Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

TOMS Shoes

I’ve been wearing TOMS for about a year and have had some issues with them.  They fall apart pretty easily–the soles wear out–though I’ll admit that I wear them a lot.    Sometimes on 30 minute walks to campus.  I wore the first pair I’d bought (I’m on the second) around New Mexico mountain trails.  My dog chewed the sides out of my first pair, which had already lost the rim of glue over the heels, but I bought another pair in corduroy and hoped it would be more sturdy.

The shoes, though cheap, are cute and simple and great for Florida weather, great for slipping on during the six or seven trips a day  I took down a flight of stairs to take the afore mentioned shoe-devouring dog out.  And I always thought the One for One model was impressive.

My friend just posted this critique of TOMS that has me thinking  (again!) about generosity.  Also about big businesses, Chinese manufacturing of American products, and the third world in need. Another friend (who is taking the crazy road trip and introduced me to Rachel Held Evans’s blog.  I wrote a post about this a while ago) told me she goes to church with the creator of TOMS and I thought–sure, makes sense that this dude would be a Christian.  Who else starts businesses like these?  Probably a lot of people, but it does seem like a Christiany idea.

After reading the critique, I’m thinking about the One for One model, and whether this critic is right to use the word “imperialism.”  She says the trips to the third world countries are imperialist because plane tickets to leave cost more than what the Americans are leaving behind.   Can that really be helped?  I mean, isn’t that more about the airline’s greediness?  Also, she says TOMS:

supports the belief that these people cannot make it on their own, so rather than helping them to develop a healthy economy, we should give them handouts – an imperialist concept if there ever was one.

Does handing out shoes or handing out anything to people need  always send a message that they can’t make it on their own?  I agree that it’s problematic that TOMS is putting local shoe sellers out of business, but these kids didn’t have shoes to begin with, right?  Isn’t this why we have TOMS in the first place?

I don’t expect any company that makes a ton of money, like TOMS makes a ton of money, to be that ethical.  I’m cynical about corporations and big businesses (thank you, The Corporation documentary).  I doubt TOMS creators really care that their shoes fall apart really easily, that they are selling a five dollar shoe for 50 dollars and making a helluva profit.   Every large company, as far as I know of, is making an enormous profit, but they aren’t using any of it to give “hand outs.”

Also, this Manufactured in China thing is more complicated than we give it credit for.  It’s generally terrible, but just because a person makes less than they need to live on in America doesn’t mean they make less they need to live on in Vietnam, Thailand, or China.  There are 104+ arguments about why corporations suck, but the pay rate is not always the worst one.  The critic throws this information out there, while a few paragraphs away she critiques TOMS for doing nothing about local economies.  I wonder what she would think if TOMS built a factory in one of these communities and hired people to boost the local economy.  Would that be imperialist?  Would that be bad for the environment, the people, especially the local shoemakers?  (I honestly don’t know.)

So, I’m still conflicted.  I’m certain TOMS isn’t a perfect company, but it seems better than most, right?


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Remember when people on Craigslist got busted for using the website to sell sex?

My writing teacher/mentor sent me this OP-ED by Nicholas Kristof from the NY Times (because it relates to the novel I’m writing for my thesis/breakout into the novel-writing-world).   In summary, Kristof gives a morbid and disturbing account of a teenage girl who has been sold several times on Backpage.com, a classified ads website monitored by Village Voice Media (the same people who put out the paper).  He says that the website,

accounts for about 70 percent of prostitution advertising among five Web sites that carry such ads in the United States, earning more than $22 million annually from prostitution ads…

Here’s an online petition that he gives from Change.com to help put an end to this.   The petition writers say this about the cause:

Sex trafficking of girls and boys on Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, is becoming a disturbing trend.

A Georgia man was arrested for pimping two 17-year-old girls around the Nashville area. Detectives responded to a suspicious ad on Backpage.com and drove to a motel. There, they found the teens and their 37-year-old pimp, as well as a laptop computer, likely used for the online advertising. Just four days prior to that, four people in Denver were arrested for forcing a teen girl into prostitution. They also advertised her sexual services, including semi-nude pictures, on Backpage. And last year, a South Dakota couple was arrested for selling underage girls for sex on …. wait for it … Backpage.com yet again.

Village Voice Media has a moral responsibility to ensure that young girls and boys aren’t being abused in the commercial sex industry with help from their website.

Now, a rising movement of people of many faiths and backgrounds, motivated by their shared moral convictions, are taking action to end this practice.

Please join us in demanding that Village Voice Media – Backpage.com’s parent company – stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website.

Maybe I am naive, but my mind is shot at the thought that this company/website hasn’t been severely punished yet for this.

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I began this summer between MA coursework with a list of things I hoped to accomplish, mostly books to read and stories to polish for submission.  I’ve done some of that, but I found myself hooked on the HBO Wire seasons.  The show came up a lot during our workshops, on the radio, talking to writers, conversations with friends–pretty much everywhere.  We had a visiting writer come in and the first thing he asked us was “How many of you have seen The Wire?” I think most of us hadn’t, so he proposed, in jest, that we just spend our entire time watching it.  He noted its complex characters and plot development as good study material.  With that in mind, this isn’t really a confession of wasted time–I can’t say I’ve been watching thoughtless TV all these hours.  It does serve a purpose.

I just finished Season 4 this afternoon, about the school system, and I feel the need to promote the show here on my blog to other writers, humanitarians, people who respect intelligence, etc…

I went to church today and after hearing a good sermon (about communion), I felt compelled to introduce myself to the pastor, which I hadn’t done yet though I’ve attended the church for a while.  I hesitated because I’m an English teacher, and university English departments have a reputation for pushing liberal agendas on students.  The pastor asked what I was doing here and I told him I was teaching and he asked if it was through the English department and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was worried… Probably a little surprised that I attend his church.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I know I have a shameless liberal agenda and the Wire reminded me why.  My political stance springs from my Detroit, or  inner city, upbringing.   I’m quite passionate about urban issues and my students know it.  They debate with me, they make me angry sometimes, but I feel those suffering in America’s city, due to our failed institutions, should be a part of any academic experience.

The Wire‘s writers share my convictions about wanting to introduce the public to the forgotten city in America.  The show didn’t do too well, and in the commentary the creators (actors, writers, producers) gave a lot of reasons why, mostly that it’s a tough show.  People go to the TV to escape from their problems and The Wire forces them to confront everything about our society they don’t want to know.   Watching it reminds me of how much I want people to acknowledge these things, to see how complicated they are, and to recognize themselves in the brokenness.

I hear the word “agenda” among Christians quite a bit.  It’s a negative term, it scares people.  But we all have agendas.  Let’s be honest about them.  I can say that I just want people to read good stories, or that I just want to teach my students how to write, and it’s true–I do want these things and I do believe they are powerful.  I also want people to understand life with God’s awareness, which I believe he offers freely to those who are serious about this love idea.   I want my students to have courage when interacting with people who don’t come from the same background.  I want my readers to ask why our systems fail.

Besides the fact that The Wire didn’t do so well with viewer ratings, it was completely overlooked by the Emmy Award committee.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know why this is such a shame.  The acting is great, the writing is even better.   Among the other things that I think the show can teach us, the series reveals that the public doesn’t want to confront life’s tough issues.   As a writer and a teacher, it reminds me I need courage to tell the truth, courage because truth doesn’t yeild comfort (See The Four Gospels…)  I recommend the show to anyone who holds similar convictions.

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These two pictures stood out to me the most from the April 13 riots in Bkk

The first one is a soldier’s vigil, the second is  woman protesting peacefully.

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Thank you for all your words that we can reflect on, that point us towards Jesus, that point us towards Unity, that point us towards Love.

Thank you for demonstrating how to live for a higher cause.

Thank you for your struggles, which have enhanced our lives.  Not only the lives of our black brothers and sisters, but the lives of everyone on earth.  You have made my life better because you have given me more opportunities to interact with people from all different backgrounds.  You have made it possible for me to  sit in more rooms with African Americans, to listen to their stories and their struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Our work isn’t finished yet, but you’ve reminded us of the work.  And we are getting better.  Thanks to you.

Thank you for all the wonderful conversations I can have about your writings with my students.  I have already had a couple, and it’s just amazing to see the way your eloquence, poise, and poetry have opened their minds and mine.  I’m looking forward to bringing your name up in my classrooms.

I’m looking forward to thanking you in person, to sharing meals with you at our Lord’s feast.  For now, I will just go on living my life, doing the best with what God gives me, and letting your words inspire me on the way.


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A’rai wa?

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In Spanish.

PS: I am posting this in slight humor.

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