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."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Worship of Sports in America

OK, it’s once again March, and once again I find my favorite television news programs preempted by the college basketball games of “March Madness.” Personally, I find madness to be the most appropriate of titles for the way in which Americans are gripped by the infatuation with sports. I admit it—I simply don’t see, nor do I understand our collective obsession with using balls to score points between 2 opposing teams of hyper-masculine jocks. I’m probably one of 5 or 6 males in this country who doesn't get it.
It’s not enough for us to be politically and ideologically polarized as a country; we further divide ourselves by way of our individual devotions to our favorite sports teams. We play hooky from both school and our jobs in order to see our favorite teams engage in sometimes brutal, if not base competition in order to see who can gain the most points. We even become offended whenever someone slights our favorite team. I recall a moment some time ago when I made the mistake of telling a friend’s girlfriend that the Midwest-based football she cherished was overrated; she nearly bit my head off. I assumed that by her overreactions that she had some sort of financial stake in the team (and no, it wasn't the Packers that I insulted). That particular episode made me conclude that the only reason why women are just as infatuated as men with sports is because they know that nothing they can do can entice a man like the allure of competitive sports, so they bandwagon this insane obsession to see appear “normal.”
I can understand the idea of passion and being dedication to a favorite team—after all, I’m a former Cubs fans (hey, even losers get tired of losing). But as a nation, we've convinced ourselves that there are no boundaries separating fans from fanatics when it comes to sports. I’m not advocating the eradication of sports as a distraction, but it demands a time for reflection when over-obsessive fans begin making death threats over blown calls, riot when their favorite team wins (or losses), or when more people can quote the stats of their favorite players and/or teams than name the first 4 people in the line of succession for the leadership of our country. I do think we take professional sports too seriously in this country. And the sad thing about it all is that while we can cite the empiricism of statistics and observable performance when it comes to assessing who the best players or who the teams are, we invoke unproven personal beliefs, religious dogma, and/or narrow ideologies when it comes to our understanding of politics, religion, and economics. What should be issues of priorities in our daily lives have become distractions, and the distractions of sports have become our priorities.

video
Comedian Bill Maher gives a reality check on sports-lovers (and men) in this segment from his past special, "The Decider."

Many of us worship sport in America to the extent that it should be given First Amendment religious protections. What’s worse is that we while we equate professional (and college-level) sports to the level of divine activity, we elevate our favorite teams to the level of a divine pantheon, and we worship sports players as near deities. We overlook their bad decisions, we excuse their sense of entitlement and arrogance as natural by-products of having earned it through hard work, and we give them a pass when they engage in criminal activity. We supplement their inflated salaries by buying whatever they endorse, their inflated wallets by waiting in long lines to buy the over-priced shoes they attach to the latest footwear, and over-inflate their already inflated egos—as if such a thing were possible—by allowing our kids to emulate them without any caveats or parental interjections of reasoned reality checks.


And speaking of kids, what lessons and mixed messages do our adult obsessions with sports impart upon them? In the past generation, we’ve come to teach kids that “everybody’s a winner” by acknowledging that even those who simply do not try hard can receive a trophy, “a certificate of participation,” or some kind of undeserved accolade. In many other cases, we have removed many competitive activities like dodge ball from our school physical education curriculums because we feel that children might be somehow emotionally scarred from actually losing to a better-prepared opponent. We now don’t even keep score in games between kids to keep those who aren’t up the task of playing harder from “feeling bad.” But as adults, we quickly grow out of that New Age social-psychobabble and clearly define winners and loser in the games we (watch others) play! We not only keep mental track of our favorite teams’ scoring, but their player stats as well. We grudgingly buy and complain when we have to purchase —if we do—school supplies for our children, but have no problem feely supporting the oftentimes extravagant, party-hard lifestyles of athletes by buying whatever subpar or average product they endorse. We deny our kids the lessons of good sportsmanship, insights into their abilities, and opportunities for growth. At the same, we’re willing time chalk up bad sportsmanship in adult athletes to being bad boys,” are willing to be armchair coaches providing “analysis” of where their favorite athletes screwed up in their last performance, and cheer them on as they recover from injuries. We brainwash our kids, but love and worship our adult athletes.


Why do we obsess over sports so much in this country? I simply don’t get it. I don’t understand why we’re content with the reality of you and I being locked away somewhere between hell and Xanadu for offenses that many professional athletes receive the equivalent for a slap on the wrist for. I don’t get why many adults will stop whatever they are doing in order to rush home and watch some game on television the same way that I as a child would rush home to watch cartoons from school back in the 1970s. I can’t grasp why we overpay, over-praise, and hand over so much of our attention to sports and athletes.
While I do watch the occasional baseball game and enjoy the idea of competition, I’m not fanatical about it. I don’t riot, yell, or take it personally when a time I find myself rooting for loses. I don’t purposefully spend money on clothing with team logos or some athlete’s name written on a shoe; I’m sure they don’t need my dollars to put in an extra exotic fish in their custom-designed aquariums. I simply put things in perspective insofar as sports. An athlete is just another person doing his or her job. I don’t see anyone cheering me at my job as I type up paperwork…nor do I expect it (although it would be nice if apathetic parents would take such an interest in others trying to do their jobs, like teachers). Maybe if we our restructured our priorities and place as much emotional support, appreciation, adulation, and financial compensation to those who put up with our bratty kids (such as bus drivers, teachers, and others), then maybe our kids wouldn't grow up to be adults who worship sports and athletes who have come to rarely teach us nothing substantive in the way of social values.
See also: "Would YOU Pay $300 For LeBron's Shoes?"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Open Thread: Another American Addiction


A few weeks back, I was listening to one of National Public Radio’s (NPR) programs where they focus on a noteworthy current publication. The particular airing of this daily program featured author Michael Moss talking about his new book, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.” Obviously, with both an inquiring mind and a title like that, I was compelled to turn up my car’s radio and listen to the interview with the author.
As a vegetarian, healthy eater, and all-around health nut (just ask my friends who’ve heard me criticize their eating habits), part of me was floored to hear about the concerted, consciously-devised plotting by many product developers within the food industry to get Americans addicted to their products in order to inflate their bottom lines. But then, there is the skeptical (not to be confused with paranoid) part of me that harkens back to the revelations related cigarette and tobacco industries which spiked their products addicting ingredients…pretty much for the same reasons.
I liken this phenomenon to the same concerted efforts that Wall Street advertising and Hollywood television executives create our additions to their can’t-do-without image-enhancing products and intelligence-dulling mindless programming. Also in the same vein as political image-shapers creating our opinions of what issues should concern us versus what issues are in our collective best interests.
As opposed to giving you my usual objective (more or less) insights into this issue, I have taken the liberty of posting the NPR interview with Moss, as he reveals how companies create foods to addict us—from the food science labs to the marketing campaigns—and how the industry would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. It would also explain, in part, the obesity epidemic in America.
However, this is not an excuse to blame someone else for our own shortcoming and failings of personal will.  True, some of our addictions--namely those related to our addiction to mindless television, political messages, and food can and are created, but this is an addition to those we allow virtue of our free wills to embrace.



Read an excerpt from Sugar, Salt, Fat here

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Unemployment News…The Good, The Bad, and Reality!

Let’s start with the good news first. Wall Street analysts and jobs forecasters were (pleasantly) surprised by the government’s official job’s report released yesterday, which indicated that the American economy created an estimated 236,000 jobs last month. These numbers were a surprise to analysts because “they expected hiring to downshift in early 2013 because of ongoing U.S. budget disputes, the onset of higher tax rates and the looming threat of federal spending cuts that took effect in March” (“U.S. Economy Adds 236,000 Jobs In February”). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the biggest increases in hiring occurred in professional services (73,000), construction (48,000), health care (32,000) and retail (24,000). On the surface, this is good news, as it infuses those seeking jobs a level of hope that employers are actually picking up the pace in hiring, and that they might actually land a much-coveted job in this still tough economy. However, these numbers provide a cautionary tale of how facts, figures, and semantics can often obscure the reality for—for example—job hunters on the ground.
Yesterday’s government jobs’ numbers routinely reflect a complicated mix of official projections, estimations, and tangible numbers that are calculated (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to reach such conclusions. And despite calls from conspiratorial quarters which suggest that presidential administrations can actually fudge the numbers to their political benefit, the government uses the same criteria for assessing projected jobs numbers that they've been using since the 1940s. Today’s revealed 7.7% unemployment rate represents the aggregate the 12 million people who are known to be actively looking for work, but cannot any. This is what the government refers to as the “official” unemployment rate known as the U-3 rate. However, many Americans who struggle to find work know that there is a different reality other than the “reality” monthly official government numbers represent (I allude to this point in some part on one of my sister blogs, “Employers…Shut Up And Listen”). Take the hiring process. More and more employers are employing the practice of many multiple interviews in order to fill limited slots with qualified job candidates. One former human resources insider reveals that the well-known and increasingly used practice is known as “chasing that purple squirrel…a human resources term for an impossibly qualified job applicant” (See: “With Positions to Fill, Employers Waiting For Perfection”). And with the current economy representing an employers’ market,

But there’s also little pressure to hire right now, so long as candidates are abundant and existing staff members are afraid to refuse the extra workload created by an unfilled position. Employers can keep dragging out the hiring process until they’re more confident about their business — or at least until they find the superstar candidate.

Much in the way of the current hiring process seems to be more of a drain on employers’ resources than a legitimate screening process for a legitimate job applicant. One out-of-work video editor recalled the hurdles that he had to circumvent 8- and 9- round job interviews for a position which precisely matched his skills and experience. The applicant had

taken several video-editing tests, which he says he aced. But he has also been subjected to a battery of personality and psychological exams, a spelling quiz and even a math test (including a question that began, to the best of his recollection, “If John is on a train traveling from New York at 40 miles per hour, and Susie is on a train from Boston...”). He passed the math test with a 90 percent score.

This stringing-along-the-applicant process (with no call-backs) contributes to job searchers in many instances finally giving up looking for work. The unemployment rate that includes these disgruntled job searchers as well as those part-time workers looking for full-time work is what’s known in government circles as the U-6 rate. This rate is said to represent the true unemployment rate as it reflects the 8 million more individuals from these latter categories. Factoring in these job seekers that employers’ hiring practices dissuade means that the actual unemployment rate is an estimated 14.3%, as opposed to the 7.7% reported yesterday (See: Bureau of Labor Statistics website for rates that include these numbers).


The upshot is that the government’s reported numbers—particularly in the case of employment—should be taken with a little scrutiny, and great deal of due diligence on the part of the American citizen in order to sort the fact behind them. In many cases, there are statistics, and there is a level of inconsistent reality on the ground which tends to render such figures almost abstract. Shrinking unemployment numbers are good, but too many employers are making it too hard for job seekers to find work. According to a survey from Manpower, some 3 million jobs go unfilled from any given year-to-year because of employer’s inability to find qualified individuals. But such a figure seems to stand in contrast to the reality when employers are requiring qualified candidates to return for multiple rounds of interviews, only not to be offered a position; clearly many job applicants have the skills employers are seeking if employers are requiring job seekers to spent so much of their precious time and expense (such as high gasoline costs) to jump through hoops. The video editor who went through the multi, multiple-round interviews calculates that the three positions he applied for cost him $520.36 in parking fees, two parking tickets, gas and trips to Starbucks while waiting for his interviews. Clearly employers don’t take such details into consideration when requiring job applicants to go through such rigors for a coveted position.
What's more, data from Glassdoor.com, a site that collects information on hiring at different companies, shows that the average duration of the interview process at other major companies like Starbucks, General Mills and Southwest Airlines has roughly doubled in the last couple of years.  So it's not just high-tech, specialized employers who are requiring more in the way of excessive prospect weeding-out.

Another disproven aspect of the unemployment numbers is the notion that infusing American businesses with more tax-breaks in order to spur both growth and hiring is a non-factor. According to most recent figures, American companies are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash reserves, many of them holding back on hiring new workers until the economy stabilizes to a satisfying level (“The $5 Trillion Stash: U.S. Corporations' Money Hoard Is Bigger Than the GDP of Germany”). If companies are not reinvesting their already ample case reserves into growth and hiring, there is no rational expectation that an infusion of more cash reserves in the way of (more) tax breaks would spur them to do the same. Such thinking almost defies common sense.


When it comes to the monthly employment numbers, Americans should—as they should any other statistic from the government, the various political parties, and employers themselves—take the time to look below the partisan hype and promotion of “great times” or “doom-n-gloom.”  Solutions are simple; implementing them is a matter of will and clear thinking, not policy.

See also:  "A Criticism of Employers in America," "Employers…Shut Up And Listen!," and "Employers…Shut Up And Listen, Too!").

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Open Thread: How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)


The problem with sharing ideas in America--especially as they pertain to sociopolitics and/or economics--is that no matter how sound, rational, valid, or proof-driven the idea is, we have become so ideologically and politically fractured as a nation that any explanation is usually assailed by someone with a particular ideological bias by which they view the world through.  I see this on a daily basis from both the ideological left and the right (with much of it on the political right).  To hear the average "well-informed" American tell it, every explanation which we don't agree with has either a "liberal bias" or uses "selective facts" to justify their stance; rarely do we approach an issue with open minds.  Instead, we approach any and every issue with a counter-argument cocked and loaded, and ready to pull the trigger on in an attempt at discourse.
With that having been said, I recently came across a video with what I found to be a limited-bias explanation for why and how the American Middle-Class came to find itself on such a precarious position economically. Try watching with an open mind...

video

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Sequester Cuts...Be Careful What You Ask For!



As of midnight, two points became more or less salient; sequestration is here, and Americans seem to be expendable pawns in the game of politics between the Republicans and Democrats in Washington. Hardly any surprise if you haven’t been in a come for the last 20 years or so.
Because of the legislative impasse between the White House and the both parties in Congress, the much-vilified automatic across-the-board spending cuts—compiled back in 2011 as a means of motivating each party to address the federal deficit—became a reality after President Obama signed the order triggering the cuts to every federal government agencies.
To the lawmakers involved, the effects of the cuts probably seem abstract, especially since the paychecks, the government-sponsored healthcare, and retirement packages of these lawmakers enjoy won’t be affected. However, for those less secure in their well-being, the effects of the sequestration are very real. One prime example is the unemployed. In an estimated 2-3 weeks, unemployment payouts will be cut by about 10% for those receiving them. In many cases, such an amount can make the difference between a utility payment and a shut-off notice.
In many other places, the sharp budget cuts have the potential to touch us all in some way. Other programs facing the budget knife due to lawmakers’ inability to strike a budget compromise are:

$633 million cut from the Department of Education’s Special Education programs

$71 million cut from administration at the Office of Federal Student Aid

$116 million cut from Higher Education

$86 million cut from Student Financial Assistance

$79 million cut from Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance

$604 million cut from National Nuclear Security Administration

$928 million cut from FEMA’s disaster relief money

$6 million cut from Emergency Food and Shelter

$70 million cut from the Agricultural Disaster Relief Fund at USDA

$53 million cut from Salaries and Expenses at the Food Safety and Inspection Service

$20 million cut from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Programs

$10 million cut from the World Trade Center Health Program Fund

$168 million cut from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

$199 million cut from public housing

$96 million cut from Homeless Assistance Grants

$17 million cut from Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS

$19 million cut from Housing for the Elderly

And given the recent attention given to certain issues tied to these cuts (the cuts to embassy security & construction being the most obvious in light of the Benghazi affair), one has to wonder whether any political issue is of genuine concern to Congressional lawmakers outside of the political value they might gain from invoking and using them against their across-the-aisle archrivals.
So why did it come to this? The usual cross-finger pointing by both parties.


The White House places the blame for the impasse and budget cuts on Congressional Republicans. According to President Obama, "They've [the Republicans] allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit." The Republicans’ stance was summed up in the words of House of Representatives speaker John Boehner. Boehner chided that, “the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1” ("Obama Signs Order to Begin Spending Cuts").
Needless to say, the American people are already placing blame on one party or the other, the President and/or Congress. This reveals the political schizophrenia that plagues the minds and hearts of the American people. We complain about federal spending, but now that the cuts starting, some of us are already crying “foul.” We want our cuts, but apparently only insofar as they affect other people…not the particular program that benefits us. We want our elected representatives to represent the ideas that we hold dear, but whine when our legislators cannot reach a compromise. Apparently our individual idea of “compromise” is when the other guy caves in to our point of views.
We cannot have it both ways. Either we allow our elected officials to address the issue of government spending, or we sit back and enjoy the fruits of the spending. If we actually want to curtail government spending, then every program must be on the chopping block…the programs we like individually as well as the programs the other guys like. And yes, all of us must be willing to pay!
Be careful what you ask for...