Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Paterno, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Other Tragedies

"See what a scourge is laid upon your hate..."
One of the most searing lines I've ever heard was uttered by the Prince of Verona at the end of Franco Zeffirelli's epic Romeo and Juliet. As the Prince stood in the chill morning air, and the bodies of Romeo and Juliet were brought before him, with the mournful members of the two families gathered round, he lets them know in no uncertain terms what they have lost by their feuding, and ends with a stirring rebuke: "All are puni-shed. ALL ARE PUNI-SHED."

At Penn State, where football defined an entire university -- and where now in the late evening and morning hours bands of roving students are virtually rioting, overturning a news van, in protest of their hero's demise -- a story is playing out with at least a similar tragic arc to Shakespeare's immortal tale.

Joe Paterno: a lion in winter?
Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in history, has been fired, along with the president, a vice president, and athletic director of the school. More may follow. What was once a storied career at a storied university's epic football program has come to an ignominious end.

A longtime assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, who had retired in 1999, has been arrested on charges that would make him a serial child molester. On at least two occasions, he had been caught in the act on the Penn State campus having sex with young boys. On one of those occasions, in 2002, Joe Paterno was told by a young graduate assistant that he had witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in the showers.

Though Paterno told higher-ups, he failed -- as obligated as a mandated reporter -- to inform the police. So did everyone else in the chain of command, right up to the then and current president, Graham Spanier. Now they're all gone. [Correction: Joe Paterno was not legally required to report to the police, only to his superiors. I regret the error.]

Good, but maybe not good enough. Time will tell. But as an American, and a man, as everyone in this dark failure was, I feel humiliated. This is not about me, but only about my reaction. It just hurts to be once again reminded of the depths to which we can sink and the variety of ways we can fail to live up to simple common decency.

I was a great fan of Roman Polanski and his movies. Chinatown is on my list of the greatest movies of all time. I knew somewhat of his "escapade" with a 13-year-old model and subsequent escape to Europe. And during his long and continuing exile, I was ambivalent until I heard Calvin Trillin's couplet in honor of Polanski's crime:
Why make him out to be Darth Vader, For sodomizing one eighth grader?
Put that way, I understood Polanski should have paid dearly for his crime. He has not.

Sex is a hard topic to grapple with. It is not, however, when children are involved. This makes Joe Paterno and the rest of the players in Penn State's tragedy all the more culpable for their failure to act. Some have been charged, others not. If the rest don't get brought up on charges they're lucky. If they are, even Paterno, it's as it should be.

To clarify: This is not a tragedy for Penn State. This is a tragedy for the victims and their families. For now, Penn State and its football program can go to Hell.

We would all hope this might be the last of this kind of tragedy. We all know it will not.

An unwilling underwriter of Herman Cain's fifteen minutes
In light of the above, Herman Cain's troubles are mild. At Penn State, we had monsters, criminals, and derelicts. Cain, were he in a Shakespeare play, and a comedy at that, he would be playing a fool, like Bottom, Touchstone, or Dromio.

This is not to make light of his offenses against who knows yet how many women -- and still not clear the extent of which -- but his sorry story is likely to play out more as a farce than a tragedy. So, even to give him another fifteen minutes of fame is a waste of klieg lights. He's a pizza mogul and a restaurant lobbyist and apparently a crude and clumsy bungler when it comes to dealing with women. Whatever else he might be, he's not a credible candidate for president. Please, Herman, go away.

I'll wreck the country as soon as I remember how...
Rick Perry's epic fail in last night's CNBC debate in Michigan earns him, for the first time from me, a bit of pity. Watching him unable to name the third of three agencies of the federal government that he would close upon becoming president, I was struck by how human he looked.

I once was invited to sing a song at a funeral of an acquaintance's mother. When my moment at the somber event came, I stumbled over the words and forgot a good part of them. That I'd written the song in question made my failure all the more vexing. To this day, when I recall the incident, I feel its sting.

I disagree vehemently with Rick Perry's ideology and views on almost every topic, on almost every level. But, for a moment, his human frailties, at least one of which I share, made me feel sympathy.

Juan Cole, in his post of the Perry slip, makes a darker, more resonant observation:
Me, I think it was a bad conscience that produced the gaffe. Perry is in the back pocket of Big Oil, which is on the verge of making our planet if not uninhabitable then at least extremely dangerous for human beings. If the nations of the world don’t get serious about curbing carbon emissions immediately, then by 2017 the chance to keep warming to 2 degrees C. will be lost altogether. Likely the world is head for a 5 degree C. increase over the next couple of centuries, and within a few centuries there will be no land ice and sea levels will rise 10-20 meters/ yards for every degree C. of increased temperature.
Perry knows that he is advocating abolition of the Department of Energy for pure greed, and that his politics threaten the lives of his grandchildren (and of the grandchildren of us all) and deep down inside is embarrassed by his motivation. Hence, the suppression of that memory.
 Cole makes a cogent observation. As I watch, day after day, what the Republican leaders of this country articulate should be the policies of this country -- which the dutiful presidential candidates then mouth -- I can only take them for what they portray: cynical, craven acts in a dumbshow meant to guarantee that the wealthy elite, and only the wealthy elite, reap the profits, while allowing their Republican lackeys at least a little taste.

Now that's a keen trick: turning a farce into a tragedy.

Letting the capital markets work their magic

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