Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Wild Bill Says The Thrill Is Gone

Article first published as Occupy Wall Street: Wild Bill Says The Thrill Is Gone on Blogcritics.

Every neighborhood has its characters in New York City, and in my father's Queens location there is a guy I know as Wild Bill. I do not know his real name, nor do I feel compelled to find out, but WB (as some of the local kids call him) is an eccentric, slightly scary, and infinitely funny old coot who walks around in a trench coat even in the summer. I am sure he is not homeless because he is never unclean, but I have no idea where he lives. He has been spotted getting on and off a city bus with a cup of Starbucks coffee, so I figure he has some source of income to keep him in grande cappuccinos and Metro Cards.

After not seeing him for a rather long time, I ran into him yesterday and noticed the copy of the New York Times under his arm wrapped in the iconic blue plastic. I started thinking maybe he swiped it off a lawn somewhere, but the cup of java in his other hand made me think not. The best way to describe WB is that he looks kind of like Nick Nolte when he got arrested that time for drunk driving. His eyes dart back and forth over the aviator sunglasses he wears on the end of his nose, a cigarette is always in his mouth, and it seems as if he is always nervous and wants to keep moving.

On this beautiful day WB was very animated as he told me that he quit Zuccotti Park. I asked him why and he said, "Man, the pigs ruined the party for me, took away my tent, but some people are going to stay until the frost is on the pumpkin and Santa comes out of the ice and snow and brings them nothing but coal."

Okay, WB is a little creative but he is honest as far as I know. He went on to say that he had some friends there and ate very well for a long time. He didn't say whether he was committed to the OWS cause or that he just wanted free eats, but then he has told me about his "hippie past" spent in San Francisco where he protested all the time, mostly against the war in Vietnam. Later, he came here to New York "to protest everything from A to Z."

He says that he knew Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Tom Hayden and admits to getting arrested more times than he can remember. He also says "My brain is more fried than an egg on a Manhattan sidewalk in July." I do recall many years ago seeing him walking around with a black T-shirt with LSD on it in big white letters; therefore, I think WB is ostensibly telling the truth, or at least the way he remembers things.

I asked him if he felt that the protesters would really stick it out over the winter, and he said, "The core will, man. They are committed. They don't care if the pigs come in there with a tank; they're going down fighting."
We talked a little while longer and, as our conversation was ending, I asked WB if he was going back to Zuccotti Park any time soon, and he said, "No man, the thrill is gone."

I asked where he was going, and he looked around and then pointed up to the sky, and I started thinking the worst until he opened his trench coat and revealed a Hawaiian shirt. Now, looking more like Nolte in that picture than ever before, he said, "Don't worry, brother, I'm taking a flight to paradise. See you in the funny papers." Off WB went in the brilliant sunshine, sipping coffee and carrying that New York Times. In that instance I suddenly understood that WB was summer soldier and a sunshine patriot, and he seemed not to have a problem with that; neither did I.

If Zuccotti Park is still occupied come the spring, maybe WB will return to the fold, or perhaps he will join Occupy Honolulu or something like that. No matter, the neighborhood will be less colorful without him in the days ahead.

Happy trails, WB. Happy trails.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: The Ryan Express Continues to Derail

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: The Ryan Express Continues to Derail on Blogcritics.

The once hallowed Jets defense, head coach Rex Ryan's version of The Maginot Line, is looking more and more like Swiss cheese. How did Tim Tebow lead a 95-yard drive (and carry the ball for a 20-yard touchdown run)? The answer is the same as how the Germans overcame that supposedly impregnable French barrier in World War II: they simply went around it.

Ryan has made many promises to the fans and his players, but now it seems he just has miles to go before he sleeps - the promises have already been unkept. The 5-5 Jets are in no position to take the division and probably have very little chance of making the playoffs.

Yes, the defense didn't do its job on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos (5-5), but the more important story is Mark Sanchez and the offense. Sanchez still seems like he is treading water out there, while Tebow is doing his best Fran Tarkenton impersonation and making his fans believers. In fact, when Sanchez starts looking around for someone to catch his pass, the opponents are probably happier than the Jets' wide receivers. Chances are just as good for Sanchez to throw a ball that will be intercepted rather than a completed pass. It is starting to get that bad.

A great quarterback can be a game changer. Look at Indianapolis this season. They are 0-10 without the services of Peyton Manning. No one can underestimate how important that great quarterback is, for if he were playing in full health that team would no doubt be 8-2 now. It goes without saying that Manning is that terrific; however, the Jets with Sanchez are 5-5, and at this point it would be hard for us to say they would be doing much worse without him.

Yes, the Jets' offensive line has been taking a lot of blame for this Sanchez meltdown, but most Jets fans should see the truth by now. Sanchez is no great quarterback and struggles to be even moderately good. Ryan always gives him support and that is all well and good, but when does the coach finally face the fact that Sanchez still doesn't seem to have his head in the game? Maybe when he is sitting home watching the playoffs.

The great Ryan defense, the supposedly unstoppable express train to the Super Bowl, has been derailing this season. Ryan's offense is not much better, and the truth is that this train is probably not making it into the station. So for all Rex's promises and all his bluster, we face the reality of what will probably end as an 8-8 (or worse?) season.

If this happens again, Jets fans are going to be grumbling all the way through the playoffs. We then have to face the facts and perhaps Ryan will too: maybe Mark Sanchez never becomes the next Joe Namath, and then we have to start thinking about who is QB in 2012? Chances are that the Colts will not sign Manning and he will be a free agent? If Woody Johnson's deep pockets can pull out thirty or so million dollars, the Jets may indeed have a great quarterback again, a game changer, who could finally lead them past the Patriots to take the division. Wouldn't that be a great way to get the Ryan Express back on track?

Photo Credits: Ryan & Sanchez - Daily News; Peyton Manning -

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Joe Paterno Fired - Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

Article first published as Joe Paterno Fired - Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing on Blogcritics.

There is an old saying: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" This can lead to many discussions, as would "The sound of one hand clapping." But this is not a philosophical discussion, but rather a look at the fall of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. He fell from grace and there were plenty of people around to say "Timber!" That is all fine and good enough, but the chopping down of this man and his legacy is all bluster if something much more significant does not follow.

I think many of us were shocked when we heard students were protesting the removal of Paterno as coach by the Board of Trustees at Penn State. Was this because Paterno is the most successful coach in Division I history? Was it because of his relationship with his players and the fans? Whatever the case, the students who engaged in turning over a news fan, smashing car windows, and clashing with police are misguided in their efforts. Make no mistake, they are no Occupy Wall Streeters who have a social agenda - they are there to defend a man who allowed something sinister to pass his way and did nothing substantial to stop it.

Of course, most of these students are probably not parents. If they were they wouldn't have mustered a word of support for this man. The questions are abundant and the answers meager in terms of why Paterno did not do more than to report to university officials about alleged sexual assaults by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Paterno's supporters say he did what he was supposed to do by notifying superiors, but that should not have sufficed because the coach had to realize that nothing was being done about it.

If you compare this scandal with the sexual abuse cases concerning Catholic priests, you can see some similarities. In many cases a pastor may have reported a case of suspected sexual abuse against a minor, but usually that stayed within the realm of the diocese where it took place, with superiors moving the offender to another parish where he was likely to commit the same crime again. This kind of internal handling of these things doesn't work and is incongruous to wanting to handle the larger problem at hand: stopping and punishing the deviants who abuse children.

Despite its history of covering up its dirty laundry, the Catholic Church saw the light thanks to an awakening that may have come through divine intervention, but most likely arose because of millions of dollars in lawsuits. Here in the United States the church has started the Virtus Program to "protect God's children." This is a substantial effort by the church to train and educate adults in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.

The firing of Joe Paterno is a good first step for Penn State, but that has to be the start of something much more substantial. Besides getting their house in order (calming down students, finding out how many college officials knew about this case, etc.), their efforts to stop this disgraceful behavior from ever happening again have to continue long after the press and public stop rattling their cage.

Penn State has to take the lead here. They must set high standards for all employees, students, and teams. Something like Virtus must be initiated that will provide continuing education that allows all parties to recognize situations and individuals who may be predators. This effort must go beyond the firing of employees to putting the fire of knowledge and understanding into them. They have to be infused with the awareness that something like this can never, ever happen again, but if it does, that genuine protocols will be in place to handle the situation immediately.

A once mighty star has fallen at Penn State, and there will be those who do not get it and never will, but they cannot be allowed to dictate how this situation is handled. At this point Joe Paterno and his legacy mean nothing. He now becomes an enabler, someone who will not be remembered for winning games and anything else he has done. Now he is at best a bystander who was no innocent. He knew what was happening and did nothing substantial to stop it, like a captain of a ship who doesn't notify his passengers that it is going down.

Unfortunately, that puts him and Sandusky in the same sinking boat, and all the life preservers in the world cannot rescue them. Whoever joins them in that vessel (and there will no doubt be more revelations to come) is going down too. Drowning is a terrible way to die, but that is nothing compared to what Sandusky's victims had to endure and have to continue to live with for the rest of their lives. As Joe goes down after his last breath he will eventually be remembered not for what he has done but what he failed to do. That is a fitting legacy to be sure.

Photo Credits: Penn State students - AP; Joe Paterno - NY Daily News