Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Still More Excellent Way

Brooklyn Museum: The Brow of the Hill near Nazareth (L'escarpement de Nazareth)

The painting above is "L'escarpement de Nazareth" or "The Brow of the Hill near Nazareth" by James Tissot.

From the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, it depicts part of the Gospel read at Mass today -- the account from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus is driven out of Nazareth after saying, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."

All of the readings at Mass today were meaningful. The first reading contained the well-known passage from Jeremiah:

"The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you."

The second reading was the passage from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians that is often proclaimed at weddings. Despite hearing it so frequently, the words never fail to hit home:

Brothers and sisters:

Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Mike posted a reflection on this passage at Googling God.

A Concord Pastor and Deacon Greg also have fine homilies on the readings for this Sunday.

Flashback: 2007

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comfortable with Complexity

Mark Oppenheimer has penned an interesting piece for Mother Jones about NYT columnist Ross Douthat.

Some asinine editor or headline writer called this otherwise good read "Ross Douthat's Fantasy World."

Nut graph:

And so we know at least three things about Ross Douthat—the devoutly Catholic, anti-porn, pro-abstinence, pro-life prodigy of punditry. First, he's not always sure that he's right. Second, he has gay friends. Third, he cares what they think. Which is consistent with what I have learned in conversations with Douthat, his parents, and many of his friends and colleagues, and in reading nearly everything he has ever published. His comfort with complexity, and with those who disagree with him—along with his somewhat unconventional upbringing, his unorthodox ideas on abortion law, and his embrace of both popular culture and highbrow literature—make him a surprising conservative writer. More surprising than most of his Times readers would ever know, and compelling in ways his fellow conservatives may not like to admit.

The piece has some good background on Douthat. For example:

He first gained attention for Privilege, a bittersweet 2005 memoir of his years at Harvard, where the drinking, partying, and hooking up left him feeling alienated. Of one alcohol-fueled fling, he wrote: "Whatever residual enthusiasm I felt for the venture dissipated, with shocking speed, as she nibbled at my ear and whispered—'You know, I'm on the pill.'...On that night, in that dank basement bedroom, she spoke for all of us, the whole young American elite. Not I love you, not This is incredible, not Let's go all the way, but I'm on the pill."

Hat-tip: Sully, who added, "Ross' conservatism is in the Buckley lineage. He may be the last one left."

illustration above is by Steve Brodner.

The Power of Transformation

The clip below was posted this week by old college buddy, Katie.

I don't agree with Eve Ensler on some domestic political issues. But, she makes good points in these remarks, particularly about Congo and the status of women in other parts of Africa.

Check it out:

I ♥ Tracey Ullmann

Pitch perfect:

Hat-tip: Meghan

Friday, January 29, 2010

In Memoriam: Jimbo Iglar, 1936 - 2010

I learned today, via the Observer-Reporter, of the January 23 death of Martin "Jimbo" Iglar.

This great character from my hometown of McDonald, PA, died too young at the age of 73.

Jimbo was an active supporter of my State House races. He always had a ready smile, a word of encouragement -- and a good story about my opponents. :-)

He'll be missed.

Jimbo served in the U.S. Marines. In memoriam, here is a rendition of the Marines' Hymn:

Right to My Door

For this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend," here's the new tune "Angels and Demons" by the English-Italian sibling trio Miccoli.


Next, A Walkie-Talkie Preamble


Hat-tip: Dave

Thursday, January 28, 2010

$50 for Your Favorite Candidate?

Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman and Congressman David Wu (D-Oregon) penned an intriguing commentary for Wednesday's Wall Street Journal titled "How to Counter Corporate Speech."

Pull quote: "Every American should get a $50 tax credit to donate to a candidate."

Some graphs:

The Supreme Court's decision last week in Citizens United v. FEC fundamentally changed the nature of political campaigns. In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that corporations have a constitutional right to spend millions of dollars in independent campaigns that attack or support particular candidates.

Critics of the decision worry, with good reason, that corporate interests might now exhibit outsize influence on campaigns.

We need to embrace a market solution to this problem. The answer to the disproportionate influence of big money is to give ordinary citizens the financial capacity to compete effectively in the political marketplace.

The place to begin is with a tax cut. Each American should get a refundable federal tax credit of $50 that they can use to make contributions to federal candidates during presidential years, and a suitably smaller sum during off-year federal elections.

Each American should be allowed to claim a $50 refundable tax credit when filing an income tax return. Oregon and other states already do this. It's time to bring this plan to the rest of the nation.

Modern technology provides opportunities for enhanced convenience and access. Donations to campaigns could be made electronically, with the money automatically refunded to each citizen's credit card or bank account. Call these electronic transfers "democracy dollars."

About 120 million Americans went to the polls in 2008. If each citizen also had a chance to contribute democracy dollars, their donations would overwhelm the sums that corporations are likely to spend under the recent Supreme Court decision.

I'd say it's an idea worth a try.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New 'Burgh Bloggers

Heidi Price Brayer, a dear friend and fellow O-R alum, has penned an interesting piece for Pop City about several new Pittsburgh bloggers.

Here's an excerpt:

Bite of the Burgh: Julie Gongaware, Mandy McFadden, Sarah Sudar, Laura Zorch

You can never go wrong with a Primanti's Pitts-burger Cheese Steak and an IC Light. 'nough said.

"We're not afraid of food, never have been," says Laura Zorch, one of the four authors and a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. "I have never been one for diets or even moderation. I said if its good, I'll eat it."

The four friends started Bite of the Burgh in July after the mutual realization when they talked, they often dished about food. Their blog offers up dishes they make at home with thoughts on local dining spots. "I liken it to a 'Have you eaten here?' What's good?'" Zorch says.

Coauthor Mandy McFadden worked for two years as a social media specialist at a firm in the Strip District. She was laid off in July and one of the things she missed most about working in the Strip was all the walkable lunchtime opportunities.

"My favorite is Enrico Biscotti. A lot of people know they have pastries and breads, but they also serve an amazing lunch," says McFadden, who also maintains a personal blog and a photography blog. "I love food. It's a wonderful part of life when you can sit down with people and have a meal and enjoy a conversation. Why wouldn't you take part in that?"

How can life get any better? You have not lived until you have tried Pamela's famous crepe pancakes. (And having them at a very un-breakfasty time makes them even better!)

And while McFadden recently secured a new job in social media, she will miss the former lunchtime opportunities offered by the Strip. But there's hope. "I'll be working in downtown Pittsburgh. The new job's very exciting, but so are the lunch opportunities," she says, adding that she's now within walking distance of Franktuary, another favorite haunt. "They serve all sorts of amazing hot dogs."

Co-author Julie Gongaware, 27, says the four friends are united by their love of food as well as a desire to celebrate the city's unique food offerings. "Pittsburgh food is unique. People underestimate it. If I wanted Ethiopian, I would go to Abay. If I wanted Indian, I go to Ali Babba," Gongaware, 27, says. "There's so many good places in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville."

I don't usually stray away from my go to, cheeseburger. Sometimes that isn't always an option though, say at an Italian restaurant. So I had the next closest thing, angel hair pasta with pesto… I made a fantastic choice which really shouldn't surprise you because I'm full of those. That pesto was the best I've had since high school which is a long story and I don't want to bore you. Just know it was good. Actually better than good.

Gongaware says plans are in the works for a new feature, a "Girls versus Food" with a local Pittsburgh restaurant that's similar to the Travel Channel show Man Versus Food. They're on the hunt for a local food challenge. Any takers?

The photo above of blogger Mike Beattie at 61c Cafe in Squirrel Hill is credited to Brian Cohen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"The Card Game"

Tonight, while on the elliptical at the gym, I watched the PBS Frontline documentary "The Card Game." It's a report on the credit card industry and the new federal law that attempts to regulate it.

The program provided ample food for thought. Here's the beginning:

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Nuts vs. The Creeps

Peggy Noonan's column in this Saturday's WSJ was an engaging read.

Good bit:

... Speaking broadly: In the 2006 and 2008 elections, and at some point during the past decade, the ancestral war between Democrats and Republicans began to take on a new look. If you were a normal human sitting at home having a beer and watching national politics peripherally, as normal people do until they focus on an election, chances are pretty good you came to see the two major parties not as the Dems versus the Reps, or the blue versus the red, but as the Nuts versus the Creeps. The Nuts were for high spending and taxing and the expansion of government no matter what. The Creeps were hypocrites who talked one thing and did another, who went along on the spending spree while lecturing on fiscal solvency.

In 2008, the voters went for Mr. Obama thinking he was not a Nut but a cool and sober moderate of the center-left sort. In 2009 and 2010, they looked at his general governing attitudes as reflected in his preoccupations—health care, cap and trade—and their hidden, potential and obvious costs, and thought, "Uh-oh, he's a Nut!"

Which meant they were left with the Creeps. ...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

R.I.P. Jean Simmons

The old-time movie actress Jean Simmons died Friday at the age of 80. Among other great roles, she played Sergeant Sarah Brown in the 1955 movie version of "Guys and Dolls."

In memoriam, here is a clip from that flick:

"Because God Wants It"

The readings at Mass today are particularly meaningful.

In the Gospel, Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth where he reads a messianic passage from Isaiah and then proclaims, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Over at Beliefnet, Deacon Greg has an excellent homily on today's readings. Here's a section:

Grant Desme is a 23-year-old minor league baseball player - in fact, one of the most promising athletes in the country. He was considered a star prospect for the Oakland A's. He was a figure of incredible talent and potential - he'd hit 31 home runs, stolen 40 bases. He thought, any day, to get the call from Oakland to join the majors and begin a stellar career - one that would likely reap him millions.

Well, he got a call. But it wasn't the one he expected.

Friday, Grant Desme told a stunned group of sportswriters that he was giving up baseball.

Instead, he was going to study for the priesthood.

"I love the game," he said. "But I aspire to higher things. I really had to get down to the bottom of things - what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt that while baseball is a good thing and I love playing, I thought it was selfish of me to be doing that when I really felt that God was calling me more." He concluded: "It took me a while in my life to really trust and open up to it and aim full steam toward Him."

At a time when the world needs good priests more than it needs good baseball players, pray for Grant Desme. Pray for more men like him, especially in this Year for Priests.

Pray also for Emmanuel Buso. Emmanuel is not a priest or a seminarian. He's a student who lived near the presidential palace in Port au Prince Haiti when the earthquake struck. He was buried under the rubble, unable to move. For 10 days, he waited, and prayed, and dreamed. He dreamed he could hear his mother crying. He slipped in and out of consciousness. Finally, on the 10th day, defying all the odds, an Israeli rescue team discovered him and pulled him to safety. Emmanuel was dehydrated and weak, but he's expected to make a full recovery. Friday, he talked to reporters from his hospital bed.

"I am here," he whispered, "because God wants it."

In Grant Desme and Emmanuel Buso, you have two lives that have suddenly been changed - each, in his way, like Christ, announcing a new beginning. Here are glad tidings -- good news of enduring faith, and boundless trust.

Emmanuel Buso's words say so much, for each of us: "I am here because God wants it."

Of course, his very name, Emmanuel, means that "God is with us." And that, too, perhaps, is part of his message - and part of Christ's message in this Sunday's gospel.

It is a message to all who are captive - whether trapped under rubble from an earthquake...or shackled by weakness and sin.

It is a message to all who are blind - whether it is because their world has collapsed around them...or because their vision has been clouded by darkness or fear.

God's faith in us, and His love for us, unlocks the shackles, and lets in the light.

God is with us.

Significantly, Luke begins his gospel by addressing it to "most excellent Theophilus," a Greek name that means "beloved of God." Whoever Theophilus may have been, it's clear that the gospel is addressed to all of us. We are all Theophilus. We are all "beloved of God."

No matter how weak, or wounded, or broken by sin.

I hope that we never forget that.

And I hope that we never forget Grant Desme and Emmanuel Buso, either.

The spirit that inspires a baseball player in California and a student in Haiti -- THAT spirit endures. It's one reason why our Church has prevailed. The Holy Spirit continues to guide us through every challenge and setback, every sudden reversal, every earthquake and aftershock.

Flashback: 2007

The painting above is by James Tissot. It is part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Torture for Most People"

As someone who once worked in politics, I concede that these thoughts by Tyler Cowen rang true:

Political jobs would be torture for most people. You have no freedom. You are underpaid and over-bugged. You lose a lot of your privacy. You have to stop writing emails or saying what you think. You don't get to read many good books or go for many quiet walks. It's hard to be a non-conformist. And so on.

Yet it's really hard to get top political jobs. So who gets them? People who truly, deeply love the power. ...

Hat-tip: Sully

Friday, January 22, 2010

Inhaler Alert

The clip below is dated by a few days but still worth a look.

Here's Jon Stewart at his best, especially at the end:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mass Backwards
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Hat-tip: dotCommonweal

Already in Love

Also related to the Roe anniversary, this clip from "All in the Family" provides good food for thought:

The wisdom of Edith at 8:19: " ... Oh, Gloria, I'm already in love with that baby."

Hat-tip: Deacon Scott via Fran

Praying for Life & Peace

Today is the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in the case of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

Here is a prayer to mark the day:

Prayer for A Culture of Life & A Culture of Peace

Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We pray that Your holy presence surrounds us,
enveloping us during our pilgrim days and nights upon the Earth.
You are the air we breathe.
You are our daily bread.

We pray that our eyes and ears and hearts welcome
the images and sounds and impulses
that You send to shepherd us.
We pray that we are fertile soil for the seeds You plant.

Thank You, God,
for the Universe and the Earth
for every human life, born and unborn
– in the past, in the present and in the future
and for every part of Your Creation.

Thank You, God, for all of Your blessings.

Almighty God,

We pray for a Culture of Life and a Culture of Peace to reign
in our thoughts, on our lips,
in our hearts, in our guts,
in all that we are, and in all that we do -- seen and unseen.

We pray for a Culture of Life and a Culture of Peace to reign
in our families and among our friends,
in our homes, workplaces, schools and places of worship,
in our cities, towns, villages and farms,
in our states and in our nation,
and throughout the World.

Almighty God,

We pray that, through Your grace,
we may know an end to
abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia,
war, poverty, racism,
and all forms of violence and injustice.

Almighty God,

We pray that, through Your grace, we may have the
love, faith, hope, courage,
wisdom, tenacity, and imagination
to be Your instruments in building
this Culture of Life and this Culture of Peace upon the Earth.

And, Almighty God,

We pray that, when our pilgrim journey has ended,
we will be with You forever
in the warm embrace of Your love.


Love Me to My Soul

For this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend," below is the tune "Queen Bee" by the blues musician Taj Mahal.


Hat-tip: Heidi Price Brayer

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Nagging Question

Sr. Bernadette Reis, a Daughter of St. Paul, penned a reflection for Busted Halo in time for tomorrow’s anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

The essay, “Pro-Life or Pro-Active?,” raises good questions. Some excerpts:

... I personally can never vote for a pro-choice candidate when a comparable pro-life candidate is also running. However, I have lived through the presidency of three pro-life presidents, as well as a Republican-led Congress. As far as abortion is concerned, not much has changed. With a track record like that, I can understand my peers who don’t get the logic behind voting for pro-life candidates as the answer to the abortion debate. ...

What would happen if every one of us were involved, if every one of us made it our responsibility to change the reality of abortion, regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is overturned?

This question has been nagging me ever since my brother, Dominic, and his wife, Cynthia, took in a young woman with a brand new baby. Cynthia befriended her while volunteering at a local home for unwed mothers; but once she gave birth to her daughter, the young mother had nowhere else to go. Dominic and Cynthia were newly married — and they took her in. When they looked for a different apartment, and later for a house, they looked for one that had adequate room for themselves, their guest and her baby. For the last three years, they have provided a home for her and her daughter. It was a delight for me to hear the little 3-year-old girl ask Cynthia if she could call my nieces and nephews her cousins too. Not only have she and her mother been given a place to stay, they have a new “family” of sorts as well.

what would happen if the 51 percent of Americans who have now identified themselves as pro-life decide to become pro-active in the lives of the actual women they know who are pregnant and need help?

What would happen if every parish bulletin listed the contact person for any woman who was pregnant and scared (and if that person were visible within the church community)?

What if our focus changed from a debate about the constitutionality of abortion — which requires very little personal sacrifice on our part — to directly helping the women who may potentially have an abortion?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Upsetting Conventional Wisdom

Nothing gets my goat more than telling me something is impossible.

Want to get me fired up? Talk to me about conventional wisdom.

It used to be conventional wisdom that a Republican candidate would not win a U.S. Senate seat from the Democrats' stronghold of Massachusetts.

Tuesday night, that sentiment was turned on its head by the election of that "little-known state senator" Scott Brown.

I did not sufficiently study the positions of Senator Brown or his opponent to have a truly informed opinion of the race. And, as native Pennsylvanian who lives in Manhattan, my recommendation would not have been very consequential.

But, I do know this:

No one political party should dominate any state's government for decades.

No legislative seat should ever be "safe."

No race should ever be a sure bet.

What occurred Tuesday in Massachusetts was healthy for representative democracy -- both for the Bay State and the nation. We need to keep the political class guessing.

The photo above of Boston's Old North Church is from Sam.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Challenging the Winds Without Roots

Food for thought for a Tuesday morning:

... Think of a tree; it first seeks out the lowest level, in order to grow upward; it fixes its roots in the lowly soil, in order to stretch out its topmost branches to the sky.

Can it reach upward from anywhere except its humble roots?

You, though, wish to comprehend the heights without charity; you are challenging the winds without roots.

That’s the way to come crashing down, not to grow.

With Christ dwelling in your hearts through faith, be rooted and grounded in love, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

-- St. Augustine of Hippo, d. 430, from "Augustine, Day by Day II" by the late John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (The paragraph breaks are mine.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Miep & Martin

About two weeks ago, I was browsing in McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street when I came across "Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife" by Francine Prose.

In the back of this latest volume related to the life of the World War II diarist, Prose looks at the challenges teachers face when presenting Anne Frank's story to middle school students. Nearly sixty-five years after Anne's death, some teachers report that today's students are not fully aware of the brutality of the Holocaust and become emotional when faced with the diary's epilogue.

I thought back to the first time I read "The Diary of Anne Frank." I was about 11 or 12 years old when I picked up my mom's old copy with yellow pages. If memory serves, I read it quickly and cried at the end.

Becoming emotional when learning about Anne's short life and horrible death is an appropriate response. Moreover, it's something young people should experience -- a sad but important reminder that such immense hate and intolerance really were part of the world's recent history.

This all came home for me last Monday when I read about the death of Miep Gies, one of the good Dutch people who helped to hide Anne Frank, her parents and sister and four others in "The Secret Annex." She was 100 years old.

Miep, her husband and a few other hiders supplied the Jews with food, drink, reading materials and news of the war. They risked the wrath of the occupying Nazis to be lifelines to the outside world.

It is fitting to be remembering Miep today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Miep exemplified a kind of non-violent resistance that Dr. King would later articulate.

Like Dr. King, Miep and her friends risked their own safety and comfort in an attempt to protect the human rights of others. They were points of light in a time of great darkness.

May God grant us all the courage to do the same when we are faced with injustice in our own time.

Flashbacks: MLK Days 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The photo above is attributed to Steve North/Associated Press.

"The Absolute Worst"

The Associated Press took a helicopter ride today in the skies above Haiti.

The images they recorded are tragic:

Hat-tip: The Anchoress via Deacon Greg

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Divine Love Meets Human Need

In the liturgical year, today is a Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Gospel at Mass is the account of the Wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John.

Saturday evening, I went to the 5:15 p.m. vigil Mass at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Manhattan's West Side. The Mass was celebrated by Paulist Fr. Dave Farnum.

In his homily, Fr. Dave said the Wedding at Cana illustrates "an intersection between divine love and human need."

Over at Beliefnet, Deacon Greg addresses both the Wedding at Cana and this week's tragedy in Haiti for his homily this Sunday:

... on a morning where the scripture speaks to us of transformation, we remember that Haiti has also been transformed. The poorest country in the western hemisphere has been reduced to rubble. The cathedral has collapsed. The archbishop of Port Au Prince has been killed. The government offices are in ruins. A country has been transformed by tragedy.

And on this morning, I think, the gospel calls on each of us to effect another kind of transformation, within ourselves.

It summons us to be not merely watchers...but workers. Not just spectators...but servants -- servants of the gospel, servants of one another, servants of the suffering people of Haiti.

As Mary held the lifeless body of her son in her arms, we are asked this day to hold Haiti. To love what is bloody and bruised and broken.

This Sunday, in churches across the country, there will be special collections for Haiti. You have seen the pictures. You've read the stories. I don't need to tell you how desperate the situation is. This is a moment when all of us are called upon to go beyond ourselves: to love the neighbor we do not bind his dry her tears.

We can do that with donations, of course. Millions have already given by text messages and credit cards. But we can also do it with something people often forget in this secular age.

We can do it with prayer.

If we do nothing else, we need to pray for the people of Haiti. Pray for the lost, the orphaned, the widowed, the helpless. Pray for the mother who was on CNN the other night. She lost all five of her children, and her family could only hold her while she screamed. Pray for the students who were killed at the seminary. Pray for the rescue workers who are facing a new nightmare every day - without power, without water, surrounded every hour of every day by the sounds and smells of death.

Flashback: 2007

The image above is "Les noces de Cana" by James Tissot (1836-1902). It is owned by the Brooklyn Museum.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"A Poverty Story"

Food for thought on Haiti from David Brooks' latest NYT column:

On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. ...

... it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other. ...

The photo above is credited to Damon Winter/NYT.

Sights and Sounds

From PBS Newshour, sights and sounds from Haiti:


How do you go about normal life in a week that tens of thousands of people die in a natural disaster?

Is it OK to care about the routine things of life -- even from quite a distance? Is it OK to do fun things when you know so many are still suffering?

For Busted Halo's Mirlande Jeanlouis, a New Yorker with family members in Haiti, this is not an abstract query. Here is part of her personal reflection:

... Somehow, I am supposed to be living life as if someone I know is not sleeping on the street petrified of being in a building. I don’t know how to do that.

Is it possible to be positive with such uncertainty? In my 24 years of life I have had an abundance of control over what happens. If I studied hard, I got good grades. If I worked, I got better pay or a promotion. If I gave someone respect, usually respect was given to me in return. Powerlessness is not a feeling I am used to. There are no guarantees here and I am trying to maintain hope while being inundated with video footage of bleary-eyed Haitians wandering the streets of their capital.

Part of me is angry because building codes have never been a priority there. In fact, the Haitian people are used to looking outward to other nations for aid with the basics: education, water, even compassion. My anger feels like the only legitimate emotion I have. Until I have confirmation of how many family members are dead, my anger makes more sense than my sadness.

Beyond my own family members I am also hurt that people who wanted to help Haiti before the earthquake, are also buried under rubble. I’m an optimistic person but I am trying to grapple with the idea that my family’s other home has lost what little it had. Perhaps I should pray for them all, but will prayer give these people water? Will it free them from the wreckage many are still trapped under? Will it help me make any sense of a tragedy that has left my family and me unsure of exactly how we should feel and what exactly we should do?

Hat-tip: Mike

Friday, January 15, 2010

Requiem for Haiti

For this week’s “YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend,” I want to remember the lives that were lost in the Haiti earthquake.

The Red Cross is estimating the death toll at 45,000 to 50,000 people. I have been struggling with that number. How do you get your brain around the deaths of tens of thousands of human beings not very far from the coast of Florida?

In memoriam, below are selections from Gabriel Fauré’s "Requiem."


Thursday, January 14, 2010


Considering the tragedy that has taken place in Haiti, the final verse of the Psalm at Mass today stings:

“Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth.”


It’s the question of the day.

Why does God permit the earth to rumble beneath us?

Why did God permit the earth to move under Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas?

Frankly, the most truthful answer is that we simply do not know.

I believe in an all-powerful God. I do not know his will. I do not know why he permits his creation to suffer.

Lord, why do your pilgrim people face so many obstacles along the journey?

But, this I do know: no purpose is served by claiming that natural disasters are the reaction of a vengeful God. No purpose is served by asserting that our Creator singles out certain peoples for punishment because of the supposed deeds of their ancestors.

Yesterday, in commenting on the earthquake, television personality Pat Robertson made such a claim about a part of Haiti's history. (Note that I do not use the word “evangelist” or "Christian" in front of this man’s name. This is intentional.)

Pat Robertson caused discord on a day of great suffering. In fact, this is the second time he has done so in a time of crisis – casting a shadow on all of us who seek to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This man should no longer be given deference by civic and religious leaders. He should no longer be consulted on matters of state and faith.

Mr. Robertson, I ask you to retire to a life of prayer, contemplation and repentance. You no longer belong in front of a television camera.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayers for Haiti

It is hard to comprehend the terrible news coming out of Haiti following the devastating earthquake there yesterday.

From a blogger on the ground:

When you hear reports that 60% of Port au Prince has been flattened, it’s true. To understand the magnitude of that, aside from the lives affected, consider that Port au Prince is the center of the country. It is where all the main government offices are, where all the main commerce happens and where so many resources are based out of. Consider that infrastructure is almost non-existent. Consider that after 6 years of cleaning up from the World Trade Centers collapse they were still cleaning up. This, is an entire city. The long term effects are baffling. And, we won’t truly know what they are until much, much later.

It is a time for prayer for the people of Haiti.

May the souls of the all the departed rest in peace. And, may God strengthen the injured and those who remain to sift through the rubble.

To make a financial contribution to the relief efforts, you may want to consider Catholic Relief Services.

The image above is from Rocco.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

China's Crackdown

For Monday's Wall Street Journal, L. Gordon Crovitz penned a disturbing column about China's Web crackdown.

Notable bit:

... last month, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a regulation that all Web sites must register with the Chinese government. If these rules are carried out, the result will be "whitelisting" — only registered sites will be accessible. Or as China-watcher Gordon Chang commented in Forbes, "Once the regulation is fully implemented, China will no longer have an Internet, it will downgrade to an intranet." Only some fraction of the world's Web sites, those that register and are approved, would be available.

And, China owns how much of our national debt? This liberty-hating government ultimately has how much control over our country's financial security?

Reminder: For a good read "Between the 'Burgh and Beijing," check out Ambrose-a-Rama.

The photo above is from here.

"A Middle-of-the-Road Kind of Guy"

Telling passage from an article in Monday's New York Times about public skepticism toward the health care reform bill:

Ron Vaughn, who provides health insurance to his 60 employees at Argonaut Wine and Liquor near the state Capitol, said: “I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I want the Democrats out of my pocket and Republicans out of my bedroom. The one word I would use for what’s going on in Washington is embarrassing. I am embarrassed for Republicans and for Democrats. They started out on the right foot, but it’s degenerated.

“Republicans misled people and tried to scare seniors by putting out misinformation about death panels,” Mr. Vaughn said. “Then to pass a bill in the Senate, Democrats stooped to bartering for votes. It demeans the whole process.”

Or, to borrow from Mercutio, "A plague a' both your houses!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Importance of Presidential Popularity

In her WSJ column this weekend, Peggy Noonan nailed one of the POTUS' biggest problems:

I am wondering if the Obama administration thinks it vaguely dishonorable to be popular. If you mention to Obama staffers that they really have to be concerned about the polls, they look at you with a certain . . . not disdain but patience, as if you don't understand the purpose of politics. That purpose, they believe, is to move the governed toward greater justice. Just so, but in democracy you do this by garnering and galvanizing public support. But they think it's weaselly to be well thought of.

In politics you must tend to the garden. The garden is the constituency, in Mr. Obama's case the country. No great endeavor is possible without its backing. In a modern presidency especially you have to know this, because there will be times when history throws you a crisis, and to address it you may have to do an unpopular thing. A president in those circumstances must use all the goodwill he's built up over the months and years to get through that moment and survive doing what he thinks is right. Mr. Obama acts as if he doesn't know this. He hasn't built up popularity to use on a rainy day. If he had, he'd be getting through the Christmas plot drama better than he is.

The Obama people have taken to pointing out how their guy doesn't govern by the polls. This is all too believable. The Bush people, too, used to bang away about how he didn't govern by the polls. They both added unneeded stress to the past 10 years, and it is understandable if many of us now think, "Oh, for a president who'd govern by the polls."

The photo above is from here. I'm using it to emphasize Noonan's point that POTUS-43 did not appreciate the importance of public support and, apparently, POTUS-44 has quickly forgotten this error of his predecessor.

What does that oval do to you?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Voice

For Catholics, today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

In the liturgical year, today's feast ends the Christmas season and tomorrow begins a period of "ordinary time."

Today's Gospel (from Luke Chapter 3) is an account of Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. The passage brings us one of those moments in the scriptures when God himself speaks:

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I am intrigued by these moments when God himself has something to say -- Moses and the burning bush being another good example.

We don't seem to have instances in our modern world when the sacred fourth wall is opened up.

Or, are doves descending all the time and we're just too busy to notice?

The artist James Tissot (1836-1902), a successful society painter in France and England, claimed he once experienced such a sacred break-in. Tissot reported he had a vision of Christ while at the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris.

That religious experience, it is said, led Tissot to cease his work as a society painter and labor instead in the creation of a series of very detailed paintings of scenes from the Bible.

The image above of John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordon is one of Tissot's paintings. I had the opportunity to see it yesterday during a visit to the Brooklyn Museum's special exhibit "James Tissot: 'The Life of Christ'."

It's a powerful exhibit not to be missed if you live in the New York area. The paintings, which are quite small, provide many unique visual perspectives of scenes from Jesus' life.

The Tissot exhibit closes January 17. The Brooklyn Museum owns the paintings but only brings them out of storage every 20 years or so.

Flashbacks: Feasts of the Baptism of the Lord 2009 and 2008.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Some Melodious Sonnet

Friday evening, the recessional hymn at the Memorial Mass for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was the very appropriate but quite singable "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

It's my pick for week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."

Below are renditions of that great hymn by Jars of Clay and Sufjan Stevens.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Never Without An Edge

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the brilliant writer and engrossing speaker who was engaged in both the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the conservative political movement of the 1980s onward.

A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, Fr. Neuhaus was the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal First Things.

He also served for many years as an assistant priest at Immaculate Conception Church on 14th Street near 1st Avenue in NYC's East Village. That is where Fr. Neuhaus' funeral Mass was held last January 13.

(In October, 2007, I blogged about randomly finding myself at a Saturday evening Mass at I.C. celebrated by Fr. Neuhuas.)

I did not agree with him on every issue. But, Fr. Neuhaus was a valuable voice in the Church and in society. I'm trying to think of a term for his style. Perhaps "Christian snarky"?

This evening, I attended a Memorial Mass for Fr. Neuhaus at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

For the historical record:

The principal celebrant of the Memorial Mass was Archbishop Celestino Migliore of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. The homily was given by Fr. George Rutler. The prayers of the faithful were read by George Weigel. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, spoke after Communion.

Earlier, as I was walking from Grand Central to St. Patrick's, I found myself remembering the in-depth interviews Fr. Neuhaus gave on C-Span. Two of those interviews can be watched here and here.

I also recalled the wise comments Fr. Neuhaus wrote in April, 2008, edition of First Things about a dust up between the comedian Bill Maher and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

Here's that passage (the paragraph breaks are mine):

The comedian Bill Maher recently delivered himself of some rather decided views on religion in general and Catholicism in particular. On a late-night talk show he said, “You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god. That doesn't make you a person of faith. That makes you schizophrenic.” He added that anyone who is religious is schizophrenic, “sort of.”

As might be expected, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League blasted Maher for his “twisted mind” and “hatred of Christians.” That's Dr. Donohue's job. He likes to describe himself as a street fighter with a Ph.D., and the Catholic League is as inevitable as it is useful.

Those of us with different vocations, however, might ask whether the Mahers, at least at times, do not, however inadvertently, render a service in pointing to the astonishing nature of Christian truth claims. Astonishing if they are not true, and more astonishing if they are. We are not schizophrenic, but we are keenly aware of the tension and, at times, the conflict between the gospel and culturally conventional understandings of reality. Christianity is indefatigably dialogical but never without an edge.

Matthew Lickona puts it nicely in his memoir of a young Catholic, Swimming with Scapulars: “Let's be open and clean. Let's drag this out into the light and discuss. Let's not be shocked and resentful; let's love the lonely. Perhaps, coming from a fanatic, the message of God's love will regain some of its wonderful outrageousness. ‘Listen. I have a secret. I eat God, and I have His life in me. It's the best thing in the world; it leads to everlasting life. But first, you have to die to yourself.'”

"The White Messiah Fable"

David Brooks has a serious issue with "Avatar."

From his column in today's New York Times:

... would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

The image above is from here.

"Informal" = Secret

President Obama is not living up to his campaign promise to ensure transparency in the heath care reform process.

This clip is from CNN, not Fox News:

Hat-tip: The Anchoress

Winter Light

Some verse for a winter morning in the days after Epiphany:

He came when he wasn’t expected
as He always does,
though a few on the night-shift had the release early.

He came where he wasn’t expected
as He always does,
though a few mages were tipped off.

He came where even the Apostles couldn’t go along,
in Nazareth of all places, on the edge of nowhere;
they had to place it in David’s home town

He is always one step ahead of us;
the space-age calls for new maps
and its altars and holy places are not yet marked.

-- Amos Niven Wilder, from “Grace Confounding” (1972). Copyright by Fortress Press.

Amos Wilder was the older brother of the playwright Thorton Wilder.

The photo above was taken yesterday morning by friend, Leo. He was on the PATH train from Manhattan to Jersey City.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snapshot of the Debate

Since Wednesday afternoon, over at my Facebook page, several of my friends have commented on a status update I posted addressing the health care reform legislation now in its final stages in the U.S. Congress.

Many of those commenting were from Pennsylvania and New York so it was almost a conversation truly "Between the 'Burgh and the City."

I'm posting the exchange below because it was a lively give-and-take with some good writing. And, for the historical record, it's a snapshot of the debate in these early days of 2010.

All of those commenting are in their 20s and 30s (with one who recently turned 40). I'm going to omit their last names but add their locations.

To begin, here was my status update:

Paul Snatchko thinks the House Democrats are making a mistake by not having a formal conference committee prepare the final health care bill. Health care reform should be carried out in the most transparent, honest and ethical way possible.

Here were the comments in the chronological order:

Adam (Washington, D.C.):

Amen. Alleluia!

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

Really, the people who are making the mistake are the Obama administration and the Senate. I'm certain the House would totally love to have a conference committee.

Leanne (New York, NY):

Paul. I am going to like having you as a Facebook friend!!!!

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

It's possible that this is not-so-bad for the actual legislation while being terrible from a process perspective, too. Though I tend to agree that it's a bad move generally.

Margie (New York, NY):

I wish this could be true, but there are many with a different agenda.

Justin (Los Angeles, CA):

I'm so sorry to comment here but you have to appreciate the humor. Paul, your update is sandwiched between two others on my page that read as follows: " ... wonders what color Lady GaGa's pubic hair is" and " ... is covered with her baby's vomit." Thanks for having a brain! :)


You're right, Dave. That should be "Congressional Democrats." Leanne -- thanks! Justin, that made me smile. :-)

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

The thing is that the House is getting totally rolled because they don't have to achieve a super majority to get anything done. I'm sure Nancy Pelosi is *pissed*.

Paul (Not me, he's in Findlay Township, PA):

The result of the non-existent conference committee will be a couple hundred pages of bribes paid by Pelosi and Reid to individual members of Congress to guarantee their votes on the "final" bill. Because all of those bribes will be scattered throughout the entire 3000+ pages, and they will rush the vote, there will be no way to make all of the bribes publicized. Reid and Pelosi are truly evil people with no souls.

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

Yeah, because the thing that truly evil people who have no souls try to do when they are in power is ... give ... people ... healthcare.



Paul (Findlay Township, PA):

Dave, if they were actually trying to give people healthcare, you would have a point, but they are only on a power grab, nothing more, nothing less. Do you think that their lack of transparency would be necessary if their motives were pure?

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

The final bill will probably cover somewhere between 90-95% of the population, meaning it will cover 20-25 million people more than are currently covered now. That's not 'actually trying to give people healthcare'?

And let me just tell you, I do not think that any human being's motives are ever entirely pure, but I do think that even if they WERE trying to only do good, with no regard to how the outcome would affect them, they would face considerable pressure to act without transparency given the (historically rather notable) complete and unbending and uncompromising and indeed rather obstinate opposition of the minority party, which has clearly decided that trying to derail healthcare reform is to its political benefit, without regard to the fact that the healthcare system in this country is a very, very serious problem.

If Republicans had decided to negotiate in good faith on this issue I think the final bill would be a much more conservative document. As it is, they made a gambit that they could kill it entirely by refusing to work together with the elected legislative majorities and administration - a gambit which may yet pan out, by the way - and the result is a process that has taken nearly a year. There are clearly a lot of other pressing issues for the government to take up, and it's also clear that Republicans intend to delay this process at every step. Given that the key legislators involved don't want further delays, and want to see a bill expanding access to healthcare passed (which is a fact that I don't think should really be in question), and given that further transparency will most likely delay the bill even further and make passage even less likely, I can see reasons why they're doing what they're doing that are not 'power grabs.'

Lou (McDonald, PA):

I usually don't comment too much about issues like this, but thought I would throw my two cents in. What upsets me the most about this plan is 1) how the deciding senate votes were basically bought. That was so blatant, it made me sick and made me wonder why Casey and Specter didn't bargain for anything for PA. 2) Working for a small employer (under 25 total employees) they have the right to opt out of providing health care benefits for us. This potentially is going to take away a bargaining issue at contract time for us. I highly doubt they will increase our pay the amount that they will save. 3) Under this plan, we currently have what is labeled as a "Cadillac" plan. Now what may seem excessive to some, took us a while to negotiate and fight for. If they don't take it away for reason 2 then they can use this. 4) Public money for abortion is so wrong. 5) Finally, if this coverage is so great, why are the president, vice president, senate, house and supreme court exempt from it???

I agree that there are flaws in the system, but most people I know and talk to are dead set against this. That makes me wonder is this really what the people want or just a case of government thinking it knows what is best for us?

Of interest should be this too. My wife works at a Catholic hospital that was recently bought up by the monopoly that is UPMC. What is funny is that they still accept everyone regardless of insurance or not and treat them, most of the time never getting paid. Even funnier is when an uninsured becomes stable at a different hospital, they are sent there knowing that they will receive all the care they need without questions. It seems that the big money health care providers are more to blame than anyone else.

John (Westchester County, NY):

Like they say, "You get what you pay for."

Kara (Yonkers, NY):

You actually *want* your health care in the hands of the Fed? Why? Do you honestly believe and trust that the quality of and access to health care is not going to change? With 50 million more people in the system and no increase in physicians (take a look at Massachusetts...people don't want to become doctors if the State/Fed takes over, because they don't get paid nearly as much), there will be rationing of care.

Also, physicians who approve a treatment that the government deems unnecessary will be docked 5%. What does this mean? Dr. Smith gets less money if he sends Grandma for the operation that Barry O. doesn't deem necessary. What does that mean? Think about it. It is absolutely terrifying.

Why can't the government simply create a much smaller program to cater to the truly uninsured? Why does it have to be all or nothing? I *want* to pay for my own private health care, and I don't want to be fined [which I would be as the plan stands right now] for not participating in a government system - that I would be paying for anyway via taxes and not using!

The most disgusting part is that the very people creating this nightmare are not going to have to use the system they're forcing on the rest of us. If Nancy Pelosi and co. were forced to use the government-run substandard health care that the masses will have to accept, this whole circus would have never been started. What's good enough for regular Americans is not good enough for Harry Reid.

Bibianna (Teaneck, NJ):

Politician and "transparent, honest and ethical way possible" seem very unreal!!!

Kelly (Cecil Township, PA):

I heart Kara. Whoever you are. I. Love. You.

Amanda (Pittsburgh, PA):

And I have real love for you, Dave (whoever you are).

Paul (Findlay Township, PA):

Dave, when you say that the Republicans haven't negotiated in good faith, you are suggesting that the Democrats have given them the opportunity to do so. The Republicans tried time and time again to offer amendments to allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines to increase competition as well as other market-based reforms that would allow competition and cost nothing at all to the taxpayer. The Democrats have shut them down completely at every turn. They did not invite the Republicans to any of the negotiation meetings at the White House, despite promises early in the process to do exactly that.

Bottom line - the Democrats have complete control of the process because of their filibuster proof majority, yet they had to buy off Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu, among others, with provisions in the bill that can only be described as bribery.


Myself, I'm really hoping the special deals for Nebraska, etc. are taken out of the final bill -- because they taint the reform effort.

Lou, regarding the taxing of the "Cadillac" plans to help fund insurance for others, do we know the dollar amount for that yet? My impression was that only plans that cost around $200,000 a year or so were going to be taxed (or at least in that ballpark) -- the kind for your corporate execs, etc. I could be wrong though.

As to the overall question, I have to say I'm conflicted.

Today, I have quite good health insurance that my company provides at no cost to me at all. (I would have to pay if I wanted to add a spouse or children.)

But, earlier in my professional life, I spent several years without healthcare -- ironically when I was a Republican political operative. I simply could not afford it. So, I know how scary and financially dangerous that is. But, it's a choice I made for my career.

But, I'm also worried about the ability of the federal government to pull this off in a way that doesn't worsen our current healthcare system -- or cause greater harm to the economy.

There's another question here, though. It's the more basic values question -- do human beings have a right to health insurance? In a modern society, should a nation guarantee all of its citizens health insurance?

Most of the other Western nations do that -- and it generally works. As Kara correctly pointed out, doctors and nurses make lower salaries. There are waits and other problems. But, the health care systems of Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Taiwan all generally work -- but they are seeing problems on the horizon in rising costs.

I don't know. Still thinking ...

Thanks to all of you for this exchange, today! I love all of you.

Dave (Brooklyn, NY):

Paul, the Gang of Six included three Republicans (including two fairly conservative Republicans) and they could have had a real hand in shaping health reform. Chuck Grassley in particular very clearly participated only up to the point that he could (he seems to have hoped) throw the whole process under the bus. The Gang of Six were the central actors in health reform in the Senate (and thus really in the process, because if you think that the White House is driving this bus you have been more impressed by their effort than I have) for months, but nothing came of it because (I believe it is pretty clear) Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi decided not to play.

Selling insurance policies across state lines would gut the current way that insurance companies are currently regulated, and it falls under the 'pipe dream' category of reforms supported by partisans much like, say, single-payer does. It was never going to be part of a compromise. But, for example, tort reforms might have been included in a more bipartisan bill. The Republicans just decided (and really, they had decided long ago) that there was more political upside, potentially, in defeating any reform rather than playing along. I'm not actually sure they were wrong to do that! But losing any possible Republican support does mean that the ultimate bill is going to be liberal.

I'm clearly more involved in the political discussion than the policy discussion in this thread, so I'm not going to address a lot of the talking points people have thrown at me (except to say that it's very clear that though the Federal government is intervening in the healthcare system by making laws, which is entirely appropriate, the vast majority of the healthcare system will continue to be administered by private companies, so I don't know why people keep talking about the Federal government taking over the healthcare system).

But I do want to say, to Lou, that I think your objections are the most heartfelt and fair that I've encountered of any opposing voice in this debate. And I'm pretty sure that whatever does eventually pass will prevent federal funding of abortion, because that's the only way anything gets past Ben Nelson. See, having Senators in strategically pivotal roles who make deals to serve their constituencies is not always bad, if you are part of their constituency (as people opposed to abortion are most definitely one of Ben Nelson's key constituencies).

Addendum: Here is an article about the proposal to tax the "Cadillac" plans.