Archive for November, 2011

As anyone who writes in a public forum eventually will, I have finally received some harsh criticism.

I should have known it was coming; that is the nature of it, and no doubt there will be lots more to come. However, I am not a professional, and I have not been writing all that long, so I am not so used to it. I am neither academically nor professionally trained. This is not stated in an attempt to excuse myself; if one is willing to step into the public arena, one must be willing to take all that may come because of it.

So, as I naively laid out my near-first thoughts; my gut reaction to the revelations of sexual child abuse out of State College these past weeks, I did not realize how I had not considered the range of reactions my words could generate.

What I said was relatively brief and (I had hoped) simply an observation that I was sad to see such a terrible turn take place. In the few hours immediately after the news of Joe Paterno’s apparent long-standing knowledge of the abuse, I made a statement of support for him. That he was “a wonderful man of integrity” and that I admired him.

This statement and others tied to it was met with absolute vehemence by one reader (and as it happens, someone I have known since at least our high school days). Without using all the words – the angry violence expressed toward not only what I wrote, but me personally – it is impossible to describe what it was like. Suffice it to say that what seemed to be abject hatred for me was expressed as if I had either supported the acts or committed them myself. I was not prepared for that kind of reaction.

As the story at Penn State has developed, I have felt more and more shocked – like everyone else, I’m sure, and more disappointed in my statement, but still not absolutely certain of what or if anything I should have said in its place. I could have been harsh, expressing anger. I certainly would have been safe to avoid any comment entirely. I could have waited, gathered more information, and taken more time to formulate and refine my opinion. I could have bounced it off someone – anyone – for a critical second opinion or editorial hacking and chopping.

The entire episode has reminded me of what happened to former-senator Trent Lott, when in 2002 he spoke positively of Senator Strom Thurmond’s 1948 run for the presidency at the elder statesman’s 100th birthday party. Lott’s intended kind words were taken as an endorsement of Thurmond’s former racial segregationist views. Lott himself of course had done nothing wrong, and in fact at the same time, Thurmond received no reinvigorated criticism (at least not through mainstream media); he had enjoyed continuing support over the length of his career, being elected and reelected to his senate seat and remained there – without censure – until his retirement at age 100. Ironically it was Lott who lost his job over Thurmond’s past.

Perhaps it was because of my lack of experience, professional or otherwise. Perhaps it was naïveté. Perhaps, at worst, I was thoughtless or even reckless. If so, I will endeavor to not be that way again.

This leads me to my chief concern: Making statements as to what I think as opposed to what I know.

I stated that Joe Paterno was “a wonderful man of integrity.” The absolute truth is, I don’t know that. That has been my impression, built up by everything I have ever heard or read about him. I have no substantiated, personal first-hand knowledge. I have believed what I have been told. The truth is, I don’t know anything about him in a direct sense. I have trusted all the sources that I have taken information from. And now, in light of what he may have not done, the questions I ask myself are confused. What do I think of him? Is this incident to be the all-defining event of Joe Paterno’s life? …or whatever it really is; frankly, I am hesitant to call it anything (that’s my point: What do I really know?) – what he did or didn’t do. It seems clear, and seems to be getting clearer every day. But as I stated in response to the resultant discussion because of my article last week, it has not been my purpose in writing about this to cast the first stone. Perhaps the stone should be cast, but that has not been my purpose here.

The fact is, it will and already does overshadow everything else in his life. As big as his life has been, this will be the single reference point for Joe Paterno forever. None of the great achievements or positive impacts he made in life will be remembered like this tragedy will be and none will be remembered without it.

In all this, my whole purpose has been to be introspective, not to further comment on Joe Paterno.

I have wondered about the fact that I haven’t received more criticism. I wonder if [at least part of] the reason I haven’t is because I am not a professional – so maybe I am not taken too seriously. I also suspect folks are being nice; I have generally had what seems to be a sympathetic readership – friends from my earlier years and people from my hometown. Another possibility is that I have endeavored to remain non-controversial and non-confrontational – these also, I think are probably unprofessional attributes. Timidity or tenuousness are neither all that admirable nor a recipe for journalistic success. Aside of these possibilities, it appears I don’t [yet…] have a huge following anyway.

All that is left for me to do with regard to the subject at-hand is to decide what I think, then decide if I should say anything or not, and if so, what that will be.

My view of what the penalties for sexual child abuse ought to be are these: For anyone who hurts a child in this way, I believe they should receive life in prison without the possibility of parole. For anyone who kills a child – the death penalty.

As for any judgment or further declaratives or opinions on this subject, I am finished. I will continue to watch and listen with everyone else.

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Herman Cain is not able (if he ever was). At this point in his primary run, innocence does not matter; the distraction is successful. Ultimately GOP primary voters want to separate any possible chaff from any possible wheat. He has effectively and quickly become chaff. When Dick Morris said Cain “needs to end it”, he was right. But he is not right that “this scandal is not life-threatening.” Cain will end it, but “it” will be his campaign ending, sooner or later. But truth be declared here, it was destined to end, whether the accusations ever came about or not. He’s just simply not the viable candidate that Mitt Romney is. But neither are any of the other GOP hopefuls. As for Herman Cain’s story and his presidential prospects – right or wrong, true or false – these measures are no longer relevant.

Mitt Romney will be pulled toward the center (as if he were not there already and, just as every candidate elected to the presidency is, make no mistake). He is the most viable GOP candidate in the field (make no mistake). And take note, you strict, far-right conservative voters: one can vote strictly on principle all one wants, but it will most often result in a loss. Pragmaticism is useful – and not unwise. Just ask any libertarian. They’ll likely not buy your argument. And they’ll continue to lose.

Perhaps if I were unemployed (and I have been), had exhausted every conceivable possibility in seeking employment (such as spending time on the computer on LinkedIn at home or the public library, going business-to-business such as every storefront in the local mall or every Wal-Mart or school district or municipality that might need janitorial or grounds work done, or stooped low enough to go to every one of my neighbors to ask if they might have home maintenance or improvement work I could do for them, for example), had no “other-centered” responsibilities or opportunities (such as helping parents or grandparents at home, asking to volunteer at a senior center or child development center, or Goodwill or ARC – Association of Retarded Citizens, Lupus Foundation, or Paralyzed Veterans of America, or any nursing home or local college counseling office or hospital volunteer program, or animal shelter, or deciding to walk around a local park with a trash bag without being asked, for example), had no personal improvement opportunities or responsibilities (such as school, exercise, yard work, painting, reading a book, for example), or [did I mention] had already been turned down upon visiting each military recruiting office in my local area to seek an opportunity to join the service, earn a paycheck, see the world, be paid to learn a highly technical and develop a highly-sought-after skill-set and become a professional, just for example…then I would probably be available to join up with the occupy wall street protesters. As it turns out, I can come up with other things I ought to be doing first.

Ron Paul’s argument that President Obama should face legal action for authorizing the killing of the [so-called, technically] American citizen and Yemen-based terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki; that it was an illegal action – is wrong. When I first took the oath to become an officer of the United States Air Force Reserve, I swore to “…defend the United States constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Al-Awlaki was a domestic enemy (behaving as if he were a foreigner) of our constitution on foreign soil. Listen carefully to Paul’s discussion on what he would do to protect our country and its interests. It will be short and you’ll hear fumbling uncertainty.

I will miss Joe Biden’s gaffs. I really will.

Iran’s president Ahmadinejad says (paraphrased) that no foreign power that has ever faced Iran in war has prevailed. The present day fact is that Iran, in all its great and long history has never faced the scale of threat they are approaching in their pursuit of nuclear weapons. And for that matter, in all its great and long history Iran has only recently posed itself as an international belligerent and for that matter, a state sponsor of terrorism. Fascinating how uninformed Iran’s leadership appears to be with regard to the prospects of a successful outcome for them in the case of war against Israel, the United States, NATO or other coalition. Foolish is entirely accurate.

….and when has Russia or China ever led the international community in the defense of repressed peoples or in moral and material response to any humanitarian catastrophe? Is it their aircraft or ships laden with relief supplies and caring professionals that are dispatched around the globe? This is the prime demonstration of leadership and moral authority – to go, to do. This is our country’s way.

From the beginnings of the great experiment called the United States of America, a core value has been the freedom and opportunity to pursue personal gain – betterment – in all areas of life. It is fair to say that this still includes financial prosperity. It may be fair to say that we all want this. So when one of us achieves it, why is it that that one has become an enemy? If anyone of you achieves what you strive for, why is it automatic by others to be jealous of them, to even hate them, demonize them, and blame them for broader ills? The answer for this – to prevent this scenario, was demonstrated in another societal system and command economy. After decades of trying to be right and trying to even work well, it finally collapsed in 1989. I’ve got one word for you: set me free.

I often wonder what results I would see if conservative ideals and principles were posted with impunity on Facebook as liberal ones appear to be. It seems to be most acceptable to be liberal in that forum. Would the liberal “side” be as willing to tolerate equal conservative pontification?

And finally……I want to know what Shelby Steele and Charles Krauthammer have to say about everything.

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Dan Wheldon’s tragic death occurred within a context not entirely unlike an aircraft accident. Many things went wrong, any single one of which might have been survivable, but as they all converged in one terrible moment, as a whole, they were not.

Perhaps from a technical standpoint, the track was entirely wrong for the car. Perhaps it was foretold as early as January and February of 2011 when IRL drivers voiced concerns over the Las Vegas track design with regard to IndyCar racing; the speeds that the track allowed, the banking and other concerns. Concerns over the cramped track conditions and expected speeds were expressed again by many drivers – including Wheldon – in the days and hours prior to the race.

Consider these facts comparing the speedway in Las Vegas to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
* Las Vegas is 1 mile shorter than Indy.
* The corners are banked more than twice as much as Indy.
* The straights are banked fully nine times as high.
* The front stretch at Las Vegas is more than 1000 feet shorter than that at of the IMS; the back stretch is less than half the length of Indianapolis’.
* The race that day had one more car – a total of 34 – than the Indianapolis 500.
…and all this at essentially the same speeds as the Indy 500.

Perhaps it started years ago with IndyCar’s desperate situation losing popularity and so, market share. My personal theory is twofold: relationships and ads.

First, that NASCAR has found a fundamental way to reach – and this means relate to, communicate with – Americans. NASCAR have become the master marketers. Whatever they’re doing, IndyCar and the IRL need some of it. Ultimately it boils down to this: fans can relate to the drivers and the products they promote. They look and sound familiar, and arguably they come from the same place: both historically and currently, the vast majority of drivers, their teams, and fans come from the Southeast US. This is changing, shifting to all other areas of the country, but the center of gravity is still “the South”. These guys (term now officially includes gals) are just like “us”.

The marketing part leads to the second: it may be as simple as available advertising space. When a sponsor looks at physical surface space to promote their wares, they see on the one hand, relatively small, short and narrow panels, many of which are curved. Never mind the fact that the advertising space they are considering flies past their target audience oft-times at speeds well in excess of 200 miles per hour. On the other hand, advertisers can place their names and logos on as many as five comparatively huge panels; one on each side and three on top. And they move slower – giving consumers much more time to form an attachment to the visuals.

The hard fact is it’s tough for IndyCar to compete with this. The physical space limitations are inherent and are not going to change (….provided the open-wheel concept – and so, design – continues to erode; a fear of many of the most open wheel purists). Perhaps the pressure to regain stature, popularity, profitability or even solvency (?), was too much.

Perhaps it was telling in Dan Wheldon’s own voice, literally just minutes before the horrific accident. All eyes were – and all attention was – on him in those first several laps prior to and beginning the race. He had been designated a sort of in-cockpit reporter /analyst, and so as such, over the cockpit radio described the promise of a most exciting but difficult race. It was clear what the stakes were, including the importance of “impressing” certain sponsors. Clearly the pressure was on.

There have been discussions before regarding fence design; not only at the Las Vegas track, but others as well. Indy racing and so other types as well have benefitted greatly from the revolutionary SAFER barrier system now in place at most oval venues. In retrospect it is frustrating and tragic that fence technology has not followed suit.

Perhaps it will now.

It is both the history and legacy of Indianapolis that some of the most widely beneficial developments in automotive safety have come out of the pinnacle of racing; it would almost seem that the days of great strides in safety would never again require tragedy in their course. And ironically it was that very effort Dan Wheldon spent so much of his work – improving the safety of his sport, his personal and central part in the development of the new 2012 IndyCar chassis.


Perhaps the decision by Randy Bernard and the IRL to promote such a fantastic prize involving driver and fan alike created an atmosphere that was entirely too charged with eagerness; perhaps in turn it invited recklessness. This is not to indict Mr. Bernard personally nor anyone else. But corporately, it is fair to question the overall effect. I believe they made an earnest and sincere attempt to do something good for the sport. He and his team, to include the IRL directors made what they – apparently – believed was a reasonable, and yes, enticing marketing effort – in order to draw the crowd, build the excitement, intensify the competition, up the daring. They got more than they bargained for. And even with such a dramatic challenge, no extra-IndyCar professionals took up the offer; the prospect of a NASCAR or other elite driver taking up the challenge seemed like it would be a no-brainer – and generate incredible enthusiasm and excitement.

As it happened, it didn’t.

And if one were to review the recording of that day in Las Vegas, they would notice – even with the incredible prospect of winning a five million dollar purse to be split with the winning driver; the lucky fan would leave the race at the end of the day $2.5 million richer – the crowd was very disappointingly small. The stands were not even close to capacity. If people don’t care so much about incredibly fast, unique, beautiful cars which they cannot make out on whom the advertiser is or what the ad says, and they can’t relate to a guy with a name difficult to pronounce who is from Venezuela or some guy who is difficult to understand because of his Portuguese-Brazilian or South African accent, then at least you’d think that they would be electrified with the prospect of becoming a millionaire. If the size of the crowd was any indication, then apparently not.

Perhaps the leaders of IndyCar and the IRL need to go on a serious – actual – retreat somewhere; say, get a couple cabins at Brown County State Park in Nashville, Indiana for a week; walk around in the woods, sitting at small dining tables in their respective cabins, sit around a camp fire together, isolated from the public eye and distractions of regular life and work, and contemplate and work through what really happened and why. Then contemplate what is going to happen. Perhaps they need to bring in some disinterested third parties to listen to.

It is worth a final note to try to emphasize the love, brotherhood, respect, and simple friendship expressed by Dan Wheldon’s fellow drivers, team mates, and other colleagues. It is both inspiring and heart-breaking to see and hear his friends speak of him.

It is also worth an hour’s time to watch the memorial service posted at YouTube in three separate segments: http://youtu.be/opmtat5okfo

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Thoughts on Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno does not leave Penn State in disgrace – except that being fired is arguably, by definition, disgraceful. And he cannot leave without this tied to his legacy. His amazing career should be remembered more than this stain, but sadly, it will be remembered only in this context. In our human nature we tend to think in terms of sins of commission. Perhaps, in light of Paterno’s position and responsibility, his was a sin of omission.

I will not and cannot comment on this further other than to say I believe he is a wonderful man of integrity; I admire him greatly and expect I always will. It is sad for him to have this mark so late in his prolific, distinguished and influential life.

Beyond this I can only take it as a very personal life lesson: that only in the hope of something graceful and merciful beyond this temporal life, we should expect that nothing from our past is exempt from our future.

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Audrey Williams

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