Blue and white

So, as you may have heard, my alma mater of Penn State has been in the news a lot lately. I wish I could say it has been for something positive, but in a short week we’ve seen allegations of horrible sexual abuse, scandals that have led the Board of Trustees to fire both Joe Paterno, the school’s head football coach, and Graham Spanier, the school’s President, and rioting in the streets of downtown State College.

I’m a little tired of giving over mental real estate to this story, which I had to do all of last week, given the ugliness of the abuse, the many years in which those who should have acted didn’t, and the disgrace that it’s brought on to the school. But I do think it’s worth noting — which, especially in the news coverage of the protest/riot, it often hasn’t been — that this tragic and disgraceful moment does not define the school.

I’m an alum and also a one-time employee of the University. Graham Spanier became President the year I started as a freshman, and I’d always had genuine respect for both him and Joe Paterno, for how much they obviously cared about the school and what they had both done for the students and community. And yet I think the Board absolutely made the right decision. They — particularly Paterno, for whom the grand jury evidence in Sandusky’s case is more damning — should have acted, should have reported the child abuse to the police, should have followed up to protect the young boys in Sandusky’s “care,” and failed to do so. He and Spanier may have legally met their responsibilities, but they failed morally.

They’re not the only ones, and anyone ready to rally behind Paterno — as so many of those rioters the other night were, as even I wanted to in the beginning — would do well to read this timeline of events, which delves into the actual testimony, revealing not just the alleged abuse but where so many people failed to report it and hold Sandusky accountable for his reprehensible actions.

One would also do well to read John Scalzi’s piece, Omelas State University, which I think sums up a lot of the horror some of us have been feeling over this:

At Pennsylvania State University, a grown man found a blameless child being put through hell. Other grown men learned of it. Each of them had to make their choice, and decide, fundamentally, whether the continuation of their utopia — or at very least the illusion of their utopia — was worth the pain and suffering of that one child. Through their actions, and their inactions, we know the choice they made.

What Sandusky did is horrible; what those around him failed to do is, in a way, almost worse.

And yet, this does not define Penn State. This is a terrible time in the school’s history, which is still ongoing and from which it will have to heal, but I’ve taken heart in the vigils for the victims, the students and faculty and alum who have stood up to say no, Joe Paterno should have been fired — maybe even got off lightly just being fired — that it wasn’t the media but his own actions and inactions that caused this to happen. He is, in his way, culpable, and should be held to account. And I’ve been really pleased to see ProudPSUforRAINN, which in just a few short days has raised over $300,000 to support victims of rape and sexual abuse, like the young boys attacked by Sandusky. I’ve been pleased to see this glimmer of hope amid the ugliness of the case, the misplaced support for those who don’t deserve it, the quickness by some to cast Paterno or the school (and not those boys) as the victims. That some of us have been willing to stand up and say no, this won’t stand; despite the good they’ve done, these men need to be held accountable; but also, we won’t allow this, their horrible mistakes and these deplorable crimes, to define who we are.

If you’re at all able — and even if you’re not a Penn State alum — I hope you’ll consider donating even a little to RAINN, which is a great — and sadly much too needed — cause.

Tuesday? But it feels like Friday!

I’m not entirely sure why, given that I’ve now been off from work for about eleven days, but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling all evening that today is, in fact, Friday.

So I’m going to go with that, and ride out this long wave of Fridays until the end of the year. Seems like a plan.

Meanwhile, I didn’t do a whole lot more exciting today than help my father set up the new high-def television my sister, my mother, and I bought him for Christmas. More than that, I helped him move the old, faltering TV, which is about twenty times heavier than the new larger one. (At this rate, in ten years, they’ll have a TV the size of a wall that you can easily carry with one hand.)

That reminds me of a funny story I found myself re-telling just this weekend, about the time at Penn State when the university police pulled me over because I was carrying a large TV/VCR across campus. The TV really wasn’t meant to be carried, despite a kind of handle on the back, but I had rented it for the evening in my capacity as Monty Python Society president. I’d done this on several occasions, actually. Sometimes, if we were meeting in the same building as the AV department, I might rent one on a rolling cart, which was easier in some ways, since I could just push it onto the building’s elevator. But it also meant that I had to trust that the unit wouldn’t be stolen or moved overnight, and that I could get into the room where I’d left it before whatever morning class had started so I could return it and not be penalized with a late fee. The more portable unit could sit in my dorm room overnight, although I did always have to carry it from the AV department to my dorm room — something like a half-hour walk — then back to the club meeting, back to my dorm room, and the next morning finally back to the AV department. And don’t think I don’t look back on that now, with my herniated disc and everything, and want to yell at my idiot self, because I do. At the very least, I probably should have tried taking the bus.

But anyway, I was carrying the unit back to my dorm room after this one Society meeting — did I mention my dorm was about twenty minutes away, and uphill? — when the police pulled me over. They were very understanding, I must say, when I told them my story, especially since it turned out that I didn’t have my ID card, much less any proof that I was telling the truth. “If I was going to steal a TV off campus,” I almost wanted to say, “do you really think I would still this heavy piece of crap?” They sent me on my way, maybe with a warning, maybe with a chuckle, and I headed over to the student union — thankfully right across the street — to search for my ID card. Because I’d had it on me earlier, when I’d been making some photocopies in the union building, and because I wouldn’t be able to get back into my dorm room without it.*

So I should thank those officers for pulling me over and filling me momentarily with panic, because I was able to recover my ID card, which until then I hadn’t known was missing. I could have trekked all the way back to my dorm, TV in hand, only to discover then, already late at night, that I was locked out. And then this story of my ridiculousness wouldn’t involve the cops, and would seem significantly more boring because of it.

Nothing even half as exciting happened today. We set up the TV with a minimum of headache, despite some not very clear instructions and a few parts that seemed to have been included just for the heck of it. And earlier in the day, I mailed out some copies of my “Best of 2010” mix, about which I’ll have more to say later. (The mix, not the mailing.)

Looking forward to tomorrow’s Friday.

* Then again, that reminds me of another Monty Python Society story, when I went to the Homecoming Parade dressed as a lumberjack and had no trouble getting back into the dorms, even with my roommate’s axe in hand. (My roommate, it should be said, was a camper, not an axe murderer. I’m fairly sure.)

Zero history

So that was kind of an interesting day.

Still lots of work keeping me busy at the office, and a meeting we’d planned for tomorrow to discuss it got pushed to this afternoon. It’s good, though, in that what’s expected of me on this new project is a little clearer now, but the trickier elements still won’t be finished until December. Of course, the need to be finished by December. That’s the thing about textbooks: because of adoption cycles, when professors are picking the books for their classes (or having them picked for them), you actually have a pretty limited window of when you can publish. If you miss the fall adoption cycle, for instance, you might be better off just waiting another six months and trying for the spring. And that’s kind of tough to do, when you also have to time things up with manuscript delivery and a six-to-seven-month production schedule. This particular textbook represents brand new territory for us in a lot of ways, production-wise, so it’s going to be an interesting learning experience.

Hopefully also a relatively painless one.

I ran an errand at lunchtime that took me a little further uptown, closer to Broadway, so I decided to stop in a place I haven’t been to since March and try the same sandwich I had then, a tempeh “Reuben.” It’s not much to look at, maybe. But, again, it was tastier than any miso mustard-glazed fermented soybean cake topped with avocado, ginger sauerkraut, and spicy Russian dressing on vegan 7-grain bread has any business being. If the sandwich was cheaper, and the place was closer…well, I still don’t think I’d eat it often. It’s not that tasty. But it’s weird and healthy enough that I don’t mind trying it every now and then.

Later, I took the subway downtown to meet me father for dinner around Union Square, near where he works. We ate at Pete’s Tavern, which is allegedly where O. Henry wrote many of his most famous short stories, though I’m afraid no ironic twist endings occurred to me as I ate my bacon cheeseburger. I was mostly just talking with my father and trying to figure out why my alma mater, Penn State, was on the silent but ESPN-displaying big-screen TV in the corner. (Apparently, this was going on, whatever it is.)

And then we split up, my father going home, and me going to the nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore for a reading and signing by William Gibson. That’s him up there at top. He read a chapter from his newest book, Zero History, and then opened up the floor to some actually quite interesting Q&A. (I always cringe a little at the Q parts, but nobody was too awkward or overly fawning to be painful to watch.) I really liked when he talked about using the tools of science fiction to investigate the present, which is really the only thing he’s ever done, he said, and about how science fiction is usually pretty lousy at prediction. A smart young reader would look at Neuromancer today, he said, and in twenty pages have figured out the central mystery: where did all the cell phones go?

After the talk, he signed books for awhile — and believe me, some people asked him to sign a lot of books. Then I got the subway to Penn Station and got a train home. On which I had the lovely coda to my day of watching some guy stumble around, presumably drunk but possibly sick, and throw up a little in the corner of the car. I don’t know if that, or the jackass filming him on his iPhone, was more annoying.

At least I got a lot of reading done.

And now, I think, I shall go to bed.

The drunk button

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about This American Life‘s show about the alcohol consumption at Penn State. (“A football school with a drinking problem,” is how the oft-quoted quip goes. And as someone who worked on campus during many a football game weekend, I can tell you, it’s often not far from the truth.) One of the students interviewed on the show said, “If there were a drunk button, I’d buy one.”

Well maybe now there is:

An alcohol substitute that mimics its pleasant buzz without leading to drunkenness and hangovers is being developed by scientists.

The new substance could have the added bonus of being “switched off” instantaneously with a pill, to allow drinkers to drive home or return to work.

The synthetic alcohol, being developed from chemicals related to Valium, works like alcohol on nerves in the brain that provide a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation.

But unlike alcohol its does not affect other parts of the brain that control mood swings and lead to addiction. It is also much easier to flush out of the body.

Finally because it is much more focused in its effects, it can also be switched off with an antidote, leaving the drinker immediately sober.

As Chris McLaren points out, this leads to all sorts of other questions — not to mention science-fictional, world-changing extrapolations. How, just for starters, would it impact this kind of clever molecular mixology? But I think there’s definitely something to this. Personally, I don’t drink very much, or often, and the kind of excessive drinking that TAL made seem like the norm at Penn State is, to me at least, just staggering. (Honestly, three drinks and a slight buzz over the course of a long evening is as extreme as I ever get.) But if we can simulate the pleasures and benefits of social drinking, while at the same time eliminating all the dangers inherent in excessive alcohol consumption and public drunkenness, shouldn’t we maybe look into doing so?

It’s already the second week of January?

When you get right down to it, Arthur Dent was right about Thursdays. They really are impossible to get a hang of.

Beyond my mild shock that the work week is almost over, there’s not a whole lot to report. Last night, right before bed, I read a short story by Dan Chaon called “The Bees.” I seem to think I’d read it once before, but it’s a masterful piece of work and an incredibly disquieting ghost story. Which, you know, maybe isn’t the best thing to read late at night.
It’s collected, among other places, in the Peter Straub-edited Poe’s Children: The New Horror, if you’re interested in tempting nightmares yourself.

I somehow managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep, despite that, and I caught the earlier train into Manhattan this morning. On my walk from Penn Station, I started listening to this This American Life show about the problems with alcohol at Penn State. It’s hard not to feel a little sad for the place I went to school, and where I worked for several years, and it’s hard not see the fraternities as a big part of the problem. The amount of alcohol a lot of these college kids consider “not a big deal” and a common, every-night occurrence, is maybe more than I’ve ever had to drink in my entire life. Honestly, three drinks over several hours is about as crazy as I ever get, and I was 21 long before I had anything more than a sip of alcohol.

Meanwhile, one of my co-workers was being shadowed all day by a student from his own alma mater who’s interested in publishing, and I spoke with her for a few minutes about what I do as a developmental editor. I always worry, when I explain my job to fresh-faced hopefuls like this, that I’m making it sound boring. But it’s always nice to discover that I do in fact genuinely like what I do. It really is satisfying to take a good book and, with the author, make it better.

And hey, we got word about our end-of-2009 bonuses and (small but still appreciated) raises today, so that’s something, right?!