Once or twice a year I get up early, haul myself down to the donut shop and get something not good for me. What can I say? We all have our vices, right?
A short time ago I made the trip. Along the way, around 9:15am, I passed a tavern. Out front was a guy leaning against the building not far from the front door. It was a cold, wet, gloomy morning and an arctic 30 degrees (not counting any damn wind chill).
The man was smoking away.
Look on the bright side, I thought. At least I’m not him.
Who says I can’t have positive thoughts? Apparently all of mine come tinged with a wee bit of judgement. Perhaps that’s not ideal but I can live with. It makes the donut that much more delicious. At least I have taste buds.
As you probably know a pharmacy called CVS recently made big news by announcing they were phasing out sales of cigarettes (and other tobacco products) in their stores. Now I don’t know CVS from a hole in the ground. I’ve never been in one. I tend to avoid places like that.
Still, I welcome this bit of news. It feels like a step in the right direction to me. I actually heard something on the news about tobacco companies are hurting due to reduced sales. Is that supposed to be troubling? In the United States sales of cigarettes have reportedly dropped by 31.3 percent from 2003 to 2013.
Some, like me, thinks that’s a pretty good sign.
Then there’s that other group. You know, the people on Twitter who embrace the #boycottcvs hash tag. I guess you could call them the yin to my yang.
Hang on to your hats, space cowboys. It’s time, once again, for the epic battle between good and evil. Anyone know if George Lucas is a smoker?
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I just heard yesterday that “sugary drinks” are now the #1 source of calories in the American diet.
Yeah, baby! We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re #1!
Something I can graph? Excuse me while I sprint to the spreadsheets. I get to graph something!
Lately I’ve been a wagon-follow-offerer. Vegetarian? Check! Granulated sugar? Check! Coke and/or Pepsi? Check! Alcohol? Now wait just a damn minute. I never went on that wagon. Ah. I see what you did there. Well played.
For some damn strange reason I seem to get off on attempting to test my willpower. This is invariably followed by a period of extreme humiliation. Try it! It’s good fun.
I blame my mother for my lifelong love affair with sugar. Some of my earliest memories of life involve the morning bowl of breakfast cereal. Like Cheerios. And it just wasn’t a bowl of soggies unless there was a gooey thick mess of partially disolved granulated sugar remaining in the bottom of the bowl.
To this day I wonder why she deliberately went out of her way to teach me that. I mean, I was only a child. I wouldn’t have known the difference if I was served Cheerios in the raw, right? Continue reading →
“Sorry, kids. Those answers – all of them – are wrong. Looks like, once again, I’m the only one with the right answer. What did you expect? After all, don’t forget who’s the teacher and who’s the student here. That’s not by accident! Aw, don’t cry. Look. Participant ribbons for everyone, okay? Yeah!”
It’s true. My career in education was a short one.
I was going to run a caption contest for the picture of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer planting a part of her anatomy in the airspace of Obama’s face, but then I realized that such a contest would be a pointless exercise. Why? Because, of course, there is one (and only one) right answer.
Apple products are sleek, stylish, elegant, quiet, cool and fun to use. My last PC computer was the size of a small suitcase and I paid extra money for the “super quiet” case. Yet it sounded like a 747 taking off and we practically had to yell over the noise when in my office. By comparison my Apple “Mac Mini” is so small that it sits on my desk and I didn’t even realize it was a computer at first. I mistook it for an external hard drive. The size and the fact that it made absolutely no noise at all was deceptive.
“The facilities at Foxconn are fine, but the management is poor. Hundreds of people work in the workshops but they are not allowed to talk to each other. If you talk, you get a black mark in your record and you get shouted at by your manager. You can also be fined.”
–An investigator of Foxconn’s Longhua plant
So, for the first time in my life, I’ve signed up as an Apple customer, I’ve made purchases from the Apple store, and I’ve received three shipments so far from Apple. And I’ve noticed that their boxes, sleek and stylish also, say things like “Designed in California.”
The phrase “designed in” is, of course, a euphemism for “made outside the U.S.A.” At my former employer we sold apparel products in our store that had large labels sewn into the garments. These labels were representations of the flag of the United States. In smaller print, under the flag, were the words “Designed in the U.S.A.” I often wondered if this actually worked on the non-critical thinkers out there. I guess that approach must work on some. The garment was actually made in Pakistan but I wondered how many purchasers actually realized that.
Some shoppers would make it very clear they only wanted “made in the USA.” I’d say great, and show them to the rack of USA garments. These were, however, about three times the cost for the same item. And, I’ll be painfully honest here, were not of the same quality as the items made in Pakistan. Sad. Even the most hardcore patriotic shopper withered in the face of such facts.
So my Apple products proudly proclaimed that they were “designed in California.” A check of the label told the rest of the story. “Made in China.” No big surprise there. It’s the age old story of companies wanting consumers with American dollars purchasing their products but not wanting to pay American workers to produce them. And it’s not just Apple. My Google toys were also made in China.
A few days later a news story about Apple caught my eye. It seems that their products made in China are handled by a company known as Foxconn. And, in 2010, “nearly a dozen” Foxconn workers committed suicide, some by jumping from buildings. In fact, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Tim Cook, the man likely to fill the shoes of Steve Jobs, personally visited Foxconn in 2010 to improve “working conditions” there. Cook was accompanied on his visit by “two leading experts” on suicide.
For its part, Foxconn also took action. Among other brilliant ideas it began attaching large nets to buildings, Apple said. Is it just me or does that seem like treatment of the symptom? Sure, you could fix the underlying problems that lead some to think suicide is a solution or, even better, just try to catch more of them before they hit the ground and cause annoying negative publicity.
Foxconn also hired counselors.
So nets and counselors, eh? Both of these solutions are decidedly aimed at workers. But where is any indication that Foxconn is willing to fix itself and improve working conditions? Sadly I can’t find evidence of that in the news reports I’ve seen.
Apple reported that it found 91 underage workers. Not a good sign of a responsible culture.
It was also reported that some of the materials used to produce its products, like tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold may not be “fair trade.” In other words, those products may be sourced from regions where armed conflict and/or human rights abuses are known to be occurring.
Apple said it had required companies to reimburse $3.4 million in “recruiting fees” to workers. Yeah, employees had to pay bribes for the right to be mistreated workers.
Chinese environmental groups recently released a report critical of Apple saying that the company didn’t do enough to address health and environmental concerns at its manufacturing plants. In one case, they claimed a worker at a Wintek Corp. plant had nerve damage caused by a chemical known as n-Hexane. Apple said it required Wintek to stop using n-Hexane after 137 workers had experienced health problems after exposure to the chemical.
It seems to me that a job has to be pretty poor indeed if that many workers think the only way out is to die. Last year, the Telegraph reported that 16 workers jumped, 12 died, and that 20 more people were caught and stopped by the company before they could jump.
Personally, when I eat a plate of food, perhaps a little chicken, I like to know that the chicken had a pretty good life, at least by chicken standards. At least up to the point where it was killed to become my dinner. I’d like to think it lived free and enjoyed the sorts of things that chickens enjoy. What I absolutely do not want to hear is that the chicken was mutilated at birth, kept in a tiny box for its entire life, and was forced to stay awake and eat under bright lights 20 hours a day. Some say God put animals on Earth for humans to use, but that’s just taking things too damn far.
I feel something similar about my shiny new Apple products. I’d like to know with certainty that the company I’ve chosen doesn’t abuse human beings. Even those in other countries. I’d like to know that the employees were paid a fair wage, given things like reasonable breaks, had safe working conditions and were treated with dignity and respect. I’d like to know that workers weren’t pushed to work 70 hours a week or subjected to so much stress that they “twitched” during their off hours.
Is that too much too ask?
- Apple sent top exec to China after rash of suicides at supplier plant
- Inside Foxconn’s suicide factory
I think exploring history is like looking at the nighttime starry sky. No matter where you look you can discover something new. This week I came across a powerful and moving story while researching the song “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine.
On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức performed the act of “self-immolation” at a busy Saigon road intersection in protest.
The act itself occurred at the intersection of Phan Dinh Phung Boulevard and Le Van Duyet Street. Thích Quảng Đức emerged from the car along with two other monks. One placed a cushion on the road while the second opened the trunk and took out a five-gallon gasoline can. As the marchers formed a circle around him, Thích Quảng Đức calmly seated himself in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position on the cushion. His colleague emptied the contents of the gasoline container over Thích Quảng Đức’s head. Thích Quảng Đức rotated a string of wooden prayer beads and recited the words “Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật” (“homage to Amitabha Buddha”) before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body.
Thích Quảng Đức was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm regime.
A spokesperson for the Buddhists had alerted U.S. correspondents the day before that “something important” was going to happen, but most reporters disregarded that message.
Photographer and journalist Malcolm Browne did show up and took the picture above, which won the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1963.
Journalist David Halbertsam of the New York Times also was there and wrote this eyewitness account:
I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
Information for this posting came from Wikipedia: Thích Quảng Đức. That page contains much more information about the aftermath of Đức’s protest.
This week I was enjoying the song “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine. The song is a commentary on killing in the name of religion or God. For the cover art for the single the band chose the famous photograph of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation.
That photo is what prompted me to learn more, and I’m glad I did. I find this to be a deeply moving, powerful and disturbing story.
I was quite surprised to learn just how common the act of self-immolation can be. You can read about many more examples at Wikipdedia: Self-immolation.
Here’s a video of the song “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine: