What The Hell Has Penn State Become?

By Arturo R. García

TRIGGER ALERT for subject matter relating to rape

For the sake of their safety, we don’t know the race, or any other identifying detail, of any of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged victims. But the tweet above is still right: what happened at Penn State University Wednesday night was about privilege. And it’s time sports fans started owning up to that.

On Wednesday, the university fired beloved football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier, in the wake of not only 40 counts of alleged felony sex abuse against Sandusky, a former assistant of Paterno’s, but grand-jury testimony revealing that Paterno, Spanier and other coaches and administrators were seemingly more concerned with protecting their own asses than the well-being of the children Sandusky allegedly terrorized.

What followed was maybe the single biggest display of stupidity undertaken by members of a college population: they rioted in the streets supporting a man who continue to employ a possible sex offender, even after being informed of “something inappropriate” happening in his team’s very facilities. And like schoolyard bullies, some had the nerve to portray themselves as victims:

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for Joe Pa going down,” said freshman Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed Mr. Paterno met both his legal and moral responsibility by telling university authorities about Mr. Sandusky’s alleged 2002 assault on a boy in a school shower.

Demonstrators tore down two lampposts, one falling into a crowd of students. They also threw rocks and fireworks at police, who responded with pepper spray. The crowd undulated like an accordion, with the students crowding the police and the officers pushing them back.

“We got rowdy and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”

The platitudes are as commonplace among sports fans as they are nauseating: The media is responsible. Our coach. The Us vs. Them mentality that has bred a million Jocks Vs. Nerds cliches, fueled endless hours of talk radio trash-talk – and let’s not forget, made billions of dollars for both Penn State and kindly ol’ “JoePa.” He was bigger than the institution, people said; he was an institution. After decades of exemplifying the most gratifying of sports homilies, his coaching career ends proving another truism: Power Corrupts.

Improbably, Paterno is the second “icon” to sully his own legacy within the past few years. His downfall was preceded by that of former womens’ basketball coach Rene Portland, revealed to be a raging homophobe during her 30-year tenure, as chronicled in the documentary Training Rules:

As Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler Jr. wrote in 2009:

The point of the film isn’t to simply tell the story of Rene Portland’s homophobic reign of terror and the young women she tossed into the gutter: It’s meant to make you feel it. When former player Lisa Faloon says, “Rene explained to all of us that we weren’t to talk to a lesbian, and if we were a lesbian, she specifically said, I will take your scholarship away and you will never play basketball again,” it lays the foundation for a series of stories of heartache from women who didn’t have the strength to stand up to Portland and the juggernaut of Penn State athletics. The film focuses on a half dozen other women, straight and gay, who were victims of Portland’s intolerance. Hearing women who played for Portland from 1980 to the late 1990s talk about how Portland undermined their self-confidence, attacked them, and shattered their lifelong dreams is heart-wrenching.

Portland’s transgressions were more direct, to be sure, and it’s good to report that she was also removed from her position – for me, particularly, because I met her after PSU played my alma mater years ago and it makes my skin crawl to think I was that close to well-hidden prejudice – but it operated from a similar place as Sandusky’s transgressions: I have the control and you do not.

This is far beyond the “lack of institutional control” cited by the NCAA when it comes to penalizing athletic programs. Penn State has tacitly engaged in institutional abuse of women and children who came to it because they felt they’d be safe there. If Southern Methodist can lose its’ football program for paying players under the table, then how can Penn State’s possibly be allowed to continue?

Some have argued that the idiots caught on camera Wednesday night will come to regret their actions, once they have kids of their own. I sincerely doubt that. It’s just as likely that they will become the sort of people who engage in ever-escalating acts of vandalism to prove their “loyalty.” The kind who will blame “the media” and the victims for daring to speak up. They will become the bullies who teach their own kids to “man up” and Listen to Coach. They will become the people who harass women online. They will become precisely the kinds of people who create the Rene Portlands and (allegedly) the Jerry Sanduskys of the world.

  • Lyonside

    Eh, I recall the Chris Rock routine about being rich vs. being wealthy. Herman Cain is the former, the Koch brothers who fund his campaign are the latter, and look at how quickly he’s being thrown under the bus?

  • Jay

    “The point here is that, in this scandal, the media has focused on the
    figure of Joe Paterno, when it should have focused on Sandusky, the
    perpetrator.  All the focus has been taken away from Sandusky and his
    victims, and has been put – strangely – on Paterno, a man who did a
    great deal of good for the university.”

    There is little need for discussion focusing on Sandusky, because the criminal justice system is already handling him, and very few people are defending him. What is there to talk about? Few are willing to speak out in defense of a rapist.

    However, it seems many people are willing to speak in defense of those who covered up rape. I think this alarming fact is quite worthy of discussion.

  • Lyonside

    The hoodie WAS blue. However, this was BEFORE the vigil, right after the riots, and considering that the college colors are white and blue, there’s no guarantee that the “blue” I saw was in support of sex abuse victims. This was pretty early last week, not right before the Big Game when it hit the papers.

    Regardless, I found it tacky, at the very least. And forget the vigils, the candles, the blue wristbands… unless there are also efforts to raise awareness of not just legal but moral and ethical culpability of ANYONE in academia and ANYONE taking care of children in any capacity… unless there are efforts to seek out and oust any and all accomplices, not just the most obvious or biggest targets… unless there is absolute support for the victims and all victims of sexual violence. In other words, if there is something to back up the platitudes. And if anyone really thinks that there are only 10 victims, then they need to educate themselves about the patterns of sexual abuse. Those are just the ones we know about, who have been able to come forward. There are likely just as many, if not more, who cannot or will not go to the police, because of their own situations and own inner demons.

    • Alex

      Thanks for the clarification that the child in the Penn State shirt was before the vigil. I would never try to defend the actions of the people who rioted because their actions don’t reflect how I feel about this issue.

      Having said this, I’m in agreement with you on the awareness issue and how much is covered up when sexual abuse is discovered. I too believe there are more victims and more coverups behind this…systematic coverups is why abuse continues to happen to children. There is a reason why children do not tell…or wait until adulthood to tell. 

       People who abuse children can be very charming and well-liked by others — and they are calculating in showing their demons in private only.  

      They are experts at networking on both sides– finding allies who will keep their dark dirty secrets for them and do them favors so they are not caught—as well as building networks of people who wouldn’t suspect them of abusing children. 

      They cultivate a public image that is how they wish others to see them. 

      I hope the public pays careful attention to these children’s stories for their own children’s sakes. 

  • Jjoneluv

    This is insane.  If these students had a sense of empathy, they would NEVER have done this.  If I ever had kids, I wouldn’t want them to be abused by ANYONE. 

  • Caroline

    With all due respect, I feel pride in the hard work that I did and the excellent program from which I earned my degree. I feel anger at the handful of members of my school who were party to systemic and institution-enabled child-rape.

  • Caroline

    With all due respect, I feel pride in the hard work that I did and the excellent program from which I earned my degree. I feel anger at the handful of members of my school who were party to systemic and institution-enabled child-rape.

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  • Rae

    So two highly public figures, who are two of the most powerful people at the school, one of whom students alums and fans have strongly identified with for years, do not in any way represent the school? The students condemning the abuse are only doing what any decent person should, and while this is made difficult by a toxic environment where many are defending the abusers and the cover-up for the sake of a stupid football legacy, it is hardly enough to warrant shielding the university from criticism. No one believes that every student is responsible for this, but the institutional corruption at the highest levels is deep, and many students have actively defended those involved. How can you feel anything but shame?

  • C W

    “How exactly did Penn State “tacitly engage in institutional abuse of women and children”?  What evidence do you have of that?  ”

    The institutional coverup is a passive endorsement of a child molester.

  • C W

    “As an alum, I can tell you that we, as people, as individuals, are being attacked about this scandal”

    Because of your ongoing, unceasing support for Penn State, yes.

  • Anonymous

    I would be interested in learning what you consider more corrupt than discrimination based on sexual orientation and covering up sexual assault against children.

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  • Jane

    Please stop trying to steal the “victim” label from the rape survivors.  You are not being victimized, and if you were exploited in any way, it was by the bureaucrats and school officials like “JoePa” who nurtured a culture of rape, violence, and silence at your school.

    Riots for a sports team winning are stupid.  Riots in support of a rape apologist are actively malicious, silencing survivors and allies through realized threats of violence.

  • http://momsomniac.wordpress.com/ Momsomniac

    Talented coaches and athletes on MANY campuses have long not been held accountable for sexual assault committed by them or under their watch.  If that were not so,  this atrocity may have been prevented.

  • Gillian

    I find it interesting that when Paterno was told of the incident that McQueary witnessed, he (Paterno) told his boss. From all I’ve read about Penn State, Joe Paterno had power like few in that organization, even the university president. Yet when he had the opportunity to use that power to stop something heinous and evil, he abdicated and acted like he had to go the official “chain of command” route. Very interesting, indeed.

  • Gcartist

    Coverups of horrific acts like this took place in the catholic church and have probably gone on in the world of sports especially football for a long time. Football is a religion her in the US. people don’t like it when one of the high priest of their religious institutions falls. They take that personally. These perpetrators and enablers like Paterno are fronting an image that they then protect with lies and pretense. The Paterno’s and Sendusky’s of the world, don’t act or appear like bad people. So when it comes out, their devout followers don’t want to hear it, “how dare you bust my bubble” , “how can i have followed an believed in him”, it can’t be true that he is a bad SOAB”. The blind followers and addicts of religions, be it Catholicism or ay other and of course Football, are basically paving the way for more such abuses! As a survivor of child sexual abuse by my own step father I can only say this is why children do not come forward, because the people abusing them, are so loved and have the ability to deceive, that you are simply afraid noone will care or believe you. In this state of constant physical and mental abuse, you feel helpless and alone in your suffering, it is torture. Shame on these students that put their darn football over anything else!

  • Keisha

    This situation with Penn State is so interesting. Penn State students and alum hold Penn State on this high Pedastal that they believe that it can’t do no wrong. And when it comes to their beloved JoePa it’s even worse. Before the incident my Penn State friends would talk about JoePa as if he was some sort of godly figure. Even though they are arrogant about their loyalty, I didn’t really expect them to revere JoePa like that when the whole scandal went down. When I mentioned to them that I was happy that Penn State took action instead of letting a legacy just get a slap on the wrist, they almost had my neck. And then when I told them that I thought it was stupid that Penn State rioted, they tore me a new one. They told me that I shouldn’t comment on things that I don’t know about and I “should get off my little soapbox with my idiotic rants”. And the weirdest thing that I was told was that because I didn’t go to Penn State, I did not have the right or privilege to talk about their esteemed school. They preceded to tell me that this incident did affect their lives because now their degree will be associated with this scandal. I told hyphen that I highly doubt that an employer would refuse to give you employment because you went to Penn State. They need to learn to separate the legacy from the university. JoePa is not what Penn State has to fully offer. Is it really worth it in the end to be put or academic probation or kicked out of school for rioting about a man who didn’t fufill his obligations? They are ABSOLUTELY right that the other coaches should have been fired, and I hope that they are, but they have to realize that JoePa is responsible as well.

    • Anonymous

      this.

      it goes beyond just winning. so many have taken school pride (which for penn state is “joepa” pride) to the extreme. the amount of people that passed the buck that we know of so far proves just how deep, and sick, it is in penn. state and happy valley

  • Gcartist

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    I can only think that people who make excuses for and actively defend those who have committed abuse or who knew about abuse but did nothing about it are dead on the inside. When your damn athletics department reputation is more important than children being raped you have a morally bankrupt, corrupt, dead, sick soul. This infuriates me so much. We talk a good rap in this country about how we morally righteous we are especially in comparison to other countries, yet the same shit we call “disgusting” and “barbaric” in X country is par for the course here, and that includes sexual abuse of children. The abuse itself is never what makes me the most disgusted and disappointed but the reaction around it by the seemingly “good” people who cover it up, know it is happening and do NOTHING about it, or blame the child for the abuse. There are way too many people like this still in existence. If we truly cared about children we would try to prevent abuse from happening instead of waiting for it to happen than reacting. Obviously, there are still many people who seem to not find this such a priority. Sick, sick, sick.

    • Mickey

      I remember this hearing this statement once, “The only thing necessary for the perpetuation of evil is for good people to do nothing.” That’s what happened with these rapes: “Good” people did NOTHING. And that is what helped that situation continue. And the fact that these mofos are defending the perps shows that they are sick, souless fucks.

  • Eva

    That riot that went on at Penn State is what happens with people can’t look past their own noses.  Those children who were abused weren’t their brothers, nephews, cousins,.  They were somebody else’s children.  It’s a lack of empathy for people who aren’t your family or friends.  And that’s scary.

  • Jay

    I have had the experience of attending a school where a very popular teacher was accused of  molesting students. People simply could not believe that the teacher was guilty, because they liked her too much and felt she was a “good teacher”. They blamed the initial accuser, and tried to shield the accused in any way possible, for example by pointing to her gender (because women can’t be abusers??). Ultimately she admitted it was true and was brought to justice for her crimes, yet there were still people I grew up with who still believe she was innocent because they viewed her as “good”.

    I never suspected her of any wrongdoing either, until those charges. But I don’t think it was her inherent “goodness” that made it hard for people to believe. I think what they could not believe is that they themselves worked with and were taught by this person for years, and never had any clue that anything was wrong. I think they felt guilty for that, even if they had no way to know.

    So, it doesn’t surprise me that people rush to defend Joe Paterno and others who covered up these crimes. I think it makes them feel bad about themselves that they were fans of people who covered up rape, so they choose to deny it rather than face that life isn’t as cut and dried as they thought. It turns out people aren’t so easy to categorize as “good” and “bad”.

    I also understand how people want to defend the protestors and hope they’ll figure out how wrong they are. But personally knowing grown adults who have believed in the innocence of a guilty and confessed child abuser for nearly ten years now, I don’t think it’s so easy to say they’ll just figure it out. They have pinned their own belief system on this.

  • Lyonside

    And yet… some idiot upper middle class father at my kid’s preschool had the temerity to drop off his kid in a Penn State hoodie. I was going to say something bitchy, but settled for a Look Of Death, which went totally unnoticed. Seriously, can I get some people a clue factory?

    • Anonymous

      Like, maybe you, for instance?

      Maybe the father is an alum. Our school is being attacked on all levels, and we are stepping out to show support. It’s not because we support JoePa and we’re crazed about football, or because we don’t care about the victims. This crime against these children is an ATROCITY. It’s horrible, and we aren’t defending it! A vast minority of people only give a shit about football … but I guarantee that most of them have not gone to PSU for anything but the games.

      However, the 40,000+ students at PSU now … didn’t do it. While a VAST MINORITY rioted and acted foolish, that does not mean that the school is now bad, the students are bad, and that the alumni should be ashamed of ourselves. I’m not. I am now and always will be proud to be a Penn Stater. I’ve been rocking my PSU gear this week, too, in solidarity. We’re doing it to show that we aren’t all a bunch of football crazed losers who support the rape of children.

      • Anonymous

        No offense, but most people aren’t going to get the message of “support” for Penn State and whatever good you think they’ve done lately by seeing you or other alums wearing a Penn State jersey or hat.  The university are the ones responsible for having kept this under wraps after all, and for fueling the culture that let things get this bad, so wearing their merchandise for any reason right now doesn’t make any sense.

      • Lyonside

        But did he really have to wear the hoodie, while dropping off his kids at a day care, RIGHT NOW, at this time? Can’t he wait A FREAKING WEEK, and not the day after the riots and while new allegations and charges are still being made?

        I’ve graduated from 2 colleges, one of which has done some questionable things policy-wise in recent years (not on this scale, by any means, and nothing this reprehensible, but still…). I attend a church where the pastor has been negatively affected by the actions OF my college. Even though I was long gone from the college when it happened, I will NOT be wearing my college hoodie to any church function or event, because it’s a slap in the face to people who know what happened (and it made the local papers, so anyone who cares, knows).

        No institution is perfect, by any means. But an ounce of sensitivity would go a long way.

      • Lyonside

        But did he really have to wear the hoodie, while dropping off his kids at a day care, RIGHT NOW, at this time? Can’t he wait A FREAKING WEEK, and not the day after the riots and while new allegations and charges are still being made?

        I’ve graduated from 2 colleges, one of which has done some questionable things policy-wise in recent years (not on this scale, by any means, and nothing this reprehensible, but still…). I attend a church where the pastor has been negatively affected by the actions OF my college. Even though I was long gone from the college when it happened, I will NOT be wearing my college hoodie to any church function or event, because it’s a slap in the face to people who know what happened (and it made the local papers, so anyone who cares, knows).

        No institution is perfect, by any means. But an ounce of sensitivity would go a long way.

      • Jane

        I think you should consider using your alum status to condemn the school’s rape culture and withhold donations until anti-sexualized violence programs become mandatory for freshmen, or other concrete steps are taken to deal with this culture of violence.  That instead you are defending your school to protect your alum reputation shows a remarkable lack of empathy.

      • Anonymous

        How is wearing Penn State gear showing solidarity to victims? Am I the only one that doesn’t understand the logic behind this? Wearing the gear for your school (in general heavily tied to athletics) sends the image to most that you care more about your school reputation or the athletic teams’ reputation than about the welfare of the children involved. If you want to show solidarity, stop being more concerned about your school’s reputation and a racialicious blog post and stand up for those who have been victimized for years. The fact of the matter is too many people in powerful positions at your school failed.

  • Anonymous

    I seriously didn’t get why the students are so angry.. that community is basically saying.. sports and football are worth more than the children abused.  These riots are just making the school look even worse than it did when the scandal surfaced. I think that just shows what type of culture we are, and what we are conditioned to identify with.. I’m sure that coach had no idea who half those people rioting were. But they were all children once, and it would have been completely different if it had been them.

  • Kari

    What sickens me me a lot of that a group of people went outside of Joe Paterno’s home and basically held a pep rally for him in support. WTH WTF kind of world do we live in? He should of immediately contacted the police. So glad he is fired.

    • Anonymous

      Apparently we live in a world where it is okay to cover up the actions of a known child rapist if you can win football games…

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    It just seems there are a lot of people around who want to protest. It doesn’t seem to matter what they are for or against to them. It seems the protest is what matters. At least I hope that’s the case. Otherwise all those Penn students were knowingly protesting for a pedophile enabler to keep his job.

  • Sb

    Ummm..please explain to me why there was no OUTRAGE that “one of their own” was caught raping a 10 year old CHILD!

  • http://twitter.com/danthrasher Daniel Thrasher

    This article over at ESPN.com is a great breakdown on how the reputation of the institution and power of these men corrupted the situation into something even worse than it already was.  One thing less prominent in this story is that Paterno is on the board of the charity that Sandusky used to get in contact with the victims.  The fact that Paterno knew about this, and was not okay with Sandusky still working on campus (his ‘punishment’ was being told not to bring boys on campus anymore) but okay with Sandusky still working with children is gross.  It makes me shiver.  The charity never distanced itself from Sandusky or stopped his involvement because Joe Paterno didn’t want his image or Penn State’s image to possibly suffer when an employee was fired and arrested.

    http://espn.go.com/espn/commentary/story/_/id/7208029/penn-state-joe-paterno-failure-power
    - the article at ESPN I mentioned

  • Anonymous

    The rioting, protesting youth are not used to ANY perpetrator or enabler being held responsible for their acts. Few have ever heard an adult castigate sexual assault, date rape, child abuse or domestic violence. Most have heard a clergy condemn sex, though. 
    Thank you,
    Joe Weinberg
    teachingsexualethics.org

  • Caroline

    This feels premature and oversimplified. Penn State is 95,000 students and 9,000 staff members. There were not 95,000 students in the streets of State College last night. What happened last night is much more complicated than “Penn State students don’t care about sexual abuse.”

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. I am getting so damn tired defending my school and my people.

      • Jael

        Your school’s reputation is really not the important thing at this point. Your comments all over this point complaining about your tarred reputation are classic attempts at derailment (you’ve barely even mentioned the children that were raped except to go ‘well yes, that’s BAD, but omg you’re being unfaaair’).

        • Caroline

          I don’t think Penn State’s reputation is The Most Important Thing. I don’t even think they’re equally important. But to say that I cannot care about both of these things is a false dichotomy. I don’t think you shouldn’t be angry. I’m not trying to take that away from anyone. All I’m asking for is a more nuanced response to a complex situation.

          • Anonymous

            Well, perhaps you should go to a Penn State forum for that.  You can care about whatever you like, you can’t expect for people who have no connection to the school to accept your attempts to equate your “suffering” with that of those poor kids.  
            You are basically derailing and playing Oppression Olympics but in this case you’re trying to make Penn State students and alums into a group that should be pitied b/c of these discussions.  
            Just an FYI as a person of color…I have to hear people refer to “those people” in reference to people who look like me all of the time.  I had to hear it after the Rodney King verdict, I had to hear it after the OJ verdict, and I have to hear it about so many things related to my race that it isn’t funny.  So I think you can live through  a tiny bit of synedoche in this case.  You’ll live .
            So pardon me while I take out my tiny violin and play it for you…

  • Twistingstar

    I don’t know, normally I’d come down hard against him, but the way this story has been reported I can’t figure out if he’s done anything wrong or if he’s taking the fall for institutional policy. I mean nobody seems to be angry at the person that watched the rape and then reported it to him instead of intervening, but they’re angry at him for just reporting the allegation instead of investigating it himself.

    • Anonymous

      that’s not true. many have asked angrily why mcquery didn’t stop the rape, why he didn’t go to the police, something paterno should have done as well, instead of waiting a day to tell his so-called superiors (no one at psu is above joepa, definitely no one in the AD).

      paterno has so much power and unquestioned trust and love, in that town, uni, and state. what he did and didn’t do is beyond fucked up. the high school principal, a decade later… other victims later, finally did what paterno and others should have done, inform the police

      • Eva

        The thing is that Paterno was so powerful there that he could have gone to the president himself, said Sandusky was seen raping a child and he should be arrested.  But it seemed that everybody passed the buck.  That’s why people are mad at Paterno and McCreary to another extent.  Though I don’t know for sure what I would have done if I saw someone I knew and respected raping a child, well, after I screamed my head off of course.

    • C W

      “I mean nobody seems to be angry at the person that watched the rape and then reported it to him instead of intervening”

      If you have to tell untruths to make your case, your case is probably pretty weak.

  • Anonymous

    This horrible series of abuses: the original sexual assaults and then the obscene coverups of the crimes take place in the midst of the massive denial of the millions of sexual assaults that take place daily on college campuses everywhere. After years of denial, colleges will grudgingly admit that they have a few survivors of sexual assault on their campus. But not one college administrator will admit that there are perpetrators of sexual assault on their campus. Not one student perpetrator, not one faculty or staff perpetrator, not one administrator perpetrator. The old system of blaming the victim that our mothers, grandmothers and other women for thousands of years suffered beneath (They “got themselves raped”) has not been rejected. So-called rape prevention education on campus has devolved to identifying all men as “bystanders.” Not as perpetrators; not as survivors; not as significant others (friends, relatives, lovers, partners) of survivors; not as males unsure what is ethical or legal; not as males frightened that what they have done might be sexual assault. No, “bystanders.” So only a tiny number of the perpetrators of sexual assault on college campuses are being confronted. None of the rest are being held responsible for their acts. None are being taught a practice of sex that bears no resemblance to sexual assault. Students come out of families that never talked about sex. They went to schools that similarly never talked honestly about sex. Abstinence-only sex education never talks about consensual sex. All sex is equally problematic for abstinence-only educators: consensual or assaultive. Truthfully, if the “sex” is assaultive that is positive in that the pain should be punishment for “engaging in sex” in the first place. The bystander whitewash helped prolong the cover-ups that in turn prolonged the sexual assaults of boys in Pennsylvania. And it is not a different discussion to state that if Sandusky had been black, he’d have been stopped sooner (even as all perpetrators, white and black) are protected.

    Thank you,
    Joe Weinberg
    teachingsexualethics.org

    • C W

      “And it is not a different discussion to state that if Sandusky had been black, he’d have been stopped sooner”

      He wouldn’t be a part of the same “good old boy” network, surely.

    • Anonymous

      Joe,

      Thank you for your sobering comment; I’ve carried it around with me all day and reread it. It put into words some of the ideas I have been trying to convey. I’ve also taken the time to read your website, and am glad that I did. Hope to corsspaths again as we do the necessary work in the world. All best!