Thursday, November 29, 2007

Brilliant but Disturbing

Last Sunday, while I was still back in Pittsburgh, we had the chance to see two additional movies I've been remiss in mentioning here.

The first was "No Country For Old Men," a brilliantly-conceived but disturbing offering from the Coen Brothers (creators of "Fargo").

Based on a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the film is about a psychopathic killer, a small town sheriff and a random man who comes across the scene of a multiple murder related to drug smuggling in a desert area near El Paso, Texas.

Javier Bardem, a superb actor who has been a favorite since "Before Night Falls," portrays the killer.

"NCFOM" has received positive reviews (even from the USCCB) but, to be honest, I don't think I would recommend it. It's violent in the extreme in its exploration of how one human being can so ruthlessly shed blood.

The other movie we caught Sunday was "Across the Universe," Julie Taymor's homage on film to the music of The Beatles.

This one I likely would recommend.

Basically a movie-length music video, "ATU" was visually-stunning if sappy and over-indulgent in places.

I liked how Taymor and team presented several of the tunes, notably "Dear Prudence."

Debate Watch

Earlier tonight, I watched the later half of the Republican Presidential candidates CNN/YouTube debate at the Ron Paul NYC headquarters on West 29th Street and 10th Avenue. Some 80 supporters turned out for the debate watch party -- making it a standing-room only event.

I thought it was a very good forum. The debate, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper, featured questions from Americans posed via YouTube videos. Here are some compelling moments:

And, for fun:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Memoriam: Jack Schwartz, 1920 - 2007

The small town of Midway, PA, has lost another one of its great old-timers: Jack Schwartz. He passed away yesterday at the age of 86.

As you can read in his O-R obituary, Mr. Schwartz was a longtime educator and community leader. Notably, he was the first principal of Fort Cherry High School after the consolidation in the late 1950s of the one-town school systems.

I had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Schwartz during my State House campaigns and through our common association with the local Lions Clubs. And, I had the chance to get to know him even better when my younger brother married his granddaughter in 2005.

Mr. Schwartz's great sense of humor and tremendous community dedication were infectious. His passing leaves a void that will be hard to fill. He will be missed.

(Photos from the Midway Lions Club Website by Joe & Louise Winters. Mr. Schwartz is pictured above with his wife, Pat.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Servant King & Good Thief

Many Christians celebrate today as the Solemnity of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the liturgical year. On this day, we remember Jesus' heavenly kingship.

The Gospel at Mass shows Christ at the height of what perhaps could be called his servant kingship -- the hours he spent hanging on the Cross. The passage also gives us the "Good Thief" -- whose dialogue with Jesus has given hope to men and women for centuries.

From Luke Chapter 25:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God."

Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out,"If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."

Above him there was an inscription that read,"This is the King of the Jews."

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us."

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal."

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Live from Crazy Mocha

I'm writing tonight from Crazy Mocha, a coffee shop on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh at the South Side Works. We just saw "Enchanted," a Disney-produced spoof of Disney fairy tales. It combined animation with live action scenes on the streets of NYC.

Every 11- to 15-year-old girl in America should go see this movie. The mostly positive reviews it's been receiving are on the mark. Amy Adams, who plays the princess-to-be, is excellent.

Patrick Dempsey (who I find annoying as Dr. McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy") wasn't bad as her real-life true love. Although, I still think Dempsey's entire career has been based on that damn chin and jawline.

My partner in crime tonight is Heidi Price, late of the Observer-Reporter and now a PR flack for a major university in the Pittsburgh's East End. ("I object to PR flack," she's saying. "Just so I'm on the record.")

Heidi's been moonlighting as a freelancer for Pop City Media, a e-zine about all things cool in the 'burgh. "A cutting-edge e-zine," she injects. Check out the link for her stories there, including her favorite piece on Strip District personalities including a lady she (and everyone else) calls "Dear Heart."

("It's not my favorite," Heidi is insisting over her espresso milkshake. "It's the favorite of people everywhere -- like in West Virginia and Maryland.")

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Lines. No Stress. No Business?

I'm currently sitting at the USAirways terminal at LaGuardia Airport waiting for my Thanksgiving weekend flight to PIT.

I have to say -- this terminal is a shadow of its former self. There was a time, at least in the 90s, when it was very busy here on the evening prior to a major holiday.

Tonight? Nothing. No lines. No crowded gates. Nada. I walked right up to both the ticket counter and the security checkpoint.

Don't get me wrong. As a consumer, I'm grateful for the quick and easy service. The lack of stress is great. But, what does this mean for USAirways?

Oh, there is one similarity to those bygone days of pre-holiday madness here at the LaGuardia USAirways terminal:

My flight has been delayed an hour.

Full of Thanks

Tomorrow (Wednesday), after work, I have a ticket for a flight from LGA to PIT that, God willing, will take me home to McDonald, PA, for Thanksgiving.

I love my hometown but, in recent months, I have discovered it does have one shortcoming -- no public wifi. So, as my blogging opportunities in the next couple days may be few, below is an early YouTube musical selection for a peaceful weekend.

It's a tune that's both incredibly "American" and full of thanks -- "Shenandoah":

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Over at Whispers in the Loggia, a post today included this photo that caught my eye:

Credited to Randall Benton of the Sacramento Bee, the stunning photo shows the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in the California capital during the Welcoming Mass for the Diocese of Sacramento's new coadjutor bishop, Jaime Soto.

Here's Benton's exterior shot of the Cathedral just as the Mass was beginning:

In fact, if you're interested, there's an excellent slide show of the occasion.

In March of this year, I had the opportunity to attend a Mass celebrated by Bishop Soto during the L.A. Religious Education Congress.


Buried deep in the NYT Website, there is a slide show with images from the tragedy in Bangladesh.

Here is one of the images:

The photo above is credited to Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images. Caption: Masud's mother, Toslima, mourned his death on Monday.

Caritas in on the scene.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thousands Dead -- Has Anyone Noticed?

It has been reported that more than 3,000 people may have been killed by a cyclone that Thursday struck Bangladesh's southwest coast.

Hundreds of thousands may be displaced.

Is it just me or is no one talking about this? It's not even currently a lead story on many major news Websites.

The photo above from The New York Times is credited to Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images. Caption: People waited for relief goods on Monday in the village of Maithachomohoni in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Juice Boxes All Around

Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has recently had two smart offerings regarding the re-election earlier this month of Mayor Opie.

Here you go:

Kudos to the folks at the P-G on this one. They did everything they could.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus gives direction about the end times but, I think, may also be saying something about how we should live each day.

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here -- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"

He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’ Do not follow them!
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.

"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.

"You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Martin Crane for President?

Michael Smerconish over at The Philadelphia Inquirer is flirting with Ron Paul:

... the more I talk to Ron Paul, the more sense he makes to me. I've ended both my recent conversations with him more intrigued, even enamored, than when we began.

I think that's because in a political world epitomized by the constant hedging of candidates scared their one false move will end up on YouTube, Dr. Paul is something of a throwback. He's plainspoken, direct and mad as hell. And that's what I find so refreshing. Even when I disagree with him.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan.

An aside: Cousin Casey thinks Ron Paul looks like John Mahoney, the great character acter who played Martin Crane in "Frasier."

You be the judge:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Air" from the Windy City

For this weekend's YouTube musical clip, here is one of the most peaceful pieces of music ever written: "Air" from Bach's Ouverture No.3 in D major, BWV 1068.


Bobby McFerrin has performed this piece, too:

An aside:

I am writing this from Chicago where, tomorrow and Saturday, we are exhibitors at the Archdiocese of Chicago's annual catechetical conference. Here's hoping that, on this trip, I get to see more than the inside of a hotel and convention center.

Innate Dignity

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, pictured above, recently withdrew from the crowded Republican field for President.

Reflecting on the campaign trail, he penned an excellent column for Monday's Washington Post calling for religious conservatives to embrace what he calls a "whole life" ethic -- what the late Cardinal Bernardin and others called "the consistent-life ethic" or the "seamless garment of life."

Here is Senator Brownback's column in full:

Faith in a Winning Message
By Sam Brownback

One of the great things about running for president is that you get a good sense of what Americans are thinking. I found a great love of our country and great concern for its future in the hearts of Americans.

There is, unfortunately, a lot of fear as well. There is apprehension about the war, the economy and health care. In particular, there is concern in many quarters about the future of the faith-based movement.

Message is all-important. I believe the biggest threat to our future as a movement is a negative public face, when we don't project a welcoming and hopeful message based on an authentic faith.

The future of the conservative movement in our country will be strong if we can be moved by genuine faith and love for mankind, but not by political power.

On the campaign trail I talked about being pro-life and whole-life.

This is, first and foremost, recognition of the fundamental dignity of every human person. It says that every person, at every stage and in every place, is a beautiful and unique child of God. It says that every life, everywhere, has value and is worth fighting for.

I think this is a winning message.

Unfortunately, the GOP primary process this year, as in times past, has been more focused on "electability" than message. I believe that's the wrong focus.

Recent history has shown that, as a party, when we focus on message, we win; when we get bogged down with questions about which personality is most "electable," we lose.

The pro-life message is both hopeful and winning. We know that America is better than abortion. We ought to work for a society where the strong protect the weak and every child, in every circumstance, is welcomed and cared for. The truth of our message is undermined, however, if we are not among the first to support adoption and assist pregnant women in difficult circumstances. We must support women in every way we can.

The pro-life and whole-life message does not stop with abortion. It embraces the child in Darfur, the woman struggling in poverty, the child born with Down syndrome, the man in prison and even the immigrant.

It has led me to spend nights in prisons in America and to visit homeless shelters, orphanages and refugee camps across the world. I have tried to understand the difficult circumstances in people's lives and ways that we can help. Some of the most profound people I have met possess souls that radiate a beauty that comes from finding strength and hope amid hardships unimaginable to most Americans.

The fundamental truth of human dignity can shed light on every issue. It means that we should help the poor in America, reduce prison recidivism rates and fight addiction by helping others break the bonds they cannot break themselves.

It means we ought to stand for marriage as the unique bond that can bring new life into the world. It means we should have an economy that helps families, honors freedom and shows compassion to those in need.

This philosophy welcomes the immigrant and has mercy on the prisoner. While we must secure the border and enforce the law, we cannot forget that every immigrant, whatever his or her status, is a person with innate dignity. This is our duty to the "foreigner amongst us" (Deuteronomy 10:18). A wise man once told me that we get into trouble when we look at people as problems and not as people.

The same can be said for those in prison. While we must protect society and enforce our laws, the prisoner, too, is a child of a loving God. I am glad to support programs that help prisoners deal with their problems and ease their return to society so that they don't find themselves back in jail. And unless society cannot otherwise be protected, we should not use the instrument of death but instead should seek to build a culture that values every life.

Human dignity has a significant bearing on the question of faith in the public square. I am convinced that a society that celebrates faith will have greater respect for human dignity. Atheistic communism ran counter to human nature when it tried to create a society without God. Such a society will never honor human dignity because it turns man in on himself, instead of outward in love.

The conservative movement in America will succeed to the degree that it is faith-filled. We must exude the virtues of authentic faith: joy, hope and love. Our movement must be more compassionate, loving and welcoming.

It doesn't mean we abandon our principles. Of course we will continue to stand for life, marriage and faith in the public square. The question is whether we move forward as bold people of faith, focused on compassion instead of judgment and dedicating our daily lives to witnessing instead of winning.

The writer is a Republican senator from Kansas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Belated Veterans Day Thoughts

On Monday, appropriately for Veterans Day, The New York Times carried an interesting op-ed about the last living American who was on active military duty during World War I. It was titled "Over There -- And Gone Forever."

For the past few years, I've been fascinated by the stories of these few surviving veterans of WWI, a conflict of massive bloodshed from 1914 to 1918. Wikipedia has a list of these last living links to that time.

As the history books and today's news remind us, WWI did not turn out not to be the "war to end all wars" as was hoped in its aftermath.

In our own time, the United States is engaged in war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars too have caused bloodshed and injury. These wars too have produced veterans.

We must offer support and prayers for our veterans when they are in the field and when they come home.

We must work and pray for peace and non-violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and all places where there is conflict today.

We must work and pray for a time when war truly will be no more.

A reminder why from the Boston Globe:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

From Mount Paul

Below are some of the great photos taken this past weekend by Jonathon Ong during the Busted Halo retreat held at the Mount Paul Retreat Center in Oak Ridge, New Jersey:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Silence on DVD

In April, I had the chance to see the excellent documentary film "Into Great Silence" about the lives of Carthusian monks at a monastery "high in a remote corner" of the French Alps.

The documentary recently came out on DVD.

Below is the U.S. trailer and a clip of about five minutes:

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

They Can No Longer Die

I am currently on a break during the Busted Halo retreat at the Mount Paul Retreat Center in north central New Jersey. (Yes, they have wifi here.) One view of the scenery at Mount Paul is pictured at right. The grounds of the retreat center, complete with a lake, are stunning.

Weather update: we've had more than flurries. Last night and this morning, we had a picturesque view of the first real snowfall of the season (less than an inch that melted quickly).

While I had a few minutes, and since I'm in a reflective state of mind, I thought I would post the Gospel for this Sunday's Mass. In it, we find Jesus being quizzed by the Sadducees.

From Luke Chapter 20:

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her."

Jesus said to them:

"The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.

"That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord, ' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, to him all are alive."

Thursday, November 08, 2007


"Peanuts" comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz has been in the news lately following the publication of a controversial new biography about his life (1922 - 2000).

When one thinks of Schulz and "Peanuts," the Vince Guaraldi tunes "Skating" and "Linus and Lucy" often come to mind. They were the music of the animated television specials that were inspired by the strip.

For this weekend's YouTube musical clip, below is "Skating" with images from The Rink at PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh. I thought it was particularly apt as the word "flurries" has begun to enter conversations this week.


Here's hoping there aren't many flurries this weekend as yours truly may be outside a few times during the Busted Halo Young Adults retreat. It's being held at the Mount Paul Retreat Center in Oak Ridge, New Jersey, tomorrow evening to Sunday afternoon.

Please keep all of us there in your prayers.


Last Sunday evening, while I was still home in PA, we went to see "Lars and the Real Girl" at the Southside Works Cinema.

I would recommend "Lars." It was well-paced, different and thoughtful. The story was about love, family, community and confronting fear. It was everything I had hoped "Bella" would be.

For a plot synopsis and other background, go here. I especially enjoyed the performance of Patricia Clarkson as the town doctor.

Update: Sr. Rose enjoyed "Lars," too. In her review, she said it was her "favorite film of the year so far" and "a complete surprise."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Proof Positive

Congratulations to Steve Toprani who the unofficial results indicate has been elected as Washington County District Attorney!

Steve's win is proof positive that democratic elections can indeed make substantial change from time to time -- party registration advantages be damned. Many prayers go out to Steve as he embarks on the transition from candidate to elected official.

Thank you to all those candidates who put their names on the ballot. Your candidacies are part of what makes our democratic republic work.

A special thank you to Mike Neville, who ran a very strong race for Washington County commissioner. Thank you, Mike, for the years of time, energy and funds you put into your campaign.

With the 2007 elections behind us, full attention can now be paid to the '08 Presidential primaries coming up in just a few months. Earlier this evening -- still having that Election Day itch -- I attended a debate and straw poll hosted by the New York City Young Republicans at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side. YRs spoke on behalf of the various candidates on the major issues of the day.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul won the straw poll with 26 votes. He bested former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani who received 21 votes. Arizona Senator John McCain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee all trailed the front runners with single digit vote totals. (Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson did not even have a representative speak at the event.)

You had to be a dues-paying member of the YRs to vote in the straw poll. Dues were $35 -- a large enough amount, I think, to give the straw poll some credibility.

Vote Aqui

This morning at about 8:10 a.m., I cast my first ballot as a New York City voter -- a voter of the 57th Election District in Manhattan to be precise.

It was my first time voting here in Gotham. Even during my years at NYU in the '90s, I voted by absentee ballot back in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

To say my experience this morning was uneventful would be an understatement. There were no contested races on the ballot (!) and one minor ballot question about transferring land for a municipal water project. The two races on the ballot were judicial races with exactly the number of candidates for positions to be elected.

I was the only voter present during my entire time at the polling place in the basement of Coral Towers, a new (to me) NYU dorm on 3rd Ave between 14th and 15th streets. The sign above was like those used by the New York City Board of Elections to guide voters to that basement.

I have to concede that my inner politician had something of a yearning today to be outside a poll speaking with voters -- the first General Election since 2001 that I was not doing so.

Climbing a Sycamore Tree

The Gospel at Mass on Sunday told the story of Zacchaeus, the short-in-stature tax collector whose home was visited by Jesus.

Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.

Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."

And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

The painting above, a depiction of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, is credited to Niels Larsen Stevns (1864 - 1941).

Friday, November 02, 2007

Moon River

For this weekend's YouTube musical selection, I give you the Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer tune "Moon River" by a cello quartet:


Henry Mancini (1924 - 1994) grew up in Western Pennsylvania -- along the Ohio River in Aliquippa, Beaver County, to be precise.

I'm back in the land of Three Rivers myself this weekend for the wedding nuptials Saturday of Vince and Shannon.