10.14.2014

Columbus Did Discover America



I know it is not politically correct to say this, but let’s face it: Columbus discovered America.

The major argument against giving him credit for discovering America is that people were already here, it had already been discovered. That’s half true in that there were Native Americans living from north to south and south to north, many probably unaware of the others.

But that’s just it. There was no America. There was a land mass on which discrete groups of people, from the Iroquois to the Mayans, lived. But the groups were not united under major governments and never conducted business very far from their villages.

As we all know, Columbus set sail looking for India. And why did he want to find a shortcut to India? Riches.

He wasn’t interested in creating a better society; he was interested in finding riches for the royal family of Spain. Others followed him, most with the same goal in mind.

Out of that came America, the continuing quest for riches. Columbus didn’t invent that quest, but he certainly extended it when he discovered America.


So like it or not, for better or worse, Columbus discovered America. Remember that on payday and when all the bills come due. 

9.24.2014

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge


I am growing weary of the use of the word fuck or variations thereof in movies and television shows. “You better not fuck with me, Mickey,” or “Watching yourfuckingself, Ray,” just two made-up quotes based on the excellent TV show Ray Donovan.

We went to see Jersey Boys in Vegas a few years ago. It was a good show, but every third word was fuck. I complained to my wife and she said: Well, that’s the way it was then. (I didn’t ask her how she knew.)

I know that, I replied, but that doesn’t mean they have to use it so many times in the show.

And to top it off, one of our daughters took her daughter to see the show! (The dialogue in the movie, written by the same people who wrote the show, was not so overwhelming.)

I’m hardly old fashion. As I like to say, I was in the Navy; I can make Madonna blush. But what’s  happened is that the word has lost is potency through overuse. Even Donovan’s wife uses the word. About the only place it’s not heard is on the three networks, which have to deal with the FCC and the religious right.

Just the other day a reporter on an Alaska television news program used the word. Here’s what Romenesko reported:
She told viewers: “[I] will be dedicating all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska. And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice but, fuck it, I quit.”

The station manager subsequently apologized for the “inappropriate language.” Obviously, he doesn’t get out much.

9.20.2014

Notes from a Week in Ireland

Johnny O'Leary

I’ve submitted my story and photos to State College Magazine and now I can clean out my notebook and post what isn’t going to be in the magazine next month.

Not every church in Ireland is Catholic, as one would assume, and to add to the confusion there can be two churches with the same name, but not the same leadership. In Killarney, there are two St. Mary’s—one Catholic, one Protestant.

One of our guides asked me if I had ever heard the phrase “tomorrow for today’s bread.” I thought it might be something from a Panera ad. Turns out, what she really said was: “To Morrow for today’s bread.” Morrow was the baker’s name—and the guide’s maiden name.

We managed to get a couple of rounds of free drinks. In a restaurant on Grafton Street, the computer ate our order, which the waitress figured out only after we complained about not being served. She gave us a round of free drinks. A couple of days later there was a screw-up in our order at the hotel after the game and one of us successfully got the manager to give us a round of free drinks.

All the letters to the editor of the Irish Times end with “Yours, etc.” A quick search of the Internet reveals that it’s a Britishism and akin to Yours truly. A waste of space, if you ask me.

Speaking of words, I noticed a street in Killarney named Cuntaoise, which means countess in Gaelic. I thought it might have engendered a vulgar back-formation, but research on the vulgarism indicates an earlier derivation.

I keep telling my friends who watched Penn State come from behind to beat Central Florida that it was even more exciting to be at the game. We had seats on the 50-yard line and could cheer the team when it went into the locker room. Last to cross the field from receiving the trophy for winning the game was Coach Franklin. We cheered louder and he led us in a We are chant. The guy is definitely a college coach and I don’t think he’ll be heading to the pros in my lifetime.

Some Irishmen sat around us and actually knew something about football. After the game, the chap next to me wanted to know if the atmosphere was the same back in the States. You know the answer to that.

And to keep the Penn State connection alive, the restaurant at Kylemore Abbey was selling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The big obsession in the gift shop was anything connected with the film The Quiet Man, which was shot nearby.

Our guide thanked us profusely for coming to Ireland. Newspapers reported that it was a 30 million euro boost to the economy and our guide said it was helpful since Garth Brooks had cancelled a sold-out, five-night concert recently. Brooks did that after residents living near the concert site (the football stadium, no less) objected to the disruption and asked for fewer concerts. Brooks said it was five or nothing.

Ireland traces some of its roots to the Vikings, but that’s on the east coast. In Galway, we were informed, the origins were medieval and Columbus had visited there before 1492. There’s a type of boat in Galway called a hooker. I never got to photograph one, but I did drink a beer by the same name.

Oscar Wilde and his
distant cousin Eduard
in Galway
I was overwhelmed by the number of statues of people throughout Ireland, ranging from Oscar Wilde to Charlie Chaplin to Johnny O’Leary, a renowned accordion player from Killarney. I don’t remember seeing any pigeons, though. 

9.12.2014

Book review: Under This Beautiful Dome


Under This Beautiful Dome by Terry Mutchler is a multi-layered book whose subhead, A Senator, a Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America, merely hints at some of the layers. As I see it, they are the love two women have for each other but dare not make public, journalism ethics, raging, recurring and ultimately terminal cancer, sexual abuse of one of them as a child, and a family’s behavior toward one of the women when the partner dies.

The lovers are Illinois Senator Penny Severns and journalist Terry Mutchler, who falls for Severns the moment she sees her. Thus arises the ethics issues for as the women draw closer, Severns sometimes gives her Mutchler inside information. Quoting a journalist who spoke to one of her classes at Penn State, Mutchler knows that it’s one thing to cover the circus; it’s another thing to sleep with the elephants. (Yes, she was one of my students.)

Their love deepens, but they dare not go public, for both their sakes. After all, this is late 20th century Illinois (1993, to be exact) and a gay politician faces extinction at the polls no matter how good she is—and a friend in Illinois tells me that Severns was quite good. And no one can know that Mutchler, who is the Associated Press’s statehouse bureau chief, is sleeping with the elephants.

Severns and Mutchler eventually buy a house, but because deed transfers are public records, they agree that only Severns’ name will go on the deed and Mutchler’s contribution will be undocumented. They set up an elaborate routine to hide the fact that they are living together, although it becomes clear, perhaps more in retrospect, that some people had figured it out anyway.

Then Severns contracts breast cancer, which killed one of her sisters and has threatened the life of her twin sister. Mutchler blames herself and makes a one-way pact with God that she’ll atone for her ethical lapses by taking a job in Alaska. It is an unanswered prayer.

With the ethical issue out of the way, the two continue a very warm and loving relationship. Eventually Mutchler returns to Illinois, not as a journalist but as a student in law school. At the same time, she becomes Severns’ press secretary in her reelection campaign, which enabled them to be together in public, but not really the way they want to be together.

Five years after they fell in love, Severns dies. We know that will happen from beginning and we get a hint of the exclusion that Mutchler subsequently endures because few knew that they were partners, that they considered themselves married to each other. But as members of Severns’ family learn of the real relationship, that it’s not just a senator and her press aide, exclusion takes over.

Mutchler is not allowed to sit with the family at the funeral service, she is not allowed to deliver a eulogy, she is eventually locked out of her own house. The twin sister you thought would have been her standard-bearer turns out to lack the spine to stand up to her father, a bully and someone Severns never even wanted to include in her will. Mutchler barely survives, and it is to the credit of some of her friends that she eventually pulls herself together and gets on with her life, with the memory of her first love to keep her going.

The title of the book comes from a speech given by an Illinois lawmaker as the legislature considered a marriage equality bill (now law) in 2013. “One of the greatest love stories I have ever heard played out right here, under this beautiful dome,” the lawmaker said. “But it was a secret.”

Thanks to Terry Mutchler, it no longer is.


9.10.2014

Practice Humility

We should be No. 1 in humility

Thousands upon thousands of Penn State graduates and fans were glad to hear that the NCAA has ended its bowl ban on the football team and reinstated scholarships. I am among those happy campers.

But I am also concerned that maybe—just maybe—we haven’t learned a lesson in all of this, and that is to be humble. Let’s be honest: Before the Sandusky scandal became public knowledge, there was plenty of hubris to go around.

Probably no one exemplified that more than Joe Paterno, who refused to retire and even bragged about kicking the president out of his house after the president and the athletic director had visited him to discuss retirement. (The funny thing is that the real story is much less dramatic and so it’s even more problematic that Paterno embellished it when he told it.)

Another big ego on campus was the president himself. I admired Graham Spanier, but you knew when you were around him that he did not suffer fools easily and found most people to be lesser mortals.

Both Paterno and Spanier became the face of Penn State and many Penn Staters behaved in kind.

Penn State has been wounded. Let us hope that in the future we do not put arrogance ahead of humility, that we do not leave ourselves naked to our enemies. We are Penn State, and we are humble.

7.28.2014

Are Grandparents Passé?


We were dropping one of our teenaged granddaughters off at the airport and she was eager to get to her gate, even though the plane didn’t board for another 55 minutes. I wanted to say something and she took the time to listen.

We had just had a houseful of grandchildren (with two more coming in August). For us, it would be a perfect summer of visits by grandchildren. In fact, five of the seven visited without parents, which was our preference even if the parents didn’t show up for other reasons.

I told our departing granddaughter that we were delighted that she visited us and we hoped she’d come back next year. I explained that bother her grandmother and I had lived with some of our grandparents when we were young and we thought it was normal that grandchildren spent time with their grandparents.

My wife and I both suspect that today’s grandchildren don’t think the same way our grandchildren thought. Grandparents? Aren’t they the ones who send me money on my birthday?

To be fair to our grandchildren, they are scattered about the country in two time zones and getting to central Pennsylvania is not the easiest thing to do. And my wife and I did live with our grandparents so their presence was natural to us. I had friends whose grandparents lived in town and they saw them regularly.

I do wonder about today’s grandchildren. Do they think their grandparents are passé? I’m glad ours don’t.

6.17.2014

Kicked to the Curb

The double doors on the right are the ones that need to be automatic. There's another set inside that's equally difficult to handle, although they are kept open in the summer. If you have a cart, you have to back out the doors.

Except for the people who could walk there, the move of the state liquor store from downtown Bellefonte to the Weis Market store near Interstate 99 on the road to Zion has to be considered progress. Not only is there plenty of parking, but the selection has improved so much that I refer to it as North Atherton Street Light.

But unlike the abundant store in Patton Township, the Zion Road store lacks two important things—a curb cut so you can push your cart to your car in the side parking lot and automatic doors so you can get out of the store in the first place. In fact, the store has extra-heavy double doors that you have to back through if you have a cart. You would think that a request for automatic doors would get an automatic “yes we can” response. Not from the monopolistic PLCB.

I was told via e-mail by Charles Mooney, the director of the Bureau of Regional Operations, “the glass front and door system was accepted in an ‘as in’ condition in order to reduce our relocation expenses.” However, the PLCB will look into my request for a curb cut.

It’s just another example of how the folks in state government, the bureaucrats as well as the elected ones, do their jobs backwards most of the time.

The message for those of us who shop at the Bellefonte state store: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.