24 July 2012

Crime & Punishment

"Penn State's Second Chance: The NCAA's punishment is for the best. The school can prove it is a university, not a football program," read the headline of an article posted on Slate.com hours after the NCAA's sanctions were announced. ESPN's Ivan Maisel wrote that he half expected NCAA president Mark Emmert to march into Monday's press conference swathed in a military uniform, demanding to be addressed as "Generalissimo." Opinions on the punishments handed down run the gamut. But the one that sounds most sane to me is that of longtime sportscaster Brent Musburger who was interviewed on ESPN'S Mike & Mike in the Morning today.

Bottom line, according to Musburger: preventing Penn State from competing in Bowl games for four years punishes the innocent. So does stripping the school of a significant number of its football scholarships. Pennsylvania kids who might not otherwise get a chance to go to college are taking the hit here. Fining the university $60 million dollars and then donating it to a charity, rather than giving it directly to Sandusky's victims is misguided. Crippling Penn State financially hurts the students and faculty—the entire region which depends on the university economically. These sanctions do not make amends for the heinous crimes committed on campus by a member of the football coaching staff.

I know Penn State had to be disciplined by the NCAA. I believe, as the Freeh report states, that Joe Paterno, Tim Curley (Penn State's athletic director during the period of Sandusky's serial raping of children) and Gary Schultz (former head of campus police) were informed of Sandusky's criminal depravity, harbored him from consequences and allowed him free run of the campus, effectively insuring his crimes would continue. Curley and Schultz are being prosecuted criminally. Paterno evaded prosecution by passing away before the investigation was completed. His legacy—including owning one of the highest graduation rates for a college football program—is decimated. Beyond Pennsylvania, Paterno will mostly be remembered as the man who valued winning over the welfare of children.

Interestingly, former Penn State president Graham Spanier disclosed yesterday that he too was abused as a child and that he would never cover up such crimes. Spanier has not been indicted, but his disclosure, made in a letter to Penn State Trustees, could be laying the groundwork for his defense if he is. The University's counsel at the time, Cynthia Baldwin, has not yet been indicted, but the Freeh report severely criticizes her handling of the situation. Spanier claims to have been guided by Baldwin, receiving little information from her on Sandusky and the grand jury investigation.

My biggest question right now: shouldn't the entire Board of Trustees be asked to resign? I know the one guy who definitively knew about Sandusky resigned last week. But it sounds to me that the lack of institutional control vis-a-vis Paterno's powerful football program started at the top. The fish stinks from the head down.

***

When I think of Paterno now, my mind keeps circling over to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act III, scene ii, Marc Antony: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."

***

NCAA president Mark Emmert is allowing Penn State football players to transfer to other schools. The only problem with that is training camp is six weeks away. Most schools have already committed their scholarship money for this year. Of course, someone will find a spot for Penn State's top players, which hurts the rest of the Penn State team. Any way you look at it, it's kids, again, getting screwed.

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20 July 2012

Peddling Peace

Tragic acts of horrific violence, like the one that took place just after midnight this morning in Aurora, Colorado, no longer shock me. I can't remember if Columbine was the first mass murder of its kind or the first to be committed in a school by students. I don't know how many Oakland drive-bys that killed children and infants made the news during the years 14 I lived in San Francisco. I didn't even bother to notice crime news when I lived in Philly and Manhattan. Once, at a subway stop newsstand, I saw a man pull a gun on three teenagers who were robbing him. He chased them, but as far as I remember, didn't shoot.

I've been, for decades, a staunch gun control advocate. It's one of the few political movements to which I regularly contributed money. Guns kill people. I was adamantly black and white in my thinking on this issue for decades until recently when a friend pointed out that the first thing a fascist government does is take aways its citizens' guns. There's a reason the Second Amendment exists. This left me permanently conflicted. Get rid of the guns and murder rates will drop. But criminals will always figure out how to get weapons, so gun control, likely, would apply mostly to non-murderous upstanding citizens.

There is a solution that doesn't involve unraveling the Constitution. We, as a society, have to find a way to make peace every individual's number one goal. We need marketing geniuses to market peace. We have to make individual peace as tantalizing as a new Lexus, fudge-dipped Oreos, Manolo Bhahniks.

I rarely attend mass anymore but when I do, I'm always struck by how many times the word "peace" is mentioned. I hear it like a mantra: my peace I give you, go in peace, peace to his people on earth, grant us peace in our day, the Peace of the Lord be with you always.

It's taken me decades to realize that mass is one long prayer for peace, that all spiritual disciplines of which I have any knowledge primarily pray for peace.

My religious upbringing—and this isn't a knock, it's merely a fact—didn't actually teach peace. It preached peace. It did offer some practical tools for attaining peace—confession (for me, the letting go of guilt and shame) and prayer. I'm sure those two tools are enough to do the trick for a naturally spiritual person. I require more direction.

As an adult I've explored numerous spiritual disciplines in an attempt to become a happy, peaceful person. Here's what I learned:
  • The only way to feel good is to be (think, speak and act) good.
  • Meditation, which can feel like torture, helps me understand why peace needs to be my number one goal.
  • So does yoga. Plus, Ashtanga yoga produces bliss.
  • So does jogging.
  • I can't become a peaceful person by thinking negatively.
  • I'm only powerless over my first thought. I choose my second thought and every one after that.
  • People, places and circumstances don't rob me of my serenity. My thoughts about them do.
  • My level of anxiety (lack of peace) is directly related to my thoughts.
In other words, my thinking either generates peace or violence, and it's totally up to me which direction I take.

When The Secret DVD and book hit the bestseller's lists a few years back, regurgitating standard Science of the Mind affirmations and manifest your heart's desire stuff, I found it disturbing. Manifesting anything, unless it's God's will for all concerned, is new age manipulation. Also, I got hung up on the "think yourself thin and eat anything you want" chapter, which obviously, is crazy. When I moved to India in 2011, I threw both book and CD away. There are much more spiritual materials and practices out there that effectively retrain the mind to be peaceful:
I've heard spiritual teachers say one way to experience more peace is to stop reading and watching the news. That's bullshit. Even though all conventional news sources in the US are nothing more than corporate propaganda machines, it's still important to know what's going on in your world. Ignorance is not bliss.

Peace is.

Peace, happiness, non-violence start with a thought and a thought can be changed (Louise Hay quote).

Peace is only a thought away.

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10 July 2012

Celebrity, Scranton-Style

Jay McCarroll Project Runway, Season 1 Winner
Poor Scranton, just can't catch a break. For as long as I can remember, if Scranton was mentioned in the media, it was always negative, a joke. If anyone outside of Northeast Pennsylvania has heard of Scranton, inevitably it's because of The Office or, more recently, Joe Biden. Unfortunately the birthplace of the vice president and fictional setting of a past-its-prime sitcom that mercilessly pokes fun at its setting can't seem to capitalize on its assets, of which, monetarily, there are few. Scranton is broke.

Headlines around the country proclaim if you have five grand to your name,  you are worth more than the entire city of Scranton. This is not entirely true. Scranton's bank account balance fluctuates day to day. As of Monday, July 9th, the city had $166,000 in cash. But the city owed $3.4 million in vendor bills, including city employees' health insurance premiums. Scranton's total debt exceeds $16 million.

City council wants to borrow money to keep Scranton afloat. (How, exactly, does a city shut down operations?) But no lender is willing to make a loan until proof of ability to repay is given. City council can offer no such proof. The mayor's solution is to slash city employees' wages to the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) and raise taxes. Apparently, there is a continental-sized divide between city council and the mayor.

Scranton has assets, but in my lifetime has never been able to capitalize on them. The city embraced its role as the butt of jokes, gleefully hanging Dunder-Miflin signs all over the city and creating The Office tour. But, for some reason, the city's marketing department or tourism board or whatever is responsible for creating positive spins is really lame. I think I could market the hell out of this place.

First of all: location. Framed by the Pocono and Endless Mountains, Scranton owns some beautiful scenery with tons of activities right in its backyard and less than an hour away: hiking, biking, skiing, boating, sky diving, waterparks, amusement parks, fine dining, fun dining, great music venues, two professional sports teams, several universities and colleges with sports, theater and music, a multitude of dance companies. Scranton is less than two and a half hours from New York City and Philly. It's just the sort of town I seek out when I travel abroad.

Many people I've met outside this area tell me they've driven by Scranton on their way to somewhere else. Not one has stopped to see the waterfalls in Nay Aug Park's Gorge (a national site) or the amazing collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts in the Everhart Museum ($5 admission fee) or the incredible Art Deco and Gothic-inspired architecture of downtown Scranton.

If I were marketing Scranton, I'd have billboards all along I-81 and I-80 touting the sights here.

I think Scranton should privatize and be sold to Charlie Jefferson, the real estate developer responsible for turning the long-abandoned Connell and former Chamber of Commerce buildings into luxury, downtown loft apartments.

*****

Project Runway Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll was in town a few weeks ago hosting a fashion show benefit for the Everhart Museum. Joe Biden celebrated 4th of July Eve in Scranton, giving a rousing rah-rah, Scrantonians, you're the best, speech. I happen to like Joe Biden (purely because he's a democrat), but a visit from Joe Biden is not what this town needs. Being the fictional setting of The Office is not what this town needs.

What this town needs is to be the actual setting of a reality TV show starring Kim Kardashian or NeNe Whatever Her Last Name Is. JWOWW. Top Chef. We need some real celebrity here. We need a marketing department.

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01 July 2012

15 Great Travel Quotes

  1. “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”—Susan Sontag
  2. "Jet lag is for amateurs."—Dick Clark
  3. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”—Mark Twain
  4. “Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”—Kurt Vonnegut
  5. "We travel first to lose ourselves and we travel next to find ourselves...and we travel in essence to become young fools again...to slow time down and get taken in...and fall in love once more..."—Pico Iyer
  6. The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”—Bill Bryson
  7. “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”—Tim Cahill
  8. “Long-term travel doesn’t require a massive bundle of cash; it requires only that we walk through the world in a more deliberate way.”—Rolf Potts
  9. “One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.”—Edith Wharton
  10. “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards.”—Spanish Proverb
  11. "Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going." —Paul Theroux
  12. "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page."—St. Augustine
  13. “A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.”—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  14. “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”—Henry David Thoreau
  15. “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.”—Gael Attal
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