Closed Beltway, open air walk

Earlier this week coming back from Arlington, traffic had ground to a near absolute halt. I was in an Uber that was making no progress, so I got out and walked the two miles or so home. It was a beautiful evening for it, on foot. Here are some scenes nearing the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and of the Georgetown canal path just over the other side of the bridge.

It turned out that a tanker had turned over on the Beltway:

Commuters, take heed. Anyone intending to take the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway today needs to contend with a tanker truck that overturned near the American Legion Bridge around 2 p.m.

While the driver of the truck was not injured in the crash, there was a minor injury from one of the cars, according to Fairfax Fire and Rescue.

Further complicating the response is that the overturned tanker was holding 8,500 gallons of fueland was actively leaking. A total of 100-200 gallons leaked, but Fairfax Fire and Rescue says that the fuel has been “has been contained and does not appear to have made it into the Potomac River.” …

The lanes on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway reopened just before 3 a.m. on Friday morning.

Corrupt by nature, but capable of virtue

Andreas Kinneging writes a primer on virtue:

Hardly anyone seriously talks about judiciousness, righteousness, courage, and temperance, let alone chastity, fidelity, and humility. Over the past five decades, these notions have become archaic, and we often no longer understand their meaning.

This disappearance is of some significance. It indicates that traditional morality, in which these virtues occupied center stage, has gradually faded and is about to disappear both from our culture and from our consciousnesses. The crucial question is, of course, how we should assess this development. Is it a curse, a blessing, or of no significance whatsoever? We cannot provide a meaningful response to that question unless we have some understanding of traditional morality. …

Although man is corrupt by nature, he is capable of acquiring virtues. He is born with a number of dangerous instincts, but he is capable of tempering and sometimes even stifling those instincts so that they do not flower into evil. He is susceptible to temptations, but he is not defenseless against them.

Perfection in this sublunary world can only be aspired to, never achieved. Even though moral perfection is beyond man’s reach he is not doomed to do all evil. He is merely inclined that way.

What counts is the battle against the evil within us. We can never win decisively, but this battle certainly need not be lost. To fight this good fight, the main requirements are a certain amount of mistrust toward oneself, a measure of willpower, and perseverance. One must beware of the enemy and show character in battle. Everything else is in the hands of God or—if you prefer—Providence or Fate. And he/that is something we cannot control; we can only hope and pray.

As we have by now surmised, there is such a strong emphasis on virtues in traditional morality because they can save man from the evil within himself. Virtues derive their meaning and significance from the presence of evil in man.

Those who do not believe in man’s inclination to evil will not assign any value to virtues, either. Those who see evil in only a few things peculiar to man will admit only a few virtues. Many of us acknowledge only one real virtue: tolerance. This mirrors the fact that in recent decades the meaning of evil, to the extent that it can be laid at man’s door, has dwindled to little more than intolerance.

The traditional understanding of evil is much broader. Evil is equivalent to the forces of chaos, dissonance, and corruption that spring from human nature. Good is equivalent to the opposite spiritual forces of order, harmony, and growth.

“Virtues derive their meaning and significance from the presence of evil in man.” Andreas Kinneging seems to preach from the same gospel that Jordan Peterson does. It’s evidence of how foreign traditional conceptions of virtue have become that Peterson is regarded by so many as a sort of radical, and that so many seem to treat his ideas as dangerous.

Tradition has become the counter-culture.

National Review Institute Ideas Summit

National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit took place over the past two days in Washington, DC at the Mandarin Oriental. It occurs biennially, and this year’s theme was “The Case for the American Experiment.”

Michael Brenden Dougherty’s conversation with Tucker Carlson on populism was worthwhile, particularly Carlson’s focus on the necessity of dealing seriously with the problem of suicide and the challenge of ensuring Americans can still achieve a good family and community life. Jim Geraghty, Jonah Goldberg, and Rich Lowry spoke together on “how conservatives should think about nationalism.” And many others spoke too.

James L. Buckley delivered the closing talk on federalism and the revivification of the 10th Amendment, focusing on federal funding to states being necessarily coercive, ranked as probably my favorite of the conference—partly because it struck me as a hopeful, practical response to the growth in the federal administrative state, and partly because Buckley is now 96 years old and continues to bear witness to what public service looks like in a democratic republic.

At a later evening reception, Reihan Salam spoke on what sort of immigration policy Americans might be able to support.

‘Bearing Witness’

I spent last night at the Catholic Information Center for “Bearing Witness: Nurturing a Culture of Life through Love and Encounter,” which featured Catherine Hadro and Mary and Bobby Schindler:

Join Catherine Hadro, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, and Mary Schindler, co-founder of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, for an evening of prayer, remembrance, and hope.

Catherine Hadro and Mary Schindler will sit down for an intimate conversation on the topic of nurturing a Culture of Life through love and encounter. Mary Schindler will share positive and life-affirming stories from the fight for the life of her daughter, Terri Schiavo, a prominent victim of the culture of death. Catherine Hadro will speak on her experience as host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, sharing some of the most touching personal stories she’s experienced after hosting 100+ episodes of Pro-Life Weekly, and closing with reasons for hope amidst a culture indifferent to the intrinsic dignity of human life.

Bobby Schindler, President of Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and brother of Terri Schiavo, will also be in attendance. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the book, “A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo, A Lesson For Us All.”

The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network co-hosted “Responsibility to Care: What Euthanasia Victims Can Teach Us” at the Catholic Information Center last year, and last night’s “Bearing Witness” conversation followed in that tradition of life-affirming conversations.

‘We’re the subjects of history, not its objects’

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered a talk recently at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus:

I have two points I want to make here.  First, much of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy. As Pope Francis said just last month, “[I]n people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted” by deceitful clergy and religious. I don’t want to diminish that anger because we need it.

What we do with that anger, though, determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison. The Church has seen corruption, incompetence and cowardice in her leaders, including in her bishops and popes, many times in the past; many more times than most Catholics realize. The fact that Americans are notoriously bad at history and ignorant of its lessons only compounds the problem.

And yet here we are.  Twenty centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church continues her mission. She survives and continues through the grace of God.  But that grace works through people like you and me.

All of the great Catholic reformers in history had three essential qualities: personal humility; a passion for purifying the Church starting with themselves, and a fidelity to her teaching, all motivated by unselfish, self-sacrificing love.  God calls all of us, but especially his priests, not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful, again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world.  That’s our task. That’s our calling.  That’s what a vocation is – a calling from God with our name on it.​

To borrow from St. Augustine, God made us to make the times, not the times to make us.  We’re the subjects of history, not its objects.  And unless we make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness.

And that leads me to my second point, which is simply this:  Scripture tells us again and again to fear not.  The first words of St. John Paul as pope – this, from a man who lived through a catastrophic world war and two brutally anti-human regimes — were “Be not afraid.”  The temptations to fear, anxiety, depression, and fatigue are experiences we all share, especially in hard moments for the Church like today.  Fear, like anger, is a good and healthy thing when it’s in its proper place – and toxic when it’s not.

So do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not?  That’s the central question in our lives.  Everything turns on the answer.  Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.  Hope depends on faith.  It can’t survive without a foundation of passionate belief in something or Someone higher and greater than ourselves.  Without faith, “hope” is just another word for the cheap and cheesy optimism the modern world uses to paper over its own – and our own – brokenness.

The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos described the real nature of hope as “despair, overcome.”  That’s always struck me as the truest kind of realism and clarity.  We can hope because we’re loved as sons and daughters by a good God who’s really present with us and deeply engaged in our lives.  Without him, the world is just a sandbox for the wicked and the powerful, and there’s never any shortage of either. …

We should never underestimate the power of truth. The human mind and heart hunger for it.  For all of the modern world’s vanity and preening, the intellectual poverty of our time is stunning.  Among the Church’s great treasures is a long tradition of rich philosophical reflection. I urge you to study deeply in that tradition.

The Bible too retains all of its historic power today. In a culture of competition, consumption, and the mad scramble for success, the Beatitudes sound like a revolutionary manifesto.

The Bible’s power is especially clear in the accounts of Jesus’s Passion. During Holy Week we hear the story of the passion a number of times. The words from Scripture lack Shakespearean beauty. They don’t rival Homer or any other epic poet. On the contrary, the language is plain and almost austere. In a real sense, the passion narratives realize in Scripture the truth of the Incarnation, drawing us down into the gritty realities of life: blind hatred and bitter mobs; bureaucratic indifference and petty betrayals; dust-filled streets, tears, sweat, and blood. The words ring out loudly today, as they always have. They awaken in those who listen an unmistakable disquiet. The face of God approaches us here, now, in this world. This inspires hope – and also fear. Most people don’t want to be challenged spiritually…

The Christian life seems impossible to many, because “selflessness” is an allergic word in a culture built on consumption.  The same is true when Christians open their homes in hospitality or give generously out of their earnings. The world cannot imagine the radicalism made possible by a supernatural love, the freedom that allows ordinary women and men to live against the grain of what it sees as “normal” and “necessary.”

Many years ago, I came across some words attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I’ve never forgotten.  He said that gratitude is the beginning of joy.  I want you to remember those words in the years ahead.

Chaput is speaking to young men embarking on the priesthood, but his words are just as apropos for any person of good will seeking clarity in uncertain times.

Elections and majorities

Ross Douthat offers a contrarian defense of the Electoral College:

Debates about the Electoral College, like the one that Democrats have lately instigated, often get bogged down in disputes about the intentions of the founding generation — whether they were trying to check mob rule, prop up Southern power, preserve the power of small states, or simply come to a necessarily arbitrary constitutional compromise.

These disputes are historically interesting but somewhat practically irrelevant…

Is there a case for a system that sometimes produces undemocratic outcomes? I think so, on two grounds. First, it creates incentives for political parties and candidates to seek supermajorities rather than just playing for 50.1 percent, because the latter play is a losing one more often than in a popular-vote presidential system.

Second, it creates incentives for political parties to try to break regional blocs controlled by the opposition, rather than just maximizing turnout in their own areas, because you win the presidency consistently only as a party of multiple regions and you can crack a rival party’s narrow majority by flipping a few states.

According to this — admittedly contrarian — theory, the fact that the Electoral College produces chaotic or undemocratic outcomes in moments of ideological or regional polarization is actually a helpful thing, insofar as it drives politicians and political hacks (by nature not the most creative types) to think bigger than regional blocs and 51 percent majorities.

The principle of federalism is almost never raised when I see the Electoral College’s merits brought up. Transitioning to a national popular vote would only make worse the present state of affairs, where governors and states act as little more than regional territorial managers for a central federal apparatus. A national popular vote would also lead to enormous disengagement from constituencies whose interests would be more or less permanently shut out, and that alone is a recipe for weakening the body politic.

But whatever present debate really exists over the Electoral College can be answered more simply by point out that Donald Trump didn’t win the presidency thanks so much to a flawed or outdated electoral system, as he did thanks to the failure of Hillary Clinton’s get-out-the-vote efforts: “Donald Trump will be president thanks to 80,000 people in three states…

If those 80,000 people had voted differently, would there be hand-wringing about a supposedly outmoded system? No.

Mueller and the reputation of the media

Robert Mueller’s investigation is over. The New York Times reports “Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy,” reporting that the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Matt Taibbi writes:

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media. …

Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base. As Baker notes, a full 50.3% of respondents in a poll conducted this month said they agree with Trump the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt.”

Stories have been coming out for some time now hinting Mueller’s final report might leave audiences “disappointed,” as if a President not being a foreign spy could somehow be bad news. …

In the early months of this scandal, the New York Times said Trump’s campaign had “repeated contacts” with Russian intelligence; the Wall Street Journal told us our spy agencies were withholding intelligence from the new President out of fear he was compromised; news leaked out our spy chiefs had even told other countries like Israel not to share their intel with us, because the Russians might have “leverages of pressure” on Trump.

CNN told us Trump officials had been in “constant contact” with “Russians known to U.S. intelligence,” and the former director of the CIA, who’d helped kick-start the investigation that led to Mueller’s probe, said the President was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” committing acts “nothing short of treasonous.” 

Hillary Clinton insisted Russians “could not have known how to weaponize” political ads unless they’d been “guided” by Americans. Asked if she meant Trump, she said, “It’s pretty hard not to.” Harry Reid similarly said he had “no doubt” that the Trump campaign was “in on the deal” to help Russians with the leak. 

None of this has been walked back. To be clear, if Trump were being blackmailed by Russian agencies like the FSB or the GRU, if he had any kind of relationship with Russian intelligence, that would soar over the “overwhelming and bipartisan” standard, and Nancy Pelosi would be damning torpedoes for impeachment right now. 

There was never real gray area here. Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a “reckoning for the media.” 

Of course, there won’t be such a reckoning. (There never is). But there should be. We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.

Visiting Guiding Star

I visited Guiding Star yesterday as part of a day of service; my first service visit in a few years. Guiding Star is a refuge for mothers and children in North Philadelphia who want a choice other than abortion in response to pregnancy, and it’s a particularly vital place for mothers whose partners or family make choosing life an impossibility. Guiding Star and places like it around the country exist to serve women in a way that Planned Parenthood should be emulating, because Guiding Star and places like it represent real and life-affirming choice.

It was good to be at Guiding Star, and to spend time with some of those living there and some of those volunteering from across Greater Philadelphia. As a board member of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which manages Guiding Star, I see financial statements and operational reports every quarter, but I rarely get the sort of personal experience of the place as I did yesterday.


The Trocadero in Philadelphia closed recently. Danya Henninger writes:

The Trocadero Theatre, a mainstay on the Philly concert circuit for nearly four decades, appears to be closing for good.

Even before ownership confirmed the shutdown, which was first reported by Philly Mag based on comments from promoters and staff, fans across city began sharing their laments for the gritty Chinatown venue.

Its most famous recent splash was as the site of a 2014 comedy show recording that became a key factor in the chain of events that led to Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault.

Originally opened in the late 1800s as the Arch Street Opera House, the theater hosted vaudeville and minstrel shows. It then became a popular destination for burlesque, and also showed movies. A century after it first opened, in 1986, the historically-designated space was remodeled and turned into a concert hall-slash-dance club.

Though it wasn’t ever the fanciest spot (or the cleanest), the Troc’s central location — right off the corner of 10th and Arch — helped it become a defining part of Philadelphia nightlife.

Bands who stopped there before blowing up include Guns N’ Roses, Bob Dylan and Die Antwoord. The main event stage and the balcony bar hosted everything from wholesome school fundraisers to psychedelic PEX parties, grungy tribute concerts and slick TV specials.

I had only been to the Trocadero maybe three times, and all while at Archbishop Wood. The first time I went, I was leaving from my grandmother’s house. When I told her where I was going, she raised her eyebrows and asked what I was planning to do there. I forget the concert. “When I was about your age, the Trocadero was a burlesque house.”

I would guess it’s likely to re-open at some point, but who knows.

Escaping an attention economy

Scott Beauchamp writes on Kwon Yong-suk “jail-like retreat” in South Korea as a means of escape from a culture of overwork:

South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. It’s also one of the most overworked. … in that light, a controlled, prison-like environment almost makes sense as an alternative to the empty freneticism of daily life in South Korea. It might help to think of the faux-jail alternative as more of a monastic experience than a penal one. The community that networked lives offer, besides being a simulacrum of the real thing, comes at the cost of anxiety, addiction, the cultivation of shallowness, and total burnout. The reassuring silence of a concrete cell seems like a welcome alternative to an artificial, technology-addled paradise.

One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it’s an example of technological saturation having the opposite effect on culture as what was promised last century. More and better technology, particularly the social networking kinds of tech that so intimately penetrate our daily lives, were supposed to, at a minimum, make us feel less lonely and give us more and better leisure time. The results have been the opposite. We’ve never been lonelier. And never before have the most intimate parts of our lives been so thoroughly measured, recorded, and curated for profit.

As Columbia professor Jonathan Crary writes in his book 24/7, the most cutting-edge global corporations depend in large part on how many “eyeballs” they can “engage and control.” We’re now living in what he calls an “attention economy” in which corporations vie for the most efficient modes of quantification, prediction, and control of our moment-to-moment whims. This process is constant and unrelenting. “Of course, there are breaks,” Crary writes, “but they are not intervals in which any kind of counter-projects or streams of thought can be nurtured and sustained. As the opportunity for electronic transactions of all kinds becomes omnipresent, there is no vestige what used to be everyday life beyond the reach of corporate intrusion. An attention economy dissolves the separation between the personal and the professional, between entertainment and information, all overridden by a compulsory functionality of communication that is inherently and inescapably 24/7.”

The result of this cannibalization of our attention, of our very lives, is a word that’s been used a few times already: burnout.

The reassuring silence of a concrete cell seems like a welcome alternative to an artificial, technology-addled paradise.”