Nearing Christmas

It’s nearing Christmas, but doesn’t feel like it this year. Struggling to feel like it’s Advent, let alone Christmastime.

Christina Rossetti’s “Advent”:

Earth grown old, yet still so green,
Deep beneath her crust of cold
Nurses fire unfelt, unseen:
Earth grown old.

We who live are quickly told:
Millions more lie hid between
Inner swathings of her fold.

When will fire break up her screen?
When will life burst thro’ her mould?
Earth, earth, earth, thy cold is keen,
Earth grown old.

A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre

I saw A Christmas Carol for what was probably the first time in person this past Thursday. It was also my first time inside Ford’s Theatre. It’s a small, comfortable playhouse. The cast of A Christmas Carol was great. Craig Wallace played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and Rayanne Gonzales played the Ghost of Christmas Present, and were my two favorites. Rick Hammerly delivered as Mr. Fezziwig, one of my favorite bit characters.

Join the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they lead the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey of transformation and redemption. Originally conceived by Michael Baron, this music-infused production captures the magic and joy of Dickens’s Yuletide classic. Acclaimed actor Craig Wallace returns to play Ebenezer Scrooge in a production heralded as a “rich visual and vocal treat” (TheaterMania) and “infectiously jolly” (Washington Post).

I grew up watching Brian Henson’s The Muppet Christmas Carol before graduating to George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol. What makes A Christmas Carol timeless is that we encounter a man breaking out of what Bishop Robert Barron describes as “the black hole of self regard and really to want the good of the other.”

Steady rain showers

It has been steady rain showers all today; not a downpour, but just consistent wetness. It’s still early enough in winter that it’s the sort of rain accompanied by a petrichor in the earthier parts of the neighborhood.

Walked along M Street, grabbed a Chipotle burrito, walked down to the Canal, and up Potomac through the neighborhood before returning home.

Amazon Books

I checked out the Amazon Books store on M Street around Thanksgiving, mainly for novelty’s sake. It’s the sort of bookstore that I can see doing better than the older book retailers (maybe) because it doesn’t have a lot of depth in its titles. The books there are popular/consensus titles that are popular on Amazon, and so it’s a good place to see a physical version of the literary spirit of the moment, grab a coffee, browse, etc. Abha Bhattarai wrote on the opening of this Amazon Books earlier this year:

The online behemoth, which has helped drive a number of traditional bookstores out of business, is hoping its loyal online following will translate into in-store customers on Georgetown’s M Street NW, in the same building that Barnes & Noble once inhabited before shutting in 2011.

At 10,000 square feet, the store is among the largest of Amazon’s 15 bookstores. It includes 5,600 book titles — all of which are displayed with their covers facing out — as well as dozens of tablets and smart-home devices on display for customers to test. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Instead of price tags, each book comes with a review card that shows its star rating on Amazon.com and includes a snippet of a customer review.

Signs of social trust

I was walking through Georgetown around Thanksgiving last month, heading north from M Street when I passed this home. What’s the most surprising thing about this scene?

Those packages on the front stoop. They’re just sitting there, liable to be stolen or tampered with or who knows.

What a great sign of social trust, when you’re someplace that allows for this sort of habit. Packages sitting out, waiting for their people to arrive home, are characteristic of a lot of Georgetown—this was just the house I happened to notice on this walk.

There are lots of things about this neighborhood that aren’t true of plenty of other neighborhoods, but the point is that living in a way that requires faith in those around you is powerful. Along the lines of the old habit of leaving the keys in the visor of the car—where hypothetically anyone could take your car for a joy ride, but you’re trusting they won’t—I think these are the sort of practices that are visible signs of a healthy community. When everything needs to be locked up and secured, you haven’t created a culture of security as much as you’ve created a culture of timidity or fearfulness or frailty.

Early December scenes

A few recent scenes from a few different days in and around Georgetown. It still looks like autumn in the first photo on Dumbarton Street, and much less so in the final rain-drenched scenes.

I’ve been using my Capitol Bikeshare membership less lately; still have to get my first ride in this month at some point.

Nomi Prins at the Metropolitan Club

I attended Nomi Prins’s talk last night at the Metropolitan Club. I hadn’t heard of her before, but it was recommended by a friend and proved to be a worthwhile time:

Nomi Prins is a leading critic of too-big-to-fail banks, the Federal Reserve and central banks. As a former Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns executive, Nomi speaks as a Wall Street insider who questioned the party line and left the gravy train. She is the author of six hard-hitting books and an outspoken journalist, TV/radio commentator and public speaker.

In “All The Presidents’ Bankers”, Nomi unearths the backroom deals and multi-generational relationships that made the big banks America’s greatest practitioners of crony capitalism and how the Federal Reserve operates outside the Constitution’s checks and balances.

In her latest book, “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World“, Nomi exposes how the 2007-2008 financial crisis turbo-boosted the influence of central bankers in the global economy and set in motion the wave of populism sweeping Europe and the United States. First came the Tea Party. Then Donald Trump, Brexit and the downfall of Angela Merkel.

Nomi explains where the $21 trillion dollars the central banks created out of thin air went. She isn’t afraid to address the elephant in the room: the Federal Reserve printing money to underwrite our warfare state, distort markets and impact the international economy.

Refreshing hearing someone from Wall Street speak honesty—not only about the lows of the “Big Short” era and the Great Recession, but also about the sort of governance that would lead to a healthier financial system that is at the service of the human person.

First time visiting the Metropolitan Club, whose history is similar to the Union League and so many other clubs born during the Civil War era:

The Metropolitan Club is one of Washington’s oldest and most valued private institutions. Since its founding in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, by six Treasury Department officials, it has pursued its primary goal of furthering “literary, mutual improvement, and social purposes.” Today, more than 150 years after its founding, the Club continues to attract distinguished members from around the world.

The Metropolitan Club’s proximity to the White House and other icons of the nation’s capital has made it a destination for many local, national and international leaders, including nearly every U.S. President since Abraham Lincoln. Its location and dedication to a tradition of social civility provide members with a haven from the bustle of Washington’s professional life…

30th Street Station and its Solari board

When I passed through 30th Street Station last week, I shot this short clip of the Amtrak “Solari” board. I had read in Billy Penn that it is set to be replaced in January:

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission expects to take ownership of the world-famous Solari board as soon as January 2019. The model, which flips individual panels each time a train’s status is updated, providing that classic “clicking” sound familiar to travelers around the globe, is considered an antique. …

At that point, the sign will move 60 miles to its new home: The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. …

Amtrak officials confirmed the expected January move date to the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday. The installation of digital signage will begin in December, per that report, with displays installed above the stairways that lead to platforms. …

Display panels of this type are named for the manufacturer Solari di Udine, of Udine, Italy. They grew in popularity in the 1950s, and were installed en masse in airports and train stations worldwide. Even early seasons of game shows like Family Feud used them.

Now, they’re nearly extinct in the United States. To mixed emotions, New York Penn Station got rid of its Solari board two years ago. The entire Metro-North transit system replaced its network of Solari boards by 2014.

That Philadelphia’s is still around could stem from the fact that the city got into the game a little late: 30th Street Station didn’t install its flippy board until the 1970s.

“It’s an amazing time capsule,” Morrison told Billy Penn. “The sounds of a board like this one have been the soundtrack of the daily life of many Philadelphia commuters and travelers for more than three decades.”

I’m not particularly nostalgic about this, but it is the end of one technological era and the beginning of another. Better things to be appreciative about at 30th Street Station, in both the Spirit of Transportation and Angel of the Resurrection. 30th Street is a great Philadelphia public space that’s always open, that elevates those who pass through it, and that has something of the feel of a sacred place, a public place that’s still quiet in the middle of the day where it’s possible to be more or less alone with your thoughts even while you’re waiting to head someplace. It’s the sort of place that feels confident, and where the architecture and atmosphere encourage something from those who pass through in a way that many other public spaces do not.

Departing Bismarck in winter

Our bioethics seminar at the University of Mary wrapped up this morning, and after lunch and mass I headed to the Bismarck airport where I caught my 2:15pm flight to Washington, connecting through Chicago. The view as we were departing Bismarck was beautiful, with light snow covering the ground and the radiant blue of the Missouri River providing a sharp contrast. I thought of The Christmas Plains by Joseph Bottum, a series of stories and reminiscences of life on the Dakota plains:

It was in the meadows along the little lake at Cottonwood Springs, a hundred yards or so up from the dam, that I saw the fox, red-brown against the December snow. For decades after the Black Hills were named a “national forest reserve” in 1897, the government would exchange small pieces of land with ranchers along the edges, trading pastures for tree-grown lots. The result was a more natural, serrated line of dark spruce and ponderosa pine on the forest’s border, but the reduction of open spaces within the protected woods—the loss of meadows like the one where I saw the fox this winter—also limited some of the land’s support for small wildlife and the animals that hunt them.

Not that those western territories ever held a large population of predators. Cutting through the middle of the Dakotas, the Missouri River marks the boundary of the ancient glaciers that scraped out, to the east, a gentler countryside of softened plains and easy lakes. West of the river lies a different world, one that the Pleistocene ice never cleared. The Badlands and Black Hills, Bear Butte and Devils Tower—a rough landscape of broken prairie and high plateau that stretches five hundred miles from the Missouri to the Tetons.

And that country is just too thin, the winters too hard, to feed many hunters. A single horned owl, fluffing its feathers on a gnarled cottonwood branch, will easily dominate two hundred acres of night hunting ground. A nesting pair of red-tail hawks will control a daylight range for an entire season. And the superior small-game hunting of the coyotes, the depredations of the occasional mink or weasel down near the creek beds, the scavenging of the omnivore skunks and raccoons, and how much life is left in a lean land, especially over the winter?

Still, there was the fox, in a South Dakota meadow this past December, clear eyed and healthy, his dark brush lightly marking his back-trail in the snow. If you’ve ever seen mountain lions, you know how they pace: arrogant and powerful, as though they had greased machines coiling and uncoiling just beneath their skin. Coyotes slink through the yellow grass of the prairies, rough haired, scrawny, and cautious. Raccoons scurry, skunks blunder, and minks—well, it’s hard to describe the behavior of minks. They seem to live a kind of vicious insanity, oddly matched with their rich fur and sweet faces. Foxes, however, are the strolling kind. Flashing white at their throats, with those black stockings around their paws, they pad through the fields like dandies ambling along the Paris pavement: inquisitive yet self-possessed, eager yet sensible, bold yet judicious.

Back at Chesterton’s

While at University of Mary these few days, we’re spending nearly the entire day inside for our seminar sessions. But I’m, still finding some time to get out and take in some of the scenes. Here are a few, from early this morning before the start of our first session, along with scenes from a brisk walk across the chilly (~20 degree) campus, to tonight’s visit and dinner at Chesterton’s, the University of Mary’s on campus pub/clubhouse for students, faculty, and visitors.

It’s a beautiful view from near “Gift Hill” on campus…