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, October 21, 2009

A Hollywood Solution to Crime (or, “I Have a Dream”)

Being a big science fiction buff as well as a Generation Xer, one of my favorite movies of all time is a cult-classic among my kind…director John Carpenter’s 1981 “Escape From New York.”
For the culturally-deprived among you, this classic flick is set in the then-future of 1997, a time when the crime rate in the US had reached 400%, and drastic measures were called for to address the ballooning level of nationwide lawlessness. In the dark world in which the movie takes place, the proposed solution to the runaway crime rate was to transform the island of Manhattan into an inescapable prison, surrounded by 20-foot walls, mined bridges, and guard towers and speed boats encircling the island’s parameter, manned by crack paramilitary troops with orders to shoot-to-kill. The country’s worst criminal elements were sent to the Manhattan Island Facility with the understanding that once they went in, they didn’t come out…a lifetime banishment. Inside, the criminals were allowed to create the world they wanted…a world where the only law was survivor of the fittest.
To me, this movie provided what I have always thought to be an idea solution to the tide of crime and lawless which makes many cities great places to visit, but not live. Why not give them a taste of their own medicine so to speak. Give the criminals what they want; a society without the laws and rules order they so easily chose to disregard anyway. Why not put them in a place where they are allowed to roam free, without rules, without authority of any kind, save that which they themselves craft. Since they chose to prey on anyone they deem prey-worthy and/or easy-pickings, let’s put the worst of them in a place where they take the same chances that many of us take whenever we are simply trying to live our lives day-by-day, a place where they themselves can be either predator or prey among their own kind. In short, let’s outsource the day-to-day maintenance and operation of our prisons to those who know the system the best, the prisoners themselves.
Alcatraz Island provides a great example for this novel approach to crime and punishment. Our government could reopen the former prison, but under an operational scheme radically different from the way it operated under in its heyday. Here’s how the new regime would operate. Provide the facility with electric power, heat, running water and other related necessary functions. However, there should be no guards, no warden, no maintenance crews, no administrative personnel…no direct responsibilities of any kind. Then, give the prisoners free rein of the entire island. The day-to-day functions of the facilities are theirs to maintain. On the first of every month, a helicopter would drop maintenance supplies, food, toiletries, and other essentials to be doled out by whatever would come to pass as authority among the prisoners.
Under this new system, the prisoners would be allowed to create and maintain the society that they want, complete with a prison-based social pecking order, a chance to participate in whatever passes for government on the island, the freedom of association, the chance to engage in same-sex marriage, and the chance to pray to whatever deity they will no doubt wish to express their regret for committing one crime too many to. There would be no direct government violations of the prisoners’ civil liberties. And our society would be provided with the opportunity to abolish the death penalty—a system that clearly has no deterrent value—for this new system, which clearly would deter many would-be bad boys by virtue of the power of imagination alone. The prohibitive effect would be analogous to two kids preparing to fight on a school playground, knowing that an adult is probably within earshot to break up any potential rumble; criminals knowing that they could end up in facility where they would be allowed to fight and survive under what could be considered gladiatorial conditions would be more reluctant to engage behavior which may find them in said situation in the first place. The only law would be survival of the fittest.
There would be many potential advantages to doing this. First, the fear of being sentenced to spend what would surely be an abbreviated life to this facility would eliminate the pride that most criminals have in going to prison. The power and influence of the “no snitching” code among criminals would be rendered moot, considering there would be no traditional authority on the island to inform criminal activity to, and fewer who would care if anyone did. And hinting on an aforementioned notion, the horror stories about life on The Rock would border on legend, scaring any lesser criminal with the slightest hope of rehabilitation feces-less at the prospect of being sent to such a place. Any real expense would be limited to simply keeping the prisoners within the facility. In the case of Alcatraz, expense would be manifested in the form of boats encircling the island, manned with sharpshooters whose orders are to prove that the human body becomes less buoyant when it’s riddled with holes during a water escape attempt.
This could be a model for every major incarceration facility in the country, with the only real expense limited to ensuring that each criminal society within stays there.
Naturally the logistics of such a scheme are open to being tweaked based on feasibility. Maybe the prisoners could be made to wear tamperproof collars of bracelets, which would keep track of their location, as well as their life signs. Maybe sensor nets of could be employed to limit the possibility of escape. But ideally, walls would be reinforced through by way of their physical height and thickness, and each facility itself would be isolated miles from the nearest major population center. And thanks to the geography of America, there are many possible locations to isolate such facilities, such as barrier islands, deep forest, and other distant locales (I’m thinking along the lines of interior Alaska).
Sure, it’s not a perfect solution to the problem of the diehard criminal elements walking among us. And this idea probably has no chance of becoming reality, but I can dream, can’t I?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time To Rethink The Death Penalty

Earlier this week as I watched various newscasts, I took note of two related stories—both about the subject of the death penalty—which forced me to write a long overdue perspective on the subject.
In the first story, syndicated morning radio host Tom Joyner was at the center of an extraordinary story. Two of Joyner’s distant relatives were posthumously exonerated after having been tried, convicted, and executed by the state of South Carolina in 1915 for killing a Confederate Civil War veteran. Almost immediately, the case was riddled with doubt, issues of race, and Southern culture taken to the extreme. It was only after being interviewed for a PBS special on the lives of African-Americans that Joyner was even made aware that he had two great uncles who occupied that sad chapter of American history. After the details surrounding the case of Meeks and Thomas Griffin came to life, Joyner took it upon himself to dig up the proof of the Griffin brothers’ innocence, which led to their exoneration by the state.

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Syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner's recent ancestors are exonerated by South Carolina officials following an investigation into the circumstances surrounding their wrongful execution decades ago.

In the second news story on CNN’s Headline News, it was revealed that Texas Governor Rick Perry (Rep.) has come under scrutiny for his actions regarding the 2004 execution of a man charged with setting a fire in 1991which killed his 3 daughters. Apparently, Perry fixed the outcome of scheduled meeting between the Texas Forensics Science Commission and an independent investigator looking into details of that case, days before it was to hear evidence regarding the findings of that investigation. The investigator’s conclusions, made up of three separate reports, had shed much in the way of serious doubt on whether the deadly fire which Todd Willingham was ultimately executed for was actually caused by arson. One of these reports was presented to Perry days before Willingham’s execution. For his part, Perry promptly ignored the casting of doubt the report brought on the case and denied a stay of execution for Willingham. Perry, in his attempts to “carry out the will of the people of the state of Texas,” chose to disregard the legal safeguards of reasonable doubt and due process, which are inherently intended to limit the possibility that the government would engage in the most extreme violation of the most basic of rights…the right to life. With regard to the case, Perry is guilty of self-serving politics at the very least; at the very most, he’s incompetence incarnate.




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CNN Headline News report from 10/14/09. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) engages in ethically-questionable, possibly politically-motivated actions in order to ensure a questionable execution from earlier this year.

What both of these cases illustrate is that mistakes have and do occur with such an apparatus of finality as the death penalty. Some individuals who support the death penalty, particularly governors of death penalty states and prosecutors who employ its use, would have us believe that the complex legal mechanisms which lead to it being imposed, are infallible…or at the very least has an infinitesimal chance of resulting in a catastrophic mistake like an erroneous execution. And while there have been those who have been successfully proven innocent of accused crimes and exonerated while sitting on the death rows of many states, those individuals were not proven innocent by [the absence of] legal safeguards built into the legal system. In most cases, freed convicts are only spared death by the goodwill of lawyers, private investigators, reporters, or other private citizens who take it upon themselves to look into the facts of such questionable cases.
But the reality is that even entertaining the notion that everyone who has ever been tried, convicted, and executed for a crime in America was guilty is an act in defiance of basic reason, common sense, and not to mention, the law of averages. We’ve all heard the arguments against the death penalty. Yes, it’s applied with racial, gender, and socioeconomic bias. Yes, it’s an outdated as well as barbaric means of dealing with crime. No, it’s not a deterrent to crime. Yes, it’s applied inconsistently. Yes, it’s used often as a political tool. No, it’s not philosophically or ethically moral to execute the mentally-impaired. Yes, it’s hypocritical to consider one “pro-life,” and also pro-death penalty (which many of its supporters often do); I’ll leave it up to you to research the inssues surrounding the death penalty (contact the Death Penalty Information Center, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/).
All life is sacred, and no one, neither individuals nor the state, has the right to give or take life. Providence along brought each of us here, so only Providence alone should be what removes us from this mortal coil. And contrary to popular opinion, no one (consciously or otherwise) “forfeits” their life based on their actions. We all are human, we all make mistakes, and the overwhelmingly majority of us commits a sin, some worse than others. Taking human life to illustrate that taking human life is wrong is not a sign that an enlightened society which values life, but an indication that in some respects, we fail to advance ourselves and our sense of ethics and morality beyond what we embraced when we were far less civilized.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's New Tool: The Nobel Peace Prize

It’s Friday, October 9th. I had originally intended to post on another topic, I awoke this morning to the surprise announcement that America’s very own sitting president, Barack Obama, has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for what I imagine to be the promise that his administration—behind his rhetoric—holds in the area of global diplomacy. Actually, surprise is something of a criminal understatement; the assembled reporters covering the announcement could be heard letting out a collective gasp.
And as I continue to watch and listen to news coverage of the announcement, just as predictable as the astonishment of the award are the shrugs of So what?, Who cares? and No big deal from those who oppose his policies, either on purely ideological grounds, or as a reflex against his popularity in many domestic and global quarters (with regard to his popularity and the fervor by which those who support him embrace him, opponents often refer to him—mockingly so—as the “Messiah”).


President Barack Obama before the announcement (archive photo)

Indeed, the questions surrounding both his surprise nomination and his being awarded the prize are merited, especially given the immaturity of his administration and his standing on the global stage as a policy-shaper. Its questionable to be awarded such a prestigious recognition only 9 months into the administration based on presumption alone. But in the Grand Scheme, it seems that the award is a unexpected counterbalance to the relentless criticism of the administration's staunchest and most vocal critics, who unfairly charge that his policies are ineffective...after only such a short amount of time in office (again, based mostly on ideological differences rather than substance of policy. I myself gave Bush II the benefit of the doubt far longer before than that before the counter-productive nature of his policies became apparent). And although I don't pretend to find favor in every policy of the Obama Administration (especially as they relate to the soft-handed handling of terrorists), I do applaud among other endeavors, his efforts to craft a policy of universal affordable health care coverage for every American. While this accolade for peace is no halo or conferring of sainthood, in a perfect world, it should give his opponents pause for unswervingly embracing their political ideologies at the expense doing what is simply right and practical by the American people. It’s a sign that the world is watching America, and that many others actually embrace the hope that America can live up to its promise as an example of progressive global (as well as domestic) leadership…despite how we Americans often live and think inside a fishbowl.
However, I’m sure as tomorrow’s sunrise that in the coming days, opponents of health care and other much-needed people-oriented and practical legislation will spin this award as reflective of the irrelevant opinions of other nations, or some other such rhetoric. But maybe the awarding of the 2009 Nobel Peace prize to our president wouldn’t be such a shock to Americans if we would learn to see ourselves as others see us. Maybe if we could see in ourselves—both as leaders and citizens—as having as much promise in America as the Nobel Nominating Committee, maybe we finally be smart enough to craft policies, both domestic as well as global, based on the progressiveness of need, and not out of some adherence to some vision-limiting ideology.