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…

Panoramic plains view

I realized when I was out today that I none of the photos I had taken of the view from the University of Mary’s campus, near its Lumen Vitae center, really captured the feeling of standing along the ridge and looking out across the landscape. This panorama gets a lot closer than anything else at conveying a sense of the beauty and scope of being there:

Each day is very full, but passes quickly, too. Savoring this time.

University of Mary bioethics seminar

I’m settling into Bismarck and enjoying being back at the University of Mary for this week’s bioethics seminar. I’m a little disappointed that it’s not forecast to snow while I’m here, though there is a bit on the ground. It’s sunny and pleasant; a dry cold that’s more tolerable than a wet Northeastern frigidness. An overview on two of our speakers this week:

University of Mary program invites the public to its annual lecture series as it welcomes two of the leading authorities in the field — Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., Ph.D., and Dr. Ashley Fernandes.

McTeigue will present “Moral Decision Making,” Friday, December 7, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by his second presentation, “Bioethics Case Studies,” from 1 to 5 p.m.

Fernandes highlights day two of the series Saturday, December 8, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with “How Personalism can Inform the ‘Business of Medicine.’” followed by his second presentation, “Ethics in Action: Clinical Cases,” from 1 to 5 p.m. …

McTeigue is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation. He is a spiritual director and retreat master at the Campion Renewal Center, in Weston, MA. He is a member of the prestigious National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). His new book on preaching, “I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel” is available on Amazon.

“As medicine is often practiced today, people armed with tremendous technical power accompanied by an impoverished capacity for moral reflection can cause great harm. Catholic bioethics can be the antidote,” stated McTeigue, a year ago.

Fernandes is an award-winning academic physician and philosopher, and one of the country’s most sought-after speakers and authorities on Catholic bioethics. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, and a member of the Arnold P. Gold Humanism Honor Society, receiving the prestigious Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award in 2010. Fernandes is the author of more than two dozen peer-reviewed publications, a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) and a CMA advisor to students.

“Medicine is much more complicated than ‘science,’ and the human aspect of human medicine needed the help and guidance of moral truth if it was to survive at all as a healing profession,” said Fernandes in an interview last year. He is now a pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate director of the Center for Bioethics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

University of Mary’s MS in Bioethics program is at the forefront of bioethics education and addressing modern-day issues. Because the program is in partnership with the NCBC, it’s one that McTeigue, Fernandes and other bioethics experts around the world hold in high esteem as the university holds true to its Christian, Catholic and Benedictine beliefs.

In transit, Bismarck winter visit

In transit to Bismarck, presently in Chicago at O’Hare in the terminal for my flight. President George H.W. Bush’s funeral service at the National Cathedral is on the screens in the terminal, and the federal government is closed today in his honor. It might be my imagination, but the terminal seems quieter than it might otherwise be. More public spaces should be like that, but always rather than only at distinctive national moments.

A few scenes from the flight from Philadelphia to Chicago. I’ll land in Bismarck in the early afternoon, and we’ll get underway at University of Mary this week with lectures ranging from moral decision making to personalism and the business of medicine, to health policy and bioethics case studies.

‘A principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy’

I caught the 5:05pm Amtrak from Washington to Philadelphia this evening, and am heading to Bismarck early in the morning for a bioethics seminar at the University of Mary the rest of this week. The flags outside of Union Station were at half mast in honor of President George H.W. Bush.

As I walked through Old City later in the night I took this photo of Independence Hall. I think it pairs well with Camille Paglia’s commentary on the illiberal nature of bureaucracy:

As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.

I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.

In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.

Old Town, present tense

I was in Old Town, Alexandria the other night. I’ve only been there a handful of times, but like so many other old towns in towns and cities across the country, it lives up to its name as a place where an older America knew how to build homes and businesses and streets and sidewalks and roads in a way where each element complements the other and where walking and living and shopping and eating and simply experiencing the place is enjoyable. There’s a feeling of wholeness in the best Old Towns that you want to bring with you. I ask both rhetorically and earnestly: why can’t we learn how to build these places now? We can built new Old Towns.

Raising the aspirations of others

Tyler Cowen writes that one of the best gifts you can give is raising the aspirations of those around you:

Yesterday I had lunch with a former Ph.D student of mine, who is now highly successful and tenured at a very good school. I was reminded that, over twenty years ago, I was Graduate Director of Admissions. One of my favorite strategies was to take strong candidates who applied for Masters and also offer them Ph.D admissions, suggesting they might to do the latter. My lunch partner was a beneficiary of this de facto policy.

At least two of our very best students went down this route. Ex ante, neither realized that it was common simply to apply straight to a Ph.D program, skipping over the Masters. I believe this is now better known, but the point is this.

At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind. It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous.

This rings true, based on my own experiences so far. Fortunate to have had many men and women do this for me in various ways. When we stay silent about what those around us are capable of doing, I think it’s probably true that that silence “takes something out of the fabric of what should’ve been“.

Thanksgiving scenes

Happy Thanksgiving. I arrived in Philadelphia from Washington yesterday in the mid-afternoon, and spent this Thanksgiving morning enjoying a solitary walk around a mostly deserted Center City, Philadelphia, before heading across the Delaware to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in New Jersey with family.

Richard Samuelson reflects on the establishment of a “National Thanksgiving,” and how it is that such a thing exists in a nation where we often pretend that our disinterest in establishing a national religion necessarily means that no theological imperatives are to be allowed in public life:

Consider President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.  He begins with the universal “duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”  But then he stops, as if he knew some might ask why the President is involved. Washington goes on, “Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a a form of government for their safety and happiness.’”  Congress asked Washington to proclaim the day.  An interesting request.  Congress did not pass a law proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving.  Such an act may, according to some constructions of the Constitution, have crossed over into an establishment of religion.  Instead, they have merely asked the President to “recommend” such an observance to the people.

It was a beautiful morning walk, but downright wintry in temperature—the most frigid Thanksgiving I can remember.

Electric bikes and landmarks

Earlier this month a friend from Philadelphia visited town. Late one night he had the idea to hop on JUMP bikes and take in the National Mall and surrounding landmarks. He had seen the monuments before, but he hadn’t experienced an electric bike—so combining the two experiences seemed as good a way as any to make his first electric bike experience a particularly memorable one. It was a cold ride, but a beautiful one. We had almost every scene to ourselves:

A few European visitors were leaving the Jefferson Memorial as we arrived and set our bikes down for a bit.