Sanctioned

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sanctioned/sanctioned-a-psu-documentary-film-about-obstacles

Jack Tumen, a Penn State student, is producing “Sanctioned” to tell the story of the spirit and resilience of Penn State in the face of historic NCAA sanctions.

Those following the story know how it has played out. The NCAA repealed its sanctions and in the process restored its recognition of Joe Paterno’s historic 409 coaching victories. But the lives of Penn Staters and especially those on the football team were deeply impacted by those sanctions. And for those students and players, the NCAA’s rollback of the sanctions will always be more symbolic. We only live once.

Sanctioned will tell the remarkable stories of a remarkable period in the life of Penn State and an iconic Pennsylvania town. They’re only ~$2,500 away from reaching their Kickstarter goal with 10 days left. They’re working on an achievable goal and doing it with an extremely modest budget.

T-Mobile

A year or so after the first iPhone came out I went on eBay, bought one, and jailbroke it when it arrived so I could use it with T-Mobile, which was my wireless network. I think I was paying something like $50/month at the time for T-Mobile BlackBerry service, and unlocking the iPhone and using it with T-Mobile’s network made sense.

By I think late 2010, AT&T was hawking its unlimited data plans. I think it was still the sole wireless carrier offering the iPhone, and data speed with AT&T was way beyond T-Mobile at this point. I switched in December.

I’ve been with AT&T for practically five years, and while the unlimited data has been great, the price hasn’t been. And in AT&T’s attempts to incent its unlimited data users to downgrade to limited data plans, they jerked around earlier users like me.

Examples: I had to deal with talk and text limits unless I wanted to pay more than $120/month for unlimited everything service. I wasn’t allowed to use my iPhone as a hotspot. And after 5GB of use in any given month, I had to deal with throttled data speeds.

Even after a 10% Penn State discount, my AT&T plan was still running ~$83/month after tax. And with the rumored end of two year contracts that subsidize the cost of a device, I was ready to switch.

Re-enter T-Mobile. I’ve been watching John Legere and T-Mobile for the past two years and what he’s done to breathe life back into the company has been awesome. I love the enthusiasm, and I like the blend of bravado, marketing, and apparently genuine change in corporate culture.

A scrappy underdog is compelling. I was able to order a free T-Mobile SIM card on their site and use my existing iPhone with their network, just like I did with the first iPhone. Their service in cities is excellent, and I’ll soon find out if/how bad service gets in rural areas. The speed test above is from State College, PA. A typical AT&T download speed was ~5 mbps.

For now, I’m on the $50/month unlimited talk/talk plan with 1GB LTE data with slower unlimited data after. I’m curious to see how seriously I’m throttled after the first 1GB this month, and will probably eventually switch to their unlimited talk/text/LTE data plan in a month or two. At $80/month, it would still cheaper than my old AT&T plan, with the benefit of standard T-Mobile features like hotspot functionality, free in-flight texting, and free international data.

The key cultural difference for me is returning to the era of owned, unlocked devices, with no contract service plans. It feels great.

Bill Pickle

If you’ve ever been to Bill Pickle’s Tap Room in State College, and if you like knowing the stories of the places you visit, there’s a fascinating story recounting Dr. Frank Buchman’s relationship with Bill Pickle starting around 1908. Buchman’s story of the bar’s namesake comes in transcript form, from a talk delivered in 1948 in California. It begins:

This afternoon I want to take you back forty years to the time when the then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee asked me to come to State College, Pennsylvania, and see whether I could do anything to settle the differences between the faculty and the students who did not seem to understand each other. He was on the Board of Trustees and he was worried. And he ought to have been worried. There was a strike on, a students’ strike. The atmosphere was antagonistic and he had an idea that I could find the solution. I had no such idea at all. I frankly told him I didn’t think it was my job. But he kept after me and finally I consented to go.

It was there that I found the laboratory that made what is hap­pening here possible. The life of the students reflected the Godless-ness of the place. The first night I got there, there were nineteen liquor parties. Someone said it was so wet you could float a battle­ship…

There were three men who were the focal points of the life of that university. The first of these was a fellow with the name of Bill Pickle…Bill Pickle was an important factor in the life of that university. He was the illegiti­mate son of a colonel. He had a wife and twelve children and everybody called them the Pickles. His job in the daytime was to be hostler for the local physician. At night he worked for the students to whom he peddled liquor. I used to see his stealthy figure sneak­ing about the spiral staircases leading to the students’ rooms at all hours of dark nights. He was a friend not only of all the under­graduates, but of all the recent graduates and the old Alumni. At football games and college festivals Bill was a busy man. There was a State law against saloons and he had to supply liquor for the whole place.

The student strike that he’s talking about came at the close of Penn State President George Atherton’s time. I believe it’s the same strike that led to the creation of Lion’s Paw and ultimately to student self-governance.

This story includes plenty that’ll be familiar to Penn Staters, and plenty that’ll be foreign. I think it’s in the meeting of the two that new perspectives and a more deeply-rooted affection emerges.

In any event, next time you’re raising a glass at Pickle’s with a close friend, you’ll know a part of Bill Pickle’s story.

Diaries, journals, etc.

I’m a fan of Day One, the diary/journal app. I think I first saw it and tried it after seeing Jack Dorsey writing about it on Twitter. Over the past few years I’ve used it sporadically and posted something like 120 entries. Not that many, in other words.

I think keeping a journal, diary, or something like it is really worthwhile if you can get comfortable and not overthink a daily or semiregular entry. Even a casual glance at some of the stuff I’ve written over the past few years instantly brings me back to specific moments in time, and specific people and places that have fled from my active memory. So I imagine returning from time to time to those entries will grow in value with every year.

Each entry can tell a story, but given time each entry also serves as perspective. At a time when Americans supposedly have fewer intimate friends than ever before, even self-perspective can be valuable.

But a major stumbling block for me in writing more regularly has always been time. I think the best time for an entry is at the end of the day. And at end of the time, I’m tired. Thinking about writing even 50 words is often daunting.

What I would really like to see is for Day One and others to incorporate audio/video entries. Writing is great, and probably the most timeless. But it seems like a simpler thing to record a one or two minute stream of consciousness style recap as an entry. Like writing, it’s something that can be done from any device. And in the case of the Apple Watch, it’s an example of a new paradigm.

Apparently Day One will add audio and video in the future. I hope it’s a priority.

Philadelphia news

In this morning’s Billy Penn newsletter there’s a feature from Anna Orso on a potential Philadelphia Inquirer strike. It would be be the first strike in thirty years, and it seems unlikely at this point.

But Anna’s piece brings to mind the larger issue with Philadelphia news, which is that The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com (same company) don’t provide tremendous value to the community. This was reflected somewhat in its most recent $88 million sale to Gerry Lenfest and Lewis Katz last year. I remember reading at the time that Lenfest and Katz bid that price not expecting to win. But they got it.

And since Katz’s death, Lenfest as Philadelphia’s elder philanthropist has been left to chart the future of these brands. But other than nostalgia, and the value of a few specific personalities like Inga Saffron, what does Philly.com, et al. really do for the city or its suburbs?

I think the better approach is to hire away the top 10-15 reporters from the three brands, completely axe the existing business units, relaunch Philly.com as a serious news site focused on a few excellent verticals, and partner with Billy Penn, Technically Philly, Hidden City Philadelphia, Newsworks, etc. to create something new.

Balance sheets

Rupert Neate profiles lucrative trailer park investments:

According to US Census figures, more than 20 million people, or 6% of the population, live in trailer parks. …

[Frank] Rolfe, who started Mobile Home University seven years ago and now runs boot camps every couple months in cities across the country, tells his students they can easily increase the rent even at parks that are already charging market rates, because there is so much demand for affordable housing and local authorities are very reluctant to grant permission for new parks.

He quotes US government statistics showing that in 2013, 39% of Americans earned less than $20,000 – less than the government’s poverty threshold income of $20,090 for a three-person household.

“That’s huge. No one believes that number – people say: ‘You’re crazy, this is America, everyone is rich.’ [Being on an income of $20,000 or less] means you have a budget of about $500 a month for your housing, but the average two-bedroom apartment is $1,109 a month. There’s not a lot you can do.”

And: “If the investors were to buy this park and put up his rent, Newton, who collects disability payments of $700 a month and pays $550 a month in rent, fears he would be forced on to the street. ‘I would have to find another low-rent place to move to,” he says. “I would probably end up having to be homeless.'”

It’s great that investors can chase lucrative opportunities, but social and human costs are also true parts of the balance sheet.

When political leaders become responsible for rectifying social inequities, it’s probably because the nation’s civil leaders has abdicated their primary role. We (the people) are those civil leaders.

Ambition

Emily Esfahani Smith writes that “there’s more to life than leaving home” and touches on the motivations behind the decision to stay or go:

When I asked about the connection between ambition and personal relationships, Kammeyer-Mueller said that while the more ambitious appeared to be happier, that their happiness could come at the expense of personal relationships. “Do these ambitious people have worse relationships? Are they ethical and nice to the people around them? What would they do to get ahead? These are the questions the future research needs to answer.”

Existing research by psychologist Tim Kasser can help address this issue. Kasser, the author of The High Price of Materialism, has shown that the pursuit of materialistic values like money, possessions, and social status-the fruits of career successes-leads to lower well-being and more distress in individuals. It is also damaging to relationships: “My colleagues and I have found,” Kasser writes, “that when people believe materialistic values are important, they…have poorer interpersonal relationships [and] contribute less to the community.” Such people are also more likely to objectify others, using them as means to achieve their own goals.

“The growing good of the world,” says George Eliot, “is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Ambition is probably most useful when there’s a particular goal in sight. Often we’re ambitious in spirit, and without a particular vision for the sort of life we want to live or the world we want to shape.

I think it’s the visionless ambitious that tend to be dangerous, because without vision there’s slim chance of obtaining contentment.

Patriotism is small

Bill Kauffman’s 2014 Campaign for Liberty speech about “rescuing the color and vitality of home” is really good. It expresses, more or less, my sense of patriotism, which I think has to be a patriotism of rootedness and smallness and pride, rather than our contemporary patriotism of burdened ambition and ego:

If you believe, as I do, that rootlessness is one of the great maladies afflicting our lorn and lovely land, then reasserting the importance of place in American life becomes the antidote. America is the sum of ten thousand and one little, individuated places, each with its own character and stories. A politician who understands this will act in ways that protect and preserve these real places. She will ask the question that never gets injected into national debates over the wisdom of American policy: What are the domestic costs? Loving her block, she will not wish to bomb Iraq. Loyal to a neighborhood, she will not send its young men and women across the oceans to kill and die for causes wholly unrelated to local life.

A rootless politico will babble on about “the homeland”—a creepy totalitarian phrase that, before George W. Bush, was never applied to our country. …

The American Empire is run by the people in gray. There’s no poetry in them: no heart, no soul. The America of Dorothy Day and Zora Neale Hurston and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Johnny Appleseed and Crazy Horse and Jack Kerouac and volunteer fire departments and craft breweries and country churches—that’s ours; that’s the vital America. That’s the country worth loving—and that’s the country of liberty and local community, neighborliness and peace. …

I am a patriot. And I love my country. And this country is only healthy insofar as its little pieces are healthy. Lowell, Massachusetts. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Batavia, New York. Red Cloud, Nebraska. Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I saw the distinct identity—the meaning—of my own place fading and that’s why I raised my voice.

Considering Washington

Here’s an accessible re-introduction to George Washington. It asks “What made George Washington the most remarkable man of an extraordinary generation?” It does a pretty good job in its answer:

Eulogists and early biographers imputed many virtues to Washington. They praised his wisdom, judgment, astounding courage on the battlefield, and dignity. Congress elected him the first chief executive, principally because its members trusted his moral character. Assessments of Washington applauded his military zeal and political passion on the one hand and his self-restraint and civil moderation on the other. Blending Stoic and Christian traditions, eulogists extolled Washington’s perseverance in the midst of setbacks.

Many admirers considered Washington’s self-control the key facet of his character. He could master events because he had mastered himself. Despite being surrounded by fear, despair, indecisiveness, treason, and the threat of mutiny, he remained confident and steadfast. Eulogists also heralded his self-sacrifice, devotion to the common good, compassion, generosity, and benevolence. …

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.”

In certain times we judge great figures of history by their greatest virtues, and at other times we judge them by their greatest failings. Our judgment of Washington deserves to be informed by both.

And yet, his firm place in the American story and the public impact of so many of his personal virtues are what have created the possibility for our present culture.

Err toward life

A few weeks ago it was reported that the first MRI studies of infants found that they feel pain as acutely, or even more acutely, than adults:

The brains of babies “light up” in a similar way to adults when exposed to the same painful stimulus, suggesting they feel pain much like adults do, researchers said on Tuesday.

In the first of its kind study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists from Britain’s Oxford University found that 18 of the 20 brain regions active in adults experiencing pain were also active in babies. …

“In fact some people have argued that babies’ brains are not developed enough for them to really feel pain… (yet) our study provides the first really strong evidence this is not the case.” …

“Our study suggests that not only do babies experience pain but they may be more sensitive to it than adults,”…

This should be news to no one. But it’s an instructive reminder of why pro-life Americans err on the side of life, prizing the responsibility of personal relationship toward nascent life over the value of personal liberty in contexts where liberty is abstract but life is concrete.

On a practical level, it represents one of the roots of the Culture of Life—the conviction that life is life, and the constant attempt to separate some kinds from others, by development capacity, stage, or state, is ultimately a road that leads to forgetfulness about the essential humanity of each person as a creature.

Scientific research in this case has reminded us of something that the humanities should never have let us doubt. We are people.