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Civilization, Whither Art Thou
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Civilization, Whither Art Thou

Commentary on Society and Civilization

July 17


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Follow-up on Hobby Lobby Post


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My father sent me a letter about the last post discussing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  With his 30+ years in law he helped elucidate the landscape of law surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion and also weighed in on a few issues.  The most crucial fact he gave to me concerned the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion on Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States 379 U.S. 241 (1964).  The American Bar Association does a great job explaining the central arguments and the outcome of the case here.  As the ABA states, the question is "under the Constitution, can Congress pass a law preventing private businesses from discriminating against people because of their race or color?"  The court's opinion was unanimous in saying, yes, Congress can prevent private businesses from discriminating against people, especially private businesses that participate in interstate commerce.  The opinion of the court went on to say that Congress has the power to regulate and prevent discrimination not just with interstate commerce but within a state as well.  

It would seem, as my father points out, and I agree, that Atlanta has been at least partially overturned.  In Atlanta the issue was whether or not Congress could force a private business, in this case a motel, to serve African Americans.  The owner of the motel said that the Congress had overstepped its authority by telling him who he could and could not serve.  The outcome of the case was unanimous, as mentioned above, and the opinion served to justify regulation prohibiting discriminatory practices by private business.  This was part of a trend in law going back to the Civil War or further.  The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, made it so that states could not discriminate against citizens.  But in the 1880s the courts refused to restrict private businesses.  Thus, early in American history slavery was legal and states had the authority to discriminate.  As time went on, they were limited in that capacity.  Then the private business question was raised, and so on.  Reading through some of the explanations and looking at the case itself I feel the following paragraph from the ABA discussing the case is critical to its understanding:

"The Fourteenth Amendment prohibited discrimination by states, thus limiting their power, but what about discrimination by private businesses like restaurants and hotels? Congress passed a law in 1875 that outlawed such discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 made it a crime to deny to anyone the "full and equal enjoyment" of railways and other transportation. It also required equal treatment in hotels, theaters and other places of public amusement."

Therefore, it should be understood that throughout American history the laws have been moving ever closer to trying to create a society where discrimination does not exist, while balancing the power of Congress.  Today, however, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby the court has slid backwards by taking power away from Congress.  They have said that an private business participating in interstate commerce cannot be regulated when it violates the religious beliefs of that corporation, as long as the corporation isn't hurting anyone.  (If they were hurting someone by violating the law Congress would have a compelling reason to burden them.)  With this in mind, the question becomes, can an owner of a corporation participating in interstate commerce not hire a potential employee because they are African American, if they feel it violates their religious beliefs?  Historically, the Christian Bible was used to justify slavery and the inferiority of other "races."  I fail to see how that isn't religious in nature.  How does Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act reconcile this?

But I want to change the focus of this post and examine something else my father said that is of particular interest to me.  Below is the paragraph I wish to discuss:

"Also, many women use the hormones for things other than birth control. [Many women]...for example...[take] so called birth control pills as a way to control harsh and debilitating periods...There are other medical uses for these hormones than just birth control is the point. These items should be referred to generically as "hormone therapy" not birth control. So because of one medical effect, prevention of pregnancy, versus other medical effects, these people get to opt out. Furthermore, if the reason they are offended is because they think using birth control increases promiscuity, then they are trying to control behavior of individuals that is absolutely protected by the right of privacy. They don't get to tell me what to do because of their "religious" sensibilities. That is also part of "religious freedom", the right to practice any religion or none at all."

My father makes some great points here, but I want to explore the argument at the very beginning of the paragraph, that some women use birth control for reasons other than control pregnancy.  The argument is very logical.  And arguments like it have been applied to legalization of marijuana, gay rights, and even civil rights.  The argumentation is the same in all cases, a logical appeal to what is natural or an alternative use are used to try and sway the opponent.  For example, with marijuana proponents argue that cannabis has medicinal properties and thus should be legalized.  For gay rights proponents argue that "being gay" isn't a choice, you're born that way, so that population should have equal protection under the law.  With civil rights proponents argue that African Americans are scientifically (read here IQ, genetics, etc.) the same as Caucasians and thus should have equal protection under the law.  And here with Hobby an argument again for alternative use.

The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that it shouldn't matter whether or not there are alternative uses for something, or whether or not someone is "born that way" or not, citizens should simply have equal protection under the law to live out their lives as they choose without interference from outside parties including Congress and private business -- with the caveat that they cannot break laws already set in place to protect others.  For example, if someone wants to drink alcohol they should be able to; however, if they choose to drive and drink alcohol they have endangered the lives of others and there should real consequences.  A private business should not be able to tell certain classes of people, say Jewish or African American individuals, that they cannot buy alcohol simply because they are Jewish or African American.  Further, an employer should not be able to tell a Jewish individual that they will be fired for having a glass of wine at Sabbath dinner in their own home, simply because in their religion they view alcohol as a sin.  What they do in their private life should be their private life.

What Hobby says, though, to me, is that employers can discriminate against their employees.  If Hobby Lobby can opt out of following a federal regulation because it, a corporation, has moral reservations about the federal regulation, then why can't they opt out of the Civil Rights Act of 1875?  Further, why couldn't a state, another fictional entity, opt out of the Fourteenth Amendment due to religious concerns?  This is scary.  And what's more it calls back ideology of legalized slavery, child labor, and refusing to let women vote.  No amount of arguing that women are equally intelligent as men will change an individual's mind that women should have the right to vote if they in fact believe that a divine being doesn't want women to vote.  Furthermore, we shouldn't need a logical scientific argument to do the right thing.  In the multicultural framework of which today's society squarely resides, arguing that one culture or even worse a subset of one culture be given dominion in law is evil.

As a biologist I am reminded of the concept of emergent properties.  The concept of emergence, in biology, states that if we put some components together we get a bigger thing with new properties.  Those new properties 'emerged' out of the smaller components.  A classic example is of a bicycle.  If you throw all the parts of a bicycle on the floor you do not in fact have a bicycle and those individual parts do not hold the properties of a bicycle, such as having the ability to carry you around town.  However, if we put the parts together in the right way (and in fact there aren't a lot of ways they can fit together) we get a bicycle and the properties we associate with a bicycle emerge.  A more complex example is the emergent theory of consciousness.  The idea states, in simple terms, that if you put all the parts of the human brain together, consciousness emerges.  Yet, consciousness is then, by definition, more than the sum of its parts.  Therefore, we can't point to any part of the brain where consciousness resides.  This idea has been around for some time, a good place to start if you are interested is here.  

I want to take this last paragraph, elaborate on it, and apply that to Hobby.  I argue here that our (and other mammal) brains are wired for morality.  We can watch on MRI's as people try and make morality based decisions and we see patterns.  Further, I argue that when you place a human in a multicultural society where they interact on a personal level with individuals who come from a different background that a new sort of morality emerges.  One that is unique to the modern age.  Even just a hundred years ago there was nothing even remotely close to the confluence of culture that we see today.  The internet, flight, phones, and suburbia have forced us to meet others who are not like us.  There are at least two reactions to this: fear and acceptance.  For if you accept others as your equal then you accept that your way of life is not the only correct way to live.  Many then feel paralyzed by thoughts such as: what if I'm wrong or what if there is no point?  This existential crisis leads to segregation of ideas and a sort of closed off consciousness to others who don't fit in that paradigm.  

This is how I define evil.  Evil begins by fearing others who are different than you.  It is the cause of much suffering in the world.  Many have tried to argue that their actions are not out of fear, but instead they are out of love.  For example, in 1927 the landmark case Buck v. Bell was decided and Ms. Buck was forcibly sterilized against her will (redundancy intended).  In that decision, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., states infamously that, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."  Justice Holmes argues that if we don't rid society of the "feeble-minded" then society will face danger.  Others followed his lead and argued that if we didn't sterilize now, we would have to euthanize later.  You may see where this is going.  In 1936 the Nazi party posted this flier around Germany.

It says, "We do not stand alone," along the top.  On the shield it says, "Law for the Prevention of Diseased Offspring," otherwise known as the "Sterilization Law."  It allowed Germany to forcibly sterilize individuals who were deemed unfit to reproduce.  Around the sides of the poster are flags of other major countries.  Below each flag is a date, that date tells the year that country enacted compulsory sterilization laws -- the flag of the USA has the date 1907 underneath it which is by far the earliest.  Fear of others who are different from the majority led to this.  This led to the holocaust.  Now, I am in no way saying that the United States of American is responsible for the holocaust, but I cannot see how we, historically speaking at least, can shirk all moral responsibility in the matter.

I want to now return to Hobby and an emergent theory of morality.  There is another option to fear in the new emergent morality and that is acceptance.  Had the U.S. Supreme Court in the years 1924-1927 sincerely looked at what was going on they would have seen that the words that were being used, such as "feeble-minded," "defective," and "imbecile" had very little meaning to them.  Further that those who were found to be "different" and thus "defective" could function perfectly well in society.  Justice Holmes even remarks that these individuals could be released into society, and further that they could benefit society, but that he and others fear they will have children who are equally different.  That fear led the USA to sterilize tens of thousands of its citizens, many of whom were likely just not well educated and poor.  

Today there is a fear that in accepting other's religious beliefs that Christianity will be eroded to the point of being obsolete.  A push from the religious right has come in the form of attacks on laws that specifically protect individuals rights to free exercise of religion and reverse them in a way that allows the powerful to control the behavior of the weak.  In this case, a powerful corporation is given the right to in essence tell their employees it does not agree with them having the choice to family planning.  Further, it tells the country that corporations have the right to tell workers what they can and can't do.  Any argument against this court's decision must be made, in my opinion, along the lines of a unified multicultural morality rather than an argument stemming from alternative use or science. 

To close, we as a society need to begin to understand that there exists much more gray area than we previously thought.  Just as skin tone is gradated from albino the near black between individuals so is sexuality, belief in a divine being, or any number of other facets of being human.  Going further, just as skin tone is gradated in a single individual over a given lifetime, so are feelings on sexuality, religious beliefs, and everything else that makes us who we are.  To make the world black and white, as the court has done with Hobby, is to put us on a path towards fear and hatred.  For if we allow one corporation to dictate a behavior, then we can allow another; and if we go down that slippery slope, then whose to say what behavior will be next.   

July 15


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Hobby Lobby US Supreme Court Decision


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In light of the recent decision of the US Supreme Court I am going to put a hold on the wage and benefits theme and take a look at what the decision means.  First, let's frame the issue.  Hobby Lobby sued the US government over requirements to provide insurance that provided access to contraceptives.  The case syllabus and opinions can be found here.  It seems at first to be a narrow case about corporate profits in the guise of religious freedom, but in the end it seems to be much more.  There is definitely a monetary aspect to the case.  All corporations do in fact stand to lose money if they either refuse to provide access to contraceptives or if they provide the insurance.  The only way to not lose money based on the Affordable (health) Care Act is to argue that they have the right now to provide the coverage.  Enter the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act of 1993, which you can read here, it's only 3 pages long.

The plaintiffs argue that as a closely held for-profit corporation they have the religious freedom to not be burdened by the government's laws unless there is a compelling reason for the burden.  A clause in the act also claims that even if there is a compelling reason to burden an individual or individuals the government shall not do so if there is a less restrictive "means to further that compelling government interest."  This translates to: if the government passes a law an individual is not required to follow it if interferes with their religious beliefs, unless there is a really good reason why they should be forced to comply and there isn't another less religiously restrictive way around the issue.  So in this case, Hobby Lobby is claiming that they are a family owned business, and that the Affordable Care Act burdens them by forcing them to do something they feel goes against their religious beliefs, which is to provide insurance to their employees which covers contraception.

What is interesting is that no one at Hobby Lobby is required by the law to actually use contraception, and furthermore Hobby Lobby can continue to speak out against contraception if they so choose.  Furthermore, the family that owns Hobby Lobby isn't forced to buy contraception.  The government is merely requiring the corporation to provide their employees with access to contraception (or access to it through insurance).  Furthermore, the claim by Hobby Lobby is that Hobby Lobby is a person.  In other words, even though the corporation is a for-profit business that operates in numerous states with over 500 locations nationwide and 13,000 employees they are claiming that Hobby Lobby is the family who owns the business; or even more drastic, they are claiming that a fictitious entity (Hobby Lobby) is a real person whose rights are being trampled upon.

This frames the case pretty well.  The US Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that Hobby Lobby was being burdened needlessly by the Affordable Care Act and their religious freedom was infringed upon.  The majority opinion, written by Justice Alito, stated that according to the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act the government did not have the authority to require a closely-held for-profit business such as Hobby Lobby to break with their religious beliefs, and that as such they did not have to comply with the Affordable Care Acts mandate that all for-profit businesses provide health-care that included access to contraception.  Alito also stated that there were other less restrictive means to reach the same goal, such as the government providing the contraceptives directly to the Hobby Lobby employees.  This is an interesting take on the Affordable Care Act and the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act.  Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion and took Alito and Kenney (who wrote a concurring opinion) to bat on every issue.

What is interesting about this case is that the majority opinion and concurring opinions argue that individuals have the right to create their business in the image of their religious beliefs, unimpeded by the government.  What if the individuals who own Hobby Lobby become Christian Scientists?  They may claim that they do not believe in medicine at all and that providing any medical insurance to their employees violates their religious beliefs.  According to Justice Alito, the government could just provide health insurance directly the the Hobby Lobby employees and that would alleviate the restriction and burden placed on Hobby Lobby.  But that's the major issue at stake here.  In a society where one corporation such as Wal-Mart, owned by the a family, the Waltons, employs over 1% of working Americans, it is scary to think that the Walton family could dictate the healthcare benefits and who knows what else of those 3.3 million employees based on their religious beliefs.  

It is worth noting that Hobby Lobby was not the only company suing the U.S. government, Conestoga and Mardel were both also included in this case.  Now that the Supreme Court has released their opinion I wager that many corporations will sue the U.S. government saying that their religious liberty has been violated by forcing them to provide certain benefits to their employees.  In other words, a Pandora's box has been opened with this decision and anyone who owns a close-held for-profit business can now try and argue that based on their religious beliefs they shouldn't have to follow a law, even if that law doesn't directly affect their actions (i.e. it only affects their businesses profits).  Let me clarify that last clause of the last sentence.  Going back to the beginning of this blog post I said that the owners of Hobby Lobby didn't have to use contraception or even endorse contraception, they just had to provide insurance that covered contraception to their employees.  The government isn't forcing Hobby Lobby to do anything other than provide insurance, Hobby Lobby is saying they are being violated for, as Erwin Chemerinsky put it, "facilitating others" in acquiring contraceptives.

So where does it end.  In the Supreme Court Review of 2014 Mr. Chemerinsky asks this question: why couldn't a Jewish or Muslim corporation argue based on this decision that none of their wages can be used to buy pork?  It is a reasonable question in my eyes.  Hobby Lobby is claiming that the fact that they are facilitating others in acquiring contraceptives, and that contraceptives are against their religious beliefs, that their religious rights are infringed upon.  How is that different from providing wages that are then used for pornography, pork, shellfish, books by Richard Dawkins, or any other thing that may violate their beliefs.  They are still facilitating their employees by giving them monies in the form of wages, wages that are mandated by the U.S. Government. 

You may say, wait a minute, but there is a specific mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring corporations to provide insurance that covers contraceptives, there is no mandate to require wages for pork or cheese-burgers.  That's true.  But while that is the case there is no mandate that employees purchase contraceptives, just as there is no mandate that requires employees to purchase bacon.  The simple fact is that the government said you have to provide the opportunity for your employees to acquire contraceptives, just as the employees have the opportunity to buy bacon; but again they don't have to.  If this all seems ridiculous, then good, it is.  This decision is ridiculous.  A corporation is a fictional entity.  Hobby Lobby is a made up thing that only exists on paper.  You can't have a conversation with Hobby Lobby, you can't have Hobby Lobby over for dinner, you can't ask Hobby Lobby out on a date.  But according to the new Supreme Court decision, Hobby Lobby can have its religious freedom infringed upon.  Again, just who in the hell is Hobby Lobby?  

But if you'll humor me, I want to explore the Cheeseburger Dilemma a bit more.  Here is my argument.  Hobby Lobby's major claim is that it is required by law to spend money in a manner which it finds violates its free exercise of religion.  So how could the government, after agreeing with Hobby Lobby, reprimand them if they fired an employee for buying alcohol, which it deems irreligious.  Hobby Lobby's money was spent on something it finds morally unconscionable, alcohol, and they removed the spender, the employee.  What if the employee was Jewish and the alcohol they bought was for a religious event of their own, say Sabbath dinner?  Who wins?  The corporation, according to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby,  has the right not to facilitate activities which it religiously objects to.  In this case, the drinking of alcohol.  But isn't that discrimination if they fire a Jewish individual for being Jewish?  Herein lies the Cheeseburger Dilemma.  

The US Government has laws set up to protect employees and individuals from discrimination.  But Hobby Lobby and now other corporations are saying they shouldn't have to facilitate behavior with their money (wages, profits, etc.) that violates their religious beliefs.  The question will become what happens when a corporation fires or hires individuals based on a religious basis?  In my opinion, in light of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the corporations should have the right to discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion.  This is arguably a slippery slope scenario, but in my eyes it is entirely plausible.

Due to these facts, I see no reason why every corporation in the country couldn't argue tomorrow that the Affordable Care Act violates its religious beliefs and they will no longer provide any health insurance to any of their employees, and they shouldn't be penalized for that.  They could all claim to be Christian Scientists, or at least they could all be striving to be Christian Scientists.  For as Justice Kennedy remarks, we all have the right to believe or "strive" to believe in a divine law.  Even if the Walton Family doesn't actually believe in Christian Science, whose to say they don't "strive" to believe in the divine law of Christian Science, and further that the Affordable Care Act infringes on their religious beliefs by requiring them to provide healthcare to their 3.3 million employees.  Food for thought.

July 08


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Wages and Benefits: Part 2


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It seems to me that part of the problem of my generation is student loans.  The Chronicle of Higher Education released a  blurb stating that student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt in the country.  According to the Chronicle the Federal Reserve calculates that student loans surpassed credit card debt by $3.2 billion.  That's quite a bit (in a few years it will likely be great than 1% higher than credit card debt).  In fact, many economists say that there has been a "tuition bubble" that was caused by the ease at which students were receiving student loans (see this Google search).  There are the naysayers; but what we do know is that tuition has inflated by over 400% in the last 10 years (since 1993).  We also know that student loan debt has neared $1 trillion with $864 billion in federal student loan debt.   

So let's take a trip down memory lane.  In the year of my birth, 1982, if I wanted to go to a public 4-year institution I could expect to pay $2,236 in tuition and fees (this is in 2012-2013 constant dollars1).  Tuition went up a little in 1983 and 1984, but stayed pretty constant in 1985.  So after I finished my fourth year I owed about $9,800 in student loans (in today's dollars).  But what about today?  Well in the 2012-2013 academic year the tuition at a 4-year public institution was right around $8,000.  In other words, one year at that school costs close to as much as 4 years in the early 80's.  Over any given 4 year interval for the past 10 years the tuition has jumped by at least $600 and sometimes close to a $1,000.  So if we assume that it stays this way we can estimate that someone starting college in 2012-2013 at a public 4-year would owe $33,200 in tuition and fees.

Let's recap.  The individual who started college in 1982 owes $9.800 in today's dollars while the student who started in 2012 owes $33,200 in today's dollars.  Just to make a point about constant dollars, in the dollars of 1982 the 80's graduate owed $4,316.  But let's get back to the recap.  This means that relative to each other the graduate today has over three times as much debt to deal with.  According to a number of sources we aren't too far off with our estimate, the average student loan debt is close to $29,000 for 2012.  For more stats and even more information on student loans go here.

Alright.  So there are some of the statistics.  But what does this mean?  Well, let's take the last article into consideration.  Say you get a bachelor's degree in something like art or music or worse you don't complete your degree.  Now you're in the real world and you don't have student loans to pay for your life.  You need to get a job.  So you start looking around.  You quickly notice that there aren't any jobs you qualify for.  You either need to go back to school to complete some certificate program, or take prereq's for some program, or just plain start over.  Your other option is work an hourly job for one of the many corporations of the country (all of which pay near minimum wage, even to holders of Bachelor's degrees).  We saw in the last article that the money you earn is less than what it was before and now you have three to four times the debt to pay off.  Where does this leave you?

Up a creek without a paddle is where.  How do you pay off your excessive student loans with less money than other generations?  You can't.  And that's one of the reasons why enrollment is down.  Potential students are realizing that if they go to a community college and then enter an accelerated program at a for-profit single-focus institution they can save time and money compared to the traditional four-year approach.  They have also learned to bargain.  Here is a quote from the ex-President of Guilford College, North Carolina, as reported by the Chronicle:

"I have never seen savvier kids or savvier parents than the ones we are getting now," Mr. Chabotar said. "They are bargaining all over the place. It’s like going to the used-car dealership."

This bargaining has been steadily creeping up at private institutions.  Today over 44% of tuition is discounted at private institutions to meet enrollment demands according to the Chronicle.  So what is happening?  Why are these schools allowing this to happen?  Clearly students, and parents, are frustrated with tuition rates and are fighting back.  But does this benefit the students?  That is the question we need to answer as a society.  What is needed, monetarily, for a solid education.  I personally learned chemistry just fine in lecture with a chalk board, that's it.  Once we can answer that question we desperately need to find out how to fund colleges in an efficient manner that allows citizens to afford a college education in the same manner that others have in the past (say 1982).

In the end, though, the picture is clear.  We today have more student debt with lower pay.  That may be frustrating citizens and pushing them away from institutions of learning.  To draw students back in, institutions seem to be catering to the whims of the masses and destroying what education is all about.  We'll continue this in the next post. 

1.  Constant dollars means that the money is constant across time.  So if we went back in time and still used dollars as if they were worth the same thing today how much would we spend.  For example, if an apple today costs a dollar, then it might cost thirteen cents in today's dollars back in 1980.  For a more thorough discussion see this article on Wikipedia.

June 25


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Minimum Wage and Benefits: Post 1


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In 1997 when I started working for McDonald's I was making $5.15 per hour, which was minimum wage back then.  So what could I buy with that money compared to today?

Well according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics back in 1997 a pound of ground chuck was about $1.80.  So let's buy a pound of ground chuck.  Now I can make four quarter pound burger patties.  I like lettuce on my burgers so if I buy a pound of lettuce I can spend another 60 cents and get some lettuce.  We're up to $2.20.  I need some bread for those burgers, too, so I'll get a pound of bread for 85 cents.  Okay so now we're at $3.05.  But wait, I need to get home and I'm almost out of gas.  So I stop and get a gallon of gas for $1.20.  I've now spent $4.25 and have 90 cents to spare (I could almost buy another gallon of gas!).  So let's see how that same trip works today.

Minimum wage currently is $7.25.  So I go to the grocery store and buy my pound of ground chuck ($3.85), lettuce ($1.60), and bread ($1.40).  I spend $6.85.  I have to get home so I buy a gallon of gas ($3.69).  So now I've spent $10.54 and I had to put some of that on my credit card...so now I'm in debt by $3.29.  Huh...

Minimum wage has not gone up enough to match rising prices of basic goods like food, energy, and rent.  I am going to explore this topic for the next few weeks and post on other topics related to how it has become much more difficult to live in this new era of American poverty.  

December 02


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NFL Play 60


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NFL Play 60 has a mission of "to make the next generation of youth the most active and healthy." They claim that they are tackling childhood obesity and perhaps they are; but how much of the cause of childhood obesity is the responsibility of the NFL and other sports organizations? Let's be clear, I am in no way saying that the NFL is solely responsible for childhood obesity or obesity in general, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do have a role in it.

I recently heard a comedian who was joking about the new generation. He compared his childhood to theirs and made a joke about how his nephew can beat him at Wii Bowling just by sitting on the couch and flicking his wrist; while he is getting gutter balls with his "perfect form." But what about EA Sports' line of wildly successful NFL games? Wii Bowling is funny, but is it any less odd compared to a kid making a 60 yard TD pass sitting on the couch? Not really, it's just that we accept EA Sports football games with traditional controllers, while Wii games use the newfangled motion controller (it doesn't help that Wii hints in their advertising that kids are active while they play the Wii games).

The question becomes, would the kids play the NFL themed video games if we didn't idolize the football stars -- the same stars who make NFL Play 60 possible? I don't think so. The follow up question is, would they just play other video games if America didn't have a fascination with the NFL? Probably. Thus, the NFL football players and the NFL itself are not directly responsible for childhood obesity, but only part of a larger problem. So is there a solution? Not a clear one.

Many factors contribute to childhood obesity ranging from easy access to high calorie foods like chips and soda all the way to reduction in funding for PE and time allocated to recess. But how much time is spent in front of the television watching football? Years ago football was on Sunday night. Then there was Monday night football (prime time). Then there was Thursday night football. Recently we added more preseason games and training camps are a huge deal for not only fans but fantasy football fans. In fact, fantasy football is now a multi-billion dollar industry -- see http://www.fsta.org/industry_demographics.

So how much time is spent on fantasy -- either in the form of video games, online fantasy teams, online games, or otherwise -- versus time that could be spent on being active? Probably a lot of time. A recent survey showed that about two-thirds of Americans watch the NFL. An NFL game takes around 3 hours. If you watch Sunday and Monday night football (just one game per day) that's 6 hours of free time for that week. If you take into account eating, showering and the like, homework, chores, and talking to family that's somewhere between 1 and 3 days of free time gone for a kid depending on who that kid is. That's huge for watching 2 football games.

So now you've got a kid who watches 2 games a week and then starts to play football based football games. It could be the case that they spend much of their time sitting on the couch engaged in football. That's major. Play 60 tries to encourage kids to play for 60 minutes a day, but the fact is that it is more likely that their entertainment business consumes over 60 minutes of time per day of a kid -- especially during the football season. For example, even without football video games if a kid watches two 3 1/2 hour games in a week (either Thursday, Saturday (NCAA -- the minors of the NFL), Sunday, or Monday) they have just put in their 60 minutes each day of watching football. Add in some video games, fantasy games, or something else and they easily have spent over 60 minutes per day of sitting on the couch.

This article does not claim that if football went away tomorrow childhood obesity would end. It does not even mean to make the claim that football is the major reason we have childhood obesity. It merely points out the interesting phenomenon of pretending to be active from the couch via video games and other means of fantasy. If we truly want to be active we need to begin to value programs like physical education, to see the value of recess, and for parents to step up and not let their kids spend so much time on the couch.


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