Republicans, please give us reasoned information.

“Have you always had such strong political opinions?” a new friend asked. Not until the last presidential election, when Republican candidates started opening their mouths. Like Herman Cain, with his, “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan…” And Rick Santorum’s “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” Need I mention Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s remarks?

Now, in getting ready for the next election, the GOP is again insulting the electorate’s intelligence.

When I taught middle school, most language arts curricula included a unit on propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc. If a recent Op-Ed piece by Buncombe County GOP chairman, Henry Mitchell, is any example (“King Obama is above the law,” Asheville Citizen Times, Mar. 28), it appears that Republicans are counting on readers having forgotten those lessons. Mitchell resorts to the following:

Namecalling: “King Obama,” he writes; “ultra-liberal N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan,” “cowardly media” and “the Obama/Hagan/Asheville ultra-liberal progressive political machine” (so many words strung together in hopes that one might contaminate the others).

Repetition: The Republican talking points against Obamacare have been repeated so often that polls show uninformed citizens accepting the criticisms as fact.

Showing part of the picture: (See Repetition, above.) Mitchell says nothing about North Carolina’s Republican legislators and Republican governor sabotaging Obamacare at every turn, or about the national GOP’s refusal to help develop a viable health system. He does not mention that 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans are now covered through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Demonizing the enemy: In using the term King Obama and referring to “stunning law-breaking power abuse” Mitchell loyally follows Republican talking points about an imperial presidency. Again he fails to mention the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, which have left Obama with no choice but to use the power the law allows.

Creating false dichotomies: He would have us believe that Obama does not value the Constitution while Republicans, of course, do.

Citizens deserve more than propaganda and emotional tirades. We deserve well reasoned arguments about real issues. But we also have responsibilities. We must wean ourselves from relying on sound bytes and become better informed about the issues. We must do the hard work of critical thinking.

 

Change that scares the dickens out of me

Growing up in the segregated South of the 1950s, I lived in an insulated world where everyone in my circle of influence was white, working class, and, as far as I knew, heterosexual. A “good” black man stayed on his side of town. A “good” white woman bought the best detergent for her family. Girls who got pregnant suddenly disappeared. Aspirin was the drug of choice.

Change we can believe in? How about change that scares the dickens out of me? For I’m part of the Silent generation, Americans between the ages of 66 and 83 who need a map to navigate this new world. OK, not a map: a GPS. My identity can be stolen, my whereabouts tracked, my private conversations monitored. And there’s all that technology I don’t know how to manage: the DVR, features on my cell phone, having to plan my own itinerary on the internet.

But equally disconcerting for me and my generation is the change in values. Teens and young adults engage in sexting and get hooked on drugs. Children are murdered at school. Sex and violence permeate TV programming. It’s little surprise that my generation, which has witnessed such enormous change, tends to hold conservative positions on social issues and is either angry or frustrated with government (http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/the-generation-gap-and-the-2012-election-3/).  We fear for the future of our families, our country, and our world.

What do frightened people do? They place blame. It’s the government, It’s the schools. It’s the parents. It’s Obama’s fault. Behind the blame is a yearning for simple solutions. If we just allowed prayer in the schools. If young women would just say no to premarital sex. If poor people would just go out and find a job. If the government would just quit interfering.

But to stay stuck in simple solutions perpetuates stereotypes of—yes, I’ll say the words—old people as complainers. It also makes us irrelevant.

An alternative is to live in the NOW. That is, we can seek opportunities to be with people who represent our changing society: those who are younger, of a different race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. Not to preach or speak fondly of the past, but to listen and withhold judgment. Standing with them rather than against them might just make a heap of difference.

 

A war against Christmas?

If anything represents the spirit of Christmas these days it’s plastic. Plastic toys, plastic blenders and coffee makers. Some people will no doubt find a real gun made of plastic under their plastic tree. Of course plastic credit cards will pay for it all.

Sarah Palin, speaking recently at Liberty University, said, “Revisionists want to secularize Christmas by creating a winter solstice season.” As if a secular Christmas is a new strategy perpetuated by liberal atheistic socialists.

No one knows exactly when Jesus was born, but most historians think that the early Western church designated his birthday to coincide with Saturnalia, a Roman pagan celebration centered around—yes, Mrs. Palin, the winter solstice. The likelihood of pagan origins led many Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, to denounce the celebration of Christmas altogether.

The holiday went generally unnoticed by most Americans through the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact it was banned in parts of colonial America. Later, except for the wealthy, it was celebrated with simple gifts. A typical present for my mother during the 1920s was an orange and a pencil. Even as I was growing up, Santa’s generosity was marked by two or three modest presents. My memories of Christmas relate more to family gatherings.

If Western Christians appropriated a pagan festival when they established Christmas Day, modern capitalists have increased the extravagances. In the 1950s, with TV their prime instrument, they were able to inform us of all the stuff out there. Our Christmas Want List grew longer. Then wants became needs. Today we hear on the news about a successful or unsuccessful holiday season. It’s measured by dollars spent. Now HOPE comes with a Scaremester doll; JOY with an iPad; PEACE with a George Foreman grill.

I have an idea: Let’s keep December 25th secular. Keep the vestiges of paganism: the tree, the partying. Rename the holiday after Santa or Rudolph or Frosty. Welcome everyone to spend a lot of money. Wish each other a Happy Holiday.

Then Christians can select a new date on the calendar (after football season, of course), call it Christmas. Like other world religions we’ll use our special holiday to repent and fast. We’ll make it a day of worship and quiet meditation. Families will spend it together.

If a war is being waged against today’s capitalist, secular Christmas, count me in.

The Day Kennedy was Shot

On the same day newscasters were asking “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” I got a message from the past on Linked In: “Did you teach at B’water Elementary School 50 years ago?” It was from one of my students the first year I taught: Cecille.

In the week leading up to the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination I’d been thinking about that year. Feeling guilt ridden. It was the first year I taught. I’d been trained to teach high school history, but the only job I could find was working with fifth graders. I knew nothing about reading or math instruction. To make matters worse, I had a class of thirty-six ten-year-olds.

I sent the “bad boys” to the principal’s office. I didn’t know what to do for those who couldn’t read except plug them into phonics workbooks, again and again covering rules about short and long a’s, consonant blends. I doubt that they read any better on the last day of the year than they had on the first.

Thinking back on the events of November 22, 1962, I also was thinking, given what I now know about children’s need to talk about traumatic events, that I’d let my class down in the days following the assassination. I don’t recall discussing it with them.

My memory is that on that Friday afternoon, a few minutes before school was dismissed, our class Student Council representative returned to the room and said, “The President’s been shot.”

In my mind, it couldn’t be. “I doubt that,” I said. “Let’s not worry.” School let out a few minutes later and all the kids went home.

But Cecille wrote that she remembers that afternoon differently. She says that as one in the last group to board buses each day, she was still in the room when the janitor came by and told me, “The President has died.” Cecille says I cried and that for her my crying turned out to be an important lesson in compassion: how important people are, even if we don’t have personal connections to them.

Her memory is a reminder of how attuned children are to adults’ emotions. A father who’s angry at his boss, a mother upset over a marital quarrel, a teacher who cries over the death of the President. We must not assume that because they are young, children are oblivious to our feelings. As Cecille demonstrates, a child’s observation and the message she gleans from it can last a lifetime.

 

 

When tragedy has a name

The Milky Way stretched across the clear night sky. Over the vast expanse thousands of individual stars were discernible. To my right, Polaris. Vega, almost straight overhead. From the multitude above me I could identify only a few. Astronomers, though, know many others by name. Knowing a star by its name makes a difference in how you look at the night sky, I’ve decided.

Recently I had the privilege to lead a concurrent session at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Conference. About 250 (I’m estimating) amateur genealogists gathered to learn more about how to trace their ancestry. By “amateur” I’m not implying these are beginners. No, they’re quite sophisticated in searching data-bases, locating cemeteries, and combing all kinds of records. Over and over I witnessed the satisfaction, delight too, of attendees who have identified slave ancestors. In many cases family oral histories have led genealogists to search manumission papers, ownership records of slaveholders whose surnames slaves took upon emancipation, military records of the United States Colored Troops, and Social Security Applications.

A name. Sally, female slave on XTZ Plantation, mother of Mr. G.’s grandfather. Willy, male slave on UVW Plantation, father of Mrs. L.’s great grandmother. Not simply a slave, but a real person, a woman or man who breathed and labored and loved. That, I think, must be the reward of searching for ancestors, finding a name. So that slavery becomes not just a historical event, where millions suffered and died, but central to a personal narrative.

A name. Malala Yousafzai. We Americans have shaken our heads in sympathy for Muslim girls denied an education by the Taliban. Along comes the story of a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl shot because she spoke out on behalf of girls wanting to attend school. Not a faceless girl but a real one.

The photos of children in Sudan and Ethiopia, in Sao Paulo and Port-au-Prince—like the stars overhead their names are unknown to us. Polar bears and Bengal tigers are disappearing. We know no polar bears or Bengal tigers by name.

When stars or people or animals have names, they matter more. A people captured and enslaved, girls denied an education, children starving, animals facing extinction.

Many in our community lack good medical care. Children go to school hungry. Veterans suffer from PTSD. Women are battered by husbands or boyfriends. The mentally ill sleep under bridges.

What would happen if we learned their names?

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

Asheville’s Go Topless rally seeks new organizer

I hear they’re looking for a strong Ashville woman to head up this year’s Go Topless rally. I just may be the candidate Mr. Johnson’s looking for. But first I want to be sure I understand what he means when he specifies a strong woman.

If men ogling at bare breasts get out of hand, does he want a woman with the body of an Amazon to toss the offender in front of traffic? Five feet tall, I’d have to disqualify myself if that’s the case.

Or does he want someone strong enough to deal with types who would have covered Adam and Eve with fig leaves even before they ate the apple? I’m guessing it’s this group he’s more concerned about, that he’s looking for a woman who can stand up to Bible thumpers eyeball to eyeball and argue back. My husband can testify to my ability to argue.

Surely Mr. Johnson wants someone strong in her commitment to women’s equality, which again qualifies me. That is after all the sole purpose of topless rallies, is it not? No doubt he himself spends hours writing to legislators in support of women making their own health decisions. He’s got to be outraged that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, and has committed himself to adding to the Constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

As ideal as this job sounds for someone with my qualifications, I’m a little concerned about guns. It’s my understanding that good guys with guns are really into the freedom issue these days. Surely they stay awake nights worrying about how clothes oppress their wives and girlfriends and turn out in big numbers to support women’s freedom whenever it’s challenged. So what happens when only a few feet from the armed men, people quoting the Bible are trying to take that freedom away? Now there’s a potential conflict: good guys with guns aiming at—are they bad men?–—with Bibles. Maybe this is why Johnson wants a strong woman. To stand between these groups of men.

As qualified as I am for the job I’m worried there may be criteria as yet unarticulated. Like, is it necessary for the candidate herself to have a pretty good rack? And a closely related question, is age a liability?

Politics and canned tomatoes

During the summer of 1973—while I canned fifty quarts of tomatoes, fifty quarts of tomato juice, and twelve pints of catsup (not to motion the green beans and corn)—less than two hundred miles away Men in Power were asking what did Nixon know and when did he know it. Toiling in my narrow kitchen—with its five feet of counter space, a Youngstown metal sink, and an ancient four-burner electric stove—I devotedly followed the Senate Watergate Hearings on a fifteen-inch black and white TV. I wanted answers too.

Frequently I’d interrupt the flow of work to wipe my sweating forehead with the tail of my sleeveless blouse. Operating all at once, the four stove burners rivaled a Bessemer in emitting BTUs. Two blue and white speckled enamel canners occupied two burners; on another a tea kettle maintained a low whistle. On the fourth burner a pan of water boiled.

As Tom Daschel posed questions to men who swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I prepared tomatoes for easy pealing, briefly immersing them in the pan of boiling water. Nixon was in hot water too, and everyone knew him to be a sweating man, even when he sat in the air-conditioned Oval Office, signing his now besmirched name. Had he been in my kitchen the heat would have convinced him he was in hell.

While H.R. Haldeman scalded the truth, I stuffed whole tomatoes into quart Mason jars, which I filled to the top with boiling water from the tea kettle. From a sauce pan resting on the sink drain, I lifted sterilized lids, placed them on the jars with tongs, then screwed on the metal rings. The whole country was getting screwed, I thought.

After placing a newly filled jar in each slot of the two wire racks, I gently lowered the heavy racks into the boiling water bath. Pausing to rest while the stove carried out its responsibilities, I sat at the kitchen table staring at the TV, engrossed in Daniel Inouye’s line of questioning.

The simple life, that was the path my husband, Jim, and I had chosen. Self-sufficiency. A quarter of an acre in tomatoes, corn, green beans, and other vegetables, enough quart boxes in our twenty-cubic foot freezer to feed us until next harvest. Quite an accomplishment for a young woman who’d grown up in the city and a young man whose previous gardening experience had been limited to picking green beans for his mother and reluctantly weeding alongside his father.

In addition to relying on our garden we kept two milking goats and two rabbits. Every spring we bought a hundred baby chicks. Some we kept for eggs; most, though, met their maker and ended up in the freezer alongside the vegetables.

Contrary to what we’d assumed, maintaining a successful garden required more than poking seeds in the ground and waiting for them to mature. We relied on knowledgeable neighbors for advice and read organic gardening magazines, of which some suggested that gardeners keep records of what they’d planted and when. The simple life, we discovered, was more complicated than we’d anticipated.

Life was turning out to be complicated for John Dean, as well, who testified for seven hours one day. But he’d kept records, could tell the senators what Nixon and Haldeman and Ehrlichman had said in his presence. Pulling the weeds of deception out by the roots, he was.

My glasses steamed as I lifted the racks out of the canners. One by one I carried the hot jars to the counter, lining them up on layers of dishtowels, then began the process all over again: dipping whole tomatoes into boiling water, removing their skins, putting on lids, lowering jars into the water bath.

Our garden was a political statement, something young people of the 1960s and 70s did to declare our disdain for the Establishment. We refused to buy into the capitalist dream, shunning the symbols of affluence and power. That summer everything on my little TV supported our decision. The government was corrupt, and the Watergate hearings were proving it.

Still I was shocked when on a July day, while I was stirring a batch of catsup, Alexander Butterfield testified that Nixon recorded conversations and phone calls. So there was evidence that would point to the truth. To make sure I didn’t miss anything I walked away from the pan to stand beside the TV. By the time I returned to the stove the catsup was sticking to the bottom of the pan, scorched, ruined.

Jars on my kitchen counter cooled. Every now and then a lid would ping, a sign that the jar had correctly sealed. Two at a time I carried them down the basement steps into a small dark room lined with shelves. Evidence of Jim’s and my success at being self-sufficient.

“Now I’m just a country lawyer,” Sam Erwin said, obviously shrewd in spite of his self-deprecating words. A country lawyer butting heads with urbane fellows acting as if they were above the law. Stepping away from the stove to cool off, sweeping a strand of wet hair from my face, I pictured Erwin as a young man laboring in a garden not unlike ours.

In 1973 our young bodies were agile. For hours we would bend over a hoe, work on our knees. Dirt caked our hands, got under our fingernails. Had Erwin’s hands once looked the same way? Surely the fingernails of Halderman and Ehrlichman were well manicured, their cuticles not ragged.

When I dropped in bed each night from exhaustion, in those brief moments before I fell asleep, I considered the sleepless nights many in Washington were experiencing, innocent and guilty alike. Senators Howard Baker and Lowell Weiker worrying about how the Republican Party would ever recover. Charles Colson and G. Gordon Liddy becoming aware that they might spend years in prison; Butterfield and Dean fretting about betraying those they’d worked for. Then of course, Nixon himself. He couldn’t be sleeping well.

Why was I so obsessed with watching the Watergate Hearings? In many ways they were like a soap opera, where any minute the plot takes an unexpected turn. At times I imagined I heard background music change tempo, the tune become somber, dramatic. Yet I, like many Americans, sensed that history was being made; that bringing down a president was no light matter; that the country would never be the same.

There was probably a more personal reason, as well. In spite of Jim’s and my goal of self-reliance, of our choosing to isolate ourselves from capitalist society, I recognized that we could never be separate. Just as I had vowed to stay married for better or for worse, I was a part of a country for better or for worse. I was tied to its fate.

A Future with Hope (for survivors of domestic violence)

(In cleaning my computer files, I found the following essay. I don’t recall if/where it was published but thought these words might be of help to someone right now.)

It seemed natural for Linda to take her personal problems to her pastor. He listened kindly as she described her husband’s quick temper, the way he sometimes got so mad he hit her and bruised her body. Linda needed to hear someone say, “This is wrong. God intends that the relationship between husband and wife be one of mutual respect.”
Instead, the pastor said, “Go home and try not to anger him. Jesus set an example for us: that we are to suffer for his sake. God will not give you any more to bear than you can handle.” Then Linda and her pastor knelt and prayed.

Our faith should be a source of empowerment and healing. Yet churches have more often than not failed women who live with domestic violence. Some ministers preach that divorce is a sin, or that a woman is to obey her husband. Sometimes members, refusing to accept the truth that abuse occurs in Christian homes, ignore signs that women or children in the congregation are being abused, physically or emotionally. “What happens in a family is that family’s business,” church people may say.

In Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse, Et Al says of her childhood, “People knew of my father’s drinking and physically abusive behavior, but no one intervened or said his actions were wrong….Mama tolerated his verbal and physical abuse. She coped by trying to ignore it and sought comfort in reading Scripture or listening to the radio evangelist extol the redemptive power of suffering.”

It might seem that the church, the entire Christian tradition itself, is not to be trusted with victims’ pain. But that is not necessarily true. Within many religious bodies, attitudes about the abuse of women and children have begun to change. Clergy are being trained to respond with compassion and to assist in finding safety. People of faith are sponsoring hotlines and shelters for women and children living with domestic violence. Christian groups are bringing new eyes and open minds to passages that have traditionally been used to suppress women. At the same time they are lifting up scriptures that empower victims and help them find healing.

Denominations (Jewish and Islam organizations, as well) have been speaking out against violence in the home, forming task forces, writing official statements, training leaders on how to respond. I am most familiar with what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been doing. In 2001 its General Assembly approved a policy statement on domestic violence, bringing to the denomination’s attention the causes of domestic violence, efforts the church can take to prevent it, and suggestions for ministering to victims. The statement is accompanied by a study guide for individuals and groups (available through http://www.pcusa.org/phewa/resources/resources-padvn.htm).

Because abusers within the Christian tradition have often hidden behind scripture, such as “Wives, be obedient to your husbands,” groups are challenging traditional interpretations. Christians for Biblical Equality deals with abuse issues on its website: (http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/abuse).

FaithTrust Institute (formerly Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence) has for many years provided leadership and materials to the various faith communities: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. On its website (http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org), FaithTrust says of its mission: “We believe that the teachings of our religious traditions have been a source of pain and confusion as well as a source of strength and healing for those facing sexual and domestic violence.”

These three groups are only a small sample of the many religious bodies speaking to the issue of domestic violence.
What recommendations do I have for victims who are also people of faith? First, don’t think for a minute that God is testing you or has placed you in that situation for a reason. Affirmation can be found in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” I believe that God’s intention for us all is that we be part of loving, respectful relationships.

Second, you may want to question your own understanding of scripture. If you’ve been taught that a woman is to obey her husband or that it is her lot to suffer as Jesus suffered, read what Christians for Biblical Equality are saying. Open your mind to alternate interpretations of scripture.

Third, find a spiritual guide. Before you turn to your pastor, consider what clues he/she has provided in sermons about marriage and the relationship between a husband and wife. If the pastor has spoken of the authority of the male and against divorce in general, turn to someone else. My own pastor tells of how often women, seeing a woman’s name on the board in front of the church, come in to seek her counsel because their male pastors have only added to their pain.

My mother once told me that fifty years ago a small circle of women in her church knew that Alice was regularly raped by her husband. They knew that Martha’s husband verbally abused her. From the pulpit the pastor preached that wives were to obey their husbands and that Jesus taught us to forgive seventy times seven. This circle of women, while they felt powerless to take actions that would free Alice and Martha, listened to and offered sympathy to their victimized sisters. Fifty years ago women were helping each other the best they could. Today many communities have faith-based agencies that can direct you to local resources, such as a shelter, and offer emotional support.

Yes, it is possible to find empowerment and healing in your faith tradition. The Psalmist speaks to your pain; Jesus suffers with you. Somewhere a pastor, perhaps not the one in your own congregation, has the training and will to accompany you. Somewhere there is a circle of support, women who have walked in your shoes or compassionate people of faith who want to share God’s love.

Nancy Werking Poling
http://www.nancypoling.com
Author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell
and
Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
Editor of Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse

A look at my wardrobe in light of Bangladesh building collapse

The lower rod of my closet currently holds forty-two light-weight jackets, sweaters, and blouses. I like choice: dressy, casual, grubby, something for those times when I feel blah, something else if I’m in the mood for pizzazz. Given the popularity of walk-in closets I doubt that my desire for variety is all that rare among middle-class women.

The recent collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh has caused me to think about my wardrobe. Employees who earn less than $40 a month (no, I didn’t mistakenly omit any zeros) saw cracks in the structure but were ordered to keep sewing. After all, we American women are anticipating new summer selections. As of April 29, the death count is more than 380. The building collapse, along with a factory fire that killed 112 a few months ago, is putting pressure on big retailers to demand safer conditions and pay higher labor costs.

Maybe the pressure should instead be on me, the consumer. How many tops, how many pairs of jeans, how many pairs of shoes do I really need? In Korea and several European countries, I’ve noticed that what mannequins wear in store windows is expensive by my standards. Yet women still manage to appear smartly dressed. They own fewer but better quality clothes.

It’s largely the American demand for inexpensive clothing and other consumer goods that has sent jobs abroad. We want to earn a living wage, pay little for a lot of stuff, and have jobs stay here. Is that possible?

I’ve considered sewing my own clothes, as I used to do. Too time consuming. I could call a moratorium on purchases altogether. Or I could keep my money in the community by buying what a local person produces, that is have fewer but more distinctive garments.

But the issue isn’t that simple. A few years ago a visitor from Nicaragua wanted me to take her shopping for clothes. She bought dresses made in Central America because it helped employ women there. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has traveled extensively in developing countries, writes that for the severely impoverished, a job in a sweatshop would improve their lives (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/opinion/15kristof.html ).

I look at pictures of Bangladeshi futilely scratching at concrete to reach loved ones. I dare not conclude that because issues are complex there’s no need to change my consumption habits.