An atheist

I was searching recently for orthodox iconography of St. Benedict, and happened to come across the shuttered site of Fr. John McLuckie, an Episcopal priest in Scotland. A post of his from a few years ago caught my eye. As far as I can tell, he wrote this. It’s well said:

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean a cosmic puppeteer who takes away our autonomy and organises the minutiae of every life.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean an unflinching judge who likes nothing better than catching people out on an arbitrary set of rules and punishing them accordingly, delighting at their downfall.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean our tribal mascot who rallies us to get one over on the other lot.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean a totem of prim morality that idolises the nuclear family, detests any expression of human love that does not fit this model.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean a trump card to play in any argument that terminates all debate.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean one who is less than indifferent to the suffering of the abused, the cry of the hungry and the agony of the poor.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean anything that excludes any of our imperfect human expressions of wonder, love, mystery and longing.

I am an atheist if, by ‘God’, you mean one who is more interested in the precise formulations of our minds than the dispositions of our hearts.



Getting cash without cards

I wrote last summer about going walletless and carrying just my driver’s license and debit card. The two friction points for going just iPhone? We’ll need to carry ID for years until, first, state governments catch up and issue digital equivalents that are accepted where they need to be accepted. And second, until ATMs become NFC compatible. What I wrote in July:

On the cash side, it’ll require Apple taking the lead to partner with ATM networks to convert their machines to NFC compatibility. With Apple Pay, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to walk up to an ATM, place our phone near the screen, type in our PIN or just use TouchID, and get cash. Apple made a point to promote their work with vending machine companies when Apple Pay rolled out for similar NFC compatibility, so it seems natural to expect the same approach with the ATM networks.

This is apparently happening. It’s way faster than I expected, which is fantastic. As a Schwab customer, I can already use any ATM. Excited to try this at Bank of America or Wells Fargo later this year.


SS United States

The SS United States has been sitting, rusting, in a South Philadelphia port for most of my life. It’s an historic and storied vessel, but plenty of historic and storied vessels end up being scuttled or sold for scrap. In the past few years I’ve followed the continuing struggle to figure out what to do with this thing. I would run past it when I lived in Old City and would run along Columbus Boulevard in the summer. But its situation has been fragile, with the conservancy that formed to save it was facing with expenses of something like $60,000/month. It looks like they’ve found a solution:

It looks like the SS United States – the large, historic passenger liner that has been docked in South Philadelphia for two decades – will be moving to New York.

The nonprofit SS United States Conservancy, which owns the ship, revealed in a news advisory Thursday that it “has signed an option agreement with a major redevelopment partner” and that it will provide details about the ship’s future at a news conference next Thursday in New York.

Thomas Basile, a spokesman for the Washington-based conservancy, said in an email Thursday that he cannot provide any details about the ship’s new plans until after next week’s official announcement.

Basile would not confirm if the ship will move to New York or say who the “major redevelopment partner” is. But the fact that the news conference will be held at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, Pier 88, at 711 12th Avenue, in New York, reenforced earlier hints that the ship is expected to move there.

Jack Harris took the photo I’ve included here, of the SS United States sailing down the Hudson River on July 3, 1952. It’ll be years, but I can’t wait to step onboard in New York someday in the future.

If you were to count just the Museum of the American Revolution, the Philadelphia Media Network, and now the SS United States, Gerry Lenfest is making an enormous impact.


Don Davis on leadership

I’m visiting State College in February, and that has me thinking about Maralyn Mazza, a friend of mine there. She and her late husband Paul founded the South Hills School of Business and Technology in Central Pennsylvania. Like many, Maralyn’s family connections to Penn State are deep. Her father, Donald W. Davis, Sr., taught at Penn State for decades in the early 20th century and created the first advertising curriculum for the university.

After breakfast on a visit with Maralyn a few years ago, she told me about her late brother Don Davis, former chairman and CEO of Stanley Works (now Stanley Black & Decker). In addition to lecturing for 21 years at MIT on leadership, he also created the Don Davis Program in Ethical Leadership through Penn State’s College of Communications. A little about the program is showcased here:

Its mission:

to promote professional, academic and personal integrity within the community of the College of Communications at Penn State. The program has a special focus on the development of responsibility and integrity among undergraduates in the College as part of their preparation to be the principled leaders of tomorrow’s media institutions.

One of the things that Maralyn told me about her brother that really struck me was how proud he was to have graduated from Penn State with his undergraduate degree, rather than from a Yale or Harvard, because he felt it made him a better executive. Less assuming, hungrier.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 3.03.33 PMI really wish I had gotten the chance to meet Don. From everything I’ve learned about him, and heard about him from those who knew him best, he was a living example of great American character. But I left State College after that visit with Maralyn feeling a bit like I had gotten a chance to know him, and part of that was through his “Little Red Book,” a set of leadership mantras. I hope any Penn Staters who come across this list will feel like they got a chance to “meet” Don, too.

  1. Spend your free time with positive people.
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You really are not indispensable.
  3. Look for opportunities to practice leadership.
  4. Get plenty of exercise—in direct proportion to the stress you have.
  5. Try to see humor and opportunities in all problem situations.
  6. Avoid dealing with someone you don’t trust.
  7. Focus on the job at hand—remember that promotions don’t come to people who lust for power.
  8. Leadership is service (stewardship) based on trust.
  9. Treat each person with respect.
  10. You don’t have to answer a question just because someone asks it.
  11. The more you use and rely on power and authority the less you have left.
  12. Don’t make tough, borderline decisions until you have to.
  13. When in doubt, get more information.
  14. When confronted with a subordinate who is cutting an ethical corner or playing self-serving politics—make an issue of it on the spot (in private).
  15. When you feel overwhelmed or ill-prepared, call time out—start shedding stuff.
  16. If your boss tells you to do something that you know is a mistake—don’t do it—just keep talking. In other words never get in a position where you say: “I knew it was wrong when I did it.”
  17. Don’t lose your integrity—hard to get back.
  18. Don’t turn down a challenge. If you do, it will be hard to live with your decision.
  19. Remember in any organization ethical standards will be no higher than those of its leader.
  20. If you don’t know what’s going on—shut up and listen—even questions may divulge your ignorance.
  21. Don’t be afraid to admit you “don’t know.”
  22. Don’t make an important personnel change if your “gut” says no.
  23. Body language telegraphs your feelings as much or more than words.
  24. “Talking the talk” does no good unless you “walk the walk.”
  25. When dealing with borderline ethical decisions—just ask—would it bother me to be in the headline tomorrow?
  26. Develop a pattern of doing pro-bono or volunteer work in the community.
  27. In evaluating people—one good test—would I enjoy spending a weekend with this person?
  28. The more responsibility and demands on you the more you must protect your time and keep a balance in your life.

New generations

I’ve written before many times about the importance of “a spirit of community across time” as vital for places looking to cultivate or conserve a distinctive character. I want to dive in to explain this a bit.

On January 4th, I hopped into an Uber from my office in Narberth, and headed to West Chester for dinner at Rams Head with Jake Abrams, who as of this month is the newest president and general manager for The LION 90.7fm, Penn State’s student radio station. I had read Jake’s Onward State contributions, but had never met him. We were meeting in my capacity as a former president and general manager of the station, and also as president of the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group, an affiliate of the Penn State Alumni Association that’s in he middle of a multi-year campaign to create a new scholarship for undergraduates at the station.

Campus radio at Penn State began thanks to the Class Gift of 1912 with WPSC, but while its tradition is long, its latest incarnation as WKPS dates only to 1995. I’ve come to know almost every president and general manager since its founding, and through the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group we try to keep different generations connected and communicating. You can’t force mentorship, but knowing past generations exist is a way to crack open the door.

In any event, it was great getting face time with Jake, and connecting with the newest generation of station leadership. He’s passionate and seems sober about the challenges and opportunities for leading the station. Their new facilities are a great inflection point, and I’m excited to see what he and his staff do. I’m also excited because he’s a sophomore, which means he has a special potential to make a major impact if he stays involved as a multi-year president. I actually prefer underclassmen as leaders, because I’ve found seniors are often there simply to check the box.

As a young leader, Jake also has the opportunity to connect the youngest generations with the older ones, helping the station’s roots reach into more deeply fertile soil. New generations in life occur roughly every 20 years, but on campus they occur roughly every 24 months. It’s vital to put the time in to meet and connect with new generations, or you’ll quickly find the thread of continuinity is lost, and it can be weird if a 50-something alumnus tries to connect with a 19-year old student with no one to serve as a bridge in between.

As technology changes, I believe radio’s worth is primarily in the way it can serve as a platform for interdisciplinary media skills. And especially in the midst of a cultural climate limply clinging to “safe spaces,” the federally protected airwaves are also a relevant place for freedom of thought and expression. Jake is an example of that—a sophomore who’s learning to do play-by-play sports coverage, who’s learning to manage staff and operations, who’s writing for Onward State, and who’s not a communications major.

Learning to speak articulately, earn attention, and tell a story is a major key in life. The LION 90.7fm is the most relevant media voice for students at Penn State to learn those skills, and it’s why I’m happy to give back by meeting with new generations every year. In connecting, sharing a bit of yourself, of the past, and of what’s possible in the months and years to come, you’re fostering a bit of that “spirit of community across time.”

You’re showing new generations that they’re not alone, and that those who’ve gone before care about them, and want them to write the next chapter in a larger story.


Vision and sabbaticals

Stefan Sagmeister‘s TED talk is a fun 20 minutes. He’s a creative designer whose practice of taking one-year sabbaticals every seven years is refreshing and probably pretty practical, if you plan for it:

The key is that his sabbaticals are about two things. First, they’re about professional and personal development. It’s not a one year vacation. Second, they’re a way to stagger retirement over a lifetime.

“Everything we designed in the seven years following the first sabbatical,” he says, “had originated in that [first] year.” Great visions take enormous amounts of time, energy, and iteration to made a reality. What Sagmeister’s touching on, I think, relates to the distinction between a vocation and a career—between a perceived calling in life and straightforward wage-earning.


Big-dog virtues

I laughed out loud a few times when reading this profile of Luke Russert: Why Does Young Washington Hate Luke Russert? This section from the opening is particularly good:

[Tim] Russert’s funeral, at which Luke spoke affectingly and with poise, is the opening set piece for Mark Leibovich’s This Town, which chronicles the city’s political-social strata in the Obama era. Leibovich calls Russert “the mayor,” and writes that “Tim possessed all of the city’s coveted big-dog virtues: He was not to be fucked with. He seemed happy and excited and completely confident at all times, and why not? His killer persona combined a Guy’s Guy exuberance with gravitas. Tim had a great table at the Palm and drank Rolling Rock from a bottle and ate good, manly food that wasn’t drizzled with anything.”

I think affectations are more often the result of self-consciousness rather than refinement. They’re often inauthentic. I don’t have a strong opinion of Luke Russert, but the New Republic makes the point that his father’s “big-dog virtues” were basically virtues of authenticity.

The crux is whether you look at Luke and think the attitudes, preferences, and habits he shares with his father derive from a cynical, self-conscious mimicking, or whether they’re basically authentic, too.

(What’s easier than forging an authentic lifestyle of one’s own? Preening over the perceived authenticity of another’s.)


Penn State conspiracy

A year ago the NCAA completely voided its historic sanctions against Penn State, which were levied based on the notion of an institutional conspiracy to cover up former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse. In voiding its sanctions and restoring Coach Paterno’s winningest 409 game record, the NCAA faced the reality that the Freeh Report amounted to what Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General, called “raw speculation and unsupported opinion—not facts and evidence.”

The NCAA’s walk-back and the Freeh Report’s repudiation were two of three necessary steps to completely shattering the notion of a Penn State conspiracy to cover up Sandusky’s crimes. The third necessary step was the dismissal of felony conspiracy charges against Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, and Tim Curley, the three remaining living ex-Penn State administrators who (along with Paterno) lost their jobs and saw their reputations ruined because of the perception of conspiracy.

With the news that those felony conspiracy charges have been thrown out, we’re living through the death throes of the fantasy of a Penn State conspiracy, and with it, any way to credibly argue President Spanier or Coach Paterno intentionally covered up Sandusky’s crimes. The notion of an institutional cover up ultimately hinged upon criminal conspiracy; with those charges thrown out, what is there?

Since the earliest hours of what became the “Penn State scandal” in November 2011, there have been people who’ve invested themselves in a fictional world of conspiracy and coverup. Correcting that false narrative will be a generational effort, but in the meantime, Eliot’s words describe the fate of that parallel world of conspiracy Penn Staters have had to live with:

“This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.”


Uncle Bruce

Bruce L. Shakely, my great uncle, died Monday morning. I’ve shared a bit about him before. He was my grandfather’s brother, but because I was in many ways raised by my grandparents as much as anyone, I ended up being fortunate to have something of a relationship with Bruce Loyal, too. We only saw each other probably eight or 10 times, starting in the early 1990s, but he and Martha were from my earliest memory of them incredible people with what seemed like all the best virtues. 

And it was through him and my grandfather that I came in touch in a tangible way a bit of the “pioneer spirit of the Allegheny Mountains” that Pop spoke about.

I’ll write more about him in the future. In the meantime, I’m including his obituary from the Beaver County Times:

Bruce L. Shakely, 92, of Brighton Township, passed away at his home, surrounded by his family, Monday, January 18, 2016.

Born August 12, 1923 in Evans City, PA, he was a son of the late Clarence and Allene Shakely. After serving proudly in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II, Bruce graduated from both W&J College, Washington, PA, and MIT, becoming a research engineer with Crucible Steel. He was a longtime member of Four Mile Presbyterian Church, serving as an Elder, Clerk of Session, youth group leader, and Sunday school teacher. He was an active member of the Beaver Art Group, Beaver Valley Artists and West Hills Art Group, enjoying painting and sharing his watercolors with family and friends. Bruce was a particularly proud veteran, marching in every Memorial Day Parade up until his 91st birthday.

In addition to his parents, Bruce was preceded in death by his wife of nearly 59 years, Martha Bell Shakely in 2007, along with a brother, John Shakely and his sister, Jean Eury.

He is survived by a son, Roger B. (Alison) Shakely, Arvada, CO; two daughters, Marian E. (Keith) McGaffick, Industry, and Rebecca J. (Rev. Jay McMillen) Shakely, Pittsburgh; ten grandchildren, Carrie A. McGaffick, Daniel J. (Casey) McGaffick, Stephen C. McGaffick, Kyle L. Shakely, Ross D. Shakely, Kelly T. Shakely, Michael Q. Shakely, Andrew S. McMillen, Maegan M. McMillen, and Zachery D. (Roni) McMillen, along with two great-grandsons, Reese McGaffick and Connor McMillen. Bruce will also be lovingly remembered by numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, many friends, and special compassionate caretakers.

Friends will be received Thursday, January 21, 2016 from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the Noll Funeral Home, 333 Third St., Beaver. A funeral service will be conducted by Reverend Martin Williams, Friday, January 22, 2016 at 11 a.m. at Four Mile Presbyterian Church, Beaver. Interment will take place at Beaver Cemetery, Beaver. Online condolences may be shared at

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Bruce’s name to Four Mile Presbyterian Church, 6078 Tuscarawas Road, Beaver, PA 15009.


Encounter means closeness

Rocco Palmo writes about two extraordinary (extraordinarily encouraging) audiences that Pope Francis has been giving recently in the lead up to the Vatican’s 50th World Communications Day. One meeting was with Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, and the other with Apple’s Tim Cook.

Last year I shared some of my thoughts on Laudauto Si, Pope Francis’s second encyclical. What Palmo points out is that it makes sense for Francis to be engaging the heads of multinationals in a world where they have as much or frequently more ability to shape the economics, culture, and human life than many heads of state. This is all within the context of the “Year of Mercy,” which Catholics are celebrating through November:

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.