Penn State student broadcasting marks its 105th year

When I visited Penn State at the start of this fall semester, I sat in on The LION 90.7fm’s first all-staff meeting of the academic year. Ross Michael, the station’s president and general manager, mentioned that they would be celebrating the station’s 23rd birthday sometime in October, as the present incarnation of the larger Penn State student broadcasting experience. I just got an email that the celebration will be happening October 29th from 1-3pm in the HUB-Robeson Center, and will probably be streamed live by the station.


There’s a historical marker in The LION 90.7fm’s facilities called the “Penn State Student Broadcasting Story,” which covers the 100+ years of this Penn State tradition. Here’s its coverage of The LION 90.7fm (WKPS)’s era:


Determined to restore that voice and resurrect a unique and powerful Penn State tradition, students in the early 1990s once again championed the cause of student broadcasting. The Board of Trustees petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a new license, to be operated independently by and for the students, and on October 31, 1995 the airwaves welcomed WKPS and the rebirth of student radio.

Located in Downtown State College, this third generation station experienced its share of growing pains, learning to excel not through an academic department or college, but for the first time as an independent student organization. Eventually WKPS found an identity in “The LION” and, in 2003, a home in the HUB-Robeson Center. Creating a station both innovative and well-programmed, students restored many of their earliest traditions, including Nittany Lion athletics broadcasts, coverage and fundraising for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, and service as a platform and voice for a growing student body. Diverse programs such as the Jazz Spectrum,  Jam 91, State Your Face, Latin Mix, and Radio Free Penn State echoed earlier incarnations from the WDFM era.

Students continued to narrate the stories of their time, notably during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, during which Mike Walsh covered the attacks through John Raynar, who was working one block from the World Trade Center. “We were the only media outlet in State College who had someone on the scene that day,” recalled Walsh. “That was the high point of our professionalism.”

While breaking new technical ground, student broadcasters also learned to redefine their value in light of a more connected culture, pioneering internet streaming ahead of peer stations, establishing an automated broadcast schedule, partnering with Movin’ On and The State Theatre to welcome acts large and small, and connecting major industry labels to independent and avant garde artists. In a tangible way, student broadcasters created a home for peers, professors, townspeople, and friends to put into practice the ideal of “a liberal and practical education,” embodying the principles of a free society through concern for speech in all its forms, as well as artistic and musical expression, and a cross-generational experience of a community in time which valued sense of place.

Forging their own identity in the context of the larger history of student broadcasting, students fused an often fierce commitment to principle with an evergreen mission of enhancing university and community life.

This is the history and spirit that will be celebrated later this month as Penn State student broadcasting celebrates its 105th year and as The LION 90.7fm marks its 23rd year as present standard bearer of that tradition.

West Coast rocket launches

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in 2016, I ended up stopping one night in Lompoc, California. I had driven for hours, was coming in late at night, and remember driving past the entrance to Vandenberg Air Force base before heading into Lompoc.

The next day I learned some of the history of the town, namely that nearby Vandenberg was once intended to be for the West Coast what Cape Canaveral was for the East Coast—a national launch site for the Space Shuttle program. It was consequently expected to become a tourist destination for those interested in watching us start to explore the next great frontier. However, the Challenger disaster resulted in the scuttling of the West Coast launch site. I thought of this when I read over the weekend that SpaceX successfully executed a vertical landing of its Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg for the first time:

On Sunday night, SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which is a couple of hours north of Los Angeles. While the company has landed several first stage boosters on a drone ship offshore from California, until now it has not attempted to land at a site along the coast. But now it has completed the “Landing Zone 4” facility and received the necessary federal approvals for rockets to make a vertical landing there.

For long time employees of the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company there must be some satisfaction in this. More than a decade ago, when SpaceX sought to begin launching its Falcon 1 rocket, the company asked the Air Force for permission to launch from Vandenberg. But the military and some of the companies using the facility to launch national security missions, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, looked coolly upon the requests from SpaceX. Now SpaceX has built a landing zone on the former site of Space Launch Complex 4W, where Titan rockets built by Lockheed were previously launched.

This will be SpaceX’s 17th launch attempt this year, bringing the company close to tying its record-setting pace of 18 launches last year. With as many as half a dozen launch attempts left this year, SpaceX should easily surpass its 2017 total, barring a major accident.

That’s the first West Coast landing of a SpaceX reusable rocket.

Nothing can take form except within limits

Gracy Olmstead’s recent interview with Wendell Berry is worth reading for insight into American agriculture, an issue that isn’t even discussed anymore due to the abundance of nearly everything we could want, anytime we want it. Our experience of abundance is the exception, not the norm, and these two speak about aspects of the American economy that deserve more thoughtfulness:

Gracy Olmstead: The Farm Bill usually promotes short-term economic gains over long-term ecological health (something the 50-year Farm Bill seeks to fix). How do we get Washington politicians to support more sustainable forms of agriculture?

Wendell Berry: The problem here is not so much that of the shortness of the term of planning or of shortsightedness as it is of ecological and agricultural ignorance and a sort of moral blindness. The problems we ought to be dealing with are not problems because they are going to cause us trouble in the future. They are problems because they are obviously and clearly causing trouble right now. We ought to be doing our best to solve them right now.

If politicians and journalists want to know about the problems of agriculture, they are not likely to go out into “rural America” to observe the condition of the fields and the waterways or to talk to the farmers and the ex-farmers, the ex-merchants of the small towns, or to talk to the mayors and county judges of rural counties. Instead, they are very likely to talk to academic and bureaucratic experts, who are tightly bound within the industrial structure of agriculture, agri-science and agribusiness.

Alan Guebert was right when he said in one of his columns that this farm bill will be much like the last one insofar as it will not address the real problems of agriculture. Those problems, as you know, are soil erosion, soil degradation, the pollution of waterways by sediment and toxic chemicals, various ecological damages, the elimination of small farms, the destruction of the cultures of husbandry and the ruin of country towns and communities. And maybe we should add specifically the curse of overproduction, which at present, as often before, is the major and the cruelest problem.

Those problems could be summed up as the triumph of industrialism and industrial values over the lives of living creatures, and over the life of the living world. The preferences and choices of industrialism do not imply a limit of any kind. They rest instead upon the premises of limitless economic growth and limitless consumption, which of course implies limitless waste, and finally exhaustion.

Nothing can take form except within limits. No cure is possible, either in policy or practice, except within understood limits, which is to say within a correct diagnosis. This requires patience. A good solution has to begin with a description of the problem that is full, clear, and reliable.

I appreciated Berry’s blunt response to Olmstead’s later in the interview asking about how to create a more equitable agricultural economy: “I distrust entirely the terms ‘free market’ and ‘level playing field.’ Those phrases are intoned as if they were the names of gods, but what do they mean?” He goes on to provide a rich answer, but first rejected potentially ideological thinking.

College, debt, and impotence

Tunku Varadarajan’s recent interview with George Gilder addresses American higher education. Gilder aligns himself with the Bernie Sanders crowd on the issue of loans, but in a way that I can probably get behind, namely tying across the board debt forgiveness with a some sort of punitive tax on colleges:

America’s university system, says Mr. Gilder, is “incredibly corrupt and ideological.” How did it come to be like that? Surely, I observe, it wasn’t that way when he graduated from Harvard in 1962. “It was beginning to get that way,” he says, as he revs his engines for a fresh sortie. “The rise of affluence through the 1960s created this kind of amazing irresponsibility that resulted in a whole generation losing track of reality.”

The pithy aperçu is Mr. Gilder’s forte. He tells me here that “human beings have a propensity to believe in leftism”—in the idea that government can “answer all of their problems, guarantee their future, and relieve them of the challenges of life.” The idea of a “completely providential government” arose in America, and a “whole generation of young people were given college loans in a fabulous national mistake, in which the Republicans participated.” These loans were used by the university system to “increase perks and tenured luxuries and ideological distractions”—all of which led to the “diversity campaigns and CO2 panics” that currently dominate university faculties.

The only way to undo this “vast blunder,” says Mr. Gilder, is to forgive student loans across the board and “extract the money from all the college endowments and funds that were used to just create useless departments and political campaigns.” More than $1.5 trillion in student-loan money is outstanding, according to the Federal Reserve. That money, Mr. Gilder says, “wasn’t deployed to improve education. Not a scintilla of evidence has been adduced that learning has been improved. It was used entirely to lavish on bureaucracies that, in turn, paid tribute to government and leftist nihilism.”

The impact of these loans, and of the academic ecosystem they engendered, has been catastrophic, in Mr. Gilder’s view. “The result was to destroy the entrepreneurial optimism of a whole generation of young people, to drive them toward socialism, which they now tend to favor, and to even dissuade them from marriage.” The last is a consequence of debt, “which cripples them for the future.” Any benefit that education might confer on the young is, in Mr. Gilder’s dark view, nullified by the economic burden inflicted on them, which “leaves these kids impotent in the world.”

If it’s true that Gen Z tends to be as deeply committed to financial security as it’s purported to be, this sort of maneuver might become politically practicable in the next decade.

Nike and Kaepernick

Katherine Miller riffs on Nike and its Kaepernick campaign:

Nike is the capitalist god of destruction.

Their omnipresence subsumes, like the above, and co-opts everything from John Lennon to racial justice campaigns. Nike is so big and vast — 25 pairs of shoes per second sold — that the brand undercuts all other considerations. If you go find a group of teens on the street right now, they’re probably wearing one of only a few sneaker brands: the old-school, black-and-white Vans; white Adidas Superstars; Converse (owned by Nike); throwback Jordans (owned by Nike); or black Nikes with the white swoosh. It’s like breathing capitalism. The only question that really matters, and the only one that will tell us something about Nike, the NFL, and Trump is simple: Will Nike hold?

Because, traditionally, Nike works best when the vibe is all-encompassing domination. The colors are usually the same (stark black and white in matte, neon oranges and yellows, cool blues and grays), and the messaging is usually built around the idea of true exceptionalism, emerging from pain. …

The early ’90s Charles Barkley “I Am Not a Role Model” campaign carries that intensity. “I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court,” Barkley says, directly to the camera, in black and white, the aesthetic predecessor to Nike’s latest campaign. …

Nike has unveiled an ad campaign with the league’s essential iconoclast. And if the Kaepernick ad doesn’t exactly fit the singular athletic greatness aspect, it does fit within the singular, absolutist, carved-from-salt message that Nike has been pushing for decades.

This is why the ad is so striking, and eclipses all the normal considerations: We intuitively know that Nike never, ever, ever backs down. They are so corporate and so vast that every decision they make feels final. So, when you consider that understanding of Nike, isn’t this the firmest sign of NFL entering into decay and decline there’s ever been? When their own uniform maker has launched a marquee campaign with the player suing the NFL?

Brilliant of Nike to embrace Kaepernick in this way; the reactions so far are exactly what you’d want if you were Nike corporate. Yes, there’s Nike’s opportunism here, and there’s an amorality in its ignoring social concerns over its manufacturing processes, but to whatever extent that the “Nike v. NFL” fight is between two titanic symbols of American culture, it’s likely both will emerge better for it.

Free trade and tariffs

Peter Theil was interviewed recently by Florian Schwab. Theil talks at one point about free trade and U.S. tariffs. I’m highlighting that exchange here because I’ve been trying to understand the relationship between an interest in free trade on the one hand, and the usefulness of tariffs to advance national policy on the other:

People are shocked by his imposition of tariffs.

At the center of this is the question with China. The US exports something like 100 bn a year to China, we import 475 bn. What’s extraordinary, is that if we had a globalizing world, we would actually expect the reverse to hold: you would expect the US to have trade surpluses with China and current account surpluses because we would expect that there is a higher return in China because it is a faster growing country than the US. This is what it looked, let’s say, in 1900, when Great Britain had a trade surplus of 2 percent and a current account surplus of 4 percent of GDP. And the extra capital was invested in Argentinean railroads or Russian bonds.

Clearly, today things are different.

The fact that the US does not have a surplus, that actually it has a massive deficit, tells you that something is completely wrong with the standard globalization picture that we have. It is sort of like: Chinese peasants are saving money and it is flowing uphill into low-return investments in the US and bonds in Europe with negative interest rates. There is something completely crazy about that dynamic.

What’s the problem with China?

It is certainly massive tariffs in China, trade barriers, informal controls, intellectual property theft, incredible restrictions on capital investments – it’s extremely hard to invest in China in any way whatsoever.

Still, free trade is a good thing.

In theory you always want to have free trade. I think it was Adam Smith who said that any country endowed with harbors would never throw rocks to them to make them not functioning. That is certainly the common sense dynamic. However, we are incredibly far from that world. And even if you are a doctrinaire, pro free-trade person, there is also an argument: How do you get from an unfair, partial free-trade to more free-trade? Maybe, there is a game theory and if you want to reduce barriers everywhere, you first need to impose tariffs, you have to escalate to de-escalate.

A paradox of free trade is that it isn’t free. It requires international organizations, it requires trust and enforcement mechanisms, it requires highly stable trade routes regulated by military powers, etc. Free trade and tariffs both seem useful to me insofar as they advance national policy or shared allied policies.

Decency, indecency, and sanction

Catherine Addington on being decent in an indecent age:

When a Christian is caught between a political economy hostile to human flourishing and a Church all too often comfortable with the status quo, it is demoralizing to have recourse to an ugly, embattled public square. Who wants to have life-or-death debates in a cold professional setting? In what universe is pitting hostile voices against one another conducive to Christian fellowship?

But by the time Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda met at Valladolid, Spain in 1550 to debate the morality of the conquest of America, the question had already been settled along with the continent. The debate was convened by Carlos V, king of Spain, Holy Roman Emperor, who had not yet been born when Columbus arrived on Hispaniola nearly sixty years ago. The existence of America, and Spanish dominion over it, were facts of life for him. The Spanish were not seriously considering withdrawal from the Americas. There was no going back.

The debate was not about conquest, then, but colonization; it was not about the nature of indigenous people, but their treatment. Carlos V was not asking if he could conquer indigenous people, but if he could give them to his soldiers as slaves, along with their land, as a reward for their service to the crown. Sepúlveda argued that the conquest was a just war, so Carlos could keep the profits (land and people) and distribute them as he pleased. Las Casas argued that the conquest was unjust, so Carlos had to make restitution for it.

Neither man won the debate, and the issue was never resolved. The debate has mainly become famous in retrospect, metonymically standing in for the entire colonial project. At the time, though, it was politics. As such, the men’s writings have a curious dual nature as both catty interpersonal sniping from opposite sides of the political spectrum and incredibly high-stakes ethical discussions. …

Bartolomé de las Casas became a planter and owner of indigenous slaves at the age of 18, when he immigrated with his father to the island of Hispaniola in 1502. After becoming a priest, he experienced a profound conversion while meditating upon the book of Sirach: “If one sacrifices ill-gotten goods, the offering is blemished; the gifts of the lawless are not acceptable.”

Abandoning his ill-gotten wealth, Las Casas returned to Spain as an anti-slavery activist. In the following years, he was granted a position as court adviser, given the title of Protector of the Indians, and testified before the legislature on the conquistadores’ abuses. (This testimony resulted in the abolition of indigenous enslavement, which was ignored by rioting colonists and repealed.) When Las Casas became Bishop of Chiapas, México, he attempted to enforce abolition by refusing the sacraments to slave owners. This proved so unpopular that he was forced to return permanently to Spain, where he continued his activism.

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda was Carlos V’s royal chronicler and chaplain. His writings in this capacity were nominally historical, but functionally defensive, providing an official version of the Spanish empire’s expansion in the Americas and a justification for its policies there. Before he took on that office, his career was a long string of academic treatises (anti: Desiderius Erasmus, Henry VIII; pro: Aristotle, Machiavelli). His first major work was a panegyric in honor of the emperor. Theologians saw him as compromised—to say the least—but he had the vigorous support of the emperor’s advisers, who had invested a great deal in the colonies.

Las Casas’ activism was the political question of the day, and everyone had an opinion. Sepúlveda just happened to be the one who got the guy’s attention.

In 1550, Sepúlveda released Democrates alter, a fictitious dialogue arguing that the Spanish conquest of America was a just war. It invoked Aristotle’s concept of “natural slavery” at length: “…the Spanish have a perfect right to rule these barbarians of the New World and the adjacent islands, who in prudence, skill, virtues, and humanity are as inferior to the Spanish as children to adults, or women to men, for there exists between the two as great a difference as … between apes and men.”

Before Las Casas even read the book, he had already written a response to it—or at least to the Spanish summary of it that came across his desk. “What blood will they not shed?” Las Casas began his Apologia, describing the soldiers allegedly emboldened by Sepúlveda’s words. “What cruelty will they not commit, these brutal men who are hardened to seeing fields bathed in human blood, who make no distinction of sex or age, who do not spare infants at their mothers’ breasts, pregnant women, the great, the lowly, or even men of feeble and gray old age for whom the weight of years usually awakens reverence or mercy?”

Las Casas blatantly broke the rules of procedure here. … Rejecting the time-honored temptation to make an idol of decorum, he put things plainly.

This exchange makes evident the clash of personality (let alone ideas) between the two men. Sepúlveda wrote a Socratic dialogue of Aristotelian ideas, branding himself the rational debater. He philosophizes. Las Casas wrote with strong language and evocative imagery, coming off as an impassioned firebrand. He preaches. Even though they both cited the Greek philosophers and the books of the Bible throughout their works, and even cited each other, they were fundamentally not having the same discussion. It’s a familiar disconnect today.

I know, functionally, nothing of the history of Spanish colonialism and debates surrounding it, so I enjoyed this piece for introducing me to it.

Pro-Life San Francisco

I met Terrisa Bukovinac last month at Notre Dame’s Vita Institute, and when I saw that her organization, Pro-Life San Francisco, would be hosting “Stand with David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt” outside of San Francisco’s federal courthouse while I was still in the Bay Area, I decided to be there.

Judge William Orrick is presiding over a case that will determine whether David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress will be permitted to release its remaining investigative footage of Planned Parenthood’s incriminating interest in profiting from the sale of human body parts. David is also facing a suit from the National Abortion Federation. Together, these groups are interested in punishing anyone who dissents from their worldview, which holds that human life is only valuable insofar as another says that life is valuable, and that ultimately one can obtain justice at the expense of a weaker human person. These are some of the oldest, most disordered philosophies in human history. History is “on their side” on to the extent that human beings naturally seem to tolerate a great deal of injustice until it touches them personally; but after it does, the story changes.

I have great respect for Terrisa specifically as an advocate for life. She’s not coming at this from a religious perspective, but simply from a philosophical and scientific perspective. Here’s how Pro-Life San Francisco describes itself:

Pro-Life San Francisco is a millennial focused non-profit human rights organization for pro-life people from across the political spectrum. We stand for the basic principles of equality, nonviolence, and nondiscrimination. We recognize that regardless of your religion, sexual orientation or your political affiliation, a consistent application of human rights means protecting the pre-born members of our human family.  We are dedicated to creating a culture of peace where the pre-born members of our human family are protected from the violent and lethal discrimination of abortion. We aim to achieve this through the following actions:

Increase community awareness through online and in-person engagement, lectures, debates, public appearances, demonstrations, protests, and other creative educational efforts that uphold our commitment to the values of equality, non-violence, and nondiscrimination.

Assist those facing pregnancy decisions by connecting them with the resources they need to to thrive, such as: prenatal care, financial assistance, job placement, childcare, information regarding their title IX rights, and accessing nonviolent reproductive healthcare options.

I met a few of the Pro-Life San Francisco folks outside the courthouse after the hearing had concluded, and they’re joyful, unassuming, remarkable people.

Contain, deter, and undermine

Graham Allison writes on how American and China can avoid the “Thucydides Trap” wherein, as one great power rises to displace another, war tends to result:

…as China challenges America’s predominance, misunderstandings about each other’s actions and intentions could lead them into a deadly trap first identified by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. As he explained, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The past 500 years have seen 16 cases in which a rising power threatened to displace a ruling one. Twelve of these ended in war.

Of the cases in which war was averted — Spain outstripping Portugal in the late 15th century, the United States overtaking the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century, and Germany’s rise in Europe since 1990 — the ascent of the Soviet Union is uniquely instructive today. Despite moments when a violent clash seemed certain, a surge of strategic imagination helped both sides develop ways to compete without a catastrophic conflict. In the end, the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Although China’s rise presents particular challenges, Washington policymakers should heed five Cold War lessons. …

Lesson 5: Hope is not a strategy.

Over a four-year period from George Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram,” which identified the Soviet threat, to Paul Nitze’s NSC-68, which provided the road map for countering this threat, U.S. officials developed a winning Cold War strategy: contain Soviet expansion, deter the Soviets from acting against vital American interests, and undermine both the idea and the practice of communism. In contrast, America’s China policy today consists of grand, politically appealing aspirations that serious strategists know are unachievable. In attempting to maintain the post-World War II Pax Americana during a fundamental shift in the economic balance of power toward China, the United States’ real strategy, truth be told, is hope.

In today’s Washington, strategic thinking is often marginalized…

As loud and frenzied as so much of America’s public discourse is at the moment, almost none of it seems to concern matters of long-term importance. Developing a grand strategy for countering China’s authoritarian communist regime should be the fundamental foreign policy task of American and European leaders.

Big, long-term bets

Morgan Housel on betting on things that never change:

Amazon’s focus from day one was as old as it gets. Selection and price. Businesses have pursued the idea for millennia.

Jeff Bezos once explained why this was critical:

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ That’s a very interesting question. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two. You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher.’ Or, ‘I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little slower.’ Impossible. So we know the energy we put into these things today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

This is one of those important things that’s too basic for most smart people to pay attention to. …

In the last 100 years we’ve gone from horses to jets and mailing letters to Skype. But every sustainable business is accompanied by one of a handful of timeless strategies:

Lower prices. Faster solutions to problems. Greater control over your time. More choices. Added comfort. Entertainment/curiosity. Deeper human interactions. Greater transparency. Less collateral damage. Higher social status. Increased confidence/trust.

You can make big, long-term bets on these things, because there’s no chance people will stop caring about them in the future.

Filing this away.