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Career Counselor, Too

I read with interest the article on Michael Burke [“The Spy Who Owned the Yankees,” May|June]. Mr. Burke was the featured speaker at the annual Sphinx dinner my senior year. He regaled us with stories of his life much like in the article. But he finished his talk by advising us to think of our futures as ones with multiple careers—changing with both the times and our evolving talents. I have been in the advertising business, done two successful software start-ups, and am now a high-school history teacher. I have always kept Mr. Burke’s advice in the back of my mind and have passed it on to my students over the years.

Bob Kniffin C’67 Groton, MA

Another Ark of Sorts

In response to the most fascinating article, “Captain Noah and his Magical Ark” [“Alumni Voices,” May|June], it turns out that at least two Penn alumni had that experience.

Before coming to the Annenberg School in 1968, I was finishing a seminary degree program at Eden Seminary in St. Louis in 1962. As with Carter Merbeier (aka Captain Noah) in Philadelphia, the Church Federation of St. Louis had been granted a half-hour each Sunday morning for a live religious show on network TV, Channel 2. My wife and I were asked to be the talent.

Our show was called The Door is Open—a Church School of the Air. The scriptwriter was enamored of Captain Kangaroo, so we had a different live animal on the show every week. My wife also served as the puppeteer. Our show also demonstrated the early days of racial inclusiveness, and featured an African American girl, an Asian boy, and two white children. Also like Captain Noah, we have no records, no tapes, no pictures, no simple props or set pieces—nothing left but a few scripts and a fan letter.

We do have our memories. About nine years ago Carter Merbeier and I met, through an amazing chain of connections in Florida as we were leaving a condo after a month, and he was moving in. Later, our adult daughter, who had treasured his show, bumped into him on the condo elevator, and we had a simple reunion.

Oh, the connections that exist when graduates reminisce and recall and tell stories for future generations.

Rev. Earl D. Miller ASC’69 Sellersburg, IN

Pure Magic

Thank you so much, Rev. Merbeier, for relating your “Captain Noah” story! Having grown up in a very small coalmining town in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, in the early 1960s, I was one of those children who watched your show on a regular basis throughout my childhood. It was pure magic when the picture that I submitted to the show was actually “hung high, in the TV sky.”  I can still hear the jingle in my mind.  Thanks so much for making a difference in so many people’s lives!

Karen Manhart V’08 Silver Springs, MD

Penn and the Captain

I thoroughly enjoyed Rev. Merbeier’s retrospective of his 28-year association with WFIL-TV Channel 6’s Captain Noah TV show.

But that show had a Penn connection!

Channel 6 Program Director Lew Klein was an adjunct professor of radio and television at Penn. I took his English 40 class (Radio-TV Journalism) and English 41 (Radio-TV Writing) in the fall of 1964 and spring of 1965. These courses predate the Annenberg School and were part of a series of journalism courses in the English Department. Klein brought in guest speakers from Channel 6 and even took us on tours of both WFIL-TV and WCAU-TV studios.

Rev. Merbeier might enjoy a book published in 2001 called, Hi There, Boys and Girls! by Tim Hollis (University Press of Mississippi). Among the Philadelphia shows profiled are Ranger Joe, Uncle Pete, Bertie the Bunny, Chief Halftown, Sally Starr, The Ghost Rider, Willie the Worm, Gene London, Jane “Pixanne” Norman, and, on page 242, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark.

Rick Rofman C’65 Van Nuys, CA

Unpersuasive on Pope Francis

In “My Brother, the Pope” [“Expert Opinion,” May|June], James Martin does not make a persuasive case that either the new Pope or his Jesuit background matters.

What does Fr. Martin regard as early proof that Francis is “up to the task”? He wears worn black shoes instead of the traditional red ones, he hugs and kisses people after Sunday Mass, and he advocates a poor church for the poor. But worn shoes, and hugs and kisses say nothing about whether this Pope is capable. As for making the church poor, Francis could do that easily, but even if he sold the prime real estate and papal palaces in Vatican City, the enormous sums of money realized would not adequately compensate the victims of pedophile priests, and, of course, there will be no papal for-sale signs in Vatican City; Francis will not be creating a poor church for poor people.

Moreover, Martin is strangely silent about some vital issues that surely occupy a huge portion of the Pope’s plate. For example, does Martin agree with Francis’ position on same-sex marriage, that it is “an anthropological step backward”? And why doesn’t Martin indicate whether his views on birth control agree with the pontiff’s? And would it be an exaggeration to say that the issue of birth control is more important than making “the Gospel inviting” or introducing “people to Jesus”? What about the issues of married clergy, abortion, and women’s rights? How has the Pope’s Jesuit background influenced his views on these matters? And what are Martin’s views on these matters?

It is common knowledge that there have been many bad popes. It is also obvious that when a person becomes a pope, he does not become infallible, and he will not necessarily be one of the good guys. Why then does the unambitious James Martin, who gave up a career in the business world to become a Jesuit priest and, in so doing, promised not to “aim high,” imagine that Pope would look great on his resume?

Don Z. Block Gr’78 Malvern, PA

A Skeptic

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, which is why it’s sad to see James Martin [“Expert Opinion,” May|June] abandon reason to devote his life to being an acolyte to an imaginary being.

Perhaps after he and his boss introduce us to Jesus, they could get us a meeting with the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny.

Dominic F. Manno C’81 Philadelphia

Fish Story

In her article on Richard Dawkins’ visit to campus [“Gazetteer,” May|June], Maanvi Singh wrote, “Dawkins proved, using evolution as a basis, that every single human had to have a single fish ancestor.” In support of this, she quoted Dawkins as saying, “My fish had to have been your fish.” What utter nonsense for Dawkins to spout such idiocy, and he is now perhaps the #1 world-expert for atheism!

Paul G. Humber C’64 GEd’65 Philadelphia

Penn (Rugby) Pride

After reading “Scrum Dreams” [“Sports,” May|June], I  watched as much as I could find of the June 1-2 Collegiate Rugby Championship on the NBC Network. I couldn’t have been more proud of Penn as, after a rough start, we won some games and finished with a winning record overall. Having been introduced to the game at Penn, then playing it for 15 years in various locales, I hope the increased exposure, including the 2016 Olympics, keeps expanding interest in the sport I loved. Go Quakers!

Steve Wendel C’84 Boxford, MA

See “Sports” in this issue for more on the rugby club’s performance.—Ed.

Jarring Juxtaposition

Emily Kovach’s article, “Breaking the Silence,” about survivors of sexual violence, was particularly compelling [“Gazetteer,” May|June]. The title of the very next article, “Pimp My Robot,” was jarring. When we casually adopt the language of sexual degradation, we participate in that degradation. We shouldn’t.

Diane Hellens WG’81 Mclean, VA

Wrong Reading of Constitution

Readers pondering the interesting issues raised in “The Copycat Economy” [“Expert Opinion,” Mar|Apr] should avoid taking their law from Richard Katz, who claims that intellectual-property rights are the only rights contained in the original Constitution [“Letters,” May|June].

Wrong and wrong. The Constitution created a number of important rights—habeas corpus, nationwide privileges and immunities, sanctity of contract, freedom from ex post facto laws—but included no obligatory protection to inventors or authors. Instead, the document gave Congress the power to enact such protection as it might from time to time see fit.

Katz commits the common fallacy of assuming that one’s personal political beliefs are enshrined in the Constitution.

John W. Morris L’70 Philadelphia

Immigration and Infrastructure

President Gutmann made clear that the University is enthusiastic about immigration reform and intends to bring its best and brightest minds to bear on it [“From College Hall,” May|June].

Immigration reform is a nebulous term equally useful to two highly opposed camps: those who want to restrict immigration and those who want to remove restrictions. President Gutmann’s remarks and the liberal history of the University clearly indicate leaning toward the latter.

One critical aspect of this issue which I feel I seldom see or hear mentioned is the effect of more people upon our urban and regional infrastructure for water supply and removal. Most educated people have heard of “Malthusian” principles: population tends to increase exponentially while food supplies only tend to increase arithmetically. It may be more complex to derive formulas for the idea that people can add to our population through immigration far faster than we can upgrade our waste-water treatment capacity or enhance water supply to accommodate the increased requirements, but the concept itself is self-evident.

I am not in favor of cutting off immigration. I do believe that we need to implement and maintain the ability to keep track of how many people are coming to live in our country and to keep it from spiraling out of control. (Should I make that, “further out of control?”) I know that there are sometimes individual stories of hardship that come out of tighter restrictions. The urban and regional hardship that will arise if we do not recognize this basic idea will eventually dwarf those stories.

There is just no way to overstate it: we must have more clear, fair, enforceable control of our borders on land and by sea—and arrival by air—or the urgent desire of millions or billions in underdeveloped parts of the world to come here for a shortcut to better their children’s lives will instead bring to pass here the same broken conditions they faced at home by outstripping our ability to pipe clean water into our cities and pipe human waste out.

I believe that President Gutmann and those whom the University brings to bear on the policy meetings and academic seminars held about “immigration reform” need to keep this important issue of how fast we can maintain and upgrade our infrastructure in mind.

Kenneth A. Rumbarger C’78 Trooper, PA

Gratefully Accepted

I have found the last few issues of The Pennsylvania Gazette to be much more engaging than before. I compliment you on your selection of writers. Keep up the good work!

Larry Nones W’71 Miami

Credit Where Due

I was thrilled to see one of my favorite quotations at the top of the May|June “Alumni Notes” section.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” came from an author who was also a labor activist, a socialist, and a suffragist. It was written in 1957, by Helen Keller.

Elissa Laitin EAS’93 Washington

A Question of Philosophy

It almost seems unfair to respond to the pro big-government advocates at a time when both liberals and conservatives are outraged at the intrusion by the IRS and DOJ on private citizens and reporters, and at the complete breakdown of accountability in the Fast & Furious gun-selling and Benghazi affairs. At least this month, there appear to be few politicians willing to suggest that America has not suffered an egregious loss of personal freedom at the hands of big government. No less a big-government advocate than President Obama’s own campaign director, David Axelrod, stated in his defense that the government is simply “too vast” to be managed by any one person. The exact point of limited-government advocates.

There were many factual inaccuracies in the vitriolic responses to my letter. Mr. Zimmt stated that railroads were built with federal grants. This is an overstatement as the vast majority of railroad networks were built with private capital. Mr. Bonn states “Government is the only possible check on irresponsible businesses.” Huh? Most business people think monetary losses or bankruptcy is. Mr. Bonn mentions the Madoff scandal, but it was the SEC which failed in its oversight of the politically connected Madoff. Mr. Zimmt accuses the agriculture community of “abusing the land” and “polluting the air and water.” Notably, Mr. Zimmt lives in Tucson, Arizona, a desert city with 40+ lush golf courses. Surely, he is not comparing the unnatural acts done by government to “abusively” divert water from the Colorado River to Tucson to the care farmers in Nebraska and Iowa take with their lands to help feed about 20 percent of the world’s population.

Some critics (Glick, Bliss) chose to deflect the big government question by going back 150 years to the four-year Civil War when a great US president ordered our military into action to correct an obvious wrong. But even here, facts are casualties. For starters, big-government advocates conveniently forget that it was the Federal Government itself that passed a law allowing slavery. Students of history will recall that slavery became “legal” in our country not through a vote of the people but as a result of a backroom deal done among the politicians in order to bring the powerful Southern plantation owners on board. No vote of the people would have approved slavery in 1783. In the vision of limited government with free markets, no national government would ever have the power to enslave its citizens.

Regarding the vote of women in 1920: Who took away women’s right to vote in the first place? Well, the Federal Government did that. Pointing to the 1920 law allowing women to vote undercuts the pro big-government argument, because women should always have been allowed to vote, but for the rules imposed by an over-reaching central government. Fixing a wrong doesn’t absolve us of the fact that there was sufficient central power to create the wrong in the first place. And today, when the right of women to vote is being taken away in Iran, Syria, Egypt, it is at the hands of oppressive central governments in a real war on women, while the US stands idle.

The question that started this debate was essentially: Who Should Build That? Conn and his supporters believe that a vast central government has the wisdom and vision to provide for “us,” and that we citizens should let Big Government build it. They support Obama’s clarion call to high taxpayers, that “Hey, you didn’t build that!” But if 2 percent of US taxpayers contribute 40 percent of US taxes, then the wealthy can at least respond: “Well, I paid for 40 percent of that!” The corollary to his class comment is that the 20 percent to 30 percent of US citizens that don’t pay any taxes didn’t build that at all. Should we ostracize these people as we do the wealthy? That seems impolite.

Ultimately, this is a question of philosophy. If you believe in big government, you believe that most information is sufficiently known, so that our politicians now know enough to predict the future for 300 million Americans. Big-government advocates are advocates of the status quo, which is why most unions support big government. Also, you must believe that power doesn’t corrupt or that politicians are incorruptible, and would never use the IRS to target citizens or the DOJ to silence critics. I believe the word for this is naïve.

But if you believe in limited government you believe that there is genius and drive and brilliance in all of us. That the future still holds many undiscovered treasures to help mankind. And that the way to unsheathe this greatness within us is for the most powerful force of oppression in history—central governments—to get out of our way. America isn’t great because we have a powerful central government; America is great because during the 20th century it had the smallest central government of any of the large industrial economies. My generation was fortunate to mature during a period when politicians were realizing that big government was the problem, not the solution. It is sad to see the young graduates of today heading back to their parents’ basements because opportunity has been stifled due to governmental intrusion. That many college students, and virtually all of the professors, voted for this status quo world, does not make it any less heart-breaking.

Steve Gidumal W’79 Orlando, FL



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