Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lance Berkman -- A Matter of Character

If you've ever read anything I've posted on this blog about National Baseball Hall of Fame voting, you likely recognize that I have pretty liberal standards -- I'd bet among the most welcoming standards around. (For more, see here.) As part of that, I don't put much stock in the "character" criteria that is part of the process. To me, it's about performance on the field, regardless of my thoughts on the "character," "morality," or other such stuff of the players I would evaluate. That said, I think that if character is something folks who actually vote do care about -- and signs suggest that many of them do -- then recent news about Lance Berkman should cast serious doubt about his qualification.

Now, I begin this by recognizing that Lance Berkman is by no means a sure thing Hall of Famer. In fact, I don't think he'll be a Hall of Famer. His 366 home runs, 1905 hits, 1234 RBIs, and .293 batting average, while probably good enough for my very open standards, fall short of or in the same range as other players who didn't even make it past their first year on the ballot (Joe Carter, for example). Still, I imagine Berkman might get at least a handful of votes and some discussion when his ballot time comes. Yet, if those voters use the character test, they ought to examine Berkman's recent appearance in an advertisement against the city of Houston's Proposition 1 -- a ballot referendum that, if approved, would uphold the city's prohibition of discrimination against individuals for, among other things, gender identity.

Here I'm suggesting that in evaluating character, we ought to take into account willful ignorance, by which I mean not just ignorance (as we all have ignorance of some things; none of us knows everything), but maintained ignorance even in the face of clear exposure to knowledge that would keep one from being ignorant. Berkman's arguments about men using a faux "trans" identity to access women's restrooms to attack women and girls fit that definition of willful ignorance. Studies have shown no evidence of patterns of this kind of behavior. And even if Berkman didn't know that -- though it's been pretty prominently publicized by Houston Unites, which is leading the effort to pass Proposition 1 -- a simple cursory recognition of recent stories involving Penn State and the Catholic Church should demonstrate to Berkman that singling out transgendered folks not only perpetuates a demeaning and harmful stereotype, but also doesn't stop sexual assault and misconduct from happening.

So, if I was voting in a few years when Berkman is eligible, and I was of the mind to consider character when voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I would have to have serious reservations about Berkman because of this advertisement. More to the point, Berkman would fail the character test because of the willful ignorance he displays in this ad.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Reflections on this Labor Day

On this Labor Day, I'm taking some time to think of all the folks whose labor contributes through a myriad of ways to my country and my world. Of particular note this year, I want to acknowledge folks who work at fast food restaurants. Amid national discussions regarding significantly raising minimum wage levels, I've seen considerable disparagement of folks who work at fast food restaurants, yet I go to places such as Burger King, McDonalds, and Subway frequently, and I see folks working quite hard whose labor deserves respect, not disparagement. The next time we celebrate the contributions of the firefighter who saves someone's life, the soldier who defends the country, the teacher who puts in long hours hoping to educate our young people, the utilities worker who works overtime away from home restoring power, and so on, let's not forget that the fast food workers who provide that teacher's coffee, that firefighter's breakfast, that utilities worker's lunch, and so on are providing valuable contributions as well. This is one reason why I support -- at the very least -- a living wage for folks who work at fast food restaurants and, for that matter, everyone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Long-Awaited Completion of a Voyage

This coming January will mark 20 years since the debut of the television series Star Trek: Voyager.  When the series debuted in 1995, I tuned in religiously.  For the first season or two, if I didn't see every episode when it aired, I came very close to it.  Then, working on my Master's degree interceded; life moved on from there; and except for the occasional instance when I happened to catch it, I didn't see much of the final five seasons of the show.

By the time the show ended its seven-season run in May 2001, I was living across the country from where I was when it began, I was a few months away from starting my Ph.D. program, and I was generally out of touch with the Star Trek television universe.  It had been two years since my favorite show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, had ended, and even though I had remained a little more regular in watching that until the end, I still hadn't been as consistent about it as I had been in the early 1990s when that show first started.

For Christmas 2006, knowing it was my favorite television show of all time, my wife bought me the complete collection of Deep Space Nine, and I began the process of watching the entire series from beginning to end -- a process that didn't take me too long to complete.  Then, two and a half years ago, when I got an Amazon Kindle and signed up for Amazon's Prime service, with access to Voyager available as part of that service, I began watching Voyager from the beginning.  It's been and off-and-on process over the past two and a half years, sandwiching episodes and sets of episodes within breaks in my workload.  Last night, though, I completed my voyage (pun intended) through the show's run, and I'm a bit sad to see it go, for the sake of nostalgia but also for something more.

A couple of years ago, just after I started watching the entire run of Voyager, one of my students told me that the show struggled for the first couple seasons but found its stride in Season 3 and was noticeably better after that.  I would agree completely with that assessment, and I would add that, in my final analysis, Voyager gets an undeserved bad rap.  In particular, the show left on its best note, as the seventh season contained a lot of excellent work that sought to address conscientiously the interests and complexities of multiculturalism.  From its beginning in 1966, Star Trek has always sought to articulate a multicultural vision, starting with the constitution of the original series' cast.  Still, especially with the original series, those attempts were clumsy, a reflection of a 1960s version of multiculturalism from which the show emanated.  Among the many reasons I like Deep Space Nine so much is that the series addressed multiculturalism with complexity and nuance that reflected growth in understandings of power relations and ethics in intercultural situations that had occurred by the 1990s.  Voyager seemed to seek to articulate some of that same understanding throughout its run, but it really hit its stride in its seventh season in doing so.

Interesting enough, Voyager's run ended just a few months into the George W. Bush administration and just a few months before the events of September 11, 2001, both of which facilitated (though, it should be noted, did not originate) a multicultural backlash within the United States that remains prevalent today.  I wonder if the final season of Voyager would have been the same had it aired today.  I tend to think it wouldn't.  I also, though, tend to think it would be worth returning to where Voyager left off in its articulation of multiculturalism and seeing if we can chart a course for a renewed voyage that furthers that mission. Voyager was certainly not free from critique, but it seemed to be moving in the right direction -- a direction that's worth revisiting and (again, pun intended) reengaging.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Long Distance Dedication

My interest in popular music blossomed in the Summer of 1987. Sure, I knew my share of hit songs before then, but I didn't really follow popular music until that summer, starting with watching Dial MTV every weekday and listening to Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40 every weekend.  The story lines of song working their way up and down the chart appealed to me, and soon thereafter, as I noted on this blog a little over a year ago, I discovered Billboard magazine as the source of those story lines and the histories of artists' performances throughout the rock 'n' roll era.

I soon learned, though, that Dees' countdown did not match Billboard's countdown, and I realized that that occurred because Dees took his Top 40 from Radio and Records magazine, not Billboard.  For the Billboard Top 40, I needed to listen to Casey Kasem, and I migrated to his weekly countdown, American Top 40, instead.

Less than a year later, in August 1988, Kasem left American Top 40, replaced by Shadoe Stevens.  I continued to follow along for a while with Stevens, at least until midway through 1989, when I bought a subscription to Billboard and no longer needed to listen to a countdown to learn the Top 40.  Still, Kasem had left his mark.  Listening to Kasem's American Top 40 significantly fostered my interest in popular music that became a fundamental influence on my decision to study popular culture, which I now do for my career.  I doubt I would be the same person I am today without those experiences listening to American Top 40, and so I owe Kasem, who passed away the other day, a dedication of gratitude for the part he played in making me who I am.

Thank you, Casey.  You are already missed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Setting Something Straight

I had never really heard of Brendan Eich until this past week or two.  Well, I might have heard of him before, but I don't remember it, and I wouldn't have generally known who he is until the past week or two.  Eich has, though, been in the news the past couple of weeks in conjunction with his resignation as CEO of Mozilla.  In short, he resigned under pressure stemming from his contribution to efforts to pass Proposition 8 in California and his stance regarding that proposition.  Proposition 8 would have encoded into law a definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Some folks have expressed worry about what's happening to Eich (such as here, here, and here), concerned about how pressuring Eich may represent a sort of an antidemocratic totalitarianism that fails to live up to the diversity of opinions that ought to be celebrated within the kinds of free and open dialogue and practice needed for functioning democracy.  To some degree, I understand the concern.  As I have indicated before on this blog, I have significant concerns about the power of organizations -- particularly organizations as employers -- to punish people based on those folks' expressions of their opinions.  Meanwhile, I have serious concerns about the content of Prop 8 and the kinds of arguments that were made in favor of it.  Still, I think I could work with folks -- and I'm sure that I do -- who supported Prop 8 and legislation like it, and, though I find their reasoning seriously misguided, I might be able to understand how well-meaning  people may have thought they should have supported Prop 8.  Heck, particularly given the kind of homophobic culture in which I grew up, I likely myself -- as liberal as I was even then -- might have seen some merit in some of those arguments a couple of decades ago.

Yet, even in saying that, two points warrant mention.  First, I am straight.  As such, I have the luxury of knowing that Prop 8 and legislation like it would have not significantly directly affected my choices and rights.  So, when I say I could work with folks who support Prop 8, I also wouldn't have to go to work every day knowing these people want to deny me rights, opportunities, and frankly my humanity.  If I was not straight, that would not be the case.  At the end of January and beginning of February, I was honored to take part in BGSU Firelands' staging of the play 8, which depicts elements of the trial that overturned Proposition 8 after California voters voted the proposition into law.  The play is worth seeing if you can get a chance to do so.  In particular, among other things, it demonstrates the serious deficiencies in the arguments in favor of Prop 8, and it shows some of the dehumanizing and very real damaging elements of Prop 8 and legislation like it.

And those damaging elements of Prop 8, then, get to the other point worth mentioning.  As I see folks expressing concern about how Eich's resignation demonstrates a kind of thought control limiting freedom of expression and opinion in ways that oppress, discriminate, and work against democracy, let's not forget to apply those same concerns to Prop 8.  Prop 8 literally sought to do exactly that ... and more.  It sought to encode in law a particular view of marriage, along with a concomitant view of sexuality, and thus criminalize -- or at the very least legally and socially delegitimize -- practices that expressed alternatives to that particular view.  As such, Prop 8 was the thought police, and it was also the action police.  It was oppressive, it was discriminatory, and it worked against the kinds of free and open dialogue and practice that a democracy would ask of us.

So, when I see and hear arguments about how folks such as Eich are being oppressed and not tolerated in a way that a tolerant society should tolerate them, I'm very apt to call bull shit.  Prop 8 was intolerant, oppressive, and frankly heinous.  Legislation like it is too.  When your opinion is support for legislation that seeks to encode into law your own view so that others have to follow your view, even though following other views would not limit or incur upon the rights of others, then this is not simply the matter of opinion that many defenders of Eich and others who have expressed support for legislation like Prop 8 try to claim.  Their opinion is not simply their opinion; it's an opinion based on forcing others to conform to their opinion.

In the end, maybe Eich's resignation wasn't the proper course of action here.  I really don't know, and I don't know enough about the situation to state an opinion.  But I do know that Eich's opinion on Prop 8 embodied the same kinds of things that his defenders are claiming about the pressure that influenced Eich's resignation.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


No, by my title I'm not referring to the British band best remembered for their song "Our House," though that's worth a listen.

Rather, I'm referring to the fact that today the NCAA men's basketball tournament begins.  For nearly 25 years, this has been one of my most favorite days of the year, and I'm not alone.  For folks who follow men's college basketball, the prospect of a full day's worth of basketball beginning just after noon Eastern time and ending more than 12 hours later, followed by another day of the same thing, filled with dramatic games, incredible upsets, and season-ending competition is delightfully entertaining.  That's exactly how I've felt over the past decade and a half, and it's how I want to feel today.

However, like my choice to give up college football in 2012, I've decided this season to give up men's college basketball.  I think there is a very legitimate place for men's basketball on college campuses.  Basketball can be a very enjoyable game to watch and/or to play, and it can be played on an intercollegiate level in a very reasonable way that is conducive to community development while not requiring an amount of resources that burdens the institution.

Yet, particularly after writing my most recent book chapter, I've come to feel that men's college basketball occupies too much of an unreasonable position at enough institutions.  At many institutions, men's college basketball asks for an inordinate amount of resources and often commands an inordinate amount of influence.  So, while I have remained peripherally informed about men's college basketball this season, I have generally chosen not to watch or follow the sport.  At times, this has been difficult.  Over the past two weeks in particular I wanted very strongly to turn on numerous conference tournament games.  However, but for seeing a few moments here and there, I refrained, and I will be doing the same today and throughout the NCAA men's tournament.  While in past years I would fill out not only an NCAA men's basketball bracket, but also an NIT bracket, a CBI bracket, and a CIT bracket, this year I have done none of them.  While in past years, I would have turned my television (or the CBS Sports website) on around noon on Thursday and sought to have men's basketball on whenever I could that day and the following three days, this year I will not be watching.  While in past years, I would have been thrilled that my major conference team of choice -- Michigan State -- is a favorite (even President Obama picked them), this year, as hard as it will be, I will not be monitoring their games, and I will know only peripherally how they have done.

Meanwhile, women's basketball typically shares a facility with men's basketball at colleges and universities, and thus it might be part of the same problem as the men's game, given that the resources devoted to basketball arenas constitutes a major part of what I see as the problem. I feel confident, though, that with a very few possible exceptions (and even then, given the types of media coverage and exposure, these don't really appear to be exceptions) women's basketball is not driving the inordinacy of athletics' influence and use of resources at colleges and universities.  So, I will find the pleasure that I usually derive from men's basketball in women's basketball (which I like better anyway).  I have filled out my bracket and entered a couple pools for the NCAA women's basketball tournament.  I will, when possible, be putting the women's NCAA tournament on my television or computer.  And though I am disappointed that my favorite team -- Bowling Green -- barely missed the NCAA tournament, I will follow along as best I can as the Falcons play in the Women's NIT, starting with a home game against High Point in Bowling Green tonight.

As for men's basketball, like football, perhaps it can reenter my life some day, and I don't think men's basketball has as many obstacles as football does to do so.  For the time being, though, the most salient "March madness" would seem to be the madness of the resources and influence that men's basketball receives, and that's a madness in which I do not care to participate.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Diversity vs. Division

I did not watch the Super Bowl this past weekend. I can honestly say that I haven't seen a moment of the game -- not even a highlight of the game shown afterward. So, I didn't know about Coca Cola's "America the Beautiful" commercial until folks started to talk about it after the game ended. When I heard about it, I watched the commercial.

Predictably, a number of folks took to places such as Twitter to voice displeasure that parts of "America the Beautiful" were sung in languages other than English during the commercial. Fortunately, it appears that even more people called out the English-only folks for the problematic aspects of what they were saying.  Perhaps just as predictably, a number of political pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Glenn Beck, voiced their opposition to the commercial.  Among these, Beck suggested that the commercial was divisive because it set up a dichotomy in which either one is in favor of particular immigration policies or one is racist.

Honestly, though the immigration reading of the commercial is certainly there to be had, I hadn't even connected the commercial to immigration until I read Beck's comments.  To me, it came across as a commercial that reflected the diversity of cultures -- and with that the diversity of languages -- that constitute the United States of America and have constituted the country since before it even became a country.  We are not a country of one language, and democracy would compel us not to be a country of one language, for reasons I have explained before on this blog.  As I explained in that blog post, there are elements of racism built into English-only perspectives and policies.  The kind of diversity represented in having "America the Beautiful" sung in multiple languages can help to facilitate unity rather than divisiveness within democracy because it represents inclusion of multiple voices and the multiplicity of perspectives that those voices represent.

When I hear folks such as Beck argue that the Coke commercial is divisive, it rings as the same tone as what I heard from Beck's fellow conservative commentator, Sean Hannity, this summer when he responded to President Obama's speech about the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin verdict.  I was travelling by car on the day that Obama made that speech, and as I was flipping through radio stations, I heard Hannity say that Obama had a chance to promote unity but that Obama's comments had been divisive.  Yet, when I subsequently listened to Obama's speech, it seemed to reflect quite the opposite of what Hannity said.  Obama attempted to address and incorporate both the perspectives of those who were disappointed in the verdict and the perspectives of those who agreed with the verdict.  Similarly, Obama's comments attempted to address and incorporate the perspectives of many African-American communities who felt that the case reflected histories of failures of U.S. institutions to provide justice to African Americans as well as the perspectives of other communities, such as many white communities, who felt that the verdict represented a system of justice working effectively.  The ability to address and incorporate alternate and even opposing perspectives is fundamental to a functioning democracy, yet the likes of Hannity were dissatisfied because Obama's comments included not only their perspectives, but also perspectives different from theirs.  Hannity's comments thus reflect an exclusionary perspective that works against democracy, and the suggestion that portraying multiple languages in connection with U.S. identity is divisive does the same.

In the end, comments such as Hannity's about Obama's speech and Beck's about Coca Cola's commercial reinforce the power of privilege.  They call for unity built around privilege, wherein oppressed folks are asked to conform to an empowered culture and its perspectives.  I say this recognizing that neither the Obama administration nor the Coca Cola company is some kind of pure defender of social justice and democracy.  Far from it.  Indeed, incorporation of surface-level diversity can often serve as a kind of smoke screen that hides deeper forms of oppression.  In the case of Coca Cola, we might argue that the incorporation of multiple languages and cultures serves a kind of colonizing interest, hailing various folks to become consumers of this transnational company's products and thus increasing the company's global influence and power without real attention to the political, economic, and social conditions of need of the folks whom the company is hailing.

Yet, the kinds of comments about the incorporation of diverse perspectives offered by the likes of Hannity and Beck not only don't serve as a necessary resistance to such transnational influence and power; they advocate a form of colonization themselves, asserting the power of particular cultures and perspectives to dominate others.  As my wife very eloquently put it, diversity does not equal division.  She's right, and while that doesn't mean that Coke is an exemplar of standing for democracy, the sentiment of Coke's Super Bowl commercial does reflect democracy in action in a way that the commercial's detractors fail to do.