Monday, April 27, 2009

Until NPR mentioned it . . .

it never occurred to me that Mark Sanchez, the USC quarterback drafted by the New York Jets in the first round of this weekend's draft (no. 5 overall), is "Mexican-American."

I watched USC a few times last season. I certainly recognized the last name Sanchez as being latino. But I never viewed him as a "Mexican-American quarterback" or a "latino player." That type of thinking, to me, is foolishness. He's an American. He's a football player.

Giving NPR the benefit of the doubt, I think the angle it was trying to take by discussing, in detail, Mr. Sanchez's ethnicity was to highlight that it apparently has significance in the latino community of southern California.

I'm not sure why, though, that would be especially noteworthy. It is not as if Mr. Sanchez is the latino Jackie Robinson of football. He's hardly the first latin player in the NFL. As of the 2007 season, there were no less than 24 latinos in the NFL.

He definitely isn't the first high profile latino in American pro sports. Latin American players essentially dominate Major League Basesball.

My favorite baseball player as a kid (who played a bit before my time) was Roberto Clemente. Not only was he Puerto Rican, he was of African descent. I think I was drawn to him because my Puerto Rican father was a big fan and told me stories about what a great player he had been. But I wasn't drawn to him because he was Puerto Rican. Had he been a lousy player, he would have gone unnoticed.

Which brings me back to the point. If we truly want to be a "color blind" society, we should stop looking at people as members of an ethnicity and, instead, look at them as people who have things to offer society. Mark Sanchez will succeed or fail on the field regardless of his last name or the country from which his ancestors came. He'll either be a good quarterback or he won't be. He'll make us all proud if he works hard and does his best.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Born gay?

This isn't gay bashing and shouldn't be understood that way. But I think it's fair game for critical discussion and it's ok for us heterosexuals to talk about the issue.

The rationale I hear most for the acceptance of homosexuality and, by extension, for the expansion of gay rights is that some folks are just "born gay." A relative, who is very conservative, recently said to me, "Science will soon prove that people are born gay. They cannot help it. Why would anyone choose that lifestyle. It's too hard."

Anyone who has had even a high school level psychology course is familiar with the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture. Are we born with certain traits? Does our environment shape who we become? Or are we a combination of predispositions and environment? The debate has never been completely resolved, but I've always understood that the medical and mental health communities long ago accepted the idea that we are born with certain traits and/or dispositions and our environment shapes us.

For whatever reason, though, that answer has not been good enough for some when it comes to the question of sexuality. If I were an alcoholic, no psychologist in his/her right mind would ignore environment in attempting to help me. There's not a decent professional out there who would say, "Ignore what happened in your past. You are an alcoholic purely by accident of birth, by random genetic dumb luck." So why do we do this with sexuality?

There's a very interesting article from CNN entitled "Why women are leaving men for other women."

It's just an article. Its (the article's) conclusions or assumptions really carry no wait as far as I am concerned. But it quotes some interesting studies that suggest that it's hardly a matter of genetics which orientation we choose or live out. If you find that notion offensive, take issue with the so-called experts.

Here are some interesting bits from the article, with emphasis added by me:

But experts like Binnie Klein, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist and lecturer in Yale's department of psychiatry, agree that alternative relationships are on the rise.

"It's clear that a change in sexual orientation is imaginable to more people than ever before, and there's more opportunity -- and acceptance -- to cross over the line," says Klein, noting that a half-dozen of her married female patients in the past few years have fallen in love with women. "Most are afraid that if they don't go for it, they'll end up with regrets.

* * *

Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, Ph.D, a professor of English and gender and women's studies at the University of Kentucky and author of "Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body," also agrees that in the current environment, more women may be stepping out of the conventional gender box.

"When a taboo is lifted or diminished, it's going to leave people freer to pursue things," she says.

"So it makes sense that we would see women, for all sorts of reasons, walking through that door now that the culture has cracked it open. Of course, we shouldn't imagine that we're living in a world where all sexual choices are possible. Just look at the cast of 'The L Word' and it's clear that only a certain kind of lesbian -- slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way -- is acceptable to mainstream


Over the past several decades, scientists have struggled in fits and starts to get a handle on sexual orientation. Born or bred? Can it change during one's lifetime?

A handful of studies in the 1990s, most of them focused on men, suggested that homosexuality is hardwired. In one study, researchers linked DNA markers in the Xq28 region of the X chromosome to gay males. But a subsequent larger study failed to replicate the results, leaving the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association to speculate that sexual orientation probably has multiple causes, including environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.

Today, however, a new line of research is beginning to approach sexual orientation as much less fixed than previously thought, especially when it comes to women. The idea that human sexuality forms a continuum has been around since 1948, when Alfred Kinsey introduced his famous seven-point scale, with zero representing complete heterosexuality, 6 signifying complete homosexuality, and bisexuality in the middle, where many of the men and women he interviewed fell.

The new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies is "sexual fluidity."

"People always ask me if this research means everyone is bisexual. No, it doesn't," says Lisa Diamond, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2008 book "Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire."

"Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something a woman can control."

These aren't anti-gay right wingers drawing these conclusions. These are studies (or at least observations) done by highly educated folks at liberal institutions. Anyone questioning the validity of them would be hard-pressed to do so on the basis of some sort of anti-gay bias.

Are these conclusions valid? I certainly wouldn't die on that hill. I'll let the so-called experts defend their own work. They certainly are consistent with the very broad concept that who we are -- all aspects of our lives -- is shaped by many factors.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guess this guy's nationality

I found this quote in a recent issue of Conde Nast Traveller. The person to whom this quote is attributed is no one you'd know. This is from a sort of person-on-the-street type of feature. People from various countries described their experiences or feelings about traveling in America or Americans in general. I think this man's ethnicity is obvious from his comment. He said:
Americans have some problems understnad what's happening outside the United States. The newspapers here have no news from oustide the U.S. except from Iraq. It's a closed country. Americans go everywhere, but just to fight. Other differences: Here you need to tip, tip, tip. We are not used to this. And Americans say, 'Hi, how are you?' a hundred times a day! It's awful! They don't care about the answer.
I won't tell you where he's from but I'll give you some hints. In the last 100 years, we Americans have gone to his country twice "to fight" but not because it was our fight. We fought and died there because his countrymen couldn't or wouldn't do it themselves.

After our second visit to his country "to fight," at his country's invitation, we were invited "to fight" in Viet Nam. See, Viet Nam had been a colony of his country but it lost control of the colony and asked for our country to help save it from independence.

This is to say nothing of the many, many places his country has gone "to fight."

I agree that it's "awful!" -- dreadful! -- that we Americans ask, "How are you doing?" The nerve! I think it would be better if we adopted the practice of this gentleman's home city (here comes another hint) and treated tourists and guests rudely who do not speak the language or understand the local customs.

As for America being "a closed country," we obviously aren't closed enough. After all, we let this guy in for who knows how long. America has amazingly open borders. It's still the place people want to come for a better opportunity. They bring with them their cultures, religions and practices. America, for good and bad, is the global village.

In terms of news and information, there's not a freer, more open society in the world. Despite what our foreign critic believes, news of the world besides Iraq is easily found here. Perhaps what he does not understand is that many of us don't have the time to care about what his happening all over the globe at any given time. It's enough keeping track of our daily lives. There's no place in our lives for the goings on in Turkey or Malaysia or whereever.

Maybe what his real beef is that his country sees itself as the cultural center of the western world but it is essentially irrelevant in terms of global politics. It's a mere shadow of its former imperial self. His countrymen are so concerned about its slipping place in the world that they legislate cultural content for TV, radio and such. My "closed country" allows all sorts of political, cultural and entertainment content to be aired. We decide things here on merit more than country of origin.

So, did you guess this guy's nationality yet?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

For the first time in years a celebrity death has really touched me. I don't know why, but the death of Mark Fidrych last week has bothered me. I'm not talking about being sad in the sense of, "Aw, gee, that's too bad. He was a swell guy." I mean I've actually felt sad, some twinge of real grief.

My best guesses as to why I've been bummed are: 1. Mark was a pretty decent guy; 2. he represents a special part of my childhood. I never met the Bird, but friends of mine did and they raved about how great and gracious he was. Pretty much everyone in the media that dealt with him had good things to say. He was also that person -- caught up in something even bigger than himself -- that draws in a kid. His magic rookie season is the sort of thing that really captures a little boy's imagination. He must have captured mine and remained there in the recesses of my mind all those years.

Whatever the case may be, he's been on my mind. I was happy to find there is a little video clip of his 5-1 win over the Yankees in 1976. Pay attention to his excitement and embarrassment over the crowd's reaction. It's really cool. There are some great outfits on the fans, too.

God bless you, Mark. Thanks for being part of my childhood.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Phoniness or respectful?

I've been reminded lately of my tendency to talk about the same issue one way with a certain group and another way with another group. When speaking to group A, I might be really harsh and express my feelings unequivocally. I might even come off as offensive to others with different opinions. But discussing that same topic with group B, I might dance around the issue a bit, suppress my feelings. I certainly lay off some of the stronger language or rhetoric.

Am I a phony? Perhaps. I'm willing to admit that I am flawed.

I'd like to think, though, that I'm being respectful of both groups A and B. It's not that my feelings or beliefs are different, I just present them in more delicate ways depending on the circumstances.

I feel conflicted by this tendency in me. I've done this all my life. Maybe it's a positive character trait and not a flaw, but part of me tells me that I'm dishonest.

Whatever the case may be, I'm not going to force a change. I'm not going to be that guy that people don't want coming around because he's an overbearing, opinionated bore.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bird is the Word

It's funny how there are watershed years in life; periods in which amazing things happen, life takes a different course, memories get cemented.

1976 was the first year like that for me. It was America's Bi-Centennial, which was celebrated with vigor in school. A bit of American pride post-Viet Nam and post-Watergate was restored. We celebrated my 5th birthday early by going to Disney World during the Fourth of July holiday. I got my first bike. Baseball became a passion.

Why did I fall in love with baseball that year? Mostly because my Uncle Bob loved baseball and he took me to a lot of Detroit Tigers games. On the grander scale, I fell in love with the game because of rookie sensation Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. He electrified Detroit like no athlete since. Even Hall of Famers like Isaiah Thomas, Steve Yzerman and Barry Sanders did not capture the attention of people in this city -- and across the country like The Bird.

Fidrych was a helluva pitcher. I was too young to remember what he did as a pitcher, the record books say he was 19-9, with a 2.34 ERA, and completed 24 games. He was the Rookie of the Year, starting pitcher in 1976 All Star game and was number 2 in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately a shoulder injury (later found to be a torn rotator cuff) wrecked his career.
The memory I do have of him is being at a game that year with my uncle. I don't know who the Tigers played or what the score was, but I know Fidrych pitched and I know they won. Tiger Stadium was packed to the rafters. It was about as loud as I ever heard it. On the way out of the stadium, we stopped behind the lower deck fence, right next to the right field foul pole. Uncle Bob threw me up on his shoulders so I could see the Bird come out up the dugout to a standing ovation. I remember him off in the distancing waving to the fans with his cap, standing on the top step of dugout as the fans went wild. The roar of the crowd shook my body, hurt my ears. But it was great.

One of the Detroit newspapers had free iron-ons that said, "The Bird is the Word" and my grandma got two copies of it and a packet full of white t-shirts. The first iron-on came out backwards but the second worked. I wore both shirts until they were filthy.

As his career disintegrated and new heroes came and went, the Bird slowly faded from glory. But he never vanished. The Detroit Tigers and Fidrych always maintained great relations and Mark, being a great, humble guy, came back to Tiger Stadium for special events. He mingled with fans, signed autographs, was great with the kids. There's not a Detroit Tigers fan that was alive in the 70's that didn't love Mark Fidrych, even 33 years after his amazing rookie year.

Sadly Mark Fidrych passed away yesterday at age 54. According to the press reports he was found dead around 2:30 p.m. from an apparent accident that took place while he was working under his truck. Besides the tragedy of him passing away, the eerie thing for me was that I was at the Detroit Tigers game yesterday afternoon with my Uncle Bob, mom and my daughter. I saw a new Tiger wearing no. 20, pointed him out to my daughter and said, "Kiddo, no. 20 was the number of my favorite player when I was a little younger than you, Mark Fidrych." This was before word had gotten out that Mark had died. His was the only number I noticed yesterday. He was the only player from my past, my childhood, that I mentioned or even thought about. Odd.

Mark will be missed. My thoughts are prayers are with his family and friends.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Everyone knows that Alanis Morrissette doesn't have a clue what "irony" means. She's taken a lot of heat (and deservedly so) for her moronic song, "Ironic." None of the things she mentions in the song, "rain on your wedding day" for example, are anything other than unfortunate events. Stand up comedians have gotten a lot of mileage out of this song, so no need to some comedy routine.

Alanis isn't the only person that doesn't know what irony means. I hear the word misused all the time. In fact, most of the time when I hear it uttered, it is used incorrectly.

One recent example had to do with the Michigan State Spartans playing in the Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Some talking heads on TV talked about the "irony" of MSU playing in front of what was basically a home crowd, or as close as a team can get to play a Final Four "at home." Gentlemen, that's not irony. That's fitting.

Let's clarify what "irony" means. Webster's Dictionary defines it as:
2 a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance

3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony tragic irony
It's a pretty simple word, not hard to understand or use.

My Science Fiction teacher in high school -- best lit class I ever had, by the way -- hammered the concept of irony into our heads. He loved stories with ironic endings. "Irony is the twist in the story," was how he defined it as he turned his hand from palm upward to palm facing the floor.

One of the first stories we read in that class involved the death of a woman by her husband so that the couple could live together in eternity. The ending wasn't expected. The irony, teacher explained, was that, "He loved her so much he killed her," one of the funniest things any teacher ever said in all my years in school. That is irony.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Go State!

It's impossible not to be excited about my MSU Spartans in the Final Four tomorrow.

The entire town's abuzz. For the first time that I can remember, folks here in the Detroit area have Spartan fever (this is Wolverine country, after all.)

I think State can take down UConn. Will they? I think State has a 50/50 shot at a victory tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it.

Go State!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Things I hate: cell phones and computer viruses

Sorry to be negative, but I have to rant.

I'm sick and tired of people and their dad blasted cell phones. I was in a restaurant today and at least 6 cell phones went off within about 20 minutes. People that were there with others -- friends, co-workers -- kept their lunch guests waiting while they yacked on the phone. I couldn't tell you none of those calls were important, but what I could overhear -- and people tend to talk louder on their cells -- there wasn't much being said that sounded serious or urgent. Two younger women a table away, instead of talking to each other, fiddled with their phones and talked about what other people were sending/texting to them.

These are the kinds of things I see and hear daily. People making a lot of noise, but saying nothing, with their phones.

I guess it's none of my business if people are rude to each other on a one-on-one level. But the overall decline of politeness, the elevation of electronic communication over face-to-face talking (even while another person is 3 feet away!) is alarming to me. I cannot stand competing with a cell phone for the attention of a person I'm eating or hanging out with. Why did you invite me to the game? Why not just take your phone and text and yack all day?

I could go on and on about drivers on their phones, but I'll keep it short. I'd rather be on the road with a bunch of drivers that have had 3 or 4 beers than a legion of people driving with one hand while they chit-chat on their phones. I honestly feel I'd be safer around the impaired drivers.

As for computer viruses, I cannot imagine anything more childish -- sociopathic in away -- than to create a computer program whose primary purpose is to wreck someone else's (many others') computer. The Conficker virus, which is set to "go live" today, has everyone terrified their computers and thus, their personal and business interests, could be irreperably damaged.

If these clowns that wrote the Conficker virus are ever caught, I am 100% serious when I say that they should do decades in prison. They have no disregard for other people and the rest of us would be best served with them behind bars.

Schwew. Now that those things are off my chest, I feel better.