Prairie View

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vacation Ramblings

I'm thrilled to have had the whole day off today--a benefit of having had the teacher's convention this week, when going back to school only for the middle day of the week did not make sense.  I started it off luxuriously, by sleeping in till 8:30.  I can hardly ever do that.  Even if I don't have to get up, I usually wake up and want to get up.

Hiromi did  not fare so well last night.  He informed me that my snoring kept him awake.  I'm afraid I was insufficiently sympathetic, given the fact that when I came to bed last night he was already trumpeting along at a fairly high-decibel level.  Actually neither of us usually snores enough for it to be a problem for the other at all.  It's when there is just a touch of congestion or sleeping in certain positions that the breathing noise erupts.  I've been known to wake myself up when I snore.  Not this time.

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Twice in the last few days my Mom ended up on the floor, and help had to be called in to get her up.  Once it was during the night, and she fell out of bed while trying to get up.  Linda could not get her up alone, and Dad can't help, since his broken leg won't allow him to stand without support.  She called Shane, and that good man got up around 3:00 and drove to Partridge to help his grandmother back into bed.

Today I did the helping honors.  Mom was sitting down to lunch, and didn't sit back quite far enough in the chair, sinking gently to the floor in front of the chair instead.  Linda and I got her up, with her feet braced against the "leg board" of the kitchen peninsula to provide leverage.

The good news is that she seems none-the-worse for these mishaps.

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Here is a status update I put on Facebook today:

I can now count myself among the fortunate Partridge-area residents who have had a visit from a companionable Roadrunner. He was in the front yard when I pulled into the parking spot near the house early this afternoon. He ran along several sides of the house, and I sneaked inside when he rounded a corner that took him out of my sight. From inside the house, I saw him very close-up several times. What a treat!

Only once before have I seen one--I think.  That was decades ago, and I saw it running ahead of me on Clark Road, just west of Partridge Road.  Others saw a Roadrunner or two around Partridge last summer, but I had never seen those.  They're such funny birds--just right for a comic strip character.

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Our cat is a mighty hunter.  Twice she/he has showed up with a dead rabbit.  One was fairly small and the second one was full-sized.  I didn't know cats could kill full-grown rabbits.

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I'm making dressing balls for our family Thanksgiving dinner instead of the usual dressing in a pan.  I've never done this before, but the trial run turned out nicely.  Each ball uses 1/2 cup of dressing, and is placed on a cookie sheet for baking.

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I really enjoyed the teacher's convention in Wichita on Monday and Tuesday.  Today I finished writing the summary/notes the school board asked for.  I have a feeling they might be sorry they asked for mine.  Too long.  Writing it benefited me greatly, however, so all is not lost.

One encounter at the meeting still puzzles me.  A lady I did not recognize happily greeted me by name and said she had already talked to Wesley, our principal, and she had seen the others from Pilgrim, although she couldn't remember the names of some of the younger ones.  I still have no idea who she was.   I'm not the greatest at remembering faces, but I'm really feeling the need for some explanatory context here, or the mystery will bug me for a long time, I'm afraid.

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Our bird feeders have attracted a plethora of house sparrows and not enough other interesting birds, so far.  Today I saw several goldfinches again, and I've seen a cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, house finches, and juncos nearby.

The birds seem not at all afraid to feed with the cat safely inside her "house" very close by.  I think they can't see her.  The good news is that she couldn't possibly pounce on a bird without making a huge commotion getting out of the house first, so she doesn't pose any danger.

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Dad went to church for the first time on Sunday, three weeks and two days after the car accident.  He used a walker.

They also acquired a car last week, just like the wrecked one, except that it has fewer miles and is white instead of champagne (?).

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Lowell, David, and Larry have returned from India, and the Ellis Miller family and John Yoder family have returned from their far-flung residences.  Misael and Regina and their family plan to arrive after Thanksgiving.

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 Wendell Nisly is leading the singing/scripture reading at our Thanksgiving service tomorrow.  A lot of former Pilgrim students and some Oasis singers will find this a familiar experience.

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A shout out to former composition class students--my own and others--What parts of the class seem the most valuable to you now?  Or what would you have liked to do that you were unable to do?

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After we returned from the teacher's convention, I dutifully took it upon myself to water the plants at school since I knew that no student would be there to do the watering job as usual.  To my surprise, the watering had been done.  If the person who did it is reading this--a big thank you to you.  If you know who did it, I'd be glad to know it and thank them personally.

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Shane now has a live Rock Rentals website.  If you decide to look up the site, be sure to look at the "meet the team" section under the "about us" tab.

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Grant has done some pretty impressive work in fabricating 1/64th-scale John Deere equipment as add-ons to Ertl scale models.  His employer owns equipment like this, and Grant uses it a lot and apparently memorized many of the details sufficiently to copy them painstakingly.  The toys belong to Wyatt of course.  Cough cough.

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Vernon and Grace Miller had a new baby last week--a girl named Eden, according to her uncle Wesley, who is a sophomore at our school.  I forget the middle name.  Sorry.

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Brandon and Holli are getting married this Saturday.  They are both former students, and both have siblings still at our school.

Brandon's mother is our neighbor and a wonderful household helper for me several hours a week.  Because the lady who lived here as our tenant taught piano lessons, Brandon often came here for lessons before we moved back here.  Later, when he was in my food production class, he planted his garden here.  Also, the Nislys often did mowing here in exchange for piano lessons.  For never having actually lived here, they know this place inside and out.

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We have a gyoza-making date with the Jonathan Wenger family and some friends on a Saturday soon.  That should be fun.  We had a delightful feast of Japanese food there last summer, along with kinilaw, a Philippine food prepared by Tonya Martin-Nisly.  The Martin-Nisly family was present that time.  They were our neighbors at the time.  We've both moved since then.

My Take on an American Obsession--Part 3

Is football a violent sport?  If so, is that a problem?  What constitutes ethical/moral behavior in relation to football?  What is right for me personally?  Questions like these can get pretty uncomfortable.

When I watched our students wrestle with such questions, I was heartened at times--when they considered them seriously, examined the evidence, and reached logical, if difficult, conclusions.

At other times, I felt disbelief and chagrin as they resolutely headed down the business-as-usual path, although it didn't work out so well for them, since it usually ended in a very confused speech or paper.  Confusion followed one of two patterns:  1.  Craft a reasonable thesis and supporting points, and then forsake the thesis and the evidence by making a new and different assertion at the end of the paper or speech.  (If it's a speech, hurry through the conclusion as fast as possible, duck your head sheepishly, and grin guiltily at the grader as you head back to your seat.)  2.  State a flawed thesis, and then, in the absence of data to support the thesis, support its opposite instead and never again refer to the flawed thesis.   Data can be such an inconvenience . . .

I tended not to take such confused responses too seriously, (these students are still young and have time to grow up and acquire wisdom) but I heard a more serious view of them later.  I heard something like this:  "Let's pray that they would become willing to follow through on what they know, because it's dangerous to develop a habit of resisting the truth."  I agree.

The crux of the problem with football is that it is, by dictionary definitions, a violent sport.  It is behavior involving force with the intention of hurting, damaging, or killing someone or something.  I can already hear the protests:  football players aren't trying to hurt anyone, much less damage or kill them.  There is some truth to this, but significant evidence is present on the side of intentional hurting, damaging, or killing in the course of playing football.  For fans to argue the contrary view is disingenuous.  Stan Savran, a Pennsylvania sportscaster,  says this (I'm quoting from memory, since the League of Denial book is already back at the library):  "In football, the biggest cheers are for the touchdowns.  But the second biggest cheers are always for the really nasty hits."  Leigh Steinberg, an agent who represented dozens of NFL players, noted that for years the logo that opened the Monday night football broadcasts had two helmets crashing against each other.  The documentary I saw showed a clip of an NFL player, all suited up and ready to play, who said fiercely, "I'm ready to kill someone."

The fact is that, while most football players are not wanna-be maimers and murderers with suicidal tendencies, playing the game well necessitates the temporary suppression of almost all gentle, respectful impulses toward other people, and replaces them with a grim (vicious?) determination to exert tremendous amounts of force against other human beings.  While some of what is involved is undoubtedly the "standing your ground" kind of force, much of it is unmistakably active and offensive.  Tackling another player is not a defensive action.  It is, in fact, a violent act.

Violence against other human beings is always a problem according to New Testament ethics.  Intentional self-harm is also a problem.

While some argue that all of life involves some risk, and football is no different, and, because the game wouldn't be any fun to play or watch without this element of risk, we should all just be OK with it.  Excuse me?  Although some sports are notably more violent than others, in almost no other sport is one-on-one physical assault an integral part of the game, as it is in football.

While ice skating, it's possible for a person to slip and fall and bang their head hard enough on the ice to suffer a concussion.  That's a risk of ice skating.  But banging one's head on the ice is not an intended part of ice skating.  It's possible to break a leg while playing basketball.  That's a risk of playing basketball, but bone-breaking blows to the legs or jolts from landing wrong are not an intended part of the game.  In contrast, the risks of playing football are formidably stacked in favor of damage to bodies because forceful body-to-body contact is an integral part of the game.  Even protective helmets can turn into battering rams.

Probably, for me, the most distressing revelations from investigating the game of football came, not in reading or watching League of Denial material, but in seeing similarities between the culture of violence in first-century Rome and the culture of violence in our country currently. Violence occurs, of course, in many areas other than in sports, but they are not the focus of this post.

In the Roman Colosseum, the gathered crowds were there to see blood sports, either animals killing each other, animals and humans engaged in mortal combat, or humans fighting each other to the death.  Some of our students were quick to dismiss any connection between Roman Colosseum violence and football because the performers in Rome were there through no choice of their own, and football players have a choice whether they play or not.  That those in Rome were coerced and that American football players are not is mostly true.  Players are paid outrageously for playing football, and, for some, the pain seems worth the gain, and they play willingly--although I suspect this is destined to change as more players become aware of the eventual and likely insufferable cost.  Players often really love the game, or is it the glory they really love?  The cheers and adulation and fame?  Maybe it's the aura of uber-macho-ness that trumps all other considerations.

Beyond the varied circumstances for those who participated then or now in violent sports, an even more troubling aspect involves the players/performers/providers-of-entertainment only peripherally. It is the similarity in the appetites and behaviors of the spectators that is most deeply troubling.

Some of my information comes from this book:  Violence and Aggression in Sporting Contests, edited by R. Todd Jewell.  In a novel approach, this book focuses on how more or less violence in sports affects the economics of the activity.  In my own simplified terms, the question the book seeks to answer is this:  What is the exact level of sports violence that makes the activity the most appealing to spectators, and therefore the most profitable?  In most cases, ramping up the violence increases the sports' appeal to fans commensurately, although presumably an invisible threshold exists beyond which a further increase in violence would prompt fans to turn away.

Chapter 2 of the above book is titled A Brief History of Violence and Aggression in Spectator Sports.  The whole chapter is really worth reading and you can do so by inserting that title in a search engine.  It is available as a pdf download.  The chapter opens with this quote by George Orwell, written in 1945:

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play.  It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.  In other words, it is war minus the shooting . . .  Most of the games we now play are of ancient origin, but sport does not seem to have been taken very seriously between Roman times and the nineteenth century . . .  Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country.  It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest."

The "sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence" is the part of the football picture that is strikingly similar to Roman Colosseum entertainment, and it is the most damning aspect of both.  It is no more honorable to delight in watching violence than to delight in engaging in it.  Why do nonresistant Christians not understand this?

The football "industry" grew exponentially when viewing games on TV first become common in the 1970s.  By now sports is a $400 billion gross-revenue-per-year industry.  The movie industry trails very far behind at $10 billion.

In another document,  Jesse Hicks writes in the Penn State News, "American football has many similarities with gladiator games."  "Large-scale sporting events create intense bonds among fans, provoking feelings of belonging, validation and camaraderie.  Individuals feel part of a greater whole, and they feel empowered."

Hicks also quotes Dr. Garret Fagan, who is a professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State University Park, who has written a book with this title:  The Lure of the Arena:  Social Psychology and the Spectators at the Roman Games.  Fagan says regarding football and the gladiator games, "The psychological lure remains much the same."  "This is a very powerful emotional experience."

Fagan again:  "The distance between the Roman gladiator arena and the modern American football stadium is not as far as we might think or wish."  He suspects also that "if we staged a gladiator spectacle and we picked the right constituency to staff it--people who are commonly regarded by society as expendable, such as death row inmates--I think we could fill Beaver Stadium."

One of the questions I asked our students to consider is what single action would dethrone football as an American icon.  One obvious answer is Everyone stops playing the game.  Equally effective, however, and far more plausible as an action we ourselves might participate in is this:  Everyone stops watching or following the game.

For me, this is easy, since I've never really started.  Especially, knowing what I know now about the likelihood of unseen and unseeable injuries occurring in the brains of every player who gets hit or receives a hit, I couldn't enjoy it.  I see too much misery ahead for these players.  For others, however, to stop watching or following football would be akin to watching a golden calf burned and ground to powder and then seeing the powder mixed with water and having to drink it.  Distasteful, to be sure.

My friend was right, you know.  We put ourselves in a dangerous place when we understand truth and turn away from acting on it.  Regularly on Monday nights, and certainly on Super Bowl Sunday next February, many of us will have a chance to act on what we know, or to turn away from acting on it.  I'm not planning to keep track of who does what in relation to these matters, but I think I know Someone Who will.







 


Monday, November 24, 2014

We Have a Winner!

I painstakingly typed out all the names of the people who commented on the blog post about the giveaway of Dorcas Smucker's latest book, Footprints on the Ceiling.  For each person who shared a shining moment, I typed the name a second time.

Then I printed the paper and cut the names apart.  After they were all folded and shuffled and shaken up and prayed over, Hiromi drew out one name:  HANNAH !

I promise that I would have been just as happy if it had been any of the 38 other people whose names were in the mix, but this is a very convenient winner.  Hannah Miller is my 22-year-old niece, and she lives close by so I won't have to mail out the book.  I'll just give it to her the next time I see her.

Hannah told about her shining moment a little reluctantly.  It involved a very fast and dramatic descent to the bottom of the stairs, full laundry basket in hand, and ending with Hannah sprawled across the floor at the bottom.  She wasn't hurt, so every observer could safely laugh at the spectacle.  Better yet, no one in the family missed the irony of Hannah having put on this performance, given the fact that she has been the most diligent of all in issuing warnings to the rest of the family about safety on the stairs.

If you're  not already Hannah's Facebook friend, you really ought to go to her page and see how she looks, all dressed up in 1950s garb for a youth social.  She's wearing a polka-dot dress and straw hat with pink flowers at the back.  She's quite a fetching young lady in any garb, but, with her sister Christy's help, she outdid herself on this occasion.  My nephew, Hans, Hannah's cousin, took the pictures.  If you can't view them on Hannah's page, maybe it will work to do so on Hans' page.  Good luck--and Hannah, Congratulations.

Thanks so much for all of the other 513 people who stopped by the blog on the day the post was published.  I really appreciate your taking the time to do so, especially for those of  you who took the time to comment.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Take on an American Obsession--Part 2

Several posts ago I ended the "American Obsession" one with "to be continued."  Now I'm really trying to build up a full head of steam to get my writing on football done before the League of Denial book has to go back to the library.

The story of a Hall of Fame football player is making the rounds in electronic media.  Jason Brown was offered a 5-year $37 million contract playing for the St. Louis Rams.  He walked away from football to expend his energies in the humble pursuit of farming.  He learned what he knows of farming from the internet, youtube especially.  His North Carolina farm is called First Fruits Farm, and he intends to give away the first fruits of all that is produced to feed the hungry.  This year his first crop, five acres of sweet potatoes, 100,000 pounds, is all going for that purpose.  He has almost 1,000 acres to develop further.  "When I think of a life of greatness, I think of a life of service," he said.  He wants to be successful in God's eyes.  You may listen to the short CBS News clip here.

 Most recently the National Football League (NFL) has been in the news for failing to act decisively enough in penalizing players who committed acts of domestic violence off the court.  A slap on the wrist, and the players returned to basking in the adulation heaped on particularly outstanding players.  This time, however, an outcry from the public did not allow these wrongs to go unobserved, unreported, and un-addressed.  Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner backtracked finally and took measures more nearly in keeping with the seriousness of the players' offenses.

Long before this, even before Goodell became commissioner, when Paul Tagliabue was still in charge, however, the NFL had adopted a deeply entrenched habit of obfuscation, selective research and reporting, and downright deceptive practices when confronted with the evidence of serious brain injuries from playing football.    Creating the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee was the NFL's way of reassuring the world that they were taking the problem of brain injury seriously.  It was a smoke screen.  The head of the committee was a rheumatologist (think arthritis doctor), and the committee churned out a host of "scholarly papers" directly in conflict with the research going on by Dr. Omalou and other highly respected neurology professionals.  I can't see how anyone could read these accounts without feeling revulsion and disgust.  Stay tuned.

Dr. Bob Cantu was a football enthusiast and chief of neurosurgery and chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts.  He had already written dozens of articles on establishing guidelines for returning to play after having a concussion when he was hired as the sports section editor of the prestigious medical journal Neurosurgery, specializing in articles on sports and the brain.  By this time he was president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Twelve different times, other NFL doctors put their own favorable spin on research results, each time submitting evidence to Neurosurgery that football was not the cause of CTE, and, over the protests of the sports section editor (Dr. Cantu), and without the support of the professionals who had been asked to review the article, those NFL-submitted articles were published.  The gold standard for trustworthiness in medical matters is being published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.  Neurosurgery was ostensibly just such a publication, but the peer-review process was reduced in this case to allowing the dissenting doctors to express their reservations only in comments following the article.  All the real experts in CTE were in that category, and their protests were relegated to the status of other "nobodies" who had an ax to grind.  The chief editor of the publication loved football and loved rubbing shoulders with some of football's big  names.  That interest apparently overrode all other considerations on this matter.  The NFL rheumatologist's committee's  viewpoint carried the day on CTE in the Neurosurgery journal.  Understandably, each time a new journal article was published saying that football is safe, the credibility of doctors like Dr. Omalou suffered a blow.

Meanwhile, some former players were requesting disability compensation from the NFL, which had originally offered a retirement plan, but no additional funds for the many expenses associated with a variety of ailments of people with CTE.  Quietly, and on a very different track from the NFL MTBI Commitee, those in charge of making decisions regarding disability payments acknowledged that football had, in fact, caused the debilitating symptoms some retired players were experiencing, and they began to pay disability compensation to those players.  The incongruity of this was obvious--one NFL agency saying football and CTE were not connected, and one NFL agency acknowledging that they were.

On October 28, 2009 NFL Commissioner Goodell appeared in a hearing on football and brain injury before the House Judiciary Committee.  It didn't go very well for Goodell.  During that meeting, the NFL's worst nightmare began with a comment by Linda Sanchez, a Los Angeles Congresswoman.  She cheerfully informed Goodell, that what she was hearing from him reminded her a great deal of what the tobacco industry was saying before a torrent of lawsuits in the 1990s forced them to admit, after many claims to the contrary, that there was, in fact, a link between smoking and damage to one's health.  That analogy rang true on a sweeping scale, and it marked a new day of reckoning for the NFL.

I have no way of knowing for sure what all motivated Jason Brown to abandon professional football when he did, but I have a hunch that his decision owes something to the turn of events on the day Linda Sanchez spoke up.  After that, when the truth became known,  football players, for the first time ever, began to have free access to accurate data about the health risks associated with playing football--because the NFL no longer could squelch the evidence.

In the comments following the Jason Brown story, one person lamented the fact that Brown did not first sign the contract he was offered and get his $37 million, with which he could have done a lot of good, and only then left football to do his other deeds of generosity through farming.  My hunch is that Jason Brown wisely realized that the longer he stayed in football, the more he increased his chances of sustaining brain injuries that would make a long useful life after football an impossibility.  Kudos to Brown for recognizing that, and especially, applause for those researchers who persevered in the face of formidable odds to discover and substantiate that information and publicize it.

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Anyone who has access to the internet and wishes to see a 2-hr. documentary on League of Denial can do so at a PBS site.  Alternatively, nine excerpts from the long version are available on youtube.  Here is a link to the first one.  I watched all of them and recommend them.  We showed the youtube version to the students at school and finished all the segments in under an hour.

To be continued


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Typing Tests

I interrupt the series on an American Obsession to bring you  news of a test of manhood which transpired yesterday during typing class.  You need several details to understand exactly how it happened, in case you wish to duplicate the test elsewhere.

In the computer lab, where typing class takes place, we have eleven very nicely decorated paper-and-book stands to hold materials that are being copied or consulted while typing.  They were a project of the home environment class several years ago, very neatly and cleverly designed by Marvin and decorated by individual students.  Pinched to each stand is a monster clip designed to hold books and papers upright against the stand.  The clip is the black metal-spine type, with shoulder-jointed "arms" extending away from the spine to lie flat on a sheaf of papers, or folding back over the spine to provide handles for opening the pinching side of the spine.

The test of manhood (identified as such by a class member) involved clipping these monsters onto one's own ear.  Only one student passed the manhood test.  He promptly removed it because it really hurt--except that's not how the test was being designed by the perpetrators.

The other three involved in the competition persevered.  They kept typing, but they held their head very still, occasionally submitting reports on how it was going:

1.  Moving your head really hurts.

2.  I have mine on the side of my ear.  I think that hurts a lot worse than hanging it from the bottom.

3.  I think it's cutting off the circulation.

4.  It hurts like pinching your finger in the automatic garage door.  Have any of you ever done that?
(One answer:  I pinched my head in the garage door.  My observation:  That might explain a few things.)

5.  I'm keeping mine right here till break.  Just so you know that you'll lose if you take yours off before then.

Others in the class observed that some people's ears were turning very red.  This could, of course, only be verified if both ears were viewed at once, from the front or back, and required very slow rotation of the head to a viewable position.  This was painful.

Finally one contestant decided to move his clip to the lower part of his ear (from the side), to see if it hurt less there, and he couldn't quite make himself reattach it.  The other clips swiftly came off their respective ears.

More observations:  Your ear is shaped funny now.  It's really red.  It's deformed.

"May I go look at my ear in the mirror?"

"No.  You need to be typing."

"But it's deformed."

Impeccable logic, I know.  But someone in the room needed right then to prove her teacherhood.

Another observation from a contestant:  I'm typing a lot faster now.




Monday, November 17, 2014

My Take on An American Obsession--Part 1

The post that has been jostling traumatically in my brain cells for the past month or so can finally be tackled.  I have refrained, so far, from kicking this essay through the goalposts without first taking stock of how best to score points, and hoping to avoid being totally distracted by the boos of the crowd.  This is about "An American Obsession.*" Football is the obsession.

At school, every expected written and oral report has been written and delivered on this topic, and my lips are now unsealed.  I can write without anyone feeling tempted to parrot my words or see in them fighting words.  I'll do exactly as we ask our students to do:  examine the evidence and draw reasonable conclusions.  I will especially try to avoid what some students did--make a logical case for a particular viewpoint, and then punt to the side at the last minute, refusing to name what any reasonable person would see as the logical followup to that logic, because it was not to their liking.

The article in Time that caught my attention told the story of Chad Stover, a 16-year-old high school football player who collapsed during the current football season on a playing field in Missouri.  He had a catastrophic brain injury, and died days later without ever regaining consciousness.

The Time article did not go deeply into the matter of the brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  For information on that, I read the book League of Denial, which was published in 2013.  The book was written by two brothers who are both journalists.  The book appears to me to be a fine work of investigative journalism.

The title of the book League of Denial refers to the National Football League, and that organization's staunch and prolonged denial of any connection between brain injury from football and a host of debilitating conditions that surfaced in some (about a third) of professional football players when they reached their 40s and 50s.  Besides enduring a great deal of pain from injuries to joints, vertabrae and muscles (and often suffering from poor coordination and difficulty walking), these retired players often spiraled downward in exhibitions of sharp personality changes, cognitive decline (speech and memory impairment), insomnia, and eventually, dementia.  Some of them committed suicide.

Years ago, when the brains of boxers were examined during an autopsy, structures were discovered there that resembled the tau protein deposits found in Alzheimer's patients.  It was informally called Boxer's dementia.  More formally, the name is Dementia pugalistica.  People who suffer from it are sometimes called Punch-drunk.  Common agreement existed on what caused these structures to develop:  repeated concussions and sub-concussive blows to the head.  Boxing as a sport declined precipitously in popularity after the brain abnormalities were documented in 1973.

It was Mike Webster's autopsy that raised the alarm about similar brain injuries in football players, when Boxer's dementia-like structures were found in Webster's brain .  The person who performed the autopsy was Bennet Omalou, an incredibly well-trained Nigerian-born neurosurgeon (this was only one of a number of medical specialties in which he was trained and certified).

Mike Webster was one of the greatest players of his time.  He played for the Pittsburg Steelers.  He died of "natural" causes at age 51, after having descended very far into misery and dementia.  He was on a host of prescription drugs to manage his pain and allow him to sleep.  He was homeless during much of the time in his later years, having left his family and squandered his wealth.  When he was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, his acceptance speech was a rambling disaster because he could simply not keep a thought in his head long enough to finish a sentence.  Webster had come from a humble, hard-working family, and had worked very hard and behaved responsibly in his pre-retirement years.

Dr. Omalou reported that Mike Webster's brain initially looked healthy--not shriveled-up as is the case with the brain of an Alzhiemer's patient.  Almost on a whim, however, Dr. Omalou decided to investigate further.  When he did so, he found the telltale tau protein structures.  They were distinctly different from the structures in an Alzheimer's patient's brain in that they were located in different areas of the brain.  As I recall, they are in the fore-brain in the case of Alzheimer's.  These were elsewhere.  Dr. Omalou consulted with several other brain specialists, and they all concurred that what he had seen was something previously undiagnosed.  They called it chronic traumatic encepalopathy or CTE.

Subsequently, the same conditions were documented in additional deceased professional football players.  At one point, Dr. Ann Makee of Boston University had examined 21 such brains. Twenty of them had CTE.  At another point, there were a total of 38, with 34 having CTE.

It's time for a caveat here.  The survivors who gave permission for a football player's brain to be examined by a team looking for CTE were likely people who had noted symptoms that might have indicated brain injuries, or the players were known to have suffered concussions, so the samples were skewed to favor the discovery of CTE in the examined brains.  On the other hand, it's likely that a host of CTE brains were never examined, for various reasons.

Several atypical cases, however, deepened the sense of urgency these CTE researchers felt regarding the dangers of brain injury in football players.  CTE was discovered in a deceased college player in his early twenties, and then later in a high school football player.  To discover extensive brain injury in such young players was very alarming.  People who know how these things work realized that a young person's brain is even more susceptible to injury than an older person's because of the light weight of the brain and its greater tendency to bounce around inside the skull when a hard blow is delivered.

"Better helmets" is the rallying cry from football players and fans and high school students seeking desperately to find a way to preserve the game in the face of the damning evidence that the game is terribly dangerous for brain health.  The trouble is that this has already been tried--but never successfully.  At one time, Riddell, a helmet manufacturer, advertised their helmet to be sufficiently protective to insure 31% fewer brain injuries.  They were forced to retract that claim after the Federal Trade Commission found no evidence that their helmets had any such protective capabilities.  No other such claim has ever been defended.

In at least one macabre incident, a football player who committed suicide had carefully directed that upon his death his brain should be examined for CTE.  He died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest--a move to preserve his brain intact, apparently.

The fact that CTE, like Alzheimer's, can only be definitively diagnosed posthumously is particularly distressing.  The families of Mike Webster and Junior Seau (an NFL player who committed suicide) both felt betrayed and rejected by the husband and father who inexplicably became irresponsible and uncaring and volatile.  They could not know that injuries they couldn't see were responsible for these tragic changes.

(To be continued)

*The September 20, 2014 Time carried a cover article with this phrase in the subtitle.

Read This and Do Yourself a Favor

Among the sources I consulted last summer in preparation for a class I’m teaching was a small book on memoir writing called Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir.  The book recommended capturing the “shining moments” of our lives, pinning each of them to text so that others can enjoy or learn from them.  Dorcas Smucker doesn’t need this book.  She's already been there and done that.

Shimmering images and shining moments abound in Footprints on the Ceiling, Dorcas Smucker’s newest published collection of stories and reflections originally written as content for a monthly  newspaper column.  Astute observation and reflection and “mad” writing skills are the main things that make Dorcas’ life seem filled with shining moments.  In reality, her life is the stuff of which all of our lives are made.  This is the allure of her writing: we begin to see shining moments  in our own ordinary lives, and a desire stirs inside us to savor and share these moments.

Aging parents, travel and ministry, storytelling tips, picking and preserving fruit, parting and loss, growth and celebration, rest and rejuvenation–it’s all there–and more, and all worth pondering.  Sometimes it’s worth laughing about or crying over.

Many of the stories in Footprints on the Ceiling were written about events that occurred since Dorcas had written the previous column for the newspaper.  Those stories are about life in the Smucker household as it was right then–with a pastor/teacher/grass seed warehouse owner husband and father, a busy-brained and diligent homemaker wife and mother, and teenagers and young adults with colorful personalities entering and exiting the scene at a lively pace.

That isn’t all, however.  Some of the stories in this book happened decades ago, and the telling of these stories is enriched by the view from a distance.  Footprints on the Ceiling refers to one snippet of Paul and Dorcas’ “how we met” saga.   I especially enjoyed the “Off to Bible School” chapter where Dorcas writes of having attended the same school in Arkansas where I attended ahead of her.

I will give away one autographed copy of Footprints on the Ceiling (supplied by Dorcas) to someone who comments on this blog post.  If you include a shimmering image or shining moment story idea from your own life, I’ll add your name twice for the drawing.  Check this space for an announcement of the winner.  I’ll make the announcement on Nov. 25, one week from this publication date, and will seek mailing address information at that time.  If the winner does not come forward for a week following that, I will draw a second name, and repeat that till a winner is found.

Footprints on the Ceiling is available for $15 per book, postage included.  You can mail a check to Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.  US addresses only.  To send a copy to Canada or overseas, email Dorcas at dorcassmucker@gmail.com.

Dorcas Smucker’s blog address is www.dorcassmucker.blogspot.com.

Do yourself a favor and read the book and start following the blog.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Different Kind of Sermon

I listened to last Sunday's sermon from the sofa in my parents' living room.  This proved a bit hazardous, since I was verrrry comfortable, and found myself surfacing several times after having dozed off.  My dad, in the recliner opposite me, was lying nearly flat, with his broken leg resting on stacked pillows, in an effort to get the newly-developed swelling in that leg to subside.  He was too comfortable too, and deeply regretted afterward what he missed.

I'm not sure of the exact title, but the sermon was on business ownership, productivity, and creativity as a way of fulfilling our calling to bear God's image.  The audience was encouraged to consider being in business as something worthy to aspire to in a life of Christian service--a commendable alternative or counterpart to more directly-identifiable service-oriented vocations.  I  had never heard a sermon like that, and have given less thought to the topic than I might have, given the fact that I have one son who is an employee with a business degree and another who is a business owner without a business degree and with several employees.  A third son has spent most of his working years as the single employee in a multi-enterprise business, one of them being farming.  My husband has been an employee in large businesses during nearly all of our married life--with a few short stints employed in small businesses.

On Sunday evening I had a conversation about the sermon with my favorite young business owner.  I guessed correctly that the sermon was an encouragement to him, and we talked about some of the truths we heard and appreciated.  We also talked about some related principles which were not part of the sermon--presumably because there is simply never enough time to say all that might be said.  Also, we all know how wearisome it is to listen to endless caveats which dilute the main points so thoroughly that we almost lose track of them.  Focused speaking demands that we omit some of what might be said.

One of the things my conversation companion pointed out is that some things that often work very well for a business owner work far less well when transferred to community and church efforts, particularly with regard to decision-making and productivity.  I had not thought of that, but the longer I turned it over in my mind, the more I agreed.

Another thing that came up in the conversation is a tidbit of trivia I didn't know:  Center church is the second largest church in the Beachy constituency, second only to Weavertown of Lancaster County, PA.  I heard in the conversation that we ought to be thinking and talking now about what kind of community we want to be, given the reality of our current size--like all those other big communities that we "love to hate?"--or something different, more like what we have been in the past.  I gathered that the primary concern was the possibility of racing headlong after symbols of the status quo, with its presumed paucity of vision and willingness to sacrifice.

Hmmmm.  I didn't say it, but I thought of something I wrote about recently in a "Past-Tense Amish" post.  What are values to be recovered in this department from our Amish background?

I thought also of something LeRoy talks about sometimes--how that often consolidation is not our friend, and how the "inefficient" one-room schools of the past offered a high-quality education in spite of their supposed limitations.  I responded to him by saying that I thought that consolidation is almost always like many other things we do in education.  It has a lot more to do with what is "efficient" or convenient for adults than what is good for children.

The next morning Hiromi clarified something for me when he said that he thinks people often make the mistake of measuring worth by what is produced or controlled, when a better standard is the measure of stewardship--how well one handles what God has entrusted to a person.  The term stewardship has, I believe, for a very long time been uppermost in my thinking about bearing God's image in a vocation.  I remember that when I was teaching in Ohio, the church where I attended asked Dad to come and talk there for a week on the subject of stewardship.  I don't remember much of what he said, but I'm sure I listened, and what I learned then and at other times has soaked deeply into my thinking.  This idea is, of course, not in conflict with what we heard in the sermon, but it represents a slightly different emphasis.

Simply stated, the concept of stewardship recognizes that we are responsible for protecting and making the best use of what God has given us--offering it back to God, to whom it belonged originally, and for whose glory it exists.  This could include abilities, resources, passions, opportunities, training, spiritual gifts, location in time and space, and circumstances beyond our control, etc.  I'm not sure why, but when I told Hiromi how much I liked what he had told me, he seemed blank--as though he didn't remember saying that.  So where did that come from?

I feel some caution about an emphasis on any material thing as something to be pursued, acquired, and highly valued.  Where does that fit in laying up treasures where moth and rust don't corrupt?    Maybe that was covered one of those times just before I roused on that comfortable sofa.

I wonder if desiring things and desiring control aren't already part of our natural bent, and the qualities that must be nurtured in order to fit in with sacrificial service--those things that have historically been more highly valued in our church community than business acumen--are, in fact, worthy of constant encouragement and affirmation.  Yet I certainly agree that a person who places himself at God's disposal and then finds that God places him in a business as owner and employer--that person need not apologize.  He may, in fact, rejoice in God's direction and provision, just as the missionary or teacher or nurse might do.

"Did he talk about providing jobs for others as a benefit of business ownership?" Dad wondered, inquiring about some of the sermon content he missed.  I said I thought he had, but I couldn't remember how the minister said it.

In a later post I wish to dig a little deeper to explore the shape of church/community identity, particularly with respect to group efforts.  I also have an ongoing interest in family-friendly business models, and have written about this before.  Maybe that's worth re-visiting too.

As soon as it's posted, the sermon should be available at centeramishmennonite.org.

How to Make a Stray Cat Happy

When the weather turned bitterly cold this past week, I began to pity the resident feline, which we had mercilessly banned from the house, although the cat seemed quite interested in cohabiting with us.

We left our dog house behind when we moved here from the farm, since we had no small animal pets to provide for, and I had no idea where the cat was finding shelter from the cold weather.  I began to poke around online to see what kind of outdoor shelter might be affordable and reasonable for our cat.  She's large and healthy and friendly, and a good hunter, and we'd like to keep her comfortably and happy.

I especially liked a translucent igloo-type house with a heated bed on the floor--thermostatically controlled, but it cost way too much.  Then I saw a question someone asked about this Amazon product, and it gave me an idea.

I suggested to Hiromi that we could make a shelter for the cat out of a large clear-plastic tote with a lid--like the ones made by Sterlite or Rubbermaid.  We could turn it upside down and cut an entry door into one end.  Rags on the floor (which is actually the lid) would make a comfortable bed.  During the day, solar heat gain would keep it warm, and during the night, with the opening turned away from the wind, the inside should stay comfortable.

Hiromi came home that evening with a 90-quart tote and a commercially-made cat bed shaped like the bottom of a small barrel, with one half of the "wall" cut higher than the other.  It was made of soft fabric, padded, with some stiffening inside to help it keep its shape.  (Hiromi can be a pushover when it comes to making provisions.  No rags for this cat.)

Hiromi had also planned that the door would not be a simple rectangle cutout reaching all the way to the bottom, but a rounded door with a straight, hinged top, so that there would be a strong reinforcing strip left at the bottom, and the door would swing freely in both directions.  He carefully traced around a whipped-topping container lid for the bottom of the door and used a ruler to complete the door shape straight up to the horizontal line that would form the top of the door.  He used a utility knife to start the cut, and then used a saber saw to complete the cut. A few slightly jagged edges resulted, and I had to help stabilize the tote, so it was a slightly messy process, but we soon had a door cut.

Hiromi temporarily used screws to hold the hinge in place while he measured and then shaved a trifle more off the bottom of the door to make it small enough to swing freely.  Next he used rivets to fasten the hinge permanently.  We placed the cat bed at one end of the lid with the low side facing the center, and then snapped the tote on top with the door at the end opposite the cat bed.  With duct tape, Hiromi taped the top and bottom together in several places.

It was already dark and cold when we put the bed outside.  To make it inviting, we put some cat food in a dish and drizzled juice form a can of tuna over it, then put the dish inside the "house."  Hiromi went in search of the cat.  When he found her, he opened the door and shoved her partly inside the house.  She ate the food, standing partly inside and partly outside the house.  She soon escaped.  The next morning the food dish was missing, and the cat was nowhere near her house.

We kept the door propped open, and I suggested that Hiromi might need to take the top of the house off so that the cat would learn to use the bed.  He tried it, and found the cat curled up in the bed when he got back from running an errand.

We reassembled the house and propped the door open.  Eventually we found her curled up inside the house inside the bed.  Then Hiromi dropped the door and shoved her in and out several times through the door.

Since then she comes and goes at will, and seems to spend a lot of time sleeping in the cat bed inside the snug little house.  We're all happy.


Classroom Adventures and Misadventures

I think it's time for a little update on my classroom adventures and misadventures.  One day this week, I surreptitiously compiled a little list of what I observed in typing class.  A day or two later, the class took a rowdier-than-usual turn and I didn't get a thing added to the list--because I was busy trying to contain the excesses.

Today it was a very sober bunch because I invoked the principal's observations concerning that rowdiest of days, and informed the class that what we had been doing was NOT WORKING and something needed to change.  I told them the principal had given me some ideas about what could be done to provide motivation.  I also told them they needed to listen to themselves, note excessive noise volume, and simply pipe down.

I want them to speak the truth--not exaggerate wildly, use "labeling" names or put-downs for each other, tell tall tales, speak sarcastically, brag excessively, etc.  Although saying things that everyone understands need not be taken seriously isn't always wrong, I thought I was seeing that too often it was such things that got out of hand and ended up in disorder.  Saying the things I did wasn't exactly what the principal suggested, and I never did get around to telling them what it was.  I guess that will be a surprise.  Surprise or no, they won't like it much.

Unfortunately the day of "the speech" was bad timing in that, when I referred to some of the kinds of behaviors that tend to get out of hand, I used examples from the current day's events, when things had not actually escalated as much as they often do.  Very quickly, push-back developed over the "rightness" of that day's activities, and consideration of previous excesses and potential future excesses was hard to re-focus on.  No shining triumphs here.

Before I share a few of my  pre-showdown observations, I should add that, for the most part, the class tries to cooperate with what I ask of them.  It's just extraordinarily hard to anticipate what might develop,  and steer things in a safer direction preemptively.

Maybe it really is possible to have all the class members of a certain gender afflicted/affected with ADD.  Maybe this "wired" age-group is more affected by technology than we realize.  Maybe it really is as one of my boys told me recently:  "Mom, you really need to get out more," after I told them about a nasty trick some students had played on another student, and I never thought to blame STUDENTS as the perpetrators when I first learned of the trick.  My boys, on the other hand, saw the end of the story right from the beginning, and were sure that the mischief was student initiated.  So many possibilities, most of them nebulous and even more unwelcome than believing that vigilance and persistence are the main things called for.

Here are some reasons to laugh in typing class:

1.  Because someone else is laughing.

2.  Because you are laughing and you find your own laugh amusing.

3.  Because no one is laughing and you wish to relieve the boredom of endless and repetitive typing tasks.

4.  Because someone else just announced "That was the punchline."

5.  Because one "blow" in a blow by blow retelling of a movie episode has just ended.

Here are some reasons to slap the knee or arm or hand of another, elbow (verb form), or shove the chair of someone:

1.  Because they're in front of you and you wish to move past them.

2.  Because they're beside you.

3.  Because they're behind you and not maintaining a sufficient distance.

4.  Because they are also of the masculine gender.

5.  Because a high-five is necessary--at thunder-clap decibel levels.

6.   Because they slapped, elbowed, or shoved you first.

7.  Because this is all in fun, and everyone knows it.

8.  Because you just found a fly in your covered drinking glass--a situation intentionally created by one of your friends.

9.  Because you just mis-typed a letter because someone interfered with your typing.

10.  Because their knee is touching your leg.

Here are some things to argue about:

1.  Whether penguins have knees.

2.  Whether flamingos have backward knees.

3.  Whether "yeah right" is a double positive or a pun or a sarcastic remark, when the discussion is about the double negatives that are found or not found in various languages, and the scarcity or non-existence of double positives in any language . . . I think I'm getting lost in the details here.

4.  Who started that fight in the fifth grade, which was the only time in history that you have been really mad at each other.  They're pretty sure it was the fifth grade because Mr. B was somehow involved.

5.  Whether your memory is accurate about what you said and saw and thought when you were either the new kid in the class or you were a local kid who encountered the just-moved-in kid.

6.  Whether laying out "juice" in Scrabble garnered 30 or 80 points.

7.  Who started that expression. (Everyone wants the honor for having done so.)

8.  Who talks too much.

9.  Whether there are polar bears in Alaska.

 Here are some reasons to launch into a monologue:

1.  No one else is talking.

2.  You just remembered a joke/story/childish behavior in the very distant past and you want to share it.  (e. g. it used to work really well to cry whenever you wanted to get a sibling in trouble)

Here are some reasons to interrupt:

1.  The person telling the story missed a detail.

2.  The person telling the story has it all wrong.

3.  You're extraordinarily adept at anticipating the story's end and you can't wait to share it.

4.  Something to say just now popped into your head and you'll forget to say it if you wait.

Here are some things to capitalize on in a group setting:

1.  Having someone with whom to conduct a burping contest (when siblings prove to be an uncooperative alternative).

2.  Forming a consensus for activities and attendees at an upcoming birthday celebration.

"You're in bed already?"  Hiromi marveled after an especially noisy day of typing class.

"Yes.  I'm tired."  I wonder how I would have felt if a burping contest had actually commenced during typing class.  I'm grateful for small mercies.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Quote for the Day--Nov. 7, 2014

Tristan (who turned three several weeks ago--he's looking at a big tri-fold advertisement flyer.) :  I'm thinking about my newspaper and it's very COMPLICATED.

**************
The first thing I noticed about Tristan's observation is that he has an amazing grasp of syntax, a skill that all pint-sized language learners seem to absorb effortlessly.

The next thing I noticed is that, uncomprehending as he probably is, he hinted at something that not all adults understand.

It's probably not kosher to talk about your grandchildren in class, but I used Tristan's observation to make the point to my typing students that a simplistic view of current events (such as the recent election) is not a responsible view.

We need a lot more information than knowing party affiliation to know whether the election of a certain candidate bodes well for the future or not.  We spent a little time talking about laudable positions that some elected officials hold, and some that may not be so commendable.  Some of what I pointed out in the latter category were direct quotes in this week's newspaper from election winners, about what they intended to do.

What we learn from the newspaper is indeed "very complicated."  My favorite three-year old is onto something.