Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Open Letter To The World - Human Rights Day 2009

10 December, 2009

Dear Fellow Humans-

Have you ever felt overrun by mixed emotions? That's where I'm at as I write to you. Today, as many of you know, is Human Rights Day, set aside by the UN to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified this day in 1948. This document was created in the wake of a World War that saw millions of persons killed because of religious, ethnic, racial, or societal distinctions, and millions more oppressed for the same reasons [some of which happened right here in the US]. The Universal Declaration simply and clearly lists the basic rights of every human being.

Now I know that some nations ignore rights that most of the world take for granted. Bloggers around the world, no doubt, will report on individuals who have been jailed, for years, for the simple act of sending an e-mail [China]. Or, perhaps, some will write about religion-based oppression of woman [Afghanistan]. Still others will note police violence against innocent citizens [Brazil], or oppressive laws that deny freedom of sexuality [Lithuania]. But I've got to be really honest here. As much as I am discouraged and disheartened by these human rights violations, I am somewhat jealous of these nations as well. Each one of them; indeed, virtually every civilized nation on Earth, has something that I, as an American, am denied - access to free, government-funded, health care.

If you happen to have a copy of the Universal Declaration [if not, click on the link above], I draw your attention to Article 25. Quoting Heading 1: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care..."[emphasis mine]. The United States is one of many signatories of the Universal Declaration. But it stands out like a sore thumb when it comes to its disregard of this Article. Health care "reform" has been one of the major themes of the almost-ended political year here. But, as our associates at Amnesty International [one of today's sponsors] point out, the "new and improved" health care plan does little to address several major deficiencies.
I guess I would feel better about the American system if it got results. But it doesn't. While spending more money than any other nation, the US ranked 37th in the most-recent World Health Organization's rating of health-care quality [among the nations having better results: Canada, the UK, Oman, Cypress, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco]. Even those "fortunate" enough to have health insurance are frequently beggared by payment of premiums, fees, etc [including Your Friendly Letterwriter].
Maybe it's just me, but until America has its own house in order, perhaps we should have a moratorium on intervention [critical or otherwise] of anybody else. Hey, oppression is bad [we all get that]; but, as Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane".
-Mike Riley

Friday, December 4, 2009

Messing With A Classic

Taking on a classic is always difficult, frequently provocative, and sometimes just plain wrong. Take the example at left - Marcel Duchamp's LHOOQ [pronouncing the letters approximates a French phrase implying a portion of Mona Lisa's anatomy (not visible in the painting) is worthy of note]. Note, also, the moustache and goatee modeled by La Gioconda; it just makes me think of Jim Croce's advice of what not to do with "Big Jim" in one of his songs. Then again, dadaist Duchamp had no objection to provoking his audience [the degree of difficulty, it should be pointed out, was low: Duchamp had only to scribble his changes on a cheap postcard reproduction. He worked much hard on another of his notorious "readymades"; the piece he titled Fountain ]. But what about those whose patronage depends on public approval?

Consider the good folks that make Sun-Maid products, most notably raisins. Since the early years of the last century, their trademarked icon was a young girl, reputedly spotted drying her long black hair in a California yard. Sure, she was "updated" a few times in the 20TH Century; each time, though, the final image was undeniably that of the young girl.

Then, around three years ago, Sun-Maid decided on a major re-imaging: "Sun-Maid Girl" [she has no name currently, but may eventually get one] was aged about 10 - 15 years, put on a strict diet [too much baby fat in the original], and is now usually pictured at work in the fields [instead of in a moment of repose]. The people at Sun-Maid probably expected a little publicity with the change [after all, it had worked for Betty Crocker and the Morton Salt Girl]; instead, the change went virtually unknown until recent weeks, when it has become the object of derision and [seemingly] bad-natured humor [some critics call the new look "a Barbie doll in Amish attire". In fairness to Sun-Maid, I live near Amish country, and no decent Amish woman would wear red like the Sun-Maid Hussy does].

Looking at the whole Sun-Maid "redo" [noted in this link-packed Yahoo! feature], the obvious question is, Why? Sure, Aunt Jemima needed [and got] her racially-awkward "baggage" removed [as have Uncle Ben and the Cream of Wheat "Chef", although their modernization was less spectacular than "AJ's"; that said, when was the last time you heard the Cream of Wheat Chef referred to by his traditional name of "Rastus"?]. But Sun-Maid Girl [maybe she should have become a super-hero, her feats of strength and skill fuelled by eating raisins] seemingly had no baggage, no issues that needed correcting. So why change? [At the time. a Sun-Maid official noted it was a good time to get on the "health" bandwagon. Some bandwagons have slippery floors...]

Still, it could have been worse for Sun-Maid: original plans called for the new Sun-Maid "Girl" [I think the new image should be known as "Sun-Maid Woman"; she seems a bit long in the tooth for "Girl" status] to appear in a series of commercials, showing her at the spa, grocery shopping, etc, all made easier by the energy derived from those raisins. Rumor has it that she may become multi-lingual, reflecting the diversity of the nations where Sun-Maid grows its products [a lovely gesture, don't get me wrong. But wouldn't it be better for Sun-Maid Woman to monitor the practices of the companies that grow, harvest, and sell the produce she eats, and to speak out against any questionable actions along the food chain? I may be wrong, but the image of Sun-Maid's animated icon speaking publicly against the corporation that supplies her computer-generated living would be attention-getting, to say the least].

BTB, I'm kicking around re-writing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Maybe changing the Third Movement to a rumba. Waddya think?

-Mike Riley

PS: More "Messing With A Classic" here...-MR