Joe Paterno’s legacy


I think this is the third time I’ve written about the Paterno / Sandusky scandal.



This will be the last time, I promise.



But I can’t help myself.



So: Jerry Sandusky was found guilty. Then the Freeh report (which, by all accounts, was thorough and fair) found that Sandusky’s crimes were not only known to the University administration – and to Joe Paterno – but that those crimes were systematically covered up by the administration. Most damningly, this was largely at the behest of Joe Paterno himself, who wanted nothing to get in the way of his winning legacy. At one point, the administrators were about to go to the local authorities; then one of them met with Paterno, and some days later informed his colleagues that “we’re going to go another way with this.”



It’s largely on the basis of the Freeh report that institutions all over America, including Penn State itself, have quietly removed Paterno’s name from scholarships and such. Penn State took down Paterno’s statue on Sunday morning.



So it looks as if everyone’s trying to move on.



Except (sadly) for Paterno’s family.



Listen, I understand family solidarity; I admire it. It doesn’t shock or horrify me when a convicted murderer’s mother insists on his innocence. We don’t want to believe the worst of our loved ones.



But the Paterno family’s recent statements are way beyond the pale.



See if you can find the howlers in the following paragraph:



Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being.  How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.



Here’s my list:



        They talk about Joe Paterno in the present tense, even though he passed away some months ago. Just a slip? Or are they implying that Joe lives on as a kind of angelic presence?

        According to the Freeh report, Paterno did indeed minimize the crime of child abuse. He certainly considered it of less importance than his football record.

        Sandusky’s crimes might shock a decent human being – they shock me, and I am far from being a decent human being – but Freeh established that Paterno had a pretty good idea of what Sandusky was doing, and evidently it didn’t shock Paterno enough to remove Sandusky from proximity to the kids he was abusing.

        How did Sandusky get away with his crimes? Well, sugar, he had help. To be sure, Sandusky was dropping clues like bread crumbs all over the place – most horribly, that book of his called “Touched.” But for some reason, every time a little piece of information made its way to the Penn State administration or to the police, something (or someone) brought the action to a screeching halt.



The family’s statements go on. It’s not fair to punish the college, and the students, for what Jerry Sandusky did. How does this benefit the victims? Or the students?



And so, drearily, on.



I don’t like to get too psychological, but I can just imagine what it was like to grow up with Joe Paterno as a father. One assumes that life was all about winning and losing. Sadly, the family is applying that attitude to the current situation.  They do not seem to realize that the game has already been lost. It was lost in 1998, back when their father first discovered that Sandusky was abusing children.



The family needs to retreat, and express sympathy and condolences to Sandusky’s victims, and make a generic statement like “We respect our father’s memory,” and leave the rest to silence.



Silence, in this case, as far as the Paterno family is concerned, would be best.



New Hampshire


Partner and I just came back from a couple of days in New Hampshire.



I have lived in New England for almost thirty-five years, and in that time, I have spent maybe three weeks in New Hampshire. So that makes me an expert on the subject.



Partner and I have vacationed in New Hampshire a couple of times, and went up a few years ago for a wake, and have gone a couple of times just for the hell of it (the state line is barely 90 minutes from Providence).  It always struck me as Massachusetts North: gritty and industrial (at least in the south: Manchester, Nashua).  The state line between Methuen, Massachusetts and Salem, New Hampshire is almost invisible: trees and gravelly hillsides on one side of the border, trees and gravelly hillsides on the other.



If you go farther north, you end up in the White Mountains, which are very Robert Frostish and picturesque. A few years ago we made the obligatory drive up Mount Washington, and marveled at the view from the visitor center.  We’ve been to Franconia Notch. We’ve walked around the Flume, which is lovely (Partner still remembers going there when he was young).  We’ve explored the Polar Caves, which have ice in them, even in August.



But then there’s all the other stuff.



New Hampshire, for some reason, is a conservative state. (I much prefer Vermont. Vermont is like your aging hippie cousin, who’s funny and manic and very liberal; New Hampshire is like your conservative uncle, who thinks Obama is a socialist and a fascist at the same time.) On this most recent trip, I saw Romney signs everywhere. (Have you seen his campaign logo? It’s a double-image “R,” something like the Rolls-Royce logo. I think he’s trying to suggest “Ronald Reagan,” and doesn’t realize that he’s also conjuring up the Rolls-Royce thing. Or maybe he knows and doesn’t care.)



Then there’s the whole “Live Free or Die” thing. It’s on their license plates! It’s the state motto! It’s a little – hm – heavy. (Partner always rephrases it: “Live free, then die.” “Live free and die.” I like his rephrasings better than the original motto.)



Also: there is the Old Man of the Mountain. This was a big stone profile on Cannon Mountain, visible for miles, that looked like the profile of an old man with a beard. New Hampshire still uses it on its road signs (all of the New Hampshire state route numbers appear in an “Old Man of the Mountain” frame). It’s on their 2002 state quarter.



The Old Man of the Mountain collapsed in 2003. It looks like exactly nothing now, except maybe a big pile of rubble. (I remind myself that I grew up within sight of Mount Saint Helens, and it blew up. Then I lived within shouting distance of the Old Man, and he fell apart. Is it me?)



Anyway: New Hampshire is green and lovely and full of wild scenery (if you go far enough north, anyway).



(But I’ll take Vermont any day of the week, if you give me the choice.)



For Sunday: Coldplay performs “Viva La Vida”


I love this song. It’s lyrical and grandiose without being too much so. And the video is spectacular: it plunges the band members into the Delacroix painting “Liberty Leading the People” – same color scheme, same turbulent background – until they finally blow away into ashes.









Tennis elbow


Hey, kids! I just self-diagnosed myself into another interesting condition!



About two months ago, my right elbow began to bother me. It hurt when I picked anything up with my right hand, even small light things. It felt better some days, but then it got worse again. Sometimes it felt like it was burning. (Actually, I think I whammed it into a wall or cabinet around that time. I am extraordinarily uncoordinated.)



One day, on a whim, I asked my student assistant Jake: “What does tennis elbow feel like?”



He raced onto the Net and read the info to me, and showed me a diagram of the bones and tendons involved.






It’s not a big deal. It only hurts once in a while, when I pick something up the wrong way. It’s not a crippling pain; it’s a once-in-a-while ache. It has lots of other names: its medical name is “lateral epicondylitis,” but we can call it “shooter’s elbow,” or “archer’s elbow,” if we are feeling twee.



My friend Matt, the big tough parking cop, tells me that I can buy a brace that will help. I read on WebMD that I’m supposed to rest it, and ice it. My skinny little doctor giggled when I described it, and when I touched my elbow to show him where the pain was, he said: “That’s exactly where tennis elbow pain is.”



I can deal with it. I have gigantic bottles of ibuprofen at home and at the office, and I eat them like M&Ms if/when necessary.



It’s just one more thing in my life, you know? One more small breakdown, one more ache, one more flower in my garden.



From “The Simpsons”:



Doctor: Mr. Burns, I’m afraid you are the sickest man in the United States. You have everything. 

Burns: You mean I have pneumonia?

Doctor: Yes.

Burns: Juvenile diabetes?

 Doctor: Yes.

 Burns: Hysterical pregnancy?

 Doctor: Uh, a little bit, yes. You also have several diseases that have just been discovered – in you.

 Burns: I see. You sure you haven’t just made thousands of mistakes?

 Doctor: Uh, no, no, I’m afraid not.

 Burns: This sounds like bad news.

 Doctor:Well, you’d think so, but all of your diseases are in perfect balance.

 Burns: So what you’re saying is, I’m indestructible.

 Doctor: Oh, no, no, in fact, even a slight breeze could . . .

 Burns: Indestructible. 


Over and out, kids.


Add one bay leaf


My current student assistant, Jake, is thinking about moving out on his own, and is very excited about it. He is hunting for the ideal first-kitchen setup: he already has a microwave, so he’s going to get a toaster oven, and probably a hot plate, and a slow cooker.



Well, my god! What can’t you do with a slow cooker?



I lent him my slow-cooker cookbook, the #1 New York Times best-seller “Fix It And Forget It” (what a terrible name for a book!), just to give him some ideas. He’s pretty excited about the idea of pot roasts, and chicken, and stew, and chili, that pretty much make themselves (which is the whole charm of the slow cooker, of course).



I was describing my various pot-roast attempts to him, then said: “Do you have any bay leaves in the house?”



“Any what?” he said uncertainly.



Well, to be fair, neither did I until I was at least in my thirties. I considered that they were a kind of joke, or hoax. “Add one bay leaf.” Really? One little frail-looking bay leaf? And it’s gonna do something magical to the pot roast, or the stew, or the whatever?



But it does. There’s a fragrance, or an earthiness, to it. Bay, after all, is laurel. The Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece used to breathe the smoke of burning laurel to put herself into a trance. Most of the Mediterranean cultures cook with it (cautiously, one bay leaf at a time). There’s gotta be something in there.



The only way to find out, really, is to make a pot roast without adding a bay leaf.



And I am reluctant to do that.



It’s the one thing necessary, to quote Jesus. It’s the magical ingredient. It’s the lucky charm that makes your pot roast tender and succulent and fragrantly delicious.



Who are you to doubt three thousand years of culinary tradition?



Add one bay leaf.


Summer heat


It has been very hot in Providence this summer.  This week was pretty awful: mid-90s, high humidity. The air was like the water in a dirty aquarium: warm, and thick, and most likely toxic. Yesterday morning, walking to work, I was sweating like a Teamster. I was carrying a blue-covered library book, and when I got to work I found that it had left blue dye all over my lovely rose-pink shirt. At one point downtown I realized that the temperature inside my body was almost the same as the temperature outside my body; I had the creepy feeling that I didn’t know where my body left off and the outside world began.



I know, however, that we have it easy compared to other parts of the country. We haven’t had any really horrible storms (although lightning did strike our building a while back). We are not spontaneously combusting, like Colorado. We are not getting flash floods, like Arizona.



Still, it’s pretty icky and nasty here.



I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, green and mild, where 80 degrees was considered steamy. (On my first trip to the Northwest with Partner in 2001, we were in Seattle during a (mild) heatwave – mid-80s! – and everyone was apologizing to us for the heat.) Then I came here, to Southern New England, where the winters are bitter and the summers are ferocious, and I suffer every day. (Except during the long beautiful autumn and the brief gorgeous spring.)



I take it easy on these hot days. I drink lots of water and move slowly. (Last summer, I nearly dehydrated myself on a hot summer day, and came close to collapsing. I will not do that again.) On Monday, one of my student employees, an athlete in training, overdid it during an afternoon workout; he spent the evening retching and the next day recuperating. (I told him to hydrate and not overexert himself. These kids don’t listen to me. I lectured him on this yesterday, and he heard me out very meekly, but I doubt that he’s learned his lesson.)



Global warming? Oh, wait, we call it “climate change” now. Nah. Couldn’t be.



As I said to Apollonia the other day: this is good practice for Hell, when we finally get there.



From the Book of Jonah, Chapter Four (King James Version, naturally):



So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 



Speaking for myself: I would be exceeding glad of a gourd right about now.



The Presidential campaign: an update


I don’t write about politics very often. It doesn’t win me many friends. The people who agree with me still agree with me, and the people who disagree – well, they can just shut their pieholes.



But I cannot resist commenting on the past week’s Presidential-campaign events, which have been truly delicious.



The overture was Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP. “ROMNEY IN THE LION’S DEN!” trumpeted any number of commentators. See? Mitt is the prophet Daniel, and the NAACP were the lions, or the Persians, or the Assyrians, or something. Anyway, it didn’t take long to see that Mitt was using this as an opportunity to show his (white) supporters that he isn’t going to take any backtalk from any (nonwhite) minority groups when he becomes President. It reminded me of those wonderful moments in professional wrestling when the villain grabs the microphone from the scrawny announcer and begins to berate the audience. He knows they hate him. That’s what it’s all about.



This is an interesting campaign strategy, trying to win the Presidency with not a single minority vote. (Mitt might still pick a ringer for VP, like Marco Rubio, but I doubt it; it’ll be a whitey like him and me, like Pawlenty or Ryan (well, Ryan sounds Irish, so I don’t know), or that guy from Ohio that no one’s ever heard of. Absolutely not a woman. Not Sarah Palin, and not Condi Rice. She’s pro-choice! She’s been on “30 Rock”! She’s black!)



Then there was the call for Mitt to release his tax returns. He will not, will not, do it. (Do you wonder what’s in them? So do I. I’m not normally eager to read other people’s tax returns, but these I’ll take a glance at.) Speculation is running wild. Were there years in which he paid no tax at all? Quite possible. Would the itemizations yield up interesting facts about the Romney fortune? Also quite possible.



There was a day or two of Mitt looking strangled and hopeless over this issue. Then the GOP figured out its riposte: OBAMA ISN’T AN AMERICAN!



Yes, you heard me.



Mitt called his policies “foreign” in a speech a day or two ago. John Sununu said that he wished “Obama would learn how to be an American.” (John Sununu, by the way, is an Arab-American. You would think – wouldn’t you? – that an Arab-American would realize that this kind of rhetoric can be inflammatory.  Apparently not.) Sununu said lots of other unkind things. Obama’s team are “liars” (because the Obama campaign has said – with perfect reasonableness, and in the absence of any extenuating evidence – that, if Romney lied about his status at Bain on his tax returns, it might have been a felony. Naturally this can be disproven if Romney were to release his returns.). Also: Obama has “demonized success.” (Not at all. Would that we could all be as wealthy as Mitt Romney! Of course, he inherited part of his fortune, and his handsome sons will inherit even more, from all those fat Swiss / Cayman bank accounts.)



Most deliciously: Rush Limbaugh has decried the new Batman movie, because the villain’s name is Bane. Obviously this is a reference to Bain Capital. (One Tumblr wit pointed out that, since the Batman villain Bane is a fat drug user who was popular in the 1990s, you’d think that Rush would like him.)



Oh, it’s all pretty funny.



So why am I not laughing?


%d bloggers like this: