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The Outspoken Kanye West

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kanye_west

During last Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, we witnessed a “Kanye Being Kanye” moment. When Taylor Swift won the category for “Best Video by Female Artist”, Kanye stormed the stage in the middle of her acceptance speech and opined on who thought was more deserving of the win. He stuck up for Big Sister-in-law, proclaiming that “Single Ladies” was the “best video of all time.”

Outspoken, albeit in extremely poor taste. Here’s a more positive example of Kanye’s outspokenness, though:

A lot of people write off Kanye as a narcissistic individual who pretty much says whatever comes to mind. He blurted out that Bush doesn’t care about Black people. He interrupted a 19 yr-old musician’s acceptance speech because he didn’t think she should have won. If you look at the actions strictly at its face, you may conclude that the poor guy suffers from turrets.

The truth is, I didn’t complain when he said what he said during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They were controversial statements that needed to be injected into public discourse at the time. The point wasn’t whether or not Bush cared about black people. That’s actually irrelevant. The larger issue at hand is the government’s lackluster support to one of the major U.S. cities. The issue was the media’s ridiculous portrayal of American Black citizens as refugees and looters, while simultaneously describing courageous tales of survival when covering White citizens. Kanye’s comments got the public talking. He said what millions of people, across all racial lines, were surely thinking. Such outspokenness is refreshing and absolutely necessary. There should be more, not less.

So, I hope Kanye learns from his mistake at the VMAs. This is in no way an attempt to defend his actions last Sunday. What he did was absolutely wrong and embarrassing for all parties involved. What I hope doesn’t happen, though, is him shying away from generally speaking his mind, particularly on important every day issues. I hope he actually steps it up. Maybe he’ll focus his opinions into a more activist approach and discuss issues slightly more important Taylor Swift’s improbable win.

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9/11 Eight Years Later – Never Forget

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Firefighters, 9/11

I certainly haven’t forgotten. In fact, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was my junior year of high school and the Arch Diocese of NY was in the midst of bitter negotiations with the teacher’s unions that represented the non-clergy faculty of my school and other catholic schools in New York. Because the negotiations weren’t going well, all the teachers went on strike and walked out. With nobody there to teach the students, my school and many others had no choice but to send its kids home.  The entire student body was sitting in the auditorium waiting to be dismissed when our principal rushed into the auditorium and went directly to the front so as to have all of our attention. I will never forget what he said:

“Gentleman,” Monsignor Graham said, “on my way to the auditorium to send you home, I happened hear some breaking news on the radio this morning. It appears that a plane has crashed into one of the Twin Towers. My initial reaction was that it was a terribly unfortunate accident, but in the past minute or two, it’s also been reported that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center Buildings.”

The entire auditorium, every student and remaining clergy-faculty member, was stunned.

We were told to call our loved ones and to go straight home, per the orders of the NYPD at the time. My mom worked at a school in the Bronx and I had no other immediate family working in that part of New York, so I was ok in that regard. I had many friends, though, who had relatives that worked in Manhattan, so they all rushed home to confirm their safety.

I went to my friend’s house that day and there we watched the news ALL day. We watched the buildings collapse. We watched people crying and listened to stunned commentary. We watched people covered in debris running for their lives. And we watched the unfolding of our government’s response, a response we’re still in the midst of eight years later.

For me, it was the defining moment in my life that made me aware of the world I was living in. Prior to that, I was indifferent to current events, more interested in the history found in a textbook than the history playing out in my everyday life. September, 11, 2001 changed that forever. I became an astute follower of current events, politics, and the policies and positions our government takes.

When people say “never forget”, it’s not the actual terrorist act I believe most of them to be referring to. I think it’s the moments that followed. The days, weeks, months, and years when this country was completely united and banded together. That’s the message I got from President Obama’s remarks today at the Pentagon:

We remember with reverence the lives we lost. We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts. And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives; men and women and children of every color and every creed, from across our nation and from more than 100 others. They were innocent. Harming no one, they went about their daily lives. Gone in a horrible instant, they now “dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

We honor all those who gave their lives so that others might live, and all the survivors who battled burns and wounds and helped each other rebuild their lives; men and women who gave life to that most simple of rules: I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

We pay tribute to the service of a new generation — young Americans raised in a time of peace and plenty who saw their nation in its hour of need and said, “I choose to serve”; “I will do my part.” And once more we grieve. For you and your families, no words can ease the ache of your heart. No deeds can fill the empty places in your homes. But on this day and all that follow, you may find solace in the memory of those you loved, and know that you have the unending support of the American people.

9/11 candleNever forget.

Written by PJ

September 11, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Capital Punishment – Wrong Or Justified?

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Death Penalty

Back in college, I took a philosophy class that focused on argument construction and fallacies. It tied into public policy and politics, which was my major. It was a great class and I enjoyed a lot of the topics that were discussed. One of those topics was the issue of the death penalty. Was it justified? The class was split into two groups, with one tasked with arguing for the death penalty, and the second group taking the adverse position.

It was a great exercise because not only did it show how people construct their arguments for or against a hot-button issue like the death-penalty, it also gave us opportunity to assess whether some of these claims even made sense. I can’t remember all the arguments that were presented, and I burned my notebook in a celebratory, post-graduation barn-fire regrettably no longer have notes from the class. Here, though, are some of the points I can best recall:

Argument in favor:

  • The right to live is the most important right a person has to live, so when a person commits murder, he/she is taking way the victim’s most important right (the right tot live)
  • In order for society to function, there needs to be a rule of balance. This balance must include consequences
  • When a person kills (takes a right to live), his/her right to live should be taken away
  • Capital punishment takes the right to live from the person who kills

Argument against:

  • If it is wrong for an individual to commit premeditated murder, then it is wrong for the state to commit premeditated murder
  • Capital punishment is premeditated murder by the state
  • Life without parole both protects society as a whole, and punishes the individual

I think the above premises covered the typical framework around which arguments, either for or against, were built. I’ll let you decide how you feel about those points and determine which side you fall on. Personally, I’m against the death penalty. I think it’s an embarrassing aspect of our justice system. State-sponsored capital murder? That has a pre-Enlightenment ring to it, if you ask me. I don’t see how executing a person makes the victim’s family feel better, nor do I see how it restores balance and order in society. If that’s the case, why do people still commit murders?

There’s another legitimate point used to question why the death penalty is still in place. I came across an article on Huffington Post that floored me:

In his final hours on death row, Cameron Todd Willingham and his attorneys tried frantically to show the governor of Texas a new scientific report proving his innocence. The evidence was apparently ignored, and Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004.

During his trial, he refused prosecutors’ offer to give him life in prison instead of the death penalty. He told them he was innocent, and he wouldn’t agree to any deals. As he was strapped down in the execution chamber, just before the lethal injection began, he proclaimed his innocence one last time.

An extraordinary new investigative report in the New Yorker shows that Willingham was telling the truth. He was innocent. David Grann’s report, in the September 7 issue, exhaustively deconstructs every aspect of the case and shows that none of the evidence used to convict Willingham was valid. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1974, Grann’s report constitutes the strongest case on record in this country that an innocent man was executed.

Wow. This, folks, is a MAJOR reason why I am against the death penalty. The fact that there are instances where innocent people are being executed for crimes they did not commit is appalling and extremely sad. Why condemn somebody to a sentence as absolute as death when there is even a sliver of possibilty that he/she may be innocent? It’s a flawed, fallible system.

What’s Texas to say now? Oops?

In a different case, Troy Davis and his supporters are currently in a fight for his life. He was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1989. However, the evidence is suspect, the facts are murky, and witness-testimonies have been called into question. I seriously hope this happens. World leaders, even former president Jimmy Carter, have called for clemency.

(To find out more about Troy Davis’ case and efforts to get his sentence overturned, visit Amnesty International USA)

That’s my opinion on the death penalty. What’s yours?

Written by PJ

September 2, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Health And The Die-Hard Fan

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You'd be mad if they took forever with your beer, too.

You'd be mad if they took forever with your beer, too.

I was browsing the interwebz last night and came across this article posted on The Scores Report (great national sports blog, by the way). The article was entitled “Die-hard Sports fans are unhealthy“, and when I initially read the headline, I figured it was going to talk about how being a ‘die-hard’ fan can lead to massive heart attacks, a fate I hope to never experience, but understand as all too plausible being a Knick fan. One could also make the case that being a die-hard patron at a Raiders game isn’t the best decision for your health or well-being. It should never be that serious, folks.

But that wasn’t the case they were making. The article literally meant unhealthy; bad eating habits, terrible exercise patterns, eye-widening alcohol consumption, etc. They cited a 2008 email survey study, in which 515 students participated, at the University of Arkansas. It concluded:

… 26 percent of sports fans ate vegetables only one to three times a month, compared with 19.2 percent of non-sports fans, while 11.9 percent of sports fans have four or more drinks when they consume alcohol compared with 3.2 percent of non-sports fans. Additionally, 21 percent of fans almost always ate high-fat food compared with 13 percent of non-sports fans.

“The statistics we did report were statistically significant,” Sweeney said, “meaning the difference between the two groups wasn’t because of chance, it was because something was going on there.”

Sports fans had an average body-mass index of 27.4, while non sports fans were at 25.09. A BMI between 25-29.9 is considered overweight, while 30 or higher is considered obese.

“Body mass for the die-hards was getting closer to 30, which is obese and the non-sports fans was just above 25, which is still in the overweight range, but getting closer to normal,” Sweeney noted.

tall-hamburger

Snack before a meal.

Those are indeed troubling numbers. There is no doubt that the sports culture is not one that readily makes opportunities for eating healthily available to the average fan, much less a die-hard, who is always watching sports with friends and always attending games. I got a chance to visit Yankee Stadium last July and, I swear, the food court was easily the most complete I’ve seen. It had everything. I’m sure there was a salad spot somewhere in there, but there’s probably a man-law which barred me from visiting that corner of the court.

Having said that, I can’t see how this is exclusively a ‘die-hard’ fan’s issue, or even a sports issue for that matter. Face it, people, America as a whole eats unhealthily. This isn’t an anomaly exclusive to sports. You can easily find people that don’t like sports at all religiously frequenting a burger spot more often than an athlete hits the weight room. It’s American culture. From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Percent of noninstitutionalized adults age 20 years and over who are overweight or obese: 66%
  • Percent of noninstitutionalized adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 32%
  • Percent of adolescents age 12-19 years who are overweight: 17%
  • Percent of children age 6-11 years who are overweight: 19%

A whopping 2/3’s of adults 20 and over are overweight. One out of every 5 children aged 6-11 is overweight. There’s clearly a problem bigger than sports in this picture. You could probably do studies with various leisure activities and conclude the same thing the sports study did. Why? Because people who eat unhealthily like to watch sports, go to the movies, party, and whatever else people do for fun.

I’m definitely an unhealthy eater. Even though I’m not overweight, I rarely eat vegetables, and I love me a burger and some ribs with a side of grease. I just don’t believe it has much to do with the fact that I’m a die-hard Yankees, Knicks, and Jets fan. I think I’d probably eat unhealthy food regardless. Like I said before, the sports culture isn’t exactly the an environment conducive to healthy eating, but neither is the U.S. of A apparently.

What are some of your thoughts?

UPDATE: My homegirl told me about a story that, although unrelated to health or anything like that, is relevant to the concept of a ‘die-hard’ fan:

A woman came into the Tires Plus in Winona just before noon, asking if the shop had time to replace a belt.

Prusci started the paperwork.

“Oh, by the way,” the woman said. “I have a goat in my trunk.”

Prusci didn’t think he heard her right.

“A what?”

“Yes, a goat,” the woman said. “And it’s alive.”

She planned to butcher the animal later but was passing through Winona on her way to St. Paul when the car broke down, Prusci remembered her saying.

The woman, and a man and child who were waiting for her outside, left while Prusci and other workers began the repairs.

After about 10 minutes, they could hear the goat crying.

“We cracked open the trunk, you know, so it could breathe,” Prusci said. “And sure enough, there it was. It kind of poked its head up.”

The goat had been painted purple and gold – the colors for the Minnesota Vikings. Shaved into its side was the No. 4 – the number of Brett Favre, who made his Vikings debut Friday night in a preseason game in the Twin Cities.

WOW! Now that’s a die-hard!

Written by PJ

August 25, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Panhandling

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panhandlingcup

I’ve always viewed most panhandlers as victims of circumstances that messed up and had not been given a chance. Society’s invisible people. For the most part, I still believe that to be the case. However, I did witness an exchange between a panhandler and train patron that caught me off guard…

I was on the MARTA a few months back and witnessed a female panhandler making the rounds. She was a regular, someone I’d seen many times before. The big difference that day was this young lady who took more of an interest to the homeless lady than anybody else on the train. After striking out with virtually every other patron, she approached the lady and gave her pitch. The lady responded by digging in her purse and whipping out her middle finger a job application. She told the homeless lady that her dad operated a shelter and was looking for food servers, specifically homeless ones. In return she would be given a place to stay and food! That’s a twofer right there. I was sitting right across from the exchange so when I heard that, I got hype. My opportunity had finally arrived. I was prepared to initiate the slow-clap as soon the two tearfully hugged it out. Everybody would join me and a series of awkward high-fives would follow.

Or not.

The homeless lady gave her the craziest gas face I’ve ever seen in my life. You would have thought she had indeed dug her in purse whipped out a middle finger or something. Like she was downright insulted. She ignored the lady and continued soliciting people in the train car, perhaps thinking her chances shot up after people witnessed what just happened. After striking out some more, she promptly got out of the car we were in and ran onto the next one. Gone. I was in complete shock. The lady was, too, and she explained to anybody that was listening that this would have been great for her. The lady would have had guaranteed free food, and more importantly, a place to stay. I say more importantly because she could have used the place as an address, a hurdle most homeless people have a tough time getting past when looking for employment. That’s when I decided to end the practice of giving to panhandlers.

Now, I don’t mean to come across as insensitive to the struggles of people. Homelessness is a real problem that effects those who obviously never asked for it. You always hear that more and more people are living check-to-check, a scary reality no doubt. And more often than not, I do see people on the train that seriously look like they’ve been ignored and abandoned by everyone. I always wonder why they’re not somewhere getting proper care instead. But in fact, that’s a major reason why giving to them is urged against. In many ways you’re feeding their possible addiction. Is that why the lady refused the help?

At the end of the day, I think the best move is to give to agencies that provide support for homeless people. Giving to panhandlers keeps them homeless.

Written by PJ

August 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm