20 July 2012

Jerry's Kids

Although Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty and is awaiting sentencing for his crimes, the media continues a daily barrage of new articles analyzing the case, its outcome and the potential consequences for Penn State University. As a graduate of Dear Old State, I watched the entire saga with a mixture of revulsion and disbelief combined with a dash of embarrassment that I was an alum of the now tainted institution. The entire case played out like a Greek tragedy with the fall of Joe Paterno, the evidence of a systemic cover-up and the terrible crimes inflicted on children who were not protected in order to preserve the Lilly white image of the football program and the university as a whole.

How could this happen ?

Looking in from the outside, "Happy Valley" acquired an image of being a place of, well, happiness- home to  one of the best universities in the country, an idyllic rural setting and a passionate student body who would pack Beaver Stadium on crisp Autumn afternoons to cheer on a team that seemed to be above the messy recruiting scandals endured by other schools and that actually sent its players out into the world with degrees.  As a student I certainly enjoyed my time at Penn State and attended my share of football games both as a student and after I graduated, tailgating before the game, hanging out in the bars on College Avenue after the game and generally enjoying the atmosphere.

Unless you visited Penn State in the past it is hard to fathom how truly revered Joe Paterno was. His image permeated the University and State College, his name was on part of the library and he licensed his endorsement and image for an assortment of goods and services. The student body loved him, he became their surrogate father or grandfather, the seemingly kind man who preached the virtues of winning with honor and doing the right thing. I remember as a freshman having a more jaded view of the hero worship going on around me. I was 22 years old at the time and had just spent 4 years in the Army- in many ways, I felt 20 years older than my fellow freshmen who were embarking on their first journey from home. My girlfriend at the time, 18 years old and fresh out of high school, was typical in the almost religious fervor that gripped her in going to the games, painting blue paws on her face and attending pep rallies. I preferred drinking beer with my veteran buddies and trading cynical comments on the "kids" as we called our fellow students.

Every cult of personality in human history has relied on symbols, bringing supporters together through a mixture of communal interests and beliefs- we all want to feel like we belong to something bigger and the  Penn State football program seemed to be a church with its arms wide open. The chants of "We Are" from the student side followed by "Penn State" from the alums could raise the hair on your neck when screamed by over 100,000 people. With characteristic Happy Valley happiness it was followed by "Thank You" and "You're Welcome." Meanwhile, amid this idyllic landscape a monster lurked, committing horrific crimes against children while the Administration looked the other way. 

When Joe Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees the result was predictable- riots by a new generation of young Penn State students fed the same constant diet of football propaganda as their student body predecessors. It was inconceivable that the focus of their hero worship had been stripped away from them, shattering their rose colored glasses and ripping off the veil of happiness from the valley forever. Penn State will never be the same again and that is probably a good thing. 

What to do now ? Simple. Fire anyone from the University staff that failed to take action, suspend the entire football program for five years and return the school to its roots- academics and preparing young adults to become productive members of society. Penn State was doing that for generations before there even was a football team and the school can certainly do it again. 

08 March 2012

Cleared for Contact

News that should make the Eastern Division of the NHL collectively shudder- Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact and could make his reappearance within a number of days. I for one would never have blamed the kid if he hung up the skates for good. As a multi-millionaire in his twenties, with lucrative endorsement deals and a great future in coaching, broadcasting or sitting on his deck drinking beer, why take any chances of sustaining career ending head injuries ? Or worse, lingering injuries that could prevent him from enjoying all of that cash in his later years ?

As more research comes forward on the lingering effects of head injuries on everyone from pros to kids playing hockey, Crosby has become a spokesman who could effectively end the charade that players should just suck it up and play regardless of their condition.

I love the old guy argument as so often preached by the likes of Don Cherry- the ones who say modern players are sissies for wearing visors, or sitting out because they have their bells rung. They seem to miss the same facts that apply to modern football players compared to their elders- namely that they are bigger, faster and in far better physical shape than their predecessors.

In a game of speed like hockey it is simple physics that a superbly conditioned defenseman at 6 foot 5 inches, 220 pounds is going to hit with far more force than his 5 foot 11 185 pound predecessor from the 1960's that worked side jobs during the off season to make ends meet. Add in changes in equipment (which is lighter and may offer far more protection to the shoulder when hitting an opponent) and you have a recipe for more head injuries, more time missed during the season and earlier retirements.

Hockey, like any sport, is entertainment. Like any entertainment, it depends on star power to draw the fans who pay for the tickets who pay the salaries. I may not like Ovechkin, for example, but I love watching him play and I can't see him play if he's sitting in the owner's box. It's time for the NHL to clean up the game in regards to head shots, institute massive fines for deliberate contact and move on to better things.

07 March 2012

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently proposed various amendments to a proposed transportation bill. Buried inside the amendment language is this little snippet-

"Hatch Amendment #1 : The Chairman’s mark contains new revenue provisions, including a transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Fund, the closing of a black liquor loophole, the dedication of a “gas guzzler” tax, the revocation of passports for individuals owing more than $50,000 in back taxes, an increase of the levy authority on payments to Medicare providers with delinquent tax debt, and a transfer of certain imported tariffs to the Highway Trust Fund.

That's right- if you owe Uncle Sugar more than $ 50,000 in back taxes you are going to have your passport revoked.

Stop and think about this for a second. Remove all thoughts of tax cheats and rich one percenters jetting off to Switzerland to avoid paying up. From 1789 until 1941 passports were not even required (except by executive order during the Civil War and World War One) for U.S. citizens to leave or enter the country and it wasn't until 1978 that it became illegal to enter the U.S. without a passport. As with all aspects of the unimpeded growth of government and bureaucracy, the citizens of this country have slept while government has quietly crept into every facet of their lives, eroding their individual freedoms, restricting their movements and watching over their shoulders.

I can understand how a person accused of a violent crime should be forced to surrender his or her passport while awaiting trial. After all, it makes perfect sense to prevent murderers from fleeing to other countries to escape justice. That being said, owing the government money is a completely different situation. What Hatch is basically attempting to do is hold an American's very rights as a citizen in escrow until they pay what they owe to the government- the same government that then takes their hard earned money and flushes it down a massive budgetary toilet. By legislative fiat he is proposing to effectively strip Americans of their citizenship because a citizen without a passport is a citizen no longer.

I hope the good people of Utah do us all a favor and vote this senile codger into retirement where he belongs.

06 March 2012

Peter Coyote- Buddhist Anarchist

You may not immediately recognize the name Peter Coyote, but I would bet if you heard his voice you would probably recognize it. Coyote is a veteran actor and narrator (some of my favorites being Prohibition, Out of the Blue and the NHL36 series.) Here is a piece on Coyote and his views on Buddhism and Anarchism.

Can you eat a Credit Card ?

A recent article in The Daily Mail highlights how cash strapped Brits are relying more heavily on credit to buy daily necessities such as groceries. More interesting was the chart showing the increase in the price of grocery items (9.45 % according their numbers) which dovetails nicely with my own experience when buying food.

I recently commented to my wife that growing fruit and vegetables is probably far more profitable (and legally acceptable) than marijuana. This was based on the sticker shock I experienced when buying some blueberries and crackers at the store. Two things struck me. First, blueberries could be the new crack cocaine for local gangs to begin selling in our area. Second, the physical size of many of the things we buy (such as cracker boxes and Girl Scout Cookies) are shrinking while their price increases. The Mail's article citing 9.45 % price inflation is not far off from the rumored real U.S. inflation rate of 8 %.

Let's face it, whether the politicians and bankers want to slap a pretty name ("Quantitative Easing") or not on the massive printing of new money, all of that cash sloshing around the system will eventually drive up the costs of commodities and create inflation. We are currently witnessing the U.S. political theater that comes about when the price of gasoline rises- Republicans blame Democrats, Democrats blame Republicans. I blame them all.

This is not a U.S. centric problem, however, and the loose money policies of the old European regimes are just as much to blame as the U.S. Decades of fatal political and economic decisions based on preserving power, rather than doing the best for the citizenry, have bankrupted the system. Even the Economist recently showed its ire by kicking Argentina out of its weekly statistics section for playing fast and loose with the figures they submitted. If nations are now blatantly lying about the real rate of inflation in their economies, who knows what lurks under the tip of the ice burg ?

05 March 2012

Adios February

Many people have phobias but I think my primary one is among the strangest- I have an intense dread of the month of February. February is a strange month, sort of shoehorned into the calendar and bridging two far happier times of the year. On one side, we move from the holiday months of November and December (here in the U.S.) which abound with family time, good memories and good cheer, and then into January and the hope, joy and optimism of a new year. On the other side of the bridge we have March, with the first hint of Spring, warm weather and blooming trees and flowers which promises sunshine and deliverance from the depths of winter. To get between them, however, I must cross the four week mine strewn bridge known as February.

Ah yes, February. The graveyard of broken New Year Resolutions, boring television and the listless doldrums of the NHL season. Bad things have always happened to me in February- business related, family related you name it. To make it worse this year, the creators of our calendar managed to extend the agony by adding the additional Leap Day. The supposed holidays of the month are a joke, including the rampantly commercialized Valentine's Day and President's Day. I think most Americans would prefer we swapped a day off in February for one in June or August, but who am I to say.

I tried to research a phobia for February but was unsuccessful. Sure, all of the usual suspects were there- spiders, open spaces, Friday the 13th, Newt Gingrich...but I couldn't find one addressing one so broad to 'X" out an entire month of the calendar. Crazy though I may be, if I'm going to have a phobia, I'm going large or going home. So, I spent the night of February 29th drinking a glass of whisky (okay two, or was it three ?) firmly convinced at multiple times that evening that a car would hit my house, or a piece of space debris or a wayward North Korean missile...but nothing happened. February 2012 passed in relative peace. With any luck Mr. February, if the Mayans were right, I'll never have to face you again you miserable bastard.