If nothing changes then nothing changes

Kevin Kamberg

The Portland Tribune published a piece on their website a few days ago called What can you do for your country? And as soon as I read it I knew that I wanted to write about it. But there seems to be a subthread woven through it which seemed deserving of being dealt with on it's own. So inbetween all of the cooking I've done over the last several days - which I love doing - I've been mulling it. And I'm going to stick with the main theme.

Steve Novick is even willing to give up eating meat if his new president were to ask. Mind you, Novick, the Portland attorney who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Jeff Merkley for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator, is just making a point.

Sort of. The point is, he’s inspired by President-elect Barack Obama’s victory. He wants to help. And he’s willing to sacrifice.

“I don’t consume all that much meat,” Novick says. “Let’s say Barack Obama said, ‘We’re using up a lot of natural resources to feed cows, and I ask you, just as an experiment, to get along without eating beef for the next month.’ I’d be willing to do that.

“If he asked me, for six months, don’t eat farm-raised tuna, and instead eat sardines and anchovies when I feel like fish, I’d be willing to do that.”

In short, Novick, like a lot of others in a county that delivered Obama a 77 percent to 20 percent margin over Sen. John McCain, is waiting to hear what it is he can do. And Novick, like many others in Portland – young and old, black and white – is willing to do just about anything.

So the question is simple enough: What are you willing to do for your country?

Think about it before you answer because it's easy to think of change being the undoing of the damage BushCo have created. But if nothing changes... then nothing changes.

Notice how Steve Novick's response was solely about what he could change about himself. As capable as we all know he is of pushing back against wingnuttery, ranging from the malevolent to the merely misguided, that's not what he understands this to be about. It is about self-sacrifice for the common good. And that, my friends, is the very essence of civic-mindedness, which seems to me to be what we all need now more than ever.

I'd like to suggest that the self-sacrifice need not be limited to things. It could also be ideas or concepts. The nattering nabobs are going to natter because that's what nabobs do. But I don't have to buy into it. I don't have to give it a platform by responding to it. I can choose to overlook the splinter in my neighbor's eye and focus on the log in my own. Or at least be willing to accept that my own personal sacred cows became sacred in the context of the past and perhaps are due for re-examination. Becky Miller put it this way: Stop the viral pandemic.

“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.” – Barack Obama

Whether it be consumption patterns or thought patterns or something else, if nothing changes then nothing changes.

  • Kevin Kamberg (unverified)

    For those interested, I just put up a piece attempting to look closer at the sub-theme I detected in the Trib piece.

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    Kevin, Let me quote from my April BlueOregon post "Engaging the World" (here):

    "We need to tell today's students, our next generations, that we, the United States of America, face enormous international challenges in the years ahead. And I put the challenges that China presents as the most strategic and critical. We need to tell our students that they can serve their country by studying foreign languages (especially those "critical need languages") and spending time in foreign lands learning to understand foreign peoples. If we have the wisdom and political will to create such programs for them, I am sure some, seeking to serve or seeking adventure, will respond."

    My proposed High School Study Abroad Scholarship Program (here) will be before the 2009 legislature. It needs no new funding. The legislature needs to enable today's youth to step up and serve.

  • mp97303 (unverified)

    I bought $200K worth of capital equipment and hired 3 new workers. I also went shopping this weekend and helped contribute to the increase in Black Friday sales. That's what I did to help the country.

  • rw (unverified)

    Heard at Thanksgiving this past week. Speaker, a retired US Army Captain from the Intelligence side, during the Cold War. He surprised the PANTS off of me by saying very, very strongly a number of times, at length and in detail how incredibly stupid he felt the military was for doing Don't Ask/Don't Tell as the next step after the even more asinine standards kept viz Gays and Lesbians. He told me that in one fell swoop, MOST of our specialists in the languages spoken in Afghanistan and Iraq were kicked out of the military this go-round - because they were non-heterosexuals. THis forced us to turn to the unreliability of translators hired from local populations as primary talkers and listeners, instead of as jigsaw teammates with a language-competent American team.

    A second relative, Navy, chimed in so as to rant with venom against local Iraqis (I got away as fast as I could from the intensity of his rage and hatred), but again and again when talking to this other silver-haired gent, I was struck by the fact that he was not a drooling PAY-TREE-UTT. He returned again and again to this one thing he felt should be addressed by the current administration as critical to retaining skills that save lives: he saw the waste of human resource and talent and the outrageous cost we now pay -- all for some outdated bigotry against those who are not heterosexual.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    I came across a quote attributed to Noam Chomsky. He was asked where we could begin a movement. His answer was, "Anywhere." To the question as to what we can do, the answer could be, "Just about anything that helps."

    As for quitting eating beef, that is no sacrifice. I quit years ago and found it to my advantage.

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    By the way, I told the reporter that free-range Oregon Country Beef probably doesn't hurt the environment but Iowa agribusiness beef does so I would give that up. And since maybe a lot of people can't afford Oregon Country Beef I would even give that up myself (for a time) as a sort of solidarity thing (before going back to eating it to support Oregon beef growers). My comment about farmed tuna was based on this scary article.


  • rw (unverified)

    I like Noam as much as the next guy or gal. Have lotsa Noam on my shelves. But it puzzles me as to why he seems to be held as the icon for shutting folks up? He is apparently a pretty pedantic, arrogant fellow in person. At least to the subordinate intellects of students who pay handsome money to sit darshan.

    :)... Like I said, I really respect the fellow's thought product, but I've been a bit bemused as to his toolification on BO. This here was a good quote, must say. Downright Brechtian concept to tear down the proscenium/entertainment aspect of social change. And of course, any of us who do engage longterm find in it an arresting combination of the Grotowskian/Artaudian mixed with the sublime lightness of essential being as experienced in the moment.

    Grubby and godly, being a change agent.


  • YoungOregonMoonbat (unverified)

    Self-sacrifice is to the modern humanist as what God was to the European peasant during the Middle Ages.

    Obama gets elected and all of a sudden we are all supposed to sacrifice something in our daily lives so common that was never asked of us in the last 20+ years?

    I don't buy it. You might as well shove a metal pipe down my mouth like they do to ducklings for foie gras.

    Then again, I would still not buy it.

    Our Founding Fathers did not die and create this country for us to submit to a benevolent form of tyranny whatever and whoever is leading it.

    Self-sacrificing for Country, change, God, a charismatic leader like Hitler or Obama, or what the hell ever is the slippery slope to a dictatorship and I have fists waiting for those who are preaching that line of crap.

    Give me Novick's slice of the rib-eye. I know that I will keep my slice of my rib-eye and tell the Government to go fuck itself if it wants more of me in these hard times on my graduate student budget.

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    Our Founding Fathers did not die and create this country for us to submit to a benevolent form of tyranny whatever and whoever is leading it.

    Wow, man. You need a vacation.

    Nobody is suggesting that President Obama is going to forcibly take away your toys, your food, or whatever.

    Just that he's in a unique position to ask Americans to do more than "go shopping" to fix our economy, the climate crisis, etc.

    For example, ride the bus more - rather than drive. And so on.

  • David (unverified)

    I can Help my country by standing up to the folks that want to dilute or take away constitutional rights, I can stand up to the Folks that want to geve special rights to certain segments and I can stand up to the local politicians by just saying NO and enough is enough. As to obama being president He has some big shoes to fill. I wish him well and Hope and Pray He doesn't do a Jimmy Carter on us.

  • SCB (unverified)

    While I don't raise beef for a living, some of my neighbors do.

    It seems to me that the process of making change in an economic system by boycott will not work, it will only create unintended consequences. I think Obama is way more intelligent than to go the route of boycotts for change.

    If beef were boycotted for a month, it would mean that an annual cycle of beef production would be interrupted. If in fact it were honored 100%, we would have 12 months of beef produced, with 11 months of consumption. That would cause a drop in the price of beef, big time, and then the consequences start. Only the larger companies would endure that hit, forcing the little producers (like the folks in Oregon) into closing their operations. This would permanently reduce the nations ability to raise beef, and reduce the quality (on average) of the beef produced. It would create unemployment not only to ranchers, but to packing house workers, and then the indirect economy they support. -- So, at the end of all that, say 30,000 unemployed, what is the point of a "demonstration" boycott of a month's worth of beef?

    That is an incredibly stupid idea. Anything that makes our country less competitive and less effective as a producer of just about anything hurts us all. Now if we were to talk about the military/industrial complex, you might get some interest from me, but not beef.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Don't eat fish, don't eat beef, and pull out more trite one-liners from Noam Chomsky. Must be a slow morning.

  • Betsy O (unverified)

    Or, well, you could look at the facts.

    The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization found livestock to be responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. It's not just cow farts, either -- it's deforestation, fertilizers, and so forth.

    When you think about energy efficiency, beef is incredible energy-inefficient.

    Read this article from the Christian Science Monitor.

    That said, I'm not arguing everyone should be a vegetarian -- just cut back on how much meat you eat, and you'll help save the planet. Three things really matter when it comes to global warming -- how many kids you have, what you eat, and how you travel.

  • Tom Carter (unverified)

    One of the problems I had with Obama is trying to understand what "change" meant. A heck of a lot of people believed in it, even though it was never defined much beyond being something different from the past.

    Whatever it "change" means, I'm sure it doesn't isn't a close focus on what kind of beef we eat or where the tuna comes from. I would hope that kind of stuff is left to the fringe activists who presume to prescribe for the rest of us.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    I'm going to keep on doing what I have been doing: Work hard, gladly pay my taxes, pay my bills on time, live within my means, stay out of debt, donate money to causes I believe in, buy local and continue to drive my old, paid for, pickup truck.

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    Look, I'm pretty certain that Steve is more than capable of speaking for himself. But it seems to me that the Beef and Tuna examples were just that - examples. That seems pretty obvious to me from the context of the article.

    I guess the larger question here is: what would you be willing to give ground on if Obama asked Americans to give ground on that thing or issue? Or perhaps it is: Would you be willing to give ground on anything?

  • genop (unverified)

    My sense of personal responsibility is to exercise mindful consumption. Make that as broad a concept as you can imagine. Realizing that there are efficiencies and economies in every consumptive choice we exercise is a different mind set. Coming to the realization that every choice we make has consequences, then considering those consequences before choosing our course will make a difference in our lives and those around us. Obama is not the progenitor of that concept, but instead, a product of it.

  • SCB (unverified)

    Kevin writes back, "I guess the larger question here is: what would you be willing to give ground on if Obama asked Americans to give ground on that thing or issue? Or perhaps it is: Would you be willing to give ground on anything?"

    I'd be willing to pay more taxes, especially if health care shifted from the checkbook to the tax withholding. I'd be willing to drive any alternative auto that meets the rural standard of having enough power to go over a mountain pass, and enough range to get through the pass. I'd be willing to use whatever energy reduction system I could find (every light in my house is already florescent). I'd be willing to and already have grown my own garden for food. I'd be willing to pay more for American produced clothing, food, and other goods versus imported - if clear labels were allowed to tell me what comes from where. I'm willing as the economy tightens to tighten my belt (like I have any choice on that one!).

    I'd be willing to pay more taxes to create initiatives to find ways to reduce the carbon use related to livestock. I don't think range cattle and sheep are that harmful around here, and we are already doing a great deal of stream/water protection - but could do more with the right leadership. I'd be willing to pay a "carbon tax" on beef, and other livestock - if a fair system could be designed.

    I'd be willing to do a whole lot of things - but what I'm not willing to do is to take on an industry and harm it, just to make a point. A beef or other livestock boycott just harms people, and does no ultimate good.

  • small (unverified)

    I hate it when people complain about living on something like a "grad student budget." If you are fortunate enough to be in graduate school, count your blessings, don't complain.

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    I'm really hesitant about the notion that Iowa agribusiness beef is synonymous with the beef industry, except that they seem to place more emphasis on "industry" than on "beef".

    There are forces at work well beyond anything Obama may or may not ask us to give up, or even what we might individually decide to give up in an attempt to be helpful. The "slow foods" movement emphasizes local not unlike how Novick did in his comment upthread. And that movement is really just one facet of an ongoing, slow-motion revolution in the food industry to return to the earlier notions that locally produced food just flat tastes better more often than not. Many chefs haunt their local Farmers Market for that very reason, many of whom probably don't give much of a damn about politics.

    As a foodie it hasn't escaped my notice that store-bought peaches and tomatoes tend to be flavorless, just to cite two great examples. I stopped buying either from grocery stores years ago and now only buy locally grown peaches and tomatoes directly from the grower - usually via roadside stands or Farmers Markets. Not because I want to punish agribusiness but rather because none of it in the grocery stores is worth paying anything for! I'll be damned if I'll buy tasteless (but oh so pretty...) fruit just to keep the shareholders of agribusiness rolling on the money!

    Trends are running against mega-agribusiness for a very wide variety of reasons. To lay it at the feet of the politically aware/opinionated just avoids the larger reality, IMO. It doesn't change it or alter it one iota.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Speaking for the naybobs, I think there's a basic impasse here. What you can do for your country is think for yerself. But if you do that directly undercuts the historic flash in the pan called nationalism and that isn't "helping your country".

    The internet is the methaphor, imho, to bring disparate, unvalidated points of view into a common context where people can make their own judgement. In a sense, BO is one of the few journalistic outlsts that practices true, Hunter Thompson style "Gonzo Journalism". The idea is that the myth of objectivity only allows for a power perspective to be projected. If you cover an event honestly, with all your personal reactions on display, people will be intelligent enough to factor in your point of view and get more info. than if you tried to appear objective.

    You could engage people with Timothy Leary's list of what everyone wants out of politics, or you could just display the process. That's what I think people are really after, to see how we get from here to there and have a feeling of their hand on the wheel in between.

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    <h2>SCB says: "Anything that makes our country less competitive and less effective as a producer of just about anything hurts us all." What does that mean? What if I'd said I'd eat less candy to reduce the risk that I have a stroke and have to get expensive health care? Would SCB attack me for undermining the American candy industry? I'd like to thank Betsy O for her comment on beef and global warming, which was part of what I had in mind, although I didn't explain it well. The fact is that: (1) some activities are in the long run healthier and more sustainable for society as a whole, than others; (2) somebody is making money off a lot of unhealthy and unsustainable activities; (3) we can't rationally take the position that 'we are going to continue doing unhealthy, unsustainable things because otherwise someone might lose some money.' Give people generous unemployment benefits, job retraining, etc., but don't say that the economy needs to be frozen in time. For example, by reducing electricity consumption, SCB, you are reducing the need for coal mining in America. Coal miners are about as salt-of-the-earth as you can get. But should you maintain a high level of electricity consumption in order to maintain coal jobs? And as to the military-industrial complex, those are jobs too. I don't see how you can justify cutting military spending if the rule is, don't do anything that costs someone money. I wasn't suggesting a one-month national boycott of the entire beef industry; even if Obama asked for it, it wouldn't happen. I was suggesting a personal one-month hiatus on the way to a long-term reduction (not elimination) of my beef consumption. I was thinking in terms of Obama saying something like: "For the next month, I'd like you to do one of the following things: Take the bus to work one day a week. Eat less beef. Don't eat farmed tuna. Properly inflate your tires."</h2>

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