Monday, June 18, 2012

Football: Cult or Culture?

by Meg Curtis

The scandal of Happy Valley resurrects an ancient argument: What role does football play on the American scene? Three breakdowns offer insight into families, fights, and TV:

1. Football Culture
2. Football Widows and Orphans
3. Football Cult

The first phrase, taken as a key search term, provides a list which includes the book Game Over: Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, and the Culture of Silence, by Bill Moushey and Robert Dvorchak. But football widows know very well that the house is NOT silent when football comes on TV. Family conversations may come to a dead halt, but screaming, cheering, and betting typically continue without interruption.

The term "football widows" quickly proves inadequate. A second search for "football widows and orphans"--for where one goes, the other is sure to follow--immediately reveals that even Monday night football does not satisfy football fanatics. Under that heading, a related term grabs the spotlight: "fantasy football." Apparently, even  the real, down-to-earth sport fails to answer Daddy's and Brother's dreams.

Surprise! Sports Law Blog reveals the peculiar protection given fantasy sports, quoting Christine Hurt at Conglomerate from 2005: 
    "In all three bills introduced in the 108th Congress seeking to prohibit Internet gambling (H.R. 21, H.R. 2143, and S. 627, the definition of "bets and wagers" excluded two types of activities. The first exclusion applies to stocks, commodities, derivatives, and insurance products. (Interesting that we would have to sort that out.) The second exclusion was: Fantasy Sports!!!"
Hurt even adds: "You can view the text of the bill here (S. 627 108th Cong. s.5361(1)(e))."  

The third search term, "football cult," turns up these questions from across the water, and, yes, we recognize that football in both countries is different yet yields the same quandaries. In "The cult of football is a blight on our national life," for the UK's Independent, Mary Dejevsky asks bravely:   

           "Given that all this is known, is it not time to stop asking what is wrong with
           English football and ask instead what is wrong with England?....How come
           anyone who does not follow "the game" risks exclusion from what passes 
           for the national conversation, not least by the office water cooler on a 
           Monday? How come even very junior youth matches have become mini-
           battlegrounds between parents?"

Maybe it's time to stop talking about Happy Valley, and start asking if America is happy with its football fanatics. Do they contribute to the health and safety of the USA? Do they lay down their lives like soldiers for their families, or do they risk concussions which deprive them of their very brains? And, when it's time to talk about serious subjects, where are they--practicing a thuggish code of silence, or answering: "Daddy will shut off the TV now, and talk with you about what happened in the showers today"? 

The Sandusky Case: The Stomach Factor

by Meg Curtis

Readers attempting to track the Sandusky child abuse case quickly confront the stomach factor. How much information can a civilized adult consume before the guts rebel? The symptoms of this crisis take these forms: holding one's breath, clasping a hand over the mouth, and closing the eyes. 

Luckily, at least two approaches to this material emerge for readers' consideration. One comes courtesy of Diane Dimond in the Daily Beast with "Jerry Sandusky Trial, Day Four: Was Mrs. Sandusky Home?" (published on June 14, 2012). A second comes courtesy of Sara Ganim, whose reports of shower savagery in the Sandusky trial include this title from The Patriot-News and PennLive: "Accuser testifies he denied abuse even though many suspected it was happening" (published on June 11, 2012). 

Dimond's work includes what one can only hope are the worst of the jaw-dropping details. She specifically parallels testimony from two witnesses concerning Sandusky's shower activities. Readers who want to know exactly what this ex-coach was doing with soap, water, and boys in the air can find it there. Readers who don't want to be so enlightened can avoid it by seeking other versions of the same testimony. 

Ganim's work emphasizes patterns, contradictions, and shifting testimony by alleged victims. Here she summarizes what Dimond delivers in detail: "He [Victim 4] got a bit angry on the stand while explaining two times that Sandusky tried a specific sex act on him in the shower, and he squirmed with 'all his might' to get away." Notice that Ganim focuses on the testimony, rather than body parts, while remaining accurate. 

Thus, as much as Americans may complain about the quality of contemporary journalism, choices remain intact, and, in the Sandusky case, choices may simply be needed. No readers should have to choose between losing track of current events and losing their minds. Enough of that has been done already, and an entire country cannot comprehend how so few passed the Stomach Test in Happy Valley. 

U-Va Meets Dallas: Will the Weasel Strategy Work?

by Meg Curtis

Shenanigans at U-Va pull the curtain back on university politics. Who is the Wizard of Oz now? The Washington Post's latest report stuns readers with the backstabbing and raw ambition of wannabe university dictators. 

At, readers will find all the thrills of the Dallas sequel and then some.

Fancy a board member conducting negotiations completely away from the consideration of tenured professors and researchers, whose work constantly reinvigorates U-Va's reputation. These contributors attract top-notch scholars and students, generation upon generation. Meanwhile, what has Ms. Dragas, board "leader," ever done to demonstrate her expertise on the affairs of academia?

Like a lead in a new episode of the old TV show Dallas, this is what Dragas did, according to the Post's record of events:

"Sullivan’s brief tenure in effect ended a week ago after the leader of U-Va.’s Board of Visitors, Helen E. Dragas, told the enormously popular president that she had enough votes to remove her. The Board of Visitors never met or took a vote on Sullivan’s ouster. Instead, Dragas spoke to board members individually over a series of months." 

Academic meetings can really be fun, if the talking points go right:

Let's hear it for democracy on the collegiate level!  Let's hear a lecture on the basis for authority. Let's sit down for a cozy chat about role models, so dear to the hearts of educators. Or maybe it's time to research the behavior of politicians who thrive only behind closed doors. The university's experts on Zoology must have a Power Point somewhere on the Classic Weasel?    

The fallout from nonexistent academic affairs meetings already comes clear in the title of the Post's article: "W-Va donors threaten to withhold funds over ouster of president," by Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, published on June 17. Advanced seminars on U-VA politics are just beginning with events scheduled for June 18. Don't miss a single class!

Why Is Obama Smiling?

by Meg Curtis

Pardon this column for being the Grinch who stole the party, but why is President Obama smiling in the photograph accompanying the following article on CNN this morning?  With tears and glee, Nicholas Benton offers his retake on American history in "White House is finally a welcoming place for gay people," Special to CNN, on June 18, 2012. 

Elderly citizens--those with a memory going back eleven years--will recall that Americans promised to be Americans first--and everything else second or nothing--following the attack on Manhattan on 9/11. Why are lobby groups now acting as if this commitment never hit the airwaves? No special category gives anyone the right to eclipse the emergencies now facing this nation.

The United States' ballooning debt has inspired no smiles for thoughtful citizens. White House leaks are now prompting senators to worry over Iranian retaliation. Recent episodes of cannibalism in Miami and Baltimore left at least one victim with no smile--and almost no face, either. The Sandusky trial in Happy Valley never shows participants grinning ear-to-ear--least of all boys facing manhood with grief and regret.

Europe, America's stalwart partner in finance and wars, isn't breaking into hilarity and guffaws. Greece seems to be satisfied it survived the past weekend. Germany has cause to wonder if its Pirate Party will upend the usual political assumptions. Spain and Italy teeter on the brink of economic catastrophe. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom celebrates, yes, that its queen has lasted sixty years.

So, is it too early to suggest that the American President needs to get with the program? While the bible may offer those famous words--for everything there is a time and season--a time to grieve, a time to be born--nevertheless, the time to party is NOT when a once great nation is backsliding into factions. Let the party wait until America pays its bills, and its citizens find jobs at home. Then, and only then, bring on the party!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sara Ganim: Journalist Extraordinaire

by Meg Curtis

This young woman raises the kind of questions which politicians REALLY hate to answer in the Rose Garden or anywhere. First, why did it take a female to get the job done? The Sandusky scandal had been prowling around Penn State since at least 1998. Second, does her age make a critical difference? Could it be that it took an extraordinary beginner--unfazed by excuses--to root out evil in Happy Valley?

Psychologists can argue about the difference between male and female thinking from now until Kingdom Come. Still, it is a fact: 24 is the age of a female who can--at any moment--become a mother--and look back upon that development for the rest of her life. The simple fact of motherhood will change her forever. At 24, an intelligent young woman must realize her choices cannot be taken back, if she is to have a career.

Furthermore, to read her reports is to appreciate the restraint which does NOT characterize what passes for everyday journalism. The curious may continue to enjoy her level-headed reports of the unspeakable here: This video reveals Ganim's capacity to quote, summarize, describe, and even flash back concisely--without blushing.

What honest mind does not blanch at the events recounted at this ongoing trial? Only the most disciplined belonging to.the quester for truth, who lets these witnesses speak for themselves the words they have held back for years, without the interruption of HER FEELINGS, HER SUSPICIONS, HER OUTRAGE, HER SENSE OF HELPLESSNESS. Warning: No helplessness will be found here.

May the courage of Sara Ganim inspire a whole new breed of American journalists. May they abandon Brangelina for the good of the country. May they forget where Lindsey Lohan has passed out and where Lady Gaga went gaga. If this development comes to pass, Americans may even yet live through the coming election--without wishing every single day that they lived in France or Borneo--anywhere except America.

Charlie Sheen: Comic Genius

By Meg Curtis 

To those who wonder about the REAL Charlie Sheen, take this answer to the bank: This man's talent dwarfs his competitors' imitations. Viewers of the original Two and a Half Men--not the derivative, a dirty word in any case--appreciate his capacity to play either half of famous comic duos at will: Laurel and Hardy, Lewis and Martin, or George and Gracie.

In fact, if one comedian still standing demonstrates the timing of Johnnie Carson, Charlie Sheen can leer, hesitate, and spoof himself with the best of them. Half--and maybe two and a half--of his dialogues with his erstwhile dramatic brother consist of long pauses while Sheen stares--and the audience laughs. Nobody needs to be drunk to bring off this dialogue successfully. George Burns did it with his cigar.

Dean Martin also continually played upon the fools that people make of themselves when they confuse liquor with lemonade. Yet, just like Sheen, Martin could hop right into a musical number without losing a beat. And, just like Jack Benny, Carson's idol, Sheen uses his shoulders, eyes, and the drift of a hand to finish a thought--or let the audience finish it for him.

Laurel and Hardy may seem like the unlikeliest comparison, but consider the repetition which peppers every conversation between son and mother, brother and brother, as well as father and son in Two and a Half Men. Anyone who enjoys the iconic comedy of "Who's on First" recognizes the turning meaning which characterizes both poetry and devilish misunderstandings.

So, the next time that anybody wonders about the possibility that Charlie really needs rehab or a long visit to a mental asylum, let that person ask himself this question: Who can replace Charlie Sheen? If anyone could have replaced him, the writers of Two and a Half Men would not have needed to kill him off for the show to continue. Bottom line: You may send in the clowns if you wanna, but there ain't no clown like Charlie!

Here Come the Zombies: Board Fires U-Va Prez for Supporting "Classics and German"

by Meg Curtis, PhD

Americans in favor of improving education need to read the Washington Post's report on the brouhaha at U-Va. The article carries this title: "Sullivan’s unwillingness to make drastic cuts led to ouster from U-Va" and carries these bylines: By  and , Published: June 17.

The key words in this report appear at the top of page 2 in the following paragraph, which requires close reading:

"The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German."

Those final three words reveal the woeful lack of vision demonstrated by Teresa Sullivan's critics: "classics and German." What educator does not grasp the crucial role these departments play in both undergraduate and graduate education?  Apparently a board seeking the mentality of a "corporate executive" (1).

In this context especially, please note the gaffe committed by President Obama when he contended that America's private sector was doing just "fine." Mitt Romney may just ride that line all the way to the White House. It has already hit the top charts for sarcastic genius.

So, it is appropriate to ask: If corporate executives are doing so incredibly well, why is the American economy in the dumpster? Perhaps those attacking Sullivan need to consider the meaning of the term "overreach." They are out of their element, and need to leave education to the experts.

In the big picture, undergraduates who do not know where Western civilization came from, do not have a chance of anticipating where it is going. If corporate executives can present a Power Point on that trend without touching on Plato, Cicero, and Freud, they are creating science fiction.

A major university must also be cognizant of students' needs when applying for graduate school, medical school, and law school.  Note: One of the most common language requirements for graduate degrees is German. Psychologists especially travel to their future on the back of Freud.

In addition, terminology in both medicine and law still occur in Latin--and nobody reads a word of this language without touching on the modern world's debt to the ancient Greeks. It seems obvious to point out that people using terms they do not understand court doom. 

So, to the board which ousted Teresa Sullivan for her defense of German and the Classics, this message needs to achieve a high importance icon in their emails: If you are sending graduates to McDonald's, just continue your current course. Otherwise, reinstate Teresa Sullivan!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Talk with a Zombie

By Meg Curtis

Once upon a time, zombies met regularly. They called their get-togethers “college mixers.” Advanced zombies were put in charge of collecting female trainees on one side of a room—usually underground, of course. They dimmed the lights so nobody could see how awful everybody looked—and behaved.

On the other side of that underground cavern, the advanced zombies gathered the male trainees. These guys shuffled and slumped. They left as quickly as they could for a cigarette so they could come back smokin’. When that happened, some female trainee would chirp: “Boy, ain’t he hot!”

Then, much discussion would follow about whether the correct term was “hot” or “cool.” Discussion never included “cold” in this context, for that basic adjective applied to female zombie trainees who had not yet discovered that living above ground—lots!—could give them a new complexion.

So long as they stayed sufficiently pale, they proved capable of blushing, although they practiced this sign of embarrassment or modesty with infrequent regularity. Complexion became a sign of ruggedness, indeed even durability in the seething winds above ground, where zombies spent as little time as possible.

Thus, the most common conversation among them concerned “Are you alright?” To which the answer was “Sure.” If anyone confessed to being more than a little “hot,” that person had to be rushed out of the underground cavern. Outside, where the stars blinked in confusion, the trainees sighed over a simple fact: Zombies don’t talk feelings. They talk temperatures.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Zombiism: The Downside

By Meg Curtis

Zombies contend with the ultimate victimization. They suffer from stereotyping which casts them as dirty, unsightly (to say the very least and then some), frightening, and even egregiously hungry. So, are we describing a teenaged rebel here, or what?

How many of us know a zombie well enough to assess these attributes? I will admit that I know a good many individuals who talk about zombies, appear to believe in zombies, and may even be interested in dating zombies, but I don’t know one dead-on zombie, do you?

In fact, the interest in dating zombies completely baffles me.  Who wants to hear endless tales of, “Boy, you should have known me when I was dead….” I know enough dead-heads already, and aspire to know no more. If I wanted to hear about life under the dirt, I’d live there myself.

Verifying a zombie defies all determination. What do we do—take a blood sample? That could get us in serious trouble with the law. Imagine yourself explaining:  “Look, I was just trying to get a sample of this guy’s blood when he hauled off and bit me.” And yes, I often say: “Bite me!”

The few men I have suspected of being zombies, I admit it, led me on. They said things like “Can’t get enough sleep.” “Can’t find my underwear—you got it?” “Maybe should wear a paper bag on my head.” I wanted to inquire as to their zombie persuasion, but left them in the closet.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Zombie Quest: No Fun Anymore

By Meg Curtis

First, let us admit one sad fact about the recent “zombie apocalypse.” It has torn the hearts out of parents and kids looking forward to Halloween. This costume always promised a big effect for a small investment. Just add a bloody mask to dirty clothes, and revelers were good to go. No more!  It’s back to expensive get-ups for the American family!

Second, the repulsive episodes in Miami and Baltimore have also ruined middle schoolers’ hilarity over the behavior of classmates who never “get it.” To their number perhaps we might add politicians who never “get it,” either. What do we call the unconscious among us now?  The term “zombie” may be permanently lost from American slang.

Third, why did cuisine have to enter into these miscreants’ activities? It’s bad enough that we have celebrity campaigns to eat no meat from our four-footed relatives. Now, should we expect constant reminders that consuming only greenery is patriotic? Vegans now have a new arrow in their attack quiver—and eggs can get mighty tiresome, too.

The nation’s repository of comic material suffered a crippling blow during the month of May in 2012. So did the photographic supply industry. Just how many pictures of faces without flesh can the American public stand—without running off like screaming zombies? Of what use are these photos to anybody—except zombies and mummies?

Speaking of mummies, has anyone considered this fix for these photos from a vomitorium? Just wrap that torn flesh in rolls of tissue before subjecting viewers to reality. Apply it like any other therapy via PhotoShop. Voila! A new cheap costume emerges. Mummies are identical—except they’re all dried up and locked into stone condominiums.