Monday, August 25, 2008

If I had a bucket list ...

I don't have a bucket list, mostly because I'm not planning to kick it anytime soon. But, if I did, seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert would have been on it. Back in the day when the back row of Mercury newsroom reporters were serious Bruce fans, I never got the coveted tickets to his shows at the Spectrum or Vet. I always wished I had.
Now, some 30 years later, Bruce is still one of the hottest acts in the nation, and last week I reaped the advantage of having a music-lover working son who bought me two tickets to Springsteen in Hershey for my June birthday.
Then, he talked concert promoters into a press pass for himself, so my husband and I even got a chauffeur in the bargain.
Now that I have experienced the phenomenon that has people going back time and again to see The Boss live, I would recommend it for anyone's "list" -- bucket, birthday or otherwise.
These words from my son's review:
"Young children sung classic choruses into Bruce's microphone as he held it in front of their shy faces. Older kids danced with red, white and blue banners wrapped around them like blankets, dancing with one another to E-Street beats. Rabid fans shouted every word to every song. And hardly any one sat down through the music marathon, from the front of the stage to the very back of the stadium.
"It was every bit as intense as most say. From crowd reaction to band delivery."
I have never seen a musician revel in the audience like Springsteen did in Hershey, as I am told he does everywhere. He doesn't throw around comments like "You guys are great" or "I can't hear you!" to drum up the crowd. Instead, he just revels in every refrain, every look, every arm reaching toward the stage.
His svelte figure is on the move the entire three hours-plus, and most of it is at crowd level. He runs, dances and skips, and then reaches deep into the mass of arms and faces to share his microphone with a wide-eyed child.
And, the crowd revels in him, too. Surrounded by the faithful, I felt like the Bruce-concert-neophyte that I am. Everyone knows every word to every song, and Springsteen's storytelling sagas do not lend themselves to easy memory. I was at a loss.
The entire evening was amazing. A full moon rose above the beautiful summer night in this sweetest place on earth, as they say.
As my son writes:
"If I haven't underscored the point enough, the spectacle of seeing a Bruce Springsteen concert with his E-Street Band--whether you own an album, think he's old or overrated or whatever--is something you must behold in your lifetime, while you still can.
"It's not about him. It's not about selling tickets. It's not even about music. It's about life, freedom, and a glowing love to be alive."
It's about a glorious, glory day.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

College drinking

The following editorial is appearing in The Mercury Saturday, Aug. 23. I include it here with the personal observation that if the presidents of either of the colleges my 19-year-old children attend were on this list, I would be very displeased.
I am not suggesting that the colleges on this list condone drinking, but I believe the presidents of these institutions are sending the wrong message and directing their energy in the wrong direction.
I wrote the following Opinion piece as a newspaper editor; I offer it here as a mother.

The college presidents calling for a national debate on drinking age laws are a disappointing lot.
The group includes heads of some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including Duke, Dartmouth, and Syracuse, as well as about 100 other prestigious schools of higher learning.They have put their names on a statement calling for a debate on the legal drinking age -- disappointing because it is a cop-out that fails to truly address the national problem of alcohol abuse on college campuses.
Those on the list support a statement that places blame for drinking among college students on laws that make it illegal, rather than on a culture that condones it.
Pennsylvania schools whose presidents signed the initiative include Arcadia, Cedar Crest, Dickinson, Elizabethtown, Gettysburg, Lafayette, Moravian, Muhlenberg, St. Joseph’s University, and Widener.
The list does not include Albright, Alvernia and Ursinus colleges or Penn State and the Pennsylvania system of state colleges and universities. Neither Temple nor Drexel universities are on the list.
The movement called The Amethyst Initiative petitions lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.
The statement supported by college presidents avoids calling explicitly for a younger drinking age. Rather, it seeks “an informed and dispassionate debate” over the issue and the federal highway law that made 21 the de facto national drinking age by denying money to any state that bucks the trend.
The Amethyst Initiative takes its name from ancient Greece, where the purple gemstone amethyst was widely believed to ward off drunkenness if used in drinking vessels and jewelry.
John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization, said the legal drinking age laws are considered “unjust and unfair and discriminatory,” among those to whom the laws are directed.
Supporters of the initiative say that lowering the drinking age would help because if students were exposed to alcohol legally at a younger age, they would not get caught up in binge drinking when they go to college.
That theory falls apart on several fronts. One is that oftentimes the students who fall into binge drinking habits at college are those who experimented with alcohol in high school. Age is not as big a factor in the abandon of alcohol abuse as the sense of freedom and being on your own that college provides.
The theory also does not take into account that binge-drinking is as serious a problem among 21-year-olds as among 19- or 20-year-olds. And, the statistics that are showing underage drinking reaching epidemic proportions demonstrate the greatest problem is on college campuses.
Is it age or independence that is the trigger?
The one point on which we can agree with The Amethyst Initiative is that the problem is growing worse and cries out for attention. One study has estimated more than 500,000 full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, and about 1,700 die as a result.
A recent Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005.McCardell has said that college students will drink no matter what, but do so more dangerously when it’s illegal.But, Alexander Wagenaar, a University of Florida epidemiologist and expert on how changes in the drinking age affect safety, characterized the initiative as a copout. The college presidents “see a problem of drinking on college campuses, and they don’t want to deal with it,” Wagenaar told The Associated Press.
“I wish these college presidents sat around and tried to work out ways to deal with the problem on their campus rather than try to eliminate the problem by defining it out of existence,” said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health.
The failure is not with the laws that prohibit drinking; the failure is with a culture that does little to discourage or control it.
Making it legal to drink at a younger age will do nothing to make it safer. Quite the contrary. We would expect college presidents to know better.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to the bombardment

My little exercise in limiting Sound Off comments is over -- for now.
The intention was not to restrict opinions, just to give readers and editors and Sound Off administrators a break from two subjects that can become tiring.
There is just something about religion and politics that makes people dig in, entrenched in strong opinions and often stridently insistent. Probably because both are subjects based on beliefs, and therefore no one can ever be proven wrong.
I really don't like to discuss religion or politics, even though I have very definite opinions and strong faith in both categories. I just don't like the debate that either topic involves.
That said, we had our one-week break in Sound Off, just in time for the bombardment of national political stuff that will follow the Democratic and Republican conventions in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned. We may need another break before November.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

No religion, no politics

Just for the heck of it, I am going to sharpen my editor's pencil (okay, so all editing is on a computer anyway) and enforce an edict I am now issuing:
There will be no Sound Off items on the topics of religion or national politics for one week.
That's right: No defending or bashing of either presumptive presidential candidate. Or anyone on the national political stage. Not even a quip about John Edwards' admission of an extramarital affair.
Also, no religion.
I'll allow the complaint in Tuesday's Sound Off about no Bible in a funeral home to check a biblical reference, because that's a customer-service statement. But forget the sermonizing about Christianity versus Buddhism, Hinduism and atheism. We've heard enough.
Sound Off is a forum intended to air questions, complaints and compliments about local issues.
Because the comments are anonymous and are phoned in instead of written, the column is edgier, more honest, and more amusing that letters to the editor or news stories. But, it also runs the risk of being nastier, off-point, self-serving and repetitive.
On some subjects, we just have to proclaim "Enough already!" and move on.
Such has been the case in the past with baseball coaches, the never-ending debate over the legality of turning right on a red light, and some specific dog complaints.
There are other tiring back-and-forths that we have not squelched, but suffice it to say that we know all too well that many of our readers do not like a certain environmental activist group, that not everyone approves of where their neighbors park their cars or how they treat their pets, and not everyone likes to tip restaurant servers.
At its worst, Sound Off is just a string of gripes. But at its best, it is a delightful view of the trivial joys and annoyances that fill our lives here in the Schuylkill River valley.
Returned a found wallet? Look for the owner's thank-you in Sound Off.
Want to see the weeds cut on a public property? Sound Off can get results.
Just want to share some nostalgia or a witty line to make someone smile? Sound Off is here for you.
But as editor, I am exercising my publisher-given rights to a break from two topics that are currrently choking the life out of Sound Off.
No religion and no national politics for one week from today until Aug. 19. If you don't like it, you can complain to me at or call me at 610-970-4470.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A night out to remember

Tuesday night was supposed to be a time of neighborly fellowship at several places, three of them churches, in Pottstown.

Tuesday was National Night Out, the designation for the first Tuesday in August as a time for people in towns and cities throughout the nation to turn on their porch lights, barbecue on the sidewalk, and get to know neighbors as a means of taking back the streets, as they say, and strengthening neighborhoods in a show against crime.

I had volunteered to help out at the Night Out block party sponsored by the Historic Pottstown Neighborhood Association and Zion's United Church of Christ, as I am a member of Zion's and serve on the committee that was working with the neighborhood group.

Here at The Mercury, I assigned a photographer and reporter to visit at least two of the events. Earlier in the day, one of the organizers at the Bright Hope Night Out event called to request coverage, commenting that seeing people coming together would be refreshing news amid the crime and punishment headlines of the daily world.

But, things didn't work out as planned. Unfortunately, crime and punishment prevailed.

Just before 5 p.m., a call was heard on the police scanner, stating that a female juvenile was shot by a man with a shotgun at a home near Farmington Avenue and Wilson Street, and the man fled the scene on foot.

Police reporter Brandie Kessler ran from the newsroom to drive to the scene, and calls went out to photographers John Strickler and Kevin Hoffman. Strickler was home getting cleaned up after covering a smoky fire in Boyertown in which a woman was killed earlier in the day, and Hoffman was shooting photos at the American Legion state tournament at Bear Stadium.

Within minutes, all three were at the scene of the shooting, which was behind Farmington on Poplar Street.

Meanwhile, we listened to the police scanner, following the path of a K-9 tracker and monitoring the locations of police roadblocks and searches.

A short time later, we heard calls for a man found bloodied in the backseat of a car parked in an apartment complex just off Route 100 about 8 miles north of the Pottstown shooting scene.

Kessler and Hoffman traveled to Almont Apartments and confirmed that the man in the car was indeed the shooting suspect police were seeking. Investigators later confirmed his wounds were self-inflicted.

For the next several hours, we tried to piece together the story of domestic violence that escalated to an apparent attempted murder-suicide.

Neither a reporter nor a photographer nor this volunteer ever made it to Night Out. Instead, we spent those hours in the newsroom working on the story of a tragedy, while the community was trying to make a statement against crime.

Just to emphasize the challenge -- or perhaps to move people even closer together -- the skies opened up and it poured on the Night Out events.

Undaunted, organizers moved inside churches, or in the case of Bright Hope went home already satisfied having spent a few hours grilling and getting along.

The irony did not escape us that news coverage of a positive anti-violence event was thwarted because our attention was turned to reporting domestic violence in our town.

This incident involved Tyrone Dalton, a former Pottstown High School sports standout described as a good man and a devoted father and his estranged wife Latanya. In a petition filed in June for a temporary restraining order, Latanya Dalton wrote that her husband had threatened her during arguments.

The petition said they had been separated since March. Their divorce was made final Tuesday.

This incident has nothing to do with whether the streets of Pottstown are safe, nor does it represent a deterioration of society toward crime. It represents a different scourge, that of violence that results when the intense feelings in a relationship twist into rage.

Domestic violence is a crime that occurs behind closed doors, and neighborhoods coming together will not stop it.

National Night Out survived, and we returned the next day to report on the events that made it through the rain. We also returned to follow the story of a careen toward violence from a life that once held such promise as an athlete, role model, son, husband and father.

The two stories exist side by side, one to better a community and the other to mourn the damage to a torn family. Both represent life in our town -- the good, the bad, and the ambiguous.