Things That Trouble 2/5/14

Florida Does it Again

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Last time I wrote about things that trouble me in my current home state of Florida, I received some pretty nasty responses. One person emailed that my criticism of some of the laws in the state was an affront to those who have served the U.S in foreign wars (I still don’t see how, but never mind) and strongly suggested that I move to Russia or Saudi Arabia. But, eight years after my arrival, I am still here, and at the risk of receiving even more hateful responses, I am again compelled to offer a criticism of some of Florida’s latest dandies.

First, there is the state judiciary’s ridiculous conversation about whether to allow a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical purposes on the state’s November ballot. Although the proposed legislation names only nine diseases for which doctors could prescribe pot, Florida Supreme Court Chief JusticeRicky Polston, writing for the minority in the court’s 4-3 decision, expressed the absurdity that, because a section of the proposal offers immunity for prescribing doctors,  “a physician, in his misguided ‘professional opinion,’ could believe that the benefits of marijuana for a teething toddler would likely outweigh the risks, and, therefore, recommend that the toddler use marijuana three times a day for six months until the teething subsided.” Indeed. Maybe we’ll see pot poultice prescribed for diaper rash as well.

Next we have Florida’s latest case of vigilantism, where the movie-theater texting of a man to his young daughter so outraged a 71-year-old former cop that he left the theater, retrieved his gun, and shot and killed the 43-year old and wounded his wife.  Although some have responded to the assailant with condemnation, others in the state that the NRA built have offered their support. Because why should we act with restraint when encountered with a minor annoyance? Better to go all in, regardless of the consequences. Why wait until Florida makes texting in a theater a capital offense? Summary execution works for the NRA.

Although Florida is not the only state to allow guns on campuses, colleges and universities responded swiftly to a state court decision that overturned a University of North Florida ban on weapons in cars. Within days, Broward College announced it will now allow people to pack heat in their vehicles, and Miami Dade College, Palm Beach State College, and Florida International University officials say they are planning to do so as well. In true Florida fashion, it doesn’t look like it will stop here, as legislation has already been filed by Florida Carry, a gun-rights group, to allow students to keep guns in their dorms. Students and faculty: Start wearing your Kevlar to class.

I know I am not the only person troubled by the notion that people will have easier access to weapons on campus.  Studies have generally found that a number of initiatives can make a campus safer, but arming its populace is typically not among them.

In another example of why Florida is called the Gunshine State, the Miami Herald reported just days ago that a snowbirder living in Big Pine Key has installed a gun range in the back of his home. It seems that state law allows him to do so, as the Republican-led, NRA-loving Florida Legislature in 2011 forbade cities from enforcing their own gun regulations or adding new gun-related legislation. Guess I’ll wear that Kevlar at home as well, in case my neighbors want to begin target shooting too.

Not two months ago, Florida also had this winner:  A man actually tried to trade a live four-foot alligator for a 12-pack of beer. I kid you not. But he did keep the gator in good shape, officials report, so there’s that.

In breaking news, the state is seeing its second Zombie attack, as it is being reported as I write that a naked man died late on Tuesday February 4 after he assaulted a retired police officer, bit another man on the face, and was shot by Palm Beach county deputies.  Only in Florida.

At least Justin Bieber has not been arrested in the state in the last week.  We have to take our wins where we can get them.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated byPeaceVoice.

 

Throwaway Society 1/15/14

Throwaway Society

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Many commentators have referred to the U.S. as a throwaway society. Typically, they are referring to our excessive consumption of disposable products. We are a society in which the average family throws out a quarter of its food, and each individual generates around 4.5 pounds of trash every day, all year long.  As bad and unsustainable as this is, even more bothersome is our penchant for throwing away people.

One in three black men in America will go to prison during their lifetime.  This means families left fatherless. It means that when they are released, these men will likely not be able to vote, hold office, serve on a jury, or obtain many professional licensures. Consequently, job opportunities are severely limited and the chance for re-offending is maximized.  Although not nearly as staggering, one in six Latino men will also end up in the wasteland that is an American prison.

Critics might contend that these statistics reflect higher crime rates, but the primary thing they reflect is a system in which Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, tried, and convicted than their white counterparts.  Indeed, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina found that nearly half of all black men in the U.S had been arrested at least once before the age of 23, and about 30 percent had one arrest before their 18th birthday.

Sadly, studies have shown that while we are throwing these young men into the abyss of the corrections system, prison is actually the safest place to be a black man in America.  A study conducted in North Carolina in 2011 found that black men were half as likely to die in prison than they were out in society.  This isn’t the first time that researchers have found lower death rates among incarcerated marginalized groups, who often receive healthcare and square meals routinely for the first time in their lives when they are inside the big house.

Mahatma Gandhi once commented that you can measure the greatness of a nation by the way it treats its weakest members.  Given the statistics presented above, we are, so far, an epic fail.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

It’s OK to be Thin 1/8/14

Don’t Tell Me to Eat a Burger

By Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, film star Jennifer Lawrence denounced the way we are taught that to make fun of someone is funny. Lawrence took particular issue with calling people “fat,” and asserted that if we can regulate television advertising related to cigarettes, why not also limit the way it presents harmful images and discussions of people’s bodies? I applaud Lawrence for using her platform to shed light on this important issue, and want to share here an additional perspective.

I completely agree that American culture demeans people whose body does not fit the unrealistic images presented in movies, television, and magazines. It is true that women in particular are told they must be thin, young and sexy to have value. Women and girls are taught that if they just buy one more product or pony up for reconstructive surgery they will at last be beautiful. Equally harmful, however, is the open ridicule that some women and girls experience precisely because they happen to be thin without engaging in excessive consumption, eating disorders, or dangerous procedures. As one of these women, I want to call attention to the fact that it is not OK to make fun of people for their looks and their weight regardless of where they fall on the weight spectrum.

I have been asked multiple times, to my face, “Do you ever eat?” “You probably only eat salad,” and “You’re anorexic, right?” Rather than asking, others simply declare “You should go back to Ethiopia” (or some other country they perceive to be dealing with famine). And then there’s the declarative I disdain most: “Go eat a burger.”  As if only “good” or “healthy” people eat meat. All of this comes from the same place as calling someone fat—that for whatever reason, my body, as it is, is not OK and it is someone else’s business to inform me of how I can become more acceptable.

Calling someone out for their perceived bodily inadequacies is, as Lawrence remarks, terrifically damaging to their self-esteem. Sadly, most of these comments come from other women. That, to me, is the worst part because it represents how we have been taught to pick one another apart rather than build each other up. Rather than helping others be healthy and happy, this harassment results in dissatisfaction, depression, and disorders.

I am thin. I work out. I am a vegetarian. Deal with it.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

 

Keep It Real & Authentic 12/11/13

Authenticity

“And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.” 

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Authenticity is one of the most important qualities to teach young people. To be truly who you are, to be comfortable in your own skin and to walk your talk, is essential to not just personal happiness but is also requisite for building a better, more just and humane world. Unfortunately, teaching authenticity is challenging in a society that is dominated by hypocrisy. Politicians manipulate, deceive and outright lie with such regularity it is almost amazing when one does not do so. Celebrities demonstrate to children and youth that it is acceptable to say one thing and do the complete opposite Below is a short list of recent hypocrisy by leaders and celebrities.

Although nowhere near exhaustive, here is a smattering of the political hypocrisy of 2013.  Republicans claimed they wanted to avoid the government shutdown in the fall, yet many openly embraced the idea as a way of stymieing President Obama in general and of opposing Obamacare.  Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney derided Obamacare, yet it was very clearly based in large part on the model Romney introduced as Governor of Massachusetts. Then there is the Cheney sisters, who want to be “personally” fine with gay people but not politically so.  And what about Florida Republican Trey Radel, who supported Governor Scott’s initiative to drug test welfare recipients yet is a cocaine addict?

It is clear, however, that the hypocrisy bug has infected Democrats as well. President Obama, for example, pledged to usher in an era of transparency yet the revelations made by Edward Snowden make it abundantly obvious that he has authorized and continues to support privacy invasions previously unheard of. And, of course, there are Obama’s pledges about health insurance that were, quite simply, either signs of complete ineptitude or willful deception.

Supposedly assigned to protect and serve, many of the law enforcement officers in my home of South Florida seem to do anything but. In just one example of a litany, Miami Gardens police stopped and harassed 27-year-old Earl Sampson 258 times in the last few years while he was on the clock (yes, you read that right, he was at work) at a convenience store. They searched him more than 100 times, much of which is captured on camera because the store owner, Alex  Saleh, realized that the threat to his business did not come so much from local thugs but rather from the police themselves.

Not exactly a reliable source, Fox News has, however, shed some light on the hypocrisy of celebrities who speak out against various social ills while visibly perpetrating the same behaviors. Perhaps most notable was the star-laden Demand A Plan initiative, in which a series of celebrities, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, lined up to film PSAs requesting gun control. These same celebrities—Jamie Foxx, for instance—are often featured in violent films that glorify gun culture. Both Jay Z and Kanye West have faced hypocrisy accusations for their failing to admonish or withdraw their products from companies, like Barney’s, that are said to racially profile.  Not to be outdone, evidently just days ago, the supposedly vegan Beyonce showed up at an event wearing a fur coat and suede shoes. Ummm…maybe not.

Among the many nonviolent principles along which Mahatma Gandhi operated, the concepts of truth and authenticity rank near the top. Gandhi recognized that even his detractors might soften their positions if his actions echoed his words, his diet followed his espoused beliefs, and his consumption patterns were consistent with what he preached. In short, living what you believe is an essential component of nonviolent social change.

 I believe the world would be a better place were authenticity to be widely valued and taught.  Although we are all works in progress, I call on all adults to work diligently to be those role models—in both what we say and what we do—that our youth so desperately crave.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

 

Essential Disagreement 11/27/13

Disagreement without the Hate

Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Disagreement is an essential component of a healthy relationship, a healthy workplace, and a healthy democracy. Much research documents the dangers of surrounding ourselves with so-called “yes men” who always concur. Workplace echo chambers stifle innovation and reify bad policy decisions. Disagreement stimulates creative thinking and prompts innovation.

Yet, there is indeed a peaceful, even collaborative, way to disagree.  And, I contend, that it never involves personal insults, ad hominem attacks, and strings of epithets and curse words.

Unfortunately, it seems as though few in the U.S are taught how to disagree peacefully and constructively. Instead, if we read, hear or see something that bothers us, we tend to get all pissy about it and, rather than present our case, resort to the lowest blows we can. This behavior is, of course, modeled at nearly every turn.

It is difficult to remember any politician in the recent past who has not decided that the way to offer a contrasting view is to rip the crap out of his or her opponent.  As bad (sometimes worse) is media, where television pundits (and I note, both conservative and liberal) seem to love nothing more than to invite guests onto their shows to interrupt them, yell at them, berate them, and otherwise set them up to look foolish. In professional sports, having the best trash-talker on your team is often viewed as an asset. K-12 schools reinforce the normalcy of mean-spirited disagreement when they fail to hold accountable those who denigrate those with whom they disagree. Popular culture encourages the “othering” of the alleged opposition.  For just one example, the t-shirt company David and Goliath offers a shirt that says, “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.”

My recent experience authoring op-eds illustrates the issue perfectly. I authored a piece about the bureaucratic stifling of activism. In the op-ed, I encouraged folks who disagree with my positions to share their viewpoints, as dialogue and disagreement can lead to amazingly creative social change from the synthesis of the best parts of different arguments. While I did receive some pleasant feedback, I also received one very disturbing piece of hate email.

Not only did this anonymous emailer attack me personally, using hateful slurs, but s/he also failed to see the point I was making, which was precisely that we should not all agree but should not stifle those who do not see things our way.

I implore those who are reading this to understand what I am saying: I do not have all the answers. I never suggested I did. No one does. And I think it is amazing when people get worked up about an issue or a cause and take that passion to the streets, to the airwaves, to the print media and anywhere else they can find an audience. But please, do so in a peaceful, respectful manner. We really can learn from one another if we discuss and debate, rather than attack.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

 

Page 5 of 5
1 3 4 5