Category Archives: Poverty

Book of the Month Discussion: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. [Sticky Post]

The story of Michael Oher’s intellectual development is also the story of his body type. Michael Oher is rare. Huge. A freak of nature. He’s also an anomaly of nurture and it has taken a village to raise him. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis chronicles Oher’s turbulent childhood, his unlikely ascent into professional football and the importance and evolution, largely monetary, of the left tackle position in the NFL. The position Oher would come to play in college for Old Miss and, currently, the Baltimore Ravens.

Using a mixture of stark language and deftly placed insight, Michael Lewis describes the evolution of the left tackle with the language and rationale of free market capitalism.  In the early nineties, the N.F.L.’s  free agency system meant that teams could “buy the players they needed,” but as would soon become obvious, not all positions were created equal. “The price of protecting quarterbacks was driven by the same forces that drove the price of other kinds of insurance,” Lewis writes. “It rose with the value of the asset insured, with the risk posed to that asset.”

The person charged with protecting that million-dollar golden boy needed strength, speed, agility and bodily bulk— a massive butt and legs as well as long arms—to give the quarterback a few extra seconds in the pocket was unlike the other offensive lineman. It’s rare for someone to have all these specific physical traits, and for the players who had them, the price was high. Very high.

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Book of the Month: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

This month we’ll be reading The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

In an excerpt called “The Ballad of Big Mike,” Lewis tells the story of Michael Oher, an impoverished kid from Memphis who through a strange confluence of events ends up in the legal custody of a wealthy white family. At the time of his adoption at 16, Oher had an IQ of 80.  With his adoptive parents’ resources and support from the Christian high school he attended, his I.Q. rose by 20 to 30 points. He went from foraging through the garbage for food to traveling on his father’s private jet. It’s also worth mentioning here Oher is also a behemoth —6’5, nearly 300 lbs. and boasting a basketball player’s physical grace — so by the time he graduated high school, he was on the wish list of every top college football recruiter in the country.

Now, the ballad comes to the big screen. The movie based on the book comes out November 20th, and the trailer seems to be focused on the relationship between Oher (Quinton Aaron) and his adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), as well as the kid’s massive size. (Frankly, the trailer is worrisome and strikes me as an “Inner City Teacher Movie.”)

What the trailer and the NYT article barely mention is Lewis’ analysis of the “evolution of the game” — specifically the left tackle, whose job it is to protect right-handed quarterbacks’ blind side from rushing defenders (hence the title). As the N.F.L. has opened up for passing offenses, left tackles have grown in importance, and are now the highest paid players after quarterbacks.  Oher, who was drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss, is an almost prototypical lineman: huge, strong and surprisingly agile.

The movie and book trailers are after the jump.

Happy Reading.

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Insult to Injury.

Colin Asher looks at the deteriorating financial situation in the D, which has left dozens of families without the means to claim their loved ones’ bodies from the city morgue.

Inside the Wayne County morgue in midtown Detroit, 67 bodies are piled up, unclaimed, in the freezing temperatures. Neither the families nor the county can afford to bury the corpses. So they stack up inside the freezer.

Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the morgue, said he has never seen anything like it during his 13 years on the job. “Some people don’t come forward even though they know the people are here,” said the former Detroit cop. “They don’t have the money.”

Lifelong Detroit residents Darrell and Cheryl Vickers understand this firsthand. On a chilly September morning they had to visit the freezer to identify the body of Darrell’s aunt, Nancy Graham — and say their goodbyes.

The couple, already financially strained, don’t have the $695 needed to cremate her. Other family members, mostly in Florida, don’t have the means to contribute, either. In fact, when Darrell’s grandmother passed recently, his father paid for the cremation on a credit card — at 21% interest.

So the Vickers had to leave their aunt behind. Body number 67. …

Detroit is not alone. The Los Angeles coroner’s office said it, too, has seen an increase in the number of bodies abandoned. That’s not surprising at a time when unemployment tops 10% in many cities and the median cost of a funeral in America hovers around $7,000. Cremation can cost $2,000.

More Supermarkets, Please.

via Wikimedia Commons.

via Wikimedia Commons.

Up until last fall, I lived in Bed-Stuy, and the only supermarket near me was so far away that I would just do my food-shopping on the way back from my gym — which happens to be in a completely different neighborhood.  The bodegas on either end of the block where I lived only sold white bread; fresh fruit and vegetables were completely out of the question. Fast food restaurants abounded. After 10 p.m., you had to stand outside the bodega and tell the store employee what you wanted through bullet-proof glass; they handed you your goods via a rotating carousel. If you were hungry at that hour — and I usually was, since I work evenings — there was no place to get food, except Papa John’s. (Ugh.)

Then my lease ran out and I stumbled into an apartment for slightly less than I was paying — in Park Slope, that notorious bastion of upper middle class liberalism and helicopter parenting. My mind was blown. It’s just two miles away, but the demographic chasms are ginormous. This is the whitest, most affluent place I’ve ever lived, and the nutritional options border on the cartoonish. There are supermarkets two blocks in every direction, a surfeit of top-shelf restaurantsthe famous Food Co-Op, and the 24-hour bodega on the corner sells fresh herbs and organic kale. As dope this is for me now, I had to move to a completely different neighborhood in order to have regular access to fat-free milk.

The larger public health implications of these kinds of disparities  are obvious. The lack of access to a decent-sized supermarket is a growing problem here in the city, though it’s worse in other places:  there are just four chain supermarkets in all of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city; Detroit, a city with a population of just under a million, doesn’t have any.

When we talk about obesity and the way it correlates is poverty, we spend most of our time talking about pushing low-income consumers into making healthier choices and probably not enough time discussing how we can get food retailers to sell healthy food them in the first place.

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Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Nuts about ACORN

Today in my office, a pimp and his prostitute came looking for advice on where to score some blow and advice on how to fill out their W-2s. When I told them what they could do, they accused me of encouraging them to engage in public masturbation. I hope Beck and Co. don’t get hold of the video:

pimp

It’s hard out here for a pimp. No, really. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles (not pictured above) risked their lives, limbs and a camcorder to infiltrate the den of “thug criminality” that is the largest organization of poor and working families in America.

This is a time for us to appreciate their deep commitment to maligning ACORN, which clearly is an issue of utmost importance in these most troubled and divisive of times. I am sure their hearts and motives are pure.

Now if we can, let us move forward and consider some of the news of the weekend:

1. As always, if you want to learn something new or interesting or possibly infuriating about health care reform, reading Ezra Klein is essential. (Blackink)

2. Are pregnancy, bunions, acne, or receiving therapy or counseling pre-existing conditions that might allow health insurers a reason to deny people coverage? Of course. Best health care system in the world, eh? (Blackink)

3. Officially, according to a U.S. Census report, the Bush years were full of fail. h/t John Cole. (Blackink)

4. Go with your first instincts, Roxanne Wilson. (Quadmoniker)

5. Massachusetts might appoint an interim replacement for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy by the end of the week. (Blackink)

6. In an e-mail sent to friends and supporters last week, Van Jones made his first public comments since resigning from the White House. Said Jones: “Of course, some supporters actually think I will be more effective on the ‘outside.’ Maybe so. But those ideas always remind me of that old canard about Winston Churchill. After he lost a hard-fought election, a friend told him: ‘Winston, this really is just a blessing in disguise.’ Churchill quipped: ‘Damned good disguise.’ I can certainly relate to that sentiment right now. :)” (Blackink)

7. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is cutting federally funded child care in the poorest wards of the District. Making it more difficult for single mothers to bring in money (or inviting child neglect cases) seems like a counter intuitive way of addressing city budget issues, at best. (Shani-o)

8. Something we probably won’t see in any campaign brochures from Texas Gov. Rick Perry next year: Texas remains first in the nation in rates of uninsured residents and uninsured children. Upholding family values and rebuffing creeping socialism … I love my home state. (Blackink)

9. Also related: Perry is not a very smart or honest man. (Blackink)

10. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) backed off prior claims that President Obama is a socialist because, uh … he’s not one. (Blackink)

11. Among those at the Values Voter Summit this weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the clear choice for 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The 600 voters said abortion was the most important issue in determining their choice. What else is there to say about that? (Blackink)

12. Also at the Values Voter Summit, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma made the case that: 1. we should trust the sexual instincts of prepubescent boys; 2. bigotry against homosexuals is fine by him; and 3. “all pornography is homosexual pornography.” Video here. Sigh … Michael Schwartz and his ilk are almost completely beyond ridicule. (Blackink)

13. So rather than resort to ridicule, Amanda Marcotte moves the conversation forward to talk about some of the very real problems with porn. Which don’t include making boys turn gay. (Blackink).

14. Don’t you love links about porn? Yes. Well, here’s another: “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.” Whoa. (Blackink)

15. Feminist Finance speculates on where she’d be if she hadn’t rejected all the “dudely money advice” she’s received over the years. (Shani-o)

16. BitchPh.D puts out a call for volunteers for the 40 days for CHOICE campaign. (Blackink)

17. For John and Elizabeth Edwards’ sake, I hope his former aide is lying about this: “Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.” Please let that be a lie. (Blackink)

18. Let us mourn the death of American civility with Jude at First Draft. (Blackink)

19. Bruce Bartlett remembers Irving Kristol, father of neoconservatism. (Jamelle)

20. According to Marcus Buckingham at the Huff Post, women have grown increasingly unhappy as they made professional and social progress over the past 40 years. There’s a lot to digest in the provocative piece, and I get the feeling something is missing from this analysis. I need someone smarter than me to fill in the gaps. (Blackink)

21. After six years, Leslie Bennetts says The New York Times is finally attempting to set the record straight about the “Opt-Out Revolution” – well-off women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. (Blackink)

22. Crooked Timber highlights a recent op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education that points out the problem of poor, black and Hispanic students choosing to go to less-demanding college institutions and an overreliance on standardized tests. (Blackink)

23. Colorism isn’t just the purview of black folk — it exists in the South Asian community as well. Sepia Mutiny notes a campaign that’s attempting to address the fear of darker skin. (Shani-o)

24. After charges were dropped last week against five men accused of raping a Hofstra University freshman, Amanda Hess parses some of the many problems of living in a rape culture. That includes false rape accusations. (Blackink)

25. In case there was ever any doubt, Andrew Sullivan has major pull. (Blackink)

26. While I was watching the Giants thump the Cowboys and the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” apparently Neil Patrick Harris and the Emmy Awards were putting on quite the show. (Blackink)

27. I’m finding myself agreeing with Alyssa again: you should definitely get down to your nearest newstand or bookstore, pick up a copy of the latest New Yorker and read Ta-Nehisi’s piece about MF Doom and hip-hop. And, like her, I might quibble a bit with a few parts of the feature. Then again, we’re both from the South. (Blackink)

28. Harry Allen asks if Kanye is doomed to become “the next O.J.”? At the least, Kanye’s “victimization” of Taylor Swift has drawn out some of the bigots among us. (Blackink)

29. Nearly four-fifths of NFL players are bankrupt or struggling financially within two years of retirement. The Business Insider looks at some of the reasons why. (Blackink)

30. And because I’m from Houston and hate the Dallas Cowboys, I really enjoyed this:

Feel free to drop some links that would be of interest or chat among yourselves. Let’s hope we’re all in for a great week.

Deuces.

Book of the Month Discussion; Interview With Joel Berg, Author of All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?

Pages from Hunger_Safety_Net_2007

Our monthly reading and discussion group, featuring All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America has started, and I just know you all have been busy reading. The author, Joel Berg, recently answered some questions about the book in an interview with yours truly for PostBourgie. We’ll use this post as a jumping off point for the discussion.

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Book of the month: All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?

This month’s pick, All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America is a recommendation from shani-o who writes: “In the book, Berg touches on the role racism has played in starvation of both whites and blacks in the 60s, notes the varying policies presidential administrations have enacted to fight hunger, and gives an excellent primer on food stamps and welfare reform.

He goes on to challenge the notion that individuals and organized charities are the viable solutions, and insists that government programs are the only way to give poor people the stability they need to focus on education and work, so they can eventually enter the middle class. Berg also discussed the term  ‘food insecurity’ (also known as ‘hunger’) in the U.S.”

An article on Berg in the Philadelphia Inquirer described ‘food insecurity’ as “the lack of access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life.”

Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and previously worked for the Clinton Administration where he was the Community Coordinator of Community Food Security for the USDA.

We will be discussing the book on September 15. Check out Berg’s website and read an excerpt of the book.

Happy Reading.