The Common Good

Super Bowl Sleaze

Sojomail - February 4, 2004

Quote of the Week Thomas Merton on true democracy
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Super Bowl sleaze
Politically Connect Nothing To Pre-empt
By the Numbers Surge in youth vote
Zimbabwe Journal Statistics have faces
On the Ground World Social Forum: Building a better world
P.O.V. Israeli soldiers speak
Building a Movement Dodging the draft
Web Sitings Wealth perspective | Music links | Watchdog journalism
Boomerang Readers write

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"Democracy cannot exist when [people] prefer ideas and opinions that are fabricated for them. The actions and statements of the citizen must not be mere automatic "reactions" - mere mechanical salutes, gesticulations signifying passive conformity with the dictates of those in power."

- Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Super Bowl sleaze
by Jim Wallis

Next year, put your kids to bed BEFORE the Super Bowl.

I'll admit it, I like a good football game, and this turned out to be a very good one, after a boring, slow start. But what everybody was talking about the next day was the baring of Janet Jackson's right breast. Justin Timberlake's little grope and tear-off of Jackson's bustier was the finale to their simulated-sex dance done to a song called "Rock Your Body," which ends with the romantic line, "I gotta have you naked by the end of this song." And that's just what he did. But that was only the crude climax to what Washington Post television critic Tom Shales called "the Super Bowl of Sleaze."

The rest of the MTV-produced halftime show had lots more bumping and grinding, crotch- grabbing rappers, and background girls tossing off their wardrobes to "I'm getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off."

Then there were the commercials, often creative and funny at Super Bowls, but this year featuring horse flatulence, a trained dog that bites men (again) in the crotch to steal their beers, a monkey leering at a girl's breasts and suggesting they go upstairs, and several ads for erectile dysfunction. Bud Light clearly won the night's award for most stupid, crude, and banal ads, while only Homer Simpson seemed to offer any healthy and funny alternative fare.

My 5-year-old son, Luke, was playing with his friends in another room but walked in just in time to see a spot for Van Helsing, an upcoming and yet unrated horror film that featured very disturbing and graphic images of horrific violence. Seeing the fanged monsters leering at us through the screen literally stopped him in his tracks.

After substantial public outcry, CBS and MTV issued unconvincing apologies about how surprised they were at Janet's bare bust (in this first public revelation of the Jackson family values), while young Timberlake tried to blame the whole thing on a "wardrobe malfunction." Two days later, Jackson admitted the stunt had been planned, saying: "The decision to have a costume reveal...was made after final rehearsals."

You want to know why people join the Religious Right? It may have less to do with wanting to take over the country than being desperate to protect their kids from the crass trash and degrading banality that media conglomerates like Viacom (which owns both CBS and MTV) seem to think is just fine family entertainment for Super Bowl night. Fortunately, my kids were in bed before the halftime show, but next year we may just go with Mary Poppins in the other room.

Some people think that only right-wing conservatives care about such moral pollution. Wrong. Most parents I know, liberal or conservative, care a great deal about it, as do most self-respecting women and men. It defies stereotypes to suggest that a healthy moral consistency applies to personal and sexual ethics as well as to social and political values. It's time to break out of those old ideological shibboleths and forge a unified front against the amoral corporate greed that violates all our ethics - personal and social - creating a system that sells beer and breasts in the same advertising plans just to make a buck.

I don't recommend joining the Religious Right, but do call Viacom, CBS, and MTV. Tell them that you're not a member of the Religious Right, not a puritan, and not afraid of sex (but think it's great with somebody to whom you're committed!). Especially if you're a liberal progressive type, tell them that. And if you're a parent, ask them if they have any kids and if they would want them watching the lowlife ads and actors they put on TV last Sunday night. Tell them to put it on cable where the voyeurs who want to watch Timberlake and Jackson paw each other can pay for it. Tell them that you're angry. Tell them that they're not entertaining, interesting, or even sexy. Tell them that their soulless and mindless "entertainment" won't sell anymore, at least not to you. And tell them to keep their garbage away from your kids.

To call each network executive:

Tom Freston
Chairman, MTV

Leslie Moonves
President, CBS

Sumner Redstone
CEO, Viacom

Read more commentary by Jim Wallis at:

Sojourners Sustainers Circle

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

Join the Sustainers Circle, Sojourners' monthly giving program, with a gift of $10 or more per month and you will receive a complimentary subscription to Sojourners magazine. Join online today at: or call (800) 714-7474 and ask for donor relations.

Nothing To Pre-empt
by Ray McGovern

Tree Givers
Finally, some honesty. But mounting problems for the White House. The CIA's chief weapons inspector, David Kay, has driven the final nail into the coffin where rests the Bush administration's policy of pre-emptive war. It turns out that there was nothing to pre-empt.

Which calls into question the real reason why more than 500 U.S. troops have been killed and at least 6,000 severely wounded - and why untold thousands of Iraqi army conscripts and civilians have also been killed. (Precise figures are impossible to come by since U.S. casualties are flown back to the United States in the dead of night, and proconsul Paul Bremer has instructed Iraqi authorities to stop counting civilian casualties.)

The fact that Kay came up empty-handed also means that the transparently disingenuous remarks of President George W. Bush and his senior aides in attempting to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq will fall far short of what the White House needs in order to defend the most misguided and destructive U.S. foreign policy decision since Vietnam.

Read more at:

Sojourners readers knew Bush's WMD intelligence was sketchy months before the mainstream media caught on. Read our interview with Ray McGovern and David MacMichael, former CIA analysts, at:


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Surge in youth vote

Percent increase in turnout among voters age 18-29 compared to 2000:

In the Iowa caucus: 400%
In the New Hampshire primary: 50%


Whatever your age, register to vote, submit a change of address, or change party affiliation at:


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Statistics have faces
by Nontando Hadebe

Once dubbed the "Switzerland of Africa" and "Africa's bread basket," Zimbabwe has in the space of a few years been transformed from a major food exporter to one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world. Currently, 7.5 million people (of a population of 11.65 million) need food aid. There are more than 1,500 deaths from HIV/AIDS every week.

As a Zimbabwean, for me these statistics have faces. The story of Gogo Mkwananzi (not her real name) is typical of many of the elderly in our communities. Mkwananzi worked all her life to educate her children and was proud when her two daughters completed their high school education and went on for professional training. They both qualified as teachers and married good, educated men. Mkwananzi began to look forward to her new role as a grandmother. Her dreams were dashed when her oldest daughter and son-in-law died within six months of each other, leaving two children. A year later, her younger daughter and her husband were also diagnosed HIV-positive after the death of their first child. As Mkwananzi's world crumbles, it is her two grandchildren that enable her to persevere in her daily struggle for survival. But even their help is not enough, as her pension is eroded by high inflation. She who once fed a family now daily waits in line for food aid. Her weekly visits to the clinic have stopped as there is no medication available and her painful arthritis worsens. She's received assistance through HelpAge, an organization dedicated to helping the elderly, but they too are struggling as the demand for their services outstrips their resources. Were it not for her grandchildren, says Mkwananzi, she would ask God to take her life and let her rest.

The roots of Zimbabwe's problems have been traced to politics, disastrous economic policies, and disruptive land invasions. There is repression of opposition parties and grassroots organizations. But more questions need to be asked, and more must be done to uncover the truth and expose Zimbabwe's injustices.

Read more at:

Take action to stop the global spread of AIDS at: %takeaction-stop_AIDS%


World Social Forum: Building a better world
by Elizabeth Palmberg

When I stepped out from the closing ceremonies to get a snack, a store clerk asked me why I had come to the World Social Forum. Why shouldn't individuals simply try to improve themselves - in his case, why shouldn't he just try to be the best Hindu he could? I said that there were some things that individuals can do best for themselves, and some - such as water systems, education, police work, and regulating trade - that governments did best, and that civil society shouldn't allow to be dictated by wealthy international institutions. I said that corporate elites network with each other globally, so it's important for activists from all over the globe to share strategies for social justice and against unjust policies...

Read more at:

Read Palmberg's daily journal from the Forum at:


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P.O.V. ^top
Israeli soldiers speak

Abundant Earth has recently published an interview with Israeli soldiers (identified by pseudonyms) conducted by Israeli journalist Uri Blau for Kol Ha'Ir, a Jerusalem weekly, in September 2001. Some excerpts:

Ariel [21, served in Hebron and Ramallah]: This is a religious matter, and I'm religious. For them, it's not just the fact that their life is f*cked up now; they have religion, these guys. My religion, like theirs, is something that leads me. I follow, and I would do anything it tells me to do. If it's to go to war, then there are no borders and you shoot everyone. If I feel that for myself and for this life, and in the name of my religion, I have to do it, then I do it. But by the same token, just as I'd refuse an order if my company commander told me to shoot a 7-year-old girl, if I were in the Tanzim [the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah movement] and I was told to shoot a soldier who wasn't doing anything, just standing there eating pizza, I'd refuse no matter what. But if my religion said that I had to shoot for the sake of my people and my religion, I'd do it. That's the problem here.


Roi [19, paratrooper, serving in Hebron]: When I first got to Hebron I wouldn't open fire on little children. And I was sure that if I ever killed or hurt anyone, I'd go so crazy that I'd leave the army. But finally I did shoot someone, and nothing happened to me. In Hebron I shot the legs off of two kids, and I was sure I wouldn't be able to sleep anymore at night, but nothing happened. Two weeks ago I hurt a Palestinian policeman, and that didn't affect me either. You become so apathetic you don't care at all. Shooting is the IDF soldier's way of meditating. It's like shooting is your way of letting go of all your anger when you're in the army. In Hebron there's this order they call "punitive shooting": just open fire on whatever you like. I opened fire not on any sources of fire but on windows where there was just wash hanging to dry. I knew that there were people who would be hit. But at that moment it was just shoot, shoot, shoot.


Yosef [21, served in Hebron and Ramallah]: Although I think justice is on our side, that doesn't mean I stop pitying them for one moment. Maybe I think that the constant closure of Hebron is absolutely justified, but that doesn't mean I don't pity them for being under this closure. I don't hate them for one second.

Read the full interview at:

See Sojourners' multimedia presentation, Occupation and Resurrection, at:


"I Will Feed Them with Justice," Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, March 5-8, 2004, in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by a broad range of denominations and faith-based coalitions, the gathering will offer tracks on Africa, Asia (Korea), Latin America (Colombia), the Middle East (Israel, Palestine, and Iraq), economic justice, and nuclear disarmament, and will feature Sam Kobia, Syngman Rhee, Bernice Powell Jackson, and Jim Winkler. Contact Leon Spencer, (202) 547-7503; Anna Rhee,;

Dodging the draft

The Center on Conscience and War (CCW) reports that despite public statements to the contrary, the Bush administration is quietly discussing the possibility of reinstating the draft. While official word on Capitol Hill is that there is no way a draft would be approved, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) continues to promote a bill among Republican members of Congress to reinstate the draft. Rangle's rationale is that by requiring members of more affluent classes to serve in the military, the draft could serve as a deterrent to ill-conceived military adventures. However, there is little historical evidence that a draft would serve such a purpose, since privileged classes have always retained the social and political resources to seek alternatives to combat. Furthermore, under this law, conscientious objectors (COs) would be forced to serve in the military as non-combatants, with the option of civilian alternative service available only at the "discretion of the president." Even though the Rangle bill is unlikely to be passed, it is possible that the CO language could be carried onto other bills and be passed into law.

The CCW is holding a lobby day on May 14, 2004, in conjunction with the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, Veterans for Peace, and Mennonite Central Committee's Washington Office. Most young congressional staffers are not knowledgeable about COs since there has not been a draft in their lifetime. Even if you can't be in Washington in May, please meet with the local office of your representative. For more information, contact the CCW at (800) 379-2679 or or visit:


By Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world: an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

Wealth perspective

The Global Rich List shows you where you rank on the world's economic ladder with sobering specificity. (Example: You are in the top 7.22% richest people in the world. There are 5,566,727,941 people poorer than you.) Surprise - it also recommends a donation to a worthy charity:

Music links

Though it takes some experimentation to get the hang of navigation, musicplasma helps you discover new music by connecting bands or artists you know to ones you may also enjoy through an intuitive graphic matrix - complete with streaming audio clips:

Watchdog journalism

With a reputation for public service journalism, the Center for Public Integrity promotes watchdog reporting on a variety of issues, including current reports on who's funding the race for the U.S. presidency:


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Readers write

Bill Harris writes from Everett, Washington:

In "Batteries Not Included" [SojoMail 1/29/2004], David Batstone makes the scary claim that the national deficit is $7 trillion. While it's scary enough that the national debt is $7 trillion, the deficit is only forecast to hit $477 billion this year, according to USA Today 1/26/2004.

While that may be a simple typo on Mr. Batstone's part, it's important that we understand the nature of the serious problems we face. Those who'd like an explanation of the difference between the debt and deficit and a way to look at the challenges we face might enjoy and


Alan Rowlands writes from Portland, Oregon:

Sonia de Villers [Boomerang 1/29/2004] and Paul Everett [Boomerang 1/14/2004] agree that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein in power and that no one would argue to the contrary. Their opinions are no doubt sincere and grounded in compassion for the Iraqi people, but here is another point of view: It is no secret that the U.S. aided Saddam in his return from Egyptian exile and subsequent rise to power through the ranks of the socialist Baath party.... The U.S. armed Saddam with chemical and biological weapons, allowed him to use them with impunity against Iran and the Kurds, and assured him through ambassador April Glasspie that we would remain neutral should he invade Kuwait. Congress was deceived into supporting the 1991 Gulf War, after which Bush Sr. goaded Iraq's Shiite Muslims into a bloody revolt against Saddam. The U.S. then stood by as the Shiites were slaughtered by Saddam and dumped in those "mass graves" the media keeps moaning about.

A man named Bush was involved at every stage of this ongoing foreign policy nightmare, whether as CIA director, vice president, or president, and it is hardly logical that a man named Bush could be trusted to sort it all out. Of course it would be a good thing theoretically for a brutal gangster like Hussein to be deposed, but the only way this could be accomplished without disastrous repercussions is for the Iraqi people to set aside their ancient differences and unite in removing him from power. As it is, several groups now see a chance to rule Iraq and the country is heading toward civil war. The region has been destabilized and who knows how many thousands of Muslims have been driven to extremism and potential terrorist activities. And our armed forces are trapped in a hostile land, forced to kill people who had never harmed or theatened the U.S. in any way. Iraqi Christians, treated as second-class citizens but not actually persecuted by Saddam, face possible slaughter if Muslim extremists take charge.


Helen Wallace, SC, writes from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada:

I am concerned about politicians trying to give the impression because they pray, that the decisions they make are necessarily guided by God. There are many voices within us and around us clamouring for our attention. It is not easy to hear God's voice in the clamour. People who want to hear God's voice need to learn how to discern the voice of God. Spiritual directors are trained to listen to their clients in order to distinguish God's voice in their client's words, deeds, and daily experiences. The spirits that are not of God can cleverly pretend that God is speaking to us. Even the best of us can be fooled.

I marvelled at the millions of people throughout the world who protested the proposed invasion of Iraq. I believe that this was God's voice, heard in the hearts of these millions. Often, in hindsight, we realize that God had spoken to us. Maybe, we should ask our "religious" politicians to learn discernment of spirits.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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