Monday, November 26, 2007

57 Channels (and Something's On)

Late-night talk show devotees may be concerned about the long-term impact of the strike launched by the Writers Guild of America on November 5 ... but they need not worry, for there are TV stations out there that offer plenty of unscripted drama -- with dashes of comedy thrown in for good measure. Two such examples are C-SPAN and The Weather Channel.
Not a day goes by when I don't tune in to see meteorologists like Jim Cantore report on climate conditions across the United States. The Weather Channel is my go-to source for information when a natural disaster occurs (my oldest brother lives in Florida, where many hurricanes tend to make landfall), and it's a treat to hear Dave Schwartz deliver the outdoor temperatures -- which dictate what I wear and what I do -- along with an occasional quip.
When I'm not tracking the weather, I'm following politics on C-SPAN. My favorite show is Prime Minister's Questions, where I get to see democracy in action as the House of Commons presses the British prime minister on issues of interest to their constituents. But the best part of the program is listening to Gordon Brown and David Cameron throw verbal jabs at each other, and having the speaker get in on the action is a bonus. (I preferred Betty Boothroyd's spitfire personality to Michael Martin's droll demeanor in governing the weekly sessions.)
Speaking of politics, money and egos are what's keeping television writers and studio executives apart in the negotiation process; they disagree on how online revenue should be shared between the two parties. As a fan of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno -- "Jaywalking" is my favorite segment -- I think both sides should try to reach an agreement as soon as possible. However, if the strike drags on indefinitely, I won't lose any sleep, for real life always makes for better entertainment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mirror, Mirror

"Keeping it real" is a popular phrase in the Black community. Yet, when it comes to the images that its women project to the world, people don't always see the real thing.
Black women have an ongoing love/hate relationship with their hair, whether they wear it natural (like India.Arie) or have it relaxed (as I do). We cut it, color it, lock it, and lengthen it -- all in the name of making ourselves beautiful. This phenomenon dates back to the heyday of Madam C.J. Walker ... and over the last 40 years, entertainers such as Diana Ross and Beyoncé Knowles have become equally known for their many talents as well as their changing hairdos. Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of Black women sporting wigs and weaves sends a troubling message to society about how we see ourselves.
The root cause -- no pun intended -- of this problem is self-hatred, and it's not just skin deep. Relaxing one's hair eventually thins it out (as I learned the hard way), and braiding extensions into one's hair can lead to breakage. Instead of accepting our hair texture for what it is, we mask our insecurities by trying to conform to someone else's definition of beauty. (At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I don't have a problem with Black women who straighten their hair so it's easier to comb or wear wigs because of chemotherapy ... but I do take issue with those who go from Yul Brenner to Crystal Gayle in less than 24 hours and try to act nonchalant about it.)
In 2007 and beyond, Black women need to heed India.Arie's advice and "redefine who we be," for "it's not what's on your head -- it's what's underneath" that will determine one's path in life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dollars and Sense

It's mid-October, and that can only mean one thing: earnings season is in full swing.
Technically, earnings season is a year-round occurrence as businesses release their quarterly profit/loss reports. These numbers determine how investors respond to the stock market ... but, even more important, they influence the lives of everyday folks. From rising oil prices and a weak dollar to a housing slump and ongoing credit turmoil, these economic problems can be traced back to the performance of publicly traded (and privately held) companies.
By October 19 -- which is also the 20th anniversary of "Black Monday" -- businesses as diverse as Allstate, Google, and Schlumberger will present their earnings results for the third quarter. Financial analysts have forecast good news for these companies' earnings per share amid the latest market "correction." This could be a sign of a healthy economy ... or the foreshadowing of an economic crisis.
Serious investing is about long-term goals, not short-term gains. Unlike playing a game of chance and hoping to beat the odds, making a financial commitment to a company's future involves taking a calculated risk. All investors want to make money, but that alone isn't a strategy. Observing the market over a period of time and studying its many sectors is what separates the "bulls" and "bears" from the "pigs" and "ostriches." (Mutual funds are the most common investing tool.)
Earnings season is an opportunity to gauge one's tolerance for risk vs. reward in uncertain times, because lions may be king of the jungle ... but, on Wall Street, no animal reigns supreme.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The O'Reilly Syndrome

By most standards, Bill O'Reilly dining at Sylvia's isn't a newsworthy event. However, on September 19, he recounted his experience there with Al Sharpton on his Radio Factor show and revealed that he was surprised at the level of civility at the renowned eatery.
Among his statements were it's just like any other restaurant, "even though it's run by blacks," and "there wasn't one person [there] who was screaming, '(Expletive), I want more iced tea.'" After Media Matters for America publicized his comments on September 21, O'Reilly was criticized for being racially insensitive. He says his remarks were meant to be complimentary, but there's nothing flattering about his ignorance of Black culture.
Such beliefs say more about him than they do about Black people, but the scary part is he's not alone in his way of thinking. Was he expecting a gunfight similar to the O.K. Corral when he arrived in Harlem? Was he amazed to learn that Blacks know how to use eating utensils? Did it shock him that Blacks can hold conversations without using foul language? I can't help but question his intellect if he thought Blacks would take kindly to his condescending attitude.
For centuries, Blacks have had to contend with derogatory stereotypes -- some of them not of their making. The sexualized image of the Black woman dates back to slavery, when the master treated her as a tool to be used for the sake of pleasure. Meanwhile, the Black man was seen as nothing but a dumb brute to be kept around for manual labor. In those days, Blacks weren't considered human beings, but uneducated savages.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and my biggest gripe about how Blacks are portrayed in society through music, movies, and television is the lack of balance. Bad elements do exist in the Black community, but by no means do they define it. The majority of Black people are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who make positive contributions to the world. If O'Reilly bothered to expand his social circle -- and, by extension, his knowledge -- that wouldn't be such a revelation to him.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Party of One

Throughout my life, I've had many acquaintances but few buddies. This is due to choice and circumstance: the former because I learned the hard way that everyone who smiles in my face isn't my friend, and the latter because my occupation involves working crazy hours.
My parents have expressed concern about my well-being because I tend to do activities by myself instead of with another person or a group. On several occasions, my mother has told me that I need to find my soulmate soon or else I'll become an "old maid." The irony of my predicament is I'm not anti-social; if anything, I'm outgoing. Besides, being single doesn't phase me ... and I'd rather use my free time to pursue my interests -- not pine away for someone of the opposite sex.
The rotating shifts at my job leave me with an erratic social life. Depending on my schedule, I enjoy going to Bowlmor Lanes on Mondays ... but I also like to in-line skate at Central Park or Prospect Park during the summer. If the diversion involves passive participation, I'll check out the male revue at Webster Hall on Thursdays or visit the Museum of Modern Art on Fridays.
Whenever I go out, my goal is to have fun. It would be nice if I met someone worth dating, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all of my existence. I'm not interested in having a boyfriend just for the sake of having a boyfriend, nor am I looking for someone to "complete me," since I'm already whole.
I don't mind leading a solitary life because it means I'm not beholden to anyone. Being an individual isn't the same as being isolated, for I'm still engaged in the world around me. It's been said that you find love when you least expect it; therefore, I won't look for it -- I'll let it come to me. (As an aside, experience has shown me that even when that happens, emotions have a way of complicating situations.)
Contrary to the Three Dog Night song, one isn't the loneliest number -- it's the ultimate symbol of independence.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Milestone Memories

Horatio Alger wrote children's books about those facing obstacles and beating the odds. This theme is fitting as the United States finds itself at the crossroads of two tragedies.
August 29 marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast, and the country's set to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11. For most people, it's a time to remember those who died (and suffered) in these horrific events ... but while it's good to reflect on the past, it's just as important to look to the future.
The outpouring of humanitarian support following these disasters was second only to the sense of unity among Americans. Class, ethnic, political, and religious divisions were erased as people rallied around uplifting causes. First responders at the World Trade Center were hailed as heroes, while many cities -- most notably Houston -- welcomed Katrina evacuees with open arms. Unfortunately, as years have passed, the plight of these groups don't weigh as heavily on the public's consciousness.
Officials at the federal, state, and local levels pledged to rebuild what was destroyed on those days of infamy, but it's going to take more than words to restore one’s faith in government. After all, the EPA misled the public about air quality in lower Manhattan, putting thousands of lives at risk. As for the Army Corps of Engineers, their efforts to repair the levees in New Orleans have been undermined by reports that the system is still prone to failure.
Given these situations, the future doesn't look bright for "Ground Zero" emergency workers and Crescent City residents. Physical, mental, and emotional scars have hindered these people from moving on with their lives after going through such a traumatic experience. This is unfortunate, for it means that society has failed them ... and that may be the biggest tragedy of all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

'Big Brother' Under the Microscope

Since I moved back home with my parents nearly two months ago, I've spent a lot of time sitting in front of a television screen with them. One of the programs my mother and I watch together is Big Brother 8.
While she has followed the show since its inception in 2000, this is my first time seeing the "reality TV" game show where 14 houseguests compete for $500,000. (We don't subscribe to the live feeds nor look at Big Brother After Dark.) Each week, someone is voted out of the house until there are two people remaining; the last seven evictees choose the winner.
Its premise feeds into society's fascination with voyeurism -- which makes for addictive viewing, but provides no intellectual stimulation. Self-preservation brings out the worst in the houseguests, for deception is the only way to avoid being nominated for eviction. And in an environment where it's difficult to trust anyone, paranoia can override common sense.
I respect Dick for his honesty, but his "evil" strategy has worn thin. (Yes, Jen is more self-absorbed than a sponge ... but pouring a glass of iced tea over her head was wrong.) And while his crude manners are oddly endearing, he's not someone I'd want to live or work with.
Another person I don't care for is his estranged daughter, Daniele. Watching her play the "woe-is-me" card is irritating -- especially when she's using Dick's behavior for her own benefit. (The confrontation she had with the houseguests over his tirades in Episode 18 shows she's light years ahead of Jen when it comes to manipulating people.)
Speaking of hypocrisy, Eric is the biggest charlatan of them all. He's supposed to be playing the game on behalf of the audience ... but he's so full of himself until it wouldn't bother me if he lost the contest. Meanwhile, Jessica has emerged as a strong competitor ... but doesn't seem to have a mind of her own. Her loyalty to Eric makes me wonder if she's a pawn in his game or if she's playing him.
On that note, Zach has yet to win any Head of Household or Power of Veto competitions. He needs to step up his game and stop flying under the radar if he wants to be the last person standing. The same sentiment applies to Amber, whose crying spells are nauseating to watch.
Seeing Jameka invoke religion into the game is pathetic; God has more important matters to address. But what's really mind-boggling is her decision to not compete for Head of Household for five weeks -- making her an easy target for eviction.
As the show winds down, its problem is there's no one contestant to rally around. In a story that needs a protagonist, everyone's an antagonist. Dick has played that role to the extreme, with two wins and a bold coup to show for it. For those reasons, I predict he'll be $500,000 richer come September 18.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Police State of Mind

I bore witness to the apocalypse on August 3, when The Police took the stage at Madison Square Garden.
As a child of the 1970s, I was too young to appreciate the pop/rock trio the first time around ... but that didn't stop me from lip-syncing to "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" or singing along to "Every Breath You Take" whenever I heard it on the radio. During their heyday, they scored more than a dozen hits and won five Grammys before breaking up at the height of their popularity in 1984 due to creative differences. (Band members Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland went on to pursue solo careers.)
When the group announced their world tour in February, I bought a ticket to one of their shows. Unfortunately, my seat was behind the stage -- which meant I was forced to look at Copeland's gray hair and Summers' back(side). However, the vantage point allowed me to see the gig through their eyes -- like when they fed off the energy of the crowd.
Going to a concert is about experiencing the bond between the artist and the audience, and the most important element of that relationship is the performance. Unlike most reunion tours, the Police didn't come across as being a nostalgia act; Sting sounded great, and Summers and Copeland brought out the best in each other. After opening the show with "Message in a Bottle," they spent the next two hours reinterpreting classics like "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "Can't Stand Losing You" before closing the show with "Next to You."
Among the highlights were "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around," when Summers played a guitar solo that made Eddie Van Halen look like an amateur. And when they performed "Roxanne," it felt like I was eavesdropping on a jam session.
Over the years, I've developed a preference for small concert venues -- not to mention low ticket prices -- but I made an exception for the Police because an event like this doesn't happen often. The cost of my ticket was money well spent, for the music they created is best heard live.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Heat Is On

While millions of people struggle to keep cool during the latest heat wave in New York, I spent the dog days of summer learning about climate change.
I don't fit the definition of a tree-hugger, and I've yet to see An Inconvenient Truth. However, I did watch Too Hot Not to Handle, and it forced me to look at weather patterns in a different light. I always thought extreme changes in temperature were just part of nature ... but when I realized how blizzards and droughts adversely impact the food supply, I could no longer ignore the obvious: climate change affects everyone -- regardless of age, ethnicity, or economic status.
In recent years, the cost of dietary staples ranging from eggs and milk (dairy) to bread and cereal (grains) have increased. Likewise, items like beef and fish (meat) and oranges and tomatoes (fruits and vegetables) are more expensive. It's not a coincidence that these price hikes are connected to erratic weather -- which shows that Mother Nature doesn't just dictate what we wear, it also influences what we eat.
The environment may exercise control over some aspects of our lives, but that doesn't exempt us from personal responsibility when it comes to burning fossil fuels. Our growing consumption of oil and electricity clogs the air we breathe and taints the water we drink. Such pollution not only damages our health, it also jeopardizes animals' habitats. Since we live off animals and plants, it's in our interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so future generations can enjoy the Earth's surroundings.
Some people consider the debate about climate change to be hot air ... but the cold reality is we need to take better care of the planet.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Foul Play

During his 13 years as an NBA referee, Tim Donaghy officiated nearly 800 games for the league. Now, because of his alleged gambling problem and ties to the Mafia, a dark cloud hangs over the integrity of the sport.
Donaghy is accused of betting on basketball during the past two seasons, and an FBI investigation into his misdeeds was made public on July 20. Questions about his decision-making process on the court date back several years, and his performance during the Phoenix Suns-San Antonio Spurs game on May 12 is drawing renewed scrutiny. (He also worked during the infamous Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers matchup on November 19, 2004.) If he wagered on games where his calls affected the point spread, the NBA may never recover from what could be a growing scandal.
Sports and gambling have been intertwined for decades, and David Stern has always been conscientious about its presence looming over the league. Legendary for his image-conscious ways in governing the sport, I find it ironic that the commissioner's concern about players' behavior didn't extend to the officials. Stern penalized anyone who questioned the referees' calls -- most notably Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- and marketed the game at the expense of alienating die-hard fans. For those reasons, his plea of ignorance about Donaghy's situation rings hollow.
Cuban wrote in his July 20 blog entry that this predicament will serve as a starting point for change. Unfortunately, the only change I see is Donaghy's actions forever tainting how I look at the game.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

V for Victory

Numerologists believed July 7 was a lucky day. For Venus Williams, luck was on her side as she beat Marion Bartoli to win her fourth Wimbledon title.
The irony of her victory at tennis' most prestigious event is she played poorly in the early rounds. In recent years, her game has declined because of various injuries ... but her latest career resurgence on the Grand Slam singles stage is due to more than just luck -- it's about perseverance.
On January 27, younger sister Serena Williams trounced Maria Sharapova to win her third Australian Open trophy. Like Venus, Serena had a low ranking entering the tournament and wasn't expected to advance far. However, she believed in herself when no one else did, and her skills ultimately led to victory.
When the sisters hit the tennis scene a decade ago, their father, Richard Williams, predicted they would dominate the game. At the time, critics wrote him off as a crazy Black guy ... but he was proven right by 2002. In addition to their individual success, they also share six doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal. They're also the only siblings in the history of the sport to play each other in championship matches at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open.
Venus and Serena's accomplishments go beyond the tennis court, showing the world that just because the odds are against you doesn't mean you have to succumb to defeat. They're following the path created by Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, and seeing them spread their wings in other areas is inspiring. (Venus started an interior design company, while Serena tried her hand at acting on dramas like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and sitcoms like My Wife and Kids.)
The best part about the sisters' achievements is they avoided the pitfalls of fame. With any luck, they'll avoid the pitfalls of aging and continue to leave their mark on tennis.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

I Miss My Independence

After two years of living on my own, an expired lease and rising housing costs forced me to move back home with my parents just before Independence Day. The good news is we have a cordial relationship ... but the bad news is I don't know how long it's going to take to find a new place -- especially since I refuse to deal with a broker.
My parents understood my dilemma when I informed them in May that I was embarking on a new apartment search. Paying hundreds of dollars for cramped living quarters is the norm in New York ... but if I'm going to pay a lot of money, I should do so because I'm getting what I want. My one-bedroom apartment was spacious, but it was also full of insects.
In the beginning, I was willing to overlook the building's flaws because its location provided easy access to transportation and was within walking distance of multiple amenities. I was also surrounded by quiet neighbors who took pride in where they lived, and being near Prospect Park was a bonus. However, as time went on, my reasons for leaving started to outnumber my reasons for staying.
Cleaning 1,000 square feet of living space on a regular basis made me realize I didn't need an apartment that big -- even if my parents claim I collect more junk than Fred Sanford. And because the building was in pre-war condition, its poor insulation meant the room temperature fluctuated between too cold and too hot, depending on the season. But dealing with centipedes and rodents was the deciding factor in giving up my apartment.
Living alone was a great self-confidence booster -- not that I was lacking in that department -- but returning home hasn't been without its sacrifices. (I'm paying my parents a monthly stipend while I'm under their roof.) Most of my possessions are in storage because I've outgrown my childhood bedroom, and the few items I brought with me clutter the area. To make matters worse, I'm readjusting to a lack of privacy.
As much as I enjoy being around my family, there's nothing like having your own place. After all, independence is liberating -- not just one day out of the year, but all year round.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Know Thyself

If life is about accumulating status symbols, you owe it to yourself to know your HIV status.
I go to my doctor every year for a physical, and one of the things I ask for is an HIV test. This year, the process took on new meaning because I consummated my friendship with a longtime acquaintance. Even though I was confident that my results would come back negative -- that's been the case since I started having annual check-ups in 2001 -- I still felt anxious during the 11-day wait.
During my exam on June 8, I was asked how many sexual partners I've ever had, as well as if I engaged in behavior that would put me at risk for the illness. I also received a pamphlet about informed consent, and we discussed the difference between anonymous and confidential testing. Afterward, I waited for a lab technician to draw a vial of blood from my arm and submit it for processing.
While an HIV test is voluntary, I believe anyone who's sexually active or uses intravenous drugs should be required to take one at least once a year. AIDS may not be the death sentence it used to be (as Magic Johnson has shown after revealing his diagnosis in 1991), but everyone has to do their part to minimize spreading the disease. After getting my results, I'm pleased to say I'm not HIV-positive.
Contrary to the well-worn phrase, ignorance is not bliss. Life is priceless, and so is peace of mind. Get tested.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lady Sings the 'Sopranos' Blues

After more than eight years on the air, I expected The Sopranos to go out on a high note. Instead, it ended with a whimper.
The series about a New Jersey mob boss and his two families -- one nuclear, one criminal -- redefined dramatic television, drawing praise from critics and viewers for its intricate storylines and character development. Each episode drew the audience into the mind of Tony Soprano and those around him, forming a relationship that was as complicated as real life itself.
Tony's ability to be a cuddly teddy bear one minute, a menacing grizzly bear the next made him an enigma one couldn't help but root for -- despite his occupation. The hope that he'd find redemption through therapy kept millions of people tuned in season after season; following his saga was like watching The Godfather meets William Shakespeare.
When the series finale aired on June 10, I predicted that Tony would have a nervous breakdown after being dropped as a patient by Dr. Melfi, foiling a suicide attempt by his son, A.J., and learning he's the target of a rubout by New York nemesis Phil Leotardo. (Having Tony die in a hail of bullets would've been the ultimate Mafia cliché, and I didn't see him becoming an FBI informant like Big Pussy.) But when the final scene of this groundbreaking show was a dark screen as Tony ate dinner with his immediate family at Holsten's, I was bewildered by creator David Chase's lack of creativity.
All things in life have a beginning, a middle, and an end ... and while I didn't expect the show to end with "they all lived happily ever after," too many loose ends were left dangling. Did Silvio Dante survive the shootout? Was Paulie Walnuts playing both sides? Who would be in charge of "the family" if something happened to Tony? And is he indebted to Agent Harris for being tipped off about Phil's plan?
Perhaps Chase thought he was putting art above commerce by letting the audience choose their own ending ... but it only showed that he was afraid to decide the fate of his characters for himself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

I can't get Larry David out of my head ... and it's driving me crazy.
Let me explain. I can't stop thinking about the ad promoting his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he's looking at a glass of water that's half-empty (or half-full) and the tag line reads "it's all a matter of perspective." That's because the war in Iraq continues to drag on with no resolution in sight.
The ties that bind the United States with Saddam Hussein date back to the 1980s, when America provided intelligence information and military support to Iraq during its conflict against Iran -- despite being "officially neutral." In 1990, the former dictator invaded Kuwait; his actions drew global condemnation and led to the battle in the Persian Gulf.
More than a decade later, when Osama bin Laden orchestrated the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S. officials perpetuated the misconception that Hussein was somehow connected to the incident. All of these events set the stage for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
America's presence in Afghanistan is justified because it was the headquarters of the Taliban, who provided bin Laden with a safe harbor from justice for his crimes. Meanwhile, Hussein had limited freedom in his own country, due to a no-fly zone and U.N. sanctions -- which begs the question of how he posed a threat to the U.S. in the first place.
It's been said that America is on its way to victory in the "war on terror" because Hussein was quickly toppled from power and eventually executed. As for al-Qaeda, critics say its influence is waning. But these two occurrences aren't mutually exclusive; other than their hatred of the U.S., bin Laden and Hussein had little in common.
Overthrowing Hussein's regime has come at the expense of geopolitical stability in the Middle East (and, by extension, the rest of the world) ... and bin Laden is still on the loose somewhere along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border -- despite President Bush's promise to capture him, dead or alive.
Speaking of Bush, more than four years after he declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, he addressed the world on Memorial Day by saying "one day, this war will end -- as all wars do." Regardless of one's "perspective" on this issue, that day can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dance the Night Away

After weeks of denial, my conscience has forced me to come out of the closet: I watch Dancing With the Stars. (Oh, yeah, I'm a heterosexual, too.)
The appeal of watching a ballroom dancing contest that pairs celebrities with professionals lies in seeing the stars out of their element. Unlike most "reality" television shows, backstabbing skills are of no use in an environment where one has to learn routines like the foxtrot and waltz in a matter of days. As for photogenic looks, they're not a disadvantage ... but the competition boils down to how well the pair combines aesthetics and athleticism.
On that note, I think Laila Ali and Apolo Anton Ohno have the best chance at winning the mirror ball trophy this season. Part of me wants Ali to win because the other female celebrities didn't do well this time around (and no woman has ever won the contest, unless you count Kelly Monaco) ... but Ohno has been so consistent in his performances until this competition is his to lose.
These observations don't say much about the remaining contestants. Joey Fatone is doing well, but doesn't seem to be taking it seriously. Ian Ziering is at the other end of the spectrum, taking it so seriously until his self-consciousness overshadows his efforts. Billy Ray Cyrus has two wooden left feet, despite his sincere attempts to put his best foot forward. And while John Ratzenberger stepped up to the plate by replacing Vincent Pastore at the last minute, he's better off not stepping on the dance floor.
I applaud the celebrities for having the courage to venture out of their comfort zone, since "reality" television is too often associated with ordinary folks being put in contrived situations for the sake of entertainment. I used to be a fan of the genre, but lost interest when I figured out that most people who appeared on such programs were molded into one-dimensional stereotypes. (I reached this epiphany in 1996, while watching The Real World during its season in Miami.) As shows like Survivor rose in popularity, I became disenchanted with the emphasis that was placed on shock value.
If a glut of programming is to blame for the backlash against "reality" television, audience input is the key to its salvation. Allowing viewers to have a say in the outcome is guaranteed to bring in huge ratings, as American Idol has proven since its debut in 2002. But the best way to rejuvenate the genre is to focus more on shows that spotlight people who deserve their 15 minutes of fame and less on programs that pander to the lowest common denominator.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Let the Games Begin

LeBron James and Steve Nash are among several NBA stars set to take center stage in the playoffs, which started on April 21. But, for the next two months, I'll be keeping my eye on another marquee name: Mark Cuban.
The owner of the Dallas Mavericks has been instrumental in the team's turnaround from league laughingstock to championship contender. Ten years ago, mentioning 'Mavericks' and 'NBA Finals' in the same sentence would've been considered an oxymoron. Now that they've compiled a 67-15 record, they're ready to compete for a shot at winning their first title. But, as any sports fan knows, the regular season doesn't mean anything once the playoffs get underway.
The Miami Heat may be focused on defending its basketball crown, but 15 other teams are just as eager to take it away. An athlete's desire to reach the pinnacle of their sport is what drives them to endure countless obstacles. It's not so much about proving the doubters wrong as it is about proving to themselves that they can achieve the ultimate success. That same character trait can be found in businessmen like Cuban.
Through the years, the technology guru has endeared himself to many people because of his entrepreneurial savvy and outspoken persona. Cuban has drawn the ire of NBA commissioner David Stern for his constant criticism of the referees, which has led to fines totaling more than $1 million. (He even spent a day working at Dairy Queen in 2002, after being fined $500,000 for saying the league's director of officials wasn't capable of managing the fast-food restaurant.) He writes off the penalties as "a business expense" by donating matching amounts to various charities.
The only quality that outshines Cuban's willingness to help others is his accessibility to the public. He maintains a blog for admirers -- and detractors -- to contact him, and is just as likely to be seen sitting in the nosebleed seats as he is courtside at American Airlines Center.
Given Cuban's marketing acumen, one can't help but respect a man who's rewriting the rules on how to manage a sports franchise. Instead of being at odds with him, the NBA should follow his lead in making the sport more accessible to the fans. It would be a win-win situation that extends beyond the playoffs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Making Sense of the Senseless

What was supposed to be another day of school at Virginia Tech became a bloody footnote in American history on April 16, when a student unleashed his inner demons to the world, killing himself and 32 other people on campus. But the only thing more troubling than the loss of life is seeing one man's act of rage used as a springboard to debate the Second Amendment.
I don't have a problem with responsible gun owners keeping and bearing arms, but I'm troubled by the ease with which firearms can be purchased. Even though the suspect bought his Glock 9-millimeter handgun and Walther .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol legally, having the right to possess a gun doesn't give one the right to take a human life unless it's in self-defense. Besides, that constitutional right only applies to a well-regulated militia -- not troubled young men.
What makes this massacre even more difficult to comprehend is that the gunman's former classmates, professors, and even neighbors admitted to seeing warning signs -- from social isolation to disturbing writings. (Two of his plays, Mr. Brownstone and Richard McBeef, are about revenge killings.) Hindsight is always full of what ifs, and saying what one could've, should've, or would've done is meaningless now.
As easy as it is to point fingers at the university or police over their handling of the situation, only one person is to blame for what happened. Now is the time to mourn for those who died, not to politicize a senseless tragedy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus Flames Out

Until April 4, most people wouldn't have mentioned Don Imus and women's college basketball in the same sentence ... but, on that day, the radio talk show host referred to the players on the Rutgers team as "nappy-headed hos." He said the inflammatory remark was a failed attempt at humor, but he forgot the cardinal rule of comedy: jokes are supposed to be funny, not hurtful.
Imus' comments were immediately condemned by individuals and groups alike, from civil rights activists (Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) to advocacy organizations (National Association of Black Journalists and National Organization for Women). But what really sparked his downfall wasn't public outrage -- it was the almighty dollar. (Full disclosure: I'm a member of one of the organizations that called for his dismissal.)
General Motors, American Express, Sprint Nextel, Staples, and Procter & Gamble pulled advertising revenue from Imus' show. As if that wasn't bad enough, Cal Ripken Jr. canceled his appearance on the program. These factors meant it was only a matter of time before MSNBC and CBS Radio dropped Imus from their airwaves.
The cable television network yanked his simulcast on April 11, and the radio programmer fired him less than 24 hours later. As much as I want to applaud those media outlets for their decision, I suspect they took such action because of financial pressure -- not moral indignation. Imus had a history of making offensive statements, so the hand-wringing over his latest imbroglio seemed disingenuous. (His original punishment was a two-week suspension to be served beginning next week.)
I don't condone what Imus said ... but I don't believe taking his job away will change his mindset, either. Given his standing in the broadcasting community, I wouldn't be surprised if he lands a gig on satellite radio after the controversy dies down. Whatever happens, it should be noted that those who have access to public airwaves have a responsibility to choose their words carefully. If nothing else, radio personalities will think twice before spewing vitriol for cheap laughs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Defining the Disabled

Joni Mitchell once sang "you don't know what you've got until it's gone." It's easy to ignore this sentiment until one acknowledges the simple things usually taken for granted.
Within walking distance of my job is the headquarters for the National Institute for People with Disabilities. The organization provides services, education, and training for people who have developmental and learning disabilities. Every time I walk by the building, I think about my younger brother. He'll be 23 years old in May ... but autism has rendered him with the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old.
My compassion for the disabled comes from not only having a mentally impaired person in my immediate family, but also in knowing that a freak accident could happen to anyone at any time -- including me. When I see a disabled person needing a caregiver or wheelchair to get around, I realize how lucky I am to have the ability to do mundane activities like answer the telephone or take a shower without assistance.
Million Dollar Baby put a spotlight on what it means to be disabled (controversial ending notwithstanding), but the real lesson lies in how quadriplegics like Darryl Stingley lived their lives. He never expressed bitterness about his predicament, and he used a negative situation to spark positive change in the NFL. His story should inspire all people -- especially able-bodied ones -- to do a better job of extending goodwill toward their fellow (wo)man.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rock & Roll Meets Hip-Hop

Musicians gathered at the Waldorf=Astoria on March 12 to welcome five of their own into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1960s girl group The Ronettes, 1970s punk icon Patti Smith, 1980s alternative pioneers R.E.M., and party rockers Van Halen were all honored at the ceremony ... but the real torchbearers of history were Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
This hip-hop group featured a disc jockey who revolutionized using the turntable as an instrument, cutting between records to create a new sound altogether. As for the five rappers, they set the standard for using rap music as social commentary with their 1982 classic "The Message." This song offered a searing portrait of life in the ghetto, which would be followed by the anti-drug anthem "White Lines" a year later. (Ironically, one of them -- Keith Wiggins, a.k.a. Cowboy -- would fall victim to the crack epidemic and die of an overdose in 1989.)
Critics once said hip-hop would be nothing more than a passing fad ... but, thanks to these six men, it had staying power that redefined how one looks at fashion, sports, business, and even politics. The irony of this genre's metamorphosis is that it never sought validation from mainstream America, focusing instead on documenting the Black experience for those who could identify with it.
Mele Mel used his induction speech to implore today's rappers to resurrect the art form's creative spirit and not dwell so much on materialism and violence. While artists like Mos Def have heeded his call, too many others have not. With any luck, that trend will reverse itself.

Friday, March 2, 2007

On the Money

Gordon Gekko championed the virtues of greed in the 1980s, saying it "captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit" and "has marked the upward surge of mankind." But reality tells a different story, with Wall Street experiencing a downward spiral amid ongoing global economic uncertainty.
On February 27, the stock market suffered its worst loss since the 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. The Dow fell 416 points, while Nasdaq slid 97 points. Some experts blamed the plunge on Alan Greenspan's comments about the United States economy possibly facing a recession by the end of the year.
It's bad enough that billions of dollars vanished from the economy in a matter of hours ... but when companies have been laying off thousands of workers and the housing market has been declining for months, as Bloomberg reporter Kathleen Howley noted in her February 21 article, this "bubble burst" was inevitable. The real cause of concern, though, is that things are going to get worse before they get better -- which is why financial literacy is an essential tool in today's society.
You don't have to be rich to build wealth, and it's never too late to start saving money. (I'm not a millionaire, but I take great pride in being debt-free.) Consumer groups like America Saves espouse this philosophy, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has educational resources for teens and adults to help them on the road to economic security.
Like Rocky Balboa, the stock market will bounce back after being knocked down. But financial literacy will help one withstand the sucker punches thrown by Wall Street.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Out of Africa

As Black History Month comes to an end, it's only fitting that Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker are the latest celebrities to put Africa on the map of the American consciousness.
When people see or hear about "the dark continent," it's usually in association with corruption, famine, or genocide. While those conditions do plague most -- if not all -- of its 53 countries, good news is also emerging from the region. The daytime talk show host opened a school for girls in South Africa, while the actor received an Academy Award -- the highest honor in the United States film industry -- for his performance as former Uganda dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
These two events may not seem to have much in common, but they embody the complexity that makes Black history so fascinating to learn. Its people continue to make positive contributions to society, whether it's in politics (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected female president of Liberia in 2005) or science (Neil deGrasse Tyson is host of Nova ScienceNow as well as director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York).
In spite of these achievements, Blacks are too often depicted in the media as caricatured stereotypes -- usually heartless criminals and loud-mouthed tramps. Education is the best tool to combat ignorance, and Black History Month is a good starting point to accomplish this goal. After all, Black history isn't just a month-long event -- it's a never-ending journey.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Little Girl Lost

Is a haircut just a haircut? Not when it comes to Britney Spears.
The singer has turned eccentric behavior into an art form by shaving her head and getting some tattoos during Presidents' Day weekend. Given her ill-advised antics over the past few years, it would be too easy to say she's heading for a nervous breakdown. Instead, she needs to realize that before a new look can lead to a new outlook on life, she must look within to find happiness. (Full disclosure: I'm not a psychiatrist, and I've never met nor spoken with her.)
Most people dream of being famous, but they're not necessarily prepared to deal with the lack of privacy that serves as a trade-off. Like Spears, I've made my share of bad decisions, whether it comes to fashion trends or dating men. Fortunately, I've never had my mistakes put under a microscope for the world to see. (Thank God!) Life in a fishbowl is anything but glamorous, and one's ability to handle the pressure lies in having a solid emotional and mental well-being.
According to Forbes, Spears' estimated fortune is $100 million. Assuming she doesn't end up penniless, she can take care of herself, her two infant sons, and other loved ones -- ex-husband Kevin Federline notwithstanding -- for life. But she seems so overwhelmed by the thought of being a mother, divorcee, and has-been before the age of 25 until all the zeroes in her bank account can't buy the peace of mind she's struggling to find.
If Spears is going to get her act together, she can't do it for her fans, her handlers, or even her children. The motivation for such action has to come from within.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A House Is Not a Home

Like a guest who has overstayed his welcome, cold weather has swept into New York and doesn't want to leave.
From howling winds to piles of snow, Mother Nature hasn't been kind to the northeastern U.S. for the past few weeks. When I wake up in the morning, I'm more likely to silence the alarm clock and crawl back into bed -- even though I'm not sleepy. And while my apartment receives heat, it never seems to be enough to calm the shivers running through my body. But as much as I hate winter, at least I have comfortable clothes, nutritious food, and a roof over my head to help me get through the season. Sadly, not everyone can lay claim to such basic necessities.
Homelessness is a complex problem that has no easy solutions. Turning a blind eye to this crisis is all but impossible, with thousands of impoverished people across the city roaming the streets and subways trying to survive as best they can. The harsh climate only serves to highlight their predicament, for each day in such conditions really is a matter of life and death.
As much as I want to help homeless people improve their situation, I rarely give them money because I don’t know how it’s going to be spent. (I'm also wary about contributing to charity because the money tends to be spent on overhead. I prefer to donate tangible goods, like clothing or food, or volunteer when I have the time.) What I do know is this country has the intellectual and financial resources to address this dilemma.
Affordable housing is an oxymoron, the education system is in shambles, and minimum wage is a joke. To make matters worse, all of these societal ailments play a role in homelessness perpetuating its vicious cycle. If America is truly the land of opportunity, the powers that be need to get serious about tackling this issue. Because the less fortunate don't want a handout, nor do they want to be looked upon with pity -- they just want a chance to be somebody.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Live Like You're Dying

When I heard about the passing of former Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith on February 8, I was tempted to brush it off as yet another story of a celebrity who died too soon. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about how I'm going to be remembered when I die.
Through the years, I found it bizarre that Smith was always linked with tragedy -- whether it was battling her former stepson over the estate of her second husband, oil baron J. Howard Marshall II; the sudden death of her 20-year-old son, Daniel, from her first marriage; or the paternity issues surrounding her 5-month-old-daughter, Dannielynn. Her life seemed like a tawdry soap opera that veered between unintentionally funny and hopelessly sad.
Peaks and valleys define one's life experience, and I'd like to think I've triumphed over adversity because of the strong will instilled in me by my parents. Since I come from a family that believes in brutal honesty -- a character trait that's gotten me in trouble more than I care to admit -- I turned to them to find out what information they would include in my obituary.
My mother revealed that she'd remember me as "a youngster who was tomboyish and would fight a boy as quickly as [she] would a girl" as well as a child who "sat on the side of the bed and read The New York Times with [her] dad." Speaking of my father, he said my biggest attributes were my oddball sense of humor and my efforts "to carry on the family tradition of achievement."
On that note, I want to be remembered as someone who made positive contributions to society. I want to be seen as a woman who survived on intellect and instinct despite possessing more flaws than an antagonist in a clichéd romance novel. But, most of all, I want to be appreciated as a good person.