Dissonance in Milwaukee

I went for a run in Milwaukee the other day. Along Lake Michigan’s shore the Milwaukee Art Museum stands out, suggesting itself as a symbolic anchor of the city skyline. It seems to me like the boldest declaration of a post-20th century reinvention of Milwaukee as a great midwestern city. The Art Museum’s “wings” appear to “flap” over the course of each day. It’s a fanciful and striking structure both from afar and close up.

As you come upon the museum however, you find a startling and depressing piece of public art: a literal wreck.

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I thought about searching online for the story of this wreck, if there is one. But I realized it doesn’t really matter. Whatever it’s supposed to represent, it’s just a wreck. I have hope that it’s meant to speak to something like the need to prevent auto accidents. Maybe even that’s wishful thinking.

In any event, is this the best the Milwaukee Art Museum has to offer? There will always be a higher number of people visiting the courtyard of the museum and enjoying the shorefront like I was than there will be actual visitors admitted inside the museum. And with that in mind, this is what was chosen as the most prized and most visible piece of art the museum has to display:

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In its own way, it’s perfectly symbolic of so much of the artistic sensibility of our time: a grand and boastful exterior that–whatever it contains in its interior–makes no attempt to compliment the beauty of its surroundings or console the common person.

Tombs

I’m in Washington for a couple of days this week. One of my favorite places here is the Tombs. It’s a cozy little Georgetown bar with its own $3 “Tombs Ale,” just light enough that you can have plenty of them without feeling much. The posters on the wall, the bricks in those walls and the conversations and time that they bear silent witness to, the brass of the bar railings and the little plaques commemorating people past and still among us, the booths where the little conspiracies of life are still sprung—this place is the sort that allows one to feel like they’re living with a coherent tradition, even if they’re just passing through.

The Tombs is just above the “Exorcist steps” on the edge of Georgetown’s campus. Trinity Church is just around the corner, and Wisemiller’s deli is next door.

I’ve never lived in Washington, and I’ve only spent passing time in this neighborhood, but the Tombs and its immediate surroundings are an example of the sort of place and neighborhood feel that Jane Jacobs celebrates for their unplanned diversity, their history, and their value as gathering places amidst the newer and less human-feeling parts of a place.

Until next time…

EWTN

I spent yesterday at EWTN, Mother Angelica‘s “global Catholic network,” near Birmingham. I visited EWTN almost exactly a decade ago on a road trip, but this was the first time I had a real reason for being there. We celebrated 7am daily mass with Archbishop Chaput in memory of Terri Schiavo, which was broadcast a few times later in the day. The homily is available below:

Afterwards Archbishop Chaput, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, and Bobby Schindler, who I work with at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, sat down for an hour-long conversation that will air later this year. It was a good, wide-ranging conversation about the best way to honor the dignity of our brothers and sisters throughout their lives.

I was supposed to fly out of Atlanta last night, but my Delta flight ended up being swept up amidst hundreds of cancellations and delays; some of the people at the airport have been there for days waiting for a flight. After Ubering into downtown Atlanta I stayed the night at the Inn at Peachtrees and am now at the airport ready to fly out on American, since my rescheduled Delta flight wouldn’t have left until early Sunday morning.

This was a good and worthwhile trip. We’ve got to do more to speak coherently and comprehensively about human dignity from the beginning to the end of life, as well as throughout life especially for medically vulnerable, disabled, elderly, and other persons who are victims of indifference.

Anticipating the Hyperloop

I’m writing this while standing in line for my zone to board a Delta flight. I’m in Atlanta, connecting to Birmingham. The flight’s been delayed more than an hour, and now a hundred or so passengers are standing in their line because an optimistic gate attendant thought their administrative problems were going to be fixed in short order. They’re still not fixed, and now dozens of people ate getting edgy because they were delayed and now they’ve been standing a while.

First world problems, but that’s not the point. Delta flights have been cancelled and delayed across the country this week—3,000 or more. Why? Thunderstorms and wind grounded Atlanta flights earlier in the week and the ripple effects of that are playing themselves out as planes have been separated from crew members necessary to fly them. 

I know the data says something like 90 percent (or more, maybe) of domestic flights are on time and have no problems. But even a small percent is still millions of passengers. I’m not particularly bothered by it—I’ll still get where I need to be with plenty of time. 

All of this does have me realizing how likely it is that the Hyperloop (whatever it ends up looking like) will very likely replace huge swaths of demand for domestic travel—an incredibly fast, ground-based, and weather immune transport system that will be fast than flying in most cases. 

I hope it arrives in earnest in my lifetime.

Ave Maria for a week

I’m writing from a rocking chair in the Philadelphia airport, waiting for my phone to charge before heading into the city. Just getting back from a week in Ave Maria/Naples, where I was fortunate to meet, reconnect with, and speak with many good people.

It’s now been five years that I’ve been visiting Ave Maria, and the town seems to be developing nicely, overall. It’s growing in earnest—about 4,000 residents live there now, according to one long-time resident. Ave Maria University doesn’t seem to be growing in a substantial way, but it does seem to be more or less stable. Its identity is evolving, though. A major drama a few years ago was dropping Latin as a requirement, and now a somewhat subterranean drama involves an attempt from the administration to do away with a focus on great literature in favor of a more technical focus on composition.

“If you want to be a great writer you’ve got to learn how to be a great reader.” These words aren’t the unique property of the high school English teacher whom I so vividly remember uttering them, but I think they resonated with me because they speak to the truth. I can’t imagine Ave Maria University will be better or more distinctive if it moves away from its great literature professors.

In any event, I was fortunate to spend the week there amidst work, meetings, planning, and very good friends and people I love.

(I took this photo from the beach in Naples when I arrived last Sunday.)

Old Willow in winter

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I’m visiting Penn State and the Nittany Valley this weekend with my little brother, and during a walk from the Nittany Lion Inn on the northwestern edge of campus down to College Avenue we passed Old Willow. I explained the tradition of this tree and its special status as a living piece of the past.

It’s rare to see (or rather, to notice) Old Willow in winter. It’s there, but like any willow in winter it lacks the calm and billowing fronds that make it such a beautiful place to sit in warmer weather and think or read or be alone.

I hope this third generation survives for many years to come. In its nakedness it reveals its bent and somewhat top-heavy look more obviously than other times of the year. In any event, Old Willow’s tradition will continue.

A poet writes in the 1894 La Vie yearbook:

Sentinel thou art!
Dear old Willow!
’Neath thy waving, verdant tresses,
Ever coming, ever going,
Pass the tides of busy students,
Ever ebbing, ever flowing:
Untamed Freshmen, all-wise Sophomores,
Stately Seniors, hearty Juniors,
In a motley, ceaseless thronging,
’Neath thy ever-faithful guarding,
Chatting, laughing, thinking, studying
As they go.

March for Life 2017

The 44th March for Life took place in Washington this morning. I stayed at the Mayflower Hotel last night, picked up my board packets for tomorrow from FedEx Office at 16th and K Street, and then Ubered to the Washington Monument where the stage was set for the Vice President Mike Pence’s noon appearance. It’s the first time in its history that anyone this high-ranking in government is attending the march.

We’re approaching the half century mark for an America where we encourage men and women to abort unexpected children rather than equip those parents with the resources they need to care for their children. In any nation, but especially the wealthiest in the world, this is social failure. There’s simply no ethical, medical, or scientific escaping what takes place in an abortion, whether at 3 weeks, 30 weeks, or the heinous and only semi-recently outlawed “partial birth” (read: birth) abortions that were banned barely a decade ago.

After Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast address in the early 1990s (which I’ve written about previously), her lawyers filed a petition that included this:

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe vs. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.

“Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government,” she said. “They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign. The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany recently ruled: ‘The unborn child is entitled to its right to life independently of its acceptance by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right which emanates from the dignity of the human being.’

“Americans may feel justly proud that Germany in 1993 was able to recognize the sanctity of human life. You must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.”

The first step is recognizing what abortion is. Once we achieve unity in acknowledging the reality of the thing, we can talk shop on the social policies we need to ensure no one is burdened with raising child they aren’t equipped to raise, and that every mother who wants to keep her child is supported with whatever she needs: housing, tuition assistance, anti-discrimination protections, and whatever else.

It’s as much chance as anything else that I’m here to say these things, which is why I feel an obligation to speak and get people uncomfortable when necessary to stir conversation to a point where we can reach that political unity to really empower mothers with a true spectrum of choice, rather than just giving them one choice.