Click a program icon to find a chapter
Click here for other Liberally programs

Let’s Ask Marion: How Does Japan’s New Waist Management Plan Measure Up?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Japan recently passed a law requiring companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. Those who exceed the government's limits--33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women-will be given three months to lose weight, and if that doesn't do the trick, "those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months," according to the Times, which adds that "the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets."

Obviously, this would never fly in the U.S., but do you think it's a good idea?

Dr. Nestle: I'm stunned by the proposal and hardly know where to begin. Talk about a cross-cultural experience! In Japan, we have one of the healthiest and long living populations in the world on the verge of putting on weight and developing heart disease and diabetes just like our society. But unlike ours, the Japanese government is taking the situation head on. The plan is so not American in this level of social engineering. We don't do things quite like this.

One striking similarity is the focus on personal responsibility. Where is the social responsibility? Not a word about that. What is the Japanese government planning to offer in the way of advice to eat less, control portion sizes, and move more? And does it plan to address changes in the food environment needed to promote healthier choices by individuals? Has the government thought about encouraging food companies to offer smaller portions, make healthier foods the default, promote traditional Japanese diets instead of fast food, and take other such actions?

Evidently, the Japanese government is serious about keeping its citizens healthy, and that's great. But is it serious enough to tackle the environmental as well as the personal determinants of overweight? Or, alas, is this another government that views weight gain strictly as a matter of individual responsibility without asking food companies, employers, and legislators to take some responsibility too. If so, maybe the Japanese are more like us than we think. I, for one, will be watching what happens there with great interest.

Sometimes a Liberal Just Needs to Laugh - When Drinking Isn't Enough

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by John E, Square State/DL Denver

Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead recently paid a visit to our Denver Drinking Liberally chapter, and our long-standing host/blogger John E. provided us not only a full account, but his thoughts on humor as a progressive organizing tool - enjoy.

When the opportunity presented itself to see The Liberal Comic, Lizz Winstead, co-founder of The Daily Show and Air America Radio, perform in our little cow-town, how could we say no? When we were asked if we'd be interested in doing any other sort of Drinking Liberally event with Ms. Winstead, the answer wasn't yes, it was can I cook her dinner too?

Back in the real world, those of us liberal activists, bloggers, volunteers, etc, contend with slanted dead tree media political coverage, television political coverage where orders of magnitude more people would rather watch Rock of Love, and political mud slinging all while our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors are dying for what President Bush once had the temerity to call, "a noble cause". While lobbyist scandal after bribery scandal unfolds new connections are made to this corruption here in Colorado by the name of Bob Schaffer. During all of this we'd like to see solutions to heathcare, a responsible plan for Iraq implemented, a solution to global warming, and an economy cleaned up after just being dunked one more time in the toilet.

After all of that, drinking isn't enough. We need the kind of emotional release that only liberal comedy can give. Comedy that brings one to conclusions about reality one wasn't otherwise able to approach. You're brought to the same truth, just by a different path. Sometimes you'll get the same conclusion anyway, but with comedy you get there quicker and with a great belly laugh to boot. The other way comedy works is to put all these things going on in our lives, in our government, our country and the corrosive feelings they create are exhaled away from our body, away from the mind with a great big hearty laugh. There's a reason scientists tell you to laugh. It's good for us.

Last Friday Winstead was on fire joking about such things as the spectacle of comedy in our state legislature, the "recovering" but not forgotten evangelical preacher, meth thrower awayer, and massage getter from male prostitute Ted Haggard. Haggard jokes pretty much write themselves, don't they? I won't go through all her jokes, but a woman who can joke about one's first sexual experience and compare it to the Kennedy assassination is someone who makes me feel just a little better about life though comedy.

We didn't get to cook Winstead dinner, but we did share drinks until 2 in the morning:
A version of this post originally appeared on Square State.

Following In My Father’s Modest Carbon Footprint

My dad’s a true conservative, which is to say that he actually conserves—i.e., uses things sparingly. This leaves him utterly at odds with our rampant consumer culture, but strangely in sync with his lefty-blogger-daughter, despite our obvious political differences.

My dad’s always been ahead of his time in some ways; he was a computer geek, complete with pocket protector, way before it was cool. He’s an early adopter--he owned one of the first personal computers, the long-since obsolete Osborne—but you could call him a late discarder, too. I think he only just got rid of his dot-matrix printer about a year ago.

He hates to throw things out, or buy things he doesn’t really need, and he can’t stand wasting anything, whether it’s water, or electricity. When we were officially in a drought in California (as the Central valley is again, now), he dutifully saved our bathwater and used it to water the yard or flush the toilet. My parents’ car of choice was a used Toyota, and they planned their trips carefully to save gas, even when it was cheap. At Christmas, we exchanged simple, inexpensive gifts; material things have never held any allure for my dad, with the possible exception of a faster Mac.

All of which makes him kind of a crackpot by current conservative standards. Our whole economy’s based on getting us to run out and buy stuff whether we need it or not—not to mention whether we can afford it, or how much it’s screwing up the environment. From the perspective of low-flush-toilet-hating harpy Ann Coulter, it’s downright un-American to tell folks to conserve:

This is a prosperous country. We will not live like Swedes. We want 18-ton Ford Exploro-cruisers, cell phones, CDs, hot showers, blow dryers, DVD players and jet skis.

Fuel is the metric of prosperity, and conservationism is an acknowledgement that we are in decline of prosperity -- that this is the beginning of the long bleak twilight of civilization. If you posit that we have fixed energy sources and we have to ration them, then we are dying as a species.

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet -- it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view.

Where does she get her monstrous vision of our relationship to the earth—the King Kong edition of the bible? This, from the woman who calls liberals “godless.”

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of folks on the right who reject the views of Coulter and her fellow climate-change-naysaying wingnut, Rush Limbaugh. Whether it’s eco-evangelicals worried about global warming, or NRA members alarmed by the loss of wildlife habitat, some conservatives are finally daring to buck the party line and embrace the notion of treading more lightly on the planet.

All over the country, today, fathers will be receiving gifts of one sort or another, whether it’s another useless tie or an electric shaver or a copy of Tim Russert’s Big Russ And Me: Father And Son—Lessons of Life, which has leapt to the top of the bestseller list since Russert died so unexpectedly last Friday.

I didn’t buy anything for my dad, because he honestly doesn’t want anything, except maybe a little appreciation. So here it is, Dad—thanks for teaching me that, contrary to the current conservative orthodoxy, there is virtue in thrift, and we don’t need a lot of stuff to make us happy. Hey, Dad, are you sure you’re not a closet liberal?

Oh, It's Happening Alright, Just Not How You Hoped

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Josh Bolotsky

I don't believe that the hype about Democratic disunity is correct. But what if I'm wrong? What if the 18-month primary season (remember President Vilsack?) was just too long and too bruising, the sexism and racism on display just too blatant, the animus on all sides just too much to overcome? If that's the case, what are these much-vaunted "party elders" we've heard so much about to do?

Granted, you can always go the Rahm Emanuel Is Intimidating route, but I'd like to suggest an alternative. If the Democratic leadership is really smart, they'll arrange for enormous group outings to The Happening, on a national scale; make sure to have impassioned Obama and Clinton supporters sitting side-by-side in each theater; and let the projector roll. Two hours later, you'll have a room full of new friends, rested and ready to focus on the general election, and it only took a trip to the movies.

Why do I have so much confidence in this admittedly unorthodox procedure? For one reason, and one reason only: The Happening is one of the most hilariously bad films ever to be released by a major studio, an unqualified disaster, a tonal misfire of monumental proportions - and every single ornery, discerning New Yorker who sat with me in the advance screening, who entered cranky and exhausted from the relentless summer heat, walked out of the multiplex smiling and, yes, back-slapping, having had a wonderful time guffawing together.

Let's be clear - yes, talking out loud during a movie is, generally speaking, an extremely inconsiderate thing to do, and, as a low-level act of solipsism, ranks fairly high on the Signs Of Civilizational Decline list. Like any rule, however, there are exceptions, and just as it is situationally inappropriate to glare at the group throwing rice at the screen during the Rocky Horror Picture Show, there are some films where the social contract of a moviegoer requires an escape clause, and boy oh boy is this one of them. It is that rare delight, a failed popcorn movie where talking out loud is not just permitted, but downright required, a prerequisite for enjoyment.

To the extent that there is a premise, we can get it out of the way quickly: in an act of retaliation against the ravaging ways of humanity, plants across the northeastern United States start emitting toxins in the air that infect humans, and inspire them to commit violent acts of suicide. And for the first five minutes or so, we can see where this could have been the basis for a legitimately frightening film - there are some visually stunning set pieces where the M. Night Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable seems to peek his head out and remind us that he used to have a real claim to the New Spielberg title, portraying random acts of self-violence in a way that is profoundly disturbing.

And then, after those 10 minutes, something...happens. (I can only assume that this is the other meaning of the title.) The misjudgments of tone and character become not just egregious, but hilarious, likely to be a film school-ready example of how to utterly botch genre entertainment. This is the kind of film which tries to scare us through multiple long shots of wind rustling through bushes and stalks of wheat as menacing music plays on the soundtrack. (That evil, evil wheat!) The kind of film where Mark Wahlberg tries to negotiate with a presumably sentient houseplant in a non-ironic scene that gives us no reason to believe it was intended for comedic effect. The kind of film where the characters ask, "Is this the end?", and the whole theater breaks out into applause when a teenager in the fifth row shouts out "Let's hope so!"

There's really nothing too special about a standard-issue bad movie - most bad movies are bad in boring ways, and it is painful to sit through them. However, for a film to be a true classic of awful cinema - your Myra Beckinridges, your Batman & Robins - it needs to be bad in interesting ways, and The Happening certainly qualifies. There is nothing standard-issue about line readings by normally wonderful actors like Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel that deliver news of the destruction of Boston as if bored and the decision to take a nap as if it were of world-changing import. There is nothing standard-issue about our protagonists finding refuge in the home of an elderly recluse, and discovering that she leaves life-size dolls around the house as decoys for potential thieves. There is nothing standard-issue about a scene where John Leguizamo tries to distract his carmates from the dead bodies strewn all around them by gleefully employing a non-sequitur brainteaser about doubling your allowance each day for a month. These are very particular choices, executed in very particular ways, and it is almost as much fun to wonder just how this movie came about as it is to laugh at how ineffective it is.

The Happening tries to be a communal experience, and at this it succeeds - except, instead of being bonded together by having the beejezus scared out of us, we notice each other shaking our heads and smiling at the ridiculousness of it all, and can't help but smile a little more broadly knowing that we're not the only ones. This election season is only going to become more intense, not less, and we are going to need some comedic release, and The Happening is just the ticket. It is a brilliant comedy that does not know it is a comedy, destined to be a consistent hit on the midnight-movie circuit, and, in that context, I could not recommend it more highly.

McCain/Cheney '08 - The One VP Who Could Make Him Look Spry

As McCain tries to hide from Bush,
he expresses his admiration for Cheney,
& on whether Cheney'd have a role
in his Administration: "Hell, Yeah."

McCain shares Cheney's war,
shares his recessive view of economics
& shares his love of lobbyists.

They share creepy smiles, cranky tempers,
the air of an embarrassing Great Uncle,
& out-of-touch worldviews forged last century.

They share so much, that maybe it's time
they share a ticket: "McCain/Cheney '08"...
the one VP who can make McCain look spry.

He's embraced everything else about Bush,
why not the man who put the Vice back into VP?

Speculate on VPs with a vice of your own,
virtuously sharing pitchers & punditry
at your local progressive social club.

Find - or start - a chapter near you.

John McCain Will Veto Every...whaaaaa?

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth

Evidently, John McCain is not courting the Drinking Liberally vote:

Who knew that beer would be another entry in the list of things that John McCain wants to bomb? When our friends in Denver said that they wanted to hold an event to "save the ales", we thought they were just joking - who knew that they were on top of this urgent issue before anyone else saw it coming.

If you're in Denver, pay them a visit. If you're anywhere else, start hoarding your beer now.

Let's Ask Marion: Why More Money For The FDA Now?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: We've known for ages that the FDA is so grossly underfunded that it can't even begin to assure the safety of our food supply. Now, all of a sudden, in the wake of the tomato salmonella scare, the Bush administration's asked Congress to allocate an additional $275 million to the FDA in next year's budget. What gives? Why now? Are salmonella-tainted tomatoes more of a hot potato than E. coli-contaminated spinach?

Dr. Nestle: No, tomatoes are not a worse political problem than spinach. What's happening is that we are at the end of an administration, not the middle. In the last year, several major reports have exposed the way Congress has weakened the FDA by giving it tons more to do with no money to do it with. As incident after incident has occurred--spinach, green onions, pet food, peanut butter, and now tomatoes--the FDA's situation has become increasingly embarrassing. But $275 million? A pittance.

What's really needed is a major overhaul of the entire food safety system, from the bottom up. We need a food safety system that goes from farm to table, and preferably under a single food safety agency that unites and rationalizes the functions of the FDA and USDA. Until we have that, expect these incidents at regular intervals. Next administration, anyone?

Loyalty Oaths For Clinton Supporters Pledging their Votes for McCain

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

Dear ex-Hillary fans who are showing their support for her by ignoring her call to support Obama and supporting McCain,

First, I'd like to congratulate you. You've asked yourself WWJMD and
you've decided to vote against your own interests and principles while
furthering Senator McCain's. Before you're allowed on the band wagon,
we are asking you to sign the following oath. A McCain presidency will
mean different things for different people, so we have tailored the
oaths accordingly.

The McCain Loyalty Oath for Gays

I, _______________, pledge to transfer my support from Hillary Clinton
to John McCain. I agree to do all I can do to get McCain the vote. In
order to achieve this noble goal I promise to support McCain's...

  • promise to protect "the sanctity of marriage as between a man and woman."
  • commitment to banning federal recognition of gay marriage and domestic partnerships.
  • commitment to the Army's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy because to "even reopen the issue" would be a "terrific mistake."
  • opposition to gay adoption which he doesn't think is "appropriate."
  • opposition to expanding the federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.

As a gay person, I promise to apply McCain's principles to my own life and vow to...

  • stop engaging in gay sex.
  • never try to marry or adopt.
  • enroll in a program to treat my homosexuality and "straighten" myself out, such as a "M.A.N.S. Journey" (Masculinity, Authenticity, Need Fulfillment, Surrender Journey).
  • install nanny cams in my house to prevent any gay relapses.
  • take responsibility for natural disasters*, including Katrina.

Once McCain is elected, I will continue to support him and his
programs and I will not complain about my loss of civil rights. And I
will continue to refrain from gay sex.

Signature ____________

The McCain Loyalty Oath for Women

I _______________ pledge to transfer my support from Hillary Clinton
to John McCain. I agree to do all I can do to get McCain the vote. In
order to achieve this noble goal I promise to support McCain's...

  • fight to overturn Roe v. Wade and my right to choose.
  • fight against equal pay for men and women.
  • opposition to providing low-income and uninsured women and families
    with health care services ranging from breast and cervical cancer
    screening to birth control.
  • opposition to sex education and support of abstinence-only education.
  • making birth control covered by insurance.
  • endorsement of women's rights more "in theory" than in practice.
  • pet name for his wife.

As a woman I promise to apply McCain's principles to my own life and vow to...

  • call myself and my female friends the C word.
  • picket abortion clinics.
  • not use contraceptives.
  • drink bleach so I don't catch HIV and drink Mountain due so I don't get pregnant.
  • give back part of my salary to male coworkers.
  • not vote, but pursue education and encourage my father/husband/brother male friends to vote for McCain.

Once McCain is elected, I will continue to support him and I will
not complain about my losing my right to choose, and other reproductive
freedoms. And I will continue to refrain from pursuing equality for

Signature ____________

The McCain Loyalty Oath for Straight White Men

Straight white men, I bet you thought we left you out. This country
may have turned its back on you, but we haven't. Here's a pledge of
your own:

I _______________ pledge to transfer my support from Hillary Clinton
to John McCain. I agree to do all I can do to get McCain the vote. In
order to achieve this noble goal I promise to support McCain's...

As a straight white man I promise to apply McCain's principles to my own life and vow to...

Once McCain is elected, I will continue to support him and I will
not complain about my loss of limbs or life. And I will continue to
refrain from questioning the war in Iraq or any other wars we will be

Signature __________________________________

*Although McCain and Hagee have since unendorsed each other, that was not until Hagee's controversial Holocaust speech
was discovered. McCain didn't think Hagee's position on gay people (or
women of Muslims, for that matter) warrant his disavowal.