Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We Are...Disturbed

Last week, many of my students blogged about the recent events at Penn State. In class, we debated several questions, including: 1) Should all state residents who witness child sexual abuse be "mandatory reporters"  (i.e. legally obligated to report such crimes to the police)? 2) Was the dismissal of Joe Paterno an appropriate action for the university to take? Some interesting viewpoints were put forward in our discussions on both sides of both questions.

As for my own perspective, I found all the news coming out of State College profoundly disturbing on multiple levels:

  1. First and foremost, the crimes themselves are indescribably disturbing. To think that a man founded an organization to help disadvantaged kids, and used this organization as the means and cover for abusing such kids for over a decade, is to become conscious of a special kind of evil. Sandusky clearly belongs in the lowest ring of Hell, along with Judas, getting his brains chewed out by Satan, frozen in a lake of the dark angel's tears.
  2. The concerted effort among many administrators to cover up these crimes also appears soul-defilingly wrong. It seems that the athletic director, coach Paterno, and other officials knew something was wrong at least as early as the late 1990s, had that confirmed in 2002, and still failed to take sufficient action to protect the children (past, present, and future) victimized by this monster. Yes, Paterno's dismissal was justified. No, he should not receive $500,000 per year for his retirement. Use that money for need- and merit-based scholarships. (And by merit, I mean academic merit -- not athletic merit.)
  3. The failure to intervene by those--most notably Mike McQueary--who witnessed these crimes actually taking place, also challenges one's comprehension of human decency. Now, on some level, I can understand that witnessing such an act must be shocking, and that such shock can potentially paralyze the witness. Who really knows how he/she would respond to such a sight? One of my students said he would have killed Sandusky, personally, vigilante-style. Another student (female, <120 pounds), said she would have picked up a chair and clobbered him with it. I have no idea what I would have done, but I hope to God I would have done more than run away and not call the cops.
  4. The response to the firing of Paterno by Penn State students (i.e. rioting) also disturbed me. Now, I am all for protesting. The Occupy Wall Street folks, for example, have my sympathy and support. And I also would have been understanding had Penn State students rioted in response to the inexcusable conspiracy to cover-up crimes against children by their university's administration. But I cannot understand rioting against Paterno's dismissal. "JoePa" (ugh!) is not the victim here.
  5. Similarly distasteful have been media reports that emphasize the "suffering" of students and alumni who are "struggling" with the damage to their school's image. Penn State's all-important "brand" will recover with greater expediency than the psyches of those victimized by these traumatic acts of violence. 
  6. Finally, I am disturbed by the cult(ure) at Penn State that made these events possible. Why do people love Penn State and "JoePa" (double ugh!!) so passionately and uncritically? I think it must be a result of the cultish obsession with college football at this campus (and beyond). When your allegiance to a man, an institution, a football team, or a symbol becomes so devout that you are more concerned about preserving the integrity of that man, institution, team or symbol than defending basic human rights, you have cult-ivated quite a perverse and corrupt form of pride. A couple of my students picked up on this in their blogs, and one linked to a great clip from the Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart makes a similar point (as only Jon Stewart can).
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Sunday, November 6, 2011


A week before our Halloween nor'easter, I was on the roof pruning away potentially harmful limbs that were near a power line (not to mention the roof itself). Of course, I had no idea, at the time, that a big snowstorm was on the way--I was only up there because Yuriko's dad had suggested that we do a little pruning before winter arrived. Good thing I didn't put it off too long--who knew winter would orchestrate an October overture?

When the storm came, I knew that despite my efforts of the previous week, we were going to lose power. I kept thinking about the only other big October storm I could remember, which I think was in 1988. At the time, I was quite a young lad, living in upstate New York--near Albany--excited by Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers and their march through the postseason. (I remember my neighbor was a huge Orel Hershiser fan.) When the storm hit, all the trees still had their leaves, and as a result, there were branches down everywhere. We lost power for an entire week, and had to move in with my grandmother, who lived across the Massachusetts border.

I had a feeling the same sort of thing was bound to happen with this storm. There are a lot of big, old trees on our block, and most of them still had a lot of their leaves. There was no way they would hold all that snow. As the branches started snapping Saturday afternoon, we felt like we were under siege, and I figured it was just a matter of time. Around 3pm, while I was washing the dishes, the lights went out. No electricity also meant, of course, no heat--but it also meant no stove, no water (well pump), and no toilet flushing (sewer pump). Yikes. 

Our neighbors went out in their SUV to pick up some Chinese food for dinner, and they brought us some won-ton soup, fried rice, and sesame chicken. We ate by candlelight, played chess, and went to bed early. The house was pretty cold when we woke up Sunday morning (a little over 50). We then went out for breakfast at a diner, and spent the afternoon at a friend's apartment, who was nice enough to let us warm up and shower. We ended up going back to the same friend's apartment Monday night, as our power was still not restored, and we really didn't want to deal with another 30 degree night in an unheated house. 

When we returned home Tuesday morning, the power was finally back, and it was quite a relief. 

So this was our third "extreme weather event" in the past couple months. Are the gods upset? Are they trying to tell us to stop burning fossil fuels? Take away my fossil fuels for a few days, and I feel pretty damned powerless. I guess until there are some affordable alternatives out there, we're going to be stuck in a pretty vicious circle.