Friday, October 24, 2014

UNC

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the scandal at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that involved as many as 3,100 students covering 18 years while taking sham courses in African American studies whose primary objective was to inflate grade point averages.

This is particularly significant in light of the fact that nearly 1,500 of those students — about 47 percent — were athletes, mostly from the vaunted men's and women's basketball teams as well as the Tar Heel football team. The easy "paper" courses apparently were designed to help keep academically struggling athletes — some, apparently, who could barely read at an elementary school level — eligible in their sports

Those mind-blowng and unprecedented numbers were released Wednesday following a detailed report by hired investigator Kenneth Wainstein, a former US Department of Justice official now representing the respected law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Now it's the NCAA's turn. Originally an academic issue, the question now involves athletics, and the NCAA is reopening its previous investigation (some football players were provided extra benefits, which led to the dismissal of coach Butch Davis) no doubt using Wainstein's report as a template.

The NCAA? Knees used to buckle when the NCAA threatened an investigation. In 1986 the organization handed Southern Methodist University's football team the so-called "death penalty" for severe violations of NCAA rules and regulations and it took the Mustangs nearly 20 years to recover.

It may be telling to say that that particular "death penalty" is the only one issued by the NCAA to date. Apparently, no other massive violations of the NCAA rule book have occurred since then. Yeah, right.

No wonder faith in the NCAA's mission is faltering. If the primary purpose for its existence is to provide an education for athletes, it better learn to be tough, consistent and fair — and without an eye to revenue producers such as sold-out arenas, television contracts and merchandise licensing. Ah, yes. Money. Always money.

There is a four-year statute of limitations in the NCAA concerning investigations, although there is an NCAA handbook bylaw loophole that states "a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution" or indication of "a blatant disregard for ... recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical conduct bylaws ..." can open and expand an investigation beyond four years.

I think that needs to happen here. We'll see.

The UNC scandal is far reaching. It goes back to 1993. If the NCAA should decide on a death penalty, it could vacate the national basketball championships of 1993, 2005 and 2009, thus tainting, among others, venerable coach Dean Smith.

I have a number of friends who are Tar Heel diehards. Some are embarrassed and ashamed by all this; some defend the school by pointing out this type of subterfuge happens at nearly all major programs (although I'm not sure it happens for 18 years, which implies knowledge and cover-up to keep it going) and so what? I feel badly for all of them who call UNC "alma mater."

A university is also community, so in the end, this affects us all, even if we didn't attend UNC. We should all be appalled. Offended. And saddened.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flu shot

Kim and I went for our flu shots last week.

We've done this every fall for probably the past 20 years.

I think we were scared into it. I remember seeing something on the History Channel about the great flu pandemic of 1918 that infected something like 500 million people worldwide, and killed nearly 100 million of them.

I was learning about this pandemic about the same time that I was getting information from my television that the young and the elderly were the most susceptible to possibly dying from the flu and that it would be wise to get your shot now. That PSA was often accompanied by a video of a crying baby — or a smiling grandmother — getting a hypodermic needle in the arm.

I'm not sure if this is an effective campaign picture for getting a flu shot.
 Twenty years ago, I was in my mid-40s, which even then sounded pre-elderly to me. Kim must have agreed, so we started getting our shots annually. And while we occasionally caught colds, we never got the flu.

Every now and then, our places of employment would offer a flu shot clinic, bringing in a nurse to needle us, or we could go to the county health department.

The last two years, we've gone to our family physician for our shots. This year, I was a little uneasy while sitting in the waiting room. We'd made an early morning appointment and I didn't expect to see many people there. On the contrary, there was a steady procession of folks walking in and walking out the door — presumably, for their flu shots.

There were a few children among them. The kids were sniffling and coughing, and I'm thinking, great, I probably need some kind of shot to protect me from the waiting room. I swear I could see the microbes and viruses flying through the air as we waited.

In due time, our names were called and we got our shots. The whole process took maybe 5 minutes. I felt like I was dong my bit in fighting germ warfare.

Nevertheless, we promptly went home and disinfected ourselves.

What has almost always amused me are the excuses some of my adult friends — who should know better —  have for not getting a flu shot. Some say they'll just take their chances and others claim they actually got the flu after having had a shot once in their childhood, although doctors say this is impossible because the vaccine is not infectious (see here.)

Personally, I think they're just afraid to get stuck by a needle.






Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unexpected gesture

We didn't see this coming.

The other day, I posted a Throwback Thursday item on Facebook about Kim's and my 34th anniversary, which was Saturday.

It was just something nice I wanted to do for Kim. I posted a 34-year-old picture of her smiling broadly in her wedding gown, which I always felt was an absolutely stunning image of her. And with it, I ran a picture of our wedding party, which included our parents and attendants — family and best friends.

Within hours of this post we received a message from one of our newest friends, a woman named Judy who lives in our neighborhood. She came to Lexington several months ago, and we met her on a walking trail.

We learned there are more than a few similarities between us, not the least of which is a connection to northeast Pennsylvania, where I was raised. We have since tried to make her adjustment to a new environment as pleasant as possible, recommending to her anything from candy stores and restaurants to doctors and tire dealers. Kind of a Wehrle Welcome Wagon.

Anyway, Judy wanted to fix breakfast for us Saturday morning.

You have to be married 34 years to get a breakfast like this.
Umm, well, OK. But really, don't go out of your way. It's not like the 34th is a milestone marker or anything.

No, I insist, she said. Do you like sausage?

Saturday morning arrived and the next thing we knew, so did Judy, bearing platters and trays and all sorts of stuff. She needed help bringing it into our house.

Before I knew it, we were sitting at the dining room table. In front of me was a plate with something like a quiche or a souffle (with sausage). It was awesome. Also on the plate were scalloped potatoes, accompanied by red peppers carefully cut into the shape of hearts (for the lovebirds). On the side was a small dessert glass filled with vanilla yogurt and blueberries over a bed of granola. That was followed by little cherry tarts.

The lovebirds — as pictured by Judy.
Omigosh. Kim and I only eat like this when we stay in Victorian-era bed and breakfasts. Otherwise, breakfast usually is a bowl of cornflakes and a peck on the cheek.

All of this gave me pause for reflection. I love my neighborhood. It's the way I remember the neighborhoods I grew up in during my youth. A neighborhood where strangers can become friends and where friends watch out for each other.

I guess most neighborhoods are still like this. I don't know. I think it helps to have sidewalks and houses with porches that encourage invisible invitations and offer limitless opportunities for social gatherings among friends.

I like it. A lot.

But it helps to have a generous heart in the first place. Even if you don't see it coming.





Sunday, September 28, 2014

My feminine side

I was going to title this post "Getting in Touch with My Feminine Side" until I realized it sounded like something I might have to have myself arrested for.

But lately I've become more aware of my sensitivity to the things around me. This awareness could be, in part, a condition of my age as I grow older, although I don't know that for sure.

What I do know is that I've been reading my share of chick books lately. Books loaded with pastel colors on the covers and tons of feminine perspective within the pages. Through the hearty recommendation of a (female) friend on Facebook, I went to the library and picked up "Sullivan's Island" and "Isle of Palms" by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Frank is an author I'd never heard of prior to this, but her work shows up now and then on the New York Times bestseller list. She writes descriptively, with a taste of Geechee and Gullah flavoring, of modern life in the Lowcountry region around Charleston and its environs.

I felt a little funny about checking these books out of the library until I saw on their colorful covers that Pat Conroy, the definitive Lowcountry author, described Frank's work as "hilarious and wise" and that "her books are funny, witty and usually damp with saltwater."

OK, I was hooked. My anima was piqued (the anima, as described by theoretical psychologist Carl Jung, is the female inner personality that resides in the male unconscious. I think it's the anima that makes me cry when my favorite football team loses the big game. For the female, it's the animus. I think. I'm waiting for the animus to tell Kim, my wife, it's time for her to mow the yard). Anyway, I breezed through these two potboilers getting heavy doses of what it's like raising teenage girls, menopause, cheating husbands, small business ownership and what it takes to apply makeup correctly.

Hmmm.

This might have been a little more than I bargained for, although I will give Frank credit for broadening my anima horizons. Kim now has my total empathy, if not sympathy. Or is it the other way around?

My reading list, by the way, still leans to the feminine perspective. I finished and returned Frank's books to pick up the ultimate female Southern epic, Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind." I've never read it, and it's about time I do. I'm just a couple pages into the 1,000 I still have to read, and I can tell right off that we've reached a different level of depth and perception here.

At any rate, I guess I'm glad I've tweaked my feminine side. I'm ready for glorious sunsets, pina coladas on the beach, cuddling, candles, bed and breakfast inns, to pet a cat, to weep at a sad movie, to just go out and smell the roses.




Sunday, September 21, 2014

My NFL boycott

It's Sunday. I'm getting ready to suspend reality and watch about eight consecutive hours of NFL football.

Maybe.

There's a part of me that's thinking about boycotting the NFL today — and maybe longer — thanks in large part to Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer, all of whom are dealing with domestic abuse issues.

They are football players charged with allegedly punching women and beating children. In the pool of NFL football players, those men probably closely reflect the percentage of abusers hiding in plain sight in our own society. So we shouldn't be surprised this horrific behavior also exists among our sports heroes, regardless of what games they play.

As a fan, it's hard to make this work in my head. I actually want to suspend reality. I watch sports precisely to get away from the real world for a while. I don't want the real world to follow me to my safe harbor of limed fields and colorful end zones.

It doesn't make sense to see the juxtaposition of words like "football," "game," and "play" with words like "child abuse" and "domestic abuse."

And yet, here we are.

Sports: people playing competitive games, usually for barrels of money, while wallowing in moments of adulation and self-congratulation — hell, who's really suspending reality here?

I thought sports was supposed to help built character. That's what I was taught in my youth.

If any good can come of this, perhaps it's that the NFL now can use itself as a vehicle to make us more aware of the domestic abuse issues in our society. That seems to be what's happening now — at least, for this news cycle.

And maybe, in the long run, it can be a teaching moment. One that helps to build character.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Asheville

Kim and I took a trip to a foreign land this past weekend.

We went to Asheville.

This is significant because we hadn't been to Asheville in nearly 25 years, despite the fact that it's just a little more than two hours away. Back then, we were the perfect tourists. Our only stop was the Biltmore Estate and we spent several hours there totally not comprehending the lifestyle of opulence.

We never made it into town.

Over the years, we ended up at other destination points, like L.L. Bean in Freeport, ME; Al Johnson's in Sister Bay, WI; the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA, or Earthquake Park in Anchorage, AK.

This time, a quarter of a century later, we were on a mission. One of our favorite music acts, Underhill Rose, is based in Asheville, and we wanted to see this fantastic all-female Americana trio perform on their home turf.

We hit the jackpot. The girls, performing in front of their friends (and, for guitarist/vocalist Molly Rose Reed, her family) were superior Saturday night.

The Isis Restaurant and Music Hall is a restored old-timey movie house in west Asheville that provides an incredible listening room, and you could tell the girls were comfortable there. Everything was perfect.

"A Bed of Roses" served as our weekend home base.
Sunday was our day to make up for all we missed 25 years ago. We stayed overnight in a Victorian-era bed and breakfast (named, appropriately enough, "A Bed of Roses"), where we enjoyed incredible two-course breakfasts.

Our first stop Sunday was the famous Grove Park Inn, a resort built in 1913 but offers all the amenities for modern opulence and indulgence. I think we cased the joint with our mouths agape. You simply can't hide the hayseeds from the silver spoons.

After a couple of hours on the grounds, our next stop was back in town for lunch at a restaurant called The Vault, which was voted to have the best hamburger in town. The voters were correct — might have been the best burger in my lifetime.

The Grove Park Inn is a pretty impressive place.
Next up was the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert. Kim, I think, heard about this place from a friend. The specialty is a "liquid truffle," which on first concept I assumed would be a chocolate candy with a chocolate syrupy center.

Wrong. Not even close.

It's a warm drink — a ganache, really — served in an espresso cup with a tiny sipping spoon that I used to stoke the stuff into my mouth like coal into a furnace. Whatta rube. But, mmm, so good.

We spent more time just walking around town, taking in the Grove Arcade and other architectural sights. Some of the more fascinating scenes were the curbside street performers, musicians of every caliber, dotting the sidewalks. We saw one guy play a small metal washboard shaped like a tie around his neck as a perfect accompaniment to his funky guitar-playing partner.

I wonder if these artists say, "Well, I've got to pay the rent tomorrow, guess I'll go out and play some tunes for a few hours." Wouldn't surprise me.

I also kind of wondered if the girls, in their salad days, were street musicians. 

Other observations, mostly general, probably mostly wrong: all the women have tattoos; there are no older folks — I think this is because to get anywhere, you have to walk on the side of a mountain, which eliminates the 55-over crowd; the sincere hug is the common language of diversified Asheville — everybody gets a hug, whether you're coming or going; Asheville is naturally funky because of the oxygen deprivation at 2,100 feet above sea level.

All of this and we didn't even need a passport.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High flight

The other day my good friend Donnie Roberts, the chief photographer at The Dispatch, emailed me a heads up announcing that the Liberty Foundation was going to be at Smith Reynolds Airport on Sept. 13-14 for the upcoming Winston-Salem Air Show, bringing with it the "Memphis Belle", a restored World War II era B-17 Flying Fortress bomber which appeared in the 1990 movie by the same name.

The Liberty Foundation was offering media flights and would I be interested in going? After all, I am a retired journalist.

Wow.

A promotional photo of the B-17 "Memphis Belle" in flight. Beautiful.
Usually, I would jump on something like that. I'm a history nut and opportunities like this don't come around very often.

But I have a part time job, and the media flights are scheduled to take place during my shift.

I know. This is a weak excuse.

But I have other reasons for backing out.

One of those reasons includes the Liberty Foundation's other B-17, "Liberty Belle", which they brought to the Lexington Airport several years ago, also offering media flights. I tried to hitch a ride on that one, but a mechanical problem with the tail wheel cancelled that experience after the plane taxied down the runway — but never took off.

So I got to taxi in a B-17.

A year or so later, the "Liberty Belle" ended up in flaming pieces in an Illinois cornfield. Uh-oh.



About a year after that, the Collins Foundation brought its own B-17 to the Lexington Airport, along with its B-24, "Witchcraft", which is the only flying Liberator left in the world (despite the fact that more than 18,000 of them were built to bomb Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan into submission). They, too, were offering media rides, and in a moment of serendipity, I was assigned to ride in the B-24.

Rabbit ears come out of my hat as I prepare for my B-24 experience.
It was a cold, overcast November day, but my half-hour flight over High Rock Lake was truly memorable. I got to crawl all over the unheated, unpres-surized plane while it flew at an altitude of 1,000 feet at about 200 miles per hour. I even wore my L.L. Bean bomber jacket for the occasion. (see here).

I think I got a sense of what it must have been like for those boys of the Greatest Generation to fly those impossible missions. It's an eye-opening experience.

But the point I'm making here is that I've already flown in vintage aircraft. I might be at the end of my lucky rope, so why tempt fate any more than I have? After all, these World War II flying museums are more than 70 years old now, and even though I'm sure they get inspected from nose to tail, there's still that vision of an Illinois cornfield in the back of my mind. Metal fatigue, if nothing else, has to be a factor at some point, don't you think? How do you ask an airplane if it's tired?

Here is my ticket stub for my ride in an ancient Ford Trimotor back in 1972.
 The first time I ever flew was in a vintage airplane. This was back in 1972 and an aging Ford Trimotor, built in 1929, had come to the A-B-E Airport in Allentown, PA, near where I was living at the time. They were offering flights for $10. Oh, boy.

I grabbed my brother, paid our money (I was so excited I even sprung for David's ticket), and took a 20-minute flight that probably didn't get more than several hundred feet above the Lehigh Valley. I have it in my head that we probably didn't go any faster than 100 miles per hour, and it may have been even less than that. We did fly over our house, which gave me a whole new perspective on things. Maybe I was given a God's-eye view of my life, I don't know.

I have since learned that only 199 Ford Trimotors were ever built, and only 18 or so are still in existence. And of that number, only about eight or nine are still flying. Talk about metal fatigue... I'm not particularly afraid to fly, but after so many rides in old airplanes, I think enough is probably enough.

Here is a recent video of the very same Ford Trimotor that I flew in 40 years ago. I know it's the same plane because the tail number, N8407, is identical to the one on my ticket stub.  Enjoy the flight: