Blogs

Americans Fat, Lonely, Frequently Injured by Bikes

| Fri Dec. 15, 2006 3:46 PM EST

The New York Times has a neat article today on the most recent census, and what it says about Americans. Judge for yourself.

Americans:

- Drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004.

- Consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980.

- Remain the fattest inhabitants of the planet.

- Spend about eight-and-a-half hours a day watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies, or reading. In short, not interacting with other people. The average American spends more than 64 days a year watching television.

- Occasionally have sex with members of the same sex. Six percent of men and 11.2 percent of women say they have had same sex contacts.

- Are more frequently injured by wheelchairs than by lawnmowers.

- Are most frequently injured by bicycles and beds.

- Enjoy this here series of tubes. 16 million Americans used a social or professional networking site and 13 million created a blog.

- Lost their jobs. From 2000 to 2005, the number of manufacturing jobs declined nearly 18 percent. Employment in textile mills fell by 42 percent.

- Aren't very likable. In 1970, 79 percent said their goal was developing a meaningful philosophy of life. By 2005, 75 percent said their primary objective was to be financially very well off.

- Are seeing some form of gender equality. In 1970, 33,000 men and 2,000 women earned professional degrees; in 2004, the numbers were 42,000 men and 41,000 women.

As for the fact that Americans spend more and more of their leisure time doing solitary activites, that's right in Harvard Professor Bob Putnam's wheelhouse. He wrote the very good "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." Wouldn't you know it, the Times got a quote.

"The large master trend here is that over the last hundred years, technology has privatized our leisure time," said [Putnam].... "The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone."

Except, of course, if you are one of those 16 million Americans who spends your lonely internet time on social networking sites. In that case, you are blowing Bob Putnam's mind.

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Swim Away Shamu

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 7:39 PM EST

Sick of traffic, bumper-to-bumper at 30 miles an hour, sucking exhaust and abuse? Yearn for the freedom of open spaces and no speed limit? Then take a cyberbreak with NOAA's website on the long-distance wanderings of blue sharks, mako sharks, sharks, sea lions, elephant seals, blue whales, sea turtles, and albatrosses, and more.

Then if you feel inspired to ensure those finloose beings continue to do what we would like to do but have surrendered in exchange for the questionable benefits of an acronym-driven reality of LCD TVs, SUVs, and DVDs, check out this URL, and the very cool way the South Africans are providing realtime education on what you can eat from a sustainably fished ocean. If you're not lucky enough to live there, you can contemplate navigating the catch of the day safely. Or catch a safe list on Seafood Watch.

Wonder what is really entailed in taking the bluewater wanderers out of the wild for display in marine parks, so that you can stare at them in an unreal world, where cheap tricks are bought with dead sardines? Ever wonder why some killer whales try to kill their trainers? Then check out this video from the long-distance travellers at BlueVoice who've seen the ugly underside of the capture business.

Mass. Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Seek $5 Million in Damages

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 4:08 PM EST

You've heard the argument that same-sex marriage threatens the institution of marriage—though you've never seen evidence because none exists (heterosexual marriage rates in Massachusetts, the only state where gay marriage is legal, increased slightly from 2004 to 2005).

Yesterday, a Massachusetts anti-marriage group, VoteOnMarriage.org, went so far as to sue 109 state lawmakers for $5 million in damages (almost $46,000 apiece) over the issue.

So what damage could possibly have been done to gay marriage opponents when only about 8,000 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts? The suit centers on legislators' move to recess last month rather than vote on an anti-gay marriage amendment. VoteOnMarriage.org claims the move violated its constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Anti-gay groups obtained 170,000 signatures in favor of putting an amendment on the 2008 ballot, but they also need the support of 50 legislators in two consecutive terms before an amendment can appear on the ballot. Unless lawmakers provide those votes on the last remaining day of the session, January 2, which appears unlikely, gay marriage opponents won't get their way.

The suit basically amounts to foot stomping. The legislature used a democratic parliamentary procedural maneuver to avoid giving the amendment a yay-or-nay vote. Lawmakers' strategy is in keeping with the one-sided political discourse surrounding gay marriage: You either vote against it with maximum flourish or you don't bring the issue to a vote. Because same-sex marriage has the support of more than 50 percent of Massachusetts voters, the lawmakers put the amendment quietly to bed.

Good night and good riddance.

Arab Street Turns Against Uncle Sam

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 2:43 PM EST

American political leaders are no longer the only ones earning a bad rap among the populace in the Middle East. Public opinion of the U.S. public, as well as American products, are hitting new lows. And this is in countries that are considered to be allies of the U.S.

The Arab American Institute painted this bleak picture today, releasing the latest results of an opinion poll that Zogby International has been conducting annually since 2002, which gauges public sentiment toward the U.S. in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Speaking this morning at press conference in Washington, James Zogby, the president of the AAI, said that the souring of public opinion could hinder diplomatic efforts by the U.S. to address the situation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

According to Zogby, these findings reinforce the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group Report, which were released last week. Among other things, the report recommended direct diplomatic talks with countries in the region including Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

"What this says to me is if we want to salvage ourselves in Iraq, if we want to salvage the situation in Iraq, we have to salvage our credibility and legitimacy in the region," Zogby said. "All these numbers do is tell me that the linkage issue is absolutely critical."

While in previous polls the American people had been viewed favorably, only Lebanon had a positive view this year. The shift in sentiment was largest in Jordan and Egypt, where 76 percent and 72 percent of respondents, respectively, had worse opinions of the U.S. than one year ago.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Michael Crichton Hits Below the Belt

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 2:32 PM EST

A few weeks ago, I noted that global-warming denier and airport-gift shop supplier Michael Crichton had dissed Mother Jones in his latest tome. Now it looks like we got off easy. The New Republic's Michael Crowley, who had written a harsh assessment of State of Fear, has been immortalized as a poorly-endowed child rapist in Crichton's Next. Writes Crowley: "And, perhaps worse, [he] falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer." [Full article behind NRO sub wall.]

Bakker: What the Hell is Wrong With Christianity?

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 2:14 PM EST

Over on CNN's site, punk preacher (and son of Jim and Tammy Faye) Jay Bakker offers a quick smack-down of the Religioius Right and others who mix religion and politcs:

What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.

While the current state of Christianity might seem normal and business-as-usual to some, most see through the judgment and hypocrisy that has permeated the church for so long. People witness this and say to themselves, "Why would I want to be a part of that?" They are turned off by Christians and eventually, to Christianity altogether. We can't even count the number of times someone has given us a weird stare or completely brushed us off when they discover we work for a church.

When I spoke with Bakker a few days ago, he said he doesn't like either party laying claim to the moral high ground. As the bumper sticker on his car reads, "God is not a Republican... Or a Democrat." Perhaps God is a registered independent.

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Dispatch from Chile: On Pinochet, "He Did Nothing to Me"

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 1:44 PM EST

While the news of Pinochet's death has been met with celebrations and rioting in the streets of Santiago, responses in the more rural environs of the country have been far more staid. Santiago, the political heart of the country, also holds fully a third of the country's 15 million people and they are largely the ones who felt Pinochet's wrath.

In the expansive, sparse southern tip of the lean country the size of California, residents respond with a mix of recollection and resignation. "Presidents don't come to this part of the country," says Theresa Ruiz, a seventy-some year old resident and innkeeper who was born and has lived her entire life in the Patagonian region of southern Chile. "We have had to take care of ourselves, to take care of each other, the government was never much help." Nor, she said, did it particularly hurt her or those around her, saying, "Pinochet did nothing to me," his actions were more of neglect. Ruiz adds that she's glad his reign is over if he harmed people. "I would say that about half the country, a little more than half, are celebrating right now, the other half? They were not as affected." Or, they benefited.

After Castro

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 12:00 PM EST

With Fidel Castro at death's door, Miami is frothing at the mouth. The authorities are bracing for the worst, anticpating that the leader's death could send an armada of row boats into the seas between Miami and Cuba, as some Cubans rush home to reclaim lost businesses and properties and others to foment a guerrilla war against the weakened regime. "The message we want to send is, 'Do not throw yourself to the waters,'" Amos Rojas Jr., the South Florida regional director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said yesterday. "'Be patient, the trip is very dangerous.'"

What happens in Cuba when Castro dies is in no way predictable. Today the nation is tied into an economic coalition with Venezuela and China. In addition to its important supplies of nickel, used in the manufacture of various types of specialty steels, there are solid signs of an oil field off its north coast. If so, energy independence could be in sight. (In fact, the Caribbean is becoming something of an energy trove—and not necessarily just for the U.S. Trinidad is the center of a major gas field which currently is providing gas for LNG shipments to the east coast of the U.S. where the demand for gas is steadily increasing.)

If the Democrats control the Congress—and with South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's sudden illness yesterday this is no longer assured—U.S. policy toward Cuba is not likely to change much. In all likelihood it will continue along the same lines it has since 1959, when Secretary of State Christian Herter declared "economic warfare" on Cuba, cutting off the sugar trade and its fuel supply. The idea, as Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's vice president recently put it in an article printed in Counterpunch, has been "to bring about hunger, misery and desperation among the people of Cuba."

A State Department analysis in April 1960 said that since "the majority of Cubans support Castro, the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship." To weaken the economic life of Cuba there was a need to take a "positive position which would call forth a line of action while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."

The policy didn't work. After 46 years of ceaseless machinations to kill or topple Castro, the U.S. has gotten nowhere. In 2004, the Bush administration's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba put out a report that insisted the Castro government was about to collapse, after which a U.S. transition team could effect an occupation and remake the place in the democratic image of the U.S. — just like in Iraq.

However, as Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Cuba and who has extensive knowledge of U.S.-Cuban relations, noted, instead of collapsing, the Cuban economy "has shown strong signs of reinvigoration. Even the CIA gives it a growth rate of 8 percent."

Some Speech Is More Inappropriate Than Other Speech

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 9:31 PM EST

Ever since Rosie O'Donnell joined the cast of The View, she has received sharp criticism from other members of the media. O'Donnell's pique with Kelly Ripa over a supposedly homophobic remark seems silly to some, significant to others. Joe Scarborough--who is as obsessed with O'Donnell as Keith Olbermann is with Britney Spears--has sharply criticized O'Donnell for saying such "inappropriate" things as her observations that radical Christianity is as threatening as radical Islam, and that Bush is less than a stellar example of a leader. Other conservatives were oh, so shocked by O'Donnell's statement that post-September 11 America is like the McCarthy era.

Scarborough has repeatedly said that he does not understand why a principled person like Barbara Walters puts up with O'Donnell. That in itself is absurd. Walters is an uninformed conservative, she is sexist, and she calls herself a "close friend" of the late Roy Cohn. Of course, Scarborough is also confused that politics is discussed on a "women's" show.

Now O'Donnell has gone and done something really offensive--her "ching chong" remark about the news in China, and her detractors are having a field day. She deserves the criticsm. (Her original defense was that she is a comedian, but there are two things wrong with that--she was not doing a comic act when she appears on The View, and she does not make fun of other cultures or minorities.) But those same people have totally ignored Don Imus's recent reference to Jewish CBS radio management as "money-grubbing bastards."

The talking heads pick and choose whose (and which) inappropriate language they attack. They were quick to jump on Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks, but never said a single word about his drunken misogynist remarks, made during the very same traffic incident. And they are quick to jump on gay, liberal O'Donnell whether her speech is truly inappropriate or just truthful.

It is unfortunate that Gibson said vile things about both Jews and women, that O'Donnell made fun of Chinese people, and that Imus perpetuated a terrible Jewish stereotype. But you won't get the full story from their peers in the news--you'll get what they want you to remember.

The Muscles from Brussels

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 8:22 PM EST

Today the European Parliament passed one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching EU regulations in its history, a set of environmental rules that will hold companies liable for the health effects of some 30,000 substances used in everything from computers to laundry detergent. The law—which applies to any company that wants to sell into the huge European market (pretty much any global corporation, these days)—signals the evolution of the EU from a paper tiger into the new global arbiter of environmental standards. The rules are sure to affect products produced and sold in the United States much more so than any law recently passed by the U.S. Congress.

To read more about the new law, known as REACH, for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, and how it will affect the environment stateside, check out The Muscles From Brussels, my article in Mother Jones' November/December issue.