Kareem Reacts to This Week's News Headlines: Judge Abandons Integrity for Trump, Spanking Returns in Schools, NBA's John Wall on Mental Health, A Dour "Rings of Power," AI Wins Art Prize, and More
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
This week’s news stories are much less about politics and more about popular culture. For me, pop culture is a greater predictor than politics of where society is heading and what its values are. Politics is the wave crashing on the beach, but pop culture is that swell out in the ocean that is building and building as it heads toward the shore.
‘Deeply Problematic’: Experts Question Judge’s Intervention in Trump Inquiry (The New York Times)
Summary: A judge appointed by Trump granted him his request that interferes with the investigation into his pilfering of 11,000 government documents, including Top Secret files. Law professor at University of Texas Stephen I. Vladeck called the ruling “an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation.”
My Take: Most legal experts agree that this ruling was unprecedented. Why wouldn’t the judge recuse herself from a case involving the person who gave her the job? That would be what anyone with professional and personal integrity would do. But integrity and judges appointed—or nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court—by Trump do not seem to go together. (For a thorough analysis, read Heather Cox Richardson’s Substack newsletter from today.)
Return of spanking in Missouri school district highlights a lingering and unequal practice (The Guardian)
Summary: A Missouri school district wants to bring corporal punishment back to schools, despite a national decline in its use. Today, 19 states, mostly in the South, permit corporal punishment.
My Take: Years ago I read a startling poll that said that 92% of parents didn’t think spanking helped, but they did it anyway. Given that every legitimate study, professional health organization, and expert has declared corporal punishment to have way more negative effects on children than any dubious benefits, people who spank clearly want to justify the action just because it vents some frustration they have as a parent. When asked, of course they’ll claim it works—if they didn’t they’d be nothing more than child abusers. But objective evidence suggests otherwise.
Here’s an excerpt from Scientific American: “In the meta-analysis, researchers Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, respectively, evaluated 75 published studies on the relation between spanking by parents and various behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical outcomes among their kids. They found that spanking was associated with 13 out of a total of 17 negative outcomes they assessed, including increased aggression, behavioral and mental health problems, and reduced cognitive ability and self-esteem.” Said Gershoff: “Studies continue to find that spanking predicts negative behavior changes—there are no studies showing that kids improve.”
If you do any research at all (by that I mean simply using Google), you’ll find overwhelming evidence that spanking is harmful. Yet, polls continue to show a general approval for spanking among the population: 76% of men and 66% of women (that gender disparity in itself demands some studying). This is true despite the condemnation of the practice by the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, ACLU, and many others. Anecdotal assertions that “I was spanked and I turned out okay” are the worst endorsements because (1) we don’t know that you turned out okay and (2) you might have turned out even better without being hit.
Before we allow government employees to hit our children, shouldn’t we have some scientific evidence that the practice is effective? Right now, we don’t. How about we paddle those educators proposing it every time test scores drop? Makes as much sense.
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Summary: Clipper guard John Wall admitted that the deaths of his mother and grandmother during the pandemic as well as rehabbing his torn Achilles led him to suicidal thoughts. “Darkest place I’ve ever been in,” the five-time All-Star said. “At one point in time, I thought about committing suicide. I mean, just tearing my achilles, my mom being sick, my mom passing, my grandma passed a year later, all this in the midst of Covid and at the same time, me going to [my mother’s] chemotherapy, me sitting by my mom taking her last breaths wearing the same clothes for three days straight laying on the couch beside her.”
My Take: I’m impressed that Wall had the courage to be so open about his struggles. Male athletes, especially Black male athletes, often are too embarrassed to admit that they need help when dealing with mental health issues. They’ll spend a fortune on physical trainers or nutritionists, but balk at seeking a specialist for mental issues. Wall sought the help of a therapist as well as the support of his family and friends. Talking about it makes him a great sports role model.
LeBron James also offered support with this tweet from his production company: “@John Wall we got your back. Always.” And then James personal tweet: “And I mean ALWAYS!!!!!! Don’t ever question it bro!! Proud of you @JohnWall.”
For me, this hysterical BetterHelp ad exemplifies the typical jock attitude that we need to overcome. Thanks to Wall and LeBron, we can keep chipping away at the silly stigma and get people the help they need.
Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ Draws More Than 25 Million Viewers (The Wall Street Journal)
Summary: The Amazon series based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien cost about $715 million to make (including rights), but seems to have paid off with 25 million people internationally watching the show’s debut on Sept. 2. This was Amazon’s biggest debut in their history.
My Take: The movies were massively entertaining because of the scope, the attention to detail, riveting action, and a group of interesting characters that we cared about. So far, I can’t say the same about The Rings of Power. It looks awesome, with wonderful costumes, sets, and special effects. But this series suffers from the same ailment as HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon: lots of hand-wringing about threatening evil forces, but very little emotional involvement from the viewer. Both shows hit the appropriate tropes of the fantasy genre—dragons, castles, blood, women struggling to be heard—but it all seems so paint-by-the-numbers contrived.
Both series are missing one key ingredient: humor. The characters skulk about with dour self-importance like ambitious employees at a tech company. Humor humanizes characters, creating higher stakes and therefore greater suspense. It’s the difference between being merely intrigued and being deeply involved, between being entertained and being engaged. Elves and Harfoots (Harfeet?) deserve better.
Summary: John Mackey is retiring as CEO of Amazon-owned Whole Foods, but first he wants to tell us about how socialism is destroying our country. “They’re marching through the institutions. They’re taking everything over. They’re taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military, and it’s just continuing.”
My Take: According to Mackey, his board kept him muzzled for years. I can see why. This article isn’t about the illogical ramblings of Mackey, it’s really about a larger problem in the country that has been bothering me for years. We have a tendency to deify rich, successful people, holding their opinions in high esteem just because they were good at running a business. Or, in terms of Trump, because we thought they were despite evidence to the contrary. Because of this error in judgement of equating business smarts with political smarts, we often follow the most idiotic people.
I know what some of you are thinking: You’re one to talk, Kareem. You’re famous for basketball, but you rant your opinions all the time. Well, if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been a writer longer than I played basketball. As such, I have tried to present researched and logical opinions for the reader to agree with or not. I’m happy to be judged on my words alone—no skyhook attached.
But we are assaulted with billionaire after billionaire spewing badly formed opinions based on weak logic that play into the fears and distress of people. If they didn’t have money, we wouldn’t pay them any attention. Why should we just because they know how to sell pillows or groceries or fried chicken? Understanding politics and social issues requires a different set of intellectual skills.
Can we please pull back on the wealth worshipping and start to scrutinize the opinions of the rich as much as we like to criticize our sports teams?
An A.I.-Generated Picture Won an Art Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy (The New York Times)
Summary: Big controversy at the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition this year when Jason M. Allen won a gold medal (and $300) for a work of art he created using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that transforms lines of text into hyper-realistic graphics. His is the first AI-generated work to win such a prize, so the backlash was immediate and intense. The category he won under was “digital art/digitally manipulated photography” and he indicated on his submission that he’d used Midjourney, so there was no cheating involved. But artists are upset that their work and the future of art may be compromised.
My Take: As a novelist myself, I always get a little antsy when I read articles about AIs writing fiction. Fortunately, all the ones I’ve read so far suck. And when I see how much more realistic animation gets year after year, I wonder whether it’s just a matter of time before actors are replaced. Maybe these nightmare scenarios will happen one day, but we are certainly not even close yet.
The art work in question (seen above) is not the epitome of art, it’s merely a very nice illustration fit for the cover of a fantasy novel. Great art stirs emotion, then leads us to examine what that emotion means, both personally and in a larger context about people. It is revelatory—showing us something about ourselves, our lives, our relationships, that we hadn’t thought of before. As of now, this insight can only come from the mixture of pain, love, and deep thought of true artists.