Mayor Emanuel: No to schools, yes to a new arena for a (currently) craptastic basketball program.

Demonstrators hold placards during a Chicago Teachers Union protest in ChicagoSomehow, we knew it would come to this, didn’t we, fellow Chicagoans? Those of us who were completely fed up and disenchanted with former Mayor Richard M. Daley felt that a vote for President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, would symbolize a complete change from the way the city was run under Daley. For 22 years, Daley oversaw a large metropolitan city and used his political power to manipulate the system so that his family and friends benefitted from it. Questioning his motives and policies were met with a patented Daley look of bewilderment, almost to suggest that you were completely out of line to wonder aloud why the city of Chicago is so rife with corruption, nepotism and a certain level of failure. So we voted for Emanuel, and we loved that the diminutive politician had already won a good number of us over by serving as the POTUS’s guard dog. Despite the fact that opponents of Emanuel like Gery Chico and Carol Moseley Braun had what I believe were much closer ties to the city, Emanuel picked up over 55% of the vote.

When Chicago Public Schools teachers striked in mid-September, it wasn’t a good thing. Disregard that. It was one of the worst things that could happen to a weakening public school system with no viable resolution in sight. It’s true that Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, didn’t help the cause by letting Emanuel know while he was a mayoral candidate that if all demands weren’t met, the teachers would go on strike. She also didn’t aid matters when she resorted to insulting the mayor at a Labor Day rally in 2012. However, Mayor Emanuel is a scrappy little guy and made it clear that he and then-CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard weren’t going to make a bunch of blind concessions. Granted, asking for a 30% raise over 2 years when you’re an employee in a system that is over half a billion dollars in the red won’t endear you to many folks, even scholastic-loving parents. Yet, some were up in arms when teachers simply wanted better job security, health benefits and resources, as well as a new standard for evaluating students devoid of using standardized tests. I believe most of the public were on the teachers’ side, and I’m sure many felt that Karen Lewis destroyed Emanuel and Brizard (who later quit) on her way to a solid victory.

As if the teacher’s strike wasn’t awful and embarrassing enough, then came the issue of the possibility of dozens of schools closing. I wrote in late-February about the potential closings and was incensed at the number of schools offered to be sacrificed to the elitist, capitalist gods. Well, instead of 129, “only” 49 schools have been closed. It’s been written that the closings were the largest in US history. 40,000 students were displaced and hundreds, if not thousands of teachers and staff members lost their jobs primarily due to mismanagement of the Chicago Public School system. Now, CPS has had issues before Mayor Emanuel took office, and I don’t mean to imply that he did nothing but exacerbate them, but he didn’t really do much to ameliorate them, either. Regardless of Emanuel’s efforts while there were dozens of schools on the chopping block, the fact that the closings happened during his term are not flattering. Decades from now, when thinking of Emanuel, two of the things that will stick out to me most are the teachers’ strike and school closings. Period.

So, not long after the school closings were made official and people and families had to deal with not having a say in how their lives would be forever altered, it was reported that Mayor Emanuel wants new facilities for DePaul University’s basketball program. At the McCormick Place, of all places. The men’s program has a great history, but has been a complete joke over the last five seasons. An overall record of 47-121 (with a paltry seven conference wins over the last five seasons) means that you should probably be more focused on getting better over having better facilities, although top-notch facilities do make some difference when it comes to athletics. The women’s program has been much better, posting a record of 117-52 over the same period of time. There have even been tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 berth as well for the Lady Blue Demons. The guys hoop squad has been lucky to win a handful of games in the large and tough Big East conference.

It’s true that the university, located in the rather plush Lincoln Park neighborhood, could use a new basketball arena for its program. The men’s and women’s teams have to play in Allstate Arena, in Rosemont, Illinois, which is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Chicago. Allstate Arena isn’t downtrodden, but no one will ever mistake it for a state-of-the-art basketball facility. Also, playing home games in the city would make it much easier for Chicagoans to see the Blue Demons play, and it’s safe to say that selling recruits on playing in Chicago instead of Rosemont would be a huge advantage. Chicago is home to some of the country’s finest high school basketball players, and it’s a shame that so many boys and girls not only pass on DePaul, but other in-state schools as well. DePaul’s contract with Allstate Arena expires after the 2015 season, and they clearly want a new home.

As big of a college sports fan as I am, I am not a fan of DePaul athletics. I have nothing against the school or its athletic program, but I’m just not a fan, in spite of my Chicago roots. These feelings, or lack thereof, have nothing to do with my disdain for Mayor Emanuel’s proposal. This proposal isn’t new, but now that there are actual specifics, the plan is much easier to criticize. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, just what in the entire hell are you thinking?

One large obstacle among many Chicagoans is what we would have to pony up to help build the new arena. $33 million in taxpayer money (out of the total cost of $173 million) isn’t much, really. And, oh yeah, Chicago isn’t in a world of debt right now, with systems failing all around and a lack of discourse that would ordinarily be used to help build them back up. Just focus on Emanuel’s $1.1 billion “Enhance Chicago” tourism and trade infrastructure revitalization effort, and all will be well. Yes, construction of the arena would create jobs, but the last time I checked, building an arena is not an eternal process. Nearly 4,000 permanent jobs as a result of the new arena would bring down Chicago’s unemployment rate of almost 11%, another boost to the city, but how exactly would a new arena do much to improve the “city’s quality of life,” Rahm? Would gang members suddenly call a truce in the spirit of DePaul’s new basketball home? Would the CPS high school graduation rate drastically increase because of the new facilities? Am I wrong when I express concern over how more tourists would stop gentrification, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia in the city?

Dammit, we’re talking about a private school with a basketball program that is collectively less-than-stellar. Say what you will about the women’s program, but unless you’re talking about UConn, Tennessee or Baylor, there aren’t a lot of women’s basketball programs that are cashcows. So while DePaul’s women’s team is certainly at the least a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big East, they’re simply not the main attraction when it comes to DePaul basketball. Unfortunately, the onus to bring in the cash will almost always fall on the terrible men’s program, which in most male-dominated sports circles, is otherwise known as “the basketball program.” How will that happen when not even 3,000 people showed up per game for the men’s squad last season?!

Of course, neighborhood residents aren’t too fond of the idea of using public taxpayer money to benefit a private (and Catholic) institution, and they’re right to at least question. Hell, there are people who don’t live anywhere near the 2nd Ward who can’t believe this could happen. Others and myself understand that the new arena would be used for more than just DePaul basketball, which somewhat softens the blow. Even though the United Center offered their services, rent-free, it wouldn’t be the smartest idea for a basketball program that has problems filling up Allstate Arena to try and do the same in the 22,000-seat UC. We would love it if Emanuel’s claims that the facilities would make Chicago second to none when it comes to tourism and hosting large events come to fruition, we really would. It’s just…we’re Chicagoans, and we know just how fucked up this city’s political arena can be. I wouldn’t put Emanuel in the same sentence as Daley just yet, but this plan stinks somethin’ serious.

I fully anticipate that DePaul’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be calling the McCormick Place home in the near future, and I also anticipate Chicago taxpayers coughing up hard-earned loot to help fund its construction and being peeved about it. To my understanding, not many Chicagoans have been enthused of late over DePaul basketball and I doubt that mentality will change anytime soon. No matter, because Chicago politicians do whatever the hell they please in the name of making our city “better.” Thanks for your concerns, Rahm.

P.S. I am completely aware that there have been other stadiums and arenas built using public funds, and that it is something that will never cease to exist. The intent of this post was not to compare or really even single Chicago out as the lone city in America in which shady political dealings sometimes occur. I wanted to point out that Mayor Emanuel did not take the friendliest stance with CPS (and also shunned the entire hell out of the Cubs’ brass when they wanted renovations to the ever-craptastic Wrigley Field), but seems to be very enthused about reallocating already-diminished funds to help build a new basketball arena and convention center which in my opinion, are unnecessary. And for DePaul, a private Catholic institution, at that. Huh…

Lame sensationalism and its relationship with gun and gang violence in Chicago.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or are a frequent viewer of Chicago newscasts, chances are you happen to be aware of many of the shootings that have taken place in Chicago so far in 2012, especially those that have occurred during the summer. Initial reports usually tell us that Person A shot Person B in a general location. Slowly, we get more details, including a more definite location, motive, weapon used and learn more about the perpetrator and victim. The amount of attention each shooting attracts generally depends on where the shooting took place, and who the perp and victim were. In fact, this method used by news outlets doesn’t apply to only gun violence. The “mob attacks” that seemed to plague some of the more affluent areas of the city this summer and last, happen with regularity in less affluent areas. A man who randomly attacks innocent people in Lincoln Park leads to these outlets doing seemingly everything in their power to put a stop to it. It’s not right, but it certainly is reality.

Like too many cities, large and small, Chicago has a problem with crime, especially criminal acts involving guns. As in other large cities, the shootings are disproportionately concentrated in the most disadvantageous neighborhoods. I believe it is safe to say that most acts of gun violence in the city involve gang members, be they acts of retaliation, initiation, or just senseless displays of aggression. According to the Chicago Police Department, not only does the city have the country’s largest gang population, but 75-80% of the city’s homicides are gang-related. There are an estimated 100,000 gang members in Chicago, compared to about 9,500 men and women (out of over 12,000) who are not just CPD employees, but police officers. Essentially, each police officer is responsible for 10.5 gang members. Take into account that obviously, officers have to worry about everyone outside of the gang spectrum who is up to no good, and it’s not very difficult to understand why police Supt. Garry McCarthy decided to hire close to another 500 Chicago police officers this year.

So how does the media often respond to a story of yet another shooting in Chicago? Sensationalism! Media types compare the environment here to one that can be found in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. Or, we get an article with the headline, “Wild West In Chicago”. Also, you can’t forget the cries of hopelessness and pushing of statistics that indicate that you’re more likely to get killed in Chicago than in Kabul…except those findings are skewed and in reality, bunk.

Allow me to acknowledge that sensationalism is not a device used by only the media when they desperately want to land more viewers, listeners and readers. Annoying Chicago rap artists who have subscribed to it along with glorification have recklessly labeled Chicago “Chiraq”. Even more annoying Chicago rap artists have decided that “Killanoise” is a more apt name for our state than Illinois. I’ve read ignorant  tweets that paint Chicago as some sort of kill-or-be-killed, post-apocalyptic city where each citizen owns a bevy of firearms and Kevlar vests. These tweets are usually so blatantly false that I can only deduce that the original poster put it out there to gain followers.

Every once in a while, it takes a snazzy headline to get more people to pay attention. My main qualm is when the headline gets in the way of the actual story. Instead of sitting down and figuring out how we can at least curb gang violence in Chicago, we as a collective lose our minds at the notion that a large metropolitan city in America could be comparable to a war zone in any way. So desperate to get a laugh, we would rather spread the ignorance around rather than come up with viable solutions to the problem of wayward youth in Chicago. While I don’t agree that there is power in prayer or that it accomplishes much, if anything at all, I wouldn’t tell anyone who chooses to pray for the victims or even suspects not to do so. However, all of your “Pray 4 Chicago” posts and that general sentiment won’t do a damn thing to stop any of the violence that happens here. In my personal experiences, I have never heard of prayer stopping a bullet or leading a bullet into a brick wall instead of a 7 year-old girl, like Heaven Sutton, or 16 year-old boy, like Blair Holt.

I mentor when I have time and have actually had the privilege to sit in on a focus group or two, and still feel I don’t do nearly enough. I once overheard after a meeting, “Kids in Chicago read these stories and think this shit is a movie”. It’s somewhat hard to see the severity in a situation when at almost every turn, it is being glorified by those you feel you relate to (rappers) and sensationalized by those who convey to you that they’re just doing their jobs; that they’re simply conduits of information (media).

The youth in Chicago need us to lead by example, and making light of the situation or at times resorting to a bit of fear-mongering won’t help matters at all. Chicago is not the world’s deadliest city, people. Ridiculous headlines don’t do much for the city’s image, either. I’m sure that the stories of violence here have deterred more than a few visits and vacations. We give credence to the exaggerations with every retweet, repost, and endorsement of a particular conviction that our city is wild and out of control. Enough. Anyone who doesn’ t live under a rock knows that there are parts of this city with problems involving gang and gun violence. Now that many of us are in the know, it’s time to start looking for ways to completely eradicate these issues.

What tweets are worse than those of a political nature, you did not ask?

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to offend anyone, although I’m sure that it will. I am not directing this post towards people who don’t post political tweets, but rather those individuals who feel that posting political tweets are a waste of time; meaningless. I fully intend for this post to be harsh, however, and these are my opinions, which I acknowledge as opinions and not indeed, fact. I will acknowledge that politics is generally about bullshit, and will also acknowledge that life in general, is about bullshit.

Do you remember when you were a child, at the dinner table? Think back to when your parent(s) had to literally beg you to eat your vegetables. Do you recall the “propaganda” they spewed to you? You know, telling you that if you don’t eat all of your vegetables, you’d get sick and wouldn’t grow up to be big and strong? (Hey, Karen, all of those damn peas and sweet potatoes you made me eat didn’t do a damn bit of good, you jerk.) Of course, as a child who knew everything there was to know, you vehemently refused to eat said vegetables. There was no way in hell you’d even begin to consume something that was so disgusting, and to you, a waste of dinner plate space. Then…you grew up. Despite the assumption that as you grow older, you favor intellect and intelligent discourse more and more, political tweets are just one of the things that for some reason, draw the ire of so many fully-grown adults on a regular basis.

This morning, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (MA) officially named Congressman Paul Ryan (WI) his running mate for the 2012 presidential election. A few on my Twitter timeline, like myself, chuckled. Some seemingly either didn’t know about this, or chose to ignore it. And then there was the group of people who just felt so inclined to post tweets like, “I guess I’m going to have to get off of Twitter until December” or “I can’t take all of this political crap on my timeline” or my favorite, “It looks like I’ll be muting/unfollowing a lot of people in the coming months”.

I get it: Politics isn’t exactly a popular topic to discuss. I should remind you, though, that politics is not sports. Nor is it entertainment, technology, or even dumb ass gossip. Politics are vital to the structure of the US, and if you don’t agree with that, I will just chalk up your belief to either you being far less than politically aware or making a blatant attempt to fit in with the cool crowd. Since so many of the people who feel that tweeting about politics is essentially “like jerking off into the wind” don’t often opine on a lot of the literal mundane shit that floats into their timelines, I figured I’d take the liberty of doing so myself.

  1. Retweeting parody accounts. Oh, how do I hate 99.9% of parody accounts found on Twitter. Initially, the idea of them didn’t seem so bad. In fact, I actually ran one myself until Twitter basically told me that I was impersonating an actual person…which is essentially the concept of a fucking parody account. As time passed, these accounts have become more and more annoying. Whether the account is one of the dozens of condescending Waldo accounts, fake Bill Walton, faux John Madden, Ted accounts, or just a parody account of the average celebrity, it’s gotten tired. Enough is enough. What makes a good number of these accounts even worse is that they steal tweets and post them as their own. Alas, there are folks on Twitter who still continue to be amazed by these accounts. If you are a theist of some kind, pray for them to learn what real humor is.
  2. Tweets that alert your timeline of the minutiae that is your daily life. There was once a time when Twitter was struggling to find its footing on the internet. With its perceived chief rival to be Facebook, the Facebook loyalists would not make the switch, or simply create a Twitter account because of the general idea that Twitter was more about “I just took a shit. It smells.” than actual meaningful information being exchanged between people all over the globe. Don’t get me wrong; there are still the people who feel the need to let their timeline know that they just ate a cheeseburger with no cheese. It’s just that the people of Twitter have progressed, a bit. Only a bit, though.
  3. “I’m about to go work out” tweets. I don’t include these with #2 because I wouldn’t exactly characterize working out as minutiae. While I don’t actively work out, I don’t have a problem with those who do. My qualm lies with the people who I assume think they’re earning some sort of cool points by announcing to their timeline that they are about to hit the gym in an effort to tighten up, or spy on people, usually of the opposite sex. This would also include the attractive women who post pics of themselves in their workout gear to Twitter. You’ve seen them: The shapely woman who rocks the silhouette pose in her new Nike attire so everyone can see just how shapely she truly is. You want attention, people. To deny as much would only hurt your cause.
  4. The Instagram craze. For personal reasons, I don’t take many pictures. Again, I don’t really have a problem with people who choose to. Again, my qualm lies with the people who are seemingly taking pictures for others. Check the fly shit: I don’t want to see yet another picture of your baby with his/her eyes open. No, I don’t care about what you had for dinner. Do you really think I want to see a morbidly obese woman at the gas station in a tutu, chugging a gallon of chocolate milk while playing the ukelele? Congratulations, you smoke weed, drink liquor and/or own a motor vehicle. I believe everyone should as often as possible think about what they’re tweeting, and whether or not it does anyone else any good. This same strategy should apply to Instagram.
  5. #TeamiPhone and #TeamDroid. You people literally sicken me. Please tell me how much money you’ve made by endorsing either product. It’s safe to assume that you get some sort of discount for turning yourself into a label whore, no? I have a Droid, and it’s only because I needed a new phone and at the time, it was free. I couldn’t care less about what brand my smartphone is, as long as it functions the way I want it to. Maybe my indifference can be attributed to my lack of savviness when it comes to technology, or possibly my realization that materialism is sophomoric and should be abandoned upon graduating from high school.
  6. Retweeting or tweeting sports rumors. These people are mostly sheep. I’d even go as far as to say they are slaves to the media. News is 24/7, but that doesn’t mean that every journalist has something to report at all hours of the day. This goes double for sports journalists. During a period of time in which there isn’t much news to report, you can find so many baseball, basketball, hockey and football media types spamming timelines with rumors on signings, trades, hirings, firings, and other transactions in their respective sports. As if posting this type of crap isn’t annoying enough, the mention of “sources” makes it much, much, much, much, much worse. Could you imagine giving a professor a term paper and listing anonymous sources, then expecting to be viewed as a good student?
  7. Twitter beefs. I love debate. I hate senseless, immature bickering. I do not hurl insults at anyone. Regardless of what anyone thinks, I do not post subliminal tweets. If I have a genuine problem with someone, I will do my best to hash it out, and if the issue can’t be resolved, they will be blocked. I’ve personally witnessed two grown ass people going at each other’s throats over shit that belongs only on an episode of 90210. All you’re doing when you resort to petty back and forth with someone is making yourself look like a jackass in the eyes of others who are easily more mature. Now, don’t construe a heated disagreement as my beefing with someone. I challenge almost everyone on my timeline at one point or another, and believe I am generally respectful. However, I will never digitally voice my disdain for someone because they wouldn’t play nice during recess, or because they are friendly with someone who I don’t particularly like.
  8. Endorsing ratchet behavior. We all have our “ignorant moments”. I prefer to keep mine private. Twitter, for most, is a public platform. Why would you want potentially every person on the planet to think that you’re ignorant? The amount of sexism, homophobia and racism on Twitter is disheartening. Of course, I’ve weeded out a lot of it from my timeline, but every once in a while, it creeps up again. I’ll save my controversial jokes and views for those who understand me best, because things often get lost in translation when in text, especially when the reader doesn’t personally know you.
  9. Using Twitter as a diary/journal. Yes, Twitter is technically a micro-blogging website. Or, at least that’s what it was originally intended to be. Since I joined in August of 2009, it has slowly transformed into more of a social networking site, and I am not totally adverse to the change. What really fries my chicken are the the people who whine incessantly. They bitch about failed relationships, their imaginary haters, incompetent co-workers, goals that they’re most likely not working towards and annoying family members. In moderation, tweeting about each of these things is perfectly fine. If I scroll down your timeline and see that you’ve devoted 45 out of your last 46 tweets to harping about how you can’t get a date, that a store you visited didn’t have a product you wanted, or expressing your displeasure with your selfish roommate for using the last of the ketchup, you may want to look into bidding on a life on eBay.
  10. The “Politics on Twitter is stupid” clan. Don’t care about politics, I beg of you. Let the rest of us virtually decide your future for you. I understand that not everyone is politically inclined, and that those people would rather not discuss politics. In addition, I realize that there are people who don’t talk about politics, for fear that their opinion(s) will be attacked. Some of these people are actually knowledgeable when it comes to politics, but would rather not have to deal with perfect strangers attempting to eviscerate them because of their belief(s). But you folk who practically insult something that is a passion of mine can kick big rocks while barefoot in the winter. You are not “dissing” my love of building model planes (which I actually suck at because I have no semblance of patience), but a subject that I decided to pursue in college, as I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Feel free to express how uncomfortable you are when talking about politics, or even witnessing it in any way. Just don’t bring yourself to denigrate something that impacts your life so greatly, whether you choose to accept it or not. Basically, grow the entire fuck up.

While I am a bit of a PoliSci nerd, my timeline is more than politics. Believe me, I have unfollowed people who only tweet about politics because I mainly use Twitter to find diversity. Besides, one-dimensional people are a nuisance, regardless of what it is they’re so scarily devoted to. The problem with many assumptions of political tweets are that most of them are not really soapbox-worthy. At least from what I’ve read, these people are mostly just sharing their beliefs. Occasionally, the shit can be a little preachy, and like the pointless Twitter beefs, some debates about politics turn into full-blown mud-slinging matches. Yet, I am a self-proclaimed scatterbrain, and my timeline definitely shows as much. Fortunately, for myself, I always manage to come back to what I feel is important. Now that Romney has his running mate, the presidential race is officially on. There will be lots of spirited debate, faulty claims, corrections and the like. You can be assured that my timeline will become a bit more political with each passing day. If you have a problem with that, you know what to do. Just let me know, so I can return the favor.

I unabashedly wear “summer goggles”. #SummertimeCHI

Two things I am in favor of: A pretty woman, and a sundress.

Chicago winters are a bitch. A huge, raging bitch. Note, I didn’t say “can be”. They simply, are. I have experienced Chicago winters for 23 of my 27 years on this planet, and I have never been sorry for the official end of the season, when you can confidently go outside without worrying about the cold air punching you in the face like you insulted its mother. In fact, I’m not even that fond of the spring. They can be as treacherous as the winters; giving you false hope of a bright, warm sunny day and leaving you with the brutal reality of a high of 61 degrees in temperature alone.

Despite my disdain for the unfortunately annual Chicago winter and spring (okay, maybe I’ll throw the bipolar fall in there, too), I am absolutely in love with our summers. Yes, the recent triple-digit temps weren’t my big boy cup of apple juice, but other than that, this summer, along with just about every other one I’ve had the pleasure of living through has been splendid. Average summer temps range from roughly 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and obviously, everything our city has to offer along with the gorgeous weather make Chicago better than your city during the summer season.

YES.

Hanging out with friends, going to Cubs games, walking down Michigan Ave. and enjoying a few months of relatively uninterrupted sunshine are a few other reasons why I go crazy somewhere in Chicago on June 20/21. One rather large reason are the women. The sundress, maxi dress, skinny jeans, bikini, tank top, heel, sandal and sneaker-wearing, smiling, hair-flowing, lovely afro-having, accessorizing, skateboarding, free-walking, confident, pleasant, social, colorful, attractive women that somehow appear from nowhere during the summer. I had this genuine revelation during a conversation with a friend this past Saturday: I adore women in the summer. Seriously, I do.

When it’s 22 degrees outside and the winds make it feel like it’s 2 degrees, many of us don’t want a damn thing to do with each other. We just want to get to school, work, home or wherever the hell it is that is away from the cold. In the summer, though…love. I find myself noticing women no matter where I go, and am almost never disappointed. Whether I’m in Hyde Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville, on State St. or Michigan Ave., I feel almost completely surrounded by women who catch my eye, for good reason. The scowl I might see on her face in the winter because it’s  too fucking cold is suddenly transformed into a near-magical smile in the summer. Her posture is better. Conversations are sublime, largely because of the happiness I can hear in her voice. Her walk emanates sexiness, but in a usually demure way. Even my compliments and thoughts of them are gentlemanly. It helps to be single and have the freedom to flirt and carry yourself casually, of course.

Zoe. Maxi dress. Owww.

There’s something about a woman in the summer that I just can’t put my finger on. When I was younger, I looked forward to summer baseball. Once those days and my teens were officially behind me, I began to acknowledge women, especially in the summer. There’s some sort of supernatural allure at work here, people. Perhaps I’m wearing “summer goggles”, as my friend suggested? Maybe. Hell, even Common posed the question: “Why do these girls look so good in the summer?” on “The Questions” (shoutout to Shake). Whatever it is, I will not fight it today, tomorrow, or ever.

Hazing: A barbaric (and unnecessary) way to “induct” a family member.

Former FAMU marching band drum major Robert Champion, who was beaten to death during a hazing ritual.

I am a member of a fraternity. What Greek letter organization, I will not say, because it’s irrelevant to this post. I will note that I went through two processes before I was “made” a member of this organization. The first was the pre-pledge stage, which sort of served as in introduction to what being a member of the fraternity would be like. The second was the actual pledge stage, which taught me a lot, but made my life a living hell for nearly three months. Actually, my life was a living hell for 2 months, 26 days, 17 hours, 43 minutes and 42 seconds, give or take a second or two.

When I was finally done and “made”, I was beyond ecstatic. The emotion I felt was nearly overwhelming. Hell, my linemate broke down in tears once we had the time to sit down and digest everything we had been through in order to get to that point. While I wasn’t close to crying, I understood his emotional display and didn’t have any qualms with it. But, again, that pledge process wasn’t anything to play with.

Without giving away exactly what I went through, I will state that it was both mentally and physically demanding, with more of the latter. It wasn’t just, “Thank you sir, may I have another” 24/7, but chores, tasks and exercise. Lots of exercise. There were certainly times when I wanted to “drop line” because of the physical rigors of pledging, but I felt that if I did, I would’ve gone through all of that for nothing. So I continued on, even though there were times when I was standing in front of future brothers (and sometimes sisters), thinking to myself, “WHY THE FUCK AM I DOING THIS?!” Technically, I was a willing participant, but I always felt that some of the things that transpired were just too much for the average human being to endure.

Robert Champion was also a willing participant in the Florida A&M University “Marching 100″ band’s hazing ritual. I’m quite sure that like myself, he anticipated some sort of period where he would be subjected to members getting physical with him. Also, like myself, he had no clue it would be as bad as it was.

News reports have stated that Champion and a few others went through a hazing ritual on one of the band’s buses, in which he had to make his way from the front of the bus to the back while about 15 members of the band struck him, either with their limbs or seemingly whatever they could get their hands on. He made it halfway and then had a sack thrown over him, and the hazing continued. When it was finally over, Champion vomited and complained of being unable to breathe. He fell unconscious and couldn’t be revived. An autopsy has concluded that Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock, which was caused by internal bleeding.

A drum major, especially one at a historically black college or university, is undoubtedly the top position. He/she is the face of the band, and often, there is more than one. It’s hard to believe that even a band member who absolutely loves playing the snare drum or trumpet hasn’t at least once fantasized about being the person who leads the band onto the field, and some are using the prestige of that position to justify putting Champion through the process.

Is hazing new? Hell no. I’m sure hazing dates back to the first social groups, not only in America, but across the globe. Still, I believe that hazing has definitely gotten out of hand. FAMU’s band has been under fire for its hazing practices before, and was featured on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel almost two years ago. Currently, thirteen members are being held criminally responsible for Champion’s death; eleven face felony charges of third-degree felony hazing.

Some members have come out and said they tried to stop the ritual when they noticed a laboring Champion. Unfortunately, some feel they should be absolved of any wrongdoing because Champion wanted to be hazed; that he knew what he was signing up for. Once again, I’m sure he knew that things would get physical, but I don’t for one nanosecond believe he even thought it remotely possible that he’d die as a result.

This type of hazing runs rampant in Black Greek letter organizations. It deters many prospective members from even attending an open house, and causes even more to drop line once they get a small taste of it. I’ve been told, straight up, “I don’t want to get my ass beat” when asking a male student if he would be interested in joining my fraternity. Granted, when it comes to these groups, entry shouldn’t be made easy. You should, in fact, have to pay some sort of dues. “Suffering” is just something that has to be endured before you can proclaim yourself a member. But the physical abuse has to stop.

Let the street gangs “jump people in”. Let them leave prospective members lumped, bruised, fatigued and literally and figuratively beaten down. Even worse, an overwhelming majority of pledges have to maintain their coursework during the process, and I can tell you, firsthand, that your grades will most likely suffer. In fact, so will your social life. The boys, girls, men and women who want to be gangbangers are probably already not doing anything with their lives. College students are paying for an education, and it is compromised because a group of people barely older than them (sometimes younger) feel that they should have to go through the closest thing to Hell just to “cross over”.

I have spoken to members about how unnecessary these practices are. Going to get a pizza or doing laundry in the wee hours of the morning is perfectly fine. Getting your ass kicked in the name of brotherhood and sisterhood is not, and never will be. A great number of colleges and universities have outlawed hazing…on their campuses. Where most hazing occurs is off-campus, so the chapter and its members can escape any punishment from the school.

Unfortunately, a life was taken during the Marching 100′s initation of Champion and several other members. The other members who went through the process said those who go through it are left dizzy and breathless at a minimum. I believe them. I’m sure that many have been hazed in this fashion and have walked away, virtually unscathed. Yet, none of that matters. The point is that while this is accepted by far too many organizations on college campuses throughout the US, it is indeed barbaric and does nothing to help the image of Greek letter organizations, and now, marching bands, especially those with a predominantly Black membership.

FAMU’s band has been suspended for the 2012-13 school year. That’s not enough; I wanted them to be suspended for the next decade. A very strong message needs to be sent to our young people that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, whether on campus or not. Essentially, those of us who have participated wanted to be a part of another family. How does taking a beating validate your worth as a “family” member? It doesn’t. Not only is hindsight 20/20, but it’s a bitch.

SOPA. PIPA. “Outrage”. Huh.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account and use it to do more than stalk an ex or creep on people until y0u get blocked or “unfriended”, you’ve probably read something about the SOPA and PIPA bills. Even more, you’ve probably digitally witnessed the outrage that has consumed a large number of people. Certain sites, like Wikipedia, were “blacked out” yesterday in protest of these bills, and numerous people on my Twitter timeline protested in their own way, whether by signing petitions, posting blogs in denouncement of the bills, or slapping the word “censor” or completely blacking out their profile picture.

What is SOPA? How does it affect us?

Well, little Johnny, SOPA stands for “Stop Online Piracy Act”. It was presented to the House in October of 2011 and was actually failed legislation in 2008, under another name. Hopefully, you already know what online piracy is, but if you don’t, allow me to quickly define it for you. Online piracy is acquiring products, namely music, movies and TV shows, that have been copyrighted without paying for them. SOPA is a bill in Congress that has been aimed at taking down foreign websites that offer these pirated products because unlike domestic sites, they are untouchable in the US…and rich people are getting screwed out of money from sales. The bill would stop US companies from funding these sites and obviously, stop Americans from benefitting from these sites. It would affect us by technically “compromising” US citizens’ rights to free speech, as it would give the owners of this copyrighted content the right to go after users who upload it on sites like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, which would certainly make the sites much less enjoyable.

PIPA is…? Is it any different than SOPA?

PIPA is short for “Protect IP Act”. This bill is the reincarnated version of a similar one that didn’t pass legislation in 2010, and it was first introduced to Senate in May of 2011. PIPA, while working in conjunction with SOPA is a bit different. It would do the supposed dirty work, censoring US websites and even allowing companies to sue any new sites that allow copyright infringement after the bill is passed as well as blog sites and search engines that promote other sites that enable copyright infringement. Wikipedia blacked itself out in protest of this bill yesterday…which did something, I guess.

I first read about SOPA and PIPA in November of 2011, and honestly didn’t pay it much attention. While it would affect me, as I’ve “stolen” a song, TV show, movie or two, I didn’t think it would gain much weight in the public eye. However, as yesterday’s blackouts occurred, people took to Twitter and blog sites to voice their displeasure with the bills. Unfortunately, many either didn’t read up on or comprehend fully how we could be affected, as a general sentiment was either, “Don’t take away my Twitter!” or “What am I going to do without Wikipedia?!”.

Again, online piracy is illegal, and not as a technicality. It’s easy for you and I to not give much thought to the owners of content when we illegally download it or post it to a site, and I’m sure that far too many think it’s not as big of a problem as some members of federal governement and the creators of this work have made it out to be. Well: Online Piracy Statistics. As you can see, those are just the 2010 statistics. Believe that they have increased in the past year, and will only continue to do so in the future as long as it is allowed.

Fortunately, even while opposing the harshness of the bills, some have been sensible enough to understand why owners of pirated content would want these bills to be passed. After all, they put money into making the music, movies, TV shows and even video games that we download for free, use without fear of consequence, and then are audacious enough to share with others, again without fear of consequence. Pirates are brazen beings, and we are essentially digital pirates.

It would be nice if people backed more serious causes, or at least were angered by more than not being able to upload a music video on YouTube or have their precious Twitter accounts affected, but this is indeed where we are today; in shallow waters. Very few have chosen to educate, while many have felt it necessary to condescend, which has made this even more annoying. It appears that some lawmakers who were in favor of these two bills are starting to give in to public sentiment, and are beginning to pull back their support of SOPA and PIPA. Does this mean that these bills are completely off the table, to never be presented to the House and Senate again? It is much too early to tell. Will the outrage and protests continue? For not much longer, I assume. Once again: shallow waters. That’s the reality, unfortunately. Now excuse me while I purchase some crappy music and movies.

P.S. I miss Karen and the Moondance Woman!!!

P.P.S. It’s so much easier to write with a completely unclouded mind…

T.I. & Tiny: Role Models?

"Tiny" on the left, "T.I." on the right.

I was conversing with someone last night when I asked the ever-generic question: “What are you up to?” They replied that they were lounging around and had just watched VH1 reality shows Love & Hip-Hop and T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle. They followed that by basically admitting to watching the shows despite the “ratchet” label applied to them by some and then followed that statement with the emoticon that indicates one is embarrassed; the “facepalm” emoticon. The person I was talking to is extremely intelligent, so it was a bit of a shock to learn that they had watched the two programs. Now, before I proceed, I’ll give you a brief description of what I know these shows to be about:

Love & Hip-Hop.

It’s a reality show centered around former (?) rap artist Jim Jones, his girlfriend/wifey/fiancee/wife Chrissy, her two friends/puppets, former G-Unit artist Olivia and someone else who does something, aspiring “hip-hop” artist Somaya, some other people, and how they deal with love and I guess, hip-hop. They also argue and…yeah. I think. Now, this show is in its second season, so I’m not even sure if the roles have changed or if the characters are the same, but honestly, I couldn’t care less.

T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle.

This show was created to essentially re-introduce rap artist Clifford “T.I.” Harris to mainstream society while highlighting his everyday life with wife, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle after Harris’s latest release from prison. Also featured in the show are their five children, and from what I’ve heard/read, the show is good and fairly popular. Unlike Love & Hip-Hop, I’ve never seen one nanosecond of this show, but it has more to do with me giving up on VH1 reality shows a year ago and nothing to do with any sort of disdain for either Harris or Cottle.

As I wrote before, T.I. is a convicted felon. “God, family and hustle” are the three most important things to him. While many hear “hustle” and immediately think of some low-life on the street peddling crap to suckers, I understand that for some, it’s just a word used to describe the everyday grind of life. It can be going to school, working, or volunteering. I also understand that it is extremely difficult for the average convicted felon to reintegrate himself/herself into society in order to be a productive human being. Besides not being able to exercise a simple civic liberty by voting, there are also many other restrictions they face, namely not being able to find employment at most reputable places of work. While they put themselves in that position, I find it disheartening that it is so hard for them to do something like work a normal gig and provide for not only themselves, but for their family if they have one.

T.I. is a different story. His last two incarcerations came when he was already “on”, and he has had no problems re-establishing himself upon his most recent release from prison. He didn’t end up back in prison because returning to crime was virtually the only way he could support himself since he wasn’t able to work, but because he was stupid, selfish and arrogant. And he’s rewarded this go-round with a reality show. Riiiiight. Now, the other person felt I was judging him and other convicted felons and that I feel they deserve nothing. They couldn’t have been more incorrect in their assessment. What makes this funny and slightly sad is we’ve previously had a very lengthy conversation about why the system can be ridiculously unfair to felons. Again, many revert to their criminal ways because just about every legitimate avenue is closed to them. If you have a husband/wife, kids, bills to pay, no real skills/experience outside of felonious activities and virtually no chance to get a job that would allow an adult to live, at your wit’s end, what else would you do? I didn’t even want to throw in their face that my fraternity brothers and I worked with ex-cons in the state of Michigan, doing everything from helping them with resumes, interview techniques, driving them to those interviews and even taking those willing to get fitted for suits while paying for it all out of pocket. I could’ve shut them up by telling stories of going to Cass Tech in Detroit, a high school filled with hopelessness and despair, and letting the students–some of them, felons–know that not everyone in this world sees them as nothing more than a criminal and that if they truly wanted to, they could do and be better. But, I’m not petty. It’s beneath me.

I suppose another area where I went wrong in our conversation was expressing surprise that the other person found some sort of inspiration in this show; that the show is proof that the Black family dynamic is still alive and well. Now, while I am not a fan of most reality shows, I see nothing wrong with most of them. I understand that the main purpose of these shows are to entertain, whether they’re about celebrity families, love, aspiring athletes, truckers, or some sort of Survivor-style getup. However, when it comes to learning real-life lessons from them, that’s where I tend to draw the line. I’ve seen more than enough documentaries on reality shows to know that what most think is real is to an extent, partially scripted. This is not to say that I believe every single second of every single reality show is disingenuous, but it’s hard to believe that there’s much genuineness when you just know that a director will yell, “Cut!” whenever he/she feels that a scene needs some livening up, or to take on a more somber tone. Is it impossible to draw inspiration from a reality show? Of course not. Do I think it’s a little far-fetched? Of course I do.

What I find hard to understand is why so many members of my generation look to celebrities for positive and negative examples of how to lead their lives. Does it take a celebrity family loving and cherishing each other for us to know that there’s still such a thing as love and devotion? Why do we need to see a celebrity hauled off to jail to know that the law is something to abide by and not scoff at, no matter your social or financial status? They argued that T.I. and Tiny’s show displays a loving, Black household, something that in the Black community, unfortunately, we (Blacks) don’t see nearly enough of, especially on television. I agreed without having even seen the show, but to insinuate that there are no examples around them kind of reeked of asininity. I’m very observant, and I absolutely love to see a “normal” family out and about, enjoying themselves and each other. It gives me great joy to see a father at the library with his child, helping them with their homework. Seeing a passionate mother at her child’s sporting event makes me glad to realize that there are parents who want to be involved in their children’s lives, and would rather not drop them off at practice or a game as if it’s a babysitting service. I did not once come close to saying that T.I. and Tiny’s show is bullshit; I haven’t seen the show. Didn’t even say that their drawing inspiration from the show is bullshit. I just wanted to make sure that they see the examples around them as well and to appreciate them just as much, if not more. I don’t relate to T.I., even as an urban Black male, and I probably never will. This does not bother me. I don’t aspire to be like T.I., either. What happens when people get defensive about their beliefs is they misconstrue what you really meant to say, and I believe this is what happened. No harm, no foul, not all that much love to be lost, from the tone of our conversation, I suppose.

At the current moment, I’m not really a fan of T.I. Not so much for his recent felonious acts, but his recent subpar music. Xscape, the all-female R&B group that Tiny helped popularize was never really my thing, even in their heyday. But, I have no qualms whatsoever with people watching their show. I don’t even really have a problem with people tweeting or conversing about it. On the other hand, I implore those who do choose to watch and speak on it, to be willing to notice the more vital things in life, and I’m not just referring to politics. While I am admittedly a PoliSci nerd, I understand that it’s not for everyone. Life is more than just politics. My life is more than just politics. The same goes for entertainment, which includes sports. Fucking live, people. If I have to beg you for one thing, it’s to just live life, and not through a half-scripted reality show featuring people who you’ll most likely never come close to relating to. It’s your prerogative if you want to accept these two and the rest of their family as role models. I don’t, but I don’t mean it to be an indictment of their character. I just love the everyday people in my life–whether I know them or not–who go about their business to ensure that their families are well taken care of. No millions of dollars, fame or reality show. Just hustling. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thank You, Jay Dee.

RIP, J Dilla…

Honestly, I think it’s extremely lame when after celebrities die, people post “RIP” tweets and take to blogs and Facebook or some other terrible social networking site to express their grief. I truly believe that most of these people are seeking retweets/attention and just want to fit in with a large number of people, which absolutely sickens me. Most times, these celebs weren’t even afterthoughts until they died and their passing will have little to no effect on those who are supposedly affected. Regardless of what you think, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go to such lengths to express sorrow. How many fucking times do you need to retweet people telling a celeb to rest in peace? It all just seems so…extra, and I loathe it. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone how to grieve over someone’s passing, so I tend to keep these thoughts to myself, even when it’s clear that there are people who are doing way too damn much.

J Dilla, on the other hand, is a different story. I wish that I was blogging in February of 2006. I wish I had a Twitter or Facebook account then. I would’ve blown everybody’s shit up with blog posts, status updates and songs and videos honoring his memory. I bullshit you not, J Dilla saved my life. I was in the darkest of places; despair consumed me like you wouldn’t believe. To say that I was depressed would be the understatement of the century. I longed for depression; I craved that shit. What I felt at that time made me want to jettison myself towards the Sun without any hesitation at all. I truly didn’t give a fuck about living. But, J Dilla and his soulful sound served as my lifesaver. I purchased everything that was ever connected to James Dewitt Yancey and played it endlessly while I smoked “instagram” blunts of Strawberry Cough and Chocolate Thai. His music brought me back from the brink and I will forever be grateful to not only Dilla, but his mother for bringing him into this world. You see, I know I am not the only one whose life has been saved by Dilla. And, I’m absolutely certain that there is currently someone, somewhere, who is being resuscitated by Dilla’s work. Words cannot describe the amount of gratitude I have for this man; for his ability to make my worst days nothing more than a distant memory.

To quote a serene-sounding woman from my favorite Dilla mixtape, “Thank you, Jay Dee…”

DOWNLOAD: D2G’s “Blood Diamond” mixtape

It

I don’t care where the hell you are, you should download D2G’s “Blood Diamond” mixtape. This is his first solo project, and I started to rock with this dude on his and Vic Spencer’s “Hard Bars” tape, which was produced and mixed by my Twitter crush, Flyying Dutchman. I’m going to roll a bit of Strawberry Cough, give this a listen, and be back here with my review later tonight.

Check the fly shit and download this one, bitches and bitchettes: “Blood Diamond”

Why not SHARE? #shitthatannoysme vol. 1

I have a huge problem with people who look down on less knowledgeable people without even attempting to rectify the situation. The point in obtaining knowledge is not to walk around believing that you know more than others, but to share the knowledge that you do have and/or are gaining.

If you come across someone who isn’t familiar with something you think they should know, it’s not your job to poke fun at their ignorance. That makes you come across as ignorant.  This isn’t to say that you should tolerate–or even not laugh at–all forms of ignorance, but to poke fun at someone who isn’t familiar with some obscure and not-relevant-outside-of-you book, movie, **TRIVIA, or etc. when you could just as easily educate them, doesn’t serve you or the general population in the slightest. Continue reading