Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hey! Got a minute?

I can’t—and won’t —speak for anyone else, but when we were kids hanging on a street corner, we always viewed ourselves as “being busy”—that is, we had to be doing what we were then doing, which of course, was “nothing.”

Anyone who has ever seen the 1956 Academy Award-winning movie, Marty would know exactly what I’m talking about. The theme of that film revolved around a group of single young men who, night after night, did little more than hang around a bar and talk about what they were going to do. Which usually turned out to be—hanging around!

I will have to admit, as teenagers, we would spend our summer days playing ball, then at night, we’d all gather on the corner and do essentially the same thing we had done the night before…and the night before that. And what we did was—nothing! It’s what young people tend to do with their time. Time means less to them than it does to someone in middle age, and a lot less to them than it means to a senior citizen.

That’s why it annoys me—yes, I do get annoyed—whenever I see a TV show that depicts youth as perpetually busy, while senior citizens are continually shown as dozing, sitting on a park bench, dozing, ambling along with a walker or cane, dozing, gossiping unashamedly, dozing, and drinking the omnipresent cup of tea.

In truth, I have much more on my plate nowadays than I ever did as a teenager. For example, in the past three months alone, my wife and I have decorated our daughter’s house for her daughter’s wedding, attended a college graduation of  another daughter who went back to school after having one successful career, saw a granddaughter off to a senior prom, attended another granddaughter’s wedding rehearsal, followed two days later by her wedding.

In that time I also published two novels as e-books, edited a dozen special sections for the Cape May County Herald, and celebrated our wedding anniversary ( and of course, Mother’s Day). Moreover, we usually spend one day a week volunteering at a local nursing home in our “spare time.”

I added one other activity for 2012—having cancer radiation therapy every weekday for 39 days, which, by the way, did slow me down.

All this is a lot better than “killing time hanging on a corner,” but then again, adults—at least those in middle age or their senior years—know that time is not to be killed, because as a wise senior citizen once said, “Lost time is never found again.” I think that was Benny the Frank.

So…the next time you see some 60-something adult portrayed as just watching the world pass them by, remember…it’s fiction!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Say It Ain't So, Joe

I was hoping I’d never have to write this piece, but recent revelations regarding the Penn State cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual predations dictate that I do.

If the information uncovered by the Freeh investigation is accurate—and I’ve little reason to believe it isn’t—then Joe Paterno did indeed take an active part in hiding the deeds of his assistant coach. Deeds that were both illegal and monstrous.

The damaging evidence can be inferred from the “Timeline” section of the report on page 23, wherein the plan devised by University President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, and Athletic Director Timothy Curley on February 26, 2001 includes a three-fold action: 1. Confront Sandusky, 2. Notify the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), 3. Notify the Board of the Second Mile Foundation.

However, this plan is “downgraded” to just confronting Sandusky after it is discussed with Paterno. The ‘new’ plan is to offer Sandusky professional help. If Sandusky does not then cooperate, the notifications to the DPW and Second Mile can proceed.

I read this as Paterno having the ultimate authority here. What else could I infer?

I at first gave Paterno the benefit of the doubt—doubt motivated by my lack of knowledge about what exactly he knew, and what exactly he could have done. I believed he followed the rules strictly and took what action he was mandated to take.

Now, e-mails attributed to Paterno indicate that he not only advised those around him to keep silent about Sandusky’s crimes, but his inaction even allowed this predator to continue his odious assaults for more than 10 years following the discovery of the crime.

The Freeh report states that the four most powerful people at the university—Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator for more than a decade! These men failed to notify the school’s Board of Trustees about allegations against Sandusky.

I initially defended Paterno’s actions, saying that he did what was required. But it appears now that he did not. He may have even been complicit in the crimes by his colluding with university officials in concealing the abominable actions of another—another over whom he obviously had some control.

Cover-ups beget cover-ups; lies beget lies. And now Paterno’s legacy is taking on the shape of someone who aided and abetted a serial rapist. Although the executives of the college—the president, vice president, and athletic director—were making the Lion’s share (pun intended) of decisions, it’s Paterno’s legacy that most people around the nation are interested in.

As one who has been a fan of Penn State football since childhood, and one who has admired Joe Paterno for almost half a century, what do I now request? Say it ain’t so, Joe?

So what do we do now? The legal system has taken care of Sandusky, and I believe it will soon do likewise for other culpable figures. But Paterno died months ago.

Legal punishment is impossible, but the school, its untold numbers of students and supporters, need to take more action; action outside the law, if you will. The prominent debate on that score is now revolving around the bronze statue of Paterno that is captioned with the words, “Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.”

Should the statue stay or go? Paterno did a lot of great things while at Penn State, not the least of which was endowing a library with a lot of his own effort and money. And he won a lot of football games, including two national titles. So perhaps the sculpture can remain.

But if it does, considering his failure to protect the young boys that came under his assistant coach’s influence, and his conspiracy with those around him to cover up that coach’s crimes, it is not unreasonable to suggest removing the first and last words of the statue’s caption.

Much the same as the stripes are ripped from a soldier’s sleeve when he is disgraced and reduced in rank, Paterno’s sleeve should be stripped of the labels Educator and Humanitarian.

Library notwithstanding, he failed to educate Sandusky’s victims to the danger of the man.

And that is flagrantly inhuman.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bully for Us All

Bullying seems to presently be our culture’s “cause da jour.” Barely a week goes by without someone writing a book about this problem or starting a charity to combat its consequences. And that’s admirable. As far as it goes.

But as is the case with so many of our difficulties, no one I’ve heard thus far is attacking the root cause. If this is a cultural malady, then there’s something festering in our culture. That fester needs more than a Band-Aid. It needs an antibiotic.

Bullying has always been prevalent. But why does it seem so much more common today? Well, I’m going to blame the same culprit that I see as having a bad influence on most of our society—Television, or more broadly: what passes for entertainment today.

Watch most any sit-com long enough and there will be an episode wherein there is an attempt to joke about some poor young soul having to systematically give up his lunch money to the school thug. Anyone who’s ever been in that position knows that’s not funny.

But what do you expect when children rule the roost? That’s exactly what has happened. Before the 1960s, most bullies were eventually dealt with sternly by the adults in their lives: their parents, their teachers, their neighbors…and even some of their victims. Now, sternness (however deserved) of any degree is interpreted as brutality.

There is an episode of the old Dick VanDyke show, that could never be aired today. It’s episode 20 of the first season, broadcast February 7, 1962, and entitled, “A Word A Day.”

Dick asks a clergyman how his father disciplined him as a child, and the clergyman answers, “With an understanding smile and a rap in the mouth.” The line got a big laugh—back in 1962.

Today, that line would generate hate mail, boycotts of the program’s sponsors, and perhaps even cancellation of the show.

An increase in bullying is a symptom. That increase is a part of the price we are paying for relinquishing our responsibility as adults—a tendency that has increased over the past several generations. It’s a signpost indicating: you are now entering 21st century culture.

My task here is not to advocate one form of chastisement over another. I’m not a child psychologist; just a parent. As always, my goal is to make people think. Every change comes with cost. Did the escalating permissive attitude that took hold in the 60s cost us control over our children? If so, how much control did we lose?

More importantly, how can we regain that control without swinging back too far in the opposite direction?

If you’re at least thinking about this right now. I’m content.