Amazon store experience

I tried out the Amazon@StateCollege store/pickup location on Sunday. It was a neat experience. Basically, Amazon has created a really attractive, well located, and efficient version of the post office—or at least, a better version of P.O. boxes.

How did it work? I ordered a Moleskin notebook earlier in the week, and chose Amazon@StateCollege as the pickup location. Received an email on Friday that it was ready for pickup, and after a full weekend, stopped in the store on Allen Street in State College on Sunday morning. I tapped “I’m here, ready for pickup” in the Amazon email notice, and a barcode appeared on my iPhone for me to scan at the terminals in the photos below. Once I scanned it, it told me which locker contained my package and the door to that locker swung open. Picked up the package, grabbed a free Vitamin Water on the way out, and was in/out in about a minute.

When does Amazon take over the postal service?

Union Cemetery scenes

I mentioned over the weekend that I visited Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery while in Centre County, Pennsylvania. It’s an old cemetery, with the first burial around 1808, in a town founded in 1795. Its most prominent gravesites, to my thinking, are Evan Pugh (Penn State’s first president), Rebecca Valentine (Evan’s wife), James Beaver (Pennsylvania governor and Penn State president), and James Irvin (responsible for Penn State’s location). The lives of thousands of others are honored and remembered here, too. Here’s how Penn State describes Union Cemetery:

A number of leaders who helped to found Penn State and shape its early development are buried in Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery, a 20-minute drive from the University Park campus. Bellefonte, the seat of Centre County, was the region’s political, cultural, and economic hub in the nineteenth century. Union Cemetery is located between High and Howard Streets, one block east of the Court House.

UPUA Alumni Weekend

As a sophomore at Penn State, I served in the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA)’s First Assembly. The UPUA, Penn State’s student government, was reorganized in that year—though student government at Penn State originated sometime around 1910, though I forget the precise date.

This year’s 12th Assembly organized the first UPUA Alumni Weekend, and it provided an enjoyable chance to reunite with so many friends and faces from more than a decade ago, and to connect with today’s Penn Staters and discover what they’re working on and what sort of people they are.

I was very proud of UPUA, for instance, for just having achieved a revision to Penn State’s medical amnesty policy, ensuring that neither impaired students who need medical attention, nor their friends or bystanders who call for assistance, will be subject to prosecution. That’s a humane approach to an issue that impacts many, and it’s something I hope Pennsylvania adopts as law across the commonwealth.

Also visited The LION 90.7fm studios before heading to the Nittany Lion Inn for the UPUA Alumni Weekend’s closing dinner and remarks by Gavin Keirans, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, and others:

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It was a good weekend. I’m not sure I’ll be attending these alumni weekends in the future, except sporadically, but I’m grateful that they’re happening.

Rathskeller’s closing

I wrote last month about the All-American Rathskeller in State College. Herlocher’s, the new owners of the Foster Building (in which the Skeller is located) failed to come to agreement on a lease renewal with Duke Gastinger, the Skeller’s owner. The Skeller, opened 1933, was the oldest bar in State College and one of the oldest in Pennylvania. It closed last night for the final time, and something new (but hopefully in its spirit) will open there on 116 Pugh Street later this year.

As sorry as I am to see this place closed, it was great to celebrate the Skeller and raise a glass this weekend with friends like Kevin Horne, Gavin Keirans, Paul Clifford, Maggie Quinn, Anthony Christina, and so many others. Scenes from the final hours:

I hope whatever comes next retains its character and spirit of times past.

Pop’s 91st birthday

John Albert Shakely, my grandfather, would be 91 today. An adventurer, soldier, Penn Stater, geologist, sailor, wildcatter, and teacher, Pop was a humble, heroic man in my childhood life, the sort of person who teaches a boy how to be a man without ever sitting him down to give him a lesson. Requiescat in pace.

I shared the tribute above on Facebook, and my Aunt Amy Bourgeron (daughter of grandfather John’s sister Jean) added that “Uncle John was an iconic figure of my youth- the quintessential baroudeur.” (Baroudeur: adventurer, fighter.) Visiting Amy in July 2016 in Denver, it was special to me to see in her home the same Turkish footstool that Pop sent home for her in the 1950s, when he was stationed in Diyarbakir as an oil-well geologist.

Adulthood and competence

Jordan Peterson’s BBC 4 interview has made the rounds recently. Dr. Peterson’s commentary on adulthood, power, and competence was striking. Dr. Peterson:

There’s nothing uglier than an old infant. Nothing good about it. People who don’t grow up don’t find the sort of meaning in their life that sustains them through difficult times, and they are certain to encounter difficult times. And they’re left bitter and resentful and without purpose and adrift and hostile and resentful and vengeful and arrogant and deceitful and of no use to themselves and of no use to anyone else and no partner for a woman. There’s nothing in it that’s good. …

You help people understand why it’s necessary and important for them to grow up and adopt responsibility. Why that’s not a “shake your finger and get your act together” sort of thing, why it’s more like a delineation of the kind of destiny that makes like worth living. … There’s an actual reason they need to grow up, which is that they have something to offer; that people have within them the capacity to set the world straight, that’s necessary to manifest in the world, and that also doing so is where you find the meaning that sustains you in life.

Cathy Newman, the interviewer, rhetorically asks at one point, “What’s in it for the women?”:

Well, what sort of partner do you want? Do you want an overgrown child, or do you want someone to contend with who’s going to help you and who you can rely on? …

Women want, deeply want, men who are competent and powerful. And I don’t mean power in that they can exert tyrannical control over others. That’s not power, that’s just corruption. Power is competence. And why in world would you not want a competent partner?

Professional user manuals

David Politis’s LinkedIn post on creating a “professional user manual” caught my attention somehow recently, and I thought the basic concept for a public and transparent personal “user manual” was interesting and worth considering.

You write out short answers to a set of key questions that give anyone who has to work with you insight into how that relationship might work successfully or what parts of your personality might be a strength/weakness in any given situation. The basic rubric suggested:

The first set of questions were focused on us:

  • What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?
  • What drives you nuts?
  • What are your quirks?
  • How can people earn an extra gold star with you?
  • What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?
  • What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

The next set of questions were more focused on how we interact with others:

  • How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with you?
  • What’s the best way to convince you to do something?
  • How do you like to give feedback?
  • How do you like to get feedback?

David Politis’s examples include:

  • I like people to be straightforward and give me feedback directly. I’m not easily offended. I know that I don’t know how to do everything and can’t see everything that is happening in the company or market, so feedback is always welcome.
  • Unfortunately I’m late to a lot of meetings, but I’ve tried to get better at being on time. It’s said that people who are late to meetings are very selfish and aren’t thinking of others, but my meetings often run long because I’m very present in meetings and don’t pay much attention to time.
  • If I ask someone to do something and they acknowledge they are going to do it, I expect it to be done and not to have to ask about it again in the future. This is my biggest pet peeve, and it frustrates me if I have to be the one to remind you to do it.

I haven’t created one of these yet, but I’m thinking about it.

Tom Stevens

As I wrote about in September, Edel Finnegan left the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia after more than 12 years as Executive Director.

I’m now in my seventh year on the board of the Pro-Life Union, and proud of a lot of what we’ve accomplished, particularly the acquisition and build-out of Guiding Star maternity home. I’ll stay on the board through sometime later this year, but likely will rotate off depending on how quickly it takes Tom Stevens, our new President & CEO, to get comfortable in his new role.

The Pro-Life Union’s Executive Committee, which I’m a part of, interviewed many good people for this role, but Tom was the right fit for a number of reasons. CatholicPhilly.com’s recent profile of him explains a few of those reasons:

Tom Stevens.jpgTom Stevens, who became president and CEO of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and of the related Guiding Star Ministries in December, has pro-life credentials tracing way back to his days as a Villanova University student.

As a matter of fact that’s where he met his wife Ann, who was also a Villanova student. He was an economics major and she was a religious studies major. He asked her out for their first date after both attended a prayer rally outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility near 11th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia.

They married in 1995 and have five children ranging in age from 20 to 10 – Tommy, John Paul, Megan, Kellan and Andrew. It would be eight if you count the three babies lost to miscarriage. Because they truly believe life begins at conception, they mourn their lost babies.

Concern for the unborn apparently is being passed on. “John Paul is vice president of the pro-life club at Roman Catholic High School,” Stevens said. Also, his children have joined their parents in prayer before abortion clinics and for the annual March for Life in Washington, this year set for Jan. 19.

Stevens is originally from Basking Ridge, New Jersey where he was active in Antioch Retreat programs at St. James Parish. For the past 25 years the family have been members of St. Colman Parish in Ardmore where he and Ann have taught PREP classes, led the Alpha Catholic program and contributed to the music ministry.

He also is part of the core team for a dynamic men’s program at St. Denis Parish in Havertown, “That Man is You.”

Stevens also leads the House of God’s Light Christian Community, which is nondenominational but mostly Catholic. “Its mission is to make whole-hearted disciples of Jesus Christ by worshipping, loving, growing and serving together,” he said.

Professionally, Stevens has had a successful career in sales, marketing and non-profit management. Ann, who formerly taught in a Catholic school, most recently has been homeschooling their younger children.

Through it all, being actively pro-life has been on the front burner of life. Sometimes it is subtle, just attending Mass as a family, but life is always part of the equation.

I’m enthusiastic about Tom, and hopeful that he can significantly improve the Pro-Life Union’s position as a permanent feature of building Greater Philadelphia’s life-affirming approach to vulnerable persons.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day

Today marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which the White House is marking with its clear and compassionate National Sanctity of Human Life Day proclamation:

Today, we focus our attention on the love and protection each person, born and unborn, deserves regardless of disability, gender, appearance, or ethnicity. Much of the greatest suffering in our Nation’s history — and, indeed, our planet’s history — has been the result of disgracefully misguided attempts to dehumanize whole classes of people based on these immutable characteristics. We cannot let this shameful history repeat itself in new forms, and we must be particularly vigilant to safeguard the most vulnerable lives among us. This is why we observe National Sanctity of Human Life Day: to affirm the truth that all life is sacred, that every person has inherent dignity and worth, and that no class of people should ever be discarded as “non-human.”

Reverence for every human life, one of the values for which our Founding Fathers fought, defines the character of our Nation. Today, it moves us to promote the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children. It animates our concern for single moms; the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled; and orphan and foster children. It compels us to address the opioid epidemic and to bring aid to those who struggle with mental illness. It gives us the courage to stand up for the weak and the powerless. And it dispels the notion that our worth depends on the extent to which we are planned for or wanted.

Science continues to support and build the case for life. Medical technologies allow us to see images of the unborn children moving their newly formed fingers and toes, yawning, and even smiling. Those images present us with irrefutable evidence that babies are growing within their mothers’ wombs — precious, unique lives, each deserving a future filled with promise and hope. We can also now operate on babies in utero to stave off life-threatening diseases. These important medical advances give us an even greater appreciation for the humanity of the unborn.

Today, citizens throughout our great country are working for the cause of life and fighting for the unborn, driven by love and supported by both science and philosophy. These compassionate Americans are volunteers who assist women through difficult pregnancies, facilitate adoptions, and offer hope to those considering or recovering from abortions. They are medical providers who, often at the risk of their livelihood, conscientiously refuse to participate in abortions. And they are legislators who support health and safety standards, informed consent, parental notification, and bans on late-term abortions, when babies can feel pain. These undeterred warriors, many of whom travel to Washington, D.C., every year for the March for Life, are changing hearts and saving lives through their passionate defense of and loving care for all human lives. Thankfully, the number of abortions, which has been in steady decline since 1980, is now at a historic low. Though the fight to protect life is not yet over, we commit to advocating each day for all who cannot speak for themselves.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia also shared his perspective on human dignity and the sanctity of human life:

The “March for Life” this January, like every January over the past several decades, reminds the nation that killing an unborn child is never a private matter. Abortion is a uniquely intimate form of violence – but violence with bitter public consequences. Catholics eagerly join the March for Life each year because we believe in the God of life and joy; a God who creates every human being with innate dignity and rights, including above all the right to life.

What we really believe, we conform our lives to. And if we don’t at least try to conform our lives to what we claim to believe, then we’re fooling only ourselves, because God cannot be fooled. When we claim to be “Catholic” but then don’t advance our beliefs about the sanctity of the human person as the basis of law, it means one of two things. We’re either very confused, or we’re very evasive.

All law involves the imposition of somebody’s beliefs about the nature of truth, charity and justice on everyone else. That’s the reason we have marches, debates, elections and Congress–to peacefully turn the struggle of ideas and moral convictions into laws that guide our common life. …

There’s a very old Christian expression that goes like this: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Are we troubled enough about what’s wrong with the world — the killing of millions of unborn children through abortion; the neglect of the poor, the disabled and the elderly? Do we really have the courage of our convictions to change those things?

The opposite of hope is cynicism, and cynicism also has two daughters. Their names are indifference and cowardice. In renewing ourselves in our faith, what Catholics need to change most urgently is the lack of courage we find in our own personal lives, in our national political life, and sometimes even within the Church herself.

Every year in these weeks between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, I reflect on what the Church means when she talks about the season of “ordinary time.” Ordinary time is where we spend most of our lives — raising families, doing our jobs, helping others, making the daily choices that shape the world around us. Ordinary time is the space God gives us to make a difference with our lives. What we do with that ordinary time — in our personal choices and in our public actions — matters eternally.

As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “[T]he line separating good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor even between political parties, but right through the center of each human heart, and every human heart.” That includes you and me.