Greenwashing

•June 12, 2010 • 2 Comments

In assisting a student hone her argument about the rise of “green” consciousness, I ran across a tiny article from 2002. Ironically, the story mentioned a New York Times essay on BP’s (then) $200 million-dollar attempt to reposition itself as a green company. BP redesigned its logo, launched a feel-good ad campaign that touted alternative fuels, purchased a solar energy company, and said it would cut its emissions 10% by 2010. Prwatch.org, however, charged that the company was merely “greenwashing” its image.

Intrigued by the unfamiliar word, I discovered that it dates back to 1989 and refers to disingenuous attempts to align one’s organization or activities with eco-friendly ideas and causes. Enviromedia has a greenwashing site that rates various “green” ads and provides other information, such as the reminder that greenwashing “can encourage [passive] consumers en masse to do the opposite of what’s good for the environment.”

Scot Case offers six sins of greenwashing in this video:

Blisstree.com provides an excellent example of greenwashing, the Huggies Pure and Natural disposable diaper. The blog points out that the packaging uses only 20% post-consumer recycled materials and that the diapers are in no way biodegradable. Clearly, the product represents Kimberly-Clark’s cynical attempt to prey on new parents too busy and tired to investigate the company’s green-sounding claims.

What of green-minded B(eyond)P(etroleum)? Well, in 2007, a panel chaired by James A. Baker III, noted liberal tree hugger, argued that the company failed to make safety a core value and

had not learned from a long string of past accidents, had “a false sense of confidence” about safety, “did not always ensure that adequate resources were effectively allocated to support or sustain a high level” of safety in the industrial process and rotated refinery chiefs too quickly.

A few months before his resignation, CEO John Browne responded that “We’ve never focused on profits above safety.” Check.

It’s great to know that BP started devoting major resources to safety and wasn’t merely greenwashing. Ah, it’s fabulous that BP really did learn from the refinery disaster and demonstrated its green love by pouring loads of money into safety procedures designed to minimize environmental disasters. At the very least, a company with profits the size of BP’s would carefully review its disaster plans in case an off-shore well started spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, right? Sure! As goddess of the geeks and BWW heroine Rachel Maddow points out, the high-tech plan included concern for the Gulf’s many walruses. Ummm, come again?

Hmm . . . maybe if BP hadn’t tried to prevent photographs of dead wildlife in the Gulf spill, we’d get a glimpse of those miraculous warm-water walruses in their slick new coats.

“We’re going to clean-up the oil, we’re going to remediate any environmental damage, and we are going to return the Gulf coast to the position it was in prior to this event.”

—BP CEO Tony Hayward

Yes—just like the 1969 Massachusetts spill and the 1989 ExxonValdez spill!

It’s great to know that BP champions green causes and wouldn’t greenwash us with hollow rhetoric!

How slippery is that slope?

•June 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

Freshman writers frequently—and generally unintentionally—use logical fallacies to bolster their arguments. Don’t like Obama’s healthcare plan? Whip out the ad hominem rhetoric, call the president a socialist thug, and ignore the legislation’s specifics. Want to avoid reading your opponent’s complicated endorsement of the free market? Build a straw argument and burn it to the ground without breaking a sweat. Most of the time, such fallacies flow from either lazy thinking or ignorance, and two tasks of a composition teacher involve encouraging nuanced argument and explaining why certain rhetorical maneuvers represent weak logic. Generally, the process approach to writing can aid the former, while class discussion of model texts can assist with the latter. By the end of Composition II, most students can usually craft an argument without leaning on fallacies.

Reading Tony Perkins’ “My Take: Ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Would Undermine Religious Liberty” on CNN.com, however, reminded me that writers often employ fallacies not out of laziness or ignorance but because they can often effectively manipulate an audience. Perkins’ premise, conveniently stated in his title, holds that allowing openly gay and lesbian military personnel to serve would effectively alienate individuals subscribing to the “great monotheistic religions” and thus “the numbers lost will dwarf the numbers gained by opening the ranks to practicing homosexuals.”

Perkins fears that

sensitivity training intended to indoctrinate them into the myths of the homosexual movement: that people are born “gay” and cannot change and that homosexual conduct does no harm to the individual or to society.

He continues that clergy, in particular, may face recrimination for discussing scripture that condemns (or ostensibly condemns) homosexuality. As a result, the military would soon have a glut of “Unitarian ministers and homosexual Episcopal priests” but a shortage of Catholics and Southern Baptists. Ultimately, Perkins declares, repealing the 1993 policy “would mean placing sexual libertinism — a destructive left-wing social dogma found nowhere in the Constitution – above religious liberty, our nation’s first freedom.

Where to start?

As numerous commentators point out, gays and lesbians have served in the American military since its inception. To argue, as Perkins does, that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would allow “practicing homosexuals” to join the armed services begs the question and ignores the clear evidence  that gays and lesbians have served and continue to serve.

Perkins’ primary fallacy, however, is the slippery slope, an error in reasoning that suggests because “A” happens, “B” (usually extremely negative) will necessarily follow. Perkins asserts that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will spark an exodus and “usher out the back door anyone who disapproves of homosexual conduct.” Setting aside the idea that a nation based on individual freedoms should not bar otherwise competent (mentally unstable people and convicted felons here being classified as incompetent in terms of military service)individuals from serving their country, Perkins fails to explain why anti-gay citizens would flee while anti-Muslim, anti-minority, anti-women, anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-atheist, anti-choice, anti-Wiccan (etc.) people continue to work side-by-side with those who hold vastly different religious, political, and social views. By his own admission, Perkins supplies evidence—speculation that the military would conduct pro-gay “indoctrination”—for the impending flight of anti-gay/lesbian personnel not from the proposed legislation itself but from a different  bill altogether. Perkins’ notion that the proposed repeal would set off an uncontrollable and undesirable chain of events contains dramatic flair but little in the way of logic.

Further, Perkins’ alarmist suggestion that military chaplains would suddenly find themselves hamstrung by politically correct policies designed to thwart first amendment rights equally rests on a slippery slope argument. According to goarmy.com,

Army Chaplains are expected to observe the distinctive doctrines of their faith while also honoring the right of others to observe their own faith.  The Army is a pluralistic environment.  Rabbis, Ministers, Imams and Priests serve our Soldiers with conviction and commitment.  While serving their own faith groups in the Army, chaplains also ensure and provide the means for others to observe their own faith in accordance with US law and regulations.

Clearly, chaplains already must juggle their own theological views with those of others and provide interfaith services. To suggest that a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would lead anti-gay chaplains to leave the service runs contrary to current practice, in which clergy provide spiritual guidance to those whose views (on abortion, say) may be personally repellant to them. It’s questionable that a fundamentalist chaplain who already counsels soldiers who practice Hinduism and Shintoism would balk at spiritually aiding a gay Lutheran.

Buddhist army chaplain Thomas Dyer

Finally, Perkins’ suggestion that “sexual libertinism” (which he colorfully and anachronistically labels a “destructive left-wing social dogma found nowhere in the Constitution”) would displace freedom of religion flies in the face of centuries of constitutional law. While the Supreme Court has indeed curtailed public institutions from endorsing particular religions (teacher-led prayer, for instance), it consistently upholds the individual’s right to practice religious beliefs within those same institutions (religious clubs in state universities, for instance). Perkins’ notion that a single policy could scuttle such precedents demonstrates that he grounds his logic not in evidence but rather on the slipperiest of slopes.

Perkins, no doubt, passed his Composition II course, but, in striking fashion, his article fails to implement the lessons taught therein.

War on the Walls

•May 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

As an undergraduate, I once spent a semester at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where I worked on a project concerning George Creel and the Committee on Public Information, a propaganda ministry charged with “selling” US participation in World War I. Creel, a journalist and student of marketing, employed a modern, multi-media approach to his task. The CPI targeted films, songs, speeches (the “four-minute men” lectured between film reels), pamphlets, stories, and other materials at niche audiences and promoted an image of the US soldier as a wholesome warrior (this despite significant venereal disease among the troops) who needed to halt the hun before they shed blood on American soil. They encouraged renaming dachshunds “liberty hounds” and attempted to replace ethnic allegiances with 100% Americanism. For me, though, posters constituted the most fascinating aspect of the campaign.

Walton Rawls, author of the impressive Wake Up, America!, estimates that artists produced over 2500 posters in the year and a half of American involvement in the war. Some major artists—including Charles Dana Gibson, N.C. Wyeth, and Howard Chandler Christy—created posters designed to raise recruits, sell liberty bonds, encourage conservation, and denigrate the enemy. While readers will recognize some of these, such as James Montgomery Flagg’s “I Want You,” with its iconic Uncle Sam, many remain deep in the archive. Here are a few that capture the flavor of the propaganda.

H.R. Hopps’s famous poster (c.a. 1917) eschews subtlety in favor of blunt dehumanization. A wild-eyed, salivating ape clutches a bloody club in one paw and a partially naked maiden in the other. The club’s reference to “kultur” reflects a message expanded on in some of the CPI’s pamphlets (written by academicians). Extrapolating from some of Nietzsche’s writings, these pamphlets suggested that Germany would spread its ideology throughout the world by force. Note the ape’s foot stepping on the word “America.”

Nice kitty! August Hastaf’s 1918 poster reflects the effort to tailor recruiting strategies to all branches of the armed services. The Tank Corps used “Black Tom” as its mascot.

Howard Chandler Christy’s poster (1918) exploits gender insecurities and a wind-swept beauty to taunt young men into enlisting.

Many posters, such as this one by Cushman Parker (1918), focused on how the home front could aid the troops. Clean plate club!

No war is complete without books (John E. Sheridan [1918]).

Fortunino Matania (1917) shows another side of the war.

Like many posters, Flagg’s creation employed Dame Columbia. Flagg also recasts gardening into a patriotic activity.

Like many associated with the CPI, Ernest Fuhr (1919) explains America’s military success in terms of smiling, VD-free warriors. The eagle in full span encourages the soldier to keep that bayonet nice and clean.

R.H. Porteus (1917) helped market the Liberty Loan via a maternal image surrounded by men in peril. The woman’s bun is almost halo-like, and her open arms and soft smile equate the government bonds with the warmth of the hearth.

Observe that most of the posters above use minimal text, a principle drawn from modern marketing. Many less successful artists, however, juxtaposed their images with relatively verbose text. Here’s an example:

Ballot Monkey!

•May 6, 2010 • 1 Comment

 

Tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel introduced her viewers to perhaps the most amazing political innovation since the butterfly ballot: the ballot monkey. According to the Huffington Post,

The tiny helper will collect and deliver absentee ballots, and the company ensures that they will get to England in time for the May 6 deadline.

Another story on Peoplepets.com cites Beattie McGuinness Bungay representative Mara Flynn: “It was just a quirky idea . . . We wanted to make voting fun and entertaining.”

The program targets British expatriates, and it encourages them to cast absentee ballots. Working four-hour shifts, the monkeys—Cosmo, Gwendolyn, and Yoko (who, one hopes, refrains from singing)—flit about collecting ballots and sending them on their way to the U.K. The critters even have their own Facebook page!

Take a peek:

We definitely need to lobby for monkeys to handle our domestic ballots as well, and, given some of our citizens’ lack of reflection, one wonders if they could cast votes instead of just hauling them.

The Huffy heads to Valhalla

•April 22, 2010 • 4 Comments

Anticipating the first installment of my whopping $8000 graduate assistant stipend in 1991, I trolled the bike aisle at the local Farm and Fleet looking for a styling wheel that fit my budget. Among the Schwinns and Murrays, it stood out with its 18 gears, splattered paint job, and triangular utility pouch: the Huffy Stone Mountain. BMXmuseum.com describes the cycle thusly:

1991: The Huffy Stone Mountain climbs to the top of the market. This 18-speed mountain bicycle features 26″ knobby tires, dynamic color finish, and consumer-preferred features.

$99.95 later, I stuffed the Huffy in the back of my 1984 Buick Skylark and headed home to the pretentiously named Amber Manor apartments with my prize.

The Huffy served me well. No effete bike snob, I knew nothing (still know nothing) of “derailleurs,” “chain rings,” “cassettes,” “gears,” “cages.” I wore no special clothing (no “diaper shorts,” as PA quaintly calls them), toted no mini-pumps, spare tubes, energy gels. I entered no races, joined no clubs, undertook no “centuries” (hell, no nickels or dimes until much, much later).

Nope.  Purely utilitarian, my rides served no larger purpose. Exercise? No. Adrenaline rush? No. A spiritual experience? No. Book bag slung over my shoulder, I rode the two miles to school, went to class, and then rode the two miles back. Done.

I rarely thought about the bike, its presence and reliability a given. Occasionally, it might call attention to itself, like when I rode home in an unexpected rainstorm and, after dismounting, discovered a perfect tire-width mud streak on the back of my white shirt, or when the chain popped off mysteriously as I cruised along Normal Road. For three years or so, I hopped on the Huffy five days a week—until I moved miles away and drove to school.

Virtually forgotten, the Huffy sat, collecting dust, for years, placed on to this truck or that as I moved hither and yon.

As A and S aged, though, the Huffy experienced a renaissance as I followed two little girls as they tooled around the park or snaked through the subdivision. With E, I put the Huffy through its paces, 5, 7, even an unprecedented 10 miles, never realizing that the bike lacked pizzazz, wanted smoother gears, true tires, working brakes. No, the Huffy now meant fun in the sun with my babies, who didn’t care that dad’s bike sucked, who maybe even thought that it was kind of cool. Ah, childish adulation.

Flash to 2010. I fall in with a set of hardcore bikers—SGS, SP, SH, JZ, NT, CT—who speak in a hushed tone of Cannondales, Pinerallos, Masis. Suddenly, the Huffy’s mystique fades, as wobbly tires, garish paint, childish accessories, rusted gears, ill-fitting seats, spotty brakes become painfully obvious on 20-mile, 25-miles rides. The Huffy represents, keeps up, but it scares them, these real bikers, and they talk of poor cadence, back injuries, sag wagons. SH tries it for a few seconds and then, echoing earlier good-natured taunts from SGS and SP,  declares that she “wouldn’t ride a single km on that piece of shit.”

Out of pity for the novice, SH and JZ offer up one of their dozen bikes, a 26-year-old Mishiki, for a song. Admitting my cycling ignorance, I try it, buy it.

SP made me buy a helmet, too, and, in a moment of weakness, I bought some fingerless riding gloves. Fuck a duck.

The Mishiki’s got cages, fancy handles, and a multi-position seat. It’ll ride true, won’t fall apart, won’t frighten the bona fide cyclists–but it’ll never be the bike that shepherded giggling kids past growling dogs or hauled ass past a skunk at 3:00 am after a shift of stocking shelves at Brown’s Country Market. It’ll never be a Huffy.

Peep this

•April 6, 2010 • 1 Comment

Besides baseball, spring brings all sorts of seasonal candy: Cadbury eggs (creme, caramel, and mini), chocolate bunnies, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup eggs, and Peeps. Seemingly consisting of pure sugar and capable of withstanding nuclear war, these latter currently enjoy a renaissance not for their ability to turn your tongue blue and your brain on 11 but for their kitsch value. Eschewing pedestrian media such as oils, water colors, and charcoal, our more avant garde artists express themselves in pure, spongy color. Enjoy a few classic examples below, and ponder how you might use a few of the 700 million Peeps purchased annually to create your next opus.

Edward Hopper . . . how appropriate

Thelma and Louise

Pole-dancing Peeps

Peep cannibals

Peeps cube

Reservoir Dogs . . . check out the detached ear

Interrogative or just lazy?

•March 31, 2010 • 5 Comments

Availing myself of the opportunity to procrastinate, yet lacking the drive to blog properly, I’ll just cop a groove from Padgett Powell, whose Interrogative Mood ostensibly formed the topic of DW’s book club a few weeks ago (SH and SGS were both present). The novel (unless the genre police would label it something else) consists entirely of questions, some profound, some silly, some random. Here are ten questions to ponder or ignore.

1. Would you ever buy an exotic pet—a loris, perhaps?

2. If you learned that you had thirty minutes to write down your most important memories before a machine wiped your brain clean as in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, what would you salvage?

3. Regarding your answers to question number two, did you include any painful memories? Why or why not?

4. If someone offered you an all-expenses-paid, year-long world tour with the stipulation that you travel alone and talk to nobody, would you go?

5. Have you ever heard of pesäpallo?

6. Assuming that all people and pets made a safe exit from your burning abode, what single possession would you rescue on your way out?

7. Of your five senses, which two would you sacrifice in order to save the other three?

8. Would you rather party with dull, attractive celebrities or dull, plain norms?

9. If you could expunge one cliché or trite expression from the English language, which would you choose?

10. What kind of pie rocks your world?

 
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