The Worship of Sports in America

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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."

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

With all the hubbub about potential financial meltdowns, skyrocketing unemployment numbers, and questionable wars taking up space front and center in the daily headlines, many of the news stories pushed into our peripheral vision are those which speak about who we are as a society…about where our individual and collective priorities lay. The following points represent what I call, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of our modern times.


The Good - For those of you who regularly watch any of the daily network news programs, or who pay a visit to Beyond The Spectrum’s sister page on You Tube, you have undoubtedly noticed what a black eye Wall Street and other financial institutions have given themselves of late. With hat-in-hand, many of these institutions came begging to the federal government for an infusion of taxpayer money meant to provide stabilize as a result of their bad business investments, chief among them loaning money to risky borrowers en masse. At the same time, the CEO’s and other high ranking employees of these financially teetering institutions were giving themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and other perks of excess.
However, flying under the radar of cloud of bad news was the very good deed of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A self-made millionaire, Bloomberg, according to the most recent release of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the donated some $235 million dollars of his own money to over 1,200 different charities in 2008, making him the most single charitable donor in the United States. So we tip our hats off to His Honor. It’s nice to see that there is still some humanity left among America’s financially blessed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/nyregion/27bloomberg.html?_r=1&sq=philanthropy&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=print

The Bad – Actually, two stories tied notoriety for this category, both coming from Michigan. The first is the death of a 93-year-old man; not an unusual expectation given his advanced age. However, it is the manner of death that is most telling about what our priorities as a society. Mr. Marvin Schur (I prefers to use his full name and title, at least to preserve some dignity in the face of his ignominious passing), according the Oakland County Medical Examiner, froze to death in his Bay City, Michigan home a few days after having his home’s electrical consumption limited by the local power utility for $1,000 in unpaid bills, not totally unexpected (again) due to his advanced age and limited income.
According to the neighbor who found Schur’s body, “his furnace was not running, the insides of his windows ere full of ice the morning we found him.” I guess America consumes not just it’s young.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090126/ap_on_re_us/frozen_indoors

The second piece of bad news from the state which currently has the highest unemployment rate (and as if it could tolerate more bad news) was the idiotic ruling by the state’s Court of Appeals. In a case brought by Lansing School District middle school teachers, the court ruled that disciplinary actions taken against students are [exclusively] within the school local school board. The case is based on the actions of the local board who failed to expel students for assaulting teachers by throwing chairs at them; they were simply suspended and allowed to return some time afterwards. For those who criticize the effectiveness of our public schools for preparing our children academically to compete in a globally-integrated and competitive economy, consider the conditions they are forced to work under.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200990128052

The Ugly-Finally, the soap opera that has become Illinois politics is finally over. Late yesterday, the Illinois House voted to impeach now ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. Days before yesterday’s action, the disgraced Blagojevich had gone on a Hail Mary PR blitz in an effort to save his job. Accused of attempting to sell now President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, he had hired a Tampa-based PR firm—the same one contracted by social pariah and suspected wife murderer, former police sergeant Drew Peterson—to create a campaign designed to win over American sympathy in the face of then-mounting calls for him to step down. Perhaps what made his ill-conceived media blitz to alter his public image ugly was his protestation that his “persecution” put him in the same company as “Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Ghandi.” Furthermore, there was the “revelation” that he was going to offer the seat to talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, which even Stevie Wonder could see she was never going to accept, but opted to select another high-profile African-American, Roland Burris to replace Obama). But upon looking at the debacle objectively, unseen was the apparent pattern of invoking high profiles African-American names in his attempt to gain public favor. I submit the reason for this was due to African-Americans’ sense of undying loyalty to the Democratic Party as well as their sense of forgiving and [re-] embracing unsavory types.
After his acquittal in the mid 1990’s former football great O.J Simpson was cheered and embraced by the black community; he even traveled around the country, speaking at predominantly black churches. Michael Jackson was given the same treatment after his acquittal of molestation charges, and, in like fashion, was well-received at black churches. In a more related example, ex-Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry was re-elected and re-embraced by the people of the overwhelmingly black and Democratic nation’s capital, despite having been convicted of federal charges related to his often-seen video tape of his smoking crack in a hotel room with an undercover informant. Clearly, Blagojevich has not only been watched over the past couple months, but he has been watching as well.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=6723687&page=1

Monday, January 19, 2009

Black Males & the “Obama Effect”

The day after the 2008 Elections, Beyond The Spectrum briefly—albeit cynically—explored the possibility of whether the successful election of Barack Obama would have a positive impact on the self-image of African-Americans in general, and male in particular. Given Obama’s stylish panache, professionalism, ability to articulate, and his upbringing—a narrative of the trials of single parenthood applicable to many such homes within the black community—there has been a lot made of what I shall call the “Obama Effect.” I define this would-be phenomenon as the potential for Obama’s current appeal and mainstream success to translate into inspiration among black males to the point where many would want to emulate him.
On this particular day, the Martin Luther King Holiday, and the day before the country’s first African-American takes the Oath of Office, it seems the urge to explore this notion has taken root among the mainstream media. On this morning’s National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning Edition, Comedian Bill Cosby and noted psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussiant are interviewed on the subject of black male role models in the form of responsible black fathers
(listen to the podcast of this interview online at: http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=99546330&m=99546606).
For their part, the duo has been challenging the counter-productive negative self-images and mindsets that many lower-income blacks have in their 2007 book, Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. In fact, their co-authorship of this book (and high-profile spokesmen on the subject of negative black self-image) has found them making the rounds on many news programs, particularly since Cosby raised the ire of many traditional African-American leaders with his 2004 speech at an N.A.A.C.P. gala berating many self-defeating deficiencies within the black community, such speaking in Ebonics and associating good grades with “acting white.”
On this morning’s Today Show, NBC aired a couple of pieces with a similar overall theme. In one mini segment, Obama himself suggested that young black males should “pull your pants up,” a reference to the Urban-originated fashion “trend” of “sagging.” At the risk upsetting those wearing rose-colored glasses, I have my reservations as to whether Obama’s elegance will be a source of inspiration for those unfortunate young black males without the benefit of benevolent intervention, guidence, or self-motivation . My reservations come from the constant ignoring of rational thinking I find in many black urban males; consider fashion as an example.

video

Even before Obama, the black community was brimming with well-dressed black males of distinction. The beliefs, mannerisms, and overall demeanor of these would-be role models represented the gamut of socio-political thought; there was a potential role model for whatever social-political persuasion one sought to affiliate themselves with. On one end of the spectrum, mainstream role models such as community activists and pastors provides not only a spiritual base within the black community, but social activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, both articulate and elegant in their own ways, represented those the more—relatively speaking—radical end of the role model spectrum.
Even today, many Hip-Hop moguls such as Jay-Z and 50 Cent have traded their previously preferred sense of street-inspired urban “gear” and gaudy “bling” for the more conservative look of tailored suits and ties. Among this latter set, the adoption of a more conservative approach to the symbolic trappings of success as well as adopting a more reserved behavior devoid of constant high-profile run-ins with the law signifies an evolution of thinking that the majority of Hip-Hop entrepreneurs have seemingly gone out of their way to ignore. And sadly, as Hip-Hop goes, so to does the mindset of those who idolize the counter-productive thinking and negative imagery of these individuals. Keeping in mind that “clothes make the man,” and that appearance is an indicator of the desire for success, the fact that so many black men fail to adopt a manner of dress that is conducive for success in a world where everyone else is seemingly passing them by in terms socioeconomic mobility, the issue seems to reflect that any effect which Obama could have as a factor for inspiration for a great deal of African-Americans is not forthcoming.
In this pathology of thinking, the advice and inspiration of the Cosbys and the Obamas, which many black parents are obviously failing notice or even emphasize is ignored, if not altogether marginalized within many segments of the black community. And until such time as many African-Americans learn to engage in meaningful introspection and dialogue as well as question their collective thinking as it relates to roles models, values, aspirations, and personal goals, pants will continue to “sag,” along with grades, and the hopes that under- and counter-productive black males will, instead of being inspired to look up will continue with to be infatuated with all things being “down” (pants included). Until such time, we can add the “Obama Effect” to other would-be pipe-dreams such as world peace, an end to world hunger, and the Cubs in the World Series.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Here Comes The Fuzz!

As a—for the most part—law abiding citizen, I am every bit a supporter of having a competent, professional police department protecting and serving us. It’s an often difficult, often thankless as well as dangerous profession that I myself would not want to perform. However as a minority male, seemingly always the target of questionable police actions, I must confess that my feelings are somewhat conflicted. Quite often, when I hear about instances of police misconduct such as the several high-profile examples in the news in recent times, I am torn between applauding their protection, and being appalled by the prospect of needing protection from them. Sadly, given the examples of unprofessional behavior exhibited by various police departments around the country, it’s not as if anyone’s hesitation to support all law enforcement activity isn’t without reason.


- This past Wednesday, a federal judge ordered the arrest of Morgan County Alabama Sheriff Greg Bartlett after skinny and underfed inmates testified that their ill-health and emaciated appearance was due to being fed illegally small food portions, ordered by Bartlett. Still more unbelievable was the fact that the Bartlett was acting totally within the limits of Alabama law, which permits letting sheriffs pocket money left over from feeding (or in this case, underfeeding) inmates, which he did to the tune of $212,000 over 3 years (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/01/07/national/main4706215.shtml?source=RSSattr=HOME_4706215)


- On New Years Day in Oakland, California, unarmed Oscar Grant III was shot and killed by one of the city’s transit officers. What makes this tragedy stand out is that at least four transit riders who were witness to the shooting caught the incident on their cell phone cameras, which showed grant lying down on the pavement, handcuffed and apparently not resisting. This shooting led to civil unrest this week in downtown Oakland.
video




- In recent weeks in Berrien County, Michigan, county prosecutors were forced to petition the court to dismiss some 15 drug-related cases because of federal charges pending against a former police officer for, among other allegations, embezzling money and drugs from the Benton Harbor, Michigan police department. The officer in question, Andrew Collins, is alleged to have given false information in arrest reports as well as perjured testimony, which led to the dismissals.


Admittedly I’m no police officer, and as a consequence, am in no position to second guess the professional judgment of one, especially in crisis situations. However, I am aware of ethical human behavior and know that withholding meals from individuals to the point of ill-health, shooting unarmed men in already in custody, and stealing money & drugs do not require rocket-science-level thinking. As a society, we hold police officers to such a high level of esteem that we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, in most cases, where their actions give pause for scrutiny. But one has to wonder that if tangible proof in the aforementioned (as well as other) cases were not available, would our predisposition to give these public servants the benefit of the doubt when it comes to acting within the law and the bounds of their duty blind us to official misconduct and dereliction of their duties? Even beyond wonder, a level of cynical scrutiny should be applied to this observation. Considering that police officers are fully aware that in this modern era of information and technological proliferation, dashboard-mounted video recorders, cell phone cameras, and internet-based websites that afford worldwide distribution of any newsworthy incident they are involved in, some bad apples still act with reckless and unprofessional abandon. It’s almost as if such a mindset reflects a level of arrogance that their more questionable actions will be not only understood by a public that is fear-ridden of being crime victims, but that such actions will be dismissed as being within the scope of their duty to “serve and protect.” It doesn’t help that police officers under such scrutiny will always fall back on the customary defense of, “You don’t understand what it’s like to be a police office (in a neighborhood where you’re not respected/liked).” Honestly I don’t, and I’ll wager that neither do most people who put their lives on the line on a daily basis. However, I do understand that anyone given discretion to act in defense of the law, who are armed with guns, tasers, nightsticks, body armor, backup, and other assorted implements capable of inflicting major injury or death are expected to act with a higher level of professional judgment and due care. Although no amount of training or screening can prevent every potential instance of police misconduct, such cases should signify a need to increase the standards and levels of training when it comes to recruiting police officers, especially in high crime areas. At the very least, a minimal of an Associates Degree should be required for those entrusted with protecting both their own lives as well as those of the public they serve, with perhaps an emphasis on sociology. Supplementing the education requirement should be ethics training, where failure would immediately disqualify a candidate. Probationary periods, where rookies are teamed up with veterans, should be extended. And (I know this one will elicit catcalls of disapproval) there should be a requirement that at least 50% of the street level police officers in any given area should be comprised of residents from that area. The logic of this last suggestion is that people from a particular area often have a particular view or insight of their neighborhood that outsiders would not. Finally, to prevent bad officers from hopping from one jurisdiction (where he/she is terminated for misconduct) only to find employment in another, there should be a national database listing such officers and their records, including reprimands, awards, and other performance distinctions. As a minority male, I am sad to say that I will never have the same admiration and respect for the police as I did when as a child. However, with a higher standard of qualifications for the police officers out there protecting my interests, I can at least gain a small level comfort knowing that the man or woman behind the badge won’t be as quick to mistake my reaching for my wallet as threat to his or her life…or my own.


What has your experience with the police been like? Post Comments.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Since We’re Bailing Out…

I suppose it’s somewhat symbolic that I have started writing this particular piece at 4 minutes to midnight on December 31. So as we leave what’s left of 2008, its hard not to reflect back on what has been a tumultuous year—something of a criminal understatement—in the financial world, culminating in scandals and bailouts.
In the coming year, not only can we anticipate more financial upheavals, but also attempts by state and local governments to stem this all-but-fated turmoil. But with all the talk bailouts, transfers of public funds intended to prop-up various failing institutions, and (possibly) embattled homeowners facing an avalanche of foreclosures, it seems that we are overlooking another possible candidate for a bailout: overburdened college graduates saddled with student loan debt.
Now before any of you Shelby Steele clones or Ayn Rand wannabes decide to slap me with the oh-so predictable label of “Socialist,” I am not talking about a wholesale bailout of everyone who’s ever taken out a student loan and failed to pay back this legal and moral obligation up to this point in time. What I’m suggesting is providing some relief to those who are being victimized by this current and unprecedented era of rapid changes in the marketplace that would have anyone hard-pressed to keep up as they struggle to survive.
Admittedly on the surface, this sounds like a ridiculous idea. But given the changing economic tides (and fortunes) of the nation, individuals—and families by extension—already fiscally fatigued from fighting the combined assault by the rising costs of consumer prices, loss of employment (due to off-shoring of labor/rapidly changing market trends), taxes, credit availability, and mortgage difficulties, are desperate for relief from just trying to stay in the shadow of the American Dream.
I’m not talking about helping to bail out irresponsible homeowners with risky credit ratings who shouldn't’t have been allowed anywhere near a mortgage application to begin with. What I’m suggesting is a morally sound level of financial assistance in the form of hardship-based debt forgiveness for those of us whom—it turns out—were sold a bill of goods insofar as the value of a college degree as it relates socioeconomic advancement. This is particularly true for those of us reared on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder who find ourselves waiting tables, sweeping floors, substitute teaching, or similarly and/or chronically underemployed instead of benefiting from an education meant to move us past our humble beginnings.
What I’m talking about specifically is a case-by-case analysis of each student in debt. Any debt relief should be contingent upon the total amount owed, the average annual income of the student since graduating college in relation to expected earning potential (all things being equal, only those who've actually graduated would be eligible, and even then, dependent on the aforementioned requirements), and an assessment of any and all honest attempts to make regular payments.
One form of a bailout for student loans recipients could be a graduated schedule, similar to the type used in one of the various repayment plans already in use. The level of forgiveness could be based on anticipated overall employment trends in relation to the likelihood that the debtor could conceivably find employment on a level which would enable both repayment the loans as well as afford modest level of living. In extreme cases, such as a history of chronic unemployment/underemployment, cutting the unpaid balance would go a long way toward helping those already struggling to make ends meet.
Exempt from this plan would be those individuals who have been fortunate enough to parlay their college experiences and degrees into career success. Also exempt would be those in with specific degrees that lead to immediate professional and semi-professional careers, such as teachers, social workers, nurses, and the like.
Agreed bailouts are a slippery slope. But if we're going to talk about bailing out individuals with risky credit ratings being given loans on houses they couldn't afford in the first place, and lenders, many of who employ executives with salaries which afford them over-the-top lifestyles and—unwarranted in many instances—golden parachute severance packages routinely running in the multi millions of dollars from these same bad loans, then why not help those of us who were only trying to make an honest go of things?
The mostly ideologically-based arguments against bailing out institutions such as the automobile manufacturers and lenders (with financial implications for the nation as a whole) and of individuals (such as those struggling with failed mortgage and student loan recipients) are somewhat predictable. One such argument is that students irresponsibly borrow money for college knowing that these loans are backed by government guarantees and the assumption that it (the government) will never run out of money. This unlimited availability of funds is what is believed to contribute to rising college costs, and a resulting lack of cost controls.
This argument assumes that people are predictable, which like the marketplace, they are not. Every bit player throughout every institution along the chain of economic production is hard to predict. That includes bankers who may risk making bad loans to risky debtors, company executives making bad business decisions, and the lowly worker trying to obtain a semblance of some part of the American Dream. Somewhere along this chain, people decide they want to move up both socially and economically and enroll in college with the hopes of doing so. Most sensible people, knowing full well that they must work to earn a living, know that they have to work in the repayment of student debt with their aspirations of living better. But again, people are not predictable…from the fickle job interviewer to those making the decision to move their companies offshore to lessen their labor costs.
In recent years, this unpredictability in both people and shifting economic market/employment trends has reached critical mass, culminating in what a recent piece by CNN.com revealed as a “record number of unemployed college graduates seeking work” (See “Have Degree-And Pink Slip.” http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/05/news/economy/degreed_workers/index.htm?postversion=2008120514)
Harder to understand is why such a suggestion for debt relief, considering that it would benefit the Middle Class (the group whom politicians love to pander to) the most has not even been given the benefit of a trial balloon to test its receptiveness by the American public? Probably because, like the notion of universal health care, it would receive almost overwhelming support from all but the most ideologically intransigent of die hard Free-Marketeers. Harder still is why even staunch conservatives wouldn’t be receptive to this idea, since most are always quick to articulate how fair it is to “put money back into the pockets of hard-working Americans?
If you look at it logically, student loan debt relief for those whose academic success has failed to translate into socioeconomic upward mobility would benefit the nation as a whole. We wouldn’t have to lower taxes, and have services suffer as a result. And struggling student debtors not forced to cough up anywhere up to several hundred dollars a month in a likewise struggling economy would be freed to spend scarce dollars on more items of necessity, which would halt the anticipated bloodbath of retailers expected to close in 2009 due to record-setting abysmal sales of this past holiday season. Lastly, such a gesture would go a long ways toward eliminating the cynicism that the average American harbors toward the government’s seeming favor to help out Big Business and the well-heeled at the expense of the average hard-working Little Man.
As I look up at the clock, it’s now 1:01 am…America, do you know where you priorities are? Here’s to the possibility of a progressive 2009.