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."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's Wrong With Doing Right? Part 2

Continued From Part 1...

When I look at the country, I see a country that allows for unlimited potential for the individual willing to exert—what has increasingly become necessary for success—a Herculean amount effort in order to overcome social and economic impediments. Granted, many individuals fail because of bad personal decisions, an equal number fail due to the conflicting individual and/or group ideologies of those who legislate on our behalf and their supporters. Needless to say, this creates a paralysis of over-analysis and promotion of individual interests of those whose desires run counter to the greater need. Take for example the need for universal health care.
Whenever someone proposes a solution to the issue of the lack of health care for the 45-50 million Americans without it, I find that ideologically-based hair-splitting tends to come into play to dispute the numbers, or to malign any possible legislation and implementation of any policy addressing that would address this inequality. On the conservative-leaning websites that I frequent, those opposed to redressing this issue often cite “many of those without health insurance are illegal aliens/undocumented residents,” which may be true. But those numbers come directly from the U.S. Census Bureau, and I doubt that there are enough illegal residents to skew those numbers to the point where their validity become questionable. And given my own experiences in working with nonprofit organizations, I personally know far more individuals living without insurance—affordable or otherwise—than those who have any significant level of coverage…and I’ll wager that most of those reading this piece fall into the same dynamic. But many of those of a conservative ideologically are simply not willing to think, look, or even step outside their own personally-held beliefs and experiences to see that there is a completely different reality for a great many Americans, and one not tied to poor personal decision-making (just ask those growing numbers among the Middle Class who are finding it increasingly harder to choose between eating, mortgage, and health care coverage). Such a mindset creates a blind support for any ideology which would challenge such a progressive cause, and invariably leads to demonizing any proposition which would address it. With the issue of health care, one needs only mention tackling this issue with a prescribed solution in order to hear the labels “socialism” or “socialized medicine” in order to maintain a sacred free market status quo that clearly isn’t working for many.
On the other side of the coin, while those coming from a conservative ideological perspective cannot comprehend that the free market cannot solve every socioeconomic issue, those with liberal leanings do not understand that the government cannot either. With respect to this notion, the issue of taxing and spending public money in order to balance social and economic inequities—with the exception of these unprecedented times—is not a policy that can bode well for the country. I’m a firm believer that true change is a matter of unimpaired rational personal decisions. To this effect, funding for programs which assist or supplement those of limited economic means is necessary for some, due to more variables than I can list here. However, I do not condone enabling via social programs. We should assist those of limited means to the point where it is necessary and realistic; just throwing dollars at a problem or disqualifying someone from help just because they make 5 dollars more than the maximum cut-off figure does nothing to address an issue. At the same time, I’m personally more of a proponent of putting curbs and other forms of fiscal restraint on spending rather than putting the brakes on taxing. But these opposing political philosophies of reckless open-spending and the self-serving calls of cutting taxes (i.e., “putting money back in the pockets of the people”) do nothing but add to the lunacy of political inaction. In addition, most of the time, this conflict of ideologies results in half-crafted policies that are borne more out of political compromise rather than pragmatic need.
And because those who hold their political ideologies so dear are unable to think outside the ethos that they create in their minds, their actions become self-serving to the point where they are more a victim of both, their own thinking and circumstances rather than master of either. Perhaps the examples of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman demonstrate this best. Specter’s affiliation switch Tuesday from the Republican to the Democratic Party, and Lieberman’s decision to run in the general election of 2006 as a third party candidate—the former because of his anticipated inability to win re-election in 2010 as a Republican, and the latter because of his loss in the primaries earlier that election year due to his unpopular support of the war in Iraq—exemplify how holding dear to a set of ideological beliefs can reveal the true colors of political self-interest in the name of (primarily) holding onto one’s public office and (secondarily) promoting blindly these beliefs. This sounds more like self-service than “public service.”
It seems every election cycle throughout America, perennial disenchantment with the way in which our elected legislators act on “our behalf” is revealed in our reverberating chants of “throw the bums out!’ Although a good idea, we must more importantly take the ideological elements out of policymaking. We must learn to out-shout, talk over, and ignore the voices of those who feel that governing based on ideology will bring an end to the problems we face rather than simply attempting to address the problems with competent, pragmatic, and logical legislation and problem-solving. While idealism is fine, a My-Way-Is-Better-Than-His approach does nothing more than divide, and allows problems such as inaction to conquer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What's Wrong With Doing Right? Part 1

Earlier last week, the Obama Administration released a Bush Administration-era memo revealing both the techniques and the guidelines for its policy of interrogating terror suspects…what critics to this policy call torture. While I am opposed to the notion of torturing criminal suspects in order to obtain confessions or other information—in principle—I fully endorse it (in a relative sense) in the defense of American citizens and to prevent another 9-11-type attack. What I mean is, as far as I am concerned, questionable techniques for obtaining information for the aforementioned reasons are excusable…insofar as they do not result in physical mutilation/permanent physical damage or death.
Why is this an issue on Beyond The Political Spectrum? In and of itself it is not. However, there is something questionable about the revelation of information to the world at large, and to potential terrorists in particular about the lengths and limits the country will go to in order to defend itself and keep its citizens safe. If a potential terrorist plot is uncovered and suspects are rounded up and interrogated, what good is the need to try to obtain information about co-conspirators or knowledge of similar plots when the suspects know what’s going to happen to them and how far their interrogators are willing to go in order to extract information needed to foil a threat? This action seems geared toward appeasing those on the political left who were not fond of the Bush Administration’s policy on (certain aspects of) the War on Terror. The politics surrounding the release of this memo is an example of why it’s so hard for government to do the right (read: “practical”) thing…namely our ever-present need to put politics, political ideologies, and personal desires ahead of what’s needed.
This is not meant to pick on only liberal Democrats; I find conservative Republicans even more complicit in the ideological and political tit-for-tat which stymies pragmatic policymaking. There is something abhorrent about a group which seeks to govern based on ideological principle rather than reality, and history is replete with examples of why this should be avoided…the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Apartheid government of South Africa, etc. Granted these are extreme examples, the dynamics are pretty much the same…policy over need. Take for example the touchy subject of gay marriage.
Personally, I think the notion of two men or two women marrying each other is as wrong as two left shoes (I'm not going to pretend that I understand what homosexuality is. I have my own theories, but I will save them for another time and another argument), especially considering that most of us can agree that the Founding Fathers didn’t fathom the notion when they crafted the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, nor was it even contemplated when it came to the 14th Amendment—the equal protection clause. However, its safe to assume that gay people aren’t going anywhere soon, nor is it likely that they will cease their continual attempts to address the “right” to marry someone of the same sex, simply because it offends our religious and/or cultural mores. Yet conservative ideologues continually adhere to their personally-held beliefs that homosexuality is a biblically-proven immoral lifestyle, and therefore continue to ignore the demands of homosexual activists for total social equality. Whatever one’s philosophical beliefs are, the fact is that an ideologically-based party or group, especially one that is in power, cannot be given the green light to ignore an entire segment of a population based solely on personally-held beliefs. If anything, some kind of compromise should be struck to the point where the solution doesn’t violate the traditional sanctity of marriage, but at the same time recognizes some kind of civil union or civil recognition of domestic partnerships that would allow for benefits to be shared between partners (and for their part, gay activists need to concede that their cause and lifestyles are choices which should be protected by law, but not sanctioned by law to such a ridiculous degree. There is something existentially limiting about anyone who's identity is based on their sexuality rather than their humanity).
Part of the problem with political ideology being the root of policy paralysis is plain old political and personal selfishness. This was why both the U.S. and the world stood idly by during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. While the Clinton Administration split hairs on the distinction between what was actually occurring in the African nation—genocide—and what definition would safely keep it from sending American and other Western troops as per the United Nations charter —“acts of genocide”—some 800,000 ethnic Tutsi (and sympathizers) would be slaughtered while the world did nothing. Granted, America and President Clinton were still smarting from the highly-publicized death of U.S. soldiers during the during the ill-fated U.S.-led peacekeeping mission Somalia from the previous year, what was occurring in the African nation was a humanitarian crisis on a scale that hadn’t been seen since the 2nd World War, and demanded a equally humanitarian response if only for the reason that it was the right thing to do. But as with most thing that involve policy, we allow our ideological and/or personal beliefs to get in the way of doing the right thing. We like to say that we "love America," but how many of us are willing to set aside our desires for political power, to advance our ideological agendas, or our selfish desires to make it a better place?

To Be Concluded

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Nation of Whiners - Part 3 (Conclusion)

After his 2003 HBO special, Victory Begins at Home, comedian and social commentator Bill Maher caught no small deal of flack for his harsh critique of our morphing social values, which has resulted in—in his words—the “feminization of America.” By this, Maher noted that America as a nation has become a place where sensitivity is more important than truth, and feelings are more important than facts. The more dogmatically adherent or PC-bound among those who hear this would conclude that such words were the rantings of a Neolithic-era misogynist; a more open-minded person would see that there is a great deal of truth behind them.
From job interviews to the Bully Pulpit of politics, we Americans would rather hear what sounds pleasant rather than what has validity…what makes us swoon rather than what makes us suspicious. This mindset has carried over into almost every aspect of our daily life, as evidenced by our daily walk over eggshells in order to avoid saying something which may offend those who elect us to office, those who hire for employment us, or even those who are supposed to teach us. Truth, humor, or—God forbid—the freedom to speak one’s mind no longer seems to matter; all that matters is the single-minded social mandate not to hurt someone’s oh-so-precious feelings. It’s gotten so that anyone can be offended by anything that anybody says at anytime. As a result of this evolving (or devolving) "need" to put our emotions in the driver's seat, so to speak, the need to express opinions or glean facts suffers. The ability to critically analyze and think suffers. The idea of free speech suffers. The need to tolerate what are (questionably) intolerable thoughts and ideas suffer. And in the end, progress suffers…or do I have to mention that at one time, a great many ideas and words that we were, at one time, quick to malign as “offensive” have become a part of mainstream thinking.
There is nothing wrong with having passion for a cause or idea that we hold dear. The problem arises when we make those ideas so sacrosanct that we attack and malign anyone we perceive to assail them (shades of Galileo being threatened with execution by the then-all-powerful Catholic Church for daring to question the "divine" belief that the sun revolved around the Earth). America was founded on the idea of the FREE EXCHANGE OF IDEAS, which in a less-than-perfect world, should occur without censor or sanction. The bottom line is that just because something offends someone doesn’t mean that it should not be said, nor does it mean that what is said is inherently wrong just because it "offends" us. We're "appalled" when President Obama compares his poor bowling skills to a Special Olympics level of play, but we all but ignore the continuous stream of taped messages from Bin Laden & Co., that warn us infidels of the next wave of impending attacks on American interests...clearly our "sensitivities" are misplaced.
The solutions lay in the fact that we as individuals need to expect the truth at times, as opposed to “correct answers,” understand the context in which something is said, look at the intent of the statement rather than its emotional effect on you, and, for God’s sake, grow up! Not everything someone says is meant to be offensive. Sometimes, we have to take utterances at face value. If we have problems with words, thoughts, and ideas which—without intent—offend us, one has to wonder how in the world we are going to deal with the same uttered by individuals who truly are out to hurt us. Are we to curl up into a fetal position in the nearest dark corner, like frightened little girls, sucking our thumbs whenever someone hurts or offends our “sensitivities,” or do we “cowboy-up” like adults…whom at one time were admired for their physical and emotional toughness?

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Nation of Whiners - Part 2

So, since it’s now known that Americans have become so overly sensitive when it comes to virtually any public statement made in the course of expressing one’s opinion that we are, in essence, a nation of crybabies and whiners, does that mean that we shouldn’t become offended at something untoward that someone says? Of course not. The problem lies in the fact we fail to recognize the context in which, the intent of, or the merit of what someone says; we reactively go right into a mode of thought and actions which force us to conclude, “That’s offensive.”
Here’s the difference. As an African-American, I was not at all offended when the always controversial animated series South Park aired a true-to-it’s-form ire-raising episode “With Respect to Jesse Jackson” in March of 2007. For those who aren’t familiar with the episode, it was a tongue-in-cheek look at the use of the N-word in response to Seinfeld alumnus Michael Richard’s now infamous N-Word-laden tirade against a heckler at a comedy nightclub, which was caught on camera and subsequently broadcast worldwide. The episode turned the tables on racial bigotry via role reversal; a white man was put in the position of social pariah for his “accidental” use of the N-word on The Wheel of Fortune as he sought to solve a puzzle.
My lack of personal offense to the episode’s generous use of the N-word was due to the way in which I viewed it. I was totally cognizant of the context in which it was used…social commentary by use of parodying one of the more ridiculous aspects of real life.

On the other hand, it was a little harder for me to accept director Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word in the movie classic, Pulp Fiction. In one scene, assassins Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta’s characters inadvertently shoot an unexpected black hostage in the head (while matter-of-factly trying to have a conversation) in the back of their moving getaway car, creating a gruesome mess that’s sure to draw unwanted attention. Jackson’s character seeks the assistance of a fellow acquaintance in the underworld—a man of obvious Italian descent married to a black nurse—to help get rid of any and all incriminating evidence related to the cold-blooded shooting. Angry that the two assassins would dare to show up at his home (and at the risk of his wife finding out), the man openly displays his hostility to the gall of such a move by saying, “…and you bring a dead nigger to my house knowing that my wife is going to be home soon…! Or words to that effect. Call me a little nit-picky, but that exchange seemed to be totally gratuitous. It asked me as a movie-goer to suspend my belief a bit too much; a white man married to a black woman, using the N-word around an angry black assassin? It totally lacked artistic appreciation. As an African-American, I was offended by this gratutious use of the word (in much the same way that I am whenever African-Americans use the word to degrade and call each other).
The latest object of "offense" is the new commercial by the Burger King Corporation, which is marketing its latest themed burger meal for children, the SpongeBob Squarepants meal.
The ad, which I thought to be hilarious, was a parody of the music video to Sir-Mix-Alot's 90's hit, Baby Got Back. But as usual when it comes to notions of "protecting the children," people were offended because it's "adult" content was clearly out of place with its emphasis on "sexuality," which I'm willing to bet any amount of money was not the intent when the marketing barrons who created the funny piece decided to go with it. Again, people fail to take notice of either intent or context when it comes to their sensitivities.

To be Concluded...