Saturday, August 30, 2008

Trying to make a transition - and so far, it ain't working


So it's been 48 hours since we left our oldest son on his college campus and I hugged him (tightly) good-bye. I'm writing a column about this so I don't want to go too deeply into things here except to say this feels very, very weird.

He's been away before - but the short term nature of that absence made it feel much different. The truth is, this fall could be the beginning of his permanent move away. I know - we have summers coming up and time together on school breaks but he may in fact never really live her again. That just feels too strange to even contemplate.

I've said this before but I have to echo it here - I'm not ready for this. Could it really be time for this? Clearly, the calendar tells me it is. My heart tells me something different.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not like me. Not one bit.

What I don't understand about the viewers and voters who go wild with joy during convention speeches - coming from candidates on either side of the aisle - is this cold, stark reality that not one of them ever seems to contemplate: there is not one person on that stage who shares the middle class, lower middle class, or upper middle class lives that the viewers are living. Not one.
I'm not talking about someone's "humble beginnings." Yes, we've had some leaders that emerged from rather austere childhoods but let's face it. Once you've had a career in politics that was successful enough to land you in the national spotlight, I'm pretty sure you've left the habits of those humble beginnings pretty far behind. The last president I remember showing any vestiges of simple living was Jimmy Carter and he was criticized for taking the glamour away from the White House. (The glamour?) Rosalind Carter's book, First Lady from Plains, told quite a "fish out of water" story about their early days in Washington.
But getting back to the conventions and the candidates, I don't care how long and hard the speakers deliver their "I'm just like you" messages. Just isn't so. Every single candidate is wealthy, and privileged, and nothing like you and me.
So why do we buy it? Why do we feel like we have to connect on a supremely personal level with the politicians who want to sit at the top of the government's flow chart? Why can't we elect them without feeling the love?
The truth is, I don't care how much the president is "just like me." In fact, I hope the president is smarter, shrewder, and more collaborative than I. I want discerning, open-minded, experienced leadership in that office. I hope the president hires a staff (based on nothing but their ability, experience and character) who can execute the tasks at hand and knows when to stop micromanaging to let them do the work. I hope he or she has a track record of measurable, demonstrable, obvious success in something in this life beyond tireless campaigning and delivering rousing stump speeches.
How can a lifelong politician know anything about working in the private sector?? How does a senator who lives and works in Washington, DC, whose family lives housands of miles away, relate to the day-in, day-out challenge of raising children? (Spare me the long-distance connections and email and any other thing in defense of being involved with your children from a distance. Yes, you can be; it's certainly possible and lots of people do it.) But long-distance parenting - or even long-distance marriage - as a result of a political career by itself makes most politicians not like any of us.
Whatever happened to the idea that you don't have to like "the boss," as long as he or she does the job at hand - and then some - and treats you fairly? No one said you had to be best friends. No one said you had to simpatico to respect someone's leadership and talents.
I guess their deeper message of politicians who are "just like me" is more along the lines of this: I stand before you as the absolute embodiment of the best Americans can be. Sure, I used to be like you - but I've realized the dream. Through hard work and determination and gumption and guts and feistiness. You can, too.
Umm, no I can't. I can be the star of my own life, I guess, but other than that, I'm not going to be the next junior senator from Pennsylvania who becomes a presidential contender in 8 years.
As one of my sons put it, we can't all be the star. If we were who would sit in the audience and clap??

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who let what happen?

I read the update of the sentence handed down to Timothy Gearhart this week, who was convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, after attacking and killing Kutztown University sophomore Kyle Quinn last fall.

Speaking to the court, Gearhart apologized to Kyle Quinn's family and to his own, saying a night of ''overindulgence'' was partly to blame for his actions. He'd spent the eveing with friends in a bar.

According to the news report, the court learned the following from Gearhart: ''I didn't mean to hurt so many people. I do not know why God allowed this to happen. For the past year, I have thought of your son every day and will for the rest of my life.''

Why God allowed this to happen? Why God did? I'm pretty sure the God familiar to many people of faith, regardless of their individual beliefs, had no part in what took place at about 2:30 in the morning on Main Street in Kutztown. God wasn't dangling the puppet strings that night, watching Timothy and his two drunken friends, brothers Kenneth and Terry Kline, execute some macabre dance steps that ended in violence and death.

I believe Tim Gearhart will think of Kyle Quinn everyday for the rest of his life. That horrifying moment on Main Street that happened after last call last year cast a long, unending shadow over the lives of many, many people. Most of them will live out their lives thinking of Kyle everyday as well, never quite understanding why or how this happened. Tim says he will, too, and even though he has a minimum of twenty years to contemplate his answer, I don't think he'll come up with one for Kyle's family and friends.

But I hope he gets to the point where he recognizes that God - in whatever form God takes for him - was clearly absent from the actions he chose to take on Main Street in Kutztown last year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Curlers? Really?

I drove through some kind of time warp on the way home from work. For reasons I won't go into, I'' stuck scrolling thorugh radio stations these days to hear some music these days, and rarely pause on a station that's not broadcasting a song.

But, for some reason, I did stick on a station long enough to listen to a GEICO commerical today. One of the selling points was that anyone can, in fact, meet with a GEICO representative face-to-face should you desire to do so. Their business is not entirely online or over the phone. That is, unless you want it to be.

On the other hand, the friendly announcer let me know that if face-to-face won't work - because maybe I'm in curlers or something like that - the phone works just fine.

Curlers? I can't make an appointment with GEICO because I'm wearing curlers? He may be confusing me with Lucy Ricardo or Laura Petrie. Who on god's green earth wears curlers these days - especially long enough to be held captive in her house while her curlers take effect? Are you kidding me?

I'm sort of serious. If there is a woman out there who is taken out of the mainstream regularly and has to arrange her schedule around her curler-wearing habits, I want to meet her. I really do. And I want to take a really close look at your hair. If you're devoting curler time to it, it'd better be gorgeous.

GEICO is losing their clever edge if this is what passes for amusing these days.

the elephant in the room

I've read several news stories and updates over the past few weeks, updating the allegations and charges against three Shenandoah teens. According to the lastest story, Judge Anthony Kilker confirmed that there was sufficient evidence against Colin Walsh, 17, and Brandon Piekarsky, 16, to try them on counts of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation. Because there is no longer first- and second-degree murder charges against them, these young men will not face possible life in prison sentences if convicted.

The judge also ruled that Derrick Donchak, 18, was ordered to stand trial on aggravated assault.

These young men were involved in an attack that resulted in the death of Luis Ramirez, age 25.

This crime is tragic. And sickening. And clearly a case of young people who acted irratonally and outrageously in the face of an incendiary situation. For reasons only swaggering young men can understand, they overpowered and attacked another young man whom they encountered in a park, in the compnay of a youhng woman. Throw in a racial slur and a "hate crime" component and you have a situation that exploded into violence and murder.

Here's the elephant in the room.

Whatever happened to Joseph P. McTiernan? McTierman, 23, of Mahanoy City, furnished alcohol to these underage men gave alcohol to Donchak, Walsh, and Piekarsky, as well as two other underage men.

I simply can't understand why he is getting away with this. I'm inclined to believe a case could be made on behalf of the young men, including the one who dealt Ramirez his final blow, that absent the alcohol, their swagger and intimidation would have been dialed down quite a few notches that fateful night. They may have called out insults; they may have evn done a little "in your face" shouting...but murder? Literally kicking a man while he was down?

That's beer guts. Or in this case, malt liquor guts. They deserve to be heard in court but if the eyewitnesses are telling the truth, I also believe they deserve to punished according to the law. But so does McTiernan. He broke the law that initiated this horrible event.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once again, Olympic confusion

I'm not one of those people who goes Olympic crazy everytime the Olympics come to life and take over everyone's entire existence for about three weeks before fading away for a few years. So as a result of my only very casual interest, I don't have tons of Olympic facts at hand, like those people who are superfans and know every statistic, every athlete, every backstory, every nuance of competition.

With all that said, I have a question or two. I've watched very little television coverage but a few puzzling thoughts immediately occured to me:

Synchronized diving? Isn't it enough that someone can execute these amazing dives as an individual? Why do two divers have to match? Who said doing this side by side is worth judging? Is there a reason synchronization is connected to water competition? Why not synchronized pole vaulting? Synchronized archery? Synchronized curling in the Winter Olympics?

More pressing is this: why are the male swimmers wearing more fabric on their bodies than the female beach volleyball players? I know. Something about slickness and cutting through the water with very little drag that results in faster times and new world records. But what could the volleyball "uniforms" - and I use that term in the same way someone could call lingerie "pajamas" - possibly be contributing to their performace as athletes? The female volleyball players are wearing bras and bikini pants. Is there a reason wearing shorts and tops would have a negative impact on their games?

Hey - that sand isn't all that soft. In fact, I'm guessing it can be pretty abrasive so wouldn't the players welcome bike shorts and tank tops? The male volleyball players wear shorts and tank tops.

Well, I'm not some enormous volleyball fan and maybe there is some compelling reason the women are on display in fairly revealing "uniforms," but if you're going to outfit the women in tight, tiny underwear, I say the men should play in their skins -no shirts. I've never seen men play volleyball wearing clothing on the top half of their bodies. In fact, the Olympics is probably the only venue on the planet where men do wear shirts to play volleyball.

I'm sure I'll have more puzzling thoughts about the Olympics in the weeks to come. If I get a chance to post them, I will. And welcome your thoughts as well!