The Worship of Sports in America

Simply put, Americans take sports way too seriously.

How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Have Shoe, Will Travel!

By now, everyone and their mothers have heard about the Shoe Hurled ‘Round the World; the now infamous news footage of the Iraqi news journalist hurling his shoes at President George Bush. A search of that particular news footage on You Tube will bring up dozens of clones of the incident.
The audacity (or comedy) factor of the reporter aside, one can’t help but wonder about whether or not this act symbolizes a voice of dissatisfaction among the Iraqi people about the U.S intervention in the country. Almost hours after the incident was made known throughout the news media, large numbers of Iraqi citizens took to the streets in support of the brazen reporter’s actions. Moreover, looking through You Tube’s (and other similar site’s) postings of the incident garners an incredible number of written replies—many also supporting the reporter’s actions—both within and outside of America’s borders.
As I watched CNN break in with the initial news reports of the incident, I actually pictured Vice-President Dick Cheney in a public school somewhere, reading a story to a group of grade school kids. In my vision of events, I imagined an aide walking up to him and whispering in his ear that “the president was almost hit by a flying shoe.” In order to keep up appearance of sturdy leadership, Cheney keeps reading to the unsuspecting kids. A few seconds later, the aide returns to the VP’s side to inform him that “a second shoe has almost hit the president.”




A humorously warped perspective granted, but my vision of the incident was just as comical and unrealistic as the president’s brushing off of the incident with—while admirable—out-of-place humor. True leadership would compel one to examine the symbolic defiance of the act and consider whether or not it represented growing dissent at the U.S. military’s occupation of the country. Maybe the act, the small but growing chorus of worldwide support, the rallies, and the pro-act newspaper editorials indicate that those opposed to the continued American presence in Iraq are becoming just as dedicated to stating their discontent as those who would martyr themselves with the goal of ending the American presence.
Exporting the ideas of Democracy, although laudable, has become tainted by hints of ethnocentrism in our oft-heard response that “the Iraqis should be grateful that we got rid of Saddam for them!” It presupposes that Democracy is the best system for everyone, which is at best debatable among civilized people from various cultures with varying beliefs. Ideas should not be imposed on anyone uninvited, and least of all, not at the barrel of a gun.
Most importantly, American leadership should be more competent, and the citizenry should demand more accountability for a lack of competence. If our leaders are so blinded by, arrogance, personal idealism, and the belief that what we do is in the Greater Interest that they cannot open their minds to the possibility that support for a man throwing a couple of shoes in dissent against American policy represents discontent, then maybe we need to stop viewing that video of the incident so much, and start looking at the Big Picture.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election 2008—The More Things Change… (And Other Rants on Black-America).

Well, it’s been almost a week since the historic and unprecedented election of the 1st African-American to the highest elected office in the nation. And despite the plethora of newspaper headlines, television reports, and radio shows reinforcing this fact, the truth for me is that the reality still hasn’t sunken to the point where I can stop pinching myself. President-elect Barack Obama…has a nice ring to it given my own African-American heritage is concerned.
However, the Elections of 2008 have enlightened me to certain levels of thinking within the African-American community, not all favorable (and I’m sure not to win any friends or influence people with this piece).

Voting:
The day after the election, I arrived at my job as an adult education instructor like always. As I entered the building, I found our most mature and studious student, “Mr. ‘H,’” a mid-50-something-year-old African-American, waiting as usual for us instructors. Walking to the classroom, we engaged in a semi-light conversation about the obvious and its historical significance. During our exchange, Mr. H revealed that the 2008 election was the first time he had voted…ever. His excuse (as opposed from a reason) was that before this past Tuesday, he always thought that no matter who he voted for, “them jokers would always do what they wanted to do.”
Later in the day, I took a minute to read my copy of the latest edition of Ebony Magazine (November 2008). As I opened it up, there was a picture of Ebony’s president and CEO, along with the magazine’s printed endorsement of Barack Obama for president, something the magazine hasn’t done in its entire near 60 year history.
What is troubling about the cumulative effect of these experiences is that they convey the idea that, before now, African-Americans never had a stake in the electoral process. Mr. H’s insistence that his vote never counted before now because of past candidates’ propensity to ignore the black vote has been no doubt shared by many in the black community. While it’s no secret that such feelings are shared in many segments within the black community (thus causing dangerous level of apathy when it comes to our voice being heard), try applying such a mindset to the elderly, who vote their interests in such dependably large numbers and with such unison, that no politician even dares to threaten to retool, revamp, or even talk about its need to do either to social security…despite the fact that all indications are that the current rate of spending will cause its demise within the next 2 decades. While black thinking doesn’t have to be monolithic, its collective voice should be, as most African-Americans’ fates—despite the success of people like BET’s founder Robert Johnson, television mogul Oprah Winfrey and others—are intertwined. But sadly, fragmented political thinking along ideological lines, represented by the likes of Ward Connerly, Michael Steele, Cynthia McKinney and others, tends to give the impression that the black community’s voice is not only not unified, but neither are its interests. Will Obama’s election change this? Probably not, as I have seen black ideologues left and right-of-center not only come out against Obama’s election during his candidacy, but have already greeted his ascendancy to office with harsh vocal skepticism and even derision. The more things change…

California’s Proposition 8:
Many gay rights and other activists were appalled at the large numbers of black and Latino support for the controversial ballot measure to amend the state’s constitution to limit the definition of marriage to the traditional union of a man and a woman.
Although I personally feel that marriage is pretty much dead as both an idea and an institution given the current divorce rate and its ever-eroding lack of sanctity in the human heart, it’s hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers could have imagined that human beings of the same sex would ever want to be recognized under the laws and ideas of traditional co-habitation. Granted the fact that blacks themselves were at one time considered “three-fifths of a human being” under the U.S. Constitution, the inherent and obvious argument used by pro-gay activists that such similar rights were eventually extended to African-Americans doesn’t hold water due to the fact that considering black less than a full human being was done only out of a compromise with Southern lawmakers, and not out of the belief that blacks were not (biologically) human beings. But the centuries-long legacy of discrimination of blacks that followed the nation’s founding further confounds these activists as to how and why the black community could come out in numbers of between 70%-80%.
However, if these activists really want to understand why blacks in particular came out in droves against the amendment proposition, all they really need to is look at the current state and history of the family in black America.
In terms of what contributes to the current instability within traditional family unit, African-Americans tend to lead the pack in most categories: teenage pregnancy, single parenting rates, divorce rates, poverty, unemployment, rates of marriage, etc. The last thing that the black community needs is for a re-defining of the traditional family unit driving them further behind the rest of the nation in terms of stability. And within the black community, such a revision of such a traditional notion is all but impossible given the strength and reverence by which the Christian Church and its doctrinal values are held. With respect to the “anyone-who-loves-another-is-a-family” mindset, these activists really need to try and understand African-Americans before they can even begin to impose such a mandate on an already devastated community. It’s not hard to figure out; the strengthening of gay families would mean the further erosion of the black family in a manner of speaking.
Will black support for Proposition change the state of the black family any time soon, probably not likely. But it’s a small measure to defend what little does remain of the traditional family therein. The more things change…

Fashion:
One would think with Obama’s meteoric rise to political superstardom and highest office that his image, including his sense of fashion would rub off on black males.
Did I miss something? When did “Ghetto Stupid” become a fashion trend? What I’m talking about is the trend of sagging pants, “saggin’” as it’s popularly known as. It’s a notion that has divided the black community…some black males choose to sag, while most older, more sensible types choose not to. The style (or lack of it) has even crossed over into segments of the white and Latino communities, no surprise considering that other formerly exclusively black cultural trends have historically crossed over such as music and dreadlocks.
At the risk of sounding like my father, can someone explain to me why it’s even done? It makes no sense beyond the psychological need to become a part of in-group thinking.
I have tried to come up with a logical way to try to create a level of consistent thinking when it comes to my personal dislike and revulsion of this particular trend. I can’t say that it simply offends my (and many others’) fashion sensibilities because the first thing someone would say in defense of the right to “sag” is “what about this group or that group?” And sadly, they would have a decent defense. I mean, doesn’t the gothic sub-culture offends older whites? What about the manner of dress associated with punk-rockers? Heavy metalers? Etc.
Lacking strength in the logic and reason approach, I’ll try the pragmatic approach. Many police officers have publicly stated that they want criminals and would-be criminals to sport the baggy look; the better for police to catch fleeing suspects who were trying to maintain their sense of style with sagging, ankle-bound trousers. In fact, the ‘net is full of stories of criminals tripped up by their sense of style. Now I’m no great fan of the criminal element, but if anyone—criminal or not—doesn’t see the practical side of not wearing your pants to the point where your attention is divided between something as simple as running/walking and holding your pants up with one hand (here’s a clue Einstein...the belt does that for you), then maybe someone should take you off the street so the rest of us do not laugh ourselves into a coronary at such a ridiculous spectacle.
Maybe someone Up There does love us and seeks to protect us from such a fate; cities such as Flint, Michigan and Atlanta, Georgia and others have made it illegal for pants to hang off the body in such a way as to display underwear publicly. Hard to believe that such an idiotic trend would spur the need for even more idiotic laws. But sadly, despite the increase in arrests, the practical side of black males keeping their pants up at the intended waist level hasn’t taken.
So, since I have no logical or practical arguments, I’ll simply become my father and say to all those who sag that you look stupid! Pull your damned pants up! You’re walking around with pants hanging off you’re a**es and you’re wearing a belt…how dumb is that?
Take a page from the Obama playbook. You want to be successful and be taken seriously? Start with a sense of style. Walking around, trying not to fit in? And you wonder why the unemployment rate is so high among black males? You look like trouble. Yeah, I know that you do it to “keep it real.” Real stupid!
Obama, here’s hoping that, in much the same way you addressed the issue of race and the need for black fathers to step up to the plate to take care of their children, that you address the need to make pulling pants up a national priority in America. In fact, I would urge you to move it ahead of the financial crisis!
Will Obama’s successful election change the image of the black male in America? Probably not any time soon. The more things change…

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote!!

There is an interesting viral video making the rounds among e-mail inboxes of late. A product of CNNBC Video, it is an amusingly entertaining message video that allows individuals to create a customized parody of a day-after-the-election newscast whereby the named receiver of the video will be blamed for one candidate or the other losing the election by a single vote...his/hers. The video is clearly slanted in favor of an Obama victory, but the overall point--sans the partisanship--is that one vote can make a difference, which the 2000 presidential election clearly demonstrated.
This video emphasizes the need for responsible citizens of a democracy to vote and let his and/or her voice be aired (or at least have a right to air their dissatisfaction with the candidate that wins). In America, where the highest voting rate to date was the record 56.7% of the 2000 election, greater participation is vital to the overall foundation of a fair deomocratic system of government. The nation's rate of voter participation lags behind most other industrialized (and even many unindustrialized) nations. Austrialia for example, with its compulsory voting, has a voter participation rate of some 95%. The U.S's voter participation rate lags behind even Russia, with its relatively recent (and questionable) entry into the free election process. And for African-Americans and other minorities, this right is most important considering that brave activists fought and died to obtain secure it; failure to exercise this right would be akin to spitting on their graves.
If you're looking for a few laughs with a dash of a positive message, this video can be obtained at:

http://www.cnnbcvideo.com/taf.shtml?id=14590-2944885-cLLfgzx&nid=BSERKoj89jS0QHmzszhTgDk1NDMzOA--


The personalized version of this video appears like this:



And for pity's sake, use your right to be heard and VOTE!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Survivor: White House Run!

Someone pinch me! Did I miss the television promos of the latest incarnation of Survivor? Survivor…you know the show…the one where contestants resort to trickery, backstabbing, name-calling, and other levels of duplicity in order to win the prize at the end of the season? It seems this particular “reality” TV program is reality…at its most real. My guess is, since I must have obviously not paid attention to those annoying corner graphics that normally distract me as I watch my favorite network television shows, that what I’m watching on television is Survivor: White House Run, or something to that effect.
That’s how I’m seeing the current run for the White House by the two major contending presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. It seems that anything in the way of mean-and-bread issues that concern Americans of all stripes has taken a backseat to politics as usual. We hear the ridiculous dollar amounts plopped down by the Republican National Committee on Governor Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, how John McCain (sadly) doesn't know how to operate a computer or surf the web. On the other side, we hear questions about Barack Obama’s questionable ties to domestic terrorists, his lack of patriotism for not wearing a flag pin on his lapel, or Senator Joe Biden’s historical faux paux about how FDR would sit down in front of the television set to address the nation during the Great Depression. So much has been made of these issues that they have inevitably degraded into distortions of reality and truth which has come to symbolize Americans’ discontent with electoral politics. The only Saving Grace this time around is the relative novelty of the race’s candidates; the 1st African-American, 1st female (or Gyno-American if you’re into being PC), the oldest American, and the obligatory white male running for the two highest elected spots in the land.
Despite both the novelty of this election, and the promise of civility (from both sides) of an election where issues would be the focus instead of the distractions of mudslinging and opponent degradation, we have witnessed what could be called “civil muckraking;” gutter politics as usual, but with more gentlemanly articulation. I acknowledge this because, compared to 2004 presidential election where Swiftboating attack ads sank John Kerry’s White House bid and the rush to dig up dirt on President Bush helped bury the network career of Dan Rather, we see a more refined level of nastiness, but with the usual political distractions from the issues. It’s too bad that the Survivor series doesn’t require writers…they could take ideas from what’s going on currently.
Is Sarah Palin’s expensive wardrobe really an issue in an arena where image and image building is not only accepted, but necessary to a shallow electorate (Remember the Kennedy-Nixon debate? The 1st televised presidential debate where the tanned and makeup-laden Kennedy looked like a bronze tiger compared to the plain, go it au naturale Nixon). And what about Obama’s supposedly jab at Palin by his use of the time-worn phrase “lipstick on a pig” remark? He could have just as easily used the equally-aged variation, “perfume on a pig.” Either way, unless one is just so partisan, that he or she is just looking for a way to make this rather innocuous statement about Palin, it’s a meaningless barb. Biden’s slip? Nobody’s perfect, especially us historically-challenged Americans. McCain’s lack of computer savvy? He’s 71-years old…is that so usual a condition among that particular age group? Obama being a "Socialist?" Well, hard to ignore the recent nationalization of banks/lending institutions...if that isn't a socialist move, then I don't know what is.
And what about all this talk about “lack of experience?” This particular distraction non-issue deserves special highlighting because to assume that any American lacks experience for public office reeks of the arrogance of the political class--career politicians who tout the honor in being "public servants." If we truly are The People that the Constitution states that we are, then we are own potential representatives too. And our country's history is full of examples of our representatives coming from among ordinary people, such as Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who successfully launched a campaign for Congress, as was elected on a platform of gun control after her husband was killed in 1993 by an armed man on a New York subway. And lest we forget that an entire myth of legendary proportions was built around a certain rail-splitter from Illinois who eventually became one of the most honored U.S. presidents during this country’s most crisis-ridden period. Finally, the Founding Fathers had no experience in cobbling together the legal foundation of a country, but that didn't stop them…and most of them were home-schooled, lacking the formal education, political office experience, and 200+ years of history as a reference that both Obama or Palin has as advantages. As with most elections--sadly--innuendo, negative aspersions, interpretations of an opponent's intents that border on conspiracy theory, and outright lies have become integral components of the process. However, these shady actions are poor substitutes for "issues" by [the] candidates, or of "reasoning" by the so-called "enlightened electorate." And this latter non-issue is among the most irrelevant of the distractions of the current campaign. To believe that only the "experienced" can be our logical representatives is analogous to the pre-Reformation Catholic Church's doctrine of the "necessity" of an intercessor (e.g., priest) to represent us or legislate on our behalf before the "God" of public servitude.
The fact that these distractions are brought to us by nearly every television network is what blurs the line between reality and “reality TV.” Backstabbing, name-calling, character assassination and outright lying may make for questionable entertainment, but as a basis of picking the leader of our nation and the Free World? Looking at things from a Big Picture perspective, I can’t say that I blame the candidates for these types of engagements…if We The People would learn to distinguish between TV and tv, and stop caring so much about the smoke-and-mirrors of show over the life-and-death issues of substance, maybe people like me wouldn’t have such a hard time telling the difference what we watch and what I’m watching. Maybe then, we could force our representatives to address issues such as this current crisis economy and external threats (not perceived threats). Because as it stands right now, we're all playing Survivor.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah Palin & The "Great" Debate


Well, it’s the morning after the 1st and only Joe Biden-Sarah Palin vice-presidential debate, and like many political pundits—both professional and amateur alike—I was almost spasmodic with eager anticipation of the expected verbal sparring match, what amounted to a high-profile under card to the Obama-McCain main bout.
Like many others interested in the realm of the political, I watched Palin’s acceptance speech at this year’s Republican Convention, and took note of how, in the following days, electrified McCain supporters and Republican-leaning fence-sitters…albeit briefly.
After basking in the glow of her convention speech and the resulting novelty of her candidacy, the Alaskan governor made the rounds on the television evening news interview circuit, grilled first by Charles Gibson of ABC, and then by CBS’s Katie Couric. To say the least, her performances during these interviews made her look less than stellar. With Gibson, she dances around the question of what she thought about the Bush Administration’s policy of pre-emptive military action in protecting America; her lack of knowledge on the subject was obvious. While with Couric, she looked more like Dick Van Dyke’s old television character of Rob Petrie—answering questions with almost comedic ramblings and stumbling over her own words.
As I watched, I almost found myself searching for possible answers for her dismal interviews. I was considering everything from whether or not she was merely acting the part of a former blonde dyed brunette (in an attempt to lull her Democratic rivals into believing she was a pushover in the upcoming debate. If this were the case, she had missed her true calling as an actress), to whether or not her deer-in-the-headlights appearance was some sort of karma coming back to haunt her, payback for killing all the moose with her hunting rifle (as her supporters often like to tout). Needless to say, she was considered the underdog in the debate by most who had witnessed her meltdown during her previous interviews.
However, during the debate, Palin (although failing to come across as seasoned and knowledgeable as her rival) managed to somewhat hold her own, even if was by way of answering moderator questions with slogans (e.g., “Drill, baby, drill”) and canned rhetoric that adhered to the party line (withdrawing from Iraq was tantamount to America “Waving the white flag of surrender.”). It was clear that she had had some decent coaching by McCain’s staff.
Between Biden and Palin’s almost exclusive ping-pong pandering to the Middle Class voter (in typical high-profile political fashion, the rich were made to have the ethics Simon Legree, while the poor were not even mentioned), Palin’s strategy appeared to be one of talking to the audience rather than answering moderator Gwen Ifill’s questions directly. In fact, she sounded more like she was on a presidential stump rather than directly answering questions in a formal give-and-take (to be fair, Biden did some dancing around questions too). This tactic is sure to go over well with voters already committed and looking for “confirmation,” or to those who vote their passions as opposed to the merits of the issues at hand.
However, and much to her credit, she did managed to interject the need for personal responsibility as a factor in cleaning up the current crisis in the lending industry. When asked “who was responsible for the current subprime mortgage situation,” she cautioned viewers against “living outside our means” (I personally believe that too many Americans do not take personal responsibility into account in policy).
Biden, according to preliminary polls out this morning, appeared by most to seem more presidential, more in command of the issues. However, there were points of order for him that Palin (probably because she is not as skilled a debater or as seasoned as Biden) decided not to take advantage of, such as his voting for the bankruptcy reforms of 2 years ago, and Obama’s vote against the same policy; Ifill seemed more committed to pressing Biden on this point than Palin (a point I personally would have loved to see him try to defend).
After the smoke of the verbal dust-up cleared, both combatants remained standing, much to my personal dismay; given both my love examining the nuances of political theater and Palin’s own previous dismal performances, I was half-expecting a Lloyd Bentsen-Dan Quayle-era knockout. Although she performed well in this particular forum, her command of the issues as well as her green nature in the hardball world of Washington politics was evident. One of her verbal jabs during one the evening’s exchanges seemed to have reflected this as she tongue-in-cheeked, “I guess I'm not used to the way you all do things in Washington.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wal-Mart--Low Ethics!

Like many Americans, I shop at Wal-Mart...an almost economic essential in these trying economic times. However, when I recently received an e-mail from an old friend, I had to stop and re-evaluate my preference for "low prices."
A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article citing that human resources personnel at the nation's largest private employer are routinely walking the razor's edge of law by telling many of it's hourly workers not to vote for presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. The purpose for this is to head off a hint of the possibility of unionization among its workers. Unionizing among its employees is something which the retailer has fought tooth, nail, and claw for years to keep out of its stores, and the retail giant feels that an Obama administration would make federal support for unionizing among the retailer's employees all but certain.
Granted, I knew about the criticism of the comparatively low wages that Wal-Mart allegedly pays its employees (it's why local legislators and activists in the city of Chicago fought hard to keep the retailer from building a store within its city limits, but eventually settled on a compromise in order to build there), but I hadn't a clue as to how deeply involved in the political process my soon-to-be-no-longer favorite store was, or of the extent of its attempt to stymie collective bargaining among its employees.
With the current administration's recent bailouts, takeovers, and loaning of federal money to lending giants Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, American International Group (AIG), IndyBank, Bear- Sterns and others, its easy to see that government is willing to intervene during these trying economic times on the side of business (yeah, I know...that's "different"). However, business apparently views government action on it's behalf an exclusive privilege reserved for only its interests, and not worthy of the American worker. To that end, businesses like Wal-Mart are engaging in full-court hardball tactics such as PAC-funding what it feels to be "pro-business" candidates and informing it's employee who they should not vote for.
Given the current rate of rising unemployment in this country, for some Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail giant and the largest private employer in America, is the only place for potential employment. But being the only game in town should not translate into the right to tell one's employee's whom to vote for, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or whomever.
Sure, Wal-Mart can argue that keeping out unions and lobbying its representatives are its legal rights under the law. It can even argue that doing so is why many Americans such as myself are able to spend less money for roughly the same products as compared to other retailers' prices. However, are we supposed to believe that pressing it's employees is solely an egalitarian gesture on the retail giant's part to help you and I spend less money in a challenging economy? You be the judge.

For the complete story of how low Wal-Mart is willing to go to keep out unions, and to what extent it's involvement in the political process is a means to that particular end, please follow the link to the Wall Journal website.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121755649066303381.html?mod=hpp_us_whats_news

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Health Care is Killing America, Conclusion

So what are America’s options to the current system, which is headed for a critical mass, along with—potentially—the nations itself? First, remove the negative rhetoric. Political and economic interests opposed to revamping a system that is clearly headed toward a meltdown can no longer be afforded the power to control the language of the issue. Contrary to popular opinion and patriotic tradition, “socialized medicine” is not a bad word or phrase. Whether people want to believe it or not, we already have mechanisms in place that, if are not socialized in function, and doing a damn good imitation of socialism. The federal and state governments have been directly involved with the medical care of soldiers, veterans, legislators, children, the aged, and handicapped for decades in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. The free market system cannot solve every problem, and it obviously can’t solve this particular problem…if it could, it wouldn't be a problem. A system of universal health care coverage is needed, and its time ideologues faced facts, both federal and state governments are not going to get out of spending something on it. Furthermore, there is no “perfect system” for administering this. Every valiant attempted system that currently exists in the world has some bugs, some issues that makes users less-than happy. Is this an endorsement of a socialist system-based solution, not at all. But one thing is for certain…what we in place have is not working, and it is imperative that a solution be not only found but implemented soon…no matter how ideological distasteful it may be. There is simply no reason for not having a system of affordable universal health care; most polls show that the people want it, many professionals in the health care system want it (an Internet search for organizations supporting universal health care will bring up a plethora of such organizations, both professional and grassroots), and the economy demands it.
Those opposed to any kind of universal health care in America that isn’t founded on solely free-market principles typically cite the long waits for service under “socialized medicine,” systems such as those in Canada and the United Kingdom. I’ve spent many hours in online chat rooms based in those countries, and the conversations would always invariably become political in nature. And since this issue has been a personal crusade for me, I would often ask individuals in those (and other) countries would they trade health care systems with America if given the chance…the answer was always an unequivocal “no!” To them, the inconvenience of a wait is a tolerable trade off for the surety and comfort of not having to struggle with illness, while at the same time trying to figure out how to pay for treatment without going into financial ruin. And it’s a safe bet that opponents of some kind of nationalized health care coverage haven’t ventured out of their ivory-tower or think-tank offices to hospitals in poor urban areas. For many, the emergency room is the personal-physician-of-last-resort where the uninsured go, often to receive treatment for chronic conditions that have progressed because of the hard choice of medical care or material necessity. Unless one of these unfortunates walk in with a bullet wound, a knife sticking out of their heads, or a severed limb hanging on by a single shard of loose skin, there is a wait for service!
We should also look into taking some of the socioeconomic glamour out of the medical profession, and bring a back-to-basics approach back to medicine. Restructuring of the medical profession in America is long overdue. Believe it or not, the medical field wasn’t a vocation where individuals were seeking the social prestige and relative financial security of being a doctor. It was one a purely humanitarian endeavor, staffed by those seeking to alleviate human suffering. If one is expand their outlook and chance stepping outside the limiting mindset of a “realist,” it seem almost unethical to profit from someone else’s misery. In the UK, doctors are civil servants, a position that still afford relative financial security, but without the detraction of social status, or the specter of possible blackballing due to instances of malpractice. It’s high time we think of making doctors government employees. It would weed out the intent of those seeking to become physicians for the purpose of helping others, as opposed to those looking to inflate their egos, as well as their pockets as the sole motivation. Additionally, the division of labor among medical practitioners can be divided along lines based on the severity of the affliction. A well-experienced nurse could just as easily diagnose a cold and prescribe bed rest as easily as well-practiced doctor. The same could be said for nursing assistants and others.
The linchpin in the health care crisis, the complex bird's nest of administration each insurer uses to process payments and patient information, could be reduced significantly. There could be a centralized database used by all health care providers, where each would input all of the information about their patients. All insurers in turn, would be required to access this database in order to acquire the information needed to process payment (and other necessary) information; this would be a huge step toward creating a uniform system of payouts.
In the area of drug prescription costs, we should consider eliminating drug patents. The idea is that with many drug companies competing for a market share of a universally produced drug, we wouldn’t have so few of them charging so much in an effort to recover the money invested in developing these drugs (a chief cost-booster in overall purchase price of prescription drugs). Also, advertising (except directly to medical professionals) and promoting drugs in questionable ways should be illegal. This would mean no perks or bonuses for doctors and/or medical centers willing to prescribe a certain drug manufacturers drugs exclusively to their patients. This would level the playing field of the market and lower prices via fair competition.
Legally, it is a given that the high numbers of malpractice suits must be curbed. Under a revamped system, the merit of all lawsuits could be subject to an evidentiary hearing, in much the same way as impending criminal proceedings. Those wishing to file a lawsuit would have to have them heard before either a judge or an impartial board of some kind so that people whose fingernails were chipped during the removal of a cuticle are summarily dismissed from taking such frivolity into a courtroom.
Finally, a person should be allowed to be relived from the discomfort of a slow, agonizing, and—if artificial means of keeping them alive are employed—costly death. The final choice a person can make should not be subject to the legislative whims of someone bringing their personal religious beliefs into the realm of government. Although I am not intimately familiar with the process of artificially maintaining the life of a person who is essentially beyond hopes of resuscitation or recovery, I have to imagine that it is a costly endeavor. And those brave souls willing to either spare themselves the dishonor of an ignominious passing or their families the burden of having to make the fateful decision to terminate treatment should be allowed to do so. This report is by no means meant to be the end-all-be-all of what can be done to halt the current crisis in the health care system. Nor should it be considered a comprehensive list of possible solutions. However, it should be taken as a template of ideas to bring attention to something that could stop health care’s killing of America.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Health Care is Killing America, Part 1

Let’s forget for the moment that most Americans simply lack restraint when it comes to our self-indulgent lifestyles; we simply won’t stop overworking, sunbathing, eating processed foods, or drinking and smoking in excess. Not only is this bit of reality a given, but so is the knowledge that our way of life creates a laundry list of accompanying health problems. After all, it’s been said that the aging process is only 20% chronological, but 80% environmental…more of a product of what we do to ourselves than who we are. Ask anyone you know with a particular self-destructive vice why, at the risk of inflicting bad health, do they indulge in such irrational behavior and you will more than likely receive the usual cop-out; “Everything causes cancer!” “I just like it,” and the always justifiable, “You gotta die of something, right?”
Even if such BS were rationally sustainable, it still flies in the face of the human proclivity for trying to remedy a problem after the fact. We have a health care system in America that, for the most part, is based on fixing our individual medical boo-boo’s only after we have abused ourselves with fast living, fast foods, fast driving, and “need” for fast fun. And in much the same way that we have rationalized our counter-productive behavior with fatalism, we have done the same with our lack of resolve in having some kind of universal health care insurance covering all of America’s citizens. Given the current precarious position of the average American’s financial stability, as well as America’s vulnerability in a globally integrated economy, we have to conclude that the current health care system is killing America.
So how is the current state of health care endangering America to the point of our potential decline as a nation? First off, too many people are too quick to adopt the patriotic rhetoric about how America “has the best health care system in the world.” This would be true if every American had access to that “best health care.” But as it stands, such defensive ideological-based rhetoric blinds us to the fact that not every American can afford to have “the best.” Consider the following experience, written by a medical professional:

…I find peace of mind in knowing that if someone runs into my car and tears a fender off I can stand the expense. My insurance company will pay the bill. The same thing is true of fire. If my house burns down I am guaranteed the funds with which to rebuild. If I should come to die I should have the satisfaction of knowing that my life insurance policies will at least keep the family from the poorhouse.
‘But if I or any member of my family should have another serious illness I doubt if I could ever be rid of the debts with which my life would be burdened. I cannot understand why society has not devised some method by which I and millions like me may be assured in advance that we can meet the costs of illness. After all, I am more likely to be sick than to suffer by fire or be robbed or lose my life. Why can I not be protected where protection is most likely to be needed?

This is not a recent article written in a left-of-center leaning publication; it is an article published in the October 1930 issue of The Atlantic Monthly entitled “A Cure for Doctors’ Bills.” Even then, some could see the need to affordability in health care. You read right…1930! One has to wonder how and why such ideological rhetoric has blinded us to this crisis for so long.
At the risk of sounding like a 60s radical, the reason why ideology has so successfully repressed any attempt come up with a solution is that political and economic interests have mastered the art wordplay. More to the point, they have such a mastery over the control of any and all language associated with maintaining the current health care funding model, that it could best described as the “’P’ Phenomenon;” mixing Politics and Patriotism to create Propaganda which controls Policy or even Proposals. This is to say that those interests with a stake in the current model have successfully posed that the free-market is the only way to remedy both universal access to health care as well as control the rocketing costs that’s makes health care affordability prohibitive to begin with. Although there is no law that says that America has to adhere to a free-market solution to any policy, interests have managed over the years to successfully ingrain this notion into people’s thinking to such a degree that even proposed solutions by progressive-minded politicians adhere to this ethos. Anything that remotely smacks of government intervention or involvement in health care is maligned as “socialism,” and is avoided as if maintaining a solely free-market were the chief mandate of the Constitution, which it is not. The reality is that we already have vestiges of a socialist-like mechanism already in policy; the government provides health care to our soldiers and veterans, to our federal legislators, on a local level, states do the same with children and the aged. The more we adhere to secondary political ideologies that prevent us from opening our minds to new solutions for open and equal access to health care, the more we destroy—at least in a philosophical sense—the primary ideological foundation for why America exist in the first place…equal opportunity.
Aside philosophically dying, inaccessibility to health care for those who can’t afford comprehensive (or even partial) health insurance is killing American literally. Who can forget the article in May 2nd, 2002 edition of USA Today, which cited the conclusion of a study by the non-profit Institute of Medicine that blamed 18,000 deaths a year on a lack of health insurance? According to the report, 1 in 7 working-age Americans don’t have employer-provided insurance, and don’t qualify for government medical care; this doesn’t include the estimated 10 million children who go uninsured. According to the latest statistics, between 40 and 50 million Americans total lack health insurance of any kind. The bulk of those individuals who die do so needlessly, lacking coverage for life saving health screenings for diseases such as diabetes and cancer…so they simply go without. The report started talk on many a radio station on the subject of universal health care at the time of its publication. No one doubts—especially after the 3,000 deaths that occurred on Sept 11th—that if we had lost 18,000 of our fellow citizens in a single conventional or terrorist attack that we would have declared war and/or reacted almost instantly. One has to question the lack of an equal response to 18,000 deaths annually due to system of our own creation.
But it is in the realm of the economy where America stands to lose its current life. Since records have been kept, the cost of health care has only risen year after year. Currently, a minimum of between 10 and 20 cents of every dollar spent in America is spent on health care. In 2007, that was equivalent to 16% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or $2.3 trillion; by 2016 it’s expected that health care spending will reach approximately $4.2 trillion or 20 of the GDP, which includes government spending on Medicare and Medicaid. And with an already record-level budget deficit, the nation runs the risk of spending itself into penury. With the more traditionally higher paying jobs moving offshore and supplanted by lower paying service-based jobs, we obviously cannot maintain this level of consumer spending on this single but growing portion of the total economic output of the nation. Many familes already know the potential end result of doing so, as the majority of declared bankruptcies filed in any given year are due to the inability to pay medical bills. Under higher paying jobs, paying for health care was a strain; with the lower-paying positions that have replaced them, the choice simply comes down to—for many—paying for health care or paying a utility bill…in worse cases, it comes down to food or equally-needed prescription drugs. Health care in American has become unaffordable for both businesses and individuals.
The reasons for these soaring costs in health care include the high cost of prescription drugs (a crisis in itself), the high cost of medical technology, and the high administrative cost of the sophisticated multi-payer system that our system is based on. In addition, the high numbers of uninsured contribute to these high costs because chronic or developing conditions, which could be nipped in the bud by way of preventative care, often progress into the more expensive, often more life-threatening condition of whatever their silent or chronic symptoms may indicate. Furthermore, we pay hospitals and doctors in our country more than they’re paid in other countries, particularly medical specialists and specialty institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic and the like. These specialists in turn, tend to rely on the overuse of costly medical technologies and procedures…again in levels that far exceed both their use in other countries and their need in individual cases. And last, but not least, America’s litigious nature—suing for every possible reason as it relates to malpractice claims in particular and health care in general—drives up health care insurance premiums to beyond the reach of many to afford. America’s health care system is questionably the best in the world, but definitely by far and away the most expensive.
And while both the American consumer and employer struggles based in-part on the current health care scheme, our global competitors thrive without such burdens. China, our biggest economic competitor currently has a tiered system that is based on a patient’s location in the country. Under the 2005 implemented New Rural Co-operative Medical Care System, 80% of the country’s rural population is covered state-sponsored insurance, ranging from 60% to 80% coverage of general health claims (under their system, patients requiring specialists have to pay for most of those related services themselves). India, another up and coming economic power in competition with America for a share in the global market, has a system made up of local “government hospitals” which provide treatment as well as selected drug at taxpayer cost. Even though there are shortcomings in their systems, the two most populous nations on the globe—growing economic powers with a combined billion or so potential workers—see the ethical and practical need to cover the cost of health care for its citizens. More to the point, these powers-to-be are challenging America’s economic dominance, and they don’t have businesses in their countries locating abroad in an effort to lower health care-driven labor costs (for a recent in-depth focus on China's rise toward becoming the next preeminent global superpower, see the CBS newsfeed at
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/17/sunday/printable4356248.shtml).
These businesses have the advantage of having government subsidized health care for their workers. Their need to fuel their economic growth as it relates to health care, is not stymied by bickering political ideologues, or business interests who seek to maintain the status quo for the sake of inflating their profits. Health care is killing America.

To Be Concluded

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Special Commentary--What Happened to Childhood? Conclusion

So, in accessing how our children have gone from simply being kids—representing a stage of life that was supposed to be a whole other world away from knowing the complexities of being adults and shouldering adult burdens—to adults in pre-adult bodies, we should all look back at the difference between our own childhood experiences and those of today’s young people. We should measure the costs of what we as adults have taken away from children compared to the benefits of what they have received over the last 20 years or so and wonder. In some school districts across the country, past childhood staples such as kickball, dodge ball, and tag have been removed in the name of protecting our children from being hurt, physically from the roughhousing that’s involved in such activities, and emotionally from being taunted, “left out” and the like. So, to spare the feelings of the few children who are inherently sensitive—and swell the egos of New Age sociologists, psychologists, and other proponents of such psychobabble—we have removed lessons of teamwork, the benefits of physical exercise and social interaction, and the sense of accomplishment from winning in favor of…creating more sensitivity? And even in the few enlightened school districts where such notions have not taken root, removing these and other physical activities are a matter of dollars and cents, not dogma. The fact that children today are now exhibiting health problems such as obesity and diabetes, issues that were once consigned solely to adults is reason alone to shift priorities, both fiscal and philosophical.
The political acronym KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) works not in just the political arena. Thinking back on my own childhood, I can hear the slogan from those old Chuck E. Cheese commercials, “…where a kid can be a kid.” That’s as simple as one can get. At the risk of sounding authoritarian, kids no longer know their place. We need to start with making them feel like kids again…cater to their interests.
We adults can start with something as simple as our taste in entertainment. We need to understand that what we consider “harmless entertainment” is not so harmless, especially when we adults lack the sense impressionability that kids have. When we as kids were tying bed sheets around our necks and pretending to be able to fly, hyped-up from just watching “Shazam” on Saturday morning, is it too far-fetched to think that today’s kids are parroting the structured chaos and resulting brawls seen on “Springer?” From greed-driven sponsors to parents, we all need to take some responsibility in what kids see on television, and stop with the “it’s the parents’ responsibility” cop-out; its every adult’s responsibility! And while we’re at it, let’s interject some artistic merit in television programming. “Reality” television shows may be cheap to produce, but they lack the artistry that it takes to create and produce quality television (one but can’t help but wonder whatever happened to television script writers, directors, and other artists typically associated with making responsible and substantively creative works like PBS’s “The Electric Company”). What’s the big motivation for producing such cheap (both fiscally and ethically) programming anyway? It’s not as if we are in competition with the Chinese or Mexicans for cheaper import entertainment (or are we?). Just maybe if we appeal more to a child’s sense of entertainment, more kids wouldn’t be so quick to let go of their sense of youth.
And PTA types, let’s stop interfering in every little thing our kids do in the name “protecting them.” I can remember back in 2001, my ex-wife vehemently opposing my wanting to buy my then-stepsons motorized two-wheeled scooters, as they were the hot commodity in playthings back then. Her concern was that they “might fall off and hurt themselves,” to which I responded, “…and your point is…?” Before the horseless carriage kids fell off horses. Later in the 1970's, they fell off tricycles and Big Wheels, and in the 80s, they fell off BMX racers. When we grow up, as adults we fall off motorcycles. Its how kids—and human beings—learn the most enduring lesson of our existence…how to overcome tumbles, ignore the bruises that often come with them, and learn to ride again…on their own! Risk-taking is a part of life. Overparenting creates its own issues, including social akwardness (e.g., shyness), rebellion, anxiety, lack of maturity, and a sense-of self. Many psychologists agree.
Direct parental supervison is a necessity. We can no longer afford to allow our children to fend for themselves for the sake of fiscal household stability. If employers would be more open to looking at the big picture, and seeing the need for greater sympathy toward working parents, we would not have to allow X-Boxes, I-Pods, and Internets to substitute distraction for structure. And a natural extension of direct parental supervision is (here comes thay nasty word) discipline. We cannot be afraid to either adopt it or dish it...without interference from judgemental types and their subjective interpretations of what constitutes "old fashioned" or "abuse."
Every little smack on an unruly child's backside (or similar actions that are more involved) does not constitute a crime; most of us Generation-Xer's as well as our elders were reared by the hickory switch, and are better individuals for it. And by the same token, turning away from our children momentarily to see who tapped us on the shoulder does not constitutes neglect (like the Chicago-area mother who was arrested in March 2008 by an over-zealous police officer for "neglect"--stepping 20 feet away from her daughter to drop money in a Salvation Army kettle). Such an old school approach has substantive merit. Dr. Robert Larzelere, Ph.D. of Oklahoma State University concluded in his April 2007 published research that "There is no sound evidence scientific evidence to support anti-spanking bans." In fact, his research goes on to reveal that corporal punishment "compares unfavorably with alternatives only when used too severely or as the primary disciplinary action." Stern disciplining of children, with spanking as an option has been the standard (until recently) for nigh a thousand years and civilization has still managed to flourish, despite New Age opinions to the contrary. Anecdotal granted, but a proven truth.
Yes, children need supervision, but not over-doting. I’ve seen instances of parents driving their (obese) children a couple of blocks to school daily, reflexively defend their children whenever an frustrated teacher calls for a parent-teacher conference, and defend their unquestionably indefensible actions…all in the name of protecting them. Allow them to explore the world, both physically and philosophically. As a child, I remember some summer mornings where I and a group of neighborhood kids would gather together with some snacks, and ride out on our bikes, exploring areas of our town and surroundings that we were curious about, but had never had the opportunity to see, sometimes not arriving back home till the early evening…and this was before cell phones mind you. We were allowed to explore, and accept the consequences of our curiosities. We walked to school (in groups) in distances far beyond what today’s kids are permitted to do so, and despite the oft-heard dangers of strange men offering us candy from their cars, nothing happened. We knew and recognized the authority of teachers and administrators, who were professional, but not so much that they wouldn’t often adopt a paternal role in dealing with the more difficult among us…without trying to bed us down. And our parents recognized the obvious; that we as children lied, did stupid things, and were far from perfect…notions that seem not to resonate with today’s parents, who seem to think their children are not like “others” (yes…YOUR child/children as well as my own nieces/nephews).
Today, we have more gun control laws, and more school shootings. Less discipline and coporal punishment and less control over our children (just check out the latest episode of “Maury” to see just how seemingly out of control children are). Children have a more informal relationship with adults, and less respect for them (we’d rather be their “friends” as opposed to their mentors). It may seem a bitter pill to swallow among some, but the only way for childhood to begin to retake root in today’s children is if we as adults adopt a stance of benevolent tough love toward them, and develop a sense of shared responsibility among ourselves, no matter our particular station, and without the politicking and moral sanctimony. A chief tenet among Buddhist philosophy suggests that all of our earthly actions are interrelated, and that we do nothing in a vacuum. The practical application of this belief is that when we take from one area, we deprive another. Seemingly metaphysical, this outlook would seem to explain a great deal insofar as what’s happened to childhood in America. And until we as individuals—in spite of the American credo that we alone are solely responsible for our own actions—are able to grasp a firm hold of this spiritual principle, we will continue to see childhood in America go the way of the “good old days.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Special Commentary--What Happend To Childhood? Part 2

Because of changing economic realities and our own selfish wants and desires, we adults have blurred the distinction between what was once childhood and adulthood. During the 1980s, the term “latchkey child” was coined in small measure, to express the unappealing nature of the then-growing practice of children left alone at home after school due to working and or otherwise absent parents. Now, especially in urban areas of the country, its not unusual to hear or read accounts about how children are not only left alone for extended periods of time sans parental presence, but because some parents engage in drug/alcohol/party binges (or some other hedonistic pursuits) older children are forced to regularly play the role of substitute parent, cooking, dressing, and otherwise watching over their younger siblings. Partially out of the guilt of not giving quality time to our children—especially in the case of single working mothers—some adults have attempted giving the empty substitute of the material…over-advertised video game consoles, over-priced “kicks” (“sneakers” for the un-hip) made by underpaid foreigners, oversized televisions with a gazillion useless cable channels, and the like. This counterproductive practice only causes the need for parents to work more to pay for more. It also contributes further to the erosion of childhood in that children alone, babysat by the likes of Sony, Sega, and MTV grow up with the mindset that, because they have managed—somehow—to “take care of themselves” with minimal supervision that this somehow makes them the equal of adults.In addition to a lost sense of place within the family structure, our absence as adults has created a lack of structure for today’s child. No supervised daily routine—school, household chores, homework…then play (preferably in that order)—translates to a lack of discipline. Under this new culture, children and especially teens become quite resourceful when it comes to getting into trouble, which most don’t even expect to be punished for unless it is of such a severity that police and the courts become involved. And for the responsible parent who is fully aware of his/her obligation to discipline their unruly children, their desire to do so is often prohibited by interference from elements of the law. Take for example the 2007 attempt by California Assemblyman Sally Lieber to introduce a ban on spanking in that state’s legislature. In many other cases, children threaten to (or have so) call the authorities on their own parents for daring to do what’s been done in countless households for thousands of years of human existence…discipline them. We adults have—by eliminating both discipline and the threat of sanctions—given children the inevitable impressions that they are the equal of adults. Now, it’s PC for parents to talk, negotiate, or in some cases, plead with their children to do what’s expected of them, so why shouldn’t they think they are adults? At the risk of sounding like an anachronistic throwback from some bygone era, but in removing structure and discipline from their lives, we’ve taken away one of the primary distinctions which separate child from adult.While the absence of responsible adults has eroded childhood on one front, the presence of irresponsible adults has done so on another. And on this latter front, there is in turn a two-pronged assault which is eating away at childhood. One unit in this assault is the battalion of officials affiliated with our schools—principals, administrators, school board members, and the like, making decisions with counterproductive intents. Long-cherished merits such as personal achievement and initiative have been rendered meaningless in the face of attempts to make every child feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only are “awards” for every little action of note by a child gratuitously dropped in our schools like millions of leaflets from an pre-invading air force, but we have unceremoniously expanded the former rite-of-passage into adulthood known as “graduation” to include nearly every grade set (junior high, 6th grade, 3rd grade, even Kindergarten) in order to make every child feel special. No longer is graduation a recognition of “the first day of the rest our lives,” but another jaded ceremony (like going to church) that we force children to endure.The flanking unit of irresponsible adults attacking childhood does so in a more stealthily manner, like a special operations military unit engaging in guerilla warfare. Ironically, these self-serving types are those who try to live their own lives vicariously through the experiences of a child. Take for example the way in which parents shamelessly exploit their little girls in pint-sized beauty pageants, complete with copious amounts of adult makeup, heels, and evening gowns. Once upon a time, parents grinned in amusement as they peeked, hidden from view from around doorways, into their children’s bedrooms at the sight of their kids emulating adults in such a manner. And it’s easy to imagine under this scenario how parents would relish their children’s innocence, and would have no hesitation—even if it meant killing—at protecting them from being hurt or exploited, especially in a sexual manner. Today, parents have no problem pimping their kids—for whatever self-serving reasons they dream up in defense of such shameless exploitation—in such “contests.” Furthermore, many adult women have no qualms about dressing up as schoolgirls or some such, in an attempt to magnify both their sexual appeal and pleasure.We are thrilled with the daring of law enforcement (and their willing decoys) as they remove a seemingly endless stream of would-be child predators in front of hidden cameras. But, is it any wonder why we have a society peppered with sexual predators that prey on youngsters? We dress our children up as adults for various reasons, dress ourselves up as children for pleasure, blur the distinction between child and adult, and then expect sexual deviants not to think its ok to be attracted to our children? Such a social waving of red meat in front “hungry” animals, and an expectation that children would be protected by reason alone reflects a peculiar social logic thats yields no surprise at the disorder our selfish desires have wrought on childhood.

To Be Concluded...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Special Commentary--What Happened To Childhood? Part 1

I have something of a daily ritual which I all-but automatically perform in the small town here in Michigan where I reside. It consists of driving around to one of the newspaper boxes that pepper our small town to pick up a copy get a local daily paper. A simple enough activity, I habitually locate a box, jump out and drop a couple of quarters in the coin slot, pull out a single copy—sometimes scanning the front page for any news of particular note—and fetch the paper home for thorough reading through. Every so often during these daily treks, a particular news item will catch and hold my interests enough that find my eyes and mind focused on the item of note as I inch-by-inch my way back to the car. Recently, one of those news items held my attention enough that I didn’t even make it home to read the article, compelled instead to sit in my car and read the article played itself out recently as I went to fetch the paper.
On the front page, there was an article citing the sobering conclusions of a report released by the Michigan Department of Health (June 2008). According to the report, new HIV/AIDS diagnoses “among 13-to 24-year-olds almost doubled from 2002-2006, rising from 5.7 to 9.7 cases” per every 100,000 people. For a social crusader such as myself, these statistics were fairly alarming. I was forced to contemplate not just the immediate but the overall implications for everyone involved, especially children and young people. This appalling finding is just another in an ever-growing series of miseries that today’s youth find themselves forced to deal with. So as I sat in my car taking in the findings of the report, I began to make the inevitable comparisons to my own childhood. While kids nowadays have to deal with issues such as HIV/AIDS and increasing poverty within their ranks, at 13, the most I had to about was whether or not I had had the Chicken Pox before, or where to get the money to buy the next issue of my favorite comic book, the X-Men worry (this is not to say my formative years were a picnic…far from it)
Children nowadays face so many more complex problems that they seem to be literally pushed out of the birth canal and into the unforgiving arms of adulthood. As for the period in between—that important part where childhood once took place—it no longer seems to be relevant in a world where adults have just about driven it to the brink of extinction. And since the symbolic end of my own childhood back in 1985, the year I graduated high school, I’ve observed so many changes in the lives of American children that I find myself what has happened to childhood in America? I would think that the answer was rather obvious. Since its sure bet that—when it was around—children themselves never voted to eliminate the innocence of their own childhoods, that adults are responsible for the destruction of childhood in America.
Only as recently as the 20-something years since the end of my own childhood, adult-controlled pop culture still had the built-in measures which firmly reinforced childhood. For example, back then we had the weekly ritual of Saturday Morning Children’s Television, whereby we would sit glued to the family TV for hours at a time, with commercial breaks showcasing products geared toward us. And in between the many cartoons and occasional live-action programs we enjoyed, there were subconscious reminders that we were kids. There was the smooth, yet authoritative voice of the late Christopher Glen recapping the weeks’ major newsworthy events on the 60-second newsmagazine “In the News,” which reminded us that there was a world beyond the fiction of Saturday morning TV that grown-ups controlled. We also received supplemental lessons to the Three “R’s” we got in school in the form of the animated teachings of Schoolhouse Rock, which stressed that as kids we still had things to learn (and many of us Generation Xers can still recite most, if not all of the familiar tunes that carried these lessons). As an added bonus, sometimes, these children shows spilled over into the less exciting, but still cherished Sunday morning television. These programs entertained our young minds in ways that appealed to the kid in us.
Today, that particular childhood custom is gone. Now, as if the many 24-hour cable news channels weren’t enough, Saturday (and Sunday) morning television is nothing more than more adult-geared news…an addendum to the saturation of doom-n-gloom reporting of the week that tattles on adults to children of how painfully real a place the world is. In most television markets, the weekend network news is just a chaser; today’s children are given a snoot full of local news before the shot of network news programming. And then there are the various syndicated specialty programs that deal with adult-world issues such as finances, sports, community forums, even hunting and fishing have their own have time slots that were once occupied by children programming. Furthermore, back in the day during weekday mornings and afternoons, there were also animated programs that had moral and/or object lessons embedded within or at the end of the shows; He-Man, G.I. Joe, and the Super Friends come to mind, despite the conflicts that evolved during the storylines. Now, such responsible programming has been replaced with a torrent of shows centering on adult conflict (e.g., Divorce Court, Judges Brown/Hatchett/Judy/Christina/Mathis/Whoever), meaningless gossip (“Entertainment [using the term loosely] Tonight”), or—you guessed it—more news. And let us not forget the king of “instructional” television, The Jerry Springer Show, that catering-to-the-lowest-denominator masterpiece which instructs children that the best way to solve any “adult” dispute is through sponsor-loving, ratings-inflating foul language and physical confrontation…the final 30 seconds he dedicates to rational thought notwithstanding.
Now, if I were reading this rant rather than writing it, I would probably be thinking along the same lines as you are probably at this moment: “It’s just harmless television.” “It’s a matter of personal responsibility.” Etc. However, having been a full time substitute teacher in our public schools for a couple of years, I witnessed firsthand the effects of such “harmless” television has on impressionable children. On more than one occasion during a lull in classroom work, some of my middle school students would begin making use of their unexpected free time by shouting, “Let’s play ‘Jerry Springer’…you be the cheating boyfriend!” On yet another occasion, a group of female students in the same general age group wanted to “play” The Flavor of Love; they would pretend to argue and fight over one of the boys in the class, who would portray ex-rapper slash faux celebrity Flavor Flav...was thus resolving in an “adult” manner which woman would get her man.
We adults have only ourselves to blame for this distorted view that children have of what it means to be an adult. Because of our changing definition of what constitutes “entertainment,” along with our warped desire for notoriety, is it any surprise that today’s youth can’t appreciate the seriousness of their graver actions, such as the mass shootings at Columbine…actions that were once carried out exclusively by some adult social deviant in an otherwise sane society? We televise no-holds-barred tough men contests, people devouring live (and repulsive-looking) insects for the chance at a million dollars, and the latest celebrity sex-tape (which always seem to manage to somehow find it way into the waiting hands of media outlets) and wonder why teenagers post criminal assaults on You Tube, risk their lives engaging in stunts of horseplay (also sometimes posted on the ‘Tube), and engage in alarming amounts of casual sex that results in further televising of the answer to the question, Who’s My Baby’s Daddy?” Furthermore, the sometimes sanctimonious ideologies of some adults don’t help spur childhood interest in what few remaining children’s programming that remains; whether its criticism of Harry Potter’s “promotion” of witchcraft, or of a purse-toting “gay” Teletubbie looking to convert children over to the “Homosexual Agenda.”


To Be Continued...