John & Harriet Stanton

John Stanton died three years ago.

John was a founder of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, but far more than that, he was a good man. I knew of him for years, and got to know him in his final years as a fellow Pro-Life Union board member.

John and his wife Harriet helped create the Pro-Life Union as husband and wife, and its continuing mission is imbued by their insight that the Culture of Life has always been larger than any single issue—their work began in the years leading up to the consequential 1971 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and the Pro-Life Union’s work continues to impact lives across Greater Philadelphia through its efforts for alternatives, public affairs, outreach, and education.

I joined the board in January 2012 to assist in developing the Pro-Life Union’s governance structure, along with its brand, content, and communications. The history and depth of impact of the organization over the decades continues to impress me, and reminds me of the need and importance of personal action. Putting aside the intellectual and ethical debate over how America determines the worth of human life, there will always be people in need and in situations requiring real assistance.

In just the past few years, an enormous portion of our budget has directly supported men, women, and children in crisis situations. This sort of practical charity typifies the Pro-Life Union’s culture of witness and service over fraught ideological arguments—and John & Harriet’s personal, living example continues to guide how our mission translates into reality.

It was in November 2014 that Fr. Chris Walsh announced the John & Harriet Stanton Culture of Life Endowment Fund, a modest way we continue to honor the Stanton’s spirit. We endowed this fund with the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, and continue to build it up. Its purpose is to support internships and training for new generations of servant leaders.

Tyhisha Hudson spoke in November 2014 about the Pro-Life Union’s impact on her family: “The Pro-Life Union was not just about preserving the life of the child. It also was about preserving family—husband and wife.”

Real communities support a robust family life, with parents at the heart of the home. It starts with a Culture of Life and is realized in practice through a real spectrum of choice.

SS United States and incrementalism

A year ago I wrote about the news that the SS United States was apparently bound for New York. The historic but decomposing South Philadelphia landmark seemed about to have a future for the first time in decades as a Manhattan-anchored attraction. Unfortunately, what was announced with fanfare last year wasn’t anything more than news of a Crystal Cruises having taken an option on the ship in advance of a feasibility study. Evidently that feasibility study produced the same conclusions that have doomed every previous plan for the ship: expenses too massive to be financed privately, and (rightly) no appetite for public financing:

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The dying ship remains in the Delaware River. After reading Mark Dent’s retrospective on the ship’s redevelopment failures, I think it’s time for the SS United States Conservancy to scrap her. She has a romantic history:

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In a very 1950s way, far from Philadelphia, the SS United States used to be amazing. The luxury passenger liner set a trans-Atlantic speed record that still stands, and it completed the feat in frigid, choppy waters. Among its passengers were Marilyn Monroe and JFK (maybe at the same time?), Judy Garland, Salvador Dalí, Grace Kelly and a young Bill Clinton, who took the SS United States when he crossed the Atlantic for his Rhodes Scholarship in 1968.

Even in this rock bottom situation there must be some way to rehabilitate the ship. But the scale of the thing, both in terms of size and dollars, is staggering compared to Philadelphia’s largest works:

SS United States developers would be gambling on 48 years of rot in an object whose heyday is remembered by few. The size of the ship is huge, 650,000 square feet. In comparison, the Piazza has 100,000 square feet of commercial space and an 80,000 square-foot courtyard. According to real estate research firm JLL, the combined square footage of all new office space brought on line into Philadelphia’s central business district in 2016 — the areas around Market Street, University City and the Navy Yard — was 891,000.

“I don’t have a clue what the best use is for it,” [developer Bart] Blatstein said.

Said [Eric] Blumenfeld: “There has to be a financial path that at the end of the day you end up with something that the cost of acquisition, keeping it on the water and the cost of putting into it something that makes sense all comes together.” Blumenfeld said, “And I don’t think that that exists.”

If developers were interested in the project, they likely couldn’t just grab a few investors and cobble together $500 million or even $200 million. Developers have enough trouble getting together $50 million, as Blumenfeld first did with the $44 million Divine Lorraine. Barzilay said projects of the magnitude of the SS United States often require partnering with banks, a sector usually unwilling to take risky gambles. Or government. Publicly-funded Lincoln Financial Field, for instance, cost $512 million.

What I don’t understand is why the ship couldn’t be rehabilitated in stages? It’s too daunting to redevelop at once, fine. Why not start with the first quarter of the ship? Anchor it permanently somewhere in the Delaware. The Port Authority (or whomever has the power) grants a permanent tax-free birth for the ship to eliminate the monthly fees. Construct high rise mixed-use towers around it to generate density along Columbus Boulevard. The deck and everything above gets a facelift and restaurants, bars, park space, etc. Then sometime later you go below deck to continue the process. I’d be curious to learn what the problems with this would be.

Or scrap her.

Clarence Thomas on silence

Clarence Thomas abstained for something like a decade from asking any questions during oral arguments. At the University of Kentucky a while ago he explained why:

“I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said of the justices’ questions, according to the Associated Press. “Maybe it’s the Southerner in me. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, I don’t know. I think that when somebody’s talking, somebody ought to listen.” …

We have a lifetime to go back in chambers and to argue with each other,” he said. “They have 30, 40 minutes per side for cases that are important to them and to the country. They should argue. That’s a part of the process….I don’t like to badger people. These are not children. The court traditionally did not do that. I have been there 20 years. I see no need for all of that. Most of that is in the briefs, and there are a few questions around the edges.”

It’s Thomas’s perspective here that reassures my sense of why bringing cameras into the Supreme Court would be harmful to the functioning of the court. Too much temptation for justices to talk simply to be seen talking and to appear wise, rather than listening to those making their case, referring to the briefs, and judging their best.

We live in a very loud culture. Anyone or anything observing silence as a means to combat (useless) loudness, is worth applauding.

Really good elevator music

Check out Yowei Shaw‘s Really Good Elevator Music project. The Atlantic a while back did a profile of Shaw and the project’s purpose, which tries to answer the question, “What if we could make elevator music that manipulates human behavior for a pro-social cause, audio that promotes community?” Context:

In the 1930s and 1940s, the executives behind Muzak — the bland background noise piped into hotel lobbies, malls, and elevators — adopted a slogan touting their social engineering capabilities: “Muzak While You Work for Increased Efficiency.” A carefully calibrated playlist with increasing tempo promised to make factory workers more productive, while slower, easy-listening tunes claimed to encourage shoppers to take their time.

“I found all that kind of sinister,” jokes Yowei Shaw. A freelance public radio reporter and producer by training, Shaw has been grappling with questions of engaging listeners in public spaces as part of her residency with the Philadelphia-based Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practice Lab.

I’ve listened to all the tracks and have been smiling through many of them. It’d be great if whole neighborhoods and specific buildings initiated similar projects and partnered with buildings to pipe them in at no cost. This is a good example of a subtle (but meaningful) way that art can enhance daily life.

Listen.

March for Life 2017

The 44th March for Life took place in Washington this morning. I stayed at the Mayflower Hotel last night, picked up my board packets for tomorrow from FedEx Office at 16th and K Street, and then Ubered to the Washington Monument where the stage was set for the Vice President Mike Pence’s noon appearance. It’s the first time in its history that anyone this high-ranking in government is attending the march. Here’s a short video from just before the start:

We’re approaching the half century mark for an America where we encourage men and women to abort unexpected children rather than equip those parents with the resources they need to care for their children. In any nation, but especially the wealthiest in the world, this is social failure. There’s simply no ethical, medical, or scientific escaping what takes place in an abortion, whether at 3 weeks, 30 weeks, or the heinous and only semi-recently outlawed “partial birth” (read: birth) abortions that were banned barely a decade ago.

After Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast address in the early 1990s (which I’ve written about previously), her lawyers filed a petition that included this:

America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe vs. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.

It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society.

It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters.

And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.

Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign.

The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany recently ruled: “The unborn child is entitled to its right to life independently of its acceptance by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right which emanates from the dignity of the human being.” Americans may feel justly proud that Germany in 1993 was able to recognize the sanctity of human life.

You must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.”

The first step is recognizing what abortion is. Once we achieve unity in acknowledging the reality of the thing, we can talk shop on the social policies we need to ensure no one is burdened with raising child they aren’t equipped to raise, and that every mother who wants to keep her child is supported with whatever she needs: housing, tuition assistance, anti-discrimination protections, and whatever else.

It’s as much chance as anything else that I’m here to say these things, which is why I feel an obligation to speak and get people uncomfortable when necessary to stir conversation to a point where we can reach that political unity to really empower mothers with a true spectrum of choice, rather than just giving them one choice.

Scattered thoughts

Theresa May is visiting with President Trump and congressional leaders in Philadelphia this morning, apparently planning to renew the US/UK special relationship and hoping for a Brexit-related preliminary promise of a bilateral trade agreement.

I’m writing from Amtrak on my way to Washington for the March for Life tomorrow and meetings over the next few days. The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network board convenes for its first quarter meeting where we’ll set the annual budget and talk through significant strategic and operational items. It should be a good and productive few days.

A political take from Addison Del Mastro, who writes:

This election’s other great issue, free trade, plays out in much the same way, as it pits very specific economic and cultural losses against broad societal benefits. As with boosters of mass immigration and diversity, free trade’s advocates have long resisted coming clean about the costs. National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson has dismissed the fading culture of Middle America as nothing more than “sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns” and “cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap.”

Williamson is not wrong, in a sense; the midcentury industrial economy was destined to be supplanted, and with it the way of life that rested upon it. The loss is inevitable, but nonetheless real. Some recognition that it is taking place would go a long way toward ameliorating the pain. It is one thing to be frank that society is not cast in stone, that things change, and that we are often the better for it in the long run. It is quite another thing to claim that nothing is being lost at all, and that if you believe otherwise, you are a racist, a bigot, or “deplorable.”

Langley Park will never again be a Southern Levittown, nor will most of the towns in America like it. Those economic and social arrangements have, largely by structural forces beyond the control of politics, been made obsolete. And they may well, in the grand economic and social picture, be destined to fade away. But they also deserve an elegy.

The strange thing about building the future? It’s got a good bit of the past wrapped up in it, refreshing it for the next generation. Throwing too much out too quickly is often arrogance.

Neighborliness in design

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has in its rotunda an enormous statue of Benjamin Franklin, the city’s patron.

Notice the aesthetics in this photo: scale, proportion, and modesty. What struck me as I walked past this (for the first time in a long time) a few years ago was just how beautifully the classical aspects of the building complemented its contemporary aspects.

What do I mean? “The doors of wisdom are never shut,” isn’t simply a nicely lit sentiment. That entire panel is a display. The display area doesn’t try to outdo its surroundings. It doesn’t seek to shout over them or demand attention, but it’s there. It’s a part of the room.

The physical and digital should complement one another, not compete for attention. New media meets old forms, and each enriches the other.

Board retreat

This month marks the start of my fifth year with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia as a board member.

The Pro-Life Union is one of countless organizations across the country that came alive in the years prior to Roe v. Wade, and whose mission and scope can basically be summed up as “proclaiming the sanctity of all life.” While a lot of the Pro-Life Union’s activity centers on providing mothers and fathers with alternatives to abortion (like housing, job opportunities, financial literacy, spiritual resources, etc.) it is just as much focused on promoting the basics for strong marriages and healthy sexual experiences and how to preserve the dignity of self and others throughout life, particularly at its natural conclusion. 

As vice-chair of the board for the past few years, I’ve been grateful to be a part of the Pro-Life Union’s evolution over the past five years and a number of key changes in its structure that have equipped it for the years and decades to come. I’m also looking forward to elevating new leadership later this year. 

I’ve been wanting to put together a board retreat for the Pro-Life Union for a while, and with much of the board having been refreshed in the past few years the right moment came to try this. We held a healthy and fruitful social retreat for ~4 hours in Mount Airy, Philadelphia—specifically at St. Raymond of Penafort church, where one of our board members is pastor. Afterwards, a number of people took me aside to comment that it was a great opportunity to get to know each other better. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen, and I hope this can be the start of an annual board tradition to ensure board members know each other as human beings, rather than just as peers who come together periodically to discuss/vote on corporate issues.

Why are you pro-life? What led you to the Pro-Life Union? What do you want to leave behind? What do you think is your greatest strength as a pro-life witness? What’s your greatest weakness?

A day without yesterday

Commonweal published a great article on the history of the Big Bang theory a while back called ‘A Day Without Yesterday’: Georges Lemaitre & the Big BangI had a dozen years of Catholic schooling, and don’t ever remember learning about Georges Lemaitre.

And if I don’t remember learning about the origins of the Big Bang theory and its Catholic developer during my Catholic school years, I’d guess it probably wasn’t taught in the typical public school, either:

Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) [was] a Belgian mathematician and Catholic priest who developed the theory of the Big Bang. Lemaitre described the beginning of the universe as a burst of fireworks, comparing galaxies to the burning embers spreading out in a growing sphere from the center of the burst. He believed this burst of fireworks was the beginning of time, taking place on “a day without yesterday.”

After decades of struggle, other scientists came to accept the Big Bang as fact. But while most scientists — including the mathematician Stephen Hawking — predicted that gravity would eventually slow down the expansion of the universe and make the universe fall back toward its center, Lemaitre believed that the universe would keep expanding. He argued that the Big Bang was a unique event, while other scientists believed that the universe would shrink to the point of another Big Bang, and so on. The observations made in Berkeley supported Lemaitre’s contention that the Big Bang was in fact “a day without yesterday. …

In January 1933, both Lemaitre and Einstein traveled to California for a series of seminars. After the Belgian detailed his theory, Einstein stood up, applauded, and said, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.” Duncan Aikman covered these seminars for the New York Times Magazine. An article about Lemaitre appeared on February 19, 1933, and featured a large photo of Einstein and Lemaitre standing side by side. The caption read, “They have a profound respect and admiration for each other.” …

It took a mathematician who also happened to be a Catholic priest to look at the evidence with an open mind and create a model that worked. Is there a paradox in this situation? Lemaitre did not think so. Duncan Aikman of the New York Times spotlighted Lemaitre’s view in 1933: “‘There is no conflict between religion and science,’ Lemaitre has been telling audiences over and over again in this country ….His view is interesting and important not because he is a Catholic priest, not because he is one of the leading mathematical physicists of our time, but because he is both.”

A fascinating article for understanding how one man’s ideas (initially derided by the scientific establishment) came not only to win the praise of luminaries like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, but ultimately to transform our understanding of the universe. Like so much else with scientific discovery, I’d bet someday we’ll realize that this theory is terribly wrong in important ways.

To keep Penn State great

I don’t know the author of the poem I’m sharing here, but I in light of the five year anniversary of Joe Paterno’s death I wanted to share it. I first received this in an email in July 2012, months after the coach had died and just as the (since repudiated) Freeh Report was making its impact. It was a dark time for Penn Staters, when a poorly managed crisis was leading to so much institutional destruction and heartache that continues to provide the basis for confusion. This captures a time that I’m thankful is behind us, though the rebuilding will take the rest of my life.

The witchhunt is over
The mob got their wish
To land a defenseless
Carcass on their dish

Because no one would stop them
No one would say
There are still unheard players
In this tragic play

So they asked for an arm
And a leg and a head
And were given a statue
While all our hearts bled

The hypocrites blathered
With hate and disdain
They wanted us dead
But they’ll still show our games?

But I know they can’t kill us
They can’t keep us weak
We will not be cowered
Because our leaders were meek

Penn state is just football?
Not on your life
It’s because we are more
That we will beat this strife

The professors will research
Will find the next cure
The students will party
Of that I am sure

Rose’s girls will keep spiking
Cael’s boys keep on pinning
And despite what “they” say
It won’t just be ‘bout winning

They’ll do it the right way
As has always been done
They can vacate the wins
But we know what we won

Tell it to MRob
Tell it to Poz
To Sean Lee and Connor
Then protect your jaws

Penn State’s about people
Penn State’s about pride
NCAA can’t govern
What we feel inside

They can’t kill our memories
Can’t take back our friends
And they can’t force our story
To a premature end

The haters can hate us
Our leaders can cave
But our student body
Can’t be made to behave

They’ll still dance for cancer
Their studies won’t cease
They will change the world
If not solve world peace

How to move forward?
JoePa knows that play
Written worlds only hurt
If you believe what they say

We all know the truth
Where the failings occurred
And won’t let our entire
Culture get slurred

Coach OB is staying
A man with some courage
Who faces a challenge
And won’t be discouraged

The fans back with a vengeance
Led by a great leader
Though they MIGHT be fewer
The wins will be sweeter

When each season is over
And the games are all played
The players can proudly say
I’m one who stayed

They’ll mean more in our hearts
Than any past team
Because they all hung tough
When Prez Rod made us scream

Kick us while we’re down?
Do at your own risk
Because we will be back
Like a tornadoes’ twist

You learn more about people
When you’re at your worst low
Who is behind me
As I get up and go?

Go harness your anger
Let it drive you each day
To keep Penn State great
And make our enemies pay

We will get our revenge
When we just won’t die
When we don’t limp away
To our bedroom and cry

The last chapter’s not written
We still own our fate
It’s up to us to decide
Are we still Penn State?