Thursday, June 30, 2011

167. Bullying has become a way of life

I admit I like the show Glee. My wife and I enjoy the singing and dancing, silly story lines and variety of characters. We also enjoy that the show tackles some social issues, such as religion, prejudice and bullying.

Deservingly so, and not just on Glee, we've heard a lot about bullying lately. It comes in many definitions and types and can affect children in different ways. There is physical and mental bullying as well as cyber-bullying and psychosocial bullying-probably just to name a few. Surprisingly, perhaps, one of the groups on the rise is girls bullying other girls. The efforts set forth by many to reduce it, or react to it, is commendable and many entities offer good advice to that end.

However, if we look around, we might find that bullying is not just a thing that children must deal with. In fact, if we are objective, we might consider that bullying is a learned behavior and children are learning from the world around them. We might even consider, and make the somewhat facetious argument, that learning how to deal with bullies is a valuable asset for children and they will be better adjusted when they are bullied as adults.

The adult world is full of bullies and similarly they come in many diverse forms. There are political bullies, economic and industrial bullies, corporate bullies, media bullies, religious and intellectual bullies, and military bullies-just to name a few. They are not all physical-in the traditional "might makes right" sense-but they are just as aggressive and have the same ability to make people uncomfortable and affect lives.

Not only Americans, but also many parts of the world felt the Bush-Cheney administration bullied their way through American politics-with the war in Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, the justification of torture and the Patriot Act as just a few examples.

The political bullying has not ended, however, and the easiest and most recent example has been the assault of the right of public employees to bargain collectively. Insulting almost everyone along the way, politicians such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Ohio's John Kasich and New Jersey's Chris Christie have ignored large-scale protests and avoided any public discussion to bully through their political agendas.

But it is not just politics. Many would make the argument that corporations are indeed the ones running this country-by holding states and communities hostage, being able to pressure legislatures (even more so now with the Citizen's United decision) and demanding public bailouts. Corporations are so intimidating that whistleblowers statutes have had to be enacted to ensure the safety of informers.

Oil companies continue to raise prices, rake in enormous profits and somehow loophole their way out of paying corporate taxes. We are at their mercy. Other companies are reporting significant profits, yet refusing to hire more employees. Factory farmers are working in several states to make it a felony to record the atrocities that take place in their businesses. Pharmaceutical companies have bullied the United States to become one of only two countries that permit prescription medication advertisement on television.

The financial industry further bullied the legislatures and American public into public rescue as being "too big to fail." Wall Street arrogantly, and still defiantly, made bad business decisions-ruining the lives of millions-and not only escaped accountability, but also continues to flaunt larger profits and bonuses.

Religion often bullies its beliefs on not only its followers, but also into society. Portraying discourse as offensive, it chastises those that do not believe or believe as they do. Furthermore, it acts to control societal change by, for example, working to cut off funding for contrary viewpoints like Planned Parenthood and banning gay marriage.

There are many more examples across a spectrum of perspectives. Adult bullying is perhaps a bit more subtle, but no less uncomfortable and harmful. People often feel powerless to fight against those much stronger than they are. This strength, however, comes in many different forms-though it typically occurs as a financial occurrence or social pressure. It follows the simple golden rule, "He who has the gold, makes the rules."

Unfortunately, bullying is a part of our entire lives. Bullies exist because they know their reasons and arguments often fail and need to resort to pressure and influence to get what they want. Bullies usually make the calculated assumption that people will give up, accept it or move on with their lives. However, one of the best ways to deal with societal bullies is to outnumber them, stand up to them and fight back.

Surprisingly, they often back down

Thursday, June 23, 2011

166. Entire college system is broken

This is not just a Terrelle Pryor problem, or a Jim Tressel problem, it is a NCAA problem.

Don't get me wrong, I was not fond of Pryor, something I asserted even when he was beating Michigan and winning bowl games. From his LeBron James-type "decision" in which he chose Ohio State to the NCAA infractions--this kid has demonstrated not only excessive amounts of arrogance but also a complete absence of perspective.

That lack of perspective was on display in 2009 when Pryor wore "Vick" eyepatchs to show his support for convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Afterwards, he said, ''Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean, everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance.'' Seriously, he played the "everyone kills people" card?

It's perhaps a bit ironic that now he is the one asking for a second chance.

His arrogance continued when he recently said in a statement, ''In the best interests of my teammates, I've made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University." So I wonder, was it about his teammates when Pryor's actions, in part, launched a NCAA investigation that got him suspended, inspired the termination of his coach and brought national embarrassment to the university? I would say that is an interesting way of acting in the best interest of his teammates.

It is easy to see what Tressel saw in Pryor. His talent level was off the charts, and he was the next generation of college quarterback. He saw multiple national championships in Pryor and he was willing to sell his soul to win them. Some will say that Tressel was acting to protect his players in lying about his knowledge of the NCAA infractions. Maybe he was, but he was also acting in self-interest. As much as I generally respected Tressel, he was a guy that supported the awful BCS system. This support was hypocritical in the sense that Tressel made his name in college football by winning I-AA championships--which is determined by a playoff system. Tressel had it all figured out--play seven home games a year, win one or two tough games (including Michigan) and he would be in the running to play for a national championship. Why would he want a playoff system--where he would have to win four tough games in a row. I found that perspective to be a little cowardice.

The question is now whether Tressel will get a second chance--like the morally repugnant, Pryor and Vick.

However, the real problem is the NCAA. As sportswriter Jason Whitlock wrote, "The system is broken. No one believes in the integrity of the NCAA rule book. Most fair-minded people don't believe the athletes are getting a fair shake. Many of them are unprepared to be educated in college, and the demands on their time compromise their ability to catch up or keep pace academically."

Whitlock further notes, "Because of technological advances, video games, online shopping and the explosion of sports-related TV programing, NCAA schools now collectively derive billions rather than millions from college football and basketball."

There is no doubt about it, college players are exploited for profit. Rules are broken and then selectively enforced. It is all about the money. That's why the BCS system exists, and why we have March Madness. It's why Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor were allowed to play in the bowl games. It is not about fairly determining champions or acting with integrity or producing student-athletes; it is about making billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, there is no recourse; the NCAA is essentially self-governed. The NCAA has no competition, and fans are not willing to sacrifice their enjoyment to force the NCAA to make changes. We can be as outraged as we want to be, but as long as we keep buying tickets, supporting sponsors and watching games-things will not change. Players will continue to exploited, and they will continue to break the rules. And coaches will do whatever it takes to win a championship. And that includes knowing when to look the other way or get out of town.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

165. I know a man; he's just an anomaly

In defending many minority perspectives, I spend a lot of time listening and considering counterarguments. Though there is a formal approach to argumentation, primarily through the rules of logic, there is also political and social argumentation that is based on passion and conflicting data. These are arguments that extend beyond the normal process of presenting episodes of effective reasoning or formal debates. Often they are philosophical or theoretical in nature--such as capitalism versus socialism.

Too often, these debates result in defending a default position based on personal preference or emotion more than the serious consideration of the merit of the argument. There are different types of arguments in that defense, and something like the "slippery slope" argument is a perfect example. For example, this is often used to defend the prejudice against gay marriage. The argument that is usually made is that if gays are allowed to marry, what's next-allowing people to marry their animals?

Another popular argument is what I refer to as the "I know a guy" argument. There might be a formal name for it, but basically it is the premise of discounting an argument because someone has first-hand knowledge that, in his or her opinion, disproves the argument.

The classic example is made by smokers in regards to the argument that cigarette smoking is harmful to one's health. Despite overwhelming evidence, someone who smokes and does not want to give the habit up will often rationalize, or counter argue, that their "cousin's uncle smoked three packs a day and lived to be 95 years old."

I am hearing this argument a lot now in the area of vegetarianism/veganism. It seems like many people knew a vegetarian who ran twenty miles a week and died at 34.

Are people lying, or exaggerating? Maybe, but not necessarily. They might indeed know someone that has lived to be very old smoking or eating meat and dairy. Or someone who lived a healthy life and died very young. But maybe, they are hanging onto the hope that what they really know is true, is not. Or, and perhaps most likely, it's a form of justification--providing a reason not to change or a way to sleep at night.

Ultimately, our lives are so personal that I think sometimes we lose perspective and neglect the principles of research and statistics. In the world of statistics, an outlier (or data in the tail of the bell curve) is perfectly normal, even if there are no other factors affecting the result. And whether vegetarians/vegans live longer or smokers die younger, it is not determined on an individual basis, it is based on the normal distribution of that bell curve. Thus if you plotted smokers and non-smokers on a bell curve according to the age of death, the mean score (age of death) of smokers is much less than non-smokers.

On the individual level, and in this example, there are of course a number of factors that can determine how long someone lives. However, knowing someone that differs from the premise being made, does not, in itself defeat the premise. In fact, it's a terrible argument and it's surprising how many people view this as a some sort of trump card.

While I've provided a simple common example, if you listen to conversations--the "I know a guy" argument is more prevalent than it may seem. Although perhaps not as directly related to the bell curve, I heard the argument a lot in the healthcare debate, the "I know a guy from Canada and he had to wait six months to get a surgery he needed." It is also often extended to someone who is personally involved or offended. Consider, for example, the proposal that children of single parents are at a higher risk for drug use than a two parent home. I'll hear, "Well, I'm a single mom and my kids have never done drugs." Or I'll hear it associated with inside personal information, such as "farm animals are not mistreated because I know a farmer and he takes good care of his animals."

The world is a big place, and in the grand scheme of things, we are extraordinarily average. We, and the processes around us, are also very predictable. Though statistics can be difficult to understand, in almost all instances we fall within the normal distribution of a bell curve--falling within one and certainly two standard deviations of the mean.

Unfortunately, even though it may be to some degree counterintuitive, you may indeed know a guy, but it proves nothing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

164. Respect everyone's graduate

Very recently, I had the privilege of attending my sister's college graduation at the University of Akron. Like many adult students, she has worked very hard--balancing classes, work and family. The graduation ceremony is a chance to be recognized for that hard work by family and friends. It's a chance to close a chapter in one's life and look forward to the future. Finally, it's a chance to say goodbye to professors and classmates.

Individuals celebrate the ceremony in different ways, as some react with relief, others jubilation. Most are at least a little emotional, some very. Many people invite only close family members, others share the occasion with as many people for which graduation tickets can be obtained. Some graduates enjoy the moment formally, in suits or beautiful dresses, others in shorts and flip-flops. Whatever, it is their graduation.

The ceremony itself is often traditional--with moments of reflection, inspiration and aspiration. It can be rich with majesty, though some are kept simple. Admittedly, the ceremony can run long--very long, as each graduate gets his or her individual moment to be announced to the crowd and walk across the stage. And, to ensure that each graduate enjoys that moment--when his or her name is proudly projected onto the gathering-graduation officials kindly request that applause and yelling be held until the end.

Unfortunately, many people in the crowd simply cannot control themselves. Whether this action is now marked in tradition or as a measure of defiance, it's not long after the names start to be read that people start yelling . . . "Way to go Sally!" Then, of course, the next family can't let anyone think that they love their graduate any less and yell something like, "Way to go Mary, we love you!" And away we go.

Some graduation officials just accept it as part of the process and simply wait for the hooting and hollering for individuals to end before reading the next name, others are annoyed that people can't follow simple directions and request that the crowd be more respectful. It doesn't work, the yelling and screaming quickly resumes.

In keeping up with technology, the University of Akron asked that people put away their cell phones. They asked that they not only turn off the ringer, but also that they refrain from texting, playing games, etc. Of course, asking people to sit patiently without using their phones for two hours borders on absurdity. It is far too much to ask people to sit back and just enjoy the moment on behalf of their graduate without an addition form of entertainment. The request was respected for about half an hour (about our attention span these days) before the audience was littered and lit with people on their cell phones.

However, what was probably most annoying were the people who could not sit still for the ceremony and those that left early--after their family member had been called. The audience was packed with long rows of people filling E.J. Thomas Hall and each exit imposed on every other person in the row. While obviously there are some legitimate reasons for exit, some acted as if they were at a ball game and seemed to leave every few minutes on a beer run.

Each graduate enjoys about twenty seconds to be individually recognized on stage. And my niece, armed with her camera and ready to catch that moment forever on film, waited anxiously for her mom's name to be called. However, she recognized that with our name near the end of the alphabet, more and more people were exiting. Normally calm and laid back, she leaned over and whispered to me that if someone is exiting in front of her when her mom's name is called she was going to be very upset.

And that is the whole point, it is about respect--about allowing others to enjoy the moment as you wish to enjoy it. It's also about being kind and considerate, about being willing to endure a bit a sacrifice as to not ruin the occasion for others. It never ceases to amaze me (obviously, as I continue to write about it) that some people do not seem to consider how their actions affect others.

I'll always remember my sister's moment on stage, and how hard she worked to earn that right. Unfortunately, I'll also remember the cell phones, the mom interrupting many others as she allowed her child to literally crawl down the long aisle, and the people who almost ruined the occasion for my niece, our family and the families of many others.

Finally, I'll remember the woman who yelled at the top of her lungs and from the top row, "I love you Danesiha," at least four random times throughout the ceremony. In my opinion, it is a shame that she and others who acted as she did needed to engage in such a public interruption to "prove" her love for their graduate. And, it is more of a shame that no respect is offered to others wanting to share in that same love for their graduate.