Rusty virtues

Gracy Olmstead writing on “raising babies in adult land,” or roughly speaking the effects of age segregation:

There are certain virtues that kids seem especially gifted to grow in us: patience and longsuffering are perhaps the first two that spring to mind (and they’re two virtues our society often sorely lacks), but there’s also generosity, gentleness, compassion, creativity, and many others. Of course we can learn many of these in the workplace, amongst family and friends—but children challenge and foster these virtues through their specific strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the reason parents seem so timid around non-parents is because they know their child will be demanding these strangers to display their hidden, perhaps rusty virtues.

When I look into the faces of my brothers, hear what piques their curiosities, and engage with each of them over the course of a day, I see a deeper humanity in them than I notice in most peers. 

It’s cliched to say that children teach us as much as we teach them. Maybe it’s better to say that children remind us of forgotten things, what Olmstead calls those rusty virtues.

Net neutrality

Ars Technica has produced a great overview of what Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman, has made happen with net neutrality.

To critics suggesting that Title II classification represents harmful interference, Wheeler says: “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.” This is the key concept for understanding net neutrality—that Wheeler’s plan enshrines the open internet that has developed organically while at the same time protecting consumers from the capriciousness of monopolistic service providers. More from Ars:

The core net neutrality provisions are bans on blocking and throttling traffic, a ban on paid prioritization, and a requirement to disclose network management practices. Broadband providers will not be allowed to block or degrade access to legal content, applications, services, and non-harmful devices or favor some traffic over others in exchange for payment. There are exceptions for “reasonable network management” and certain data services that don’t use the “public Internet.” Those include heart monitoring services and the Voice over Internet Protocol services offered by home Internet providers. …

… the vote does little to boost Internet service competition in cities or towns. But it’s an attempt to prevent incumbent ISPs from using their market dominance to harm online providers, including those who offer services that compete against the broadband providers’ voice and video products.

Union Square Ventures has done a great job for years explaining why net neutrality matters. I’m hopeful net neutrality can become a reality prior to the end of President Obama’s term.

Knights of Columbus

I’m heading to St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic parish in Yardley, Pennsylvania tonight to join the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus are the world’s oldest Catholic fraternal service organization. The Knights are driven by local councils, basically chapters, and have an enormous collective impact. I’ll be joining through the Fr. McCafferty Council #11013.

After joining the Sons of the American Revolution two years ago I’ve felt like the Knights represents a natural companion commitment as the other side of the same coin. Rod Dreher’s recent insight also comes to mind here: “It is one thing for the church to be separate from the state, but a meaningfully different thing for religion to be separate from life.”

I’m excited to be joining, and am sure I’ll write more about membership in the months and years to come. In the mean time for context, here are the Knight’s four principles:

Charity – Our Catholic faith teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Members of the Knights of Columbus show love for their neighbors by conducting food drives and donating the food to local soup kitchens and food pantries, by volunteering at Special Olympics, and by supporting, both spiritually and materially, mothers who choose life for their babies. Knights recognize that our mission, and our faith in God, compels us to action. There is no better way to experience love and compassion than by helping those in need, a call we answer every day.

Unity – None of us is as good as all of us. Members of the Knights of Columbus all know that – together – we can accomplish far more than any of us could individually. So we stick together…we support one another. That doesn’t mean that we always agree or that there is never a difference of opinion. It does mean that – as a Knight of Columbus – you can count on the support and encouragement of your brother Knights as you work to make life better in your parish and community.

Fraternity – The Venerable Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, in large part, to provide assistance to the widows and children left behind when the family breadwinner died – often prematurely. The Order’s top-rated insurance program continues to do this today, as do individual Knights, who last year gave more than 10 million hours of their time to assist sick and/or disabled members and their families. In the Knights of Columbus, we watch out for and take care of one another.

Patriotism – Members of the Knights of Columbus, be they Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Poles, or Dominicans, are patriotic citizens. We are proud of our devotion to God and country, and believe in standing up for both. Whether it’s in public or private, the Knights remind the world that Catholics support their nations and are amongst the greatest citizens.

Billy Penn

This piece on Philadelphia news startup Billy Penn caught my eye on Twitter this morning:

Brady told the story of Billy Penn… [laying out] his ambitions for the site — millennially-targeted, mobile centric, civic-minded — to many media outlets before, but one of the most striking details came as almost an afterthought late in his presentation: the site is financed totally out of his own pocket.

Brady will be out $225,000 this year, and “it’ll lose close to $500,000 before it gets anywhere close to turning this,” he says, “but it will take a while.” …

That staff produces about five original pieces of content a day in addition to curating content about the city from a spectrum of sources, though an inviolable rule of the site is that content must relate to Philadelphia — no Oscars recaps there.

I’m a fan of what Billy Penn is trying to be. When Jim Brady visited the Pen & Pencil Club sometime last summer, I walked from my Old City apartment to the little club on Latimer Street to hear his vision for the site. I was probably one of the first 100 subscribers to Billy Penn’s daily newsletter. It’s a great way to wake up and feel engaged with Philadephia no matter where I am. And as the “no Oscars recaps” rule suggests, it feel like a substantial rather than trivial sort of engagement with the news.

If it gains the foothold it needs, it’ll be the Philly.com we deserved rather than what we’ve got. That Billy Penn is described as “civic minded” is important, first because that’s really just “journalism,” and second because while Philly.com contains some civic minded reporting, the average reader won’t find it through the morass of infotainment, Eagles cheerleaders pin-up girls, and clickbait that pervades the site.

Citizenfour

At 9pm last night I turned on HBO to watch Citizenfour. On Sunday the documentary won an Academy Award, and rightly so for the reasons Conor Freidersdorf outlines in his Atlantic piece. And coming on the heels that presidential hopeful Jeb Bush doesn’t even “understand the debate” about the invasive, blanket mass surveillance Edward Snowden revealed indicates how fundamentally important this subject is to the character of the nation.

Citizenfour is tightly packed with meaningful moments, but there’s one in particular that stood out to me. At a conference in Brussels an attorney comments that we’ve increasingly come to use the word “privacy” when in the past we would use the terms “liberty” or “freedom” as fundamental parts of a meaningful experience of civic life. And often in the same breath we conclude “privacy is dead.” This isn’t pragmatism, but the cynicism of people who’ve given up or never really believed in the notion of Constitutional self-rule.

I realize I’m not really adding anything of substance to the conversation with this post, but I believe it’s important to however meagerly put it on the record where we stand in relation to state power and the state’s relationship to the citizen. The scope of our illegal surveillance is so vast it’s almost impossible to convey its problematic nature in a compact way.

At heart, our illegal surveillance systems aren’t simply clever betrayals of Constitutional oaths and protections. They’re also betray an important aspect of the American character, and compromise our ability to model respectable constitutional governance to our neighbor nations. This is to say nothing of the corrosive effects of surveillance on civic life and the popular conception of liberty, which Citizenfour directly raises.

We can’t create a better world without being better people. I hope in whatever small way I can help participate in civic and familial life to contribute to a future with a better generation of better people than those who recklessly and shamelessly deny even the notion that their undermining of the Constitution is worth debate.

Powerless

Dan Martell’s post on “forcing functions” came across my Twitter stream a while ago and I’ve been meaning to highlight something about it.

Dan defines a “forcing function” as “any task, activity, or event that forces you to take action and produce a result.” I like the idea of forcing functions as a way to defeat procrastination, and potentially to defeat the feelings of ambivalence that creep over anyone from time to time.

A forcing function example Dan highlights: going powerless when working outside your home or office. Taking his MacBook with him, without the power cord, means he’ll have X number of specific hours to work before being powerless. “That’s when I slam through a bunch of emails,” he writes, “get some serious planning done or design some new product feature. There’s something magical about a 3 hour forced completion work session.”

I often do this too, for the same reasons Dan highlights. I also like what it implies about how to work in the modern age. We can work longer than ever with universal connectivity, reliable electricity, and devices that stay powered. But that’s not a humane way to work, and it’s not a dignified way to treat ourselves.

There’s something honest about acknowledging that it’s alright to be powerless after a certain point. We’re physical creatures. We’re finite. We tire.

THON

It was late January 2007. I was a few months in to my time in student leadership at Penn State’s The LION 90.7fm radio station. We had just finished an exhausting audit process that I was responsible for as treasurer. I felt like we needed to lighten the atmosphere.

“We broadcast 24/7. We cover Penn State football and a half dozen other sports. Our special event broadcasts are super popular. Why not stage a live broadcast of THON for 46 hours?”

We got last minute permission from THON’s leadership to cover Penn State’s increasingly famous pediatric cancer research and family support fundraiser. I rounded up a half dozen friends and peers to cover various portions of the two day live broadcast. And we did it. It wasn’t the most remarkable broadcast, but it was the first time the station had covered THON, and we brought a lot of listeners from across the country into the experience in a personal and emotionally intimate way. In other words, we just tried to tell THON’s story.

We continued our THON broadcasts for the next two years of my term there and they continued after that. THON 2015 is wrapping up this afternoon, and I’ve listened in for a few hours this weekend. It’s been great.

Phil Schwarz was one of my friends who signed up right away to help broadcast in 2007. The next two years he and his co-hosts on the morning talk show raised something like $20,000 each year for THON and ended up becoming the radio station’s first THON dancers.

I love THON and what it represents as a commitment to the suffering in Pennsylvania and to one another as a community. What we began on something of a lark in 2007 has also been a lesson for me in starting a tradition that it’s alright to start small, even without a plan. You usually have to. But if you keep it going, it might take on a life of its own.

That’s THON’s story, too.

A chance encounter

Around dinner last night in Downtown State College I met up with a friend in his second year at Penn State Law. We met at his apartment at the Glennland Building, which is at the corner of Beaver Ave and Pugh Street, across from SAE’s house.

When the elevator opened to take us downstairs and eventually to Local Whiskey for dinner, a husband and wife were already in on their way down from a higher floor. They were bringing four wooden chairs down with them, the type that belong to a nice dining room table.

“Where are you heading with those?” I asked. “We’re moving my mom out. She’s lived here for a long time, but she’s ready to move into a home for assisted living.”

The Glennland Building was State College’s first apartment building, put up in 1933 and the tallest building in town for four decades. The bottom floor used to contain the town’s first indoor community pool, but that floor was converted to office space in the late 1960s. In 1946 R. Paul Campbell, longtime area judge, bought the building a few decades before founding Centre Foundation in 1981. It’s a place with history, and the connections inherent to passing time. Unlike our contemporary approach of segregation of the population by age, the Glennland Building obviously still has a diverse resident population.

“How long has your mother lived here?” I asked the man in the elevator.

“58 years.”

Visiting State College

I’m headed to Central Pennsylvania today for a brief ~24 hour Penn State/Nittany Valley visit. First time back in town since the late November Michigan State visit, and I’ve got a few things on the agenda.

First, getting together with Chris Buchignani of The Nittany Valley Society to talk shop on the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk, a potentially significant $1.5MM community development project that we’re working to execute.

Second, looking forward to lunch with John Hook of the Mount Nittany Conservancy. He’s been a great president for the nonprofit and spearheaded the annual Mount Nittany Marathon on Labor Day weekend. I plan to run that for the third time this year. I helped the Mount Nittany Conservancy launch their current WordPress-powered website two years ago, and it’s becoming a bit long in the tooth. Exploring a transition to NationBuilder.

Third, planning to meet up with Tyler Ball who is the student president of The LION 90.7fm, Penn State’s student radio station. Back in December 2013 I met with University administration and student leaders at the time to talk shop on the planned move of the station’s physical plant as part of the HUB-Robeson Center’s expansion. It’s a great project that’s about to conclude in the next few weeks when the new consolidated studio, production space, and office will open and I’m eager to see the new space firsthand. I posted the blueprint for the new space above, which came out of that Dec. 2013 meeting.

Fourth, I’ll be heading to Pattee/Paterno Libraries at some point to record and produce some audio for the audiobook version of Conserving Mount Nittany which I expect to be released in early summer.

A few other things: before returning to New York on Saturday night: trying Uber in State College for the first time, visiting the Bryce Jordan Center to see THON in progress, connecting with Maralyn Mazza of South Hills Business School, touching base with Molly Kunkel at Centre Foundation, and potentially an early morning Mount Nittany hike.

If you’re in State College this weekend and want to meet up or join me at any point for anything mentioned here, drop me a line.

Strategic planning

I’ve got a board meeting tonight for the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia. We’re in the midst of the first strategic planning process in the nonprofit’s history, with the goal being to approve our Strategic Plan for 2015-19 at the next quarterly meeting.

It’s one thing for a nonprofit to have a firm sense of its social mission, but it’s an entirely different thing to have a specific plan for realizing that mission in a way that’s concrete and measurable. That’s where strategic planning comes in, which should be clarifying for the board as much as for staff and volunteers.

Because the Pro-Life Union strives to build the Culture of Life, most directly by supporting those making the choice for life, it possesses a mission that will always be relevant. There will always be people in unexpected situations who need tangible support, whether material, spiritual, financial, emotional, or some combination. Knowing that your organization needs to be resilient enough to live for a century or more, while still being agile enough to respond to a community’s changing needs, is helpful for guiding the strategic planning process. Every organization’s time horizon is different, but every organization should be proactive rather than reactive. Strategic planning is a hallmark or proactive organizations.

As we were drafting our strategic plan, a member of our Nominating, Governance, and Strategic Planning Committee also helped us think in terms of SMART goals to strike the balance between the extremes of goals that are either too general to be actionable, or too aggressive to be achievable. They’re SMART because they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

I’ll write more on strategic planning in the future.