Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Paterno Statue

This is an op-ed piece that I was shopping around last week. Nobody bought it, and it's obviously dated now that the Paterno statue has been removed, but I thought it was worth posting on the blog at least.

The Paterno Statue: Penn State Should Have Listened to Harry Truman

By Matthew Algeo

Penn State University officials should have followed Harry Truman’s advice when they were thinking about erecting a statue of Joe Paterno on campus: Just don’t do it.

When the seven-foot-tall, bronze statue was unveiled outside Penn State’s football stadium in 2001, Paterno was regarded as nothing less than a living legend, the benevolent and beloved head coach of the university’s football team. We now know that, by then, Paterno was already involved in covering up the crimes of his pedophilic assistant, Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno is dead but his statue remains, an uncomfortable reminder of his complicated legacy. Penn State officials say they will take their time deciding what to do about the statue, but this small bit of drama inside a much darker tragedy would have been avoided if the university had listened to the last president whose most advanced degree was a high school diploma.

While raising funds to build the library in Independence, Missouri, that now bears his name, Harry Truman was careful to point out that he was not interested in building a memorial to himself. “I’ll be cussed and discussed for the next generation anyway,” he said.

As a rule, Truman opposed erecting monuments to the living. “You can never tell what foolishness they may get into before they get into a pine box,” he said, “and then the memorial sometimes has to be torn down.”

It’s been known to happen. In the 1950s, a tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was going to be named after Thomas J. Evans, the chairman of the turnpike commission – until Evans was convicted of attempting to defraud the commission of $19 million.

Former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden – himself a living legend and Joe Paterno’s longtime friend – believes the Paterno statue should be removed. “Every time they show that statue on TV, people won’t remember the good years,” Bowden told an interviewer last week. “They’re only going to remember the things with Sandusky.” Bowden speaks from a position of unusual authority: There’s a statue of him outside Florida State’s football stadium.

It has already been announced that Paterno’s name will be removed from a building on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon. The building is named the Joe Paterno Child Development Center.

Of course, if officials at Penn State had followed Harry Truman’s advice, they never would have erected the Paterno statue on campus in the first place. For the time being, at least, the statue stands as a literal monument to the inherent perils of memorializing the living – and to the enduring wisdom of Harry Truman.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Trip "Out West"

“Welcome to the our museim” reads the sign above the entrance to the aimag museum in Hovd. But don’t be alarmed. They may need to work on their English, but the curators of this fine little museum have done an excellent job. The museum includes a wide array of indigenous animals (stuffed, of course), as well as a “wall of fame” with photos of local notables. There’s also a small display of Socialist-era military uniforms and a late-70s computer (said to be the aimag’s first). 

Allyson and I visited the museum on a trip we took “out west” a few weeks ago. We flew into Hovd, then took a car from there to Bayan-Olgii. It was a long (eight hour), bumpy ride, but a new (paved) road is being built from Hovd to Olgii, so the trip should be faster (and more pleasant) in the near future. In Bayan-Olgii we spent a couple days in Tsengel, the largest soum in the aimag. It’s a Kazakh town, and the differences with soums in other parts of Mongolia were striking. The gers are of a distinctly Kazakh style, and most homes are completely surrounded by wooden fences. The people mainly speak Kazakh, so even a little Mongolian won’t go very far.  And, as I was dismayed to learn, since this is a Muslim area, it is impossible to buy even a beer on Fridays. (Believe me, I tried.) 

We ended our trip in Olgii, the aimag center, which also has a nice museum, as well as a wonderful Turkish restaurant. Flying home from Olgii, I found myself wishing I could have spent more time out west. It is a rugged, mountainous area, so travel can be difficult, but the scenery and the people make it all worth it.