Friday, July 27, 2012

a newspaper column about our attempts to fix it, whatever "it" is

Editor's note: This week's column from the St. Clair Times was actually borne out of my ambivalence to the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State, which in my mind sort of diminished the tragedy of the offenses committed by punishing ... the football team (for the best take on this, read Spencer Hall's excellent piece from Monday). As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts here or on Twitter.
Nothing left to do but mourn

In these days, when darkness falls early
And people rush home to the ones they love
You better take a fool’s advice
And take care of your own
Cause one day they’re here, next day they’re gone

In one of my favorite episodes of the popular television show “Family Guy,” the main character becomes a lobbyist for a cigarette company.

He spends some time in Washington schmoozing with politicians to relax federal regulations on tobacco, before snapping out of it near the end and decrying the dangers of cigarettes during public testimony. As the easily swayed Congressmen begin to join the chorus, one steps to the microphone to give them what they want.

“Gentlemen,” he says. “I propose we send a message to tobacco companies everywhere by fining the El Dorado Cigarette Company Infinity Billion Dollars.”

One of his colleagues quickly says he admires his sentiments, but “I think a real number might actually be more effective.”

The cartoon Congressman’s sentiment is not uncommon. We see tragedy and terrible things in our world, we feel we’ve got to do something – either to punish the people responsible, or to prevent things from ever happening again.

In the aftermath the terrible events of last week in Colorado — in which an insane gunman opened fire in a crowded theater during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” — the inevitable call for us to DO something has come.

We should have tougher gun laws. We should have fewer gun laws. Mental health facilities should be better. Our families are too weak.

It has happened many times over to Penn State University, cemented Monday when the NCAA kicked the final bit of sand over the whole thing. Does it matter that the NCAA was probably way outside its jurisdiction here, and that the penalties (mostly self-imposed) amounted to little more than a tomato thrown at a man already in the stocks?

It does not matter. Because we know we must DO something, even if it’s fining the athletic department infinity billion dollars and taking away all their toys.

Reactionary action is, of course, part of the healing process. We can’t accept that there is no suitable punishment or remedy — at least not on this ethereal plane — for the sickness of humanity. We have to DO something.

My mother is fond of saying, “Something good comes out of everything.” I hope she is right. Because today, all our empty talk of remedies and punishments seems like just that.

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