Smart people saying smart things (8.14)

Smart people saying smart things (8.14) August 14, 2013

Richard Rohr: “The Jesus Hermeneutic”

To take the scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Most Biblical authors understood this, which is why they felt totally free to take so many obvious liberties with what we would call “facts.” In many ways, we have moved backwards in our ability to read spiritual and transformative texts, especially after the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when religious people got on the defensive and lost their own unique vantage point. Serious reading of scripture will allow you to find an ever new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.

Kiese Laymon: “The Worst of White Folks”

The worst of white folks, I understood, wasn’t some gang of rabid white people in crisp pillowcases and shaved heads. The worst of white folks was a pathetic, powerful “it.” It conveniently forgot that it came to this country on a boat, then reacted violently when anything or anyone suggested it share. The worst of white folks wanted our mamas and grandmas to work themselves sick for a tiny sliver of an American pie it needed to believe it had made from scratch. It was all at once crazy-making and quick to violently discipline us for acting crazy. It had an insatiable appetite for virtuoso black performance and routine black suffering. The worst of white folks really believed that the height of black and brown aspiration should be emulation of its mediocre self. The worst of white folks inherited disproportionate access to quality health care, food, wealth, fair trials, fair sentencing, college admittance, college graduations, promotions and second chances, yet still terrorized and shamed other Americans who lacked adequate access to healthy choices at all. White Americans were wholly responsible for the worst of white folks, though they would do all they could to make sure it never wholly defined them.

Helaine Olen: “The McDonald’s Worker Budget and the Tyranny of Personal Finance”

There is a genre of personal finance writing I like to call “when rich people tell poor people how to live.” This is when, as I’ve reported in the past, you see men and women in designer suits go on CNBC, and rant about how if the poor people just managed to eschew flat screen televisions and smart phones, their financial problems would be solved. Never mind a living wage, all you need to do is figure out how to live within your means. And if your means are a $7.25 an hour minimum wage job, so be it. Those millionaires know you can do it!

Erik Loomis: ‘The Environmental and Human Health Effects of Outsourcing Garment Production to Bangladesh”

This is why we need international labor and environmental laws. There are meaningful and enforced laws prohibiting the importation of goods to the United States that are made by prison labor or slave labor. There is no good reason why we can’t expand those laws to include nations that allow union organizers to be killed with impunity or products that are produced in an environmentally unsustainable manner. Whether in Bangladesh or the United States, Vietnam or Honduras, worker rights and environmental rights are human rights. The United States should crack down on its corporations whose factories violate basic conceptions of these rights or who subcontract work out to employers who do the same thing. Workers need to be able to bring suit in western courts against companies who pollute their water, give them industrial disease, or kill their husbands and daughters on the job.

Cheryl Overs: “Be Careful Who You Rape” (Trigger warning)

But then something surprising happened that made this case different. Meagher’s grief stricken husband, Tom, gave a moving television interview in which he further fused the intensely personal and the unavoidably political. With a striking lack of self pity, Tom said he was not asking “Why me?” but “Why anyone?” He pointed out that Bayley’s previous victims were sex workers and decried their treatment by the justice system. He said, “Put it like this: If he’d raped five people like Meagher that many times in that brutal a fashion, I don’t think he would have [only] served eight years in prison.”

He is right. Bayley was attacking and raping sex workers at a time when judges had explicitly said that raping a sex worker was fundamentally different than raping a “chaste woman” because the experiences associated with prostitution mean the prostitute does not endure the same “reaction of revulsio” during forced sex and that the elements of “shame” and “defilement” may be missing or diminished so the circumstance of aggravation is missing.


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  • TheBrett

    The United States should crack down on its corporations whose factories violate basic conceptions of these rights or who subcontract work out to employers who do the same thing. Workers need to be able to bring suit in western courts against companies who pollute their water, give them industrial disease, or kill their husbands and daughters on the job.

    The problem is that it’s usually not the international companies doing it – it’s the local domestic partner companies, like with Bangladesh. And proving that a domestic partner company in a country like isn’t abusing worker rights or (more often) illegally subcontracting out to clandestine other domestic companies that are tends to be quite difficult. It’s harder than excluding stuff made in factories powered by prison or slave labor.

    That said, Loomis has a point about the need for international standards on environmental rules – and I’m glad he didn’t just reflexively go “RARRR! Outsourcing! Evil!” without the concern for how this might affect employment in developing countries (not that serving as a cheap “final assembly” point is the way to prosperity).

  • connorboone

    “It’s too haaaaaard” is more a corporate whine than a reality. A robust inspection regime by the US part of the equation would crack way down. It can be done. They just don’t want to.

  • TheBrett

    How’s that? Are you going to tell Bangladesh that they have to open up their factory operations to US government inspectors, or they’ll face an export ban? That’ll go well.

  • Yes, I’m sure they’d much rather do without all that foreign trade and cripple their economy.

  • TheBrett

    Yeah, good thing there aren’t other countries who might get pissed over that type of trade negotiation, or the World Trade Organization.

  • And how many divisions does the WTO have?

  • P J Evans

    Bangladesh instituted an agreement about factory conditions, after the last disaster, and the large US companies refused to agree to it because they don’t think they should have to be responsible in any for the factories making products to their order to be sold in the US. They want the profits, but not the responsibilities.
    Eff them.

  • connorboone

    I said nothing about the government. The ‘US part of the equation’ is corporate inspectors.

    Those corporate inspectors would then have to show the US government that labor and environmental practices were up to snuff. And, yes, I know how rife for abuse that is.

    But I submit that it is better than nothing.

  • LoneWolf343

    You could punish companies who manufacture in those countries.

  • LoneWolf343

    Since corporations exist solely to get rewards without responsibilities, this shouldn’t surprise you.

  • J_Enigma32

    “When rich people tell poor people how to live”

    You mean the same people who complain about living on around $200,000 dollars a year after taxes, and their poor souls (bless their hearts) just barely making, telling the rest of us living on $35-15,000 or less a year how we’re supposed to cut out the “non-essentials” in life, like: golfing with Tiger Woods, monthly trips to the Riviera, buying clothes only once a year instead of two or three times, sending your children to public school (public school, even!), making a game of doing your own laundry because that maid is just too expensive, and leaving The Hampton’s Marina Yacht Club because the membership fees can be a little steep? These people?

    Bastards. How am I going to live without my Yacht Club membership, huh? You’re just not being fair. And then you turn around and tell me to do my own laundry. Jesus Christ, people. Next thing you know, you’ll want me to get off my ass and go to the Almshouse and hand out candy to small children who already have iPods!

    And yet, despite it being so wonderful, the one piece of advice they never give is to get on State Aid. I wonder why that is.

  • J_Enigma32

    Support unions. Support collective bargaining rights; we’ve already proven we can support fascists without anyone knowing, maybe it’s time this country supported something worthwhile for a change?

  • MaryKaye

    One thing that I have only, to my shame, come to understand quite recently is that in many ways being poor is more expensive than being rich. The local homeless newspaper _Real Change_ had an excellent article on what a trap living in your car can be–you have to keep it running or you’ll end up losing it, but if you’re living in it the humidity will damage it, and if you can’t pay for maintenance you’ll end up needing horrendously expensive repairs. Several people described periodic car-repair crises eating everything they’d managed to save up to get a room.

    Similarly, if your bank balance is nearly zero (this year was my first real experience with that) you’re going to be very lucky not to eat an overdraft fee or a low-balance fee. And your money has to be in checking, not savings, so good-bye interest. Furthermore, you can’t buy in bulk because you don’t have enough cash, so you get things one at a time and they cost more. And you end up buying three thermometers because the cheap ones don’t work (that was infuriating) and you have to take your kid’s temperature or the school nurse won’t accept that he’s sick.

    And then you get a job offer for three days in San Francisco, decent money but you have to pay the $300 plane fare upfront; and then they don’t pay you back for three months. Which would have been nothing to me five years ago, but this year it was hard.

    If I had more money I could live on less money. I never really got that before. I think a lot of people don’t. Maybe some kind of extended roleplaying exercise, perhaps in high school? We did some political roleplaying in high school that helped me a lot (origins of WW1, that sort of thing) but then I’m a gamer at heart….

  • ohiolibrarian

    Off topic, but … pretty sure most people here would be interested in this Google Easter Egg of the interior of the Tardis.

  • Hawker40

    About as many as the Pope.

  • TheBrett

    You know what? I’m going to push back on the Bangladesh issue after the last couple of posts.

    No country forced Bangladesh to become a low-cost textile exporter, and no corporation forced them to make it such a central part of their export economy. They don’t even have the excuse that they had no other choice – look at their neighbors, who did different choices in how to develop their economy. There are tons of choices that their political leadership could have made along the way that wouldn’t have led them into being centered around trying to keep dominance in an extremely low-valued-added industry whose only merits are that it pays more than Bangladeshi agriculture.

    Yet all the focus is on the corporations who buy these products from the Bangladeshi companies they contract with. The pressure should be on the Bangladeshi government to actually enforce their own damn labor laws, yet they get treated with a kind of condescending pity: “Oh, those poor Bangladeshis! They’re just too poor and inept to enforce their own laws, so we’ve got to try and pressure them indirectly by hitting at the foreign companies buying from them.”

  • ;-)

  • Alix

    Yeah, but you know what? It’s not like those companies or the demand for cheap textiles had no effect here, and on my end I can only seek to effect change in American corporations, business practices, policies, and consumer practices. Maybe some international stuff too, as part and parcel of the “policies” bundle, I don’t know.

    Point is, it’s not exactly my place to dictate to the government of Bangladesh what to do, and I’m leery of my country playing bully-on-the-block and dictating from on high, as if our practices have had no effect at all. Our noses aren’t clean, here. We have beams in our own eyes we have to remove first.

  • Alix

    Shorter me: we have no place ordering others around until we’re actually practicing what we preach, and not merely making end runs around US laws by outsourcing our bad practices.

  • Chris

    I’m not a citizen of Bangladesh and so can’t vote there. I can vote in the USA and try to prevent products produced via unacceptable means from being sold here. If we’re their major market, that *does* produce pressure on their gov’t to enforce their laws. Are you saying that I should instead try to hire my own army to force a country to bend to my will? Or would you rather that I throw up my hands and let crappy practices happen? (Since indirect pressure is “condescending”) I fear that you’d prefer the latter.

  • themunck

    It’s called the Ghetto Tax, if I recall right. I first encountered the concept in a Discworld book. Rich people can afford expensive boots that’ll last a lifetime. Poor people will have to buy cheaper shoes that last a year at most. After 5 years, the poor person will have spent more money on shoes than the rich one, and still have wet feet.
    A rich person can afford healthy food, to take a day off work if he’s feeling sick, to go to the doctor with something that might be nothing. A poor person can’t, and will have to spend 100 times as much money on treatment when that thing that could’ve been nothing turns out to be something but wasn’t diagnosed in time.

  • Ross Thompson

    Edit: Replied in the wrong place.

  • Ross Thompson
  • Did a bunch of mills and sweatshops in Bangladesh just start making low-labor-cost textiles and wait for corporations from the First World to buy them in bulk lots? I’m not sure that’s how things work economically.

  • fraser

    Likewise Florida farmers have the option to bring in all the guest workers they need, legally, but if they do, they become responsible for contractors who abuse the workers. So a number of them stick with illegals.

  • Eric Boersma

    The Worst Of White People is one of the most moving and incredible pieces of prose to be written this year.

  • Kirala

    There IS a short-term roleplaying exercise free online: I’ve played through it a few times, but thing is – I feel like it’s too easy to win. For starters, they simulate skill sets by having you do a typing test if you want the higher-paid temp job, which I can ace – but there are other skill sets I lack which would be necessary to get a temp job (not to mention the odds of finding reliable work that way anyway). Also, it’s easy to choose to live 50 miles away from the city for cheaper rent when you’re not actually driving the commute every day. But at least it gives an idea of the stakes involved in cutting the “fat”.

  • Kubricks_Rube
  • Yes! I thought of that too.

  • Ouch. So, yeah, I made it through the end of the month — with $5 to spare, sharp chest pains, no car, taking online classes, with an unhappy child and no job. And rent is due tomorrow.

  • TheBrett

    No, but when companies started fishing around for textile making locations, Bangladesh was ready. And when they started putting relentless cost pressure on Bangladesh, to the point where the domestic partner companies decided to continue operation by illegal subcontracting and violations of Bangladesh’s labor laws, the Bangladeshi government complied in order to maintain the economy’s heavy export dependence on textiles rather than trying to diversify or take a different approach (like neighboring countries).

  • Eric Boersma

    Fantastic as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • chgo_liz

    I hated that online roleplaying exercise because it didn’t allow me to pick any of the choices I actually made when living for about a decade below the poverty line. In other words, it made assumptions that weren’t true in the real world (or at least, the one I lived in).

  • banancat

    I propose regulatory agencies like the FDA. I work in an FDA-regulated industry and yes, there are occasionally problems, but the products I’ve seen have much tighter quality control than other industries. We already have OSHA. We should give it the backing that the FDA has internationally. If companies don’t follow OSHA regs, they can’t sell their product in the U.S. and that applies to companies within the U.S. too. If drugs are manufactured in Bangladesh or anywhere else, it’s still regulated by our FDA and the regulatory agencies of most target countries for consumption. So it is feasible and that has been demonstrated.

  • alfgifu

    The problem is that it’s usually not the international companies doing it – it’s the local domestic partner companies, like with Bangladesh.

    This is a supply chain management problem. If a company wants to operate on a big international scale, it shouldn’t be able to throw its hands up and say ‘I couldn’t help it, I had no idea what my partner company was doing’.

    Admittedly, it is likely to be more expensive to put the kind of information and assurance regime in place that would be necessary for a company with a head office in London or New York to understand what’s happening in Bangladesh. I doubt anyone’s going to be able to give you absolutely certainty that every worker involved is treated well.

    Still, if international corporations refused to partner with a company unless it had an independent expert’s report verifying that it respected human rights – the cost needn’t be huge. It could also help promote the Bangladeshi economy by providing skilled jobs for inspectors / accountants / whichever experts ended up doing the work.

    All it would take is genuine determination on the part of international companies to do what they can to make sure their workers are treated fairly.

  • alfgifu

    The ‘US part of the equation’ is corporate inspectors.

    This needn’t be the US part of the equation at all. Professionals in relevant fields in Bangladesh (I’m jumping to accountants in my mind but others might be relevant as well) could carry out independent inspections on the ground there. All the US company would have to do is to require an inspector’s report on an annual basis.

    Admittedly there would need to be some sort of regulation to ensure high quality inspections and to cut down on corruption. If US companies penalised false reports by shifting their contracts to different partners, there’d be a strong incentive to make sure the reports were good.

  • The_L1985

    There are all kinds of problems with the Floridian agriculture system. When my fiance was a little boy, his family had an orange tree in the backyard. The county made them cut it down after it developed cancre–which has NO effect on anything whatsoever except for how “pretty” the fruit looks.

    Florida is more concerned about whether its oranges look pretty than about their robustness, which is why they’re so ridiculously susceptible to diseases. Most Florida orange trees are clones of each other.

  • The_L1985

    That is so cool. Like bowties and fezzes. Or scarves and jelly babies. Or what have you.

  • The United Nations would be a pretty good place to start. The International Labor Organization has mostly not been very relevant on the world stage, but if the G7 + EU got serious about it, the ILO could serve as the master regulatory body for workplace safety to ensure common standards of compliance across nations.

  • stardreamer42

    What Olen calls “when rich people tell poor people how to live” is what I have started to describe as “richsplaining”. It’s when someone who’s never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or whether to pay the rent or buy medicine on a budget that can’t do both, starts telling people who have been in that position that if they only did thus-and-such, more money would magically appear!

  • stardreamer42
  • stardreamer42

    I haven’t tried it. Does it even attempt to address institutionalized racism, prejudice against fat people and single mothers, etc?