Monday, May 27, 2013

Opening the doors: Gay athletes in America

As an extension of Doc Oc's recent post,  Between the Lines: Covering (and Uncovering) SportsRobbie Rogers became the first openly gay male to play in a U.S. professional sport yesterday. Please watch the two minute clip to the right, honoring this landmark day in sports.

Similar to many of the speculations on Mr. O'Connor's post, I think Jason Collins has truly paved the way for proud gay athletes to play competitively at a high level while being comfortable with their sexuality. It is so brave, I just cannot imagine how much Roberts' "head was spinning" not just during the game, but for the months if not years leading up to yesterday.

In fact, Jason Collins sent Rogers a good luck, supportive tweet before the game: "Good luck tonight and Send and Seattle Sounders home with a loss ." It excites me when stories like these come on ESPN or the news. In the words of YouTube user Tr33fiddy, "Here's to a future not far off where stories like this are no longer stories." Powerful words, that I hope hold true as more of these circumstances arise in the world of sports. Lastly, with a sport like soccer (the most widely watched sport in the world) it would be nice to see stories like these in countries outside of the U.S as well.

Currently, European soccer leagues are (and have been for decades) experience profoundly upsetting displays of racism and homophobia. For more details check out one of my previous posts, 

Racism oppresses European soccer leagues. What do you think Robbie Roger's bravery means to both sports, and American society? Are you optimistic for the future with stories like these?

Tax the "Stinking Weed"

When studying the rich early history of the Jamestown settlers, much of the economy during that time revolved around the growth, cultivation, and trade of tobacco, known as "the stinking weed." Among disease and famine, tobacco also fueled the 80% death rate in Jamestown during that time. Unfortunately, unlike the raw tobacco that was colonial gold, tobacco has become infused with poisons and commercialized in every pocket of the world.

According to preliminary data from the CDC, An estimated 45.3 million people, in the United States smoke cigarettes and is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for
approximately 443,000 deaths, or 1 of every 5 deaths, in the United States each year. Similar to what the founders thought about in Jamestown, is a relevant thought today: Tax the hell out of the stuff. Not only would it generate immense revenue for the Government, hopefully it would deter people from causing their own demise.

The Allied Health Sciences and Practice shows that a 50-cent per pack federal cigarette tax increase would generate $10.3 billion in new revenue each year. In addition, it would decrease the numbers of youth smokers by 10% or 1.7 million. Tobacco smoking in adults would also drop by roughly 3%, resulting in nearly 1.5 million fewer smokers. Overall future smoking related deaths would be decreased by more than 850,000 and would result in long-term health care savings of 32 billion dollars.  Professor Jonathan Klein of the University of Rochester states the higher prices should have the positive effect of reducing teenage smoking.   Tobacco Free Kids furthers that “Every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue, even while reducing smoking. Higher tobacco taxes also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs, including Medicaid expenses. States can realize even greater health benefits and cost savings by allocating some of the revenue to programs that prevent children from smoking and help smokers quit.” Such taxes have been considered with alcohol and gambling as well, and are commonly referred to as “sin taxes,” Do you think it is a good idea to increase “sin taxes”? How would this parallel to the Jamestown colony? Please share your thoughts below.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Diversity in Schools: Closing racial and economic achievement gaps

With recent classroom discussion about economic and education disparities, we compared North Shore suburbs with other towns on the Union Pacific West line. There are inherent gaps within our education system. First, According to the National Journal 2012: “White and Asian-American students graduated at a higher rate in nearly every state across the U.S. compared with black and Hispanic…according to preliminary data released by the Education Department.” Latinas earn 56 cents, blacks earn 75 cents for every dollar white men earn. In 2002, the median household income for whites was $44,964, compared with $29,177 for blacks. The poverty rate for blacks is almost triple that of whites.

It is vital for our education system to prioritize closing these gaps a goal because of the benefits that stem from diversity. Coming from New Trier, we are incredibly blessed to attend such a prestigious public high school. On the other hand, there is little diversity which may be harmful to our education.. Research has established that diverse educational environments benefit students academically, as well as in the development of social understanding and skills. When you bring people together to learn, not only are you creating a marketplace of ideas, but also you are allowing people of all different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds to bring their own perspective to a learning environment. This is beneficial in several ways.
A large national longitudinal study involving 25,000 undergraduates attending 217 four-year colleges and universities showed that students who interacted with racially and ethnically diverse peers showed the greatest ‘engagement in active thinking, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills. This is important for education because critical thinking is the most important skill students can use in the workplace. Second, According to a study from the University of Michigan democratic citizenship is “strengthened when undergraduates understand and experience social connections with those outside of their [own social economic group].” Third, the Center for American Progress states 85% of 321 large global enterprises “strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.”

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Health/Fitness and Social Class

Another strong indicator of class is fitness and self image. I'm currently writing this post while watching a new program on ESPN2 called, "CrossFit Games" sponsored by Reebok. The premise of the show is to find the most fit individual in America. 

Whether its jogging, cycling, yoga, or lifting weights, exercise has become a popular American fad. Each of the competitors on "CrossFit Games" tells the camera on their cameos their names, hometown, and the gym or health club they exercise at or "belong to." This is the first indicator of class, as these clubs are high end and mostly allow access to those who are paying a monthly membership. This is something valued by the upper rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Not only do the people who pay for these memberships have access to the pristine facilities offered (like East Bank Club of Chicago), but there is also an inherent sense of inclusion by "belonging" to a club. Belonging to a club or an elite group is definitely an indicator of high social class as it is an exclusive club, and will only take those who can afford the monthly premiums. I think this is especially true on the North Shore. I usually work out at "LA Fitness." LA Fitness is a gym that targets a different demographic as they only charge $20/month to join, compared to a health club like East Bank which is roughly $180/month. While observing the type of people at LAFitness, I've noticed differences from a higher end club yet the people in both places come to achieve the same goal: getting or staying fit. I've also heard, from some of my friends, more expensive health clubs also have a bar where the members can order healthy foods and drinks, which tend to also reflect social class. 

Health and dieting are also a notable aspect of social class. People who constantly work out to better themselves physically also take dieting to heart. This requires eating healthy food, often marked up in price. We talked about Whole Foods in class. These foods do tell stories to the shopper, explaining the entire process from cultivation to production. People who care about their dieting will look to every aspect of the food they are eating even if it is three times the price per pound. While people may think Whole Foods is too expensive, remember that they are catering specifically to a certain demographic. Whole Foods Co-Founder John Mackey says on a KQED Forum, "If people think we’re too expensive or the quality’s not very good or the services aren't good... they have plenty of alternatives in the marketplace We don’t make everybody happy. But who does? We do have a $12 billion business, so somebody likes us.” This again brings back the exclusivity, appealing to only those who are willing to pay for top-of-the-line produce. Please note some examples you see in your environment that are applicable to health/fitness and social class. 

Adirondack Chairs and Class

Recently, we discussed the interpretation of social class and landscape. One marker as noted by Doc OC was the "Adirondack chair." I'm quite familiar with these chairs as the camp I went to (in Maine for countless summers) was abundant with them; They were seemingly sprinkled up and down most lush, green hills on campus.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Adirondack chair Wikipedia describes it as, "a simple rustic wooden chair for outdoor use. In the original design it was made with 11 flat wooden boards, with a straight back and seat. It also features wide armrests."

It is also said to be the perfect "leisure" chair, becoming increasingly popular at parks, caf├ęs, etc. The chair itself is a marker of social class. Where you find well kept grass in a beautiful park or large green area, you may find yourself a fleet of Adirondacks to relax in. It would be shocking to find people lounging in Adirondack chairs in urban areas. Even World Market, a high end specialty import store, notes the elegance of these lounge chairs.  Under the chair reads a tag entitled, "Why We Love It" where World Market provides the description of the chair: "A signature silhouette of outdoor living, our Antique-White Classic Adirondack Chair's wide, slanted seat invites endless relaxation. Built for comfort, this chair provides a timeless look ideal for bringing classic design sensibility to your favorite outdoor hangout."

While providing a homey, summery feel, these chairs appeal to upper class individuals who want to relax in the sun, or just make their lawns more visually appealing. Recently, my sister (student at Trinity College) told me that her school decided to add Adirondacks to the campus' main quad.  The chairs add "charm" to the campus' already greenery that costs tremendous amounts of money to maintain. The article adds that the chairs have been a " huge hit on campus this spring. Students take advantage of this ideal lounge location from morning till night, moving the chairs around the quad to best suit the angle of the sun and the size of their group. As the semester draws to a close, the Adirondack chairs provide a peaceful setting for students to study, work in groups, socialize, or unwind after a long day." This reminded me of Fitzgerald's  The Great Gatsby when Jay Gatsby's "over fourty acres of lawn and garden"(5) was described with pristine and rich. It was believed that Gatsby had countless varieties of beautiful, blooming flowers in his garden brought in from all around the world. This speaks directly to the relationship between class and landscape.  Gatsby as well as much of the high class values beautiful and immense gardens and the flux of the adirondack chairs on the North Shore especially parallels this.  Why is it that an adirondack chair wouldn't likely be found in a lower income area? Also, please consider why our society values prestige of landscape?  Please compare these findings with our trip to the Kenilworth Beach.