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November 17, 2003 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-11-17

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4A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, November 17, 2003


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SINCE 1890

Editor in Chief
Editorial Page Editors

Unless otherwise noted, unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of
the Daily's editorial board. All other articles, letters and cartoons do not
necessarily reflect the opinion of The Michigan Daily.

"The nose ... was
sticking out with its
teeth hanging out."
- Jennifer Hejdak, a Milwaukee postal
employee, explaining an alligator found
in a shipment on Friday, as reported
by The Associated Press.


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Do you really need all that stuff?

n Thursday,
Nov. 27, you're
going to stuff
yourself with obscene
amounts of food as a
way of showing thanks
- to God or the Indians
or your divine birthright
or the Third World -
for letting you have
obscene amounts of food, and then the next
day you're going to The Mall.
You're going to buy sweaters and mittens
because you can't knit; you will buy posters of
basketball stars because you don't like art, or
posters of artwork because you have no artistic
talent; you will buy electronic toothbrushes and
cell phones for the whole family, because circu-
lar motions are tiresome and prearranged meet-
ing times are impossible; you will buy all of
page 27 in the American Eagle catalog, because
it matches perfectly, and you will look devastat-
ing on your road trip to Vail, which you read
about on page 28; you will buy your little broth-
er a combination car-chase-shooting-hand-to-
hand-combat video game, because this year the
blood is more real, and you both identify vague-
ly with '80s new wave music; you will buy "I'm
a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch story" for an
inspiring member of your community; you will
buy ties for your father and chocolates, wrapped
in an elaborate ribbon, for your mother; and then
you will buy cards, lots of cards, for everyone
- beautiful red and green cards, with passages
of good will written in ornate, glittering script,
followed by an anonymous poem with an A/B
A/B rhyme, to be undersigned with love by you.
And then you will wait for that moment
when you can make everyone you know
incredibly, unceasingly, inarticulately happy
- when they see what you bought. Your pur-

chases will show your love and dedication in
a way no other gesture could, for only you
could know your father prefers paisley, and
acting on another's consumer preferences is
the truest sign of affection.
And, of course, this year will be different.
Your girlfriend will not comment on her thighs
when you give her candy, because she finally
has the right skin moisturizer, and along with it
the perfect body image. Your friends will switch
to cleaner burning gasoline, cure their halitosis,
get off the anti-depressants and get with the pro-
gram. And by the time New Year's Day comes
around, you will feel as if you've arrived at a
new plane, where technology and economic
progress extend without limit past the horizon.
Or does that sound a bit hollow?
Do we all think that goods are always good
and more goods are better?
After the attacks of Sept. 11, Rudy Giu-
liani told New Yorkers to go shopping and to
buy anything, even if they didn't need it, to
keep the economy afloat and to calm fears
about an increasingly troubled world. Shop-
ping was our patriotic duty. It sounds strange
now, but it sounded even stranger then,
because in our moment of peril our leaders
did not call for anything new. Before, when
things were good, we consumed. Now they're
bad, so we consume more.
It is the essence of our nation, and it is
what defines us as Americans. According to
Adbusters, the average citizen consumes six
times what a Mexican consumes, 47 times
the average African, and over 500 times an
Our agriculture has become so cumbersome
that, whereas farmers used no petroleum in the
process of planting a hundred years ago, they
now put 20 barrels of crude oil into an acre of
corn. Our wastefulness with livestock is equally

appalling, as five pounds of crude oil go into one
pound of beef. And out of innumerable species
of plant and animal, many thousands of which
would be nutritious to humans, our country
relies on just 20 for almost all of its food.
All of this comes at a time when, for the
first time in the history of the world, more
people live in cities than in rural areas. We
have experienced a complete reversal of our
relationship to nature and of our understand-
ing of what nature is. Art-eco professor Joe
Trumpey reports that teenagers can recognize
85 corporate logos but can barely name 12
species of plant. In the book "Confronting
Consumption," media historian Robert McCh-
esney says, "Although people may have once
been critical of hypercommercialism, perhaps
they are becoming inured to it. In a political
culture where commercialism appears to be a
force of nature rather than something subject,
that would be a rational response over time."
Americans have gotten to the point where
they can't imagine anything else. And most of
them don't have the means to go to other coun-
tries, which are termed "underdeveloped" by the
world's powers, in order to see for themselves
that the United States is in fact overdeveloped.
The Buy Nothing Day campaign by
Adbusters magazine aims to spread the word,
and the once-a-year appearance of its ad on
CNN is a minor miracle. Most of you will not
see the urgency in rants like this one. But a few
of us understand that we owe our environmental
concerns, resource wars and growing
North/South disparities to the burden of feeding
this insatiable monster, and so we're going to
keep ranting. And on Nov. 28-- or on any other
day -we won't be anywhere near The Mall.
Cotner can be reached
at cotners@umich.edu.



Borders not to blame for
strike, high wages will
lead to lower employment
From an outsider's perspective, I find
the insistence upon "fair wages" for the
Borders Books and Music staff humorous-
ly ludicrous, albeit consistent with the
Michigan mentality. Proselytized by years
of labor union power, many here are still
convinced that it is more just to pay nine
persons a fair wage than 10 persons an
ostensibly unfair wage. The lack of fore-
sight and appreciation for consequence is
equally as humorous. Someone, some-

where will be subsidizing this proposed
wage increase, whether it be the poor soul
in this or another Borders store who loses
his job when Borders grows less competi-
tive, the corollary price increases that
come out of consumers' pockets, or in the
end, lower returns making Borders less
attractive to investors, lowering stock
price. Picketing the store does nothing
more than exacerbate this process by low-
ering the sales of this store, possibly con-
vincing someone in corporate headquarters
that this Borders may be overstaffed.
It is not Borders that you should be blam-
ing but yourselves. If you can find one Bor-
ders employee willing to give up his job to
subsidize his co-workers' raises, or cajole
customers into agreeing to pay higher prices

in a nearly commoditized industry, then fine.
Otherwise, you are treating symptoms but
ignoring the disease, and asking others to pay
for your self-righteous workers crusades. If
you truly want to pay workers better, create a
fund for the East Liberty Street Borders staff
and ask those people who truly value this
cause to subsidize it, not the entire Borders
customer base. I for one like cheap books.
Visor ouR wwsrm ~AT


Brown v. Brown: the masochistic minority

I have been away from Ann Arbor for so
long, but the same arguments ring with annoy-
ing frenzy in my ears - one side claiming
moral superiority while the other screams of the
pot calling the kettle black.
It is not just about India and Pakistan, Israel
and Palestine. It is about modalities of thought,
about attempts to construct meaning and identi-
ty, about deciding to shun one's culture or
embrace it. It is about the lack of a fine line, a
distinguishing paradigm.
The Arab argument: India/Israel are not
democracies, it is all a sham, a throw cover to
hide the unsightly. "Brutality" and "massacre"
and "manipulation" are the words of the day,
and comparisons between veils and genocide get
played up as the real divisive element between
the two worlds. Arab governments do not really
represent the Muslim conception of justice
because they are all flawed, they all interpret
Sha'ria incorrectly, they are all wolves in Mus-
lim attire. We demand that India and Israel
uphold the strictest level of free and fair elec-
tions, even though there is nothing free, fair, or
elective about the governmental processes of our
nations. And anyway, Israel bombs people and
India sets trains on fire. So there!

voice, would somehow hold sway is preten-
tious to an almost absurd degree. This issue is
one of such extreme passion, especially in
Ann Arbor, because it is a match between two
people vaguely aware of the disconnect
between their cultures. Indians wage a war
against themselves by practicing extreme
assimilation (hip-hop Bharatanatyam? Get a
grip, please) while simultaneously trying gen-
uinely to know what it means to be Indian.
We get Indians who hate Indian politics, Indi-
an religion, Indian culture, Indian everything
(the so-called "apathetic Indian" or, more
insensitively, "the coconut"), versus the pro-
nounced, pro-actively pro-Indian professional
(the "nationalist Indian" or, more insensitive-
ly, the "FOB"). And here we have people who
claim that Kashmiri elections are gorgeous
examples of democracy at work, that Israel's
defense follows a pattern of logical escalation,
or that moral arguments can be made compar-
atively - that values are judged according to
the worst possible counter-example.
Other side: Arabs and/or sub-continentals
who consider the popular perspective of Mid-
dle Eastern countries (the two most notable
nations in American press right now have
both been blown to proverbial bits by Ameri-
can weapons), while simultaneously recogniz-
ing that culturally important attributes (dress,

warlords with the right-wing trifecta of
Bush/Sharon/Vajpayee is to negate the time-
honored tradition of intelligence.
I think my politics are clear. But my politics
are not at issue.
Ultimately, even a modicum of time away
from Ann Arbor will demonstrate the nearly
deafening silence that collegiate debate has on
the world at large.
When do we ground ourselves? When do
we realize that we are attacking unassailable
truths and defending flawed arguments simply
because of the color of our skin or the pronunci-
ation of our names or the supremely different
smells of the foods that turn us on? When do we
realize that our politics are mired in our pas-
times, our passions tied to our paternity?
There comes a point where these questions
start to matter. The debate that has so many
brown faces in America turning an unnaturally
rosy color has less to do with the atrocities seen
in our native lands and more to do with the fact
that we are not sure which role we play. From
American-born desis struggling to retain a lan-
guage they barely practice to ex-pats pulled
between American possibilities and native
responsibilities, this debate is fueled by a weak-
ening cultural definition. Speaking solely as an
Indian, I see the political debate as important,
and I recognize the instinct to rebut in favor of
n ner t, T hI av alenaran nn In Ainn nn-

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