Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mild Nebraska January: What we’re in for

Calling this winter in Nebraska mild is an understatement: today I is the third day this year I have worn shorts outside, and a friend on  Facebook posted photos of himself grilling. We’re officially having Indian Summer here in January, and it couldn’t be more perfect.This is what it must be like to live in California or Texas.

What I love about this the most is not the great weather now, although that is great. This momentum should carry into the rest of the year, spring and summer. I keep Gatorade on hand during the winter to power through my work in the garage, but I have barely needed any of it. It takes so much energy to get through winter-shoveling snow, using more gas because you have to drive slower and with the heater on. Now I can put that energy elsewhere, and plus, my outlook on life is so much better.

This morning, I took a long, 2+ mile walk on the trail, and contemplated all that has been going on in my life. I’m working on a Bible study project (which hopefully you’ll read more about soon) and writing this blog, and getting new ideas for it every. I’ve been humbled by all of the view, and I wanted to thank all of you who have been reading this. Today, I have already shatter my record for view on a single day, with a piece I barely promoted. Thank you, and I hope I can keep finding topics that pull you in.

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Here is a shot of the aforementioned Seward trail, albeit from last November.

 

Chuck’s Final Moments (Spoiler Alert): Poingnant or Arrogant?

Now that I’m a little further away from the Chuck finale, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the issues raised by show’s partially open ending. To recap: I was not completely put off by it, although I don’t think that the show had to do it. Judging by fan reaction on twitter and other blog comments, I would say that most fans don’t feel cheated, although hard-core Chuck fans are easy to please. I have seem some comments disowning the ending in the show and comparing it to Lost, but they are the minority. So the ending is generally acceptable.

In this post, I want to address two points: one, the growing number of open-endings in popular television and film, and whether or not an open-ending was appropriate for Chuck.

The Sopranos sparked high controversy with their cut-to-black, and Lost left many of their devoted fans with on the hook with their final scene, compounded by many aspects of their series finale. Inception, the best original movie I had seen in ten years, had to end with attention-grabbing moment. It is as if these writers and show creators have to sit off the side and say, “What ending is going to rile up the most people?”

Now, I don’t think that it necessarily wrong for some shows to end with unresolved issues. I never watched The Sopranos, but I have seen their ending scene several times. Judging the scene on its own, I think it’s great scene of drama, and if the point of the episode was to say, Tony Soprano will always be facing some challenge, the show accomplished that. 24 didn’t have to leave Jack Bauer in a place where he was safe with his family; he could go on the lamb because that was what he’d done throughout the series. And Lost…let’s just say if you were watching that show for answers, you were watching the wrong show. But I don’t know if that is the ending every show should go for. Most comedies and family shows probably give more closure to their emotional relationship, as Friends did with Ross and Rachel (although their reunion should have happened well before the series finale).

That is problem of the series finale: how do you leave fans wanting more, while completing the full story you set out to tell. In the era of twitter and long TV afterlives on cable and the internet, showrunners seem to gun harder than ever for the open-ending. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse even ended their hit show long before they had to because they wanted to control that moment so desperately. But do audiences need to left wanting that much more?

My conclusion: an open ending can be a great way to leave fans, for the right show. But misused, an open ending can really leave a show with yoke on its face.

So take Chuck for example. Should Chuck have an open ending, and should the open ending concern the show’s central relationship? Here’s the dilemma: Chuck is both an action show and a comedy and has as much in common with One Tree Hill as it does Prison Break. Of the fifty-four episodes in the first three seasons, half of them ended on some kind of significant action or emotional cliffhanger. So there isn’t any precedent in the show to say which way it should go. Although if I had to make a judgment, it might have been better to have an ended the show on an action cliffhanger (Chuck and Sarah on the run, sacrificing their freedom to protect their loved ones) then to have an emotional cliffhanger.

But there is a reason to think that the emotional issue was resolved enough. Doug Liman said in his commentary on Mr. and Mrs. Smith that, for him, the moment he realizes that the Smiths will stay together forever is when the couple is hiding beneath a sewer vent from their pursuers and discussing their options for leaving, about ten minutes from the actual end of the movie. All that is really done in those ten minutes is John and Jane learning how to work together. Take that and look at Chuck’s ending: Chuck comes to the beach and tells Sarah he will put her ahead of himself. And Sarah does the hard things for her, which is to accept Chuck’s help. When I see that ending, that to me is the moment that I believe that Chuck and Sarah are never going to split up, and whatever challenges, amnesia, bullets, super-enemies, they will stay together and have each other’s back.

But would it really have been that hard for Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to shot another five seconds, where Chuck and Sarah pull away from their kiss and she says, “I remember”? How can withholding that information help the viewer? They’d spent a whole hour being sentimental, why not five more seconds? While sometimes brevity is a gift, but in this spot, aren’t Schwartz and Fedak being a bit condescending.

Looking back on the fourth season finale, I would have been happier if the show had ended there. Outside of outrage from the diehard Chucksters who would have demanded closure, really there was no reason for the show to come back. The major arcs that had been set-up in the shows beginning had come to fruition: Chuck and Sarah had married, Chuck and Ellie found out about why their family had fallen apart and made peace with both of their parents. Chuck had gotten his opportunity and was now starting his own private spy business with the people he cared about. Other than Morgan getting the intersect (which turned out to be a flat arc in and of itself), there was nothing new for the show to address. That would have been a fun final moment with less controversy than the final moment we did get, all the more reason that showrunners shouldn’t be allowed to say when their shows end.

But this ranting is futile, and there is no solid conclusion about whether or not Chuck and Sarah’s kiss was the right ending for the show. Ultimately, my writing is giving Schwartz and Fedak what they want: debate about their show.

Here’s how I will choose to remember the final moment of Chuck: in the pilot, there was a chaotic case of boy meets girl. The arc of Chuck and Sarah in the pilot were two people who were thrust together who had to figure out a way to work together, in life and death situations. At the end of the show, Chuck and Sarah needed that bond they had forged more than ever, to keep their relationship together. At least what we saw was them moving toward that future, and that is enough for me to say that the show stayed true enough to its tone. When I watched the kiss again, I looked at very closely to see if Sarah initiated any contact with Chuck, and toward the end, I think she did reciprocate a little bit. That in and of it itself is hopeful. And as I said in my previous post (where you can find the video of the show’s ending), when the screen cut to black with the show logo, I didn’t want it to end. Like that.

Luther on Preparing for Death: How Did You Use Your Life?

A few weeks ago, this following quote from Dr. Martin Luther served as the writing for my devotions in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (thanks, CPH). The words stuck in my mind as very harsh, and it made it a point to put them into this blog. (Of course, that was three weeks ago, but better late than never.

“First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentations…”

Those words hit me like a load of brinks. Refuse spiritual care to the dying? Granted, that doesn’t that the pastor shouldn’t go in and proclaim God’s forgiveness to those who are willing to hear it. But walk out if they aren’t earnest enough?

I watch a lot of TV shows where death is a common theme-action shows like 24 and Prison Break, Lost when it was really good. But death on TV  is a plot contrivance, and the writers can indulge, even revel in it. When we watch death on TV and it looks easy, the temptation can be, “Listen, everyone dies. You will too. Get as much fun, however you can define it, out of this world. Then fall on your sword.” That was what Luther was talking about.

I am a twenty-eight year-old single guy, no girlfriend. There are a lot of things that vie for my attention-ESPN Radio, new books on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, new TV on the networks every night, Netflix DVD’s in the mail. I could spend six hours in a row watching Damages episodes if I wanted to.

It is tempting to look out at the world and wonder, what am I going to do? Most people live until they are in their eighties, and I’m not even thirty. I know they say it goes fast, but who am I? I have only lived away from home during the three years of college. The only real work I have done has been in our family business. How do I fill the next forty to fifty years? It is this spirit that tells me that my time doesn’t matter.

I used to buy into it. I would lock myself in my home and play video games all day. I would tell myself I’d earned the break, given how well I had done in college. But after I ended up back at St. John, I was started to be confronted with what was going on in my life. I took on some volunteer projects to fill my time, in the process of which, I found out there were people who were off in worse straights than I was. I realized that God had given me some gifts, and I told myself that I had to use them to serve those around me.

This does sound eerily like works-righteous, or the evangelical mid-set “Once you are saved, jump in the volunteer program”. Anyone who wants to criticize me for that can have at; the relationship between faith and good works has always been an ambiguous one anyway. But God told Ezekiel to warn to the wicked, or else when God struck the wicked, the guilt would be on Ezekiel’s head (Ezekiel 3:18). Weren’t there times when Ezekiel preached primarily out of fear of what would happen to him? Of course, if Israel had fear what God was going to do them in the first place, they might not have gotten themselves into the whole exile-mess. But I diverge.

Back to my point: God calls us to use our gifts when we have the time. He gives them to us as we are, unworthy servants. We use them, because we know that we are saved, and that He will be there with us in the dying moments in this life. For us Christians, those moments don’t have to be the end. They are merely the leaving this time of grace, into His Kingdom of Glory. Amen, and Amen.

The Chuck Finale (Spoiler Alert): Rivers, Roads, and Learning to Trust Again

I still watch a lot of Chuck clips on YouTube, and more than anything else, I find myself focusing on the clips that are about the relationship between Chuck and Sarah, who have chemistry on so many levels. Sarah protects Chuck; Chuck offers Sarah family she hasn’t known before. Sarah teaches Chuck how to protect himself and stand up for himself; Chuck teaches about how to led a normal life outside of the spy world.

What makes the final scene of Chuck fulfilling was that it didn’t end at the moment that Sarah got all her memories back; it ended at the moment where she trusted Chuck again to help her.

As I write this, it has been roughly less than an hour since those final poignant moments aired, and I’m still trying to judge Chuck‘s final episode. On the one hand, I was very pleased with the way the two hours started-Amnesiac Sarah, now turned by Quinn, had been sent into her house with Chuck, in order to acquire the intersect glasses with their data. The situation recreated the same kind of great tension you had in the first and second season, where characters knew secrets the others different and trusted each other at different levels, and you really didn’t know what Sarah was going to do.

What was disappointing about blank slate-Sarah that there were only two hours to play with all that tension. Someone else had written this on another blog-part of the problem with Chuck over the past year and a half was that there were story-lines that had the potential to go two or three episodes or even longer, and got resolved in an episode. Episode nine of season four, for example, where Sarah goes on a mission to rescue Chuck, and finds him by the end of the hour, when it could have thrown in another obstacle or two. It is especially disappointing here, where Chuck and Sarah spend half the season wondering whether or not they want to be spies, that this story could have carried them much longer.

But I digress. The first hour, it actually did tell a good story, in a good situation. But there were certain things that I didn’t buy-one, that after Casey gave her the disc with her video logs, that Sarah would just walk away from a Chuck that was trying to help her, and even more so, that Chuck didn’t fight for her at that moment. One of my personal complaints about Chuck since Chuck and Sarah have gotten together, the producers have almost been afraid to create real, authentic conflict in their relationship. Even the episode entitled “Chuck vs. the First Fight” really didn’t feel like a fight. Now, in the final episode, they created a really good conflict for Chuck and Sarah, and they completely blew it.

The second hour, while pretty good, did suffer a little bit from too much nostalgia. The Mexican restaurant, the Winnerlicious, the mocking of the huge sponsorship deal with Subway-it did get to be a bit much, but that is what a series finale is allowed to. Each of the characters got a sentimental sendoff-the Awesomes to better jobs, Jeff and Lester to a record deal, Morgan and Alex moving ahead with their future, Casey off to find Gertrude. As the hour wore on, I kept thinking to myself, there is more to this arc of Sarah getting her memory back. But maybe that was what I was supposed to think all along.

Now, to the last mission and the last moments. I was wrong on one count in my predictions for the ending of Chuck-the scene with the intersect glasses didn’t snap Chuck out of a freeze that had begun when he opened the intersect e-mail, revealing that all the event of the show had been a dream. But it was classic Chuck-having to make a choice for the country, or a choice for someone you loved. Ultimately, Chuck choose to save Beckman and the concert hall, rather than to try to get Sarah’s memories back, which was the right choice.

I thought that Chuck would take Sarah to the beach right after the car crash in the first hour (which I tweeted out, then someone tweeted back at me that they would go to the dream house. He was right.) But eventually, Chuck found Sarah on that beach, where some of the final moments of the pilot happened. It was the place where Chuck originally began to grow, and where he helped Sarah start to grow again.

So, now for the half of the ending I got right: Josh Schwartz and Chuck Fedak did have to have an open ending to their show, although it wasn’t quite the complete undoing. We leave them, Sarah not quite having consciously remember everything for herself, but heading there I think. We shouldn’t leave the ending of Chuck thinking to ourselves, “Did Sarah get her memories back?” We should leave it saying, “Even if Sarah doesn’t get her memories back, Chuck will be there for here.” After the show, I watched again the moment where Chuck and Sarah hook up for the first time, and it still holds true. I think it will.

It harkens back to the pilot-when the show began, Chuck was an underachieving guy who got thrust into an impossible situation and started to make something of it and believe he could do better than he was doing at the time. It ended with him helping the woman who’d been sent to help him. Full circle-for a guy who didn’t have a five-year plan in the beginning, it was a good five years.

Side notes: The revealing thing about the Chuck fans on twitter was that they did seem quite passive about the show. Granted the tweets were mostly all positive, but there were not a lot of tweets about specific things in the show. For example, when Ellie crashed the car with her and Sarah in it, no one really seemed to acknowledge. Even with an ending that was sure to cause at least some stir among fans, no one was tweeting “you have to give Sarah her memories back! #goodbyechuck”. Proof that the show is ready to retire, if it is not generating real passion.

Detail problem: When Sarah tells Chuck to kiss her, the line should have been “Shut up and kiss me” (the line at the end of the episode where Chuck and Sarah finally hooked up), not simply “kiss me”. Also, I felt like there wasn’t a lot of pop music in the two hours, disappointing given that Chuck used pop music as well as any show I’ve ever watched. Jeff and Lester did sing an awful song I can’t recall, and the final montage featuring “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart really did ring true. It was the perfect song to say good bye to Chuck on.

That leads me to one final point: as much as I complained that Chuck was over the hill this year, when the screen faded to black, I really did want more. That right there is the sign of greatness.

Update 1/28/12: Chuck‘s final moments, courtesy of youtube

Chuck Reminder: A Final Thought

Hey, to all of you who read and enjoyed my Chuck post, just a reminder to check back in after the finale for my thoughts on this blog. If you enjoy the running commentary, follow me on twitter (@DerekJohnson05, link on the side bar), and I’ll be putting out my thoughts as it airs, as well as monitoring the chatter.

In case you haven’t seen it, tvline.com has a series of three articles, which you will find under that link. Most intriguing news Lost‘s Mark Pellegrino, who played an anonymous Fulcrum agent in season two, will be guest starring. Guess Christ Fedak landed a huge break when Damon Lindelof cast him on his show. Frankly, I’m more inclined to believe my theory that the show will end with a what-the-blank moment. But in just under four hours, we’ll all know. Happy watching!

Touch: Kiefer Sutherland’s New, Gentler Dad and Twitter Survey

As a 24-addict, I was bound to turn into whatever show Kiefer Sutherland decided to make next, although I was a little surprised it took him only a little more than a year to do another pilot (given that he could spend the next twenty years being paid by sharp studio exec to read bad ideas for shows). The other irony of his new show Touch is that the 45-year old Sutherland is playing the father of an eleven year old boy. Not as big of an anomaly as when the 35 year-old Sutherland starred in a show where he had a teenage daughter, and the shows timeline ended fourteen years after the events of the pilot/first season.

Second oddity: another action veteran, Danny Glover, joins Sutherland in the cast. Might as well be Angels in the Outfield.

I liked the pilot: I wasn’t turned on by all of the international scenes and didn’t even watch all of them. (Hey, I was making apple kuchen.) The main storyline with Sutherland’s Martin Bohm and his son was pretty good, although Sutherland still exhibits a lot of Jack Bauer’s signature desperation. 24 was such an unique environment, taking place against a ticking clock; Sutherland may be taking on a new show a little sooner than he should, but at least for him, Touch will likely be appealing to a different crowd than 24 did. And David Mazouz, who plays the key role of Sutherland’s son, exhibits the characteristics of the cerebral boy quite well.

But the central premise of the show-in a world where everyone is connected by a thread and certain people are “meant” to met, a mute autistic boy can predict the future using numbers-comes across as a bit stilted to me. Maybe I just wanted to see a few more acting moves from  Sutherland, who plays a hero with only a couple of levels. (24 writer once said that there were only so many ways they could write Jack.) And even though it is a procedural, I feel like this show could really hinge on the payoffs of season-long arcs. But I do think I will try the show when it returns in March.

Surveying #Touch on Twitter (where it did begin to trend), most people received the show positively, some saying it was nice to see a positive-slanting show on the air (the Touched By an Angel crowd I’m guessing) and the Kiefer fans were happy too. But the interesting thing was how the tweets progressed: at the half-hour mark, the tweets were universally positive, but by the fifty minute mark, there was a noticeable minority of tweets starting to say that the show was confusing. Translation: show could have a devoted group of fans, which is what it may have to rely on to push it to renewal after renewal.

Check out the promo for Touch‘s upcoming season here:

Perpetual Students: Beggars at Christ’s Feet, with a word from Dr. Luther

I have a confession to make: there are times when I think that I have learned all of scripture and when it bores me. There are times when I forget the scriptures, would rather listen to sports talk radio, and I feel like I know everything in scripture. These are the moments when I am really a sad fool.

This all goes back to college, when I decided that I wasn’t going to go on to seminary. When I had begun to study Greek, I was really excited about getting to seminary and learning more about the New Testament and what it said. But as the years dragged on, and I moved into the advanced classes, I became bored with Greek, mainly because it came so easily to me. While there were other, more personal reasons as to why I did not go to seminary, my neglect of Greek and Hebrew is a regret in my mind, and I wish I would have pursued those studies more.

Now I’m a guy who makes it to Bible study when I can and listens to Issues ETC. in my truck. Granted, Issues, Etc. provides great teaching to me wherever I go and when I’m at home. I do read my devotions every day, but I still miss reading them in Greek. I guess I have no one to blame but myself for not taking up the study of scriptures. Many are the days when my head is filled with thoughts that don’t matter, even sinful thoughts. But then I remember that God works good even in spite of out sinfulness.

There are many times when I think to a book of the Bible like Romans, and I think to myself, man, I should really know what’s in that book. But I can’t think of it. What I remember now, is Paul begins with the law (the homosexual passages in chapter one get brought up in our current environment a lot), by chapter four he’s discussing the faith of Abraham, then moves on to the law, its place in the Christian’s life, Jews and Greeks, Paul enumerates his heart for his Jewish brothers and sisters, and then his final admonitions and greetings. Okay, so perhaps I remember a little more than I thought, but I just wish that I had more specific verses down in my head.

A few years ago, I bought a bunch of tapes of the New Testament and intended to listen to them in the car all the time, but I eventually got them fragmented all over the place. They helped me a little bit, and now, there are many times when I recall a parable of Jesus when I’m in the car, or out on a walk, or in bed. Psalms are easy to remember too, as well as anything that was put into song into some of the prayer offices I learned in college.

Whenever I struggle with this subject, I remember this quote by Luther in the Preface to the Large Catechism, “But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and ever morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain. And yet these delicate, fastidious fellows would with one reading promptly be doctors above all doctors, know everything and be in need of nothing.” (LC 1, 7-8). It is very comforting to know that I can always be the catechisms’ student, as Dr. Luther was and many after him were. We can never stop learning from the Scripture, never read them enough.

Will I ever go back to the seminary? I don’t know, and that may not be important now; God’s given me His Scriptures to read, and I will joyfully do so

Chuck Series Finale: Will Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak try to be Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse?

I have been a fan of NBC’s Chuck since it began a little  over four years ago. Granted, it has declined in quality, but that was because the show choose to take big risks . The season 2 cliffhanger was probably one of the best two or three TV cliffhangers in the last couple of years, even though it essentially eliminated the series’ best dynamic: a normal guy who was being chased by assassins and relied on shaky alliances with his two handlers, all the while keeping his spy activities secret from his family. Yes, the show has had good episodes the past two seasons and I look forward to seeing its ending, but I’m not among the fans who were clamoring for a back nine this season. Let’s let Chuck retire in peace, remembering that the show almost didn’t get picked up after the season two cliffhanger.

But after watching the promo for the series finale, I wondered to myself: will Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak get greedy and go for a St. ElsewhereNewhartLost style ending that leaves fans going, huh? Example: Chuck and Sarah holding the intersect glasses that say “Activating” in the promo for series finale. Say Chuck puts those glasses and wakes up in a room, where we find out that the entire series was a dream sequence that started when Chuck opened Bryce’s e-mail in the pilot.

My best evidence for this? Watch the series finale promo, where NBC talks about viewers having theories and seeing how the series ends. In the fourth season finale, evil agent Clyde Decker told Chuck (in grandiose Lost-like speak) that all of this stuff had happened to him for a reason,

While everyone who’s seen it has a strong opinion on Lost‘s  ending,  I would say that this isn’t the right way for Chuck to end. Chuck has never been a show where the mythology, while an asset, has never been as much of the center of the show, the way Lost‘s mythology was its center, or the way 24 was centered on its season-to-season terrorist crisis. Chuck was, and is, a show that start with an underachieving guy who was thrust into dramatic situations and had to figure out how to use the talents he had to protect his country and the people around him. I do think that the snow globe St. Elsewhere ending has its place and can work, but Chuck isn’t that show.  Chuck needs an ending that leaves Chuck and Sarah on a beach somewhere.

What do I think will happen? Well, if I have to guess now, my theory is, in the last minutes of the show, there will be some kind of twists that is driven by mythology, although it may not be as radical as I have suggested. Schwartz and Fedak are geek fan-boys, and like most TV writers are jealous of Lost, a show where comic geeks basically got a blank check for six seasons. I don’t think I will disown the show for such an ending, although I did think that Lost would end up being my favorite TV show of all time and I disowned that show at the end of its penultimate season. Most likely, if there is a dramatic twist, I’ll see it the way I saw the ending of Inception: it was one of the greatest, most original big budget movies I had seen in ten years, but Christopher Nolan turned into an attention whore in the last twenty seconds of it.

Whatever the case, at 9 P.M. Central Time, I will look forward to monitoring the twitter chatter once the series final moments have aired. Expect a twitter report here.

Another loose end from the Chuck rumor mill: there are people speculating that a major, with-the-show-since-the-pilot character will die in the two hour series finale, and I have to guess, I would say it’s Casey (based in part on the shot of him in the plane in the promo). I don’t think Chuck would have to kill off one of the regulars: they haven’t killed a series regular in nearly five years, and the only major death in the show has been Chuck’s father. But, like a major bomb of an ending, I would be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt to see how it’s done.

Thoughts as Paterno Has Passed from this Life, and a Few More on those Errenous Tweets

It used to be, before the Penn State scandal broke last falll, I would always get sick of those BTN tributes to Joe Paterno, but now that he has died, I really do feel like all those things have some extra meanings. Jonathan Franzen wrote that when his father died, his memories of him froze in his head. Now that Paterno is gone, I watched all those tributes on ESPN and heard everyone talking about what a positive influence Paterno had on them, I kept thinking to myself, wow, his life really meant something.

(This image comes via the twitter feed of Tim Gilbert [@TimGilb] and was taken Sunday night as fans gathered at the Paterno statue to pay their respects. Gilbert writes for The Daily Collegian, an Independent Student Newspaper at Penn State, and his feed provided some great moments from Paterno’s statue on Saturday night. Thanks, Tim.)
I’m a Lutheran Christian person, and I believe that God works in spite of our failures. As I’ve said yesterday, I have been critical of Paterno’s inaction in the Sandusky case, but that doesn’t have to blur out the positive contributions he made to the people around him, especially his own family. Jay Paterno said to Tom Rinaldi (in the ESPN inteview two posts down from this one), that in his final days as he suffered from cancer, Joe Paterno urged his children not to feel sorry for him and to care for their matters. It must not have been easy for him to give Sally Jenkins an interview, but he did that too, and those two things are the marks of a selfless person.
As a fan of college football, while I am sad today, I am grateful that today, we are remembering Joe Paterno’s best memories, and hearing from many coaches who he made better coaches. Yes, there will be days when we have to judge Paterno’s record, and I will undoubtedly be back here in this space to share my thoughts. But until then, I will be remembering the positives about Paterno.

It was very disappointing yesterday when errenorous reports of Paterno’s death leaked. After my post yesterday, I continued to monitor twitter. Up until 8:45 P.M. Eastern , there continued to be random tweets that referenced that Paterno had died, until finally at 8:45, many news outlets began to go with stories of Paterno’s death (and of course his Wikipedia page was update), until other tweets began coming out at 9 from official sources that Paterno was indeed still alive and fighting.

Here’s a good story that has a timeline of the most important tweets in the false reporting, to its correcting: Link

Ironically, this shows both the power of twitter to get things incredibly wrong and to correct them quickly. As I noted yesterday, there was some simmering on twitter that Paterno had died, which undoubtedly stepped up the pressure on the news organizations to find out if he had indeed passed or not. But twitter also allowed Paterno’s family to get out in front of the story easily, and stop it before it got too far, and saved the family and other news organizations from embarrassment. I’m guess Joe Schad and other ESPN reporters are very grateful now that they can’t break stories on twitter before they are broken on ESPN the network.

Either way, Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde tweeted it best when he said that Paterno’s death was just something any news organization could get wrong, at all.

A Penn State Update in Light of Paterno’s Health, with a Twitter Report

Because my previous two posts on this blog were both critical of Joe Paterno’s decisions (one published this morning), I wanted to come on here now and state, for the record, that those posts were written and uploaded before the news of Paterno’s health deteriorating came out late this afternoon. Obviously, the Sandusky scandal is now second-hand news; let’s all keep Paterno and his family in our prayers.

Brett Musburger said in 2008 radio interview with Dan Patrick that Paterno continued to coach because he feared, in part, that he would die as soon as he retired, as Bear Bryant did. Paterno now is eighty-five, fifteen years older than Bryant when he passed away and both coaches will undoubtedly be linked. There are going to be a lot of people who say this is karma for what happened with Sandusky, and there will be others that link Paterno’s firing to his death and again, blame the Penn State board of trustees. Myself, I just pray that he has peace in  his final moments, as do all the dying people.  Those other things are simply in God’s hands.

Twitter report: when the news broke, Joe Pa starting trending, not Paterno. Comparing the results for Paterno to Joe Pa, those who tweet “Joe Pa” tend to have shorter, sweeter tweets. As of this writing, some people are tweeting that Paterno has died, based on an internal information the PSU campus. Stewart Mandel has tweeted there are no credible sources confirming that Paterno has died.

Finally, let me close with a Psalm: Lord, teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Lavar Arrington and Penn State’s Moral Highground: Overlooking the Weak

After Joe Paterno’s interview in the Washington Post, noted Penn State alum LaVar Arrington offered his perspective in a separate Post column. He basically confirmed everything that was Paterno said, including about Sandusky’s early retirement in 1999 (Arringtons’s senior year), denying that it had anything to do with a campus police investigation into Sandusky the previous year. About half of Arrington’s interview dealt with Parerno’s comments in a thoughtful perspective, but the second half of the piece turned into a biased, propaganda based platform, where Arrington pities his former coach for being the “sacrificial lamb” and blasts Penn State’s board of trustees, referring to their actions as “evil”. This is the best evidence I can find of Joe Paterno being worshiped. Arrington concludes that he hopes time will bring out the truth about Paterno.  (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/hard-hits/post/joe-paterno-interview-a-former-players-reaction/2012/01/16/gIQATXfZ3P_blog.html

Only once in his opening does Arrington mention “sexual abuse”, and never says anything about the victims in the case.

Underlying Arrington’s attitude is an air of moral superiority, that the true Penn Staters would have waited for Jerry Sandusky’s trial to determine whether Joe Paterno did or didn’t do the right thing. Jay Paterno also exhibited such an air in his interview with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN a few days after Bill O’Brien was hired to replace Jay’s father. repeatedly, when he was asked about how he would respond to the questions, Jay Paterno repeated there needed to be time for facts to come out, even mentioning the Duke lacrosse case. He was not asked what he would say to Sandusky’s accusers.

Granted, Jay Paterno will take up for his father, as any son would. But I don’t know what it’s fair to expect of Arrington and other former Penn State players who are now in the media, but I do know this: when they speak on this moral platitude, saying “we are better than you, because we wouldn’t have fired Coach Paterno until it was declared in court that Jerry Sandusky is guilty), likely, they are ignoring the fact that many victims of sexual abuse (especially Sandusky’s) are looking at Penn State and seeing place where maintaining a faith in fallen figure is more important than protecting young children from harm.

I’ve already written about how the grand jury report is enough (Link: http://wp.me/p1ZYxe-3c ). But let me state some facts that have come out: Joe Paterno, as admitted in the interview with Sally Jenkins, listened to Mike McQueary’s reports of Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, and did nothing but report it to his superiors. He did not report it to police or confront Sandusky himself (a fact Sandusky confirmed in his interview with Bob Costas). That is enough for him to be fired; even if Sandusky did not abuse the boy, Paterno had to make sure he hadn’t. Companies and universities reserve the right to do this in many instances, fire employees for conduct embarrassing to the company or university. Paterno’s moral responsibility meant that he had to make sure a child was not being harmed

Even if Paterno had been told that Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy, that in and of itself is a position of compromise. As I have learned from my home congregation, in whose school a sex abuse scandal broke out ten years ago, people who deal with children have to be above reproach and cannot be in situations where accusations can arise. An adult showering alone with a child is certainly a situation of comprise, whether or not anything happens.

The comparisons to the Duke lacrosse case, while similar in nature, bear almost no weight. Duke lacrosse was about a single night and involved questionable witnesses. Jerry Sandusky has eight victims and over fifty individual accounts, plus multiple independent witnesses. That’s a lot of people who have to be wrong, and Jerry Sandusky clearly has terrible judgment.

But all this belabors the point. Somewhere, there are many children who are hurting because of what Sandusky did do them, and until Sandusky has his day in court, the public needs to support them and stop getting up in arms because Joe Paterno was fired over the phone. Their lives are damaged, and they are the ones who need to be in our thoughts and prayers. Joe Paterno has a devoted wife and children, and many other people who support him. It isn’t wrong for the Penn State fan to say that he or she supports Paterno, but to yell for his honor while young men are struggling with the issues from being abused by Sandusky? That is tragic.

Ultimately, what I hope happens is that one of the victims comes out and tells his side of the story. If they wish to remain silent, that is their prerogative; there will undoubtedly get eaten alive by the sick Paterno worshipers.. But, if some of these victims come out and shared their story, maybe people would realize how pointless it is to be taking up for a coach who should have been retired anyway. Will it change the minds of every rioting, screaming Penn State fan? Probably not, but at least it would Arrington’s comments seem more petty and trivial than they already are.

As anecdote, here are a couple of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read in the last few days on Penn State. First one, that is more ridiculous pro-Paterno than Arrington’s piece:

http://www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-joe-paterno-penn-state-cole-yv-0120-20120119,0,2045128.story

And a more well, a thoughtful, balanced piece by Penn State alum Janine White (@phillyjanine on twitter) on the meetings where Rodney Erickson faced the brunt of Penn State criticism.

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2012/01/16/honoring-joe-paterno-answer-penn-state/

Enjoy, and thanks for the great response to all my Penn State posts. Please share them.

Reaction Sally Jenkins’ Interview with Joe Paterno: He was the Last One to See It Coming

Given how much I’ve written on the Penn State scandal, I was quite interested to hear Joe Paterno’s interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/joe-paternos-first-interview-since-the-penn-state-sandusky-scandal/2012/01/13/gIQA08e4yP_story.html ). Upon reading the interviewthere is one specific point that I am even more confident in:  Paterno should have been coaching Penn State at the age of 84, as evidenced how he responded to Mike McQueary’s report of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.


I do not doubt what Paterno said about how he handled McQueary’s report. But what is telling is when Paterno said he didn’t know what to do with that report, so he waited a day to call his superiors. As I theorized in my earlier posts, I believe that this was an issue that Paterno didn’t have a full understanding of given his generation. That isn’t his fault. But there in lies the problem: Paterno was in a place where he was the one who had to know what to do.

Paterno’s explanation mirrors that of Jim Tressel’s, who said he was scared when he first got an e-mail that his players were connected to a shady tattoo artists. Major college coaches do not have the luxury of passing the buck, and if Paterno did not know how to deal with this situation, he needed to step aside. In the situation he was in, Paterno at least needed to his personal attorney or one of his sons, to make sure what was needed to be done was done. And certainly, the most gaping hole in the story is why Paterno never asked Sandusky himself about the incident. Even if the two had drifted apart, Paterno should have known Sandusky well enough to confront him.

This failing on the part of Paterno is really a failing of leadership. Leadership is not the blind wielding of power out of one’s right to do so; it is doing what is best for a group or an institution, even when it means asking for help in a tough situation. That real leadership comes out of humility.

When I read this story in the Washington Post, I wondered to myself if Paterno asked himself with any kind of honesty, if I don’t understand what it means for a man to rape another man, should I really be in a position where I need to deal with it? Sadly, the world had passed him by, and Paterno was the last to know.

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