Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Proportionality

The sports world is giving us some ugly distractions from the everyday. I have erratic internet service on my phone at work, so messages get interrupted. Which means I sometimes get updated on a day's worth of news within minutes. Therefore, I discovered within seconds that the NCAA had essentially ended its penalties against Penn State and that the NFL career of Ray Rice is likely over.

There's a lot of talk on both issues about the extent to which the punishment fitted the crimes that Penn State and Rice committed. It's not surprising that there is so much talk because the crimes at which each of these figures were at fault were ghastly and for which there is no logical means of evening up or restoring the damage caused. In part, sports fans have erected pedestals for these programs (Rice isn't a program, but he's in the NFL, and that's a program). How does one punish, or even respond to, a fall from Olympus?

I was disturbed and remain disturbed at the disproportionality of the punishment heaped on Penn State. I thought the four-year ban on postseason play was excessive and demeaned the commitments of the current athletes. I thought the banishing of the 409 wins earned by Joe Paterno was Orwell-esque. It's like saying Richard Nixon wasn't president for Apollo 13 because of Watergate. It seemed like a heavy-handed response from a hypocritical organization (NCAA) that heads up an institution with questionable means behind how it earns money relative to how it compensates the athletes. At the same time, I'm disappointed in how slowly the legal process is prosecuting the men who served as higher-ups at Penn State at the time.

Now I'm irked at the heavy-handedness by which the NFL has come down on the Ray Rice issue. It seems like a rush to consequences and a rush to punishment. It seems like piling on. He's been banished from the sport. Though the suspension is "indefinite," Rice is a running back in the NFL who is 27. A couple of years out of his career means it's over. He was an employee of the NFL who has been exiled.

I live in a professional world where procedures are in place that protect the rights of the accused as an investigation is conducted and as tempers cool. Teachers who engage in misconduct are placed on "administrative leave" until conclusions can be thoughtfully drawn. They're removed from their place of employment but not banished until it's determined that banishment is warranted. Such is true even if there's incontrovertible evidence about the misconduct. In short, there's a process: remove and protect the accused, investigate, engage along the way with law enforcement, draw conclusions with evidence.

In the cases of the NCAA and NFL there's simply one step: REACT!

I don't say this because I condone what Penn State or Rice did. It seems to me as if both are guilty of something awful and terrible. In a nation based on the rule of law with a Constitution that affords due process rights, it's inconsistent to have haphazard processes by which someone acts as prosecutor, jury, judge, and executioner as the head of the NCAA and NFL do. I respect decisions made as part of a fair process more than reactions to horrible events. Further, heavy-handed authority figures make mistakes, as Roger Goddell did with his initial not-very-thought-out-or-investigated two-game suspension of Rice.

Moreover, these reactions mask a deeper problem with both the NCAA and NFL. Transgressions are a fact of life within those entities. Player misconduct, unaccountable coaches, unethical relationships between adults and students, covering up legal issues to be out of sight from law enforcement, substance abuse, domestic abuse, cheating . . . these transgressions are abundant in the NCAA and NFL. Usually they're out of plain sight. However, when some of this ugliness surfaces, as it did in these two instances, the authority figures respond with shock and awe to "make a statement."

But the transgressions continue.

I'd rather see the parties, the NFL in particular, own the problem than make exiles of troubled individuals who commit evil, criminal acts. How is Rice to be rehabilitated? How is Rice to be given a chance to be made useful again? If he can't be integrated back into society, why would another abused spouse come forward and forfeit the gravy train that an abusive (but wealthy) spouse provide?

There is no component for forgiveness and rehabilitation in the approach the NFL has taken with the kind of criminal misconduct in which Rice allegedly engaged. That is irresponsible, and less likely to move our society toward ridding ourselves of an evil like domestic abuse. Why isn't the NFL harnessing its awesome financial resources to get Rice into therapy? Why isn't the NFL conducting trainings for its players and coaches to warn and educate about domestic abuse?

It appears to me that civil, criminal acts occurred at Penn State and in that elevator in Atlantic City. We have laws in this nation that, when prosecuted correctly, offer some sense of justice toward those guilty of those acts. We also have a tradition of due process and respect for law. Remove and protect, then investigate thoroughly, then draw reasonable conclusions. And if the conclusion is that the individual has committed transgressions so great they forfeit the right to play, then let it be. That is banishment I can respect. My objections with the NCAA and NFL aren't with the penalties imposed but rather with the lack of process by which those penalties are imposed.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Experiment Underway

That's right, I'm really incensed at the excessive cost of cable TV. It's not necessarily the cable bill that has me upset (the package with TV and internet is only about a $20 difference over internet alone). It's the rental charge of the set-top box ($18/mo.) that drives me nuts. I resent paying so much to rent a five-year-old box with ten-year-old technology. Therefore, I am watching the remainder of today's Eagles game over the air.

Maclin's touchdown catch just looked pretty good.

Questions about the Nutmeg State

I cannot be entirely objective about this story which ran in the op-ed section of today's Washington Post. Of course I think it's good that Connecticut pays its teachers so well. I can't help but believe that high pay attracts good professionals who lead students toward achieving well on tests. It seems as if that states' schools serve its students well. It's more important to me that there appears to be a broader culture that supports the value of education in Connecticut. The statistic regarding how many residents in that state have earned degrees probably represents households where education is important: parents who read to their kids, parents who monitor their children's learning, and non-parent taxpayers who understand that building blocks to success occur in community schools.

So I'm wondering what else might be at work in Connecticut:

Might Connecticut's relatively high standard of living necessitate public teacher salaries which skew comparison to other states?

Is there much disparity between Connecticut's richest and poorest areas?

Does Connecticut enjoy the benefits of large urban centers like New York and Boston without having to pay for them via taxes that transfer wealth from suburbs to cities?  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back to Business

I didn't update this blog much during summer 2014. Immersed in being a dad, I spent more of my attentions on another blog, making it a journal of the summer. Besides, I was so busy seeing the world (okay, this corner of North America) I didn't really have time to read, reflect, and comment on the news.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been tuning into the news more, and the picture of the world it portrays is disheartening. The picture I get of our political leaders is disheartening as well. There's nothing being done by our leaders. Nothing. One side obstructs, the other side is afraid to act. The legislative and policy-making gears have seized up, and anything monumental that's being done is being done by courts. Until the politicians give me anything to talk about, I think I'll just decline to comment.

What will I write about if politics gives me so little that justifies commentary? Perhaps teaching. Perhaps music. Perhaps my goals and ambitions. The summer (and all the time it afforded) constantly gave me something worthwhile to say. Hopefully fall, winter, and spring will too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Eat Fried Worms

I recently finished reading How to Eat Fried Worms with Sam and Caroline. I remember it being one of the first chapter books I read myself. Sam and Caroline seemed to enjoy it though the book at times seemed somewhat dated. I found this page from late in the book fairly interesting.


The book's publication date is 1973. In the 1970s, most kids would've gotten the reference contained in this chapter title. If they didn't, dads or moms would be able to supply the answer. Pearl Harbor was as immediate in the cultural memory of those days as 9/11 is today.

The bet Billy wins (sorry, spoiler) is for $50. In today's dollars that is $268.30. No wonder the boys resort to the schemes and tricks to which they resort in the book.

That night at the ballpark costs $8, which today is $42.93. Assuming that the $8 doesn't include the ticket, that is actually pretty close to correct. a 12-year-old could get stuffed on about $40 worth of ballpark food today or in 1973.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

$56,364.90

Apparently, that's how much my grandfather paid for his childhood farm when he purchased it from his widowed mother in 1960. I think a lot about how far my family has come in a couple of generations. My grandfather (mom's dad, or Pap) was born to a subsistence farming family. I played on that farm many times as a kid, when it was owned by a family who bought it from the Amishman who bought it from Pap. To be honest, it wasn't a very good farm. Set up against the side of Nittany Valley, it didn't possess the most fertile land. It was worth more for the lumber that grew on it (and which my grandfather apparently sold for about $3,500). It's not used as a farm anymore; the Amish family who owns it now primarily makes money from the carpentry business they run.

By the way, that $56k figure is in real dollars. When Pap wrote the check back in 1960, it was for $7,000 in his dollars.

How did Pap get the money to do this? After all, he was simply one of the youngest children of a relatively poor family. He had a 9th grade education. In his youth, he had something of a wild streak in him . . . mischievous rather than malicious. He worked for it, as a technician in a paper factory. He supplemented that income by working as the groundskeeper for a cemetery. When his plant was on strike, he did road work. He worked a blue collar job during that window in history when a blue collar job earned enough to attain something of a middle class lifestyle. His kids (Mom and my uncle) graduated from college and, in turn, sent their kids off to college now.

In 2014 I live in a house that's worth about 5 1/2 times what Pap bought his farm for in 1960.

This is what the troubles in Ferguson inspire me to contemplate. The commentary on those troubles that most helps me understand that community and its woes was written by Philip Kennicott. I appreciate how that author calls us to think of the complex factors that have led to the conflict that is ripping apart that neighborhood.

I didn't follow the news from Ferguson too much while on vacation. But from a distance it was apparent how both sides of the political spectrum were fashioning narratives around what is taking place there.

I can't help but think, however, how privileged my position must look like to those who feel snared by poverty in communities like Ferguson. Why am I relatively well off? Is it due to my own hard work? Yes. It's also due to some luck. More importantly, it's due to the actions by countless people who have wittingly and unwittingly shaped my life. Going back to my grandfather, he made decisions seventy and sixty years ago that set in motion me and the life I have today. My happiness today is the product of an army of family and friends and friends of family who made decisions and took risks for the betterment of themselves and others. I'm humbled by the sacrifices great and small of those people who weren't necessarily thinking of Chris Johnson and his family of four in 2014. I wish the factions viewing what's happening in Ferguson would consider, humbly consider, how we are all shaped by forces outside our immediate control, and how we shape others who we may not even be considering at this point in time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moving away from pessimism

There's no other news story I've been following as closely as the sad spectacle in Ukraine. I've written a few posts on it. But I'd like to take a moment to be optimistic. Teaching economics, I should value long-run thinking. Though I might disagree with the approach my president is taking, he's still my president and I can certainly hope his policy is the right one. Therefore, I was heartened by two unrelated developments . . .

1) News that Europe and the U.S. imposed a tougher round of sanctions was welcome. I must remember that the president doesn't want to move without company, and Europe is far more reluctant than the U.S. to meaningfully punish Russia. Maybe playing the waiting game is the most prudent: use our economic power to bear to further emaciate Russia's already tottering economy.

2) News that our economy grew 4% in the last quarter was also welcome. One won't see any news like that about Russia's economy any time soon. A stronger economy gives us more options, and more ability to wait out the Russians' encroachment on Ukraine.

I was also humbled by seeing my barber's reaction to the events in Ukraine as the news (the TV was on in the shop) talked of policy options. He grew up in Kiev, moved to the U.S. from there 20 years ago. He was obviously saddened, turning up the volume to hear the story (I've never seen him do that for any story before). I prodded him to tell me more about what he felt regarding the situation but he didn't have any clear answers. Perhaps he must stand by and watch like anyone else, knowing that what is occurring is wrong and sad, but knowing that force (or anything else quick) is the answer to the situation. Who am I to be so impatient: It's not my former homeland being ravaged.

Still, I'm impatient. I hope I can come to see ways in which a policy with which I disagree may end up being the best course of action, if I'm patient enough to give it time.