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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Fringeville #195: New Year’s Day, 2019

I have been on another hiatus, Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. It has been a challenging time for me, one during which I pulled away from virtually everyone except immediate family.

I worked, of course. I worked and questioned every second of it. I’ve been trying to do things the way I have in the past when the road got rough. This meant working harder, earning more scratch, and fighting my way through obstacles. That hasn’t worked this time out. It’s been one step up and two steps back (thanks, Bruce, you always have the right words).

Most of the last fourteen months are a blur, a long smeary streak of work interrupted only by medical misadventures and sanity-saving time spent at church on Sundays. Working harder and harder with a body that’s failing me, bit by bit. To quote my Dad (who was no Springsteen but had his moments), the harder I work, the broker I get. And that’s why I question every second of it.

There’s a voice more and more often whispering, “Surrender!” in my ear. It is tempting at times. Why fight the Universe? It always wins in the end. There is every reason to think it is my year to crash and burn. My challenges are real. 2019 will break me or make me. I know that with a certainty. And that voice keeps whispering to me in soothing tones to just give up, accept failure and crawl off to some dark corner and simply wait for the clock to run down.

Well, I’ve given that voice a lot of thought since Thanksgiving. An awful lot of thought.

So, dear voice of the Universe, here is my answer: respectfully, you can kiss my backside. I’d rather die fighting you than withering away to oblivion. Too many people wither away. I’m going Quixote on you, Universe. Guard your windmills.

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Over the past few days, I’ve reread (for the umpteenth time) Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In my opinion, it is the best book of the series. Perhaps that is because he wrote it while also working on the screenplay. (I’ve read Stanley Kubrick worked on the novel with him, though only Clarke is credited with authorship.)

The novel inspires, haunts and humbles. I am one of those folks who is absolutely convinced the universe is teaming with life. I believe life will be found in more than one place in our solar system. Even if it is only simple life, it is still life. It’s a big deal, and it’s humbling because it will make us all the less unique.

Man first considered the earth to be the center of the universe, then reluctantly passed that role to the sun. The sun was found to be a rather ordinary star, one of over a hundred billion in the boondocks of a rather ordinary galaxy, which itself is merely one of untold billions of other galaxies.

The more we learn, it seems, the smaller our footprint in the universe is. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking mankind is irrelevant.

I see it another way: The universe is teeming with life. Intelligent life, one that masters sophisticated technology, is out there somewhere and those beings, whatever they are, have been dealing with the same questions we ponder: Are we alone? If there are others, where are they? Will we find each other?

That last question is the sticky one. The universe is vast. It also must be considered in four dimensions, the last being time. There is a very real chance that when we finally stumble across proof of intelligent life, we may be listening to signals from a civilization that has been dead for thousands or perhaps millions of years. Or perhaps, just perhaps, they exist still. We may never know.

Should we stumble across alien transmissions from a distant world, direct conversation may be damned near impossible:

Earth: “Hello, friend, I see you’re eighty-thousand light-years away. How’s the weather?”

Aliens (80 thousand years later): “Raining methane. Again. Ruined our picnic. Is Trump still President?”

Earth (80 thousand years later): “Who?”

No, I am convinced we are not alone in the universe. Not by a long shot. But if the laws of physics are set in concrete, we are perhaps forever isolated. Because of that, we have a duty to preserve ourselves and avoid self-extermination. If we can avoid that fate and establish permanent outposts in our own solar system, then the day may come when we slowly spread across the stars and realize the aliens are us. And that we have become eternal.

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I watched Penn State play Kentucky today. Kentucky beat us the way we used to beat people a long time ago, with solid defense, good special teams and an adequate offense. The Lions had a chance to beat the Wildcats today. The Nits had them on their heels. Trace McSorley, their best player, was on fire. And for the second time this season, with the game on the line, the Lions didn’t put the ball in his hands and let him take his best shot. Instead, the Lions kicked a field goal and finally got the ball back with one second left.

That’s why I am conflicted about Penn State’s head coach, James Franklin. He is one of the very best recruiters in college football. He gets the talent. Lord, he gets the talent. 

He can steal it, too. Just ask Rutgers.

A certain running back was committed to Rutgers. He was spirited way by Franklin. That kid, Saquon Barkley, just completed his rookie season with the New York Giants after a legendary career in State College. Barkley’s NFL rookie stats are borderline unbelievable: 11 touchdowns and 1307 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns and 721 yards receiving and zip, zero fumbles. Not a one. (In fact, I think his last fumble was when he was a sophomore at Penn State.)

Somewhere during his rookie season with the Giants, he even managed to make a damned tackle.

Franklin, undeniably, knows talent and knows how to get it. He also manages to lose with that talent far too often when the most is at stake.

I am hoping that Franklin, like many current coaching legends, will learn from his mistakes. I can remember when Nick Saban was mortal. I’m not saying Franklin …heck anyone …can be the next Saban, but I am crossing my fingers that a few years from now his coaching skills will be on a par with his recruiting skills. I can remember back in the 70’s when someone told me that Penn State would never win a single national championship under Joe Paterno. Too conservative. Can’t win the big one. The fellow ended up right, in an odd sort of way: Paterno’s teams won two.

For now, my football season is over. I probably won’t watch the Alabama-Clemson game. The way the system is set up right now, they should just play that game in the first week of September, award the crown, and then let everyone else play their meaningless seasons and go to their bowl games where, if they’re smart, they’ll put the ball in the hands of their best player when the game is on the line.

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And, of course, the one thing I must say to kick off 2019 (no football pun intended) …

…Be good to each other.

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