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."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Yes Virginia, There ARE "Lazy Americans!" (Part 1)

Early last week, President Obama received a moderate amount of flack because of a remark he made—within the context of a speech about whether America is doing its best to compete against other economic powers globally—about how Americans have been “lazy” in regards to focusing on our economic priorities. And naturally politicians (being the creatures of opportunity they are) and other assorted talking heads wasted no time in highlighting (or rather crafting) the president’s implied lazy American “insult” in official statements and opinion pieces. Republican Party presidential nominee candidate Rick Perry has even misleadingly parlayed Obama’s “insult” into a television campaign ad.

Sadly, predictably, and ironically, taking the president’s overall message out of context to form a straw man argument is a tried and proven method for conditioning mentally lazy Americans—those who make up a great many among the potential voting electorate who don’t objectively research issues—into believing the worst of an ideological opposite. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of employing this tactic.
But despite the distortion of the president’s message, the reality is that Americans are indeed lazy! Part of this stems from our desire to squeeze as much economic profit from so little effort or investment of what resources we have to utilize, whether they be mental, monetary, material, or spiritual resources. The remainder of the reasons derives from the erosion of the values which propelled America to the zenith of global and military dominance.
To the contrary, those in denial are usually quick to reassure us that America is [still] #1 in virtually everything we do. Common sense (with a helpful dose of reality) dictates that this isn’t true…far from it in fact. The recent trouble with Detroit’s auto industry proves this in the realm of auto manufacturing. When it comes to health care spending as a portion of a country’s gross domestic spending, other countries spend far less than America…and manage to cover the majority of their citizens—without the pretense by some political quarters that (somehow) our “rights” as citizens will be in jeopardy if all Americans are somehow covered by affordable health insurance. And depending on which survey/study you read, there are at least 14 countries whose student’s standardized test scores—as a reflection of the quality of their education and student motivation—are far ahead of lagging American students. In many ways, American arrogance is sorely misplaced.
And when such shortcomings are pointed out by souls brave enough to withstand the predictable barrage of oncoming criticism for their “anti-patriotic” overtones, they are invariably glossed over (read: ignored) by those who would portray themselves as defenders of American idealism. These people do themselves and the country a disservice when they attempt to stir a sense of national pride in American ingenuity which is fit more for memories of a bygone era than as contemporary “proof” of what we can do as a country. Instead of being ashamed when comparing ourselves to the rest of the industrialized world, we gloss over failings with misplaced patriotism, which touts innovation which rarely applies in the current world.
Why this conclusion? In many areas, the reality speaks for itself.

Public Education

What can be said about the public education system in America which hasn’t already been said? Too much government mandate. Too little regulation. Too much or too little local control. Government control vs. private innovation. Bad teachers. Good teachers who aren’t compensated enough. Too much or too little parental involvement. The list goes on. But whatever side one takes or whatever reasoning one assumes, the bottom line is that Americans put far more effort into bickering, arguing, and comparing ideological schools of thought on how best to fix our schools than actually remedying even the most fixable of basic roadblocks hindering an effective (and competitive) education.
Anecdotally and realistically, the curriculums in most American public schools are not challenging enough, nor are the learning environments in many schools functional enough for the formation of a globally competitive citizenry. We’ve known this for the last generation, but we lack the collective will to make the hard decisions as public servants, parents, politicians, and concerned individuals to change this. We know that our public school students’ performance as a nation is well below that of other students from “second class” countries; the comparative standardized test scores don’t lie (but I’m sure that those who don’t agree will find some “flaw” in the methodology). Having spent a great deal of time in and around colleges, I know firsthand that many foreign students take their studies in American colleges far more seriously than their American counterparts. This is a reality is based in part on the fact that many—if not most—of these students hail from countries whose public/primary school systems prepare them to face education abroad with a love of learning, disciplined structure, and in many cases the cultural banking of respect for teachers (as well as authority figures). Even in countries ravaged by war, civil strife, and other calamities, there are instances of children compelled to make their way—some by a sense of duty or personal conviction—to schools some distance away from home in order for them to learn.
One the other hand, we Americans program in our children a sense of entitlement rather than duty. Working currently with at-risk teens at an alternative school, I can’t tell how many times I’ve silently sighed in exasperation as I experience daily how pampered and lazy American children are academically (and in most other ways which count). Many, if not most middle and high school students—especially in urban and city schools—view books and reading in general as a chore given as a form of punishment. Trying to get some students to write is comparable to trying to bathe a house cat. And the respect for teachers is anything but…. Our schools are brimming with lazy students, too uninspired and unmotivated to open their minds to anything beyond the misplaced sense of self-importance and self-absorption their parents helped to impart them with. American students are (somewhat in many cases) indulged by having economic and material resources diverted to creating and maintaining morally and philosophically questionable “investments” such as police/resource officers, accommodation for special needs, and so forth. Such resources are financial and material burdens placed public education by bad/lazy parents who feel they have “rights” enough to allow their disruptive children (discounting those with bona-fide handicaps. What I’m speaking of are the many students over-diagnosed with afflictions such as “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” and other similar “disorders”) to negatively impact the education of those striving to learn in otherwise challenging environments (See: Related Article).
And those students who do take their studies seriously, some are too lazy to actually take the time and effort to learn. Many American students have been socialized with a new but warped set or moral imperatives that compel them to seek the quickest, least labor-involved way to carry out their study requirements. Online term papers, cutting and pasting, and half-hearted efforts are only few of the usual ways that American students showcase their lack of initiative. Once the sole province of a relatively few “slackers,” in our public schools, cheating, taking shortcuts, and/or just laziness has become the new norm in most public schools throughout America. Just last month, several New York area university graduate students were arrested for their involvement in a scheme in which they were paid by high school students to take the SAT college entrance exam for them. In another example, law enforcement authorities and college officials have been made aware of the growing trend of high school and college students obtaining by illegal pretenses (or purchasing on the black market) the ADHD prescription drug Adderall.


Sometimes called the “smart pill,” abusers are taking the drug as a way of increasing concentration needed to complete multiple assignments so that, in many cases, they are able to engage in more extracurricular activities. Finally, the recent reporting of several standardized testing scandals—aided by public school officials—in public school throughout the country attest to the new culture of thinking that many of our American students have latched onto. It’s no wonder American students seek shortcuts and embrace laziness; they are learning their laziness from adults (See: "And Now A New Standardized Testing Scandal" and "A Scandal of Cheating And A Fall From Grace").

To Be Continued

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Opinion: The Death of The American Marriage

A little more than a week ago, USA Today printed a piece from its weekly column on religion written by author Henry Brinton, who is also pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia (See: "Column: Wedding Days Are Losing Their Way"). In the opinion piece, Brinton writes about how the drift toward untraditional marriage ceremonies contributes to the shrinking significance of marriage as an institution. Conversely, the pastor argues in how traditional marriage ceremonies, those which take place in a wholly religious setting and officiated by a man/person of faith, form the basis of more enduring and durable unions, and therefore strengthens traditional family units.
But given how even individuals of considerable financial and social means (i.e., celebrities, political figures, athletes, etc.), who spend envious amounts of money on (questionably) extravagant and (also questionably) newsworthy ceremonies are afflicted by the same blistering rates of divorce, domestic abuse, and relationship stress that the average job-holding, beer-drinking, anxiety-ridden everyday Joe is, “institution” is the most apt description of the state of contemporary American marriage…because anyone left in American who takes its seriously would have to be considered crazy.
More of an exercise in devil’s advocacy than an expression of my own cynicism, the institution of marriage—with respect to Brinton’s position—has lost much of its social relevance in the last generation or so. As a child of Generation X, I can remember growing up watching television sitcoms where suspected pregnancies resulting from “flings” between main characters (usually male) inevitably brought up the subject of marriage as a way of “making things right” (these sitcoms reflected the thinking of the times with regard to marriage). This consideration, under such circumstances, was usually the way of addressing the prospect of avoiding the social stigma of bastard children. Marriage was considered an honorable symbol of commitment, even among the most philandering of cads. The ethos recognizing marriage within the context of the day was such that inveterate womanizers like Three’s Company’s Larry or Happy Days’ The Fonz cringed at the prospect of having to marry women they’d somehow managed to “sully” during their romps; it was considered a fate tantamount to death because of the implied level of commitment (combined with the relatively low occurrence of the then-seeming choice to divorce) tying the knot implied.
But now, even without the likes of Brittany Spears’ or Kim Kardashian’s latest publicity-driven stunts to see which has the shortest lifespan, a mayfly or a contemporary American marriage, the modern-day marriage ceremony has become more of an attempt to cater to a woman’s sense of fantasy, fairytale, romance, or just the culmination of bad judgment. There is some anecdotal support for my position, one being that women are far more likely to be the initiates of divorce, some 66% of the time by most studies, which would imply that they are most likely to be most dissatisfied in the resulting relationship (even if you extrapolated for incidences of domestic violence and/or infidelity on the man’s part). And on the heels of this fact is another recent survey which indicated

that up to 30% of now-divorced women actually said knew that they were not marrying the right man the moment they exchanged vows during the marriage ceremony (See: “Did You Marry The Wrong Guy?”).

This would suggest that many jump headway into doomed relationships, lured by the pageantry of the ceremony, with no forethought of pre-marriage personal introspection or consideration of the dynamics or function the relationship itself (with respect to the pre-marriage counseling which people of faith like Pastor Brinton no doubt attempt to engage in couples in).
But even more than changing attitudes is the fact that men and women are simply sociologically different when it comes to perspectives of marriage. Partially driven by our “biological clocks,” many women feel more compelled to marry. It’s made apparent anytime a woman makes the statement, I’m (fill-in-the-age) years-old and I’m still not married, or words to that effect (my personal favorite however, is It’s [fill-in-the-year] and I’m not married…as if a bad decision with regard to marriage couldn’t be made in any given year). Many women are more likely to conform to social expectations and family pressure. Most women view marriage as a form of relationship security, and rely on its legal recognitions for financial peace-of-mind—especially should the spouse dies.
Many—some would say most—men one the other hand, view the commitment of marriage as merely a suggestion, no matter how attractive, accomplished or loyal the spouse, or how privileged the life they have together. Sandra Bullock, Erin Nordegren, and Eva Longoria know this all too well. For many men, the institution of marriage has little in the way of a restraining influence on our “need” to demonstrate how quickly we are able to break the trust we are lucky enough to have earned. And demonstratively, the more privileged (or fortunate) we are, the greater the opportunities and sense of entitlement to bed swap we have (of course I’m not saying it’s right…it’s just reality).
And with the exception of the rare American male who actually marries with the intention to “make it work”—despite the disheartening odds or whatever obstacle gets in the way—many men see marriage and that implied commitment thing as more of an option rather than a publicly-declared promise between two individuals. Most of us are seemingly genetically predisposed to stepping beyond so-called “bond” of marriage and sowing our seeds elsewhere (yes, I know that there are some actual studies which point to this being a fact rather than personal choice, but the jury’s still out on this). We are seemingly designed to break our vows in a vain attempt to find that one nonexistent woman who is the “prefect” blend of femininity, but without the emphasis on “feelings;” sexual, but willing to unquestionably acquiesce to our fantasies (sick or otherwise); and loyal, but not overly submissive or needlessly attitudinal (see ladies…our fantasies are just unreal are yours). Sadly though, most of us men are only as “loyal” as our options. To us, marriage is the ultimate gamble. If we “crap out,” we stand to lose our hard-earned material possessions (or have them divvied-up by "The Man") in divorce, have a portion of our incomes (in the form of alimony, palimony, or child support) garnished, or forced to accept the sometimes inequitable terms of a child custody judgment—ultimately becoming just another loser in the game that marriage has become…with the odds seemingly stacked.
Finally, and to be clear, Pastor Brinton’s opinion asserts that the traditional marriage ceremony is a tried means of reinforcing the promise—not necessarily the notion of love—within a union. That’s a good thing, since the fragility of most modern unions would seem to answer Tina Turner’s decades-old question of What’s love got to do with it...seemingly very little! Quite simply, most of us do not even know how to love...or have no idea what the concept entails. We’re simply too self-absorbed as a culture to understand that being a part of something larger than ourselves like a relationship means that we must be willing to give up some, if not most of our much-lauded “independence” (sorry ladies and gentlemen for the bubble-burst). Too many of us are culturally-programmed to measure ourselves by what others have (and what we don’t), and too focused on the illusion of time in order to determine our individual self-worth as it relates to (potential) relationships. Most of us cannot see past the self to understand that a true union is about “us,” not “me.” Women want romance, men want respect. We as men want women to do whatever we want, while women want to do what they want. Men want women to understand, while women want to be understood. Women want security, men flexibility. Women want partners who can understand their feelings…while men want partners whose feelings won’t always be the central issue in a relationship. And neither of us are willing to compromise in what we want (See: “What Is Love?” on Beyond The Political Spectrum’s sister blog on Hubpages).
The bottom line: the institution of marriage looks to be outliving both its usefulness as a means of ensuring the survival of the traditional American family, and its meaning as way of "proving" one's loyalty and devotion to a single partner. Here's to the institution of marriage...may it rest in peace!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Americans Standing Up - Which Movement Speaks For You?

Government gridlock. A shrinking middle-class. Companies sitting on billions of dollars, and refusing to reinvest in expansion. Banks seemingly inventing fees to gouge the consumer (come on, does it take that much money to manage other people’s money?). Politicians putting party affiliations and self-interests before the greater good. CEO’s, corporate officers, high-level financial decision-makers (you know…those “best and brightest” who are partly—but not exclusively—responsible for nearly tanking America’s market economy) still earning indefensible incomes and bonuses. And as a result of all of this sociopolitical chaos, people have finally taken to the streets and started putting the pressure of the voting electorate on those responsible.
But there are two distinct groups of protestors who seem to getting on their respective soap boxes and adopting the mantle of the voice of the American people. On one hand, there is the Tea Party movement, which purports to speak for the shrinking American middle class, and is opposed to larger government, the current tax structure, and for all things conservative…including social policies. In the last year, they have organized locally and even marched on Washington D.C in an effort to promote these and other conservative forms of government.
On the other hand, there is the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has targeted the banking and lending industries and local government offices by attempting to cause disruptions in day-to-day commerce and the business of government. Their primary aim is to put faces on the economic suffering of the “99%” of Americans they say they represent—those who do not command large salaries, hold public offices, and who have been “victimized” by corporate greed and government apathy toward their suffering. They are opposed to corporate greed, the Big Money influence in government, unemployment, and the current economic state of the nation.
At some points, there is a blurring of the line of policies that these two disparate groups oppose that gives the impression of a single populist uprising, such as the issue of the influence of Big Money in the political process. But with more social issues on their agenda, the Tea Party movement is distinctly different from the more ambiguous, seemingly more progressive Occupy Wall Street movement. So the question of the moment is which group and/or movement speaks you?