Friday, August 26, 2011

I Didn't Realize the Camden School District Was So Ballin'

       Camden is makin' it rain. A grant from Jersey's Departmant of Criminal Justice is helping to fund a five week long program in which 65 high school students will attend anger management and conflict resolution classes.  They will also sign a pledge not to cut school and attend all the sessions.  Each student that completes the course will receive $100. 

       I realize $6500 isn't really going to break the bank, but is this really the best way to spend it?  The money, as reported here, comes from a $63,000 grant.    I don't know where the rest of the moeny is going, but part of the grant mandates that the money be spent by the end of September if the city wants to be eligible for the same grant next year (I assume to prevent the city from simply hoarding the money).  But it still kinda seems like it's being pissed away.  And with that kinda money, you'd think they'd come up with a better name for the program than ICE T (I Can End Truancy; he's from Newark, not Camden).  Since the kid has no obligation to not cut class after September, critics say there's nothing to keep them in school after the program ends.  The kids in this program are most likely either the kind who would show up anyway, or the kind who wouldn't (for whatever reason; this post isn't talking about why urban school districts suck).  So, either they are problem students that will simply repeat their past behavior after the incentive is gone, or they were would most likely go on to graduate regardless, there doesn't seem to be any real effect on the likelihood of the selected students' graduating.

       But I suppose there is more involved.  For example, the number of students that could be positively affected in the long-term because of this program.  I'd like to see the kind of data used to justify the program.  The cynic in me wants to assume that the students were chosen so as to ensure that the program will have a high completion rate, although there would still be some token problem students chosen as well.  I would say that if a program like this really worked, it would be more widely-used, but I don't think this has ever been done before.  I still don't think $100 and a couple classes are all it takes to resolve the real problems here. 

All-in-all, I'm kinda on the fence about this.  I can't imagine that the burden of this program on the individual tax payer is very difficult, especially if that one small percentage really does change the life of another human being.  But it certainly seems more practical to buy better books or equipment or fund a music program or something.

So it comes down to this: do you want to improve the value of one person's life, or help fund the development of the next Beethoven?  This is beginning to sound like an argument against abortion.  Quite a subtle, slippery slope, no? 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Will Smith Becomes Real Hero, Working on Saving the Rap Game

       Having three hip hop artists on my iPod (Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Talib Kweli), I consider myself an expert on the genre.  And it is in bad shape.  Like nearly all genres of actual music, it is facing very real threats from commercialization, materialism, and dumbing down.  Every time you turn on the radio, you hear some auto-tuned asshole with an almost-catchy beat and corny-ass rhymes invariably talking about the same thing that everyone else is.  It's either "I sell drugs better than you", "I rap better than you", or "I fuck more bitches than you".  My favorites are the guys who rap about rapping.  Why actually do the work to become a legitimate hip hop artist when you can just make your first single all about how you already are the greatest ever?

       I don't expect every song to be a serious piece of art dealing with real social issues like poverty and racism, but does everything on the radio have to be so mind-numbing?  Not anymore.  Big Willy is back!  According to the Huffington Post, Will Smith has been working with producer "Mars" Edwards.  Having saved the world so many times, you know he has the street cred to change the game.  His smooth and manly voice will be a much-appreciated alternative to those awful noises that come out that hole in Lil Wayne's face.    I just hope he hits the studio in time to make another Men in Black song when the third installment of that series hits theaters in May 2012.  That should leave him plenty of time to solve the 2012 Doomsday Prophecy.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Media Irresponsibility

I don’t know if the news was any better back in the day, but it can’t have been any worse.  It seems a new low is reached every day.  Remember the grilled Cheesus?  That seems positively highbrow compared to some of the things I’ve seen lately.

On the websites of both Yahoo! and AOL, there was a link to an article about how “devastated” Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian were after they were involved in a car wreck that killed a 15 year-old kid.  I’m sure they were, but shouldn’t the focus have been on the family of the victim?  I know that the only reason this death was reported at all was because those two were involved, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the family didn’t want to engage with the media in their time of grief.  But neither article seemed even slightly interested in the actual tragedy, only in how their precious celebrities feel.  After the accident, Kardashian tweeted, “Angels are surrounding me always...Thank you!”  Not one word about the poor kid.  
Disclaimer: I don’t follow her on Twitter, so for all I know she could have expressed her
condolences before or after that tweet.  I refuse to look at her Twitter to find out.

I can see why celebrities are consider celebrities newsworthy because they are public figures.  But not everything that is newsworthy should be on the front page.  Why is it cost-efficient to pay millions of dollars for pictures for pictures of an infant who has done nothing more than be born to famous parents?  Because there are even more millions of people out there that will buy the magazine simply because it has that picture on its cover.  As far as I’m concerned, “celebrity news” magazines should be no more popular than a newspaper printing stories about a Bat boy-chupacabra sex tape.  Actually, now that I think about it, it should be way less popular than that newspaper.  

Unfortunately, it gets worse.  A CBS affiliate in Chicago aired a story about a night of violence in which a 16-year-old was killed and two others hurt.  During an interview with a four-year-old witness, an anchor asked if the boy would stay away from guns.  The answer that was seen on TV was “I’m going to have me a gun!”, after which the interview ended and the anchor commented, “That is very scary indeed.”  However, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education got a copy of the entire interview.  As it turns out, there was an unaired portion in which the anchor asks why the boy wants a gun, to which he replies, “I’m going to be the police!”  Stay classy, Chicago.
As depressing as the success of celebrity “news” is, the racism is even worse.  The unfair representation of minorities in the media is nothing new.  But editing a recorded interview with the intention of portraying a four-year-old boy as a stereotypical gangbangin’ black kid is disgusting.  The worst part about it is that that’s a financially successful way to run a news network; if it bleeds, it leads.  The fact that the truth was uncovered is only mildly encouraging.  I sincerely doubt this was an isolated incident. 

I understand that journalism is a business, and a successful business has to appeal to enough customers to make money.  It’s just a shame that enough people consume the dumbed-down garbage produced  by so many media outlets that it’s actually profitable.  Never mind the fact that fewer people watch the news and read the paper; the public never should have accepted this as news in the first place.  Like I said, there’s a place in the news for celebrities.  But it should be sandwiched between black and white ads in the middle of the paper, not above the fold.