Monday, November 21, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (?)

I've always been one of those folks who love the holidays and the holiday spirit.  I know that's hardly unique, but I really have enjoyed Christmas shopping every year.  The crowds and parking at malls aren't ever much fun, but the opportunity to find the perfect gift for the people in my family more than makes up for minor shopping headaches.  There's always online shopping too, but there's something about walking around a mall and shopping the old fashioned way that I can't ever completely pass up.

The last few years my family has had a bit of a tradition of taking our time Christmas morning.  We've had breakfast together, and after coffee we usually put on either A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation on the TV while we open gifts.  We broke out cameras to take pictures of each other while unwrapping presents, and we've usually taken a couple hours doing so. 

This year, things have taken a decidedly different turn.  My parents separated again this past spring - not long after I had lost my job actually - and they're in the middle of their divorce as I type this.  I've kept my nose out of their dealings mainly because I feel like ignorance is truly bliss in this case, but I know it's been taxing on them both, to say the least.  What little I do know about their divorce is that it's been an ugly process (as most divorces tend to be), and it nearly led to my father not attending my sister's wedding in September (though he did still come in the end, fortunately).

The divorce process has cast a fairly dark cloud over a lot of things during the last few months.  First and foremost was my sister's wedding, but there have been other events sprinkled throughout the year that have been affected by their split.  In the back of my mind I've wondered how the holidays would work out given our traditions won't be the same anymore, but I guess I pushed those thoughts aside since Christmas was so far off at first.

I've been talking about Christmas even though this is Thanksgiving week for a specific reason.  Since the Ravens are playing Thanksgiving night, my sisters and I are going to the game, and we're tailgating Thanksgiving dinner in the parking lot.  It's a once-in-a-great-while kind of event, so we couldn't pass up on it.  In a way, it's spared us all from having to deal with the change in the family for a few more weeks; whether that's good or bad is up for debate. 

I've spent quite a bit of time over the last couple weeks on the friends I've known whose parents split when they were very young.  Going through a divorce from the child's perspective isn't easy no matter what age the child is, but I feel like someone whose parents had split when he/she was 6 can adjust more easily than someone who's 32.  A 6 year old will only know the holidays as days to split time apart between parents.  The kid will have house hopped every year, or perhaps even see one parent for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas.  It's more of a shock to the system for me given I'm used to spending the holidays as a single family unit. 

As bittersweet as this year's holiday season will be, I'm not going to enjoy gift shopping any less.  For one thing, I have a niece to shop for this time.  I have to live up to my civic duty as uncle to find some toys for her to play with, preferably ones that light up and make some kind of obnoxious noise to drive my sister crazy.  I've even done some looking online for gift ideas and have something in mind for just about everyone on my shopping list. 

Maybe this holiday season will still be the most wonderful time of the year, just different from years past.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Man Crush

I have a confession to make.  It isn't easy; in fact it's quite humbling to admit this, if not embarrassing.  I hope your opinion of me after reading this post isn't changed too much after reading it.

Okay, here goes.

I have a man crush.  On Tim Tebow.

Whew.  Glad I got that off my chest.

I'm sure I'm not the first guy who's had to admit a man crush on anyone, and certainly not on Tim Tebow.  He's one of the most polarizing public figures in recent memory, mostly due to his religious beliefs and political opinions.  I happen to agree with him in both those areas, but that's got very little to do with my man crush on him.

First of all, just look at him.  He's a good looking guy.  I'm not afraid or uncomfortable to say that.  I'd be pretty shocked if most guys weren't at some level jealous of him for his looks.  He's the type of guy who the NFL could easily target as its next marketing ploy now that both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are nearing the ends of their careers.  But he isn't some prima donna like Alex Rodriguez who's obsessed with his looks.  He's a humble man, and he doesn't let his celebrity get to his head.

Second, he's got a strong work ethic.  The man is ripped.  There have been plenty of young quarterbacks coming out of college who don't put in extra hours to watch film or hit the gym (Michael Vick has been open about his lack of such a work ethic when he was in Atlanta).  Tebow isn't one of those guys.  I read recently online that his trainer told him to stop adding weight to lift when he got to 400 pounds.  FOUR. HUNDRED. POUNDS.  That's about 1 1/2 of me.  He could benchpress me and probably not break a sweat.  And he could probably benchpress a whole lot more than just 400 pounds too.

Third, he's a leader.  During his days at Florida, Tebow got all his teammates to follow him, and he won a national championship to show for it.  He's taken over reigns for the Broncos, and has a 4-1 record as a starter this season so far, which has won over his teammates after having been an outsider during training camp.  He obviously knows how to motivate people around him, and that kind of mentality is very easy to latch on to.

Then there are his aforementioned religious and political beliefs.  I fit a bit of a stereotype in bringing this subject up, but I think it's great that a guy who's well known in the public eye is completely open about his beliefs, even though they're not "popular" among people of similar ages.  There's a bit of a stigma about wearing religious beliefs on one's sleeve, and Tebow doesn't care about any stigma.  He simply lives his life and openly professes his faith, and I think that's awesome.  I share his beliefs, but I can't say I'm as open about talking about them very often (which is ironic considering I'm indirectly talking about them here).  My close friends know what I believe, and if they don't agree with them I don't keep bringing up the subject.  I may be an ordained minister, but I'm not a Bible thumper.  I wouldn't classify Tebow as a Bible thumper either, but he also makes no secret about his Christian faith.  I respect him for that.

What saddens me are the people who dislike Tebow because of his religious beliefs.  They say he has no business kneeling down on the field and praying on the sidelines.  They say he lacks the skills necessary to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL.  They say he's a momma's boy.  I don't disagree that his throwing skills and accuracy need a lot of work, but on that specific note, I humby submit Michael Vick for your consideration.  In Vick's first few seasons with Atlanta, he was an awful passer as well.  He was completely unpredictable in the pocket though, which was why he was a threat.  He could take off and run 50 yards, blowing right past defenses.  The flaw there was that he opened himself up to injury from plays like that.  Tebow is like a Mack truck compared to Vick's Porsche.  Tebow's only flaw is his accuracy, and that can be fixed over time (again, see Vick, Michael). 

Those who dislike Tebow because of his religious beliefs are certainly entitled to their opinions as well.  I get why they disagree with him, and that's their business.  Tebow isn't the type of person who, if he eventually does become a more accurate passer in the league, would snub his nose in his critics' collective faces.  He just takes the field and does his thing.  I'd be willing to wager that if the day ever came where he did have a solid accuracy as a passer, he'd still keep his mouth shut about showing his critics up.  He might still say he has other techniques to work on anyways, and he'd focus on that. 

I've mentioned Michael Vick a couple times throughout this post, and I think he's the closest player to compare Tebow to thus far.  They're both left-handed, unorthodox quarterbacks. Beyond that superficial likeness, Vick really took the negative path in life for several years, and probably was the embodiment of the complete flipside of Tebow.  I'm no Vick hater; he did his time after committing his crimes, and he's made amends.  Vick now understands the demands of his position as a quarterback, and if he had learned those lessons when he was Tebow's age, he might have won a Super Bowl already.  I'm not implying Tebow will eventually win a Super Bowl, but I know I'll be thrilled if and when he does.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Spidey Sense Is Tingling

I'm not sure what to make of this story.

It's not so much of a story as a "thing that makes you go, hmm," kind of thing, but it's piqued my curiosity, to say the least.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, reports came out last week of former District Attorney Ray Gricar, who had investigated and considered prosecuting Sandusky in 1998.  He ultimately chose not to prosecute Sandusky for reasons unknown (which is also curious, but I'll talk more about that in a little bit), but Gricar's story as a whole is a peculiar twist to this entire scandal.

Before I talk about Gricar himself, there's a small backstory involving his brother Roy.  In 1996, Roy Gricar disappeared.  His car was found, and several days later his body was found by a river, roughly a mile away from where his car was found.  His cause of death was ultimately ruled suicide.

Two years later, Ray Gricar was working on the Jerry Sandusky case, and he helped the local police set up a sting operation where they had brought in a mother of one of Sandusky's alleged victims.  The mother had a phone conversation with Sandusky, with the police and Gricar listening in on the conversation, unbeknownst to Sandusky.  During the phone call, the mother essentially got Sandusky to confess to having molested her son, which would normally form a rock-solid foundation of a case against Sandusky.

Except Gricar didn't press charges.  He dropped the case instead for reasons known only to him.

In 2005, Ray Gricar's story came to a mysterious head.  He called his girlfriend one day in April, saying he was going out shopping for the day and that he'd be home later.

Ray Gricar never came home.

Police found his Mini Cooper near an antique store with cigarette ashes inside the car.  Gricar never smoked, so the source of the ashes remained a mystery to this day.  Gricar's laptop was also missing, and two months later it was discovered under a bridge in the river, but the hard drive was missing from the computer. Then in September the hard drive was also found in the river, roughly a half mile from where Gricar's Mini Cooper was parked.  Water damage had ruined the hard drive, so any information stored on there was long destroyed.

Later on, investigators had the chance to look at Gricar's home computer, and what was found on there was even more intriguing: Gricar had been Googling methods on how to destroy a computer's hard drive. 

Let's review what we've got here: We've got a district attorney who had previously investigated Jerry Sandusky, and nearly built a case against him whose body was never found after he had disappeared.  We've got a DA's brother with a long history of mental illness who turned up dead in a river in Ohio.  We've got a DA who disappeared in a similar method to his own brother, and his belongings were mysteriously found in a river as well (though not the same river as where his brother was found).  We've also got this DA researching ways to destroy whatever contents were on his laptop's hard drive, though there's nothing to suggest that the hard drive had contained anything related to Sandusky. 

I'm not one who normally subscribes to conspiracy theories, but I am fascinated by them nonetheless.  Connect the dots on Ray Gricar to Jerry Sandusky, and you've got a great start to a conspiracy theory for sure.  And the amazing thing is, Gricar isn't the only strange case surrounding Sandusky.  There's also a janitor who had been working the grounds on Penn State in 2000 - two years before Mike McQueary had spotted Sandusky in the shower with a boy - and had seen Sandusky with a young boy in a shower together.  The janitor immediately reported what he had seen to his manager, and other coworkers as well.

Why wasn't this case followed up by the police?  Because the witness went nuts and ultimately was diagnosed with dementia.  He's now in a mental institution and under medical care 24 hours a day.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm not sure what to make of all this.  But the peculiar occurrences surrounding witnesses and people investigating Jerry Sandusky sound like what happens to informants in movie thrillers.  None of these details pass the smell test, but this entire scandal has me thinking of a minor line in a movie I had seen, after he had counted up the number of suspects in a case: "Five people make a conspiracy, right?"

So far, we've got Sandusky, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Mike McQueary.  That's five people right there, and I didn't even bother counting McQueary's father, Ray Gricar, the janitor who had spotted Sandusky in 2000, or Joe Paterno. 

I'll still bet money that there are more details to discover as this case eventually goes to trial.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Sum of All Evils

Every now and then, I come across a story that involves a prominent public figure being accused of and/or charged with sexual misconduct.  They can range from the amusing (e.g. Larry Craig or Anthony Weiner), to the embarrassing (Rick Pitino or Marv Albert), to the disturbing (John Edwards).  The latest public case that came out over the weekend somehow managed to transcend all three categories and went right to angering.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted by a local grand jury for a long history of sexual abuse of children.  As sickening as that was, there was so much more that made me furious.  For starters, all the children abused were young boys, typically between 8 and 12 years old.  Sandusky allegedly took showers with at least some of the boys, molesting them in the process (Sandusky is 71 years old now). 

But wait; it gets worse.

Sandusky met these children from his charity called The Second Mile, which provides aid to underprivileged children through interaction, athletics, and academics.  Sandusky had helped found the charity in 1977, and it's a great cause in the local community.  So it only further sickens the idea that he would use his own charity as a venue to undermine the entire purpose of the organization.

Oh, but that's not even the half of it.

Sandusky's allegations go as far back as 1996.  That's not a misprint; they go as far back as 15 years ago.  There are over 40 counts of various misconducts on his part during that time. 

But there's even more to this story.

In 2002, a Penn State grad student found Sandusky in a shower room with a young boy.  The grad student reported the incident to Joe Paterno, who then informed the athletic director.  From there the details are a bit hazy, but a grand jury was formed to investigate the matter.  Allegedly, the athletic director and vice president for business and finance for the university both ordered Sandusky to keep his business off the Penn State campus.  In essence, they chose to cover up the story instead of contacting the police.

Now the athletic director has taken a leave of absence, and the VP of business and finance has retired.  Both men are facing perjury charges for denying the story to the police in 2002, and the entire university's reputation has been tarnished, to say the least (not to mention Second Mile's).

My God, I don't know where to start with this. 

It's amazing that grown adults will abuse their positions and connections to serve their own perverse desires.  I'm disgusted at the irony of a non-profit organization like Second Mile being a feeding ground for Sandusky.  It's really no different than Catholic priests who have abused altar boys behind closed doors. 

Then there's the fact that this behavior had been going on for a full fifteen years before any actions were taken on the law's part.  There are other reports that showed Sandusky was allegedly caught in the act as far back as 1998.  How in the world did anyone in the police department take so long to finally make a move on this guy?  Predators like him manage to ruin life after life while running around freely.

Perhaps what's worse of all was the actions (or rather, inactions) taken by Penn State's administration.  The choice to cover up the case made everyone look guilty, even parties such as Paterno who likely had done no wrong at all.  Their lack of condemnation was essentially a pass given to Sandusky to continue his actions, as long as they weren't conducted on Penn State grounds. 

This was one of those cases where a wrong was committed, and another wrong was done to cover up that wrong, and a third wrong was done to cover up the previous one.  It's the worst of all worlds.  Individually, each sin by itself was reprehensible, but piling each crime on top of one another brought the sum to be greater than the individual parts. 

There's another tragic irony to this story.  The media tends to protect the identities of the victims here, out of respect to their dignity.  It's a generally accepted tactic on their part, and I understand why they do that.  However, by not putting names or faces to the victims, all the general public gets to see is the damage done to Penn State and The Second Mile as organizations.  We don't get to see the real fruits of the hurt and pain caused by Sandusky over such a long period of time.  The true evil nature of these crimes isn't ever fully realized by the public because we don't get to see the actual victims.  Maybe it's better that way though, because otherwise we as a society would become desensitized to truly evil people like Jerry Sandusky.

Friday, November 4, 2011


One of my tasks on my list was to be unplugged for an entire weekend.  When I had come up with the idea, it sounded refreshing.  I could turn off the world for a couple days and relax.  I'd go off somewhere for a getaway, leave my phone at home, and not concern myself with news updates, phone calls, or - GASP! - sports scores.

Then came last night.

I was in my room, minding my own business, completely content.  My cell phone was charging on my nightstand next to my bed.  I looked over and noticed the screen was completely black, so I pressed the unlock button to mess around with the Facebook application. 

And nothing happened.

I pressed it a couple more times, figuring it was being stubborn.  Still nothing.  I couldn't even turn it off.  I unplugged the phone from the charge cord and plugged it back in.  I was getting annoyed.  Finally I opened up the back piece of the phone to remove the battery.  I placed it back in and turned the phone on.  The screen lit up for a moment, but it was still black. 

My phone had become a paperweight.

The best part was that because it was still turned on, it would beep when someone would text or call me.  I just couldn't read any texts or answer any calls.  My phone sat there, laughing at me every time the text beep sounded off.

I went to Verizon during lunch today, hoping they'd be able to fix the problem.  The best option was to replace the phone, so I'm getting a new phone Monday.  I'll be unplugged all weekend, unable to send or receive any texts or phone calls.  I updated my Facebook status to let my close friends and family know I'll be incognito for a couple days, but there are always some people who don't get those messages.

This was not my idea when I thought about unplugging myself for a weekend.

I have to say I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about how dependent I am on staying plugged in.  I'm so used to being able to check Facebook, run my fantasy teams, IM, text, and - oh yeah - call people at will.  I feel lost right now, not being able to call any friends up just to set up plans for the weekend or anything.  If I'm running late, how will I be able to let anyone know? 

Before you say, "This is only for three days, you knucklehead.  Build yourself a bridge and get over it," I am fully aware this is a really short period of time.  I'm sure others have been able to survive much longer periods without such advantages.  Hell, society as a whole did okay without cell phones until about 15 years ago (which kinda makes me wonder just how on earth we got by before cell phones became commonplace). 

Still, I dare anyone who reads this to actually consider just how much you use your phone.  I'm sure there are at least a few readers who are nodding while reading this, thinking, "Oh yeah - I would be royally pooch screwed if I didn't have my phone for an entire weekend!"  If you can honestly say you would be just dandy without your phone for a couple days, I commend you. 

I guess this could count as being unplugged for a weekend, but it sure isn't how I planned on doing it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Was Better Off Leaving My Car Being Registered in Virginia

I'd forgotten how much Maryland loooooooooves to tax the feces out of its residents.  I went to the DMV yesterday to transfer my car's registration from Virginia to Maryland (and yesterday was the last day of my current registration), and about the only compliment that I can pay was that my situation was handled very quickly.  I'm used to having to wait an hour or more in line for my matters to be resolved there, but I only had to wait about 10 minutes before my number was called. 

So far, so good.

The teller typed my info to register my car in Maryland, and I had all the necessary documents to register it.  She did her thing, and then told me my total: $730 and change. 

I nearly fainted. 

Somehow I managed to ask how in the world my total was that high, and she explained there's some kind of excise tax from Virginia for leaving the state, as well as taxes to pay for my car to register it in Maryland.  Nothing like paying sales tax twice for the same car.  I handed over my Visa card to pay for everything, and then she hit me with another zinger: My registration is only good for 30 days, so I have to get my car's emissions tested and come back to fork over another $180 to pay for my full registration in my car.

Remind me again why I switched my registration over?