‘Spirit of generosity’

Charles Marohn of Small Towns writes on his recent trip to Washington, DC with his family, and specifically on his experience of Arlington Cemetery in light of the recent mobs for/against statuary. Charles riffs on the idea of a “spirit of generosity,” which I’ve seen others write about using similar words: warm-heartedness, empathy, etc.:

We walked almost the entire cemetery. As we did, it occurred to me how our view of ourselves has changed over time. In the older parts of the cemetery, our “blue blood” heritage was visible in the headstones; the markers of the privileged and affluent were larger and more ornate than the others. As we got closer to modern times, the markers became more standardized and numbingly ordered way we envision in photographs of military cemeteries. Death is an experience shared by all classes of society.

There are exceptions, however. The Kennedy family – President John F. Kennedy, his wife and two of his children along with his brothers Robert and Edward – have a special place of reverence and reflection in Arlington. We could demand historical focus on their many human flaws – from their bootlegging endowment to a Chappaquiddick bridge – or we can, in the way societies have long honored their dead, big and small, have a generous spirit towards their many positive attributes in the hopes that they will inspire us to greatness. I’m happy we have chosen the latter.

One part of Arlington Cemetery has the Confederate Monument surrounded by the graves of many soldiers who fought for the South during the Civil War. It was authorized in 1906 and completed under President Wilson in 1914. As I looked at it, it occurred to me how difficult it must have been for many to accept, but how important if must have been for others to see it built.

Again, it gets back to the regular troops, the ones who make the difference. I’m from Minnesota and served in the Army National Guard. I’ve always had a great deal of pride over the 1st Minnesotan, which turned the tide of the battle, and subsequently the entire war, in a suicidal charge at Gettysburg. I have this pride even though I know none of them. I’ve tasted none of their pain or suffering. Felt none of their fear or relief.

As I stood there, my generous self envisioned thousands of blue and grey troops coming together at Arlington in 1914 to honor those who died in the struggle, people the attendees would have known first hand. I can imagine the stubborn pride on some, the shaky hand extended by others, the shared smile between others. Aren’t we lucky to be here, right now, in this place.

Every president, including President Obama, has sent a wreath to the Confederate Monument on Memorial Day. I choose to interpret that generously as well.

I think any statuary that was erected specifically to proclaim “white supremacy” (as was the case with one of the New Orleans monuments) should have come down years ago. And I don’t think that should be a controversial attitude. In the meantime, Robert Mariani offers a counter-intuitive perspective on how other Confederate-era monuments can be understood as acceptable public statuary, and Robert E. Lee’s perspective has resurfaced as it seems to every few years.

A society that can accommodate remembering and living with some of its most difficult history is a strong society. It seems to me that the present debate, allegedly over statues, has underlying it a much more difficult conversation about whether America is still a land of opportunity, and whether life is tolerable for huge numbers of our people.



I was not familiar with the idea of the “katechon” until a friend referenced it on Facebook recently:

In Nomos of the Earth, German political thinker Carl Schmitt suggests the historical importance within traditional Christianity of the idea of the katechontic “restrainer” that allows for a Rome-centered Christianity, and that “meant the historical power to restrain the appearance of the Antichrist and the end of the present eon.” The katechon represents, for Schmitt, the intellectualization of the ancient Christianum Imperium, with all its police and military powers to enforce orthodox ethics (see Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, G.L. Ulmen, trs., (New York: Telos, 2003), pp. 59–60.) In his posthumously published diary the entry from December 19, 1947 reads: “I believe in the katechon: it is for me the only possible way to understand Christian history and to find it meaningful” (Glossarium, p. 63). And Schmitt adds: “One must be able to name the katechon for every epoch of the last 1,948 years. The place has never been empty, or else we would no longer exist.”

Paolo Virno has a long discussion of the katechon in his book Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation. He refers to Schmitt’s discussion. Virno says that Schmitt views the katechon as something that impedes the coming of the Antichrist, but because the coming of the Antichrist is a condition for the redemption promised by the Messiah, the katechon also impedes the redemption. p. 60.

Virno uses “katechon” to refer to that which impedes both the War of all against all (Bellum omnium contra omnes) and totalitarianism, for example the society in Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four). It impedes both but eliminates neither. Virno locates the katechon in the human ability to use language, which makes it possible to conceive of the negation of something, and also allows the conceptualization of something which can be other than what it is; and in the bioanthropological behavior of humans as social animals, which allows people to know how to follow rules without needing a rule to tell how to follow a rule, then a rule to tell how to follow that rule, and so on to infinity. These capabilities permit people to create social institutions and to dissolve or change them.



SKOAL: Short Film

I’ve written about John Shakely, my grandfather, through his obituary and a later tribute. I’ve started working on his 1950s sailing manuscript, with an eventual goal to release that manuscript as a book through Nittany Valley Press in the next year or so. What I haven’t shared yet is a short film of his Pacific sailing adventures:

Panama to Galapagos

  • 00:00—SKOAL docked at Panama Canal Yacht Club, Canal Zone (Atlantic entrance to Canal).
  • 00:12—John Shakely on deck adjusting mooring lines.
  • 00:44—General view of yachts at PCYC, shoeing SKOAL. Many yachts on deep-water cruises stop here before heading on to the Caribbean or through the Canal to the Pacific.
  • 01:07—Dianne, Tahitian girl who is sister-in-law of American Canal Zone policeman we knew, dancing a hula.
  • 01:34—English yacht leaving for England, escorted out of harbor by several yachts of friends.
  • 02:56—Checking list of food stores and loading aboard SKOAL. 1,476 cans were dipped in hot paraffin to inhibit rust.
  • 03:23—Menace, the cat, our mascot given to us by a “friend.”
  • 03:33—Pablo at helm, Gatun Lake during Canal transit. Transit took about eight hours and cost $4.72 in tonnage fees.
  • 04:17—SKOAL at sea—we had to cross the doldrums causing a 26-day passage to make less than 1,000 miles.
  • 05:03—Birds on water.
  • 05:11—Menace the cat had a propensity for actions that roused my ire so we gave the beast to a farmer at Academy Bay in the Galapagos.
  • 05:31—Sea turtle on deck—about midway between Panama and the Galapagos we came upon fifty or more turtles. We roped one and pulled it aboard for photos, then turned it loose. After two days the turtles left us as abruptly as they had come.
  • 05:47—Pablo swimming—we saw no sharks so when the wind died it was perfectly safe to swim.
  • 05:57—Sunset near the Galapagos—the sunsets and dawns on the sea are quite sudden and dramatic. The color film cannot do full justice to all the subtle hues.
  • 06:24—Approaching northern islands of Galapagos, clouds.
  • 06:57—Coming into Sullivan’s Bay, San Salvador, Galapagos. This was our first stop in the Pacific. The island and its neighbor, San Bartoleme, have no human inhabitants.
  • 07:12—Landscape of San Bartoleme and San Salvador showing jumble of cinder and ash and sparse, stunted vegetation.
  • 07:47—SKOAL at anchor in Sullivan’s Bay.
  • 07:53—Seal (this required stealthy creeping and wading on my part, but I think the animal knew of my presence all the time and was playing with me.)
  • 08:16—Sea iguana, indigenous to the Galapagos—Darwin came here in the ship Beagle to gather data for his “Origin of Species.”
  • 08:35—Bird. Heron.
  • 09:17—Red crabs on rocks.
  • 09:45—John Shakely chasing crabs. (We eventually caught enough to make a meal—they had not much taste.)
  • 10:05—Porpoises.
  • 10:19—After four days at Sullivan’s Bay we headed south for Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. On arriba trail to farms, Santa Cruz. Agriculture is possible in the highlands (arriba) of some of the islands where the “garua” (drizzle) provides sufficient moisture. Many types of common and tropical vegetables are grown with some coffee and potatoes for export to Ecuador.
  • 10:32—Schoolhouse, arriba, Santa Cruz. Class was stopped while the teachers—husband and wife—made us feel at home.
  • 10:45—Birds. Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz. This is separated from the settlement at Academy Bay and so lots of wildlife gathers here.
  • 11:20—Pelican, surf on rocks, landscape, iguana—all at Pelican Bay.
  • 11:48—Goats, Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. These have been domesticated from the wild goats of the island—goats were originally left on these islands by pirates, whalers, etc.
  • 11:55—Hawk, Barrington Island. (From Santa Cruz we sailed east and anchored overnight at this uninhabited island.)
  • 12:05—Sea-lions, Barrington Island. Hundreds of these are seen in the islands, and occasionally penguins are found. The cold waters of the Humboldt Current sweeping up from the Antarctic make these equatorial islands unexpectedly cold.
  • 13:51—SKOAL anchored at Post Office Bay, Floreana Island and John Shakely coming ashore to mail a card. (The Bay got its name from the practice of old-time whalers who, on outbound voyages left letters here to be picked up by home-bound vessels. The practice is perpetuated by yachtsmen.)
  • 14:46—Nailing “SKOAL” sign to mailbox post. This is the custom of all visiting yachtsmen.
  • 14:53—Landscape of Floreana on way to Black Beach.
  • 15:10—Guide who directed us to the Wittmer farm, arriba.

Galapagos to Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Pago Pago, Auckland, Sydney

  • 15:27—SKOAL at sea under fore-and-aft rig. We sailed generally southwest on this rig for about ten days, then changed to twin-jib rig.
  • 15:59—SKOAL at sea under twin-jib rig. Showing the sheet from bom to tiller arrangement which provided a form of self-steering so that we had to stand no watches, and could both sleep each night. This rig is usable only when sailing before the wind.
  • 16:46—John Shakely firing shot-gun in celebration of Independence Day.
  • 16:55—Dolphins swimming alongside SKOAL and dolphin I speared which Pablo cleaned and cooked. The meat is very good. We were followed by dolphins—at least one of them the same one—for almost three weeks while we were on the twin-jib. The number varied from two or three to several dozen. The dolphins frequently shot ahead of SKOAL to chase flying fish.
  • 17:36—Southern coast of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, and approaching Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. We anchored in Taiohae Bay on the 38th day after leaving Black Beach, Floreana, Galapagos.
  • 17:58—Taiohae Bay. This is a large and beautiful bay protected on all sides except its opening to the south. The village of Taiohae is situated at the head of the bay and the official residence of the French administrator of the island is here.
  • 18:06—Taiohae Bay seen from near the pass on the trail to Taipi Vaii, the valley to the east of Taiohae.
  • 18:21—Wild horse on the trail to Taipi Vaii. In addition to wild horses there are wild cattle, goats and chickens on these islands.
  • 18:38—Landscape showing water-falls in valley of Taipi Vaii. This is the valley of “Typee” made famous by Melville in his book. These islands rise abruptly from sea-level to as high as 3,000 feet and rainfall is quite adequate so there are numerous impressive cascades and falls.
  • 18:48—Pablo and guide at site of the Tikis. These ancient stone gods are arranged in a rough circular pattern at the old location of religious ceremonies of the cannibals who lived in this valley. The site, several kilometers from the village, is now overgrown and the tikis are weathering away to total obscurity.
  • 19:08—Guide on horse and horses on way back to Taiohae. The saddles are carved from wood and often the horses are quite obstinate so I generally preferred to walk.
  • 19:33—Waterfall again, seen from valley floor.
  • 19:39—Taiohae Bay.
  • 20:10—Taiohae Bay, kids with outrigger canoe.
  • 20:41—Guide who took us to waterfall in Hakaui Valley. Here he is roasting the fresh-water shrimp which he caught in the stream, using a loop he made from a near-by leaf, and crushed coconut meat sprinkled on the water for bait.
  • 20:45—Hula-Hula, the traditional dance of the South Pacific, performed by the people of Taiohae as part of the Bastille Day observance. The “grass” skirt, or moré, is actually made from the inner bark of a tree that grows in the higher lands. The hula in its true form always tells a story—some incident from history or an anecdote. The gestures are stylized movements representing some everyday action such as paddling a dugout, grinding corn, etc. The same gesture may be used in different dances. The chief, in the green moré, is the dance director. In many of the dances a litany is included in which the chief leads, with a responsive chant by the dancers.
  • 26:23—SKOAL on the beach at Haveii Bay, Ua Huka. We had departed Taiohae after a two-week stay and headed south for other islands in the Marquesas, but a repair on the main-mast rigging necessitated putting into this bay. The parting of first one anchor cable and then the second resulted in SKOAL being swept onto the rocky beach where she was so battered and broken that repairs were not practical. Virtually all the able-bodied men of the island came to help in the salvage attempt.
  • 27:02—The hill on the north side of the bay is a nesting place for thousands of birds—this provided a ready supply of eggs (very similar to chicken eggs, but smaller) which, with the fish and lobsters caught by the islanders furnished ample food for us all. (I should mention the several hundred tins of food we had salvaged, many of them with the labels soaked off.)
  • 27:13—Finally, with the aid of eight 55-gallen drums, lashed to SKOAL for buoyancy, and M. Bazin’s government boat AORAI acting as a tug-boat, SKOAL—or her remains—was refloated and towed about a mile to Vai Paii, the next bay, where it was thought repairs might be effected. Examination, however, showed repairs not feasible. Whatever was usable was to be auctioned off and the returns to be put into a community fund. We had previously given the wreck to the islanders as community property. (Sometime later I received a letter from Bob MacKittrick informing me that the engine, new in Panama, had been put to use in the Catholic missionary’s boat, and the masts, sails, salvageable planking, etc. had been converted into a fishing boat for use by the people of Vaipaee. I guess you could say SKOAL lived on—body and soul.)
  • 27:28—After a six-week stay in Taiohae as guests of the Bazin’s, Pablo and I left to Tahiti as passengers aboard the VAITERE, a copra schooner that runs from Tahiti through the Tuamotus to the Marquesas and returns.
  • 27:47—Here the VAITERE is shown hoisting a sail as she leaves Taiohae Bay. She has sufficient diesel power to run without the aid of sail when necessary.
  • 28:12—Helmsman.
  • 28:26—Islanders with sacks of copra to be shipped to Tahiti.
  • 28:35—Takaroa, Tuamotus and view across the lagoon. Dozens of these coral atolls in the Tuamotus stretching far to the southeast. Only a few have a permanent population; many have a migrant populous which moves from island to island as the peral diving gets bad. In addition to copra is a major product of the Tuamotus is peral shell.
  • 28:40—Street scene, Takaroa. These islands average about seven feet above sea level, so damage and loss of life is very high when a hurricane strikes.
  • 29:09—Fish and spear-fishermen in lagoon at Takaroa.
  • 29:14—Children throwing stones—playfully, of course—at the fishermen, Takaroa.
  • 29:25—Goats on the VAITERE. These goats had the run of the place and not infrequently were chased by the cook when they ate the bananas. By the time we got to Papeete most of them had been eaten by crew and passengers.
  • 29:41—VAITERE passengers. The number of passengers fluctuated greatly as we came into the different islands. There are just four berths on the VAITERE so much of us slept on kapok mattresses on the cabin top. This was quite comfortable and, in fact, much cooler than sleeping below.
  • 29:54—Fishermen in lagoon at Papeete, Tahiti as we entered the harbor aboard the VAITERE.
  • 29:59—View of Papeete water-front from the VAITERE.
  • 30:22—Launch meeting the plane and bringing the governor of French Oceania ashore.
  • 30:38—Beach at Parae with Michele, my French teacher.
  • 30:56—Street scene, Papeete and boats tied up along quay.
  • 31:32—Hei (lei) sellers going down to meet incoming ship. When a ship comes in the whole town goes down to meet it.
  • 31:39—Road leading out of Papeete.
  • 31:52—Looking across lagoon of Papeete.
  • 31:58—SS SONOMA, the freighter on which I left Tahiti.
  • 32:10—Pago Pago Bay, Samoa, our first stop after leaving Tahiti.
  • 32:22—Unloading SONOMA, Pago Pago.
  • 32:37—School kids, street scene, Pago Pago.
  • 32:55—William Willis’ balsa raft on which he drifted and sailed from Peru. He made the voyage single-handed and traveled a thousand miles further than Kon Tiki.
  • 33:08—Auckland, New Zealand harbor. I stayed here only about six hours.
  • 33:17—Leaving Auckland aboard the MONOWAI, a passenger ship, headed for Sydney.
  • 33:45—Approaching Sydney, Australia and views of the city and harbor.
  • 34:24—Ferry boat on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
  • 34:47—Motorboat and water-skiers on the Hawkesbury. (I was in Australia for about two weeks until the middle of December. I couldn’t travel much because I had to stay in Sydney ready to leave on very short notice for the job in the Philippines.)

Cherry-blossom sigh

All is despoiled, abandoned, sold;
Death’s wing has swept the sky of color;
All’s eaten by a hungry dolor.
What is this light which we behold?

Odors of cherry-blossom sigh
From the rumored forest beyond the town.
At night, new constellations crown
The high, clear heavens of July.

Closer it comes, and closer still
To houses ruinous and blind:
Some marvelous thing yet undivided,
A fiat of the century’s will.

“To N.V. Rikov-Gukovski”
—By Anna Akhmatova



I grew up in awe of the American Indians. There was this powerful spiritual force that surrounded them in my mind. The basics of their marginalization that I learned in school was an opening to learning more about individual American Indian tribes and the people as a people.

One of the things I suspect we’re at risk of culturally is entirely forgetting the American Indians in any meaningful way. I think is partly due to the rise of political correctness and identity politics, which makes it functionally impossible for whites to speak about American Indians (even in an appreciative way) without being looked at suspiciously as either a potential appropriator or as some sort of racial nut. I think it’s also due to the fact that we tend to lack American Indian symbols, names, and faces from so much of our cultural landscape. Lots of names remain in a geographical sense, but names on a map matter less than an intellectual or physical encounter with the people who we removed from the land and who we have little way to “encounter” in cultural practice.

It would be very difficult (if not political suicide) to attempt to name a school in honor of a historical American Indian figure, for instance. Yet that sort of thing can introduce generations of Americans to the first peoples of our lands, as it did for the students of Kishacoquillas High School in Lewistown, Pennsylvania for 30 years:

Kishacoquillas Junior/Senior High School alumni are giving back.

The Class of 1982 has established a scholarship fund to financially support college-bound students from Mifflin County.

“When we were planning our 35th reunion, several of us thought it would be nice to make the event purposeful by raising money for a local charity,” explained class member Terry Yoder. “We eventually decided to create a scholarship in the name of our alma mater.”

The class is still raising money toward the Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship. Yoder said more than $4,000 has been raised thus far. Short term, the class aims to raise $12,500, for an endowment that would allow it to award one $500 scholarship annually based on interest earned. The ultimate goal is to raise $25,000, which would boost the endowment to award $1,000 per year.

Here’s a bit about Kishacoquillas from Centre Foundation, where the scholarship has been established:

The Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship Fund

Perpetuating the legacy of a peaceful Shawnee Chief and the school which bore his name by financially supporting a new generation of community-minded students.

Kishacoquillas was a widely known chief of the Shawnee Indians of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania around 1750. He was held in high regard by early colonial officials in the area because of his successful efforts in keeping the Shawnee neutral during the beginning of the French and Indian War. A beautiful valley and the creek that runs its length bear the name of Kishacoquillas. From 1958 through 1988, students in grades 7 – 12, living in the townships of Armagh, Brown, Union and Menno attended Kishacoquillas Junior/Senior High School, affectionately known as “Kish.”

In 1966, Anne Kepler Fisher completed ‘Kishacoquillas,’ a painting that depicts Chief Kishacoquillas watching over the school that was named after him. For years, it hung by the entrance to the Kish auditorium and is now displayed in the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The family of Anne Kepler Fisher is honored to have this image associated with the Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship Fund.

There’s no bringing back the American Indians—the first peoples of the American continent. But there are practical ways to honor them and remember the peoples and nations that came before us through statuary and public buildings and scholarships and so forth. However imperfectly we may remember them, and however shabby it is that we can only perpetuate their memories rather than enjoy their fellowship as living neighbors, it’s a powerful and worthwhile thing to honor the American Indians as our cultural ancestors.


Eulogy closes

Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Old City, Philadelphia closed suddenly:

After shutting down for what was to be a week’s renovations, Mike Naessens has chosen to close Eulogy Belgian Tavern for good after 15 years at 136 Chestnut St. in Old City. In short, he’s concerned for his safety.

Over a two-year span, Naessans said Friday, three employees at the bar — known for its collection of 400 beers and its quirky decor — became caught up in drug or criminal charges and either walked off the job or were fired. Naessans said he worked with prosecutors on all three cases, which he said prompted threats from the people involved and no police protection.

Naessans said one employee, fired after submitting a false résumé, was growing marijuana in Kensington. Naessans filed an affidavit in the case detailing the threats he said he received. A second employee, who Naessans said also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, was fired and charged after stealing checks from Eulogy. Most recently, Naessans said. a female employee who was a heroin user stole nearly $5,000 and Naessans’ gun from the bar. The employee and her boyfriend were released on bail, Naessans said.

“I just got tired of this,” he said. “More and more, people you try to get in for interviews, you can tell they’re on something, and it’s just not worth it anymore. You’ve got a vetting process, but not too many people are applying as it is, and when you do get them in, your sense is it’s going to be a problem, but you need a warm body, and then, sure enough, it causes chaos.”

Naessens, a certified public accountant, said he had moved out of state and would return to the finance world.

Eulogy was a great place; the second of two of my favorite Old City taverns that have closed in the past few years. I always enjoyed grabbing the second floor table at Eulogy near the coffin with plastic skeleton and nursing a few good beers with friends. Memento mori.


Comrade Detective

I watched Comrade Detective, a six-episode Amazon miniseries, after a friend recommended it to me earlier this month. Chloe Schildhause at Vanity Fair answers the question “What the Hell is Comrade Detective?”:

After delving deep into the archives of Cold War propaganda, Gatewood and Tanaka took inspiration from hits like the Czechoslovakian classic Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. When creating their homage to shows created behind the Iron Curtain, Rhys explains, “We weren’t going in with the mindset that we were Westerners making fun of Communism. We always tried to make sure that, no, no, we’re the Communist filmmakers.”

As Gateway says, “We grew up in the ‘80s, watching Red Dawn and Rocky IV and all these films—not really knowing as kids that we were essentially watching propaganda.” Tatum recalls a youth where every movie “had a Russian bad guy.” Showing the reverse, though, is both “hilarious and really poignant right now.”

The series effectively satirizes both Communism and capitalism while maintaining expertly stylized cinematography, replicating a time when propaganda was overt and clear. Now, of course, such machinery has grown more sophisticated; the show’s creators note that propaganda has become more obscured, subliminal, and subtle. Gatewood hopes the show will help viewers “reflect more on the power of propaganda, and how it’s seamless in society today”—even as they enjoy a comedic cop thriller populated by characters who say Monopoly is dangerous, think baseball is boring, and have nightmares about young children chanting, “I want my MTV.”

Gordon-Levitt compares the series to ideas media theorist Neil Postman presented in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, which examines the negative effects of television on politics. “What [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books,” Postman wrote. “What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism . . . In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

At the end of the book, Gordon-Levitt explains, Postman “does say, look, the way to deal with this is to just get people to understand it. Television doesn’t have to be harmful if people [are] aware of the way it is manipulative, if they were aware that you literally can’t communicate well-reasoned arguments and ideas through television by virtue of the medium.”

Incredible humor in this, but depth, too.


Penn State News on ‘Student Broadcasting’ historical marker

I shared the news last week that Penn State had placed an historical marker on campus for “Student Broadcasting.” Penn State News has an official feature up on the marker’s placement, along with a short video overview of student broadcasting’s 1912-present history:

Historical Marker-Student Broadcasting_2

New historical marker celebrates ‘Student Broadcasting’
John Patishnock
August 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK — For more than a century, Penn State has pioneered broadcasting college radio, and now there’s a new historical marker to share that story with the many visitors, students, faculty and staff on the University Park campus.

Located outside of Sparks Building along Pattee Mall, the newly installed “Student Broadcasting” historical marker touts that “Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the Class Gift of 1912 enabled early national experiments.”

Originally called WPSC, the University’s on-campus student radio station has changed names several times, with generations of students making an impact. Currently, The LION 90.7 FM (WKPS) is headquartered inside the HUB-Robeson Center and boasts new studio space that was part of the building’s expansion a few years ago.

The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group — one of more than 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups — spearheaded having the marker installed and plans to follow up with a ceremony during Homecoming on Nov. 11.

“It’s an honor that fresh generations of Penn Staters will be able to encounter the spirit of past times through this historical marker,” said Tom Shakely, president of the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group. “Penn Staters were broadcasting experimentally before the world wars that defined the 20th century, and they were covering Nittany Lion football games as early as the Hugo Bezdek years.

“Later, Penn Staters broadcast Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech in Rec Hall. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penn Staters broadcast live from Ground Zero. These are just a few vignettes from an incredible history. While it’s a fact that student broadcasting has always been made possible by technology, its true power has always been in empowering the human voice.”


‘History of Penn State’ course fills up

I wrote in May about Penn State’s “HIST 197- History of Penn State” course that debuts this fall semester. Penn State News featured the course’s creation at that time:

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

Back in May, more than half of the course’s 49 seats were still open. Sometime in July, the course filled up. Now, there’s a wait list with 10 students on it. I expect that waitlist to grow. Here’s a screenshot from Penn State’s course catalogue:

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 2.56.23 PM

I’m not sure when, but I’m still planning to sit in on a class at some point in September. I hope the popularity of this first-time offering results not only in it becoming a permanent part of Penn State’s course catalogue, but that it means more sections will be offered in the future.


Free societies require pluralism

James Damore, a Google engineer, was fired after a ten page memo he wrote on corporate culture went viral within the company, and then in public. He reflects on his firing:

… I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation, and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.

What did Damore write? Read “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” to understand for yourself. Conor Friedersdorf’s “A Question for Google’s CEO” is worth reading. So is Erick Erickson’s perspective. Excerpting/re-ordering some of Damore’s TL/DR here:

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. … People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document. …

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  • Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

… I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.

I’m mentioning and excerpting all of this primarily in order to look back on it in the years to come as a way to understand whether what Damore believes will come to pass, and whether Google will achieve an equal gender balance in its workforce.

Damore suggests that advocates of diversity now define diversity as meaning that “all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same.” I haven’t heard it defined this way before. If it’s a definition that captures the essence of the word as its used in practice, it would explain why so many seem to naturally react against it as something other than/foreign to the older aim of “achieving a pluralistic society wherein many different peoples and ideologies might live, strive, and succeed together.” but is something closer to a “diversity of universal sameness.”

I’m don’t mind hierarchies, but I’m also basically egalitarian at heart and very much believe in values like toleration and pluralism. But I don’t believe that “all differences in outcome” are due to differential treatment. I believe that all people are created equal and possess inherent human dignity. But I don’t believe that “all people are inherently the same” in the sense that age, race, gender, sexuality, and religious conviction, et al are simply social/artificial/meaningless constructs.

Isn’t the reason that tolerance and pluralism and diversity are worth embracing in the first place because they recognize that people are inherently complex and characterized by fundamental difference? And that despite our differences, we can still be “one people.” E pluribus unum, etc.