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.

Most local news isn’t

I saw this report shared someplace recently, Assessing Local Journalism: News Deserts, Journalism Divides, and the Determinants of the Robustness of Local News. It’s as much about journalism as it is about the health of American communities. From its executive summary:

Drawing upon an analysis of over 16,000 news stories, gathered over seven days, across 100 randomly sampled U.S. communities, this study found that:

  • Eight communities contained no stories addressing critical information needs.
  • Twelve communities contained no original news stories.
  • Twenty communities contained no local news stories.

In addition, this study found that:

  • Only about 17 percent of the news stories provided to a community are truly local – that is actually about or having taken place within – the municipality.
  • Less than half (43 percent) of the news stories provided to a community by local media outlets are original (i.e., are produced by the local media outlet).
  • Just over half (56 percent) of the news stories provided to a community by local media outlets address a critical information need

“Only about 17 percent of the news stories provided to a community are truly local…”

It seems to me that the near death of our civic and social life, of even our ability to be aware of what’s happening in our communities, is both much worse than we realize and also a much bigger practical crisis than the drama of our national politics.

When most local news isn’t, that means that the conglomerates presenting easy-to-obtain and cheap-to-free national content through formerly local brands are simply running out the clock until those brands are completely dead. That means there’s opportunity in creating news and media brands that will contribute to the civic and social health of particular communities now, so that they’ll be firmly in place when the old brands finally die.

Autumn in Georgetown

A few scenes from a walk through my neighborhood in Georgetown last Sunday. Cafe Georgetown is a great little spot on N Street that I plan to return to many times. Dumbarton United Methodist Church is a fixture of Dumbarton Street, along with Dumbarton House, which I have yet to visit.

Here’s a bit on Dumbarton United Methodist Church:

Dumbarton United Methodist Church, has been a part of Georgetown continuously since 1772, meeting first in a cooper’s shop, then on Montgomery Street (now 28th Street), and finally at the present site on Dumbarton Avenue in 1850. When the church was remodeled in 1897, the present Romanesque front was added. The stained glass windows were installed from 1898 to 1900. Inaugurated before the official creation of the Methodist Church, Dumbarton UMC is one of the oldest continuing Methodist congregations in the world.

The lights hanging in the trees are in a little park in Crystal City, and the glowing facades are a portrait of M Street at night. We could build every neighborhood and community in America with this sort of interest in neighborliness, community spirit, and beauty.

Wally Triplett, RIP

Wally Triplett died in Detroit earlier this month. He was 92 years old, and both an American and Penn State athletic hero:

Wally Triplett became the first African-American to start on the Penn State Nittany Lions, play in a bowl game, and be drafted by the NFL, where he set multiple records. He was a key inspiration for Penn State’s iconic “We Are” chant, which came to signify unity as Penn Staters in the face of racial segregation.

Kevin Horne wrote on “Wally Triplett and the Men of ‘47” earlier this year:

Triplett’s modesty is a tenant of his personality today, as it has been for virtually all of his 91 years on this earth. But those now-weathered eyes witnessed one of the most beautiful Penn State stories ever told—one in which he was the central figure, transcending the bounds of time and, even if not the literal inspiration, embodying the meaning behind the phrase “We Are Penn State.”

The story is told in two-parts. Triplett saw limited playing time in 1945—becoming, along with Dennie Hoggard, the first African-American to take the field for Penn State—and earned a varsity letter in 1946, also the first black player to do so for the Nittany Lions. Triplett made the switch from tailback to wingback early in the 1946 season and was the team’s most adept kick returner.

But Wally Triplett is defined more by the game he didn’t play than the ones that he did.

Triplett first felt trouble when he noticed that familiar name on the team schedule after he returned to campus in the fall of 1946. The University of Miami, the same school that revoked his scholarship less than two years prior because of the color of his skin, was scheduled for a home game against Penn State on November 29.

Not only did Miami not let black players on its team but, like many southern schools, did not even allow black players on its fields with visiting teams. Miami officials alerted Penn State that traveling with Triplett and Hoggard might prove problematic. The situation gnawed at Triplett — Penn State had a solid squad that year, with only one 3-point loss to Michigan State mid-way through the season and were poised to make a run at a postseason bowl.

Triplett has recounted what happened next hundreds of times. As the legend goes, the team met at Old Main to discuss the situation. They knew of Miami’s stance that bringing Triplett and Hoggard on the trip would make it, as their officials put it, “difficult for them to carry out arrangements for the game.”

The team discussed the situation and held a vote. It wasn’t close. A revote was held, however, so that the few holdouts could make it unanimous. “There was no second thought,” voter Joe Sarabok recalled to the Penn Stater.  Penn State would bring all of its players, or it would not play at all.

The dean of the School of Physical Education and Athletics, Dr. Carl Schott, relayed the team’s decision to the Daily Collegian in the November 6, 1946 newspaper:

“We recently advised the University of Miami that two colored boys are regular members of the Penn State football squad,” Scott said, “and that it is the policy of the College to compete only under circumstances which will permit the playing of any or all members of its athletic teams.”

There would be no game. It would not be rescheduled.

“I call it ‘that team’,’” Triplett recalled during a visit to the All Sports Museum in 2009. “The tradition of leaving your colored players at home was going to be tolerated no more.”

To add to the mythology, it is said that All-American captain Steve Suhey, the coach’s future son-in-law whose family line would produce generations of great Nittany Lions, stood up after the discussion and declared that the team would never have a vote of this sort again. It would never be spoken of; they already knew the answer. It was decided forever.

“We Are Penn State,” Suhey said. “We play all or we play none. There will be no meetings.”

Kevin relates Triplett’s story through Lincoln Hall in State College and a host of familiar, tangible landmarks that bind and unite Penn Staters:

Penn State student government leaders voted in 2016 to use the student facilities fee to erect a monument to Triplett near the location of Old Beaver Field, and though the project went in another direction once it reached the administrative level, it is a testament to the enduring appeal of his inspirational story that today’s students were willing to honor him in that way—nearly 70 years after Triplett and “The Men of ‘47” stood in their place.

But what compels such devotion? What is the Spirit of Penn State? Answers can be found through experiencing the ways in which the echoes of our shared past still reverberate through the places that we love. It is revering Mount Nittany. It is tipping your cap to Old Willow and admiring the remaining Elms on the Henderson Mall. It is celebrating the unique vision and singular determination of people like Evan Pugh, George Atherton, and Joe Paterno. And it is remembering places that never should have needed to exist at all, like Lincoln Hall, and the quiet dignity of the pioneers who lived there. It is learning and cherishing – and thereby keeping alive – the story of noble Lions like Wally Triplett, Steve Suhey, and a band of teammates who were ahead of their time.

The Spirit is still there if you want to experience it. Try it. Walk down North Barnard Street and stop in front of the second house on the right. Close your eyes. If you try hard enough, it’s not difficult to imagine Wally Triplett, the African-American son of a Pennsylvania postal worker, his smile reaching ear to ear, bounding down the wood-covered concrete steps of Lincoln Hall, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, on his way to catch the team bus to the Cotton Bowl, ready to change the course of history.

I hope Penn State administration comes to its senses and commissions a lasting stuatuary monument to Wally Triplett someplace near Beaver Stadium. Wally Triplett, rest in peace.

‘What do I do privately that I could do publicly?’

As I was leaving Arlington this evening I decided, despite the wet and slushy weather, to Uber to K Street for Leah Libresco’s talk on her book, “Building the Benedict Option,” at the Catholic Information Center.

I remember when she shared that she was writing this as a sort of practical manual for implementing Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option”, and so it was great to see the book in print last night.

Libresco lives with her husband in New York, and spoke about that experience as an entree to her book. How does a Christian cultivate and be a part of good community in a place like that? How do we do it anywhere? In a time when our devices only sometimes genuinely connect us, how do we really connect? Working together, eating together, praying together, in the simple presence of others—that’s a way to start living a better way. Asking “What do I do alone that I could do with other people?” is a way to start that Libresco spoke about. Another is, “What do I do privately that I could do publicly?”

Here’s the CIC’s background on the book:

Building the Benedict Option is a combination spiritual memoir and practical handbook for Christians who want to build communities of prayer, socialization, and evangelization in the places where they live and work.

Beginning when the author was a new convert, she desired more communal prayer and fellowship than weekly Mass could provide. She surveyed her friends–busy, young, urban professionals like herself–and created enriching or supportive experiences that matched their desires and schedules. The result was a less lonely and more boisterous spiritual and social life.

No Catholic Martha Stewart, Libresco is frank about how she plans events that allow her to feed thirty people on a Friday night without feeling exhausted. She is honest about the obstacles to prayer and the challenge to make it inviting and unobtrusive. Above all, she communicates the joy she has experienced since discovering ways to open her home (even when it was only a small studio apartment).

The reader will close this book with four or five ideas for events to try over the next few weeks, along with the tools to make them fruitful. From film nights to picnics in the park to resume-writing evenings, there are plenty of ideas to choose from and loads of encouragement to make more room in one’s life for others.

“There are so many more people in the world,” Libresco said at one point, “that we’re called to love that we could be encountering.”

Mirra Mitta and the occult

Happy Halloween. Ryan Briggs shares an incredible account of the Victorian-era cult of “Mirra Mitta” in South Philadelphia:

The stench of death hung heavy along South 11th Street in 1905. The smell had grown so bad that neighbors had gone to the local police district to complain. They claimed that a crazed man and woman were guarding a dead body inside a row house near Washington Avenue. They had been barring the door for weeks and, judging by the smell, the corpse had entered a state of advanced decay. There were flies covering the shutters of a rear bedroom of the building.

But they also recounted unbelievable details. Strange rituals went on inside and the residents of the home, which they had for years referred to as “House of Mystery,” worshipped a woman who they said could grant eternal life. …

On South 11th Street, they would find two gaunt and aged guardians barring the entrance to a row house that reeked of death. Even from the doorway it was clear the brick home had been transformed into a temple, replete with an alter and portraits of a woman called “Mirra Mitta” stationed astride Jesus Christ.

The elderly pair, Caroline Lang and John Rapp, said they were the last two followers of this woman, who they described as the manifestation of the biblical Holy Spirit made real on Earth. Although Mirra Mitta had died nearly two decades earlier, they had been here ever since, fasting, praying, and awaiting their goddess’ return, awaiting eternal life. For years, Lang, who called herself a high priestess, had barely left the house. …

Ryan Susurrus, an expert and lecturer on cults in Philadelphia, says that Meister was in many ways a product of her time. In the mid-19th century, interest in the occult, seances, and esoteric religion was sweeping across Europe and North America. The spread of Enlightenment ideas, the introduction of new belief systems through the spread of colonialism, and the prevalence of death in new, industrialized urban centers all contributed to this new interest in the unknown.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that spiritualism and seances were once commonplace here. This was a cottage industry. And there was a lot of focus on immortality and of one person being the conduit to mastering death and what’s beyond, very much like a medium,” Susurrus says. “People saw so much death in their lives, then. Someone who says, ‘I’m the mainline to immortality and conquering death and its only through me that you’ll access that,’ that was so appealing.” …

If Meister learned anything from these embarrassing public ordeals it was only the necessity of discretion. At this point, Anna Meister disappears from public record, never to be seen again.

Her birth name would not be mentioned in newsprint again until after her death nearly three decades later, the head of a powerful cult that had been operating in secret, known as the “Holy Ghost Society.”

By then she would only be known as “Jehovah Elimar Mirra Mitta”–“The Daughter of Jehovah, Mirra Mitta”–a name she had taken to her grave.

I think at least part of the problem with the occult, and a reason for prayer for Mirra Mitta and those like her, is the problem of confusing an awareness of the transcendent with themselves being the cause of transcendence.

I’m in transit to Chicago and then South Bend today for Notre Dame’s “Higher Powers” fall conference, well-timed for the start of November and a month traditionally focused on remembrance of the dead and prayer for their souls. An endearing little moment in the airport, heard over the speaker at one of the gates: “As your unofficial sponsor of Halloween, JetBlue is now welcoming priority passengers including ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and zombies to board at this time.”

John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization

I’m at the Mayflower in Washington for tonight’s Catholic Information Center dinner for its annual “John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization”. First time attending this dinner, but very familiar with CIC and supportive of its service as a spiritual home for Catholics in the heart of Washington, DC.

In past year, CIC has hosted 195 events, served ~1,800+ persons in spiritual direction, heard ~7,000 confessions, and welcomed ~13,000 at daily mass.

The seventh annual dinner in honor of the John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization will be held on Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. Recipients of the John Paul II New Evangelization Award demonstrate an exemplary commitment to proclaiming Christ to the world.

This year, the CIC is proud to honor Sean Fieler, president of Equinox Partners, L.P. Though his personal and philanthropic efforts, Sean has championed human dignity and tirelessly promoted the Church’s evangelical mission as envisioned by Saint John Paul II.

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Sean Fieler is Chairman of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, is President of Equinox Partners, LP. Mr. Fieler graduated from Williams College in 1995 with a degree in Political Economy and was the 1994 recipient of the Branson Memorial Scholarship. He is the Chairman of the American Principles Project and a member of the board of Witherspoon Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and the Dominican Foundation, among others.

Our Leonine Forum fellows evenings take place at the Catholic Information Center, too. It’s a special place.

Obianuju Ekeocha at Georgetown

Attended Obianuju Ekeocha‘s talk at Georgetown tonight. Uju is one of best pro-life advocates in the world, and having followed her for a while it was great to hear her speak and meet her for the first time. I was on a conference call on my way to the talk and unfortunately missed the first 10-15 minutes, but recorded the rest. I think Georgetown Right to Life streamed or recorded the entire talk. Uju riffed on some of the themes of her book “Target Africa: Ideological Neo-colonialism of the Twenty-first Century” and spoke with the joy and warmth that should mark every advocate of life.

Tonight was also my first time in Gaston Hall, finished around 1901 I think. What an incredible environment. The whole play conveys some of the best things about any real university: What you think matters. What you say matters. How you live matters.

Obianuju Ekeocha (Uju), the founder and president of Culture of Life Africa, has dedicated her life to promoting the sanctity of life, blessings of motherhood, and right to family. The youngest of six children, Uju was born in southeast Nigeria. She earned her Master’s degree in biomedical science from theUniversity of East London and her Bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Nigeria. She served as a medical laboratory scientist with the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, and in 2006, she moved to the United Kingdom to begin her work as a biomedical scientist in hematology.

Culture of Life Africa facilitates numerous pro-life conferences and March for Life rallies in Africa. This has been made possible through Uju’s close affiliation with African members of Parliament, United Nations delegates, ambassadors, and decision makers on pro-life and pro-family issues.


Nurturing home

Carrie Gress writes on a theology of home:

Home. It is a magical word that resonates with all of us. Even those from broken homes, or homes that no longer exist, there is still something in the idea that is sought after. Home is that place where we are meant to be safe, nurtured, known for who we are, to freely live and love.

Home’s universal appeal populates culture. Take Me Home, Country Road, Sweet Home Alabama, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas are a few songs that invoke the themeMovies and literature end happily with protagonists, like Odysseus, finally going home. The entire goal of the American pass-time of baseball is to be safe at home. YouTube videos of joyful homecomings fill up our social media feeds and we spend billions of dollars constructing and decorating our own houses, turning them into Home Sweet Home.

Our homes are the great theatre where the drama of our lives unfolds, as G.K. Chesterton eloquently said:

“The place where babies are born, where men die, where the drama of mortal life is acted, is not an office or a shop or a bureau. It is something much smaller in size and much larger in scope. And while nobody would be such a fool as to pretend that it is the only place where people should work, or even the only place where women should work, it has a character of unity and universality that is not found in any of the fragmentary experiences of the division of labour.”

Home, by its nature, foreshadows heaven. Pope Saint John Paul II’s final words in this life were “Let me go to the house of the Father.” He wanted to go home – to the home that all of us are willed by God to go to, even if he allows our own will to lead us somewhere else.

Cultivating and nurturing a home is one of the most important things I can imagine doing in life. Growing up, I saw how my grandfather, grandmother, mother, and uncle all worked together to nurture our home, and their example is one I hope to carry forward someday in my own family.