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Sunday, February 27, 2022


I was born in 1964, which means that, for the first part of my life, I lived under the specter of the Cold War and the lingering fears of nuclear war.  That seems so very long ago, as if the world has evolved well past that kind of thing, but yet events last week in Ukraine have brought back scores of not-so-pleasant memories.  I confess to having some serious anxious thoughts as all of these current events unfolded, which is difficult to write (I'm supposed to be always in control, in case you didn't know that...) but never the less very true.  As I write this, I'm still feeling somewhat anxious, and it seems like events could further escalate out of control at any moment.

I have no reassuring commentary or answers for any of this; at best, what I can do is to remind myself that I need to live in the present moment and acknowledge the futility of worrying over the actions of a madman who is half a world away.  

Not to "silver-lining" this in any way, but there is something quasi-wonderful about what is happening around the world as these events unfold.  Whether it's the Swedish soccer team refusing to play the Russian team, or Poland closing their airspace to Russian air traffic, there are demonstrations throughout the world that testify to the fact that the collective us isn't going to just let the aggressive actions by the Russian leader be swept under the rug.  The brutal actions of one country will not just be treated as merely a tragic event, along the lines of the world's response to the Soviet repression of the Prague Spring (reference HERE) in 1968.  It seems that the world has grown since then, and not just in population.

Will these large actions (such as banishing key Russian banks from SWIFT) help to convince the Russian leader to abandon the course of invasion or will they simply further embolden him, like a pizza rat protecting a crust in a New York City subway?  None of us know, but we can hope for the best.  We can also pray if we are so disposed.  

Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure:  The world is forever changing as a result of these events.  

I want to believe that the change will be for the best, banishing the last vestiges of conquering by force into the history books.  Part of this good is the undisputed fact that it was impossible for the Russian leader to somehow hide his intent in a world where there is video everywhere, real-time satellite imagery, and the ability that exists for any of us to disseminate information globally via social media.  For all of its flaws, this very well may be one of the truly good things that social media has brought us, namely a world where it's simply harder to pull off false-flag actions as if this were the 1939 Germany/Polish border all over again.

The alternative...namely a change for the a grim prospect.  To quote the late Levon Helm, that would be "an adult-sized portion".  

If you are reading this and stressed/anxious about these events, well, my wish is that you find a kind of separate peace when it comes to what is happening in the world.  Hopefully, the world will find a way back (to a better) home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Looking Back at the Ghosts

I have this two-fold theory about winters in Northeastern Pennsylvania:
  1. The temperatures start to get warmer around Valentine's Day, and
  2. The chance for any real snow ends on or about March 25th.
Neither is supported by any real data, but at this stage, I'm mostly just hoping.
Now that the weather report is out of the way, on to the main topic at hand.
"Give no f&^ks about those who would give no f&^ks about you."*
That's been my (admittedly crude) mantra as I try to navigate life in my later 50's, with all that entails.  Sometimes that message hits home very quickly when I am facing something that I find mildly upsetting.  Sometimes it has to truly be something of an actual mantra, whereby I repeat it over and over again until it sinks into my brain like so much melted butter into toast.  That latter was last Saturday, after I read something on my LinkedIn feed that I found brought back plenty of bad memories.  Yes, while I was power-walking through the Viewmont Mall on Sunday, on a quest for long-sleeve polo shirts that don't look like they are meant for old men (I am in my late 50's, but I will be damned if I will be dressing like it).  I didn't find any, by the way.  But I did have lots of time to ponder the thing that bothered me, and probably more importantly, why it was bothersome.
To the last sentence of the prior paragraph, I'll just note the following:  Sometimes we are reminded of the past, and thoughts of "why did this happen" re-emerge like cicadas, along with memories of those signals we should have paid attention to at the time, but for some reason didn't.  As Brene Brown would note (or did note in one of her books...I think...), it's important when we look back at the past, to remember that we did the best we could at the time with what we knew then.   While I am generally pretty hard on myself when it comes to most things, I do acknowledge that there has been very little in my life that I've done or decided where my intent was in any way to cause harm to others.  Now have I actually caused harm to others?  Sure, and I regret the consequences of those actions, while still acknowledging that, as previously noted, I did the best I could at the time.
Anyway, I think I am past the worst of those negative thoughts.  The other thing I try to remind myself of, in addition to the mantra noted above, is that all of us have a figurative expiration date printed on our sides.  As in we will all eventually die.  Do I, for example, really and truly want to waste what time I have left thinking about the crappy parts of my life?  The logical me cringes at the time I have given over to ghosts of the past.  
"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?"(Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here)
The story is that the Pink Floyd song "Wish You Were Here" was written about band founder Syd Barrett, who had slipped into a substance abuse fueled downward mental health spiral.  For some, those ghosts are pretty powerful things. Now I don't believe in actual ghosts, to the extent that the word "believe" is even relevant here, but I do know (as opposed to "believe") that if we don't let go of certain things, they become figurative ghosts in our lives, forever haunting us.  

As I roll all of this up, I can say that some ghosts of the past do creep into my life from time to time.  That's the bad news, but it's news that I likely share with many others.  The good news?  I've gotten better at not letting those ghosts take up permanent residence in my head.  Believe it or not, I am actually capable of learning.  From time to time.

 (*) Paraphrased from THIS very good book, which I highly recommend.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Horrible List: Penn State (still, kind of, and needlessly I will add)

Preface:  I have two degrees from Penn State.  I am a life member of the Alumni Association.  I served on the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society board.  I helped fund a Penn State scholarship.  Penn State will be a beneficiary of my estate.  In fact, I've contributed more to Penn State over the years than I have any other organization.  Simply put, I have earned the right to be critical of PSU.

* * * * * *

When the words "Penn State" and "Horrible" are mentioned in a sentence, it usually is because of the legacy of the abuse scandal that occurred late during the tenure of former coach Joe Paterno.  That's not where I am going with this posting.  Instead, this is my target:


The numbers noted in the chart above are 6 years old, but they still support my main point:  A majority of Penn State students are not affiliated with University Park.  In fact, the 52.32% of students outside of University Park in 2016 almost definitely is an understatement of the present university enrollment.  Wikipedia (I know, a questionable source at best) shows current Penn State World Campus enrollment at 14,687 (citation HERE).

Yet, as someone who is the recipient of a ton of Penn State literature (see the preface), the vast majority of the visual content I receive is overwhelmingly related to University Park.  So is the vast majority of what I'll call the "Penn State speak" in how the university communicates to its alumni.  For me, it's been, at times, disheartening.  Penn State was an enormous part of my formal education and it's where I view myself as having learned, in part, to be an adult.  It's just that the "Big Penn State" wants my Penn State experience to be defined by football games, the creamery, fraternities, Thon, etc.  Note that I was in my 40's before I visited State College for the first time.

I have, for the record, told my Penn State story to anyone and everyone at the university who would listen.  This includes fellow alumni, the development office, annual alumni surveys, and various other ways.  I've gotten some tacit admissions in the past that I'm probably right in my assessment of things (the University Park centric model of the Penn State universe), but the marketing machine that is PSU will not be swayed.  It's basically been a repeat of a discussion I had many, many years ago with another Penn State alumni, who when I told them that I graduated from Penn State Harrisburg, their response was "Oh, is that some kind of satellite campus?".  I shook my head in disgust.  It was as if this person somehow wanted to relegate me to the unpopular kid's table in the junior high school cafeteria.

Thinking about solutions though, there is a kind of two-fold response to all of this for me.

First, Penn State's World Campus will continue to grow in the years and decades to come.  This, not University Park, will drive Penn State's growth in the future.  This will also create even more alumni with zero connection to University Park. Maybe some of these folks will, like me, end up working in small ways to change Penn State.  Alienation is a powerful motivator.  These changes could include more non-University Park-centric members of the Alumni Council and other advisory bodies within the university.    

Second, 100% of all the support I have provided to Penn State, both in terms of time and money (not an enormous amount in absolute terms, but significant for me), has gone to Penn State Harrisburg.  No amount will ever go to supporting any facet of operations or programs at University Park. 

In the end, I know that some will take this posting as sounding petty and superficial.  That's okay, by the way.  I wouldn't be writing this though if I didn't care deeply for Penn State, which, as I previously noted, dramatically changed my life for the better.  It is precisely because of this that I want Penn State to be better for all of its students and alumni.   Cultural change is never easy, but that doesn't make it unworthy of the effort.  And Penn State is worth the effort.