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Bob Whitcomb’s Digital Diary: RR and PC’s Diversity Issues

Friday, November 11, 2016


Bob Whitcomb

Training in the middle of New England; a call for self-censorship at PC?; November memories


New England, unlike most of America, has passenger-train service and with some vision can soon have a lot more to boost its economy, better protect its environment and make life easier.


Consider the New England Central Railroad, a freight line that runs from Alburgh, Vt., at the U.S.-Canadian border, through the middle of our region and terminates at New London, Conn., on Long Island Sound.  The owner of the line, Genesee & Wyoming (sounds like something from Mark Twain!), has been spending millions to improve the route by putting in new welded rails where needed,  upgrading bridges and road crossings, getting new and refurbished rolling stock and adjusting schedules. It will spend a lot more, supplemented with some federal funds to improve sections of the line.


All the towns and cities along the way will benefit, but particularly New London, with its deepwater port. New London’s mayor, Michael Passero, said: “This is one of the greatest things to happen for New London in decades. An investment in this rail line that goes directly to the state pier is going to allow New London to tap into one of its greatest unused assets.’’ Watch out, Quonset and Providence: It might steal some of your business.


P&W Railroad

But with the Genesee & Wyoming planning to buy the Woonsocket-based Providence and Worcester Railroad, which exchanges freight with the New England Central, we can expect that Rhode Island will also be brought more tightly into this rail system.


The New England Central’s improved service is helping the many communities along its route. It may even boost manufacturing in some old factory towns by cutting the cost of receiving and shipping goods.  The improvements should let interior New England share in more of the wealth now heavily concentrated near the coast. Rhode Island Public Radio quoted Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker as noting:


“Connecticut has the distinction of, on the highway side, three of the top 10 worst congested locations in the nation for truck freight. This {rail-improvement} project is the solution to that problem.’’ Well, “a’’ partial solution anyway by getting more freight off the roads and onto tracks.


But I also want to tout proposed passenger service on the New England Central between Brattleboro, Vt., and New London. The proposed service, to be called the Central (as in central New England) Corridor Rail Line, would run from Brattleboro, Vt., to New London.  This would provide the only  long-distance (by New England standards) north-south service rail service in  the middle of New England except for Amtrak’s Vermonter service.


Backers note that it would provide a rail link between 13 colleges and universities, including the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts, and link up with Amtrak at Brattleboro to take travelers to Burlington, home of the University of Vermont. That means,  among other things,  connecting people working on research and development at those schools, as well as at businesses along the way.


And given the hill, valley and riverine beauty of  much of the route, the passenger service should attract many tourists, too, especially in the fall foliage season.


The idea is that initially the rolling stock would be refurbished Budd  Rail Diesel Cars (aka Buddliners), which used to be heavily used by commuters and on spur routes and recall the days of Mad Men in the New York City suburbs. They can go up to 80 miles an hour, a lot faster than you can drive legally in New England. This, again, could be a particular boon to Connecticut by taking many drivers off  its famously crowded and slow roads.


The aging of the population and that young adults drive less than their predecessors are other reasons to get this service going.




Prof. Anthony Esolen, who teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College,  a Catholic institution, has questioned the college being a "committedly and forthrightly Catholic school" and has been denounced for his remarks.


"Is not diversity, as currently promoted, at odds with the foundational diversity built into the nature of the human race, the diversity of male and female, to be resolved most dynamically and creatively in the union of man and woman in marriage?" wrote  Mr. Esolen for Crisis Magazine. "Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?’’


Providence College

Inevitably, he was denounced  for his remarks by some PC faculty members. What they should have criticized – maybe -- is the seeming opaqueness of some of his phrasing.  In any event, a faculty letter against him reads, in part:


“As PC Faculty, we pledge to break the silence around systemic racism and discrimination on Providence College’s campus. While we vigorously support free expression, recent publications on the part of PC faculty have involved racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements. The use of this type of language by people with power over students runs counter to the Catholic mission of Providence College, which aims ‘to reflect the rich diversity’ of our world, and ‘extend a loving embrace to all."’


“As a diverse coalition of students have consistently highlighted, such statements are part of a broader pattern of racism, sexism and other forms of hate that are all too common not only on campus, but in the broader public culture. As professors who care deeply about the well being, safety, and growth of our students, we are committed to combating racism and overcoming the hostile learning environment for too many of our students, while creating spaces where all of our students can engage in meaningful ways.’’


Oh, come on! The statement, which sounds  like a call for censorship by the college or at least self-censorship by the likes of Mr. Esolen, makes mild-mannered PC sound like a 24/7 Ku Klux Klan meeting!


Note such empty words as “meaningful’’ and “diversity’’ (of what?).  And of course they treat the poor little lambkins students as if they’re far too fragile to hear an opinion that might lower their comfort levels or make them reconsider the received wisdom that now rules on most American campuses. And, as usual in such cases, they accuse Professor Esolen of writing things he never wrote. Their rhetoric recalls the rhetorical dreck of dictatorships such as Stalin’s Soviet Union in which “class enemies’’ are singled out in language contorted to fit the political lies needed to help the likes of Stalin stay in power.



The response from the Rev. Brian Shanley, PC’s president, was the usual stuff you get from college presidents these days, many of whom lack intellectual and cultural self-confidence:


Father Shanley wrote:


“He {Mr. Esolen} certainly does not speak for me, my administration, and for many others at Providence College who understand and value diversity in a very different sense from him.’’

So what precisely does “diversity’’ mean to the PC administration? Is it just about skin color, varieties of sexual desire, surname, ethnic cuisine….? Are  intellectual and political diversity also encouraged?

Meanwhile, let’s put in a good word for Western Civilization, which Professor Esolen reveres and his  presumed preference for which over other cultures is presented as making him an enemy of “diversity’’.

It’s a civilization that has permitted students and faculty at colleges in the West to speak freely and pursue their dreams as in no other place in the world. Refugees want to flee to the West because of its freedom of expression and of inquiry, and how it protects what Jefferson memorably called “the pursuit of happiness.’’  Those freedoms are key drivers in creating the prosperity that also leads people to flee to the West. If it is so awful, why is the flight one way? And where are things more “diverse’’ than in nations within what many of us  still call Western Civilization?

The complainants can easily resolve their issues by transferring to a non-Catholic college. Since we’re in Western Civilization (or what’s left of it), they have the freedom to move.




Election 2016

So it’s past Election Day and we can hope for a few weeks of relative quiet. Before the invention of the World Wide Web and cable TV and their assault on civic life and democracy via misinformation, demagoguery and well-insulated echo chambers, there were usually a few weeks of relative calm after a presidential election.


Big post-election news was apt to include the outlook for Christmas shopping, the year’s first big snowstorms and announcements of nominees for the next administration’s Cabinet often, for some strange reason, at press conferences in front of windswept office buildings or even private houses.


But now, the need for cable TV and political-opinion Web sites to fill their programming 24/7 will ensure that  they continue to peddle assorted  bogus conspiracy theories and other gossip to try to keep their followers entertained. Even the more responsible “mainstream media’’ will tend to focus on the never-ending political soap opera because it’s a lot easier than doing real original reporting, on a wide range of  topics, especially with the number of paid daily professional journalists only half of what it was in 2000 --- and falling.


What will happen to our democracy if the ranks of the  professional gatherers of hard news continue to decline? Consider that the much maligned and financially challenged “mainstream media’’ – some of the big newspapers, NPR, PBS  and,  even some broadcast-news outlets – break almost all of the big stories.


That includes scandals involving Democrats as well as Republicans, contrary to the assertions of Tea Partiers and Trumpists. Look, for example, at the record since the ‘90s of how The New York Times, The Washington Post and other hated “legacy media’’ have gone after the Clintons, from Hillary’s dubious commodities investment and  conflict-of-interest-rich corporate board memberships to Monica Lewinsky, to  Hillary’s e-mails and the Clinton Foundation, that muddy mix of good works and Clinton Family self-promotion and enrichment.


Little new information comes from the likes of Fox News (on the right) and MSNBC  (on the left) because they are  mostly opinion and propaganda machines whose followers only want to hear soothing affirmations of their prejudices. No research rigor required! Fox News founder Roger Ailes, a man of vast cynicism and personal corruption, invented the model and got very rich on it.




I remember November  as a young person as alternatingly claustrophobic and liberating. Claustrophobic because of the press of schoolwork and early darkness and  liberating because of the breezy openness of the landscape after the first hard freeze and a Nor’easter had  stripped the leaves from, the trees. I loved to walk home from school in a path through the woods illuminated by the low-in-the- horizon, slanting sunlight of a November afternoon.


Two reinforcers of the memory of darkness: The rainstorm on the weekend after the Kennedy assassination in 1963 and the Great Northeast Blackout of Nov. 9-10, 1965 when, leaving a classroom in the late afternoon of Nov. 9, my friends and I noticed that all was dark in Waterbury, Conn., which, we joked, was an improvement.


Now,  I find dark November more bearable because time  seems to speeds up as you get older. It will soon be April.


John Mortimer, in The Summer of a Dormous famously  observed: “In childhood, the afternoons spread out for years. For the old, the years flicker past like the briefest of afternoons. The playwright Christopher Fry, now 93, told me that after the age of 80 you seem to be having breakfast every five minutes.”


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