Friday, February 11, 2011

Regime Change - in Egypt, and our Schools

In Egypt, Might Mubarak be Right About Something?

Last week, in the face of irrefutable revolt by millions of his countrymen, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak bristled at the notion of abdication. He complained that international pressure, fomented in part by the media, was complicit along with Arab activists in encouraging his people to stage the protests that had riveted the world's attention.

Flash forward to this morning, after word broke out that Mubarak had resigned. Watching and listening to CNN's live webscast from Cairo, I could hear nothing except the sounds of people cheering and car horns blasting. It appeared to be an unscripted, raw tableau of history - as it happened. No news anchor droning on with a live play-by-play account of the jubilant throngs celebrating across the city.

As the camera panned away from a nearby street to crowds waving flags beyond a distant elevated roadway, a male reporter's voice could suddenly be heard in the background. But this reporter wasn't trying to provide live commentary. I don't even know if he worked for CNN. I could tell he either wasn't speaking into a microphone, or the technicians weren't trying to improve his audio quality. Instead, this reporter began joking with a young man, presumably an Egyptian organizer of the protests. The reporter playfully asked the Egyptian if he had telephoned Mubarak to work out details of his relinquishing power. Presumably uneager to make fun of the moment, the Egyptian convinced the reporter to change the subject.

So, switching gears, the reporter fell into a contemplative, almost awe-struck mood, and recalled that when his producer sent him to Cairo three weeks ago, he found only fifty men protesting in this square. At first, the reporter explained that he didn't understand why he was being assigned to cover what appeared to be a non-story. He cursed his producer, yet appeared to credit him with knowing something the reporter did not. Little did he think, professed the reporter, that he'd be witnessing regime change just three weeks later.

Not long after those comments, which seemed surprisingly private, the webcast's audio feed went dead, although the video feed continued.

Hmm, I thought. Did that reporter's superiors at CNN realize that their cover had been blown? Was this one of those live-mike moments, where people who should know better spill the beans thinking they weren't wired for sound? Might Mubarak have been accurate in suspecting that the international media played no small role in the overthrow of his government? Did CNN know that those small demonstrations would conflagrate into the massive protests that forced Mubarak from power?

Or was this all a fluke - that CNN sent this reporter to Egypt on the off-chance something big could happen, especially considering the unrest in Tunisia last month. Did the producer not really explain much to his reporter, not knowing himself that this assignment would end up be the coverage of regime change in Egypt? Was this reporter simply a clueless schmuck following orders? Did all of the international media coverage of angry protesters in Tahrir Square, in reality, provide little impetus and legitimacy to the opposition movement?

If you're a conspiracy theorist, you could make a lot of hay out of the reporter's ad-lib comments and his audio feed suddenly being pulled. If you're an uncynical believer in grass-roots democracy, this was just an innocent exchange between two sudden witnesses to history. They were simply trying to make small talk while they thought their mikes were off.

As for myself, I fall somewhere in the middle. I think social media and international pressure based on the non-stop, live, on-site reporting from across Egypt played crucial roles in Mubarak being forced from power. Yet I also think the media likes to give themselves too much credit for a lot of what goes on in our world.

After pretty boy reporter Anderson Cooper got roughed up recently by protesters, the press seemed indignant that people they were covering would turn on them. I wonder the extent to which the Egyptians were saying to the TV news crews, "OK, boys; we'll take it from here."

Let's just hope that where they're taking it is a true, capitalist, democratic republic.

Public School Funding? Make the Leagues Pay to Play

No matter where you live in the United States these days, public school funding has probably crashed into crisis mode. With the Great Recession gnawing into the fabric of our post-industrial economy, school districts seem to be fighting for their survival now more than ever.

Yesterday, for example, the Dallas Independent School District here in Texas floated the dire scenario of firing 3,100 teachers, inflating class sizes up to a jaw-dropping 50 students. And Texas has one of the healthiest economies in the country!

Now, obviously, as state budgets come under review, the process for deciding what gets funded becomes an ugly, political one. Inevitably, some solutions will be painful, especially if education really is the most important part of school budgets. This means we'll be seeing a lot of compromising and deal-making between now and when the budget axe finally falls.

And speaking of axing stuff, I've got just the place to start: Cut sports programming.

Now, I can hear the protests already, particularly since I'm in Texas, where football is as much a religion as Yankee-bashing. You'd scoff that just because I'm not into sports, I don't have a right to tell sports-crazed parents their kids can't participate in school sports.

And you'd be right. I'm not saying that sports programming should be eliminated. It just shouldn't be funded through public school budgets.

Instead of tax dollars going to pay for school sports, why not have professional sports leagues fund school sports instead? After all, the major leagues are awash in our money already. And since I'm not a sports aficionado, why should my parents' tax dollars have been spent on something I'd have never used?

Think about it: what other industry gets the public to pay for 12 years of training? What other industry gets their workers with hardly any up-front investment?

Are sports programs an essential part of public education, like reading, writing, and math? Every member of our society needs to be proficient in the basics, but no sport is part of the basics. So why do schools need to fund things like basketball, swimming, lacrosse, and football?

We've already cut fine arts programs to the bone, even though it's a goofy argument, asserting classical music and art appreciation don't help kids learn. Generally, the only people who support that line of thinking are the very people who could have benefited from a little Bach and Monet in their formative years.

Why shouldn't the professional sports leagues who benefit the most from school sports programs be expected to pay for them, instead of taxpayers? For example, since football dominates all else in Texas, the NFL could develop a K-12 football program for the state's public school systems. The NFL could train the coaches and pay their salaries. Schools could lease their existing facilities to the NFL for a fee, or the NFL could build new stadiums, as well as pay for equipment and travel.

What would the NFL get out of this arrangement? Well, for starters, the NFL could develop talent literally in-house, scouting for their pro players from day one, and nurturing the public's appreciation for their sport. Funding school sports could help build brand loyalty and even expand the league with more local franchises.

Maybe this would contribute to the already-ridiculous cross-marketing gimmicks professional leagues foist on their fans. Maybe it would exclude marginal players at earlier ages, since pro leagues would have a vested interest in nurturing star jocks over average players.

But since taxpayers have, by telling legislators not to raise school taxes, told their school districts that saving money trumps everything else, why shouldn't sports get alternative funding?

If it's time to get back to basics in our schools, can we keep kidding ourselves that school sports deserves to stay in the game at taxpayers' expense?
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1 comment:

  1. Hey, I'm with you on the need for sports to be given a hard look. I'm not sure of the best solution, but it's ridiculous that all these schools have shiny new, posh stadiums for their football teams when budgets are shrinking. Didn't Kinky Friedman propose something similar to this regarding sports?

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