Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Joy of Reduced Status

I received a wonderful letter from American Airlines yesterday. I was informed that I am now a Platinum member of its frequent flyer program. No more Executive Platinum for me. I must admit, I did feel the slightest pang that I would no longer be treated like a superstar.

But really when I think about it, I was only super-special to AA because of all the money I generated for them. That's a somewhat empty form of flattery and unearned special treatment, something I can do without.

And do without I will, because jet airplanes and airports no longer are my second home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When Walmart is too expensive....

When Walmart is too expensive, America really is in big trouble.

Read this article from Reuters regarding Wal-Mart's disappointing results: "The retailer reported its seventh consecutive quarterly decline in sales at U.S. stores open at least a year, posting a 1.8 percent drop that was much bigger than its worst forecast....rivals such as Family Dollar Stores and Dollar General have gained appeal with shoppers on tight budgets by offering lower prices, albeit for smaller quantities, on goods such as detergent, especially as those shoppers run short on money at the end of the month."

So, gee, I wonder: is the recession over? Sure, President Obama's new chief of staff, William Daley, received over $8M in compensation last year. But it sure does seem like lots and lots of people are doing very poorly, indeed, when Wal-Mart is too expensive for them. That gargantuan company is responsible for pushing down both prices and wages across the United States and other parts of the world. It forces suppliers to revamp their computer and distribution systems to improve efficiency (and reduce their prices).

And yet they are losing customers, who are so poor they can only afford to buy products in stores that specialize in re-selling stuff that other stores couldn't or didn't want to sell.

Must be the fault of public employee unions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Religious fundamentalists taking over the U.S. military?

I helped found a group called Refuser Solidarity Network, which educates Americans about Israeli soldiers who refuse to take up arms against Palestinians. In the course of doing my work with RSN, I learned that in recent years, more and more Jewish fundamentalists have been joining the Israeli military (previously for the most part quite secular, since the Orthodox are given a "pass" on otherwise compulsory military service) and moving up through the ranks. It is believed by some that the truly awful invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces last year that killed some 400 Palestinian children was influenced substantially by these zealots.

Turns out that we may have a similar problem in the U.S. military.

I just read a very disturbing article in the Nation titled "Backward, Christian Soldiers." Here is one excerpt:

Leading the Pentecostalist charge is a constellation of different groups, none more prominent than Military Ministry, an affiliate of Campus Crusade for Christ, a global outreach network with an estimated annual budget of nearly $500 million, raised largely from individual donors and congregations, according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Military Ministry maintains branch offices at the nation’s main Army bases, as well as overseas initiatives like Bible-study programs globally. The group’s mission statement, according to its website, is “To Win, Build, and Send in the power of the Holy Spirit and to establish movements of spiritual multiplication in the worldwide military community.” In a 2005 newsletter, Military Ministry’s executive director, retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, said the group “must pursue our…means for transforming the nation­through the military. And the military may be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure.”

Military Ministry is particularly well represented at basic training installations like Fort Jackson in South Carolina, the Army’s largest boot camp. According to MRFF researcher Chris Rodda, the group instructs recruits through Bible-study programs that “when you join the military, you’ve joined the ministry,” and it ardently associates conquest on the battlefield with religious conversion. In a 2007 report, MRFF provides links to photos of Fort Jackson troops posing with rifles in one hand and Bibles­, some with camouflage covers­in the other. A Bible-study outline distributed by Military Ministry cites Scripture to sanction killing in combat by “God’s servant, an angel of wrath,” to “punish those who do evil.”
The revivalist subculture within the armed forces is as overt as Washington is loath to confront it. In late September Weinstein sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on behalf of more than 100 Air Force Academy cadets who said they were obliged to falsely assume fundamentalist identities

I believe firmly that any individual should be free to practice their own religion (preferably in the privacy of their own home or place of worship). But when that turns into evangelizing and coercing others, it also turns into a big problem for our society. And when that coercion is happening within the military, I get downright scared about what could be coming.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Cutting back on catalogs and junk mail

It truly drives me to distraction to receive piles of catalogs from companies.Well, except for Victoria's Secret. No, no, just kidding. Seriously.

What an incredible waste and pollution, what a terrible use of precious resources (human, petroleum and more), to print and deliver millions of catalogs that are just then thrown away or perhaps recycled. I won't even get into how the U.S. Postal Service both benefits and is financially hurt by the deep discounts offered to mailers of this junk.

So that's why today I visit, the website of the Direct Marketing Association, registered and then took advantage of the ability to turn off delivery of catalogs, magazines and other materials that members of the DMA might send out.

It won't stop all the junk mail, but it sure won't hurt. I encourage you to do the same.