Category Archives: Society

Suck it up, Harrisburg! Pass a budget already!


Republican legislators in Harrisburg are afraid to vote in favor of Governor Wolfe’s budget that includes a tax increase because they might lose their jobs. In an article published on September 30, 2015 in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Representative Nick Kotik, a Democrat, states:

 “Politically, (the tax vote) is a real death knell for younger members,” Kotik said. “You’re asking new guys to cast votes that may end their careers.”

And this is a bad thing? Fewer legislators in Harrisburg would be an improvement. The available funds to run the state would immediately increase by millions if we weren’t top-heavy with elected officials.

The article goes on to say that “School districts are beginning to run out of money, and lawmakers say human service providers are calling their offices for help.

I recently got an email from a case manager who was attempting to explain to me why services were delayed for my 22 year old son with autism. He’d like to get supported employment services. He really wants to work, but needs a job coach to be successful.   She informed me that the delay was because Currently, the state budget has not been approved; providers are not getting paid.  They are taking out bank loans to pay their staff.People with intellectual disabilities actually have to wait until someone dies before they move up the waiting list for certain types of funding.

The email was a wakeup call. I knew we didn’t have a budget, but I admit that I hadn’t been paying attention. I was distracted by Facebook.  Also the Republican presidential candidate stand-up comedy tour was in high gear.  Taylor Swift might have been tweeting something.  Jennifer Aniston may or may not be having a baby.  There was a cat playing a piano on YouTube.  And Michael Vick became a Steeler.

The latter distraction generated enough local outrage that Animal Friends gave back their donated Steelers merch, and fans sold their season tickets, signed formal protests, and organized demonstrations at Heinz Field against Vick’s hiring.  Signs were made.  Words were exchanged.  That takes some emotional and intellectual commitment!

But whether or not you are paying attention, the budget crisis affects everyone.  Because it’s also about our elderly, and – spoiler alert! – you’re going to be OLD as DIRT too, sooner than you think.  Supporting laws that fund services now benefits you later.

But, the budget issue is also about our children – whose schools are already struggling in all but the wealthiest districts to provide books and supplies and to keep the best teachers.  It is about the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink, the bridge that is in danger of collapsing when you drive over it, whether your street gets cleared of snow, and the fact that there are no busses in your neighborhood.  It is about our entire community and our continued quality of life.

Our region has been getting tons of well-deserved attention around the world for its shiny new look.  We can be proud of that!  But maybe we are blinded just a bit by the light of all that media attention and can’t see that, for many residents, the hype doesn’t measure up to their daily reality.

People were so outraged over a sports figure who abused dogs that they got all activist-like over it and took a stand.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I like animals too. Some of my best friends are animals. But where is the outrage over the fact that we are continuing to pay the salaries of legislators who are trembling behind their party lines in fear of their own jobs, while their constituents are in fear of losing their jobs or unable to access supports to GET jobs because there is no budget?

Harrisburg – get a spine.  Do something that actually helps people for once, even if its a risky vote.  Citizens – reach down and find your inner outrage over something that actually matters for the long haul.  Then speak up. Tell your state legislator to make this budget happen now.  I know advocates are afraid that the budget that finally passes will give away too much to do any good, or create additional poorly-crafted laws that will actually hurt more than they help. There will need to be compromises on both sides.  But a budget must be passed soon.

This debate happens every year.  In 2009, the non-profit organization I worked for lost upwards of a million dollars when the state cut their funding during another budget crisis.  As a result, my job was cut to half time.   And the debate is about to go national again, like it does every fall. But no matter what the rhetoric, it’s never about what’s good for America.  It’s always about job security — for the politicians.

If you can manage about 15 minutes of outrage over the PA budget crisis, please speak up and contact your local elected official in Harrisburg.

Read the latest news here about how governor Tom Wolfe is working to reach a budget agreement, which will require Republican support to pass.  If we’re lucky, by the time you read this article, there will be a budget.  But I’m not holding my breath.

To contact your State Senator or Representative, visit one of the following:

If you do not know who your State Senator or Representative is, visit the following:


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The Facebook Effect

One World

Toward a Civilization of Love

You may have seen the video linked to the image in this post on Facebook. Some of you will “like” the video and yet continue to post on your own timelines about how the social safety nets in this country are stealing the food out of your own mouths.

Facebook is becoming a festering pot of hate sprinkled with happy thoughts for the day spaced like commercial breaks between reams of sponsored content for products you do not need.

That said, Facebook is not the root of all evil.  It serves the purpose of keeping us connected with loved ones and friends from the past who we have lost track of over time. I enjoy reading posts from actual people I know containing cute pics of their pets, their weddings, the new baby, and even a shot of what they had to eat tonight.  I want to know if someone has experienced a loss in the family. Facebook helps us keep in touch. And its easier than sending a letter when a stamp costs half a buck and takes a week to get across country.

What disturbs me is the preponderance of posts that seem to want me to support an attitude of hate and prejudice.  And the thing that disturbs me most is that these posts are coming from Christians.

All citizens of the independent or party-affiliated kind who push for votes to abolish ways to support the “have nots” might learn from this video that they are on the precipice of being one of “them.” This congress, both sides of the aisle, and our fellow citizens, are laboring to protect what is theirs — our rights vs everyone else’s rights. My beliefs vs your beliefs.

The word “tolerance” is fading from our collective vocabulary. We don’t have to become a socialist state to have a change of heart about how to even out the playing field so that everyone has enough.

How much is enough? Apparently, enough has no limits.  Its whatever I want to have, take, withhold, so that I am satiated — without regard for others who have no power to grab it all for themselves.  That is their problem, something they created for themselves. Society as a whole played no part.

Our consumer-driven society has killed our community and has hardened our hearts to the needs of others. Religious people of all persuasions have succumbed to this, despite the teachings of their faith.

No one religion is to blame for what ails this country. The finger pointing needs to be re-directed inward, to our hearts, and to allow the Spirit to do the work of change in each one of us. That is the only “me first” that we should pursue — “Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me.”  Next time you sing this, think about what it means: Spirit, we pray you would change US is the point of this hymn.  Change ME. It acknowledges that change starts with me, and that it takes a force outside of me to make it happen in my heart so that I can be a force for change in the world.

If only Facebook were a place where Christians led the pack in posting positive messages that lifted up instead of cut down. What if, when you posted on Facebook, you first prayed the prayer of St Francis – “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  What if, before you posted on Facebook, you were thoughtful about the impact your words and images would have on creating ties and not barriers to understanding and peace?

Glenn Frey has a song “I’ve Got Mine” that speaks to this attitude and it was released during the first Bush administration. The me-first attitude has only gotten worse since then.

Friends, can we be the force for good in this world?  Can we stop creating divisions and thinking — quite falsely — that we are better than everyone else on this planet?  Jesus said, if you want to be great in my kingdom, be a servant.  There is no lack of ways to be of service in this world.  But there are a lack of voices calling for an attitude of service and humility.    Facebook could be a tool for positive change.

We have succumbed to the pressure to post.  Let me ask you this: WWJP-What would Jesus post?  It would not be without its rebukes — neither would it be “hate your enemy and do evil to those who persecute you.”

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The evil allure of yarn – or why I rarely finish a crochet project

Yarn catI know enough about crochet to make a semi-symetrical rectangular-shaped scarf, some nifty flowers and leaves, a butterfly, covered buttons, some simple Amigurumi animals, a shaggy purse cover, and a zig-zag patterned afghan that was re-christened a cape because of it’s “flair.”

I took a brief refresher class in crochet as an adult, but I learned from my grandmother as a kid and managed to create a few doilies using chain and shell stitches.  I never progressed beyond the doily stage and who needs those anymore? So I put down my needle and took up the flute.  At some point in the 21st century crochet and knitting have made a come-back and we call this “fiber art.”

With a crochet hook and some yarn in my hands I am able to sit more patiently in waiting rooms and during the televised sporting events that monopolize our family television.  I enjoy the rhythm of creating the various stitches and watching things take shape, even if my version of the shape is a little askew.  Crochet often helps reduce the amount of snacking I do during television as well.  It’s a good thing.  And yet …

It’s not ALL good.  It is difficult for me to admit, but, I believe I have a “yarn problem.”  A yarn problem is a little like an “alcohol problem.”  I am addicted to buying yarn.  It is very difficult for me to walk away empty-handed from the craft store yarn department.  There.  My secret is out.

You may note that I did not say I am addicted to crochet.  I am simply addicted to yarn.  I love to imagine that I will actually use the yarn to create something roughly based on the patterns which I get in my email every month.  I will make booties for a new baby.  I will make gifts for people at work.  But I rarely do.  I am always hopeful that I will, this time, choose a project that is easy enough and interesting enough that I will complete it, even if it takes me a year. The problem is, I almost never finish a project.  And the reason is: yarn is evil.

Yarn is beautiful, and soft, and alluring.  There is fuzzy yarn, silky yarn, wool yarn, ribbon yarn, tube yarn and faux fur yarn.  You can buy yarn for socks, yarn for lace, and yarn for wash cloths.  There is something called “eyelash” yarn too.  And as craft materials go, yarn is generally not that expensive, at least one skein at a time.  It is often readily available at church flea markets priced by the bag (and what does THAT tell you?!). 

It is not the fault of the yarn if you never actually finish the project.  But if you’re not going to actually finish the project, you may as well  buy something similar off the rack because it will be cheaper and you can wear it the same day.   Yarn cannot crochet itself.  You have to do it.  This requires (a) skill, and (b) perseverance.

Now here is the conundrum; while yarn cannot crochet itself, once you unleash it from its wrapper it seems to come to life and begins to seek out ways to get tangled up in things, especially other yarn.  Also coat hangers, electrical cords, shoes, the zipper on your purse, and the family cat.   This is the nature of yarn’s evil —  it is nearly impossible to de-tangle it from other objects once it has successfully co-mingled with them.

There are two schools of thought on de-tangling yarn.  There is the school of “find the end of one type of yarn and painstakingly pull it on a backwards path through the other fibers until you have it free, then roll it into a tight ball and secure the end by tucking it into the ball.”  This method allows you to save the yarn for future projects.  The other school of thought is the one I follow:  Pull hard on a strand until it breaks, and repeat this until all offending strands have released their prey.  This may sound cruel, but fighting evil requires strong and decisive action. Once you have released the strands into a broken mass of short strings, put them in a bag and throw the whole mess away.

You could try respecting the yarn and put it away in it’s own plastic baggie.  But this requires forethought and planning.  If you have no distractions at home this could work for you.

But if you must put down the yarn and needle quickly to answer a child’s call or let out the dog, you will come back to a tangled mass of yarn, I guarantee it. The stuff is insidious.

The moral of the story is, never open a skein of yarn without a professional backup fiber artist nearby; one with the training to tame the yarn into submission — and make the project for you!

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Katie deserves Oscar nom for five-year run as Mrs Tom Cruise

English: Cropped image of Tom Cruise and Katie...

I feel a little bad for Tom Cruise getting served with divorce papers only a few days before turning 50.  Especially, since, according to tabloid headlines, he was completely blindsided by it.  Only days earlier he and Katie were holding hands walking around the streets of Iceland.

Apparently the reality of being married to Tom did not live up to Katie’s teen-age fantasy of marrying one of the most famous movie stars of our generation.    But the breakup may have less to do with Tom as husband and father than of his adherence to the practice of Scientology.   We don’t know that, but let’s look at the facts, such as they are.  Which is to say we have no idea what we are talking about.  The facts as we know them are pure speculation based on what we read in the tabloids.

We do know for a fact that Katie managed to stay in for 5 years.  I have to wonder how long she had been thinking about calling it quits?  Her father had time to hatch and carry out a plan that involved firing all the help who might have made her exit “problematic” (the Scientology police?) and replace them with people loyal to Katie.  That had to take a few months to put together!  And whose idea was it?   Did it start with her, or did her parents pull a sort of intervention to get her to admit she wanted out?

One tabloid headline suggested Katie was not the happy-go-lucky young woman her parents knew she had been 5 years earlier and they apparently blamed marriage to Tom for her emotional decline.  That her exit from the marriage required the staff to be replaced seems like a move out of the textbook on how to de-program people caught up in religious cults.   Not that I am suggesting Scientology is a cult.  I am not suggesting this, but certain entire countries in Europe have, more or less officially, suggested it.  Such as France.  Not that we are naming names.

The Cruises rented a home in Pittsburgh this past year while Tom was filming Ghost Protocol, and were photographed in various locations enjoying some good times as a family.  Tom took Suri ice skating.  The whole family went shopping for fresh produce at a local farm market.  The three of them are some of the most genetically lucky people I know in the good looks department.  The perfect family.   So full of hope.

But the question lingering in my mind is, when did Katie know she had to get out?  Five years isn’t that long.  She needed at least a year to pull off the legal stuff with her dad, get a place to live, change her cell number, and schedule the moving van.  So that’s year four.  She would have to admit to herself it was over way before that — but even once she got that gut feeling she probably didn’t say the words out loud until around year 3.

My guess is she knew it was over before she got pregnant with Suri (mid-way through year one) and once she had her daughter it just got complicated.

A Google search of the number of years women stay in a marriage after they have decided to divorce was no help at all — even Google Scholar didn’t have an answer to that question.  If anyone knows the SEO terms for this concept, I’d be obliged if you’d send me the keywords or the links to the articles!

What I did learn from my search was that 90 percent of women who think about divorce never go through with getting one.  And if you have been married at least 10 years, you are nearly 70 percent more likely to stay married to that person.   If you want the link to those stats, you can Google it.

Huffington Post has an entire department devoted to the topic of divorce.  Check out the comments there to this question posed to readers.  Complete this sentence: “The moment I knew (my marriage was over) … ”  If you needed any more evidence of man’s inhumanity to man — and I am speaking, of course, in the inclusive voice here — you will find it in those responses!   As one might expect, infidelity was a frequent cause but in other stories there were actually weapons involved!  The saddest cases were those involving people who were seriously ill and their spouses reacted with callous indifference.

My point is, even the fairy-tale marriage isn’t guaranteed to succeed.  Remember these famous marriages that everyone said would last forever?  John and Elizabeth Edwards.  Al and Tipper Gore.   Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley…

Lest you think I have forgotten that most tragic and fractured fairy-tale couple of our time  — Prince Charles and Lady Diana — I say, well duh.  But should we not look beyond our love and devotion to Diana and consider that the fairy-tale-come-true was really Camilla’s eventual marriage to Charles?  No. We should not.  Even if it probably is.

At long last, we come to the moral of the story, which is that neither wealth, good looks, great teeth, being able to fit into a size 3 dress, diamond tiaras, fame, or a particular faith — whether orthodox or un — guarantees a successful run at marriage.

My parents recently celebrated seventy years of marriage.  Seven-O.  They are 90 and 93 years old.  I never heard them say an angry word to one another.  My dad always gave my mom a peck on the lips and a hug when he came home from work.  Then he sat down in his arm-chair until supper with the newspaper, after which he returned to his chair and read the paper and watched TV until bedtime.  He changed the oil in his cars, kept them polished, mowed the lawn, and paid the bills.  Mom fixed the meals and kept the house, only working outside the home a few years when things were tight.   They would be lost without each other.   When asked how they lasted this long they just shrug.  Something about mutual respect and never considering the alternative.

So if you have been in a successful relationship for longer than 10 years, hang in there.  It’s nothing to sneeze at.  Don’t screw it up.  You are our role models.

And we need more role models.  Like Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Seriously.  If a relationship so publicly violated as that between Hillary and Bill Clinton can survive, there is hope for us all.

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Dear Newt: Will there finally be healthcare for all on the Moon?

Who will win the race for Moon Colony Healthcare Provider?

Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich promises to colonize the Moon if he is elected. I guess he will let the hard questions be answered by NASA, but I suspect he hasn’t really thought this through.

For instance, are we claiming the Moon as a territory of the United States? We ARE the only ones who have been there, so I suppose that’s just as good a reason as any. Hard to believe we’re considering taking a place over that no one else wants… what do we know about the Moon that other governments don’t?

Many questions need to be answered before I become a Moon colonist. For instance, if the Moon becomes American territory, can its residents vote? And can Moon children grow up to become president some day? But the important question for me, as a mother and a person destined to become old, is, “What will my Moon citizen health care options will be?”

Let’s say your family volunteers to help populate the Moon. On the way there your child comes down with the flu. You cannot receive medical benefits until you complete your mandatory six-month quarantine period. And besides, the medical plan considers this a “pre-existing condition” since it happened before you landed on Lunar soil. Luckily, you discover that Moon dust actually deters the development of the flu virus and your child gets well quickly. You have dodged a bullet this time!

See, this whole Moon colony idea is just a wee bit premature. If we take a few decades and get some really smart people with no presidential aspirations whatsoever together to plan this brave new world, we might be able to fix a few things that aren’t working so well down here on the mother planet. This could be our one chance at a “do-over.”

That will never happen.

I suspect that what the government will do is set up some of their cronies in various industries with exclusive rights to provide services to the Moon colonization project. There will be a race to be the first bank, the first casino, the first Moonrover dealership, and the first health care provider.

I would not be surprised to learn there is already a bidding war between Highmark and UPMC over who gets that first health care contract. Those two not-for-profit healthcare systems are already duking it out for total control of the market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first highly produced commercials for their Moon Medicine Research team rolled out during the Super Bowl this year.

No, there will be no improvements in how things run on the Moon. Because we still don’t have consensus down here about what’s broken, and the really smart people who know how to fix things are staying away from politics in droves.

We are going to start a new society up there and we’re going to screw that one up too.

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Rest in Peace, Joe

Rest in Peace, Joe.

When the Sandusky scandal broke, and Joe was summarily fired, we said aloud “this will kill him.”  In fact it was cancer that killed him, but the speed with which the disease took him down was surprising.  Joe was ageless, scrappy, tenacious, faithful, and probably would have coached another season from his hospital bed.  It might have helped him beat the cancer, but the scandal may have been the stronger of the two demons.

The autobiography of Joe Paterno

We are a Nittany Lion family.  My husband comes by it legitimately (PSU ’75).   We used to have the song “Hail to the Lion” on our answering machine.  As a young collegian, my husband met JoePa by accident.  He was on campus to meet with the basketball coach because he would be playing for the Junior Varsity team (which no longer exists!).  My husband was a little early and the coach a little late.  Joe noticed him outside of his office and invited him to come in, have a seat and wait there.  They had a cordial chat, most of which my husband cannot recall because here he was in awe to be sitting down in Joe’s office face-to-face!  But the hospitality offered has always given him a tender spot for Joe, and is a favorite memory of his years on the main campus.

We have a “stand-up Joe” cardboard cutout that we place near our TV during Penn State games for good luck.  When Penn State used to play West Virginia, it was a tough crowd in the family room.  My father-in-law, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law all attended WVU.  The brothers had a lot invested in winning their respective games, but regardless of outcome they knew to leave the vanquished to his own despair lest the family ties become forever frayed.

Early in our marriage we had the noble intent of not owning a television.  We were married in July and football season starts in August.  Most Penn State games were not shown on the West Coast where we lived at the time.  So, after one very costly long distance phone bill where my husband got the play-by-play for the entire game from his brother, we decided it wasn’t such a bad thing to own a TV after all.

One year, to chase away the tedium of our 12-hour trek from LA to Portland to visit family, we decided to take turns reading Joe’s autobiography Paterno: By the Book to each other. Only recently married, I was still learning to be a sports fan.  But the legend of JoePa was strong in the family, so I said I would give it a shot. I couldn’t put the book down. When it got dark, I read with a flashlight. Several times both of us became choked up as we read how he influenced the lives of his players, his dedication to the Catholic church, commitment to family and to the principle of just being a decent human being. 

The book is not a book for sports fans per se.  It is more about perseverance and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These qualities were deeply imbedded in Joe’s psyche because of his study of and love for Virgil’s Aeneid.   Aeneas was the mortal son of the goddess Aphrodite. The saga sees him vanquishing his foes in many battles, often with the help of his mother Aphrodite and credits him with founding the city of Rome.  Upon his death, Aphrodite asked Jupiter to make him immortal.  He lived on as the god Indiges.  

When Joe would win a game that looked destined to go the other way, my husband would say “Aeneas showed up again.”

Joe Paterno’s positive impact on the young men who played for him, and all of those associated with The University, will live on.  His legacy need not be overshadowed by the final few months of his life, where the headlines often made it seem as if HE were the accused abuser of children, and not his former associate, Jerry Sandusky.   His contribution to this world as a dignified, principled and honorable human being was an inspiration to all. 

The chant may remain “We are Penn State.”  But the fact remains that “HE WAS Penn State.”

A few reviews from on Paterno: By the Book.

“By the Book” chronicles the life of Joe Paterno. It begins with a description of his childhood and prep school years in Brooklyn, takes us through his football career at Brown University, and how he became the head coach at Penn State. The book is rich with descriptions of Penn State players and seasons up through the 1988 season. But, this book is much more than a football story. It’s a view into Joe Pa’s heart and soul. It is a portrayal of his values, his motivations, his vision and dreams. These, not just for his football team, but for his family, his university, and his profession. Much more than a fun read for Penn State fans, it is a valuable resource for aspiring coaches and players searching to find the essence of their relationship to their sport. Mark E. Kubiske

Published before the 1989 season, Paterno: By the Book provides a great deal of insight into the mind of one of the greatest college football coaches ever. The book is more memorable for Paterno’s musings on life, recruiting, winning, losing and growing up with a strong mother rather than for his specific thoughts on the numerous games he has coached. Assuming the book is in fact an accurate portrayal of Paterno, it is clear that he will never voluntarily step down from Penn State, no matter how bad things get. He is determined and driven to succeed. He will not quit and he will not go quietly. From many of his remarks in the book about Penn State, it is clear he feels the same way a number of his supporters do, Penn State owes Joe loyalty for his many years of service. A solid sports book about sports…and life. Jeff W Traylor

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Penn State: Fight for her honor

image from Associated Press

Penn State prayer vigil (image: Associated Press)

The worst week in Penn State history.  Without doubt.  And some reports suggest there may be more disturbing news to come.   Could there be anything more disturbing than what we already know?  That children were sexually abused by the very people who purported to act as their protectors and advocates?  And that powerful people were more concerned about protecting the image of the University than bringing the perpetrator to justice?

In the news this week the focus was all on Joe Paterno and the question of whether he did enough with the information he had.  In our heart of hearts we could not believe Joe knew anything about it.  We pleaded with the TV screen: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”  But gradually we learned the truth.  He knew enough.  He should have done more.

The outrage for the victims of these crimes took far too long to surface in the media.  But not on the Penn State campus. It was a poignant moment when, instead of the traditional pre-game rally, students held a candlelight vigil for the victims.

“Penn State’s Old Main lawn glowed with the light of candles late Friday as thousands of students and alumni gathered to pray for the alleged victims of a child sex-abuse scandal that has left an anguished campus searching for ways to heal.

The massive gathering outside the university’s administrative nerve center was the first step toward healing, said its organizers, who felt some on campus had lost sight of the scandal’s greatest casualty, the eight boys former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with molesting over a 15-year period.

Jessica Sever, a senior public relations major who organized the candlelight gathering, said her classmates were yearning for something positive amid a torrent of negative publicity.

She was among the somber crowd that filled nearly the entire lawn, where another contingent rioted two days earlier after the university trustees fired iconic football coach Joe Paterno.

Friday night’s crowd numbered as many as 10,000 by some estimates.” (Sadie Gurman

It is interesting to note that the organizer of the rally was a student.  She is a public relations major, but let’s not hold that against her — this was a PR nightmare and she had the right response.   But I am jaded enough to wonder: If she hadn’t organized the rally, would the University’s PR machine have done so?  Frankly, I think she put them to shame by getting it done as quickly as she did.  I envision the PSU marketing and development staff huddled around their TV screens watching the vigil, sort of like you would see on The West Wing when a news story was breaking:  everyone silent, but looking into one another’s eyes knowing they were screwed and thinking how to put the spin on for the press conference.   The Penn State staffers were probably smacking themselves on the forehead for not thinking to organize a vigil themselves.

It is very sad that this marks the end of the career of one of the greatest coaches in college football history.  But I want to think that the Joe Paterno we all thought we knew would respond “My legacy is not important. My legacy will be nothing if the children who were harmed do not find justice.”


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