Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Weekend and Discourse

The week ended with a whimper running-wise. I did 5 easy miles on Saturday in the a.m. and the rest of the weekend was pretty packed with activities. I could have definitely done some work, but the family time/seasonal vibe and the general tiredness said, don't worry about it. I really am tired, which might be from the traces of a virus that seems to be going around (at least in my little cabin). Plus I just finished some pretty stiff drugs taken for the work done on my neck. Sounds crazy.

I got a very measly 43 miles on the week. I wouldn't even publish the number but for a tale of the numbers for the coming weeks and months.

There's been a pretty soft discussion going on over on Zack's and one of his buddy's blogs.

It's basically an exchange where all of the other participants really only have their own views from which to exchange. This is understandable, I guess. To each his own. But when the issue and ideology are inseparable, the discussion can sink quickly if there is zero common ground. All that's left are the bubbles (narrow-minded discharges) that superficially go pop. From my experience, the best discussions are those in which people can (even for a second) try to understand another person's view(s), which includes background/history/values/circumstances; to put it another way, some of these topics, believe it or not, are a little more complicated when one considers how the issue might affect others who are not like him or her.

Sticking with the metaphor, what could be a real treasure of an exchange plunges to the bottom of the proverbial sea. For me, in the end, it's like watching guys drown in their inability to see the issue past their own position (their own nose as the saying goes), beyond the world they live in. And since this is a world with many different people, living in many different circumstances with different kinds of backgrounds and education, who are becoming more and more connected through a variety of ways. . .well, the absolutism with which one speaks on such a controversial issue (and this one is definitely controversial) is pretty shallow. It's closed-to-outsiders; it's a kind of club where they all remind each other of how great their views are and anyone else is wrong and doesn't belong. It's weak. Their argument is nothing new; it's evidence of what some call exceptionalism.

I am not necessarily calling their position ridiculous; but instead their approach to the discussion lacks effort, which lacks context and perspective and therefore credibility (which is important if you want it to stand outside the "club"). This is why liberals and conservatives are at such odds. They have so much difficulty seeing some merit in the other's position.

So, you would think that on a blog somewhere where there is generally a ton of perspective accompanied by evidence of solid values, that this would be a place for healthy exchange.

Here's what's going on (and I will make this as short as possible):

Someone is suing McDonald's for its unfair marketing strategies (using toys to entice children).

Some people think this is a ridiculous claim. On the surface, even I agree. Parents need to demonstrate more control over their children.

Taken out of context (in other words, read in a vacuum), this claim reeks of irresponsibility and character; and someone hired a lawyer to go after a company for essentially interfering with the parenting of his/her children? What the fuck. Here's some business trying to market and sell its product in a seemingly acceptable way (billboards, TV, the internet, radio, etc); and someone can't seem to control his/her child (which is a way around saying him/herself) in light of this marketing? It's becoming a problem, affecting the child's health, behaviors, values; therefore, let's sue the company? That does sound a little odd.

If you asked even a six-year-old, the child would say that doesn't seem right.

The only problem with this being a break-away slam-dunk is, well, a lot of things. And I can only summarize these points because, to me, some of them are so obvious. And secondly, I'm not going to spend too much more time on an argument that I know will go no where in trying to move the aforementioned audience. Anyone else reading, who wants to research for a better understanding, go for it.

1) the gentlemen I had this brief discussion with say that the lawsuit is stupid. It has no merit. The claimant and her case lack any responsibility, etc. (what I just said above about a superficial understanding of the issue). Their point is that parents anywhere and everywhere are responsible for their children. Just say no. What's wrong with these parents?

I don't know the background of all of the guys who share this view, but I think they should have considered that not everyone has the same background, set of circumstances, values and education as they. Their education and histories might put them in a position to easily limit the influence of some company like McDonalds. Is it inherent in being a human being that one can easily negotiate in and around this influence? Again, I don't know these guys' backgrounds. If I did, my case would be easier to make. But there are people in this country who are brought-up in so many different ways, with different views. There are people struggling in so many different ways. There a people who culturally (in certain parts of this country) do not necessarily value a "healthy" lifestyle. That's how they were brought-up. It's not necessarily their fault. Certain parts of this country support/encourage an unhealthy lifestyle. Period. Should I assume that these gentlemen have the same kinds of views toward religion? People in many many cases do not choose how they are brought-up to view the world.

Some people are from very disfunctional families. Maybe there's only one parent, extreme poverty, a genuine lack of education with a subsequent value system that promotes a certain lifestyle or discourages the discernment that others have. Are you really ready to say it is their fault for having those histories? Can you call them "stupid" for not having the means to make the same decisions as you?

People are different. To lump your values on everyone else is, well, pretty laughable. Really? This is an holier-than-thou kind of attitude. It's troubling. It's condescending.

Note: I haven't said a word about the power of the marketing.
Just because the marketing doesn't work on you, do not think therefore it should not work on some one else WHO IS DIFFERENT FROM YOU. Jesus.

2) There were some classic "comparisons" to the woman's complaint about the restaurant using a toy. These were in response to my suggesting she might have a case. One said it's like a mountain race using a mountain, or a restaurant using crayons, or like a jewelry store that sells expensive jewelry. Thought this was obvious, but the big problem with McD's and the rest of the fast food industry is that people are developing some pretty serious health issues because of the product. To clarify, there is a correlation being made by people like the Center for Disease Control between fast food and obesity and other deadly conditions. It doesn't matter if you think that claim is bogus. It's become common knowledge. The problem people have (the woman is not alone here) is that the toys entice kids to want to go to that restaurant (probably not even for the food at all) for the toy. Of course, they eat the food.

McDonald's is the largest toy distributor in the world. More than all the stores you're thinking about right now. Look it up. So, all those toys. All those grams of fat. That connection has posed a problem for many people. This is not commentary. I am summarizing. Those are the facts.

If you are having to pay on those medical costs brought to you by the fast food industry, are you still okay with the business going about its business? You probably are.

I guess cigarette advertising is okay? I'm sure, according to you, it is. Holy shit.
This is just the surface math. On to #3.

3) Here's a quote: "I'm not going to talk about any peripheral issues here, because they are irrelevant, such as: where McDonald's makes the toys, how much the workers are paid, whether you think their food is healthy, and what its other policies are. People might not like those policies, or other things McDonald's does, but they have absolutely no bearing on the issue at hand."

That's another way of saying, I want to ignore these other areas because they might (DO) complicate this issue. Really? Irrelevant? That's like me saying I want to talk about the great moral leadership of the Catholic church but I am going to ignore all of the "peripheral issues." Yes, it's the same. Unbelievable. Many have chronicled the various abuses and unethical business practices of McDonalds. This is terribly relevant because many groups, cities and countries have already acted to ban or prohibit McDonalds from doing business. Read a book, google it, ask someone. It's common knowledge. And when there already exists that kind of awareness of the nature of that business (McDonalds), how can it not be relevant? What judge ignores claims against McDonalds at this point?

And you wonder why people still eat there in such numbers? Read #1.

No need to go into this other than to say that several European countries have banned the restaurant or its advertising (especially as it relates to children: see Sweden among others), and the cities of Santa Clara and San Francisco (a fairly large American city) have banned the Happy Meal because of the use of the toy to market that product. Some one criticized this point, saying, "I don't find the fact that San Francisco and Santa Clara have banned Happy Meals to be particularly convincing - it is not hard to find examples of government stupidity and over-reach, particularly at the municipal level." That's not convincing? An individual is suing McDonalds for the use of a toy in its marketing to children; and 2 cities have banned the Happy Meal because of the toy. Fine if you think that is "government stupidity," but it's just sorta sound reasoning to call what those cities did precedent. And sure, suppose the lady loses her case. That does not dismiss that she has a case. To dismiss it entirely? Not enough oxygen, fellas.

Another great quote: "The issue at hand is that of a principle: the inalienable right of an individual or company to engage in a peaceful, non-fraudulent activity; a right that -- unfortunately -- few governments and citizens properly acknowledge."

Back to what has been chronicled at length about McDonalds (and many American companies/industries that flourish under corporate law), to call its business practice here and all over the world "peaceful" is foolish. These statements work in a tree house during a club meeting, but in the big world where people who really care about these issues do a little reading, exploring what is really going on, they are simply uninformed and immoral if you really want to get down.

4) I only have one link in this piece and I could have several. This is the foundation of what is unethical about some of American business. If anyone is really interested, and wants to understand more the history of the corporation, one might see that these are not necessarily benign entities innocently selling their products.

It's more complicated than that. This is not Leave it to Beaver. Open both eyes.

In conclusion, the woman's case seems a little far-fetched on the surface; in the end, it's not.
And I have no trouble acknowledging the complexities in this case. I wish we all had this dialectic approach.


  1. if i clicked on the proper link that gz provided it took me about a minute to read the article. if i read everything that was available to read it really didn't tell me much about the case. perhaps we've all filled in the blanks to suit our own views on such a short article which has caused such a drastic disagreement among a few people here and probably thousands of others we are not even in touch with? there are cases where people have done things that seem completely rediculous just to get the ball rolling. perhaps this woman's seemingly irrelevent law suit will somehow start a more healthy life style to her family and maybe many more, it's possible. i think what's important to ask is what's the difference if there's a toy in a happy meal or not?
    on the health side of all this -
    the grandparents like to "treat" my kids to a happy meal once in a while. i don't have a problem with this, but it does interest me enough to have a look into the nutritional value of a happy meal compared to some other food. so i looked in our cabinet for a quick/easy meal that i'll make for the kids once in a while. staring me right in the face was exactly what i was looking for - a box of kraft macaroni and cheese. my 2 kids can almost eat the entire box togather and the back said the nutrition data was based on 2 servings - perfect. so i went to the mcd's web site for some nutritional data, my kids, when treated to a happy meal, usually get a 4 piece nugget, apple slices, chocolate milk - the other gets a hamburger, apple slices and apple juice. what i found out is that 1 serving of kraft m&c was no different than the happy meal my kids ate once in a while. in fact, they were "treated" to more m&c than happy meals. the m&c was almost exactly the same in cals, fat, carbs, sugar and protien, and contained a little more sodium. replace the apple slices with fries and the happy meal was only a little worse than the m&c, but not enough to really chose one over the other as a better choice. anyway, i think you see my point here, while mcd's and other fast food places are pretty bad nutritionally, we all need to take a closer look at what's in our cabinets as well that we might assume is a better choice.

  2. At this point, it's a PR battle. A LOT of people think McDs is crap. So, whether someone wants to make a point about nutrition (you - which is a good point btw), or someone arguing for the heroic beauty of capitalism, or someone suggesting these parents are lazy, irresponsible schmucks, the ball, as you say, is already rolling. There is a real movement against that industry. That's why this is so much more complicated than just a woman, a child, and a hamburger w/a toy.