Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heartbreaking thoughts on Memorial Day

For non-US readers, two quick prefatory notes. One, Cindy Sheehan has been a leading figure in the anti-war movement for some years, since her son Casey died in Iraq. She first made news by camping near Bush's home in Crawford, Texas. And two, the US observes Memorial Day (last Monday of May) as a national holiday in honor of soldiers who died serving the country (these days, their sacrifice is usually noted by burning up maybe 15 gallons of gas by driving in your minivan to the beach for the long weekend, or drinking yourself silly with friends at a barbecue).

Excerpts from Cindy Sheehan's resignation at The Daily Kos:
I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called "Face" of the American anti-war movement. Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such "liberal blogs" as the Democratic Underground...
...no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."
...Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on.
...The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.
...I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system.
...Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

The first rain

3:30 a.m. It's raining.

That smell of wet dirt, which for years heralded the new school year, new books, new pencils...
Monsoon over Mumbai harbor, 2001. Photo by moi.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

As for that lifestyle we all aspire to...

...ain't it grand? A fine observation by Margaret Bourke White:

The foolish Indian middle class

Less than a few kilometres from affluent south Delhi is the sprawling neighbourhood of Sangam Vihar, home to Mukesh, who sells vegetables. He lost half his business in the week that Reliance Fresh opened a supermarket down the street. He has four children and his wife is worried about the future. He doesn't believe he can find other work in Delhi, where even educated people are unemployed. "No, I don't think there's much else to do. If I can't make it here, we just have to go back to our village." Full report.

We're fascinated by refrigeration and airconditioning. We get excited about buying our spinach in supermarkets, branded, suffocated in plastic, labelled "organic" and dated "consume by next week". That way, we believe, we'll know for sure we're getting our money's worth. And it may even be a rupee or two cheaper than our sabziwalla is selling it for.

We're the great Indian middle class. Because we now have dreary outsourcing jobs that pay $1200 a month, we believe we have globalized and arrived. We've invested our life's savings in homes that are not even on the power grid, yet we believe we're smart. We believe we're like the middle class of any other country, and not just because we now wear Gap tees (never mind that cotton jersey feels heavy and stinks in the hot Indian climate, or that we have to hand-wash everything because the generator ran out of diesel mid-way through the rinse cycle), but also because we have begun to resemble our colonizers in ways deeper than the brand-name of the outer husk: we live beyond our means, and we are willing to let peasants die a slow death or simply have our government execute them for resisting.

Oddly enough, little of this might be necessary if only we could recognize the good things about our lives the way they are. The not-so-good things could be resolved with creative local solutions.

The utter lack of refrigeration in storage and transport is the greatest assurance that our "chaotic and unorganized" sabziwallas are selling us truly fresh produce. Not to mention that unrefrigerated produce is more environment-friendly, which reduces other costs in the long run. Are supermarkets the only way to reduce the discomfort and chaos of sabzi shopping? Or perhaps we could ensure home delivery services and designated tree-lined marketplaces in every neighborhood?

For now, here's a taste of the business practices we're so excited to be importing, so that we can become more like our colonizers. BBC reporter Audrey Brown worked undercover at Sainsbury and Tesco, the two leading grocery chains in the UK, and wrote this report. Excerpts are below. The full report is long, but worth reading!

...The benefits are obvious. They are open all hours, offer free parking, have a huge selection and, most importantly, they can be a lot cheaper than the High Street. This is what attracts 16 million customers to Sainsbury's and 20 million to Tesco every week.

...[the] dating system [for merchandise] could easily be changed by staff who would wipe out existing dates and write in other, later dates. It is not illegal to sell food past its sell-by date, but it is store policy at both Sainsbury's and Tesco that once the food has passed that date it should not be sold to customers. Yet, I saw food past its sell-by date on the fresh food counters at both supermarkets...

At Tesco, it was re-packaged and re-labelled with a new date and reduced in price, sometimes days after it should have been sold or removed from the shelves. A lot of the time, the counter staff treated the meat and fish...with indifference...there were times at Tesco when they had no idea what the real sell by date was as they had altered it so many times. Sometimes it was not until the food smelled bad that it was eventually thrown away.

...An ex-supermarket manager told me..."If you want to make food look fresher, you can mix batches....If you take four or five slices of something from one day, you can mix it in with four, five slices of something from the next day."

,,,But I never expected to witness the level of penny-pinching...one employee...at Sainsbury's...cut the end of a brown and drying ham joint so it looked fresher and could be put back on display, thus hopefully be sold to put more pennies in the company's coffers. My boss on the meat counter at Tesco instructed me to use a bin-bag style cover to put over the meat at night, which would have been fine, except he was so intent on saving money that he insisted I use the same one night after night - marked with blood from the food - rather than getting fresh ones.

And all for the sake of saving tiny sums.

During my induction at Sainsbury's, the trainer instructed us to "treat every penny as though it were your own". That sounded fair enough. Nobody wants to waste food unnecessarily.

However, over the course of my investigation I witnessed individuals taking this motto far too literally...Even as a counter assistant, the pressure other staff seemed to feel was almost tangible.

In a bizarre attempt to explain his dates-changes, [one Tesco manager] used the company's commitment to green issues by saying "Tesco doesn't like to throw away anything. That's why we recycle. That meat can be recycled". But I'm not sure a commitment to a green policy quite extends to the unlawful selling of meat.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Evolution: our biggest mistake

Below is a cartoon someone posted to a forum I'm on, along with a note that the cartoonist, Prof. Hiroshi Takatsuki, is Japan's leading waste management scholar for the past 35 years. More of his cartoons are here.
"Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans."
~Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy