Sunday, February 28, 2010

Overcome By Sleep

Today is the Second Sunday of Lent.

For Mass today, I went to the 12:45 p.m. liturgy in English at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

(I love being able to go to Sunday Mass at 12:45 p.m. It enables you to stay out late on Saturday night, get about eight hours of sleep and still get to church before it's too late in the afternoon.)

As is always the case for this Sunday in the liturgical year, the Gospel at Mass was the account of the Transfiguration.

In his homily at Old St. Pat's, Monsignor Donald Sakano noted that, in today's retelling of the Transfiguration from the Gospel of Luke, it states "Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep." However, in the parallel sections of Mark and Matthew, no mention is made of this apostolic nap.

The monsignor mused that this artful addition by Luke can be a reminder of our own occasional spiritual drowsiness.

A Concord Pastor has posted his homily on today's readings. The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor also has a reflection.

And, if you have an interest in Masses and Mass times here in Gotham, pay a visit to Catholic Churches of Manhattan. The author of this blog is visiting all 96 of the island's parishes. He is currently on No. 88.

Flashbacks: Second Sundays of Lent 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The image above is by James Tissot. It is from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snowy Gotham

Friday, many friends posted images on Facebook showing the Big Apple in the snow.

These four were my favorites:

By Dan:

By Marilen:

By Niña:

Friday, February 26, 2010

A "Bipartisan-Curious" Analysis

In case you missed yesterday's heath care reform summit at Blair House, here is some analysis from Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bipartisan Health Care Reform Summit 2010
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorVancouverage 2010

And, from David Brooks:

... the Democrats believe the answer is to create a highly regulated insurance system with inefficiencies eliminated through rational rules. The Republicans believe that the answer is to create a genuine market with clear price signals, empowered consumers and an evolving process.

Philosophically, it is hard to bring these two sides together. And there were times on Thursday when compromise seemed hopeless. But there were other times, when participants started talking nuts and bolts of the exchanges, when there was overlap: how to create interstate insurance markets without a race to the bottom; how to end insurance company power over those with pre-existing conditions.

Health care reform probably will not get passed this year. But there were moments, at the most wonky and specific, when the two sides echoed each other. Glimmers of hope for the next set of reformers.

Quiet & Beautiful

I walked home tonight down the center of Mulberry Street. The beautiful, steady snowfall made nearly all quiet in this city neighborhood.

Is there a piece of music to match this? Something quiet and beautiful for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend"?

The world is still celebrating the bicentennial of the master composer Frédéric Chopin. His "Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2" may be just the right accompaniment.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

With Tracts and Speeches Innumerable

Inspiration for mid-week:

“Great truths, practical or ethical, float on the surface of society, admitted by all, valued by few … until changed circumstances, accident, or the continual pressure of their advocates, force them upon its attention. The iniquity … of the slave-trade ought to have been acknowledged by all men from the first; it was acknowledged by many, but it needed an organized agitation, with tracts and speeches innumerable, so to affect the imagination of men ... ”

-- John Henry Newman (1801–1890), from here

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Picture of the Day

Seeing as how I have not yet commented on this year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I herewith provide a photo:

Hat-tip: Reality Show Chick

Monday, February 22, 2010

R.I.P. Richard Proulx

Bit of inside baseball for Catholic nerds (such as yours truly):

The man responsible for a significant piece of our late-20th century liturgical soundtrack has gone on to his heavenly reward.

The composer Richard Proulx passed away Thursday night. He may be most well known for "A Community Mass."

In case that doesn't ring a bell, here is that composition's settings of the "Gloria" and "Sanctus":

A video tribute:

To quote A Concord Pastor, "May choirs of angels come to greet you ... "

Sunday, February 21, 2010

He Was Hungry

Today is the First Sunday of Lent.

I went to the 10 a.m. Mass at the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle on Manhattan's West Side and, after brunch, walked with the parish's RCIA group over to Fifth Avenue for this year's "Rite of Election" at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. It's the program through which adults become Catholic.

During the "Rite of Election" at the cathedral, the catechumens were recognized and welcomed by New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan (who gave a superb homily using aspects of the cathedral to explain the Faith).

This is my third year as a "welcomer" and sponsor for St. Paul's RCIA group. The experience has been a real blessing for me, one through which my own spirituality has been nourished.

It's a good day to think about nourishment (spiritual and physical). Today's Gospel was the passage from Luke Chapter 4 in which Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil.

I'm drawn to this line in the passage: "He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry."

He was hungry. When God became man in the form of Jesus, there were times when he had an empty stomach -- and knew it. Later, on the cross, Jesus said, "I thirst."

God understands our need for nourishment. He understands our wants. He gets us.

In his excellent homily for this Sunday, Deacon Greg explores the idea of Jesus as the ultimate "undercover boss" who wants to know his people:

... as his earthly ministry unfolds, he will share our hardships and frustrations, our temptations and trials. He will feel what it is like to be denied, and betrayed. He will know every kind of person. He'll know Judas - and St. John, the beloved disciple. He'll meet the woman at the well, and Mary and Martha. He will know our dreams, and the things that sustain us. He will see all that we are - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For more thoughts on today's Gospel, visit Fran, A Concord Pastor and Doorman-Priest.

Flashbacks: First Sundays of Lent 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The painting above, "Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness" or "Jésus tenté dans le désert" is by James Tissot. It is owned by the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On The Cusp

Last night, we saw the Academy Award-nominated film "An Education" at Quad Cinema on 13th Street.

This well-crafted period piece from Sony Classics has a very engaging story and is filled with fine performances.

Summary from the Quad Cinema Website: "In the post-war, pre-Beatles London suburbs, a bright schoolgirl is torn between studying for a place at Oxford and the more exciting alternative offered to her by a charismatic older man."

"An Education" provides an interesting reminder of how young women in the early 1960s had to discern their futures at a time when gender roles were on the cusp of change.

But, as much as I would recommend "An Education," I'm not certain that it deserved its "Best Picture" nomination. It didn't break any really new ground. And, I don't think it will be long-remembered.

As a movie-going experience, I enjoyed "Julie & Julia" and "Invictus" more. Either of these may have been a better choice for recognition among 2009's crop.

As of this writing, "An Education" has a 95 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

P.S. The amazing Emma Thompson has a very small part in this film playing a school headmistress. I ♥ Emma Thompson.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chopin at 200

Monday (February 22) may be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Chopin in 1810. I use the verb "may" because March 1 was also thought to have been the birthday of this great Polish composer and pianist.

Regardless, a bicentennial is imminent. In honor of the occasion, below is Chopin's "Nocturne #20 in C Sharp Minor" for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."

Cue the child prodigy.


Hat-tip: The Economist


Today's Wall Street Journal included an op-ed by Douglas E. Schoen, a former pollster for President Bill Clinton, titled "Voters to Democrats: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs."

This bit was worth a ponder:

... the rhetoric and approach that candidate Obama employed in 2008 was decidedly anti-Washington and made a point to avoid an embrace of big government and big spending.

President Obama made it clear that he would produce a fundamental degree of change in the way government operates and practices. Well, it didn't happen. Not by a long shot.

Important to remember: This thought is coming from a veteran of the POTUS' own party.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Food for thought on this second day of Lent:

“ … If any one idea dominates the teachings of Jesus, it is his opposition to the self-righteousness of the righteous. … In fact, Jesus seems to have been in perpetual conflict with the good people of his day … "

- Reinhold Niebuhr, from “An Interpretation of Christian Ethics,” Chapter 8, "Love as Forgiveness"

I would disagree that this aspect is the singular part of Jesus' teachings. But, it's certainly a major theme.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan, who provides a longer passage

The painting above is "Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees" or " Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens" by James Tissot. It is the property of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rend Your Hearts

For most of the Western Christian traditions, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

The beginning of today's first reading at Mass struck me.

From Joel Chapter 2:

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.

For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the Lord, your God. ...

For good Ash Wednesday-related posts, visit Deacon Greg, A Concord Pastor, Rocco, Fran, Mike, Fr. Aquinas, Brother Patrick and The Anchoress.

Flashbacks: Ash Wednesdays 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The painting above is "Ash Wednesday" by Mary Boyd-Ellis. It was inspired by the poem of the same name by T.S. Eliot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Mardi Gras!

Wishing you a happy Mardi Gras with some help from the late greats Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye:

Danny: "Haydn!"

Louis: "Well, let him come out!"


Burying the Alleluia

For Catholics, Fat Tuesday is the final day the "Alleluia" will be proclaimed at Mass until the Easter Vigil.

A Concord Pastor has a post on the practice of "Burying the Alleluia" prior to the beginning of Lent.

In observance, here is a good clip of the "Alleluia" being sung at a Mass:

A Way

Important point:

“We have to find a way to fight terrorism without creating new terrorists.”

-- Madeleine Albright, in January 19, 2010, panel discussion remarks

Hat-tip: C-Span2

Great Mystery

I came across the piece below a few hours ago. It's by the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

I don't have a hook for posting "O Magnum Mysterium" today. A traditional Christmas prayer, it certainly doesn't fit, liturgically-speaking, with the day before Ash Wednesday -- or with spirit of Mardi Gras.

But, it was so beautiful I had to share it:

One English translation:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Hat-tip: Joseph Susanka

Monday, February 15, 2010

Remembering James K. Polk

Speaking of Presidents Day:

Both Peggy Noonan and Robert W. Merry took note in the last few days of this statement by President Obama in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer:

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

In his NYT op-ed piece, Merry reminds us that the United States has had one decidedly successful one-term president:

... That president is James K. Polk, who announced upon getting his party’s nomination in 1844 that, if elected, he would serve only one term. He did this in part because, as a small-government man, he possessed a philosophical aversion to entrenched power. But his vow was pragmatic, not just idealistic: he felt the powerful figures of his party would be more likely to unite behind him in the general election if they thought they would have their own shot at the presidency in four years.

Polk was in many ways a smaller-than-life figure — sanctimonious, suspicious by nature, uncomfortable in social settings. But he harbored larger-than-life ambitions. Upon getting elected, he embraced four big goals: reduce tariffs; create an independent treasury; establish American control of California and most of the Oregon Territory. None of this was easy. Tariff rates generated intense political emotions in those days, rather like tax cuts today. And the independent treasury raised the ire of Americans still angry about Andrew Jackson’s destruction of the Second Bank of the United States a decade earlier.

But his foreign policy goals generated the most friction. Polk nearly stumbled into war with Britain over the Oregon Territory before a diplomatic breakthrough fostered a peaceful carving-up of that vast expanse. And he did force his country into a war with Mexico to fulfill his ambition of taking over not just California but what is now the American Southwest. The war, popular initially with the American people, dragged on for two years, generating intense civic discontent and sapping the president’s political standing.

In the end, he succeeded in all four goals and annexed Texas along the way, thus expanding the United States by a third and creating a transcontinental nation positioned to dominate two oceans. In doing all that, he accomplished what the American people wanted him to do and won the respect of future historians. ...

And not only historians. President Polk, the 11th POTUS, has even been memorialized by They Might Be Giants.

I first heard the band's tribute to Polk during one of my State House races when my friend Katie included it on mixed tape she created for me called "The Final Push."

Here is this fun (and informative) tune:

An 18th Century Connection

I have been working from home today. Between answering e-mails, updating FB and the like, I came across the wonderful piece of music below.

The lifetimes of Antonio Vivaldi and George Washington overlapped by about ten years. I think that's a sufficient excuse for posting this on Presidents Day.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Still Bears Fruit

The readings at Mass today included the powerful Gospel passage from Luke Chapter 6 in which Jesus pronounces the Beatitudes (Blessed are the ... But woe ... ).

This particular account is interesting in that Luke places it during the Sermon on the Plain (or "level ground"). In Matthew's Gospel, the Beatitudes come during the Sermon on the Mount.

But today, while I was at the 12:45 p.m. Mass at Old St. Pat's, it was the end of the first reading that struck me the most.

From Jeremiah Chapter 17:

... Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is in the Lord.

He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the first year of drought it shows not distress,
but still bears fruit.

Message: If your roots are deep and healthy -- and you are in a place where nourishment is at hand -- you can still thrive when hard times come.

As A Concord Pastor said in his homily today:

What matters is where we choose to be planted,
what waters we choose to drink,
in the soil of whose truth we choose to put down our roots.

Flashback: 2007

photo above is from here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Better Day

Last week, I posted the original.

Here is the 25th anniversary remake to benefit Haiti:

It's cheesy. But, around 6:40, I found myself not caring about the cheese and getting into it.

I think they should have omitted the Michael Jackson footage and maybe Barbra Streisand, too -- in the spirit of being new.

I'd be interested in hearing what others thought of the rap addition. I rather liked it.

Hat-tip: Deacon Greg


Food for thought:

"... in a way, rather than being very strict, their lives are actually much more liberating."

-- Lisa Ling, on the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Ling’s profile of the sisters appeared Tuesday on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

His Jealous Sky

For some time, I have considered using the beautiful ballad "Fields of Gold" as a "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend." But, the timing was never quite right.

This winter week has not been without its challenges. I could use some thoughts of wests winds, fields of barley and summer days.

Presenting Sting's 1993 hit are bradintampa and, of course, the amazing Eva Cassidy.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weariness & Love

Yesterday, Fran wrote about a woman at her parish named Carol who died a few months ago after "a long, slow death from cancer." It was a fitting reflection for a snowy day in February.

Fran's description of Carol warrants quoting:

" ... She was a remarkable woman with a big, round moon of a face that showed her weariness but showed her presence and love much more profoundly. These matters are of course connected - weariness and love. With her soft, soft voice she would enter the office and begin speaking to me in Polish. I know about five words in Polish but that did not deter Carol, who would carry on a whole conversation while filling me in with a few words of English.

I would sit at my desk and watch her with wonder and delight -- the round softness of her face, the light in her eyes, her brilliant smile and the ever-present turban that reminded us all of her cancer. It was the only reminder; she was ever bubbling over with life and spirit in her words and presence, even through this weariness that manifested itself as a light also, just perhaps slightly more dim. ..."

The painting above is by Michel Ciry.

A Dying Denomination

Michael Valpy of The Globe and Mail reports a sad statistic out of Canada:

The Anglican Church in Canada – once as powerful in the nation's secular life as it was in its soul – may be only a generation away from extinction, says a just-published assessment of the church's future.

The report, prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, calls Canada a post-Christian society in which Anglicanism is declining faster than any other denomination. It says the church has been “moved to the far margins of public life.”

According to the report, the diocese – “like most across Canada” – is in crisis. The report repeats, without qualification or question, the results of a controversial study presented to Anglican bishops five years ago that said that at the present rate of decline – a loss of 13,000 members per year – only one Anglican would be left in Canada by 2061.

It points out that just half a century ago, 40 per cent of Vancouver Island's population was Anglican; now the figure is 1.2 per cent. Nationally, between 1961 and 2001, the church lost 53 per cent of its membership, declining to 642,000 from 1.36 million. Between 1991 and 2001 alone, it declined by 20 per cent.

Regular attendance is declining at all Canadian Christian churches, except for the Roman Catholic Church, whose small increase is attributed to immigration.

This Catholic will be praying for the Anglicans to the north.

Also in Anglican Communion news:

America, the weekly Jesuit magazine based here in New York, recently bestowed its Campion Award on Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury.

In his fine remarks (transcript or audio), Archbishop Williams mused on the possibility that St. Edmund Campion, the English Jesuit martyr, may have rubbed shoulders with a young William Shakespeare.

Here's a Bard-inspired take-away:

Shakespeare was somebody who constantly wanted to affirm to the world that there was more in humanity than anyone might have suspected. “Is man no more than this?” asks King Lear. Shakespeare’s imaginative vision is in effect a protracted “no” to that question. Humanity is never just this or that. Humanity has possibilities, lured and shaped by grace, which are endless, fathomless, mysterious and terrible—for good and evil. The one thing we can never say about humanity is that now we know all we need to.

Hat-tip: CathNews USA

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Leaving Tension-Filled & Thinking

Saturday night, my friend Rachel and I saw "The Hurt Locker" at Quad Cinema, a tiny movie house on 13th Street between 5th and 6th avenues.

The small theater was packed with folks who I suspect heard of the film only after it received nine Academy Award nominations last week. That was certainly the case for yours truly. I don't know how I missed this one when it was released in the summer.

"The Hurt Locker" is an important film that reminds us of the human price paid by American soldiers in the Iraq War.

Tension-filled throughout and frequently hard to watch, it's the story of a three-man U.S. Army team in Baghdad charged with defusing roadside bombs or IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

Kathryn Bigelow's direction was pitch-perfect. The acting was very good. I recommend seeing "The Hurt Locker" in the movie theater (not just on DVD) if it's still playing in your area.

In his June 2009 review, the New York Times' A.O. Scott called this film, "the best nondocumentary American feature made yet about the war in Iraq."

"You may emerge from “The Hurt Locker” shaken, exhilarated and drained, but you will also be thinking," Scott quite correctly added.

As of this writing, "The Hurt Locker" has a 97 percent rating (!) at Rotten Tomatoes.

Sully has a related post that's worth a look.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Archbishop Hannan's Prayer

Deacon Greg provided a historic prayer for this evening's Superbowl:

"God, we ask your blessing upon all who participate in this event, and all who have supported our Saints. Our heavenly Father, who has instructed us that the 'saints by faith conquered kingdoms ... and overcame lions,' grant our Saints an increase of faith and strength so that they will not only overcome the Lions, but also the Bears, the Rams, the Giants and even those awesome people in Green Bay.

"May they continue to tame the Redskins and fetter the Falcons as well as the Eagles. Give to our owners and coaches the continued ability to be as wise as serpents and simple as doves, so that no good talent will dodge our draft. Grant to our fans perseverance in their devotion and unlimited lung power, tempered with a sense of charity to all, including the referees.

"May our beloved 'Bedlam Bowl' be a source of good fellowship, and may the 'Saints Come Marching In' be a victory march for all, now and in eternity."

-- Prayer by New Orleans Archbishop Phillip Hannan, delivered before the New Orleans Saints' very first game in 1967.

Deep Water

The Gospel passage proclaimed at Mass today finds Jesus and his apostles on Lake Gennesaret.

The account from the Luke Chapter 5 states that, prior to the miraculous catch that day, Jesus encourages the doubtful fishermen to lower their nets into "deep water."

Here in New York, it's not unusual for me to find myself speaking about matters of faith with people who are not religious or spiritual -- and sometimes even hostile to religious belief. These conversations most often arise in secular settings when I mention my gig.

I suppose this is my "deep water."

It can be intimidating to go to that part of the lake -- the spot from which it is most difficult to return to dry ground.

Navigating old hurts and misconceptions about the Church can be challenging in these conversations about developing a healthy spirituality and prayer life.

But, if I claim the name Christian, it's important not to fear these conversations (or avoid them altogether). As Jesus states near the end of the passage, "Do not be afraid ... "

Deacon Greg has another excellent homily on today's Gospel. One take-away:

A teacher of mine used to have a favorite saying: "A harbor is a great place for a boat, but it's not what it was built for." I think about that a lot in my own life.

We were built to be out there, with the waves and the water and the wind. We are meant to leave the shore.

Flashback: 2007

The image above is "The Miraculous Draught of Fishes" or "La pêche miraculeuse" by James Tissot. It is owned by the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Leadership in the Age of Terror

Peggy Noonan's column in today's Wall Street Journal is again worth a read.

Her conclusion:

... The biggest historic gain of this administration may turn out to be that Democrats in the White House experienced leadership in the age of terror, came to have responsibility in a struggle that needs and will need our focus. It wasn't good that half the country thought jihadism was some little Republican obsession.

But both parties should sober up. The day after the next bad thing, we will all come together, because that is what we do. Republicans and Democrats will work together, for a while.

It would be better to do it now. It is their job to do it now.

The photo above is from here. Photo hat-tip: Scott S.

The Reminder

Quote for a Saturday afternoon in winter:

“The worst stab wound is the one to the heart. Sure, most people survive it. But the heart is never quite the same. There’s always a scar which is meant, I guess, to remind you that, even for a little while, someone made your heart beat faster. And that’s a scar you can live with – proudly – all the days of your life.”

– “Oz” (Season 4)

The photo above is by Journey Gong.

A Certain Call

The child of the '80s in me feels compelled to share this:

The original:

Friday, February 05, 2010

Lofty Themes

Last night, I attended a performance of “The Satin Slipper” in the downstairs theater at the Church of Notre Dame in NYC’s Morningside Heights neighborhood.

This abridged production of the epic play by the French playwright and diplomat Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was created by The Storm Theater and Blackfriars Repertory Theater.

It was an intense theater-going experience that required going deep into the spiritual, romantic and geo-political thought of Spanish nobles circa 1600.

Monica Weigel penned a smart review of "The Satin Slipper" for First Things in which she wisely states:

"The Satin Slipper" is not an easy play. It is long (even with the liberal editing), unabashedly religious in its themes, and does not offer any easy answers. But Peter Dobbins, The Storm Theatre and Blackfriars Repertory Theatre have nonetheless created an incredibly compelling piece of theatre, with an artistry that does justice to the play’s lofty themes.

The play illustration above is credited to William Gilkerson.

Just Trusted

Sunday night at the Grammy Awards, Pink brought the show to a standstill with her performance of "Glitter in the Air."

While the acrobatics of Pink's Grammy appearance may have received most of the attention, I was impressed by the song itself (which I don't think I had heard before). It's really a solid, chill tune.

Here it is for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."


And, to mix things up a bit, here is baritone Chris Jones' cover of "Glitter in the Air":

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Reporter's Dating Dilemma

I went on a first date tonight.

We met on-line and had exchanged messages. This was our first occasion meeting in person so we kept things easy -- drinks at a great little bar here in my neighborhood followed by a little dinner and dessert.

It was OK. But, there most likely won't be a follow up.

The experience convinced me of something:

Journalists (or former journalists such as yours truly) can sometimes find themselves at distinct disadvantage on first dates.

Reporters are by training (or just nature) people who know how to build a good conversation. It's a necessity of the job -- you need to know how to get high-quality information and keep a dialogue going.

As an undergrad at NYU Journalism, I even took a class called "The Interview" in which Professor Pamela Newkirk schooled us in how to ask the kinds of questions that elicited interesting details -- and good quotes.

For instance, if your subject just saw a movie, you would not simply ask, "Did you like the film?" No, you would ask, "What part of the movie made you laugh the most?" or "Which character did you really hate?"

If your subject just returned from a trip to China, you would not ask, "What was China like?" No. A journalist would ask, "Were you intimidated by the Great Wall?" or "Were there any signs of unrest in Beijing?"

It's all about details and emphasis. Good journalists know how to ask probing questions that show extremes and coloring and biases.

So, on a first date, a reporter (or, in my case, an ex-reporter) will by habit ask questions in conversation that will get one's date to easily open up and tell personal stories.

But, here's the rub. Unless your date has a similar background or is just a naturally good and interested conversationalist, you don't get to say much about yourself -- or tell any of your own stories.

Tonight, I learned in-depth information about my date. I discovered details on ancestry, parental occupations, career preferences, political leanings and the location of vacation homes. I could write a book.

But, at least three times, I had to make a point of providing some of my own background or insights. I had to do so because I was never asked questions in return.

My date learned I work in publishing but never asked what kind of magazines or books my gig releases.

After I volunteered the information, my date found out I grew up in Pittsburgh -- but never asked if I was a Steelers fan.

And, it's fine that I'm commenting on my date in this space. I mentioned I had a blog. But, I was never queried on its title, contents or address.

For the record, my date had superb academic credentials, including an undergraduate degree earned at Harvard and a pending doctorate in a medical specialty from NYU.

So, the stunted conversation wasn't from a lack of intelligence -- but perhaps simply a deficiency in curiosity ... or a difference in training.

The image above is cribbed from

A Black & Gold Bromance

Two Pittsburgh Steelers fans are featured in this other banned Superbowl commercial:


Monday, February 01, 2010

A Fiddle for February

I hate February.

There, I said it.

I hate the lingering cold. I hate the still-short days. I really hate Valentine's Day. Heck, even that cute Western Pennsylvania groundhog is usually a downer. Fat Tuesday alone provides a brief respite.

Yes, I hate all 28 days of this stinking second month of the year.

I am a summer person! Give me the sun and heat and lazy days of July and August anytime.

These doldrums beg for a tune -- something to lift the spirits.

Here is "Ca C'est Bon" by L'Angelus, the self-styled "Cajun Fiddle Swing band from Louisiana":

Tune hat-tip: Angela

The Contradiction

In her Saturday WSJ column, Peggy Noonan made this point worth considering about the POTUS' State of the Union address:

... The central fact of the speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves.

The people are good but need guidance—from Washington. The middle class is anxious, and its fears can be soothed—by Washington. Washington can "make sure consumers . . . have the information they need to make financial decisions." Washington must "make investments," "create" jobs, increase "production" and "efficiency."

At the same time Washington is a place "where every day is Election Day," where all is a "perpetual campaign" and the great sport is to "embarrass your opponents" and lob "schoolyard taunts."

Why would anyone have faith in that thing to help anyone do anything? ...

In case you missed it, here is video of the SOTU address: