a july 4th lookback

Wednesday 4 July 2012

It’s funny to realize that I’ve had this blog now for over 5 years. And it’s funny to think, when I come across some news story or event, “I think I wrote about that on my blog once…” Such was the case this year in realizing it was, once again, time for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. If you want to know the results I’ll leave them to you, but I thought it a good opportunity to “go to the archives” and point you to my blog post from a year ago: American American. A few things show the movement of the past year, but the sentiment still rings true.

Also, I thought I’d add a few more topics to the mix I didn’t cover last year, including this infographic about education vs. incarceration and another blog post about obesity (and it’s obvious connection to our country’s excess), fat (and getting fatter).

Enjoy yourself, and remember your connection to everyone, not just in your own country but with everyone around the world.

Update: Let me add here also a nice opinion piece in the NY Times called The Downside of Liberty,connecting the expansion of individualism to the wealth disparity currently evident all over the place.


education reform ain’t easy

Sunday 21 August 2011

As with everything that’s “broken,” we want a quick, easy fix.  We elect a new president and expect things to all be better in a few months, and if not, we ask, “What’s the problem?”

Often, even if it’s only a temporary fix, if you can do it fast, that’s alright.  I think this is one reason duct tape is so popular.

However, as I think some of us know and others of us are beginning to realize, a lot of the “big” problems out there won’t be changed overnight.  This is especially true about education and education inequality.

I encourage you to read a review of “Class Warfare,” an upcoming book by Steven Brill, about the prospects of education reform.  The review itself, written by Sara Mosle, does a great job of discussing Brill’s book but, more importantly, expounding education reform as a process that is multifaceted without one easy, quick solution.  The review gives a great overview of what’s out there in the education world and what we need to think about as we move forward.  Take a look and let me know what you think!


American American

Monday 4 July 2011

It’s July 4, y’all, the day we celebrate the creation of these (wonderful) United States of American in 1776 with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and I’m back blogging with a vengeance!

I’m not going to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have some pretty great things going for it; if you check out the kind of overt oppression happening the last few months in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, I think all of us citizens of the U S of A can all be thankful to live where we do.

But, if you know me or have read my blog in the past, you know I like to get critical.  And I figure what better day than this one, a day we think with inflated egos just how great and awesome we are, to look a little deeper at some of the ways I think we’re getting it wrong:

Economic Disparity: If you ask me, this is from where all the problems stem. We’re a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and with a system where those with money are in power or paying to get their friends into power (see below), the cycle will continue. A few infographics (Inequality, Stupid; 15 Facts) and this amazing article, “Who Rules America,” tell the story pretty well, but the basic idea is that the top 1% of Americans has as much money and wealth as the bottom 90%, a group that itself is fairly stratified. Thus, the $1 you and I might spend on a meal means Oprah gets to spend $90. Does that seem right to you?

“Free” Speech: In the past few years, the Supreme Court has basically determined that the right to free speech means the right to as much speech as you’re willing and able to pay for. This means that should I run for office, I can choose to forgo getting in bed with corporations and wealthy individuals and stay true to my ideals, but if someone else is well-financed, they can pretty much drown out me and my voice. Basically, free speech doesn’t mean equal amounts of speech, and in this game, if you have money, you win and get to make the rules that help you get more money, though this has been true for awhile, it’s just become even moreso as of late.

Health Care: I’m guessing I don’t have to inform you that we still don’t have universal health care.  Yes, there was a bill passed that requires everyone to purchase health care, I’m aware, but universal health care this is not.  Instead, what this does is create an even a larger pool of participants for private insurance companies to reap more money and profits from the estimated 50+ million without insurance.  And with Medicare and Medicaid on the ropes, those who would lose such benefits would now also be required to “buy” insurance, again putting money in the hands of private companies.  Why is health care not something we feel is a human right, afforded to everyone, like a high school education?

Education: While we’re on the topic of universal rights, can we discuss the horrific state of the education system of this country?  In Chicago, the high school graduation rate in 2010 was only 56% (an improvement from 1999’s 47%, but still a travesty).  Big cities across the country have similar stories.  A lot of this, again, comes back to money.  With all the states of which I’m aware using property taxes to fund education, this means more money is spent on education in wealthy areas than poor areas.  And if you have money and don’t like your school system, you either move or simply send your kids to a private school.  If we truly valued education the way we give it lip service, we’d fund it as such.

Competitive Eating: If anything is representative of the excess that has become this country, it’s the event held on Coney Island each July 4: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.  This year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes (and of course the 20 or so other contestants ate a lot, too).  Yet there are still families heading to soup kitchens and food pantries because they have nothing to eat.  What drives something like this?  Well, this year’s event was (again) broadcast live on ESPN, with Pepto-Bismol as a top sponsor.  I’m going to guess advertising money.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I don’t have time today to write about issues of housing, transportation, Social Security, unemployment, prisons and criminal (in)justice, war and foreign policy, and many others — I want to enjoy my day off, too!

But as we celebrate today and in days to come, let’s not be complacent with the current ways of our country. We still live in a democracy, which means power to the people if we choose to claim it.

I leave you with a great op-art piece with a humorous look at our nation’s not-always-so-pleasant-looking history: Like It or Unfriend It

(The title of this blog post is meant to be read as an adjective followed by a noun.  The second “American,” the noun, is meant to signify that I, being someone living in the U.S., would colloquially be called an American.  In the first word, the adjective, I am affirming my belief that to act in an American way is to challenge the status quo and to work to make  a better country for everyone — EVERYONE — and that’s what I believe I try to do, and hopefully this blog is just one such example.)

(Oh, and why not a throwback to a post I wrote in September 2007, too: economic oppression)


globally, women anything but equal

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sunday night, I posted about the wealth inequality for women of color here in the U.S.  Another report I was turned on to is from October 2009, and it tells the tale of women in general, in the U.S. and around the world.  The 2009 Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum provides a ranking of countries around the world.  According to the report itself:

“The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups…

“There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in means or input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.”

Using their methodology, they created rankings for 134 countries around the globe.  The top five in their list were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Before you get to the U.S. at #31, you pass by South Africa (#6), Lesotho (#10), Sri Lanka (#16), Mongolia (#22), and Cuba (#29), to name a few.  (Remember — it measures gaps, not levels, so this doesn’t mean a woman’s life in Cuba is necessarily better than that of a woman in the U.S., but the gap is greater.)

According to the U.S. country profile, education and health are strong points, with equality more or less being established (ranking #1 overall for educational attainment). However, economic and political equality leave something to be desired (the U.S. ranked #61 in political empowerment, with 1 female for every 5 males in “parliament,” as they denote it).

So what does all this mean for us here in the States?  Well, for starters, it shows that while we may say men and women are equal, the end results don’t point that out.  We may educate women equally, and they may even live longer (on average) than men, but women here do not possess the same economic resources  and wealth as men and are not represented in government even close to equally.  We must again recognize the systematic structures in place creating these disparities and work to truly make women and men equal, in this country and around the world.

(As a side note, I found out about this report though an article that appeared in The Nation.  As readers wrote in response to that article, there are some areas for critique of that article and the report itself, but regardless of comparing the U.S. to other countries, the fact of continued inequality in certain areas of society here in the U.S. still needs to be noted and addressed.)


textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)


violence in the South Hebron Hills

Monday 17 November 2008

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure of the right words to describe my feelings when I read the news below: sadness, anger, dejection, frustration, disbelief.  These all get at some of my basic thoughts when I read the news.  Please read for yourself:

CPTnet  (www.cpt.org) 17 November 2008
AT-TUWANI: Israeli settlers attack Palestinian shepherds, kill donkey, injure internationals.

On 15 November 2008, around 9:00 a.m., approximately fifteen masked Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked three Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their flocks in a valley south of the outpost.  The settlers came running down from a ridge above the shepherds, hurling rocks. The shepherds were able to get their flocks away before the rocks injured them.

During the incident, the settlers were able to steal two of the shepherds’ donkeys.  The settlers killed one donkey with a knife wound in the chest area.  They slashed another across the throat, but the donkey survived.

Settlers also hit two internationals from Christian Peacemaker Teams—who were accompanying the shepherds—with large rocks.  One CPTer sustained minor injuries.

The Israeli police were called four times before responding to the incident.  They did not initially respond to reports of settlers attacking Palestinian shepherds and internationals, but only responded when they learned of the attack on the donkeys.

The assault occurred on land the shepherds graze daily and which the settlers hope to take for the expansion of Havat Ma’on.  Replacing the donkey will cost around 1000 NIS, or $265.  The Israeli occupation has impoverished the shepherds of the area, and they are currently dependent on outside food aid.

For additional photos, see http://cpt.org/gallery/Settlers-Kill-Donkey.
See also a video containing a small portion of the event and aftermath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFPaPaURfI0.
(Warning: pictures and video both contain graphic images of slain donkey.)
No matter one’s feelings about the situation in the Middle East and Palestine/Israel, I would hope you, as a reader, can recognize the horror of the event above.  While this is not something that happens every day, the idea that such a situation exists where a people daily encounter threats or the possibility of violence as large scale as this or even the “simple” harassment of throwing rocks at children on the way to school, with seemingly no reaction from the International community, is almost as much a scar on us as it is to those who commit such actions.

Education of the situation in Palestine, especially in the West Bank where settlement expansion continues to take place, is extremely important for everyone.  I call upon you to learn for yourself, tell others you know what you have read here and what you learn elsewhere, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, do whatever it takes so you and others in your life know the details or the situation (feel free to ask me, too, if you’d like).  But no matter what, it is clearly time that we as a nation and as fellow human beings with all people around the world recognize the oppression of the Palestinian people and work toward a non-violent, peaceful end to the situation that creates an environment where such horrors go unnoticed by the world community.

Some resources to get you started:
Christian Peacemaker Teams (Palestine teams): www.cpt.org/work/palestine
Michigan Peace Team (Palestine teams blog): mptinpalestine.blogspot.com
International Middle East Media Center (general news of Palestine): www.imemc.org
Haaretz (Israeli newspaper with news from another point of view): www.haaretz.com
(Read here an interesting article from Haaretz regarding US opinions of the peace talks)