Nomi Prins at the Metropolitan Club

I attended Nomi Prins’s talk last night at the Metropolitan Club. I hadn’t heard of her before, but it was recommended by a friend and proved to be a worthwhile time:

Nomi Prins is a leading critic of too-big-to-fail banks, the Federal Reserve and central banks. As a former Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns executive, Nomi speaks as a Wall Street insider who questioned the party line and left the gravy train. She is the author of six hard-hitting books and an outspoken journalist, TV/radio commentator and public speaker.

In “All The Presidents’ Bankers”, Nomi unearths the backroom deals and multi-generational relationships that made the big banks America’s greatest practitioners of crony capitalism and how the Federal Reserve operates outside the Constitution’s checks and balances.

In her latest book, “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World“, Nomi exposes how the 2007-2008 financial crisis turbo-boosted the influence of central bankers in the global economy and set in motion the wave of populism sweeping Europe and the United States. First came the Tea Party. Then Donald Trump, Brexit and the downfall of Angela Merkel.

Nomi explains where the $21 trillion dollars the central banks created out of thin air went. She isn’t afraid to address the elephant in the room: the Federal Reserve printing money to underwrite our warfare state, distort markets and impact the international economy.

Refreshing hearing someone from Wall Street speak honesty—not only about the lows of the “Big Short” era and the Great Recession, but also about the sort of governance that would lead to a healthier financial system that is at the service of the human person.

First time visiting the Metropolitan Club, whose history is similar to the Union League and so many other clubs born during the Civil War era:

The Metropolitan Club is one of Washington’s oldest and most valued private institutions. Since its founding in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, by six Treasury Department officials, it has pursued its primary goal of furthering “literary, mutual improvement, and social purposes.” Today, more than 150 years after its founding, the Club continues to attract distinguished members from around the world.

The Metropolitan Club’s proximity to the White House and other icons of the nation’s capital has made it a destination for many local, national and international leaders, including nearly every U.S. President since Abraham Lincoln. Its location and dedication to a tradition of social civility provide members with a haven from the bustle of Washington’s professional life…

30th Street Station and its Solari board

When I passed through 30th Street Station last week, I shot this short clip of the Amtrak “Solari” board. I had read in Billy Penn that it is set to be replaced in January:

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission expects to take ownership of the world-famous Solari board as soon as January 2019. The model, which flips individual panels each time a train’s status is updated, providing that classic “clicking” sound familiar to travelers around the globe, is considered an antique. …

At that point, the sign will move 60 miles to its new home: The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. …

Amtrak officials confirmed the expected January move date to the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday. The installation of digital signage will begin in December, per that report, with displays installed above the stairways that lead to platforms. …

Display panels of this type are named for the manufacturer Solari di Udine, of Udine, Italy. They grew in popularity in the 1950s, and were installed en masse in airports and train stations worldwide. Even early seasons of game shows like Family Feud used them.

Now, they’re nearly extinct in the United States. To mixed emotions, New York Penn Station got rid of its Solari board two years ago. The entire Metro-North transit system replaced its network of Solari boards by 2014.

That Philadelphia’s is still around could stem from the fact that the city got into the game a little late: 30th Street Station didn’t install its flippy board until the 1970s.

“It’s an amazing time capsule,” Morrison told Billy Penn. “The sounds of a board like this one have been the soundtrack of the daily life of many Philadelphia commuters and travelers for more than three decades.”

I’m not particularly nostalgic about this, but it is the end of one technological era and the beginning of another. Better things to be appreciative about at 30th Street Station, in both the Spirit of Transportation and Angel of the Resurrection. 30th Street is a great Philadelphia public space that’s always open, that elevates those who pass through it, and that has something of the feel of a sacred place, a public place that’s still quiet in the middle of the day where it’s possible to be more or less alone with your thoughts even while you’re waiting to head someplace. It’s the sort of place that feels confident, and where the architecture and atmosphere encourage something from those who pass through in a way that many other public spaces do not.

Departing Bismarck in winter

Our bioethics seminar at the University of Mary wrapped up this morning, and after lunch and mass I headed to the Bismarck airport where I caught my 2:15pm flight to Washington, connecting through Chicago. The view as we were departing Bismarck was beautiful, with light snow covering the ground and the radiant blue of the Missouri River providing a sharp contrast. I thought of The Christmas Plains by Joseph Bottum, a series of stories and reminiscences of life on the Dakota plains:

It was in the meadows along the little lake at Cottonwood Springs, a hundred yards or so up from the dam, that I saw the fox, red-brown against the December snow. For decades after the Black Hills were named a “national forest reserve” in 1897, the government would exchange small pieces of land with ranchers along the edges, trading pastures for tree-grown lots. The result was a more natural, serrated line of dark spruce and ponderosa pine on the forest’s border, but the reduction of open spaces within the protected woods—the loss of meadows like the one where I saw the fox this winter—also limited some of the land’s support for small wildlife and the animals that hunt them.

Not that those western territories ever held a large population of predators. Cutting through the middle of the Dakotas, the Missouri River marks the boundary of the ancient glaciers that scraped out, to the east, a gentler countryside of softened plains and easy lakes. West of the river lies a different world, one that the Pleistocene ice never cleared. The Badlands and Black Hills, Bear Butte and Devils Tower—a rough landscape of broken prairie and high plateau that stretches five hundred miles from the Missouri to the Tetons.

And that country is just too thin, the winters too hard, to feed many hunters. A single horned owl, fluffing its feathers on a gnarled cottonwood branch, will easily dominate two hundred acres of night hunting ground. A nesting pair of red-tail hawks will control a daylight range for an entire season. And the superior small-game hunting of the coyotes, the depredations of the occasional mink or weasel down near the creek beds, the scavenging of the omnivore skunks and raccoons, and how much life is left in a lean land, especially over the winter?

Still, there was the fox, in a South Dakota meadow this past December, clear eyed and healthy, his dark brush lightly marking his back-trail in the snow. If you’ve ever seen mountain lions, you know how they pace: arrogant and powerful, as though they had greased machines coiling and uncoiling just beneath their skin. Coyotes slink through the yellow grass of the prairies, rough haired, scrawny, and cautious. Raccoons scurry, skunks blunder, and minks—well, it’s hard to describe the behavior of minks. They seem to live a kind of vicious insanity, oddly matched with their rich fur and sweet faces. Foxes, however, are the strolling kind. Flashing white at their throats, with those black stockings around their paws, they pad through the fields like dandies ambling along the Paris pavement: inquisitive yet self-possessed, eager yet sensible, bold yet judicious.

University of Mary bioethics seminar

I’m settling into Bismarck and enjoying being back at the University of Mary for this week’s bioethics seminar. I’m a little disappointed that it’s not forecast to snow while I’m here, though there is a bit on the ground. It’s sunny and pleasant; a dry cold that’s more tolerable than a wet Northeastern frigidness. An overview on two of our speakers this week:

University of Mary program invites the public to its annual lecture series as it welcomes two of the leading authorities in the field — Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., Ph.D., and Dr. Ashley Fernandes.

McTeigue will present “Moral Decision Making,” Friday, December 7, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by his second presentation, “Bioethics Case Studies,” from 1 to 5 p.m.

Fernandes highlights day two of the series Saturday, December 8, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with “How Personalism can Inform the ‘Business of Medicine.’” followed by his second presentation, “Ethics in Action: Clinical Cases,” from 1 to 5 p.m. …

McTeigue is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation. He is a spiritual director and retreat master at the Campion Renewal Center, in Weston, MA. He is a member of the prestigious National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). His new book on preaching, “I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel” is available on Amazon.

“As medicine is often practiced today, people armed with tremendous technical power accompanied by an impoverished capacity for moral reflection can cause great harm. Catholic bioethics can be the antidote,” stated McTeigue, a year ago.

Fernandes is an award-winning academic physician and philosopher, and one of the country’s most sought-after speakers and authorities on Catholic bioethics. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, and a member of the Arnold P. Gold Humanism Honor Society, receiving the prestigious Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award in 2010. Fernandes is the author of more than two dozen peer-reviewed publications, a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) and a CMA advisor to students.

“Medicine is much more complicated than ‘science,’ and the human aspect of human medicine needed the help and guidance of moral truth if it was to survive at all as a healing profession,” said Fernandes in an interview last year. He is now a pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate director of the Center for Bioethics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

University of Mary’s MS in Bioethics program is at the forefront of bioethics education and addressing modern-day issues. Because the program is in partnership with the NCBC, it’s one that McTeigue, Fernandes and other bioethics experts around the world hold in high esteem as the university holds true to its Christian, Catholic and Benedictine beliefs.

In transit, Bismarck winter visit

In transit to Bismarck, presently in Chicago at O’Hare in the terminal for my flight. President George H.W. Bush’s funeral service at the National Cathedral is on the screens in the terminal, and the federal government is closed today in his honor. It might be my imagination, but the terminal seems quieter than it might otherwise be. More public spaces should be like that, but always rather than only at distinctive national moments.

A few scenes from the flight from Philadelphia to Chicago. I’ll land in Bismarck in the early afternoon, and we’ll get underway at University of Mary this week with lectures ranging from moral decision making to personalism and the business of medicine, to health policy and bioethics case studies.

‘A principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy’

I caught the 5:05pm Amtrak from Washington to Philadelphia this evening, and am heading to Bismarck early in the morning for a bioethics seminar at the University of Mary the rest of this week. The flags outside of Union Station were at half mast in honor of President George H.W. Bush.

As I walked through Old City later in the night I took this photo of Independence Hall. I think it pairs well with Camille Paglia’s commentary on the illiberal nature of bureaucracy:

As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.

I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.

In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.

Most local news isn’t

I saw this report shared someplace recently, Assessing Local Journalism: News Deserts, Journalism Divides, and the Determinants of the Robustness of Local News. It’s as much about journalism as it is about the health of American communities. From its executive summary:

Drawing upon an analysis of over 16,000 news stories, gathered over seven days, across 100 randomly sampled U.S. communities, this study found that:

  • Eight communities contained no stories addressing critical information needs.
  • Twelve communities contained no original news stories.
  • Twenty communities contained no local news stories.

In addition, this study found that:

  • Only about 17 percent of the news stories provided to a community are truly local – that is actually about or having taken place within – the municipality.
  • Less than half (43 percent) of the news stories provided to a community by local media outlets are original (i.e., are produced by the local media outlet).
  • Just over half (56 percent) of the news stories provided to a community by local media outlets address a critical information need

“Only about 17 percent of the news stories provided to a community are truly local…”

It seems to me that the near death of our civic and social life, of even our ability to be aware of what’s happening in our communities, is both much worse than we realize and also a much bigger practical crisis than the drama of our national politics.

When most local news isn’t, that means that the conglomerates presenting easy-to-obtain and cheap-to-free national content through formerly local brands are simply running out the clock until those brands are completely dead. That means there’s opportunity in creating news and media brands that will contribute to the civic and social health of particular communities now, so that they’ll be firmly in place when the old brands finally die.

Old Town, present tense

I was in Old Town, Alexandria the other night. I’ve only been there a handful of times, but like so many other old towns in towns and cities across the country, it lives up to its name as a place where an older America knew how to build homes and businesses and streets and sidewalks and roads in a way where each element complements the other and where walking and living and shopping and eating and simply experiencing the place is enjoyable. There’s a feeling of wholeness in the best Old Towns that you want to bring with you. I ask both rhetorically and earnestly: why can’t we learn how to build these places now? We can built new Old Towns.

George H.W. Bush, RIP

George H.W. Bush, rest in peace. The 41st president died in Houston last night. Rod Dreher shared Joshua Treviño’s H.W. reflection, and I’m sharing that same reflection here because I think it’s one of the best:

Here is the one thing you need to know about him, among all the things of his crowded and extraordinary life: his most enduring legacy is the war that did not happen. It is a commonplace that his predecessor in the Presidency defeated the Soviet Union, and there is truth to it, but it is not the whole story. President George H.W. Bush was the man who managed, deftly and successfully, the Western portion of the implosion of the Soviet empire. It was a perilous passage — the abrupt collapse of an imperium and a pillar of world order — that would have almost certainly produced great-power war under nearly any other circumstance. It did not largely because of the men who were President at the moment: President, that is, of both the failing USSR and the ascending United States.

Think back to the revolutions of 1989, and the triumphant scenes of Europe liberated at last, of the Second World War reaching its final conclusion after six long decades. Think back to the realization that Soviet Communism, the specter haunting free men throughout most of the century, was in its death throes. Then think back to what you didn’t see: American triumphalism in Europe, the imposition of terms, the march of Western armies to the Oder and Vistula, the spiking of the ball.

President George H.W. Bush, unnoticed and uncredited by his nation, steered a victorious America — flush in the defeat of its sixth empire in just over seventy years, standing upon the precipice of global hyperpower — with restraint, prudence, and even modesty in its moment of triumph. It was an exemplary achievement not just for the virtues inherent in those qualities. It was an exemplary achievement because of the people who lived.

Under nearly anyone else, in nearly any other era, the generation of 1989 would have been sacrificed to wars of succession, wars of revision, and wars of revenge. Under George H.W. Bush, these men and women lived, and their children are with us today.

It is a curious thing to have as the most enduring achievement a thing that did not happen. The former President understood it. The American people did not. They still don’t.

I was a small child living with my mother in Bayreuth, West Germany in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall began to fall. She was on a Fulbright there, and I was along with her. We visited Berlin, and we brought back a piece of that wall when we came home. Here’s a photo of us in Bayreuth’s Hofgarten from that autumn:


In reading Joshua Treviño’s reflection, I think about how easy it would have been for President Bush to have “spiked the ball” in some way that would have blown up in our faces. Even in Daniel McCarthy’s blunt epitaph for a man he believes essentially created our present geopolitical dilemmas, he points out the sort of restraint Bush demonstrated in presiding over the U.S.S.R.’s collapse:

Bush refused to encourage Ukrainian efforts to break free from the Soviet Union in summer of 1991 and warned of ‘suicidal nationalism’ on the part of Ukraine. Bush was right, not because the Ukrainians did not deserve their independence—which they soon peacefully obtained—but because US involvement would have been a goad to Russian nationalism and could only have complicated the necessary work of dismantling the Soviet Union, work that could only be carried out by Soviet subjects (including Russians) themselves.

I was in Kennebunkport, Maine over Memorial Day in 2010 with friends, and we had the chance to meet Bush briefly. He had a tradition of coming out for the Memorial Day parade there. It was one of his last years before age and disability made a wheelchair a necessity, and he was milling about and greeting everyone in a low key way. Shaking his hand and offering him a simple “thank you” for his service was a memorable moment, the sort that I hope continue to exist even despite the increasingly imperial nature of the U.S. presidency. I hope, through the countless number of Americans who have similar experiences with our presidents, that the best instincts of an older America are carried forward for generations to come.

Christian humanism

Paul Seaton writes on Alan Jacobs’s “The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis“. Here he writes on Christian humanism’s motivating concerns:

The Christian God, we’re told, delights in human variety and leaves man “in the hands of his own counsel” in many areas. These thinkers therefore pursued their different muses and put their talents at the service of their Lord, their fellow man, country and civilization. There is a second lesson to be found here as well: respect for conscience. These days, however, one needs to add: “informed conscience,” perhaps even “trembling conscience.” These men and woman were acutely aware that they were under their Lord’s judgment. Publicly rendered judgments about war and peace, social order and disorder, the formation and deformation of the human person, were not to be lightly offered. And talents were given to be exercised and to bear fruit. We will be “required to give an account of ourselves” is found twice in the New Testament.

The Christian God thus bestows gifts and freedom and conscience upon his favored creature and Christianity calls its adherents to employ them in tandem for His glory and the salvation of men. Moreover, since Christians belong to two cities, they owe duties to both. And finally, since Western civilization is a civilization deeply bound up with Christianity, having absorbed paganism and spawned modernity, its fate is of concern as well. Hence, something of a first sketch or indication of Christian humanism emerges: it is the thoughtful Christian’s response to his manifold duties and complex vocation.

It needs to be further specified, however. Christian humanism follows, and is a response to, humanism tout court. In other words, it is a decidedly modern phenomenon, a response of modern Christians to modernity itself. The rise of fascism, the outbreak of total war, the dangers to and decadence of the democracies—all these were parts of the modern phenomenon. These talented and thoughtful Christians tried to rise to the level of the challenges they posed. To do so, they draw from deep wells, while adapting them to the times.

Hence, Weil’s great essay on “force,” that is, on Homer’s Iliad, which showed the permanently illuminating power of the founding Western epic and its contemporary relevance. Hence too her caveat to her contemporaries not to become the enemy in combatting him. Achilles always needed the lesson that grieving Priam taught about our common mortal lot.

Hence, Eliot’s extolling of Virgil as the definition of “classic” and of Dante’s Comedy as the defining European poem; hence his study of “modernism” as modernity’s latest poetic revelation and as a form that contemporary Christian belief could employ to constructive ends. This would be yet another example of turning the gold and silver of Egypt into objects pleasing to the Lord.

Hence, too, the spirited Maritain’s diatribe against the founders of modernity (Luther, Descartes, Rousseau) in The Three Reformers, but also his coinage, “integral humanism,” to indicate the antidote to modern errors. Hence his efforts at reconnecting Thomism, modern science, and modern democracy on the basis of an updated ideal of wisdom and Christian personalism. Hence, too, his Education at the Crossroads, a critique of “the American system of education.” Man must be considered whole and free and his education, designed for the whole free person. The spiritual nature and destiny of the person must be front and center, even, or especially, in an industrial and technical age.

And, hence Lewis’s 1943 classic, The Abolition of Man, itself a critique of contemporary pedagogy, this time in England. The title indicates the stakes involved in getting education right. If there is a single phrase that sums up the apprehensions of these Christian humanists, this is it. One pedagogical path led to “men without chest,” the other followed “the Tao,” the common moral wisdom of mankind. Grace then would have a dialogue partner that was open to its message of forgiveness and elevation.

I’m fascinated by the foresight the Christian humanists showed in realizing that, despite the necessary nature of World War II, the Western powers weren’t morally prepared for the post-war implications of our victory. And that a descent into a technocratic model of international governance was not a laudable turn of events, for its inevitable interest in further grinding down human distinctiveness in the pursuit of a standardizable social order. I’ll be reading Jacobs’s book before the end of the year to better understand his view on Christian humanism.

“Christian humanism follows, and is a response to, humanism tout court. In other words, it is a decidedly modern phenomenon, a response of modern Christians to modernity itself.”