Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

367 Topics

A discussion about downtown area in Philadelphia and connections from today with its historical past.

West of Broad
A collection of articles about the area west of Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Delaware (State of)
DelawareOriginally the "lower counties" of Pennsylvania, and thus one of three Quaker colonies founded by William Penn, Delaware has developed its own set of traditions and history.

Religious Philadelphia
William Penn wanted a colony with religious freedom. A considerable number, if not the majority, of American religious denominations were founded in this city. The main misconception about religious Philadelphia is that it is Quaker-dominated. But the broader misconception is that it is not Quaker-dominated.

Particular Sights to See:Center City
Taxi drivers tell tourists that Center City is a "shining city on a hill". During the Industrial Era, the city almost urbanized out to the county line, and then retreated. Right now, the urban center is surrounded by a semi-deserted ring of former factories.

Philadelphia's Middle Urban Ring
Philadelphia grew rapidly for seventy years after the Civil War, then gradually lost population. Skyscrapers drain population upwards, suburbs beckon outwards. The result: a ring around center city, mixed prosperous and dilapidated. Future in doubt.

Tourist Walk in Olde Philadelphia
Colonial Philadelphia can be seen in a hard day's walk, if you stick to the center of town.

Historical Motor Excursion North of Philadelphia
The narrow waist of New Jersey was the upper border of William Penn's vast land holdings, and the outer edge of Quaker influence. In 1776-77, Lord Howe made this strip the main highway of his attempt to subjugate the Colonies.

Land Tour Around Delaware Bay
Start in Philadelphia, take two days to tour around Delaware Bay. Down the New Jersey side to Cape May, ferry over to Lewes, tour up to Dover and New Castle, visit Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Brandywine Battlefield and art museum, then back to Philadelphia. Try it!

Tourist Trips Around Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and southern New Jersey all belonged to William Penn the Quaker. He was the largest private landholder in American history. Using explicit directions, comprehensive touring of the Quaker Colonies takes seven full days. Local residents would need a couple dozen one-day trips to get up to speed.

Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.

Up the King's High Way
New Jersey has a narrow waistline, with New York harbor at one end, and Delaware Bay on the other. Traffic and history travelled the Kings Highway along this path between New York and Philadelphia.

Arch Street: from Sixth to Second
When the large meeting house at Fourth and Arch was built, many Quakers moved their houses to the area. At that time, "North of Market" implied the Quaker region of town.

Up Market Street
to Sixth and Walnut

Independence HallMillions of eye patients have been asked to read the passage from Franklin's autobiography, "I walked up Market Street, etc." which is commonly printed on eye-test cards. Here's your chance to do it.

Sixth and Walnut
over to Broad and Sansom

In 1751, the Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce was 'way out in the country. Now it is in the center of a city, but the area still remains dominated by medical institutions.

Montgomery and Bucks Counties
The Philadelphia metropolitan region has five Pennsylvania counties, four New Jersey counties, one northern county in the state of Delaware. Here are the four Pennsylvania suburban ones.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Northern Overland Escape Path of the Philadelphia Tories 1 of 1 (16)
Grievances provoking the American Revolutionary War left many Philadelphians unprovoked. Loyalists often fled to Canada, especially Kingston, Ontario. Decades later the flow of dissidents reversed, Canadian anti-royalists taking refuge south of the border.

City Hall to Chestnut Hill
There are lots of ways to go from City Hall to Chestnut Hill, including the train from Suburban Station, or from 11th and Market. This tour imagines your driving your car out the Ben Franklin Parkway to Kelly Drive, and then up the Wissahickon.

Philadelphia Reflections is a history of the area around Philadelphia, PA ... William Penn's Quaker Colonies
    plus medicine, economics and politics ... nearly 4,000 articles in all

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Let's Give the Supreme Court Some Help


Supreme Court, 2017

all the current wrangling about abortion, it continues to be implicit that the U. S. Supreme Court has a problem, which the Court needs to settle. But in fact, the Court didn't create the whole problem. The Court doesn't need to solve all of it.

First of all, privacy. That word doesn't appear in the Constitution, but surely no one is opposed to making privacy a right. Even

James Madison

James Madison wasn't opposed to the idea so much as he wanted to avoid cluttering the Bill of Rights with unnecessary detail. Unfortunately, circumstances have now changed enough to make it useful to be explicit about a strictly defined right to privacy. Since no one is truly opposed, what harm would there be in passing a bill in both the House and the Senate, and then having the required number of states ratify it? Once both sides got over the suspicion that somebody was trying to put something over on them, it should be possible to design simple clear language that creates and defines the right to privacy -- and avoids the temptation for somebody to insert some sly wording that does in fact put something over on somebody else. At the very least, creating a written right to privacy by following the prescribed path for amendment should dispel the idea that the abortion issue is part of an elaborate effort to undermine the Constitution.

By itself, this hypothetical amendment would seem like a rebuke to

Justice Blackmun

Justice Blackmun and the rest of the Supreme Court. It needs something else added in order to look like a compromise, which it is. So, what's proposed further is a declared presumption that state laws written before 1890 which forbid the performance of abortion were written with the intent of protecting the health of the mother.

That seems to be historical fact. There was a forty-year window of time between the invention of anesthesia, which made abortion easy to do, and Lister's invention of aseptic technique,


which make abortion safe. The anti-abortion crusade, led by the American Medical Association, took place during that window of time. The AMA was alarmed by the medical disasters it was witnessing and urged legal measures to curtail it. When the safety issue was resolved by Pasteur and his followers, the AMA greatly softened its position. It is now surely true that more mothers are protected by abortion than harmed by it. If the courts have a role in untangling this mess, it is to recognize that the original intent of the anti-abortion laws has become lost by ignoring the changed scientific situation.

Well, where would this leave us? It should get privacy out of the issue, by making it clear that the right to privacy in the new amendment is not to be stretched to legitimize

just anything that people want to keep private. Murder, for example, is something everyone might well wish to hide but could hardly be legitimized by a right to privacy. Nor is defecation, which everyone wishes to keep private, to be prohibited just for that reason. Abortion could be constitutionally established as something people have a right to keep private, but abortion -- other than to protect the health of the mother -- is not legitimized or de-legitimized by saying so.

Does teasing out the sophistries then settle the question of abortion? No, but it would reduce the problem to its essence. By the process of teasing away the irrelevance, abortion then becomes a process which is safe, easy to do, and legitimate whenever it protects the health of the mother. Whether to prohibit it when it lacks those features would be a decision for the individual state governments, so long as the threat of public exposure is not used as an enforcement weapon, as every reader of Hawthorne knows it has been.

Perhaps we can even imagine the day when stripped of emotional demons, abortion can be viewed as a rather cumbersome contraceptive method, currently resorted to far more frequently than is sensible.

Steep Yield Curve: A Useful Subsidy?

The steepness of the federal interest rate curve -- ten-year treasury bonds pay more interest than three-month treasury bills, and the rate for intermediate time intervals slopes gradually from one to the other -- is a function of the Federal Reserve; the slope of this curve concisely describes current Fed policy. The Federal Reserve controls the money supply by raising or lowering short-term rates, which "affects the slope at the short end", and mainly in this way restrains or encourages inflation, or alters the exchange value of American currency. For the most part, long term rates are set by the public bond market. Once in a while, the Federal Reserve does buy or sell long-term treasury bonds to modify long-term rates in the economy. By affecting rates at either end, the result is some kind of change in the slope of the curve.

Because banks make interest payments to depositors near the short-term federal rate, while the same banks charge borrowers at near the public long-term rate, the current slope is the main determinant of bank profits. Banks borrow short and lend long. If Federal Reserve tinkering steepens the curve more than it would be without interference, then bank profits are subsidized. Of course, it works the other way as well; in a banking crisis, yield curves can be steepened to rescue banks from failure, thus potentially sacrificing ideal monetary levels temporarily. For the most part, what is good for the banks is good for the economy; but it remains that bank profits are subsidized much of the time. Artificially widened yield curves either punish savers by lowering interest rates on their savings accounts or else punish borrowers by increasing interest rates on mortgages and other credit. For political reasons, the pain is usually shared among voting blocs. It can be argued this invisible subsidy of banks by the public creates a compensating benefit of economic stability despite occasional bubbles and recessions like the present one. However, the Federal Reserve system has been in operation for almost a century, revealing a long-term bias in favor of inflation, which is a subsidy of debtors by creditors. Present policy deliberately targets a steady rate of 2-3% inflation; the gold market responded to a century of this by raising the price of gold from $17 to $900 an ounce. A 1913 penny has become a dollar (before taxes) you might say. You might also say it took the Federal Reserve less than a century to make the present dollar worth a penny.

If gradual inflation is a consequence, a fair question must arise whether the Federal Reserve is worth its cost. Compared with an inflexible, relentlessly deflationary Gold Standard, yes, it is. Even accepting the monetary crisis as partly created by central banking, the international dominance of the American economy and recent smoothing of banking instability testify to the durable use of the Fed. But another criticism must be faced: In subsidizing depository banks with an artificial yield curve, is the Fed backing the wrong horse for the future? To answer that question, examine two components: With computer technology rapidly advancing, can the Federal Reserve accommodate non-banking competitors to banks? And secondly, international central banking appropriately accommodate globalization? There are, after all, aspects within the 2007-20?? a crisis which suggests -- maybe it can't.

Steady inflation of 1000% per century may well be preferable to 19th Century volatility of 1000% every ten or so years. But a gradual rise of, say, 500% or less each century might be even better. Relentless political pressure on the Federal Reserve has typically been used to explain its slow retreat from truly stable prices, and this defense takes the form of mentioning its dual mission of minimizing unemployment while holding prices as steady as possible. In recent years, European political rhetoric goes further, aspiring to add the right to employment to their fifty-page Bill of Rights; similar utopianism has crept into our own news media. Governments for thousands of years have cheapened their currencies. But while the drift is clear, our own pace is set by the amount of subsidy required to maintain a steep yield curve. As retail banks have struggled to compete with the wholesale investment banks, their increasingly uncompetitive costs require a greater subsidy from the yield curve. It is always going to be more expensive to aggregate deposits for lending purposes than to raise large sums by floating a bond issue. Securitization is here to stay because retail banks have consolidated and savings banks have gone out of business by the thousands; the mortgage industry can no longer survive without substantial amounts of mortgage-backed securities. Nor should it; securitization is a sensible route for importing capital from nations with a trade surplus. Depository banks long ago lost the borrowing business of corporations large enough to float their own bonds; securitization provides a means for smaller borrowers to share the same efficiency. After it has tried everything else, Congress will eventually devise a reasonable regulatory system for derivatives. Except for smoothing the transition to whatever proportion of market share the investment banks can justify, perhaps all of it, the subsidized yield curve impairs efficiency. It would be a mistake to allow some foreign nation to exploit such an opening before we do. The technical problem for all central banks is to devise a suitable alternative method of controlling the currency, other than by targeting inflation with adjustments in interbank lending rates.

Observers led by Martin Wolfe the economist for the Financial Times feel the 2007-20?? financial crisis can be adequately explained by Chinese pegging their currency too low, and could be rectified by persuading the Chinese to float their currency. Regardless of this extreme view, globalization is clearly both a good thing and an inevitable one. Thus some form of discipline must be devised to prevent central banks from destabilizing it for their own advantage. Wolfe proposes the use of a strengthened International Monetary Fund, which is unfortunately apt to project international politics into a process which could be harmed by it. An alternative to be examined might be to pool sovereign wealth funds as a pooled currency reserve, although this system probably could not withstand present extremes between surplus and debtor nations, so getting world acceptance could be protracted. Ultimately, everyone realizes that the real backing for an international finance system is the net worth of the whole world. But the example of Lloyd's of London is a haunting one; no one relishes putting absolutely everything at risk, down to the last shoe button. In the event of a disaster, everyone wishes to hold back some nest egg to use for recovery. Because of the same line of thinking, almost no one would trust foreigners to control more than a limited share of their future.

The future of international monetary relations is thus quite murky, but current pressures would seem to be driving something fundamental to change. When it does, regulating artificially manipulated yield curves had better be kept in mind.

Third Amendment and Privacy: The Constitution Wanders

{top quote}
Amendment III No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. {bottom quote}
The Third Amendment

The Third Amendment to the Constitution received a few moments of attention during the War of 1812, and the Civil War, but has only been litigated once during a strike of prison guards in New York state. It is, however, the somewhat fanciful basis for the right of privacy, devised for Roe v. Wade, and related this to the controversy over abortion rights.

It would appear that requisitioning the homes of private citizens was largely an expense-saving feature of the peacetime standing armies of European nobility, and thus agitated the opponents of aristocracy and feudalism. Its expense-sparing feature was a source of discontent during the French and Indian War, with its long wilderness border making housing difficult to find. The memories of people living near the frontier were long, however, and Charles Pinckney introduced to the Constitutional Convention one of a great many ill-considered motions which were defeated by that body, opposing the quartering of troops in peacetime. This action was taken up in demagogic style by the Anti-federalist faction, and during the ratification process, quite an issue was made of woeful inadequacy of a Constitution which failed to protect a nation's defenseless households, etc., etc. Matters reached a point where Madison was afraid not to include the matter in the Bill of Rights.

The matter may come up again, however, not merely in abortion controversies, but related to the increasing tendency to wage undeclared wars. Apparently, it was Madison's intent to throw the issue into the Executive Branch in the case of "time of war". No declaration of war was made in the Civil War, or in several other conflicts so that the issue which remains unresolved is what to do about undeclared wars, wars against terrorism, and other conditions which are not exactly either peace or war.


{Hamilton and Burr Duel}
Hamilton and Burr Duel

Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison collaborated in 85 essays, published in the newspapers to win over New York State to ratify the proposed 1787 Constitution as written (which meant approving it without further amending it). The collected essays are now known as the Federalist Papers , authored under the collective pen name of Publius. They were written in great haste during the period before the New York ratifying convention, so there are signs of lack of coordination between the authors. Most of the articles were written by Madison, so his contributions scarcely paused for thought before going on to another topic.

Madison's paper, now called Federalist No. 10, is thought to be the most famous of the group, possibly the most influential. However, its theme is that wide diversity of opinion in a large republic will neutralize itself and therefore eliminate partisanship. Nothing could be farther from what turned out to be the case, however, since Madison himself was one of the principal actors in the drama which soon and apparently permanently established the dominance of the two-party system. As a further irony, his main opponent was his co-author Hamilton. This change of heart, never satisfactorily explained, was particularly bitter on a personal level. Washington essentially never spoke to Madison again, in spite of the close personal collaboration of the two in engineering the Constitutional Convention, the Bill of Rights, and the cultural characteristics of the republic. Unless someone discovers hidden documents from the time, it is likely we can never be certain whether Madison's change of heart was a result of Jefferson's persuasion or persuasion by events. Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that Madison never believed what he said in No. 10, while other cynics point out that Washington could merely offer him fame, but Jefferson was in a position to make him President. Unfortunately, Madison's subsequent presidency was an undistinguished one, and some have pointed to his switch as early evidence of unreliability. In any event, he did reverse positions from regarding partisanship as the main destroyer of republics to coming very close to proving it in the War of 1812. Perhaps he was merely reading the handwriting on the wall. Partisanship has been a constant feature of the nation ever since the election of 1800, and traces of it can be found much earlier than that.

It remains a possibility that Madison's switch was the result of this bookworm's faulty analysis of the roots of partisanship in a republic. His opinion was necessarily based on criteria other than personal observation. There had been no good models to examine since the fall of the Roman Republic in 44 B.C., and even these historical events had been highly mythologized. The essential activity which nourishes partisanship is vote-swapping. When many different issues are laid before a representative of a district, it is inevitable to value some more than others, even to the point of trading his meaningless votes (meaningless to him, or to his district, or both) for more valuable considerations. Sometimes these considerations can be dismissed as corruption, but most commonly the consideration is personal advancement. The congressman needs the votes of other congressmen to advance in the power structure, and it is usually in the interest of his district for him to advance. Whatever he does in the arena of party politics seldom betrays his district, but often involves betraying some fellow representative. It is in this sense that party politics are "dirty". However, the durability of two-party systems allows personal distinctions to be buried within a party label, thus constraining the main concerns of the district to an absolute minimum of choices. There is no need to debate proportional representation; an unconstrained election process itself forces compromises which drive the party toward the center in order to win. In those nations with splinter parties, it is necessary to bargain and compromise after the election in order to achieve a governing majority, so the bothersome public is shut out from participating in the "deals". The essential decisions in coalition governments are often made by a handful of leaders, many of whom achieved party leadership by highly questionable methods. Without saying one word about political parties, our Constitution drives us to a two-party system.

Madison argues in No. 10 that a multiplicity of competing interests would make it progressively more difficult for political parties to remain stable. It is a reasonable argument, which has been reformulated to mean that durable parties must engineer loyalty to a few broad enduring themes, in order to survive from era to era. Rich versus poor would seem a suitable theme, rendered somewhat unsuitable by America's ideal of the poor immigrant, rising in the scale of things to become a rich immigrant or rich immigrant grandson. In recent years, the argument emerged that we should selectively seek immigrants with talents or wealth, thereby enriching our whole nation. As such refinements of a larger theme appear, parties can change. The D's and the R's have completely switched positions on the tariff, for example, and on federal taxation. A constant state of percolation has not had the effect Madison imagined; partisanship has proved stronger than issues. Paradoxically, as parties shift their ingredients of appeal, they become more alike, and the country comes closer to a dead tie in national elections. National balloting is probably not perfected to the point where it can withstand repeated examples of nearly tied elections, so this tends to stabilize may eventually destabilize itself. Tinkering with the election process is viewed with suspicion by the public. So, in the long view of things, perhaps the Constitution has it right. The best policy about political parties is to have no policy.


The Federalist Papers: James Madison ISBN-13: 978-1936594405 Amazon

Constitutions: So What's So Good About Ours; Why Do Europe's Fail?

First of all, let's compare Philadelphia's Constitutional beginnings with Boston's. Philadelphia had a Constitution which grew out of the Revolution, which was forced upon us by Admiral Howe's punishing attack by a huge British fleet. Philadelphia was dominantly a Quaker pacifist city. Annoyed by British mercantilism it may have been, but it was far from completely hostile to the mother country. Boston, by contrast, could have been described as starting the war. It had the Boston tea party, the Boston massacre, and the hidden gunpowder before the British tried to restore order. Boston and Philadelphia both had grievances, but nobody challenges the statement that the colonists (and the smugglers) started the war which led to the Constitution, just as French revolutionaries attacked the French aristocracy, first. Boston and Paris started their wars, Philadelphia was attacked. Furthermore, Philadelphia was pacifist Quaker, and gave up political power rather than resist. Boston quickly gave up "Taxation without representation" in order to fight for Independence with allies; Philadelphia was still filled with Tory sympathizers after the war was over.

But although Philadelphia agonized about Independence, they took it seriously once they adopted the goal. Even decades later, they endured a Civil war for the Union, while Boston sent us Abolitionists to stir up trouble for the South. On a smaller scale, during the War of 1812 it was New England that hoped to invade Canada, while Philadelphia was harboring the French and building French buildings. Our Constitution has endured for over two centuries with only minor amendments. By contrast, the European Republics seems about to fail after uniting many small states into one big one. We have much the same heredity. Whatever needs to be changed, by Europeans, before someone gets blown up?

The first thing to acknowledge is that America's Constitution may be the unusual one, having survived longest. Other Constitutions backslid after a few years. No doubt we wanted success more; we worked harder at it. At first, we were very suspicious of any unification of nations at all, as eloquently proclaimed by Patrick Henry, the Lees and Mason. But John Dickinson also wasn't sure it was a good idea at first either, Ben Franklin was a dedicated Englishman right up to the edge of the Revolution, and the Penman of the Constitution, Gouverneur Morris, disavowed his own product during the War of 1812. James Madison the Virginia scholar of constitutions based his premise on the intrinsic evil of everyone, in the phrase. "If all men were angels, there would be no need of Constitutions." The idea behind having a Revolution was Patrick Henry's declaration, "Give me Liberty or give me death." He distrusted all centralized rule and rulers. Not only was George III corrupt, but most men in power soon became that way. All governments were evil, and the evidence seemed abundant. George Washington devised the best reply he could find. Over and over, he repeated his sorrowful experience, "If you are strong, people leave you alone." Unify, or die. Since Washington had led a revolution against Kings overcoming almost hopeless odds, he was offered anything he wanted and refused to take it. It was hard to believe he wasn't sincere. Furthermore, he was a rich slave-holder. He knew he must lead because no one else had the credentials to be trusted by both North and South. The largest colony was Virginia, which gallantly fought the war but almost drew back from the Constitution. Perhaps all this hesitancy and reluctance was the secret of our success. Perhaps we expected little to come of it unless we were vigilant. So we were vigilant. Our Constitution holds together because it is a permanent balance between those who want to go ahead and those who like what they have, and we can always change either one before they do much damage, but we can keep them long enough to gain a little.

Robert Morris was as rich as they come, too, so he could be trusted by movers and shakers. He knew his countrymen, back from the days when they almost killed him in the Battle of Wilson's House on Third Street, near the Quaker Meeting at Fourth and Arch, no less. He knew you didn't win wars without gunpowder, so the way to remain strong was to find a way to force, trick or bribe the component states to pay their taxes. At the Constitutional Convention, he talked more than anyone, said hardly anything once he got a workable system, and then almost didn't sign it until he was convinced it would work. Even after the document was ratified, Ben Franklin who had risen from poverty three separate times to be one of the richest men in town, who had been both the author of the most significant features of the Constitutional product and the author of its most significant compromises, has been revealed as a doubter even after giving it his best, commenting to Mrs Powell that it was, "A republic, if you can keep it." He had proposed a Union at the Albany Conference in 1745, but after forty-four years he still wasn't sure it would work. Without these four men and their friends, it probably wouldn't have. And then there was John Dickinson, Governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware simultaneously, who pulled James Madison aside in Independence Hall, and said, "Do you want a nation, or don't you?" when it came time to compromise on giving two senators apiece to both the small and large states. And don't forget Patrick Henry, whose role in the Bill of Rights was vital. This was a compromise; you need cooperation on both sides to achieve an enduring compromise. Neither side must be allowed to achieve a total victory, lest your Constitution be short-lived like the others. From the beginning, our Constitution was as weak as anyone could make it -- and still survive. The Founding Fathers were idealists who had almost lost a war. There was only one thing worse than winning a war, and that was to lose one.

109 Volumes

Philadephia: America's Capital, 1774-1800
The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from 1774 to 1788. Next, the new republic had its capital here from 1790 to 1800. Thoroughly Quaker Philadelphia was in the center of the founding twenty-five years when, and where, the enduring political institutions of America emerged.

Sociology: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The early Philadelphia had many faces, its people were varied and interesting; its history turbulent and of lasting importance.

Nineteenth Century Philadelphia 1801-1928 (III)
At the beginning of our country Philadelphia was the central city in America.

Philadelphia: Decline and Fall (1900-2060)
The world's richest industrial city in 1900, was defeated and dejected by 1950. Why? Digby Baltzell blamed it on the Quakers. Others blame the Erie Canal, and Andrew Jackson, or maybe Martin van Buren. Some say the city-county consolidation of 1858. Others blame the unions. We rather favor the decline of family business and the rise of the modern corporation in its place.