Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why We Hate Walmart

This CNN story summaries the disgust many of us have for Wal-Mart, a company that has come to epitomize corporate greed and legalized abuse of its work force. An excerpt:

[Debbie] Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly eight years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.

It was the beginning of a series of battles -- both personal and legal -- that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was with Wal-Mart's health plan.

Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart's health and benefits plan.

Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash. After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shank's long-term care.

Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank's medical expenses and later sued for the same amount. However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the family's trust.

The Shanks didn't notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart's health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

As an aside, Shank's husband is recovering from prostate cancer, works two jobs, and struggles to pay the bills. And to top things off, their son was recently killed in Iraq. Due to her injuries, Shank is mentally impaired and cannot remember that her son is dead and so she has to be re-informed--and re-experience the initial shock and pain--that he is dead.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand, reported third quarter profits of $90 billion dollars. I don't know if that included the $417,000 it took from a mentally disabled woman in a wheel chair.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Cruci-fiction Day!

In addition to being the day celebrating the impalement and execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the Chicago Tribune has an interesting article on spring religious holidays. Apparently, because of the way the calendar worked out this year, all the spring superstitions are being celebrated at the same time this year:
  • For Christians, Good Friday marks the death of Jesus and leads to Easter's celebration of the resurrection.
  • For Sunni Muslims, depending on the moon, it will be Eid Milad an Nabi, a festival marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Friday is the Jewish festival of Purim.
  • Nawruz, a New Year celebration marked across parts of Southern and Central Asia as well as by followers of Bahai, always falls around the vernal equinox, usually on March 21.
  • Holi, celebrated by Hindus with bonfires and people throwing colored powders, comes after a full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna, this year on March 21.
  • Neopagans or other nature-bound folks celebrate the spring equinox.

To commemorate this holiday-o-rific weekend, waste some time dressing up Jesus and enjoy the final scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"It's not nice to kick cripples."

Wired magazine has an interesting piece quoting a number of writers elegizing Arthur C. Clarke. Harlan Ellison has this to say:

Sci-fi is a moron's neologism and Arthur hated it. He was a serious writer and a serious man, and when he wrote about the future, he took it seriously. He had very little patience for those who call it sci-fi. I suppose what passes for attention in the glare of his brilliance and erudition is the singular ability to extrapolate what our lives would be like down the line. He was not just a gentleman: He was an elegant and steadfast friend, a supporter of the arts and a gracious man, a quality that was in the bone and marrow of his demeanor. The passing of that graciousness from our common everyday life troubled him.

And he was steadfast. I met him when I was 18, your basic pencil-neck geek. In those days, he was still a youngish man and everyone referred to him as The Great Ego; he had to suffer that for decades. Arthur really did not like stupid people, but he would always talk to them as if they were Nobel laureates. I asked him where he got the patience, and he would answer that it's not nice to kick cripples.

Arthur and I were once talking about the responsibility of being an icon, how it's easy for people to take umbrage if you don't live up to their preformed concepts. It's hard to codify, without meaning to be self-serving, but we were discussing the burden of public identity. And he said that we are like two survivors of an oceanic flight who end up on a lost island, watching the tides go in and out. And we don't realize that time is passing and behind us there is a continent being built. Arthur became that continent, and he wore it with grace, aplomb and wisdom. He was a smart cookie.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Guinness Drinking Day!

Have a bowl of Lucky Charms, wash it down with a few glasses of Guinness, sober up with a shower of Irish Spring soap, and then pass out watching Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Star Tribune Photo of Iraq Protest

Here is a picture from the Minneapolis Star Tribune of yesterday's protest of the war in Iraq:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Rules

In a story that reads as though it came from The Onion, the Catholic Church has issued a new list of seven deadly sins. The old list, which has stood for about 1500 years, included lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. has summarized the new list as follows:
  1. "Bioethical" violations such as birth control
  2. "Morally dubious'' experiments such as stem cell research
  3. Drug abuse
  4. Polluting the environment
  5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
  6. Excessive wealth
  7. Creating poverty
It is interesting to note that child abuse and pedophilia did not make the list.

The new list is an attempt by the Church to remain relevant, but what it actually does is expose the organization's irrelevance. By changing one of its key--and most popular--tenets, it is an admission of imperfection in an organization that claims to represent the will of god on earth. God's law is supposed to be unchanging, everlasting, and above changing social codes. That was key to the strength of the original list of sins; it summarized some of the most basic elements of humanity, keeping it universal throughout the centuries. By comparison, this new list is very specific to our contemporary social situation and in a few decades time much of it will be irrelevant.

Something amusing about the list is the way it translates past trends of the Church into the contemporary age. The fear of "bioethical violations" and the genetic research is in keeping with Christianity's fear of knowledge. From the first story of the Bible, where mankind is awakened from his ignorance and turns against his slave master, to the Church's campaigns against science that contradicts Christian mythology, such as its persecution of Galileo and continued damnation of Darwin's studies on evolution, these new rules try to stave off the progression of technology and culture. Of course, as we've seen through history, these kinds of rules are bound to fail.

Drug abuse is another interesting addition to the list. There is a parallel with drug abuse and the act of self-flagellation and minor level sadomasochism, such as denial of small, daily pleasures. Both self-flagellation and sadomasochism have long been a part of the Catholic tradition and they are based in driving the body to extremes in order to achieve spiritual awakening. Self mutilation has been shown to release endorphins in the brain that are akin to sexual arousal and the act of self denial (such as giving up a favorite treat or activity for Lent) can function in the same way. Drug abuse may also function in this way, as an unhealthy and temporary fulfillment aimed at satisfying desire or psychological trauma. So the new deadly sin deals with the symptom but not the root issue of drug abuse, which is shared--and in some ways inflamed--by Catholic rules and traditions.

The last category of new sins has to do with the divide between rich and poor. How ironic this is, coming from an organization that takes in millions of dollars and pays no taxes. Catholic priests are known to live better lifestyles than many of those citizens who work for a living and the history of the Church, particularly before the Reformation, is a catalogue of corruption. Even today, the entire religion, whether Catholic or one of its protestant off shoots, represents the biggest con and exploitation of credulous and vulnerable people, from children who don't know any better to adults who take comfort in a belief of a magical faraway place where their guilt will be forgiven and their loved ones live on in heavenly bliss.

Thus far I have not commented on polluting the environment. As I see it, just as the Ten Commandments have two worthwhile rules (Do Not Kill and Don't Steal Other's Goods), there is one worthwhile sin on this list. And just as we don't need a man in the sky to tell us that murder and theft ought to be forbidden in society, we also don't need an organization that aids and protects child molesters to figure out that we should protect the environment.

In a few years time it is unlikely that the new sins will be remembered except as an embarrassing footnote in the Catholic story. Rather than making the Church more relevant in the 21st Century, it's just taken it a step closer to annihilation.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Crank Calls

Hillary Clinton's "3am telephone call" ad has been getting a lot of press as a weak imitation of the "Daisy" ad from 1964. But it has also generated a few parodies that are worth watching:

Sunday, March 02, 2008

UPI: Employee sues in alleged waterboarding

PROVO, Utah, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- A former employee of a motivational coaching business in Utah is suing after he was allegedly waterboarded in front of a sales team.

Chad Hudgens is suing Prosper Inc. and his former team leader Joshua Christopherson for assault and battery for allegedly using an activity similar to the interrogation strategy known as waterboarding as a team-building exercise to increase sales, The Salt Lake Tribune said Thursday.

The suit said Hudgens was told to lie down with his head downhill. The sales team was then allegedly told to hold Hudgens down while Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens' mouth and nostrils.

"At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded," the suit said.

The newspaper said the company claims Christopherson explained the exercise before Hudgens volunteered and that Hudgens was free to get up if he was uncomfortable.


Saturday, March 01, 2008 Accused witch gives birth in tree

From correspondents in Port Moresby
February 26, 2008 11:12am

A PREGNANT woman in Papua New Guinea who was hung from a tree after being accused of sorcery gave birth to her baby while struggling to free herself.

Nolan Yekum and her husband Paul were dragged from their house and hung from a tree by fellow tribesmen who accused them of sorcery after the couple's neighbour suddenly died. Their ordeal occurred in Kilip village near Banz in Western Highlands Province, PNG's newspaper The National reported today.

The woman and her baby girl, her third child, were doing well in Mt Hagen Hospital after two weeks in hiding, the report said.

Her husband said men entered their house in the middle of the night with a rope and tied it round their necks, accusing them of sorcery over their neighbour's death.
They were dragged outside and hung from a tree, he said.

"We managed to loosen the noose to get our feet on the ground ... we were able to free ourselves.
"My wife, who was about seven months pregnant, delivered the baby while struggling to free herself.

"It was a painful experience for me and her," Mr Yekum said.

He said he pleaded with villagers to wait for his neighbour's post-mortem examination and he accused local police of failing to act.

The couple denied practising sorcery.


Friends Like These

In the continuing death of personal responsibility, the family of Amanda Jax has filed a civil lawsuit against the owners of Sidelines, a bar in downtown Mankato, and the friends of Jax who were out with her the night that she died.

Amanda Jax was a former Minnesota State University student who was found dead of alcohol poisoning after a night of heavy drinking on her 21st birthday.

The death of Jax is sad, of course, but the lawsuit is at least partially misdirected. It's aimed at the bar who served her, and that makes some sense, since part of accepting a liquor licence and passing bartender training is knowing when to cut patrons off and taking responsibility for their consumption. Whether those rules have merit is questionable, but they exist and the bar had agreed to follow them by taking the licence.

However, the family's decision to name Jax's friends in the lawsuit is rather ridiculous. The parent's attorney has said, ''If you go out with your friends and you actively contribute to their intoxication and something bad happens you can be responsible for it.'' Let's be clear: best we know, Jax's friends did not water board her with Long Island Ice Tea. If her friends were buying her alcohol, she could have said no at any time. The fault of Jax's death rests on Jax's shoulder alone. As a co-worker of mine noted, if Jax was not responsible for her own actions because she was intoxicated, then her friends ought to be able to use that argument in their defense.

But of course, we are all responsible for our own actions. And I understand that is hard for grieving parents to reconcile that over the death of their child. Admitting the truth, that Amanda Jax is dead because of her own foolishness and misjudgement, does not grant her family the kind of solace and closure that blaming someone else may bring. But if they really want her daughter's death to mean something, they can set her up as an example of the possible consequences of irresponsible drinking.