Eastern Standard Time

I was passing through 30th Street Station in Philadelphia last Thursday, on my way back from Washington, and took a photo of one of my favorite details about the place: the early 20th century Art Deco-style clocks bearing “Eastern Standard Time” lettering. (You can just see Spirit of Transportation in the far lower background.)

What a beautiful little reminder of what a bigger continent North America used to be, and what a larger nation America felt like, before the time of consumer air travel, when we relied on the railroads to link together the far flung states of our ambitious republic.

I wonder, genuinely wonder, how many passersby see that “Eastern Standard Time” lettering and wonder about it from a standpoint of real curiosity or confusion about why such a thing would even need to be stated at a train station.

Penn State v. Michigan

Watching Penn State beat Michigan last night was just downright fun, from Saquon Barkley’s opening touchdown 42 seconds into the game, to the seconds that the clock ticked to zero with #2 Penn State over #19 Michigan 42-13.

These sorts of seasons come so infrequently, you just have to relax and enjoy the magic of the season. Penn State hasn’t been this highly ranked since 1999. Penn State hasn’t seen attendance in Beaver Stadium like last night in its history: 110,823 set the all-time record for turnout. And Coach James Franklin hasn’t had a 7-0 start before in his career.

To top it all, ESPN’s College Game Day visited State College, and broadcast from Old Main’s lawn. I took a few photos while watching Coach Franklin’s interview on TV earlier in the day.

Enjoying this for as long as it lasts.

Enlarger of the common life

A few photos from my day trip to Washington on Thursday for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network purposes. It was a clear skies, beautiful sort of day. And I happened to walk out of Shake Shack and notice that Snap’s traveling Spectacles machine was vending their camera glasses to what was a fairly long line at one point.

And by the way, isn’t this just an incredible bit of poetic tribute to the U.S. Postal Service? This is how Americans used to conceive of their institutions and the public purpose behind federal and state government activities. How little regard we have even for the possibility of similarly lofty public purpose today:

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Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life

Struggling

Kevin Williamson shares his own story of growing up, and offers blunt advice for those tempted to caricaturize struggling whites in the same way struggle blacks and others have been stereotyped:

Our mortgage then was $285 a month, which was a little less than my father paid in child support, so housing was, in effect, paid for. And thus I found myself in the strange position of being temporarily without a home while rotating between neighbors within sight, about 60 feet away, of the paid-up house to which I could not safely return. I was in kindergarten at the time.

Capitalism didn’t do that, and neither did illegal immigrants or Chinese competition to the Texas Instruments factory on the other side of town. Culture didn’t do it, either, and neither did poverty: We had enough money to secure comfortable housing in a nice neighborhood with good schools. In the last years of her life, my mother asked me to help her sort out some financial issues, and I was shocked to learn how much money she and her fourth and final husband were earning: They’d both ended their careers as government employees, and had pretty decent pensions and excellent health benefits. They were, in fact, making about as much in retirement in Lubbock as I was making editing newspapers in Philadelphia. Of course they were almost dead broke — their bingo and cigarette outlays alone were crushing, and they’d bought a Cadillac and paid for it with a credit card.

They didn’t suffer from bad luck or lack of opportunity. Bad decisions and basic human failure put them where they were. But that is from the political point of view an unsatisfactory answer, because it does not provide us with an external party (preferably a non-voting party) to blame. It was not the case that everything that was wrong with the lives of the people I grew up with was the result of their own choices, but neither was it the case that they were only leaves on the wind.

Feeding such people the lie that their problems are mainly external in origin — that they are the victims of scheming elites, immigrants, black welfare malingerers, superabundantly fecund Mexicans, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Walmart, Wall Street, their neighbors — is the political equivalent of selling them heroin. (And I have no doubt that it is mostly done for the same reason.) It is an analgesic that is unhealthy even in small doses and disabling or lethal in large ones. The opposite message — that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions — is what conservatism used to offer, before it became a white-minstrel show. It is a sad spectacle, but I do have some hope that the current degraded state of the conservative movement will not last forever.

This is the same message, in spirit if not necessarily in tone, as J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. And that message is: pull yourselves together. Figures like Donald Trump, who perpetuate the “blame everyone, take no responsibility” mentality, are the heroin dealers in Kevin’s framework.

Public life v. politics

George Weigel writes on John Paul II in 2001:

Pope John Paul II’s considerable effect on our times is conceded by admirers and critics alike. The imprint of the shoes of this fisherman can be found throughout the new democracies of east central Europe, Latin America, and East Asia. His critique of “real existing democracy” has helped define the key moral issues of public life in the developed democracies and in the complex world of international institutions. Some sober analysts of papal history argue that one must return to the early thirteenth century, to Pope Innocent III, to find a pontificate with such a marked influence on contemporary public life.

Yet there is a paradox here: the “political” impact of this pontificate, unlike that of Innocent III, has not come from deploying what political realists recognize as the instruments of political power. Rather, the Pope’s capacity to shape history has been exercised through a different set of levers.

As Bishop of Rome and sovereign of the Vatican City micro-state, John Paul has no military or economic power at his disposal. The Holy See maintains an extensive network of diplomatic relations and holds Permanent Observer status at the United Nations. But whatever influence John Paul has had through these channels simply underscores the fact that the power of his papacy lies in a charism of moral persuasion capable of being translated into political effectiveness.

This paradox—political effectiveness achieved without the normal instruments of political power—is interesting in itself. It also has heuristic value. It tells us something about the nature of politics at the dawn of a new millennium. Contrary to notions widely accepted since the late eighteenth century, the public impact of John Paul II suggests that politics (understood as the contest for power), or economics, or some combination of politics and economics, is not the only, or perhaps even the primary, engine of history. The revolution of conscience that John Paul ignited in June 1979 in Poland—the moral revolution that made the Revolution of 1989 possible—is simply not explicable in conventional political or economic categories. John Paul’s public accomplishment has provided empirical ballast for intellectual and moral challenges to several potent modern theories of politics, including French revolutionary Jacobinism, Marxism-Leninism, and utilitarianism. The political world just doesn’t work the way the materialists claim.

At the end of a century in which it was widely agreed that “power comes out of the barrel of a gun,” the paradox in the public impact of John Paul II also reminds us of five other truths: that the power of the human spirit can ignite world-historical change; that tradition can be as potent a force for social transformation as a self-consciously radical rupture with the past; that moral conviction can be an Archimedean lever for moving the world; that “public life” and “politics” are not synonymous; and that a genuinely humanistic politics always depends upon a more fundamental constellation of free associations and social institutions in which we learn the truth about ourselves as individuals and as members of communities.

In sum, and precisely because it has not been mediated through the “normal” instruments of political power, the “worldly accomplishment” of John Paul II has helped free us from the tyranny of politics. By demonstrating in action the linkage between profound moral conviction and effective political power, this pontificate has helped restore politics to its true dignity while keeping politics within its proper sphere.

The distinctive modus operandi of this politically potent Pope also suggests something about the future of the papacy, the world’s oldest institutional office, and about Catholicism in the third millennium of its history.

Those five truths aside from power through violence are worth emphasizing:

  1. that the power of the human spirit can ignite world-historical change;
  2. that tradition can be as potent a force for social transformation as a self-consciously radical rupture with the past;
  3. that moral conviction can be an Archimedean lever for moving the world;
  4. that “public life” and “politics” are not synonymous; and
  5. that a genuinely humanistic politics always depends upon a more fundamental constellation of free associations and social institutions in which we learn the truth about ourselves as individuals and as members of communities

Public life and politics are not the same things.

See the light

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;…
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,…
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?…

Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes. …

Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

T.S. Eliot

Bethlehem

I visited Bethlehem on Saturday night. I’ve been to Bethlehem a few times, and like the place. The historic downtown area is my favorite from what I’ve seen so far, though there’s more exploring I have to do. After dinner with friends we visited the SteelStacks, the old home of Bethlehem Steel, which is today partially rebuilt as a tourist/convention center environment, and partially left in ruin as a monument to an America that’s come and gone. It was a fun, somewhat eerie, visit to a source of Pennsylvania’s 20th century spirit.