Thursday, January 26, 2012

Joe Paterno - An American Tragedy

Article first published as Joe Paterno - An American Tragedy on Blogcritics.

"The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones."
- Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

In Shakespeare's great play, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar is brought down by some of his former friends, including BFF Brutus. Of course, had Caesar only headed the warning from others around him, he would have been in his palace eating grapes instead of dead on the Senate floor, but then we wouldn't have the tragic story Shakespeare told so well.

I recall reading Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy back in college, and it seemed to me to be one of the most solemn works, the heft of which weighed on me long after I had read it. The quick summary could be something about the main character, Clyde Griffiths, coming from a modest family and working his way to the top, only to be brought crashing down by his own desire for wealth and success.

When we think of Joe Paterno now after the horrific Penn State scandal that brought him down, it is not as the winningest coach in college football history. Sadly, he has been vilified for (if nothing else) lacking the discernment to report Jerry Sandusky to the authorities after his efforts within the Penn State system brought no action. Of course, Paterno's famous line that he should have done more echoes ominously now, as he has passed on and left a fractured legacy in his wake.

What exactly is a tragedy? People regularly misuse the word, but if you look at Aristotle's definition of it, tragedy has to do with a fall that was inevitable. Tragic heroes are noble in some way, have great ability, and they are admirable for the great things they do, but one thing stops them along the way: they have a deadly (tragic) flaw.

People who study these kinds of things will tell you all about tragic heroes like Hamlet, who could not decide what to do until it was too late to do it. If procrastination got Joe Paterno, it was undoubtedly after the fact. Paterno did report the incident involving Sandusky and a young boy to university authorities, but this went nowhere. Years and years passed and then the truth finally came out. One can question what Paterno was thinking all that time, and either the incident was forgotten or conveniently put aside in his thought process.

We all know the rest of the story, and Paterno ended up getting fired even after he decided to quit, so much for a quiet life of retirement. Then we learned that Paterno had lung cancer, and three months or so later he is dead. Today a private funeral was held for the man, with a public memorial set for Thursday with thousands of people expected to attend. We can wonder if Paterno died more from a broken heart than from lung cancer, but there is no explaining the unexplainable.

So many of his former players have spoken about their love for "JoePa." We hear from them that Paterno was a good - even a great - man. To me he seems more like a King Lear type in a sense, perhaps more sinned against than sinning, another tragic figure who misjudges people and their intentions. He only understands the truth about good and evil too late; alas, this seems to be the case with Paterno as well.

We cannot debate with those who knew the good man Joe Paterno was, but it would be difficult to not see the other side of those abused boys or their family members, who view Paterno's inaction as a sort of evil. Now, those who knew Paterno loved him and probably will never see what he did (or didn't do) as evil, yet most of us would see sexually abusing children as something quite evil, and a failure to report that as being like an accessory to the crime.

How Joe Paterno will be seen in sports history is yet to be determined, for in sports the infamous and the legendary often stand side by side. Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame, but someone who was known as a racist (Ty Cobb) is in there. While I am not certain how "evil" gambling is (they play Bingo in churches all over the country don't they?), I am sure that racism is an ugly and evil thing, and yet plenty of people forget about the dark side of Cobb as the years go by.

Right now Joe Paterno can be seen as a tragic figure, and perhaps the best thing to come out of this mess is that college football has been changed forever by what happened at Penn State. People in colleges and universities all across the country must face what happened there and learn from it; otherwise, there is a good chance this could happen again somewhere. When even one child suffers unnecessarily, all children (and their parents) suffer as well. If we allow things like this to continue to happen, then we are not part of the solution but part of the problem, and that will indeed be an American tragedy.

Photo Credit - AP

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Prognosis Is Grim for Gary Carter

Article first published as The Prognosis Is Grim for Gary Carter on Blogcritics.

Former Mets player and Hall of Famer Gary Carter has been battling brain cancer, and the news this week is not what baseball fans wanted to hear: a recent MRI has revealed new tumors and his doctors at Duke University are deciding whether or not to stop treating him. Carter, known as "The Kid" for his youthful effervescence and love of the game, has seen his condition worsen as he is undergoing treatments, not a good sign for him, his family, and his many fans.

If you go to the official Gary Carter web site, fans are instructed not to send items to be signed by The Kid due to his condition. Instead, fans are asked to send him good wishes or messages at this address:
The Gary Carter Foundation, 580 Village Blvd., Suite 315, West Palm Beach, FL 33409. Hopefully, he will be flooded with messages to cheer him during this difficult time.

Here in New York stories have run in the New York Daily News about Carter's worsening condition, and on sports radio talk shows the fans have been calling in with their thoughts about Carter. What is interesting to me as a Mets fan is to hear so many Yankees fans calling in and sending their best to Carter. I tip my hat to them and thank them, for I know I felt the same way when some of their great players were ill or passed on.

A player like Gary Carter transcends time and place. His enthusiasm for the game is appreciated and respected by all fans because he played the game the right way, and his personality was such that he was liked by everyone.

Mets fans certainly remember the trade that brought him to New York in 1985. Although third baseman Hubie Brooks (a fan favorite) and three other players were traded for Carter, it was immediately understood what his presence on the team meant. He solidified the team along with Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, and Doc Gooden. His clubhouse presence was as essential as was his play on the field.

Of course, young players like Lenny Dykstra, Strawberry, and Gooden did look up to him during the 1986 season, and I recall times when the camera would catch Carter in the dugout talking to them. It never seemed that he was lecturing them, rather it appeared to be mentoring, and you could tell by the expressions on the younger players' faces that they valued what they were hearing.

1986 seems a long way away now, and as a Mets fan I still recall the joy of watching Gary Carter play, of seeing him running out and grabbing Jesse Orosco and then watching them both get smothered by the rest of the team as they celebrated that last out of the 1986 World Series. It is something I will never forget, and Carter's infectious smile is burned into my mind. I think that's the way we all want to remember him.

So one of the good guys is down but not yet out. Let's pull for him every way we can in the days ahead, and by all means send him good wishes and anything else that can cheer him up. Gary Carter, you are forever young in our hearts and minds; hang in there, Kid.

Photo Credit - Daily News

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Russians Look to Establish Permanent Moon Colony

Article first published as Russians Look to Establish Permanent Moon Colony on Blogcritics.

The moon has always had a tug on us, whether it is causing our tides or filling the sky at night with luminous beauty. We have imagined the man on the moon, creatures large and small, and even it being made of cheese. The moon is our closest neighbor in space and occupies a place in literature and film, yet we have barely touched the surface after the historic landing of humans in 1969, and I have often wondered what it would take to get us back there.
So when I heard a report on Fox News that the Russians were planning to establish a moon base, my immediate thought was "What about us?" Had we abandoned the idea of ever returning to that celestial wonder, the place where an American flag stands in the stillness of a windless plane?

Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, revealed that he was in joint talks with NASA and the European Space Agency on a joint venture in this process. This would make more sense because NASA has not been able to orchestrate a return to the moon for many reasons, including the obvious financial burdens such a mission would entail. Hopefully, with these agencies working together, something tangible can happen to make this vision a reality.

Of course, President Obama is noted for saying that we should set our sights on Mars. I wrote about this in an article nearly two years ago, and I haven't heard much about it since. At the time I praised Obama's vision, but I think reality always rears its ugly head. Mars is a much more difficult mission and will no doubt take a much longer time to accomplish. The moon, on the other hand, can be more easily reached, and I even noted at the time that a base on the moon would make sense as a staging point for these missions to Mars.

Space has an allure for many of us, especially Star Trek and Star Wars fans, but also many others who have have turned their heads to ponder the universe. Whether you have looked at the moon on a sandy beach, from an airplane window, or through a telescope, the fascination is palable and the yearning for "infinity and beyond" is something more than a cartoon fantasy. If space is indeed the final frontier, then we must find ways to explore it, starting with baby steps that take us to the moon and then one day to planets beyond our solar system.

People living in 1869 had no idea that one hundred years later we would witness a man walking on the moon. In 1969 we could imagine many things after seeing Neil Armstrong take that amazing first step, but we had no idea that the communicators we saw in Captain Kirk's hand on Star Trek would be in our own hands when we grew up in the form of cellular phones. Now, if we could just get Scotty to beam us up to avoid that traffic jam, but that's for another story.

I think it is exciting to imagine what a moon base would be like, and 2020 certainly doesn't feel that far away. The question is would this open up an eventual opportunity for civilians to visit the moon? I would like to reserve a room in that first Marriot that goes up near the Sea of Tranquility. Ah, a room with a view!

Until then "Live long and prosper" to one and all!

Photo Credit - NASA

Friday, January 20, 2012

Golden Globes Reminiscent of the Drunken Golden Age of TV

Article first published as Golden Globes Reminiscent of the Drunken Golden Age of TV on Blogcritics.

What stood out most for me during the 69th Golden Globe Awards Ceremony was not host Ricky Gervais and his brazen humor and wit, nor was it the wonderful gowns worn by the beautiful women or the acceptance speeches or the botched readings from the teleprompter by an array of presenters. What captured my attention most was that this is an awards show awash in booze, and no one associated with it has even a glimmer of embarrassment about it.

After Gervais gave his monologue, which was a bit disappointing in terms of its shock and awe, he introduced Johnny Depp as the first presenter with the line, "Please welcome the man who will wear literally anything Tim Burton tells him to." Depp sauntered on stage and sniffed Gervais's libation.

Obviously contented to discover it was pure booze, Depp turned and spoke, seemingly channeling his inner Captain Jack Sparrow (not to mention Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and the Mad Hatter too). So the Golden Globe Awards were off to a well lubricated start.

Throughout the broadcast Mr. Gervais could be seen with glass in hand (he switched to wine at some point during the evening). As the director gave generous glimpses of the audience throughout the night, we saw images of the glittering Hollywood stars drinking, eating, kibitzing, and drinking some more. One shot revealed champagne being poured, others showed the glasses clinking and faces getting rosier than Santa's after too many cookies washed down with shots of whiskey.

While this may seem a bit shocking in 2012, it actually reminded me of the old days of television. I remember when I was very young and saw Jackie Gleason come out on stage after the show, knocking down the fourth wall with a cigarette in one hand and booze in the other as he talked with the audience. Legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow always was seen cigarette in hand, and I recall guests on The Tonight Show (and others of its kind) smoking and drinking as they talked with Johnny or the other hosts.

In fact, even characters in sitcoms and dramas would be seen drinking and smoking regularly. It was almost a given that you would see at least one light-up and one drink per episode. Standing out in my memory was a scene featuring the great Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy having her cigarette lit by guest star William Holden and having the flame burn the edge of her putty nose (part of a disguise she was wearing).

Somehow things all changed for television. I am not sure when and where it happened, but I think it may correspond with Disney taking over Times Square in New York City and ABC Television. The Disney version of life seemed so pervasive that it wiped out the dens on inequity in the center of the real world New York and the liberal use of smoking and drinking on the tube. It may not have been all Disney's fault, since the censors on all stations seemed to kick in, and everyone from the Huxtables on The Cosby Show to stars in serious dramas suddenly went cold turkey. No one smoked or drank, and it does seem like that is more or less still expected on TV today (unless you count Super Bowl commercials).

So last evening when I was watching the Golden Globes, I was reminded of those shows of my youth. A memory of Dean Martin on one of his celebrity roasts came to mind, and old Dino was hoisting a glass and smoking a cigarette throughout the proceedings. Last night no one was smoking at the Globes (at least that we could see), but they were certainly drinking copiously. Mr. Gervais summed it up best by comparing the broadcast to the Oscars, saying that the Globes show is "a bit louder, a bit trashier, a bit drunker, and more easily bought." I am not sure about that last part.

Somewhere up there Gleason, Carson, Martin, and the rest were no doubt hoisting a few and enjoying the show. It is something of an anomaly in the world of entertainment to see stars loosen up like that, reminding us of a time long ago when it was common. This doesn't mean we won't watch the Academy Awards broadcast, because we will, but that mostly dry affair is a little bit more stodgy than it should be, and maybe the open bar has something to do with it.

Photo Credit- Getty Images

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Not Let Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

Article first published as Why Not Let Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz? on Blogcritics.

Listening to all the pundits on talk radio here in New York this week, I got a feeling that I do not like. It was that same feeling I had right before we invaded Iraq (the second time around). Everyone seems to be beating a drum for a confrontation with the Iranians, and it probably has more to do with Iran's nuclear program than with its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz; still everyone is acting like this is the most important 34-mile wide waterway in the world. Quite frankly, it is not, and threatening a war over it is American saber rattling of the most incredulous kind.

Depending on who is speaking, about twenty to thirty percent of the world's oil supply goes through the strait each day. More importantly, it is the Iranians themselves who depend on this shipping lane to get their oil out to the world. If they close the strait, and no one does anything to stop it, then the Iranians are going to impact themselves just as much, if not more, than anyone else. Hungry for the money that oil brings and being economically crushed by sanctions, the Iranians are going to feel the pain that action brings and that will be all of their own doing.

America should not be the world's police force in this (or quite frankly any other) matter. Many other countries will be affected by this closure, but there are alternatives for oil from Saudi Arabia and other nations, and it is perhaps a timely lesson to make big consumers of oil like China, Japan, and Europe start thinking about this for the long haul. It also wouldn't hurt for oil producing countries in the gulf to look toward other means of getting oil out to the world, like pipelines to the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Oman, and the Red Sea.

The most important thing to take away from this is that America should not try to stop Iran if it takes this action. The world will see Iran as an aggressor, similar to Hitler attacking Poland or Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait. Once the action is taken, then it should be up to the United Nations to formulate a plan that includes many nations and not just one.

It is time for America to take a step back, especially during this presidential year. Any saber rattling, and make no mistake there is plenty going on involving everyone from presidential hopefuls to the guy on the street, is going to defeat the purpose of stopping an emboldened Iran from essentially blockading itself from the world. We should welcome rather than inhibit this action, for it will no doubt hasten the demise of the regime in Tehran faster than any American military maneuvers that will only stoke the flames of another war that we are unable to win.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Scientists Determine The Shroud of Turin is Not a Fake

Article first published as Scientists Determine The Shroud of Turin is Not a Fake on Blogcritics.

Recently I read a story about The Shroud of Turin that got my attention. After a five year study, Italian scientists have confirmed that the Shroud is not some product of trickery, created during the Middle Ages by someone who wanted to fool the public. After five years of testing and experiments, they have said that the Shroud is an authentic artifact. But they have gone even further, claiming that "The implications are… that the image was formed by a burst of UV energy so intense it could only have been supernatural."
This is a stunning announcement given that it is coming from people of science. They went on to note that with our modern technology (using present day linen and lasers) the image was impossible to recreate because the "degree of power cannot be reproduced by any normal UV source built to date."

Little of what we think about in life is based on belief; we tend to want most things to be based on fact. Sports fans tend to gravitate toward statistics, assuming that numbers do not lie; however, sometimes great teams on paper never function on the field. The late great Tug McGraw of the New York Mets coined the term "Ya gotta believe," and that worked well for fans of the struggling team over the years, even when they impossibly challenged some of the best teams on paper for an inconceivable shot at the championship. The Mets should not have been in the 1973 World Series, but they were.

In John's Gospel we read about Doubting Thomas, the Apostle who had to see the risen Jesus for himself before he could believe. The story goes that when Jesus appeared to Thomas that he made the doubtful man put his fingers in the wounds on his body suffered during his crucifixion in order for Thomas to feel the truth. Thomas then professes his faith, but Christ tells him that the most blessed are the ones who have not seen for themselves but still believe.

Many of us were aware of the Shroud and probably have been skeptical about it. As a Catholic, I have always been fascinated by it but have remained uncertain because of conflicting reports of the authenticity of the artifact. I am sure that even with this report there will still be some people who view it as questionable, but I feel more convinced by this finding and think about it as a court case where new evidence has been submitted and changes everything.

Think about how many people have been cleared in recent years by DNA evidence. This is something that did not exist years ago, and many innocent people ended up in jail for years because of it. Of course, skeptics may have questioned the legitimacy of the DNA results at first, but now they offer the most highly respected way to determine paternity, criminal guilt, and identity. No one in the first century could have ever imagined such technology, just as they could not have possibly known or understood the UV energy necessary to create the image on the Shroud.

For those who may still be skeptical, a different piece of "evidence" may shake things up a bit. The image on the Shroud actually has precedence in the story of Jesus' crucifixion. As Jesus struggles to drag the heavy cross to Golgotha where he will be crucified, a woman named Veronica stops to wipe his face with a towel, and she discovers that Christ has left an imprint of his face on the cloth. This amazing little anecdote from the Passion of Christ should no longer be viewed as an anomaly, but rather as a foreshadowing of the larger image to be left on the Shroud.

For some this will be seen as part of a concocted story and perhaps all the evidence in the world will not be enough, and I respect these people and their opinions. Still, as I view this new report and think about my faith, the realization of things unseen but believed and then those hard forensic findings coalesce and strengthen my belief. If the image is supernatural as the scientists noted, it is because it comes from an evanescent nature of things that has not been able to be explained before this moment.

The case for the authenticity of the Shroud seems stronger than ever now, but I know some will be like Doubting Thomas. Even if they see the evidence, they still may never believe. This is understandable and perhaps is even an integral part of the mystery the Shroud itself, making even scientific findings doubted, yet for some people the story corroborates what they already know. For them this story takes the tenuous belief and elucidates a new reality that is unshakable. Ya gotta believe indeed!

Photo: National

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

As Gang Green Turns: Sanchez Throws Season Away in 19-17 Loss to Miami

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Sanchez Throws Season Away in 19-17 Loss to Miami on Blogcritics.

Three more interceptions this week and the situation starts to look pretty bad for QB Mark Sanchez, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and head coach Rex Ryan. We Jets fans have run out of excuses for these three, and even Schottenheimer's apparent benching of Santonio Holmes in the final minutes of the game seems meaningless. Giving Holmes a time out for bad behavior does nothing to save Schottenheimer; in fact, his lack of leadership becomes even more apparent when you analyze things.
The first person who needs to go is the big guy on top. I have often jokingly referred to Ryan as Humpty Dumpty, but after this game the reference has never been more obvious or fitting. Rex had a big fall this season, and you have to wonder about him lying in pieces outside MetLife Stadium. My bet is the players will collect their things and walk by indifferently instead of rallying the horses and men to try to put Rex back together. Honestly, it is his own fault and his fate is deserved.

Schottenheimer has been under fire all season, and he has more than anything mishandled the line and the receivers. It also seems like he has had Sanchez on auto pilot. Sanchez has fallen apart as much as King Rex, with his trigger-finger being so itchy that he just throws the ball without seemingly any thought process or plan. Without proper pass protection, and with receivers being covered and out maneuvered, Sanchez has been under the gun and shooting blanks. It is not a pretty picture at all.

The benching of Holmes at the end of the game was the salt in the wounds. On an offensive drive that mattered most, Holmes should have been in there, but not in Schottenheimer's world. He allowed whatever altercation happened between Holmes and a teammate to override good sense, so we have Holmes sitting on the sidelines looking like a kid in the corner in school. Unfortunately, the dunce cap goes on Schottenheimer for this final straw. If he isn't sent packing, something is rotten in the state of Jets country.

Of course, we Jets fans are bitter now, but we have to face facts and so does owner Woody Johnson. This team cannot be seen as a legitimate playoff contender; perhaps, it never should have been in the three years Ryan has been here. All his hot air made the perception that the team was more than the sum of its parts. It's kind of like dropping a Cadillac shell around an old Yugo. No matter how nice it may look, you will never get the performance you expect, and eventually the shell will break away, as it did for Rex this year.

If we learn anything from this 8-8 season, it is that we can only hope things get changed for the better. Jets fans shouldn't be thinking about how Oakland, Denver, and Cincinnati lost. Remember that Tennessee won. Besides, even if all the stars aligned and the Jets won, they no doubt would have been eliminated in the first round.

Next year we need to see a major change for the Jets. Sanchez should be thought of as a back-up QB for now, or trade him and get the right guy. The Jets should make a full court press to obtain Peyton Manning, and Schottenheimer should be shown the door. Finally, Johnson should take a long hard look at Ryan and decide whether his baggage is worth it. After three years of empty promises, the bubble has burst. It could be Ryan is shown the door too, and that may be necessary in order to purge what is wrong with this team.

It will be a long and lonely time for Jets fans in the months ahead, but maybe we should bite the bullet and watch the Giants. They have a solid head coach in Tom Coughlin, and Eli Manning is starting to look like he is in his brother's shadow no more. Jets fans may not like admitting it, but Big Blue has much of what the Jets lack. If we are honest with ourselves, we will know it is true and then we only have to hope that Woody Johnson realizes it as well and makes appropriate changes.

For now, the soap opera known As Gang Green Turns goes on hiatus. As in the TV world, that is never a good thing, and reruns just don't cut it because we know how it all turns out. Hang in there until next year, Jets fans.

Photo Credits: Humpty Dumpty - Holmes - nydailynews

Monday, January 2, 2012

John Lennon's "Happy Christmas/War Is Over" - Sung by Angels on New Year's Day

Article first published as John Lennon's "Happy Christmas/War Is Over" - Sung by Angels on New Year's Day on Blogcritics.

As I lay in bed this morning a persistent dream kept me sleeping on the edge of awake. I do not recall the dream specifically, but there was something keeping me in there, not wanting to move the blanket to bring me out on the other side. I was aware in the dream - new day, new year, and I felt enormous contentment. Then I heard it: a hymn seemingly sung by angels on high. It was John Lennon's song "Happy Christmas/War Is Over,"  and it was being sung by my children.

I pushed myself out of the reverie of sleep into wakefulness, motivated as a sleepwalker might be to move forward, undo latches and locks, and escape into the dark cold of night. As I came down the stairs I saw them sitting there (no wings or halos present to be sure), but their little voices had captured the nuances so well, the words rolling out and into the cosmos as they left their throats, no doubt delighting my mother in heaven (and Mr. Lennon, if he was not too busy listening to a million others singing the song elsewhere in the world).

My kids saw me and kept the verse going. My daughter had an impish smile, my son singing delightfully off key. They had heard the song many times leading up to Christmas, but their familiarity is with a newer version sung by Sarah McLachlan, a singer who is associated with having quite an angelic voice.

I sat on the chair until they finished singing, clapped my hands, and felt I couldn't have asked for a better way to start a new year. My son is too young to understand the meaning of the song, but my ten-year-old daughter loves the song and what she perceives as the message: world peace is within our grasp, but we have to want it.

I think Lennon's song has never been more timely than right now. I started thinking about the last American troops that have rolled into Kuwait, leaving behind years of war in Iraq. When the song first came out, the war in question was Vietnam (and there were certainly no signs of it abating then). Happily, Iraq is concluded, but Afghanistan and wars elsewhere still loom large, so the question is as poignant as ever: "war is over" but do we want it? Of course, in a child's mind the answer is "How can we not?"

Yes, I want to think peace is possible, but after opening up this morning's paper, I saw too many reasons to think it won't happen. Number one reason is the threat by the Iranians to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which in essence will stop oil shipments to many parts of the world. Of course, America has to rattle its saber and say that it cannot allow that to happen, so more fears of an escalation of hostilities rather than a move towards peace seem to be the reality.

I know many people think Lennon's song is just a pipe dream, but I kind of hope every year that it is more of a peace pipe dream. If people all over the world can celebrate the birth of Jesus, if they can sing the song "Silent Night" and those lovely words "Sleep in heavenly peace," then that would go for not just the Baby Jesus but every baby in the world. We adults surely must know that the most important thing we can do for our children is to make certain those words can become a reality.

So when my daughter said she loved Sarah McLachlan's song, I stopped myself from going into the details about John Lennon. Besides, a great singer can make a song his own (think Nat King Cole and "The Christmas Song" or Frank Sinatra and "My Way"), and Sarah certainly makes that song hers when she sings it. There will be time for my daughter to know all about John Lennon, but for now I will let her sing that song and dream of peace and hope that sooner or later the adults of this world will get the message too.