sure I have already spent at least 5 hours working on this project. At $7.25 an hour, that's already $36.25 in labor. Now we're up to $66.25 with at least 2 more hours in labor to go. So, minimum we're looking at an $80 hat and scarf set. Surely, I could have gone to Target and bought this set for less than the yarn alone. For me, however, there is a personal value in the pleasure of creating something with my hands. There is also value in supporting my local yarn store instead of getting "a better deal" online.

As we head into this holiday season, when circulars from big box stores are bigger than the actual newspaper that they are placed in, it is difficult to ignore the reality that one of the philosophies of current American culture can be summed up as this, 'Whoever gets the most stuff at the lowest price wins.' The front pages of newspapers the day after Thanksgiving are not dotted with stories of how this day of reflection has driven Americans to understand how priveleged they are by selling their McMansions, moving into Thoreau style cabins, and donating their profits to those who are "food insecure." Instead, we see images of people lined up in front of Macy's, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other temples of consumerism, to get the "best deal" on items that will distract them from any real engagement in civic life. Just to pour salt in the wound, these items, such as Playstations, talking dolls that actually pee in their pants (apparently this is a bonus!), and other plastic stuff made by small children in third world countries, will likely their way to a landfill within 10 years.

OK, so I don't mean to be a total grinch. In fact, I love giving gifts. I just don't like giving gifts at other people's expense. It's hard to believe that something is "a great deal" when the person who made it is 8 years old and works 14 hour days. So, in light of this, I am a big proponent of "quality over quantity". As a child, whenever I asked my mom what she wanted for her birthday or christmas, she would say, "Make me something. I love anything that is made by you." I guess, eventually, I heard this message, because this year, I am knitting my mom a vest. On Saturday, instead of going out to buy my mom an item whose origins would cause an episode of insomnia, my mom and I went to the local yarn store and she picked out yarn for her vest.

Now, I am not about to say that I am going to knit every person on my Christmas list a vest, but I am going to try to buy thoughtfully and support the local economy. You may be able to get a better bargain for an item online or in a big box store, but you might not feel like you got such a bargain when your Main St. looks like a ghost town because local businesses can't offer the big bargain. If it costs five more dollars to buy a sweater at local family owned business, consider the five dollars a holiday donation to the preservation of community life.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Food Insecurity": Another Denial of Human Suffering

Thanksgiving Day has arrived and our refrigerator is stuffed. My boyfriend is still snoozing in our warm home and, while I have not eaten any breakfast, I am “food secure”. I know that there are multiple boxes of cereal, eggs, apples, and plenty of other nutritious food to fill my stomach right downstairs. It is a safe feeling. It is a comforting feeling. Hunger, which I have never really experienced, must be the opposite. Fear. Panic. Terror. Pain.

By now, many of you have already read that George Bush has decided to use the term "food insecurity" instead of hunger to describe people who are hungry. As we know, words are powerful and George Bush does not have a good track record of using them accurately or effectively. Nor does he have a good track record of admitting the human suffering that has and continues to happen in his name. Let’s start with the definition of insecurity. When I looked "insecurity" up in Merriem-Webster’s on-line dictionary, here’s what I found:

1. not confident or sure.
2. not adequately guarded or sustained

Do you think it is accurate to describe individuals who are hungry as, “not confident or sure”. Does this accurately describe the type of fear and pain that hungry individuals must live with every day? I don’t know about you, but if I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch and I wasn’t sure where my dinner was coming from, I think I would feel a little more than “not adequately guarded or sustained.”

Here is how the same dictionary defines "hunger".

1. a.
craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient b. an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food c. a weakened condition brought about by prolonged lack of food

Interesting that the word “urgent” is in the first definition. If a physical state is “urgent”, such as hunger, we would conclude that it is an emergency and not just something to worry about in our spare time.

George Bush, by using the term “food insecurity” instead of hunger to describe “hunger”, is taking the urgency out of this international crisis. George Bush, if nothing else, is good at denial. He avoids addressing any of the real crises in the world by distracting the country with false threats of terrorism. Americans have become so scared about their own safety because of the Bush administration’s efforts to distract us and/or keep us in a state of fear. What about the crimes that the US is committing every day against its own citizens by leaving them hungry, while we spend billions of dollars on a war that the majority of the country does not support? As the wealthiest country in the world, the fact that there are at least 35 million people who are “food insecure” should be a punishable crime. This is a statistic that I got directly from the USDA’s Economic Research Service website. This site is filled with alarming and real facts. There is no question (unlike Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction) that there are millions of people that are hungry in this nation of plenty. The United States has the resources to address this issue and eliminate hunger. Our government chooses to spend our tax dollars to fight wars in oil rich countries instead of feeding our own hungry citizens.

Hunger in the United States is only the tip of the iceberg. While the US prides itself on being the world police, we do not seem to be concerned about the “food security” of our global neighbors. According to the organization Bread for the World, 852 million people across the world are hungry. 16,000 children die from hunger related diseases every day. There’s more information and it only gets more depressing.

Here's an interesting train of thought. Maybe, if we are going to call hunger "food insecurity", we should call wealth "excessive money". I wonder how well that would go over with the wealthiest top 2% of the population? I have a feeling that corporations would put up a pretty big protest before their CEO's financial situation was described in government reports as "excessive money."

Let's call a spade a spade. You can change the language that describes hunger and the resulting malnourishment and disease that kills 16,000 children a day, but it doesn't mean that their pain doesn't exist. It's time to stop sugar coating the painful realities of our hungry neighbors with terminology that is easier on our ears. A little discomfort and guilt about the fact that there are people going hungry in our own communitie might drive people to take some real action towards this national and international crisis.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Good Things Come in Small Packages: Vermont Leads the Way in Washington D.C.

This is the view that I had as I stood on a chair at the back of the Adirondack Ballroom at the Wyndham Hotel in Burlington on election night 2007. Vermont was one of the first states to declare victory for a shift in power in Washington. Polls closed on November 7th in VT at 7 P.M. Many Vermonters, even those who are not farmers, seem to follow the agricultural schedule of getting up at the crack of dawn so volunteers, staff, and supporters of Bernie Sanders, Peter Welch, Scudder Parker, and Matt Dunne, were already toasting to the victory of independent (a.k.a. socialist) Bernie Sanders as the senator-elect and Peter Welch U.S. House Representative-elect while other states were still biting their fingernails. Vermonters still kept an eye on the T.V. screens as they rooted for democratic victory in other states. A huge round of applause swept through the room when the screen announced that Pennsylvania's extremely conservative Rick Santorum had lost the election to Casey.
I was fortunate to volunteer on all of these campaigns at some point in the past six months. Having been away from Vermont for several years, this was a great way to take the pulse of the state and find out what Vermonters are thinking. Vermonters pride themselves on being independent and not voting for a party, but rather for a person. As I spoke to people around the state, it was clear that many voters were keenly aware of the role the Republican party has played in supporting a war based on false information, pushing more and more Americans into poverty, and threatening Americans' civil liberties with the patriot act.
While Bernie Sanders is an independent, he chose to openly endorse democratic candidates in this election, which brought the crisis in Washington to the attention of independent thinkers around the state. Of course, not all Vermonters are interested in change. During the final days leading up to the election, I knocked on one door as I was canvassing, and was greeted with fear of change. When I began to engage this individual in a conversation about Bernie Sanders, he said that, "Bernie should start to talk like a Vermonter." For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hearing Bernie Sanders speak, he still has an accent that is more reminiscent of Flatbush than of Burlington. To me, this accent is a wonderful reminder that Vermonters are a group of people who, while their families may not have originated in this state, have made a very conscious choice to make this their home. Vermont, composed of these independent thinkers, is a leader. As Bernie Sanders said, in his victory speech, when someone in the crowd exclaimed, "You did it!", he responded, "I didn't do it, we did it." Vermonters made their decision on November 7th. Bernie Sanders will be the next Senator from Vermont and Peter Welch will be the next representative in the US congress.

Citizens throughout the United states spoke with the their vote. The democrats have regained control of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. The voice of the American people was so loud that Donald Rumsfeld stepped down from office. Ahh, democracy at work. Let's not let the momentum die. Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in the War in Iraq and has become one of the strongest anti-war and Anti-Bush activists in the country wrote in a piece entitle, "Another Open Letter to George," her charge for the American people.

"After the 110th Democratic Congress is sworn in, we the people with all the power will be out in force in the halls and offices of our elected officials to make sure that our mandate for change is carried out. Gone are the days when we will permit our elected officials to bow before the special interests and allow the war machine to run our country. Here are the days where we the poeple with the mandate will enforce our mandate."

Cindy Sheehan summed it up beautifully. To read the complete letter by Cindy Sheehan, go to

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rally for move back to democracy!

This is the auditorium at Montpelier High School at the Nov.4th rally for Bernie Sanders for US Senate and democratic candidates Peter Welch for US Congress, Scudder Parker for Vermont Governor, and Matt Dunne for Lieutenent Governor. This picture was taken on Saturday evening at around 7:00. Why aren't they all at home watching TV? Why aren't they out shopping? Because there's only 72 hours left before the polls close in VT and all of these people want a change in Washington DC and in the state house in Montpelier. Vermonters may be humble and soft spoken often, but not at this rally; not when there is so much at stake in their own lives, the lives of their chilren, the lives of their neigbors, the direction of the United States, and our tired planet. There was lots of hooting and hollering as all candidates spoke out against the war in Iraq, in support of national health care as a right of citizentship, and a voice for the middle class.

This young citizen who is clearly not even of voting age is inspired by Bernie's words of wisdom. He is still helping to get out the message for change though by saying,

"Rock on, Bernie!
Power to the People!"