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I wasn’t writing much in November, when the grand jury report about Jerry Sandusky came out, Joe Paterno was fired, and Penn State rioted. It was disturbing then how many people were completely missing the point — which was that the university did next to nothing to stop Sandusky, despite numerous warning signs. People were OUTRAGED! that Paterno was fired despite the fact that he told his boss who really wasn’t his boss, and anyway, JoePa is a cute old man with huge glasses and a funny voice who donated millions to the university and turned a tiny agricultural school into Penn State (TM) and he was literary and hey, did you know a lot of his players graduated?

However, all of that does not negate the fact that he failed in a big way when it comes to Sandusky, and that failure means he had to be fired. The Grand Experiment and a library are not a valid defense.

But why are we still talking about Paterno?

Last night, Penn State president and executive stereotype Rodney Erickson went to King of Prussia to do some shopping, battle traffic, and hold a town hall-esque meeting with school alumni,

many proudly wearing blue-and-white jerseys and brimming with criticism of the university’s handling of the child sex-abuse scandal that has gripped the university for more than two months.

The jerseys are kind of weird, but yes, the school should definitely be held accountable for how it handled Sandusky. At best, the school failed to take appropriate action and turned a blind eye toward Sandusky’s alleged actions, and at worst, there was an intentional cover-up. Even after the grand jury report came out, Penn State employed its typical secrecy in handling the response. The school should face questions about who knew what and when, and how it can prevent this kind of thing from happening again. People need to know that Penn State will do everything it can do prevent abuse and respond to allegations appropriately.

So, fellow Penn State alums, let the rhythm hit ’em:

Many demanded answers on why famed football coach Joe Paterno was fired by the trustees before an internal investigation, and several called for the removal of the trustees for taking that action and failing to protect the university from such a scandal. The large majority of the comments and questions centered on those issues.

I really have to wonder what is going through people’s brains. Why in the hell are you so concerned for Joe Paterno? Look at the quotes from that story:

“Joe Paterno was the brand for Penn State,” one alumnus said. “It’s really put a knife through my heart.”

“He’s the single most important Penn Stater in the history of the university.”

“Despite how we treated him, he’s still thinking about us.”

To me, this sort of thinking smacks of people unable to deal with the fact that their idol, Paterno, may have been flawed and not the khaki-wearing PR-perfect creation that the school made him out to be. They’re not able to reconcile the fact that he might have done 99 out of 100 things right, and those 99 things were great, but that one other thing was a gigantic misstep. They’re not able to consider that a person can do great things but still make a grave mistake.

More importantly, they’re not willing to focus on the victims who suffered in a horrific way. And no, alums, don’t show me a blue ribbon and tell me you’re concerned. Show me you’re concerned about them. Stop asking about Paterno and trying to put the myth back together. It’s broken, and the school and world will be better off for it, but only if we take a long, hard look at the institution that allowed Sandusky to stay free. The school will be better off for it only if we examine why powerful men — including Paterno — thought they were powerful enough to keep this hidden. The school will be better off only if people start asking the right questions, start challenging statements like this:

“It grieves me very much when I hear people say ‘the Penn State scandal.’ This is not Penn State. This is ‘the Sandusky scandal,'” he said. “We’re not going to let what one individual did destroy the reputation of this university.”

Yes! Yes, it very much IS the Penn State scandal. Because while Penn State did not abuse children, numerous officials within the university apparently tried to save the school’s reputation by covering up Sandusky’s actions. They were not upfront about him, to the police or public. They tried to save their own skin by putting their hands over their eyes and ears and claiming ignorance. Who knows what else the school might have done to keep the news from breaking? With people like Erickson running the show, we won’t know, because he is on a glorified PR tour to repair the university’s image.

Whether Erickson or alumni like it or not, Penn State’s reputation IS damaged, precisely because the university was not honest about Sandusky. Any reasonable person knows that not every person associated with Penn State is complicit. It’s too large a university, with too many schools and administrators, for that to be the case. But Penn State, as an institution, is complicit.

Erickson is, of course, trying to convince people otherwise. From the Inquirer story:

“We cannot forget that Penn State is and historically has been one of America’s great universities. Under my administration, I will not allow this great university . . . to be defined by this horrible tragedy. Nor should this tragedy define our outstanding football program.”

This is also true that Penn State is a good school, academically. But can you stop talking about all that for a minute? Responses like Erickson’s basically amount to “yes, but.”

Can everybody start to focus on what matters? We really do need to figure out why Sandusky was allowed to stay free for so long. We need to figure out why Penn State, the school that employed him, didn’t detect his alleged behavior sooner, and we need to figure out why it didn’t have a better reaction when Mike McQueary alerted Paterno that he saw Sandusky and a young boy in the shower. We need to figure out if, and how much, Penn State covered up Sandusky’s alleged actions.

We need Penn State to be concerned with that, not with protecting its image. And we certainly don’t need to be concerned how it affects the football program, not if we care about what matters.

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Whether or not Chris Christie intended his remark — “Something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.” — to be sexual and misogynist, this is a really absurd statement for his spokesperson to make:

“It’s just a ridiculous interpretation and a wild stretch.”

Is it really ridiculous? Really a wild stretch? Let me tell you, there is no shortage of offensive remarks in the world, so it’s not like there is just this idle pack of people, waiting to pounce on any perceived slight. When feminist websites and smart writers identify something as offensive, they’re doing so in an educated, thoughtful, experienced way. It would be wise to pay attention.

Instead, Michael Drewniak says it’s a ridiculous interpretation. Yes, you feminists are just crazy.

And whether or not Christie intended it to be sexual really doesn’t matter, because it’s not about him. Once those words leave his mouth, he loses ownership of meaning. The best way to ensure that your words have your intended meaning is to be as clear as possible. Christie was not clear (or, in my opinion, he WAS clearly trying to be demeaning, but altered his words to be suggestive so he could deny being demeaning. Yikes.)

He has to take into account how his words could sound before he says them. He has to take into account the fact that a woman could be in the audience, hear that closing word — sweetheart — dripping with sarcasm, degradation and male power, and think that it means he is saying she’s not worth much more than going down on somebody. Because it’s possible she’s heard that remark before, and it’s possible that the previous person said he was only joking or didn’t mean it or whatever, but it was still an insinuation of a sexual act. It’s definite that Chris Christie, as a man, enjoys a lot of privileges and has never endured social sexual oppression the way women do, every day, in myriad ways. He thinks he is entitled to say things like “sweetheart” because he is a powerful man. And that is really the wild stretch, here.

Every post I’ve published this racing season has been full of words. And they’re nice. Obviously I love words. But pictures are nice, too. Not many of these are Mike-on-bike pictures, because all race pictures tend to look the same. I wanted to show things I see during daily riding and racing.

The race: Wilkes-Barre Twilight Crit, Category 4/5
The result: 21st
The story:

I know this is going to be hard to believe for a lot of people, but yes, I did race my bike in eastern Pennsylvania yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, at the time of my race, Hurricane Irene hadn’t moved far enough north to affect Wilkes-Barre.

Still, it had rained off-and-on during the day, and storm clouds were looming when I pulled into town a few hours before the race set off. I used some time to drive around and see how things had changed since I lived there. I went over the Eagle Bridge to Kingston to see where my great grandmother lived and went to church, saw some other places. It hadn’t changed all that much.

What also hadn’t changed much was the road surface. I did this race last year, and some of the same obstacles remained — a manhole cover in the middle of a 90-degree turn, exactly where you’d want to go; a few metal grates and road depressions along the finishing straight.

But since I’d done it before, I knew what to expect. One thing I didn’t expect was a prime on the very first lap, which seemed like a recipe for disaster. Racers are already geared up, and setting a prime for the first lap seemed like a way to push that nervousness over the edge into Accident Canyon.

Fortunately, nobody crashed or took a corner too fast. So, uh, kudos 4/5 field. I spent the first few laps gaining confidence in my ability to take the corners, and by lap six I moved to the front to test my legs. I hadn’t raced in a month and didn’t know what to expect out of them.

But even if my legs weren’t sharp, I felt pretty good and moved back to take cover in the bunch. The group strung out whenever there was a prime lap, but always regrouped. No organized breaks got away. The laps ticked down and it became apparent the race would end in a bunch sprint finale.

Normally, I’d be content to sit in, then make my way toward the front for that finish. But I was fairly certain this would be my final race of the season, and I’ve always wanted to take a solo flier.

I made that bid for glory on the final lap, but being a rookie at such efforts, I made it in rookie fashion. I launched it from too far out and didn’t do it hard enough — for crying out loud, I could hear people saying, “On the left!” before I even passed them.

But I went with it, and another racer told me I had 15-20 bike lengths. By the time I hit the midway point of the headwind-riddled finishing stretch, I knew it wasn’t going to work.

Had I waited a few hundred meters longer or launched the attack with greater surprise, I would have finished higher. But I’m glad I did it; I wouldn’t have won a bunch sprint, anyway. Maybe next season I’ll make one stick.

Fundraiser update:
Smoketown Criterium – 24th (worth $5)
Tour of Mt. Nebo – 9th (worth $10)
Rodale Park Crit – 10th (worth $10)
Coatesville Road Race – ? Seriously, my name isn’t on the results. (worth $0)
Arsenal Crit – 13th (worth $10)
Liberty Crit – 32nd (worth $0)
Robeson Road Race – 10th (worth $10)
Wilkes-Barre Twilight Crit – 21st (worth $5)
___________________________________
End total: A clean $50

On disaster

Hurricane Irene has thankfully passed my area without too much damage, but it still has me thinking about how people deal with the aftermath of disaster.

The level of damage a natural disaster causes varies, of course, and I’m very fortunate to have never experienced any serious level.

But I can’t help thinking one particular thought when I see pictures of the aftermath. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, fire, or something else, I usually end up noticing something that hasn’t been destroyed.

Take, for instance, this picture of damage caused by the Joplin tornado in May:

The tornado was devastating. It killed hundreds of people, destroyed thousands of homes and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. But there, in that picture, is a refrigerator door with a still-full gallon of milk and bottles of ketchup, mustard and other condiments. To the left, there’s a row of drawers with their handles intact.

I remember looking at one picture from the tornado in which a woman stood in the remnants of her house, surveying the damage. The house had been destroyed, but beside her was a still-standing wall with a cabinet still attached, and in that cabinet were glasses, still stacked and unbroken. For all of the devastation, they were untouched.

And I’m not quite sure what to do with that feeling. Because I don’t think they serve as silver linings; that’s a cop-out resolution that doesn’t take into account the large-scale damage, or the loss of lives and security for those affected.

It doesn’t take into account that in the background of the first picture, behind all the items I mentioned is a pile of rubble and a car turned upside-down. It doesn’t take into account that in the other picture, the woman’s exterior walls had been knocked down and her roof blown off.

It’s too micro a focus.

So while a disaster might not destroy every single item in every single corner of every single life, it’s still a disaster. I couldn’t begin to know how that affects a person, materially and emotionally.

And what of people who don’t have a lot possessions that could be destroyed? Victims of famine, who don’t have food or water? People so impoverished they don’t have access to the most basic medical care?

I’m not in the business of ranking hardships, and I’m not sure it’s a great thing to just say there’s usually someone worse off, because that diminishes individual suffering. No amount of suffering is good. No amount of aftermath should occur in a perfect world.

Trying to prevent and help alleviate it when it does happen are probably the best actions that can be taken.

It’s a matter of privilege for me to be in a position to do so, and that, to me, is similar to the undestroyed items in photographs. It’s humbling.

*Rabbit Hole Warning. This will be a long, kind of meandering post, but I think exploring something worthwhile. There are about 500 maybes toward the end, precisely because I just don’t know. I’m re-reading it and think it kind of stinks, but hey, how crappy would it be for me to delete this, of all posts?

Maybe I’m wrong, but the perplexing thing about openness is it doesn’t seem like a reflex these days. It takes work to be open — truly honest and open, with no shield.

Before I go further, let’s define “open,” particularly the levels and types. Being open as a government means something different than it does to be open as a friend, spouse or co-worker, than it does to be open as a leader, community or other group of people.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on interpersonal relationships (though some of the ideas can apply to other kinds of relationships.) That’s where many of the ideas come from, and openness is valued within them because the degree to which you’re open roughly correlates with the degree of closeness you have.

And it works for all kinds of 1-to-1 relationships.

As colleagues, if you’re open, you can form healthy working relationships built on respect. You respect another’s role and job, you give constructive criticism and praise when you think it’s merited. You work toward a common goal if you have one. You do not act dishonestly in an effort to advance your own agenda.

As friends or family, if you’re open, you share stories, random thoughts and emotions, offer support for problematic times, develop unique relationships based on shared experiences — maybe even your own language. The degree to which that’s true depends on how good a friend/close a family member the other person is, and it’s certainly not true in all cases. But generally, you can be open because these people will not run away screaming.

For spouses, the same is true, just with an added level of intimacy. Lovers or sex partners don’t necessarily need a deep friendship history, but in any sexual relationship, openness and honesty are needed, just as respect is needed. You cannot arrive at enthusiastic consent without being open. There’s no room for ambiguity, and if there is ambiguity, that should be your signal not to move forward.

With that said, it’s also pretty easy to identify barriers to openness. Let’s start with a big one.

Lies

This is an incredibly broad category. There are big lies, like telling a potential employer, “Sure, I went to Harvard law school.” And of course, there are small, so-called white lies. Fibs like, “I’d love some dessert,” when you’re rather full.

Either way, they’re usually used for some personal gain — whether it’s staying in someone’s good graces, to placate somebody, to extract some benefit from a situation, to avoid an unpleasant situation.

You ever say, after eating the meal a friend made, “Eh, that was okay”? Likely not, because you’re supposed to say it was good even if it wasn’t, and you’re supposed to soften any criticism you do have as a matter of politeness. But that only gets you off the hook, while the friend isn’t really sure what to think, and that doesn’t help. (Though, that’s not to say that you have to be a jerk when you’re honest.)

The lie is also active; you have to say something blatantly untrue. That’s not the case for another type of obstacle toward openness.

Hiding the truth

I can remember several incidents during my childhood where my parents would get very frustrated trying to extract information from my brother, who was an exceptionally well built secret pinata as a kid. You’d hit it with a question, and only a few pieces of candy would fall out. Ask another question, and few more pieces fall. Eventually you’d want to blast it with a mighty swing.

He wasn’t telling outright lies. He told the truth, but it was sometimes not the complete truth.

Many people have done this, and for a person too smart for his or her own good, this can seem like a loophole. But it’s just shitty.

Let’s not leave me out of this. I’ve done it. Hell, I was called an enigma in college because I was unreadable and shared little with anybody. I’ve hidden details because I’m too embarrassed to admit them, to avoid uncomfortable situations and prevent me from hurting someone.

Except, the hiding hurts more.

By hiding your thoughts or facts, you’re closing the door. You’re saying you trust someone only so much, value closeness with that person only so much. You’re saying you’d rather have them wonder and wait than hash something out, than say something that might be uneasy for them to hear. You’re choosing security of self over mutual understanding. And you’re not respecting the other person’s ability to handle the truth.

Do this enough and people will quit on you. You can’t hide and still be someone’s good friend, a good family member, spouse colleague or lover.

Another form of hiding occurs when you just keep silent. You’re not trying to be secretive, but you start to ignore and reduce communication, drifting out of the relationship slowly but surely.

No, you don’t have to be super close to everybody you meet. And there are times when it’s proper to stay closed. For instance, if somebody came up to the A Woman’s Place table during an event, all agitated and asking questions about the shelter, I’d shut down or notify the proper authorities.

But that’s not the type of relationship I’m writing about. Generally, lack of openness isn’t a good pretense.

So why does it seem like there are so many instances of people not being completely open and honest?

Maybe we’re not used to it as a society. Maybe we’re largely selfish and figured out, by accident or experience, that we can lie or hide truths for personal gain and get away with it pretty easily. Maybe it’s not even that extreme.

Maybe we figure we can put off the honesty until later, when the awkward is thick and we have to cut it down with openness. Even when people are able to be open with each other, there are sometimes periods when people aren’t, and the anxiety starts to build. They hide, if momentarily. And while it’s good to clear the air, you ever think about why it needs to be cleared in the first place?

Really, maybe it’s because being open requires you to be uncomfortable and vulnerable sometimes, to take chances and risk making somebody upset. Maybe it’s because having a truly open relationship requires both parties or people being open.

And by open, I don’t mean open like a water tap, where all your thoughts stream out, one after the other in a deluge of words. Open doesn’t mean talkative.

Open means accessing your true thoughts and emotions and sharing them. It means taking a moment to quiet yourself so you can search inside and pull out something true, it’s getting the words past your throat when they’re ready.

Because to be candid rather than canned is worth it, and necessary for a strong relationships, even if it takes work not to pass on the moment of honesty. Honestly.

The race: Robeson Township Pennsylvania State Cycling Championships – Category 4
The result: 10th
The story:

Every summer for longer than I can remember, my family has gone crabbing. It’s a fun tradition. We head to Beaver Dam in New Jersey early in the morning, fill a couple boats with people and traps, and catch ourselves some crabs that we cook and eat at a party.

For people who haven’t gone crabbing: it can get a little gross. Actually, it will get a little gross. It’s a guarantee.

Before you’re even in the boat, you’re breathing in the salty air and contending with bugs. And so you put on a layer of bug spray.

Then you get in the boats and have to set up the traps. And so you cut frozen bunker in half with an old knife at 7 in the morning and shove the pieces on wire attached to the traps.

Once you have the traps squared away and tied to the boat, you drop anchor, put the traps in and start pulling every so often. And so you splash yourself with funky water.

Soon, the sun comes up. And so you decide you’d rather not roast yourself red, and spread on some sunscreen.

Eventually, the crabs bite your bait clean and you have to refill the traps. So you buy some more bunker when the bait boat comes around, chop those in half. Only, you don’t use them all at once, so the spare pieces sit in a plastic bag on the bottom of the skiff, thawing in the summer sun.

And on and on, each activity adding some new film.

In order to have any fun at all, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to get dirty and just not worry about it. You’re going to be gross when you stroll into a Wendy’s on the way back home, and your hands will smell like fish. But it doesn’t matter. Once you accept the film, it’s enormously fun.

That’s not too different from bike racing. Last week at the Liberty Crit, I didn’t accept the film. I worried the whole time about crashing, for good reason, and never focused on the fun. The result wasn’t surprising — a frowny-faced 32nd.

But I had a feeling this Sunday’s race would allow me to focus on the fun. I targeted this one for a good result. I’d done it two years ago as a Cat 5 rider and knew the course suited my strengths.

The 12-mile loop didn’t have any extraordinarily long or hard climbs, but it was unrelenting. When one climb ends, it isn’t too long before another climb or a stretch of rough asphalt comes along. And when you do multiple laps — my race did four — the physical toll can build.

I spent a good portion of the first lap near or at the front, wanting to stay out of trouble. I figured I’d try to make it hard for everybody else, really pushing the pace on every climb. But I knew I’d blow up if I kept going that way and eased off toward the end of the lap.

The second and third laps were basically an exercise in people-watching. I hung out at the back and saw who was strong, who was doing a lot of work, who was fading. Occasionally a rider popped out the back, unable to follow accelerations up the small climbs.

I didn’t feel great during a portion of the second lap, but once I got an energy gel and some water in me, my condition quickly improved. Sure, I ripped it open precisely as the group surged through a rough section and up a hill, so I had to do a delicate balancing act for a moment, but that’s beside the point, which is: I didn’t have trouble staying in touch with the group and saved a lot of energy. By the time the fourth lap began, I was feeling good about my prospects.

There were only 30-something riders in the main group with those 12 miles left, and I slowly moved up, picking up a couple positions on every climb. I went to my small chainring only a few times, so I must have had good form.

With a few kilometers to go, I hovered between 15th and 20th, firmly holding my position.

In hindsight, I should have put myself in position to attack on one of the three or four short pitches in the final kilometer, because the group crawled over them. But as it was, I sat boxed in and waited for the sprint.

The final 400-500 meters consisted of a fast descent leading into a drag up to the finish line, perfect for somebody like me, who can’t do a flat-land sprint well but can shoot up rises. I spread out to the left side of the road and followed accelerations, then kicked it into an appropriate gear and started passing people. To my left, a rider touched the wheel in front of him and nearly went down, forcing me into an evasive maneuver. But I didn’t brake and still carried enough speed to pick off a few more people for 10th.

The race wasn’t easy — my legs felt like jelly during one part of the fourth lap — but once I resigned myself to the film of a hard effort, I could hunker down and enjoy it.

Fundraiser update
Smoketown Criterium – 24th (worth $5)
Tour of Mt. Nebo – 9th (worth $10)
Rodale Park Crit – 10th (worth $10)
Coatesville Road Race – ? Seriously, my name isn’t on the results. (worth $0)
Arsenal Crit – 13th (worth $10)
Liberty Crit – 32nd (worth $0)
Robeson Road Race – 10th (worth $10)