To keep Penn State great

I don’t know the author of the poem I’m sharing here, but I in light of the five year anniversary of Joe Paterno’s death I wanted to share it. I first received this in an email in July 2012, months after the coach had died and just as the (since repudiated) Freeh Report was making its impact. It was a dark time for Penn Staters, when a poorly managed crisis was leading to so much institutional destruction and heartache that continues to provide the basis for confusion. This captures a time that I’m thankful is behind us, though the rebuilding will take the rest of my life.

The witchhunt is over
The mob got their wish
To land a defenseless
Carcass on their dish

Because no one would stop them
No one would say
There are still unheard players
In this tragic play

So they asked for an arm
And a leg and a head
And were given a statue
While all our hearts bled

The hypocrites blathered
With hate and disdain
They wanted us dead
But they’ll still show our games?

But I know they can’t kill us
They can’t keep us weak
We will not be cowered
Because our leaders were meek

Penn state is just football?
Not on your life
It’s because we are more
That we will beat this strife

The professors will research
Will find the next cure
The students will party
Of that I am sure

Rose’s girls will keep spiking
Cael’s boys keep on pinning
And despite what “they” say
It won’t just be ‘bout winning

They’ll do it the right way
As has always been done
They can vacate the wins
But we know what we won

Tell it to MRob
Tell it to Poz
To Sean Lee and Connor
Then protect your jaws

Penn State’s about people
Penn State’s about pride
NCAA can’t govern
What we feel inside

They can’t kill our memories
Can’t take back our friends
And they can’t force our story
To a premature end

The haters can hate us
Our leaders can cave
But our student body
Can’t be made to behave

They’ll still dance for cancer
Their studies won’t cease
They will change the world
If not solve world peace

How to move forward?
JoePa knows that play
Written worlds only hurt
If you believe what they say

We all know the truth
Where the failings occurred
And won’t let our entire
Culture get slurred

Coach OB is staying
A man with some courage
Who faces a challenge
And won’t be discouraged

The fans back with a vengeance
Led by a great leader
Though they MIGHT be fewer
The wins will be sweeter

When each season is over
And the games are all played
The players can proudly say
I’m one who stayed

They’ll mean more in our hearts
Than any past team
Because they all hung tough
When Prez Rod made us scream

Kick us while we’re down?
Do at your own risk
Because we will be back
Like a tornadoes’ twist

You learn more about people
When you’re at your worst low
Who is behind me
As I get up and go?

Go harness your anger
Let it drive you each day
To keep Penn State great
And make our enemies pay

We will get our revenge
When we just won’t die
When we don’t limp away
To our bedroom and cry

The last chapter’s not written
We still own our fate
It’s up to us to decide
Are we still Penn State?

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Joe Paterno, gone five years

Joe Paterno died in January 2012. It feels like yesterday, yet five years have passed since that time. A beautiful video tribute to him, set to Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” first marked the one year anniversary of his death but is just as fitting now.

Mark Dent wrote after the first year anniversary of the coach’s death. Aside from a few oddities in the article that give away his out-of-towner status (like referring to the State College Borough repeated as a “city”) his piece is a good introduction to the historical context from which Paterno came. (In some ways, Dent’s piece is better than Joe Posnanski’s book-length mess of a biography.) Dent writes:

dsc_0875_med_sidewalk_joeOf all the places in the world, Paterno lived in this town. Of all the neighborhoods in this town, he lived three blocks from campus in this one-story house. A million-dollar man lived like he still made the $20,000 he claimed he did in 1969, when the games always started in the afternoon, the coaches ate and drank with everyone else at the Tavern, and Paterno wanted a place to raise his growing family, a place to call home. …

There was no gate at the street’s entrance, and no security guard to check for identification, read license plate numbers or scan names on a guest list. The leader of one of college football’s best teams surveyed his kingdom from a ranch house.

College football coaches don’t live like this — current Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, for example, lives in Boalsburg, several miles from campus in a house that cost $1,225,000. Only the ancient coaches did. Penn State’s Bob Higgins had a house just up the street, near McKee and Adams Avenue, in the 1930s. Joe Bezdek, who coached one year in 1949, lived near McKee and Mitchell Avenue, a block away. Paterno was like them, residing in a bygone era.

When reporters came from around the country to share his story with a national audience, they highlighted the house. Sometimes they sat across from him at the round table in the kitchen. They remarked: “You should see his house. Then you would know this is real, this is not an act.”

You should see his house. You would know this is real. This is not an act.

Paterno was an old timer, for sure. But living in a real neighborhood and being a real person isn’t a symptom of “residing in a bygone era” as Dent writes. No, Paterno didn’t reside in a bygone time, but rather in our time. He simply chose to live the way of always had lived, and in doing so ended up carrying the style and manner of those “ancient coaches” along with him. And isn’t that so much of what attracted us to him? (Before the stupidity and banal evil of the Sandusky scandal made it impossible to talk with non-cultists (both pro- and anti-cultists) about him.) He chose not to let the old ways recede into a quaint and pointless nostalgia. He chose to live in a normal way, that ended up becoming exceptional in the context of different times.

At some point, reminiscing over the greatness of the past, the good old days, and bygone times shifts from a virtuous exercise into a vice. I think this occurs when we repeatedly choose to praise goodness without learning how to emulate it. We might be stating truth in saying that “water is wet,” but if we’ve forgotten the joy of jumping in the water and actually getting wet, we’ve entered the realm of harmful nostalgia.

The trick is this: We can live in the same style and manner. We can make friends, and build our kingdoms, and coach each other along in the game of life. And even if we become the million-dollar man we can choose not to live like the money has changed us because in reality it hasn’t changed us—only our means, and hopefully not our circumstances.

If the ideas that have given Joe and Sue Paterno the power to attract us with authenticity (You should see his house. You would know this is real.) are dead, then our lives are only destined to ever become a part of a pointless nostalgia.

If… if… if we want to honor Joe and Sue Paterno, we can choose like they chose to carry the style and manner of old times into new times. We can be human to one another. We can choose not to forget our roots; not to isolate ourselves; not to fall into artifice; not to withdraw.

It’s a choice not between whatever we decide is bygone or timely, but over whatever we choose to make real in our own lives.

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Winter office view

I snapped this from my office window last night, which looks out onto Logan Circle and in the distance to University City on the left and the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Park on the right. It’s a beautiful view, especially at twilight when the darkness masks the accumulated wintertime filth on the windows.

It’s already nearly the end of January, and New Years feels like it was a long time ago. I’ve been feeling great this month and have been executing against a lot of my priorities for this year. I hope this year has been great so far for you, and if it hasn’t I hope you figure out how to shape your time to make it great.

Especially with President Trump taking office today, there are lots of people feeling discouraged and too many people choosing to be depressive. Choose to get past all of that and start acting on what will make your life better for you, your family, and your work. You’re in control of your life.

Books age, like us

In My 6,128 Favorite Books Joe Queenan writes:

Books as physical objects matter to me, because they evoke the past. A Métro ticket falls out of a book I bought 40 years ago, and I am transported back to the Rue Saint-Jacques on Sept. 12, 1972, where I am waiting for someone named Annie LeCombe. A telephone message from a friend who died too young falls out of a book, and I find myself back in the Chateau Marmont on a balmy September day in 1995. A note I scribbled to myself in “Homage to Catalonia” in 1973 when I was in Granada reminds me to learn Spanish, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Granada.

None of this will work with a Kindle. People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel. Think it through, bozos.

The world is changing, but I am not changing with it. There is no e-reader or Kindle in my future. My philosophy is simple: Certain things are perfect the way they are. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books. Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.

Ben Novak wrote this in an email to me a few years ago:

…just having them evokes the experience of reading or studying them. The pages are yellowing, as I am, but the experience of touching them with my hands and eyes is still vivid. They each bear part of my soul on their pages. Their words etched in ink on fading paper are etched on my fading mind as well.

Retronaut’s slogan? “The past is a foreign country. This is your passport.” Physicals books are a territory all to themselves, and one whose secrets aren’t easy to translate in the context of electronic culture.

Charles and Bella Schlow

If you’re a Penn Stater, you’ve walked by Schlow Library in Downtown State College countless times. At the corner of Beaver Avenue and Allen Street, it’s in a beautiful newish brick building that adds some verve and character to Allen Street’s otherwise mostly perfunctory aesthetics.

As with so many names on a map, “Schlow” was always just one of those things that existed in Happy Valley, and I never thought to explore the history of it. I’m sharing the text of this old article on Charles and Bella Schlow because it tells a bit of their life, but also because it’s such a perfect illustration of how much a familiar place can nonetheless feel foreign only a few decades later. Very little of the specific names and places mentioned is recognizable today, other than the town and the street names.

I’ll smile whenever I walk by Schlow Library now, thinking of Charles and Bella and the life these two transplants chose to make in Mount Nittany’s shadow.

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Mr. Schlow: Amazing

In 1919, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schlow purchased a small ladies shop from a Miss Newman at the corner of Bishop and Allegheny in Bellefonte. From time to time he brought small exhibits of his wear to an upstairs room of the State College Hotel. At that time there was a very small store catering to the State College women, known as the Imboden Shop, located across from the old Post Office.

Mr. Schlow was advised by one of his clients, Hassel Montgomery who had a prosperous men’s shop located where the Juliet Room is now, that State College had great prospects ahead of it and was badly in need of a ladies’ store. A few months later, a small empty rom became available in the middle of Allen Street next door to the present Murphy’s. Mr. Schlow established his business there and the store prospered … small as it was. Following a fire which destroyed all of the old stores existing on the corner of College and Allen Street, Mr. Schlow purchased from the Metzger Company the piece of land where the Schlow Shop is now located.

Mr. Schlow had ideas of grandeur, hoping to develop a chain of ladies’ shops but then discovered that unless one has unlimited numbers of capable personnel it is best to stick to one store.

The addition of a gift shop to his ladies’ shop led to further expansion with the result that his son Frank, who died two years ago, established an interior decorating and furniture store as part of Schlow’s. It was located in the site of the present TwelveTrees Theatre and was operated until Frank Schlow’s death.

Prior to coming to Centre County, Mr. and Mrs. Schlow both taught. After her college work, Mrs. Schlow taught elocution. Mr. Schlow graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, had a two year course in the School of Pedagogy and was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Among his numerous associates in school were Harry Sherman, president of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and Alexander Wolcott, the first “Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Once Mr. Schlow moved to State College he became very interested in the community with the result that for several years he was a member of the State College Borough Council, and its president for four years.

At the death of his wife some 10 years ago he and his children along with several friends made it possible for the library organization to build and operate the present Bella S. Schlow Memorial Library. In the very near future it will be located in the old Post Office at the corner of Allen and Beaver Avenue.

Mr. Schlow’s hobbies include collecting books. He has over 3000 in his home, many autographed by author or illustrator, and many limited editions. The three he cherishes the most are those autographed by President Eisenhower, Mrs. Roosevelt, and King Edward.

Mr. Schlow likes State College and repeats as one man has told him … “State College makes me feel of a little bit of heaven. It is hard to reach but once you get there you don’t want to leave.”

Recipe for lively neighborhoods

After finishing Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, I decided I had to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the great response by Jane Jacobs to all the excesses of central planners and the cult of the expert.

I’ve just finished it. It was surprising how heavily she leans on Philadelphia in addition to New York and Boston to cite examples of good and bad city life. I had imagined it was exclusively New York-focused, for whatever reason.

In this excerpt, Jacobs outlines the “four conditions” that guide her analysis of good city life:

So long as we are content to believe that city diversity represents accident and chaos, of course its erratic generation appears to represent a mystery.

However, the conditions that generate city diversity are quite easy to discover by observing place in which diversity flourishes and studying the economic reason why it can flourish in these places. Although the results are intricate, and the ingredients producing them may vary enormously, this complexity is based on tangible economic relationships which, in principle, are much simpler than the intricate urban mixtures they make possible.

To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts, four conditions are indispensable:

  1. The district [neighborhood], and indeed as many of its internet parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.
  2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
  3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
  4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

The necessity for these four conditions is the most important point this book has to make. In combination, these conditions create effective economic pools of use. Given these four conditions, not all city districts will produce a diversity equivalent to one another. The potentials of different districts differ for many reasons; but, given the development of these four conditions (or the best approximation to their full development that can be managed in real life), a city district should be able to realize its best potential, wherever that may lie. Obstacles to doing so will have been removed. The range may not stretch to African sculpture or schools of drama or Rumanian tea houses, but such as the possibilities are, whether for grocery stores, pottery schools, movies, candy stores, florists, art shows, immigrants’ clubs, hardware stores, eating places, or whatever, they will get their best chance. And along with them, city life will get its best chances.

Seeing money in new light

Robin Wigglesworth, an editor at Financial Times, shared the following excerpt on Twitter from a book recently. I’m sharing it here because it’s a small way to see the value of money, and its uses, in a new light.

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

This is provocative and feels true, but it can also be taken way too far. Isn’t money, in practice, just as friendly or hostile to the common good as those who wield it? I think it’s true to say that money is a “trust system,” but it doesn’t stand alone in serving as a bridge for “almost any cultural gap.” Plenty of other things do that, including religion. In scripture, it’s love of money that is condemned as “the root of all evil.” Not money in and of itself. In other words, what’s called out as wrong is a dysfunctional love. What’s called wrong is a worship of a secondary thing as if it were a first-order good. It’s called wrong for the effect that any sort of warped love will have on the human heart.

And while money in and of itself doesn’t discriminate in its uses, it certainly takes on a value the moment it becomes an instrument of human will rather than an abstraction.