Sunday, June 29, 2008

Peter and Paul

Today, in both the East and the West, our Holy Mother the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. One of the great pieces done for this day, is "Tu Es Petrus," rendered by the great Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525? - 1594). This clip is of a 2006 performance of that piece by the Coro della Polifonica Materana "Pierluigi da Palestrina." At the parish of St John the Beloved, our prayers were lifted by his equally glorious Mass setting, the "Missa Papae Marcelli" (the "Pope Marcellus Mass.")

Legend has it that this Mass was composed to persuade the Fathers of the late 16th century Council of Trent to allow the use of polyphony for sacred music. This was at a time when composers often appropriated popular tunes, the secular lyrics for which would contain themes of revelry and lovemaking. (Sound familiar?) That said, recent scholarship has shown that it was more likely composed as much as ten years before the Council met to discuss the issue.

The opening notes of the Kyrie, heard in this second clip, gives its distinctive qualities away. Today's live performance was totally awesome!

(If you really want to add a festive note to this feast day, our entry for this day from 200X can be found by clicking here. That is, if you feel like baking a cake.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

The mainstream press has decided for us who the next President of the United States should be, since you and I are too stupid to make up our own minds. This would explain the otherwise unexplainable gushing over the presence of Barack Obama whenever a reporter is covering his campaign (not to mention that feeling Chris Matthews gets running either up or down his leg, I can't remember). So, when guys who pretend to do the news take a shot at him for being a little too cliché, they'd better watch out, or the intellectual giants which comprise The Huffington Post will not be amused.

Personally, I don't think Jon Stewart is going to lose any "cred" over this one. Let's face it, when he's funny, he's funny. And so it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My George Clooney Moment

Now, don't get the idea that I'm a cheerleader for the United Nations, okay? I just thought this was one of those moments when George Clooney managed to surprise me, by saying something original for a Hollywood guy. Here's what Guanabee had to say: "George Clooney and the United Nations have teamed for what we think is a pretty well put-together PSA concerning peace and what, exactly, it means to bring about, or 'wage,' peace. Basically, it takes a little more than wearing a wristband or playing an acoustic guitar. Now if only we could get President Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jon Il, The Castros, Osama bin Laden, Hugo Chavez and maybe even Naomi Campbell to just sit down and listen to the wise words of George Clooney. And then maybe they can sing a song together? Maybe with Bono? It could happen."

Remember how some of his pals are yammering about how America should "do something" about Darfur? Well, maybe we should, and maybe we shouldn't. But can we at least finish up with Iraq first? And could these geniuses keep from bitching about it once we commit to being there? That is to say, after they're done bitching about Iraq?

Personally, I don't think they can, which makes me wonder why we should ever take them seriously, even when they're acting.


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

...died yesterday of heart failure. He was 71. According to a release by Rolling Stone magazine, "[o]ver the course of his career, Carlin released 23 comedy albums, appeared on 14 HBO specials and won four Grammys for Best Spoken Word Comedy Album." Raised a Catholic, Carlin was known to provide commentary on the faith of his childhood. Some of these commentaries were more astute than others. He once mused about the changes in laws of fasting and abstinence in the 1960s, and lamented the prospect that "there are people in Hell still doing time for the meat rap." Carlin was also famous in the early 1970s for a routine where he disclosed the "seven dirty words" you are not supposed to use on the airwaves. The routine illustrated in this video clip, which philosophizes on the merits of baseball versus football, in the fashion that was uniquely his own, does not use any of them.

Who’s The Boss?

Our ever-popular Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy is being moved to Monday Morning. Just this once. Somebody did a bang-up impersonation of Bruce Springsteen, to envision how success might affect a guy who still tries to come off like a working-class stiff from Asbury Park, New Jersey, even though he currently lives in a nice zip code like Colts Neck, also in New Jersey, but with neighbors like Queen Latifah and Heather Locklear.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Russert Revisited

In its "Washington Whispers" blog, US News & World Report says it is "starting the bandwagon" to fill the empty chair at NBC's Meet The Press, once held by the late Tim Russert, with none other than his 22-year-old son, Luke. They cite his composure at the passing of his father, particularly as displayed in an interview Monday with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show. With all due respect to this young man and his handling of this tragedy, I would consider this to be very ill-advised. Tim Russert brought his wealth of experience to the table on the Sunday morning talk show; his son brings his father's name. Proponents will cite the young Russert's success on XM Radio's 60/20 sports show, which he hosts with James Carville. Obviously he can make it on his own merits. Why not give him that chance?

Both men deserve better than to have their family legacy cheapened by nepotism. That's what we call it in real life. Growing up in South Buffalo would have taught a man such things. I don't know if they teach those lessons at the exclusive Saint Alban's School, but they sure as hell don't on K Street.

One more reason for a few Beltway insiders to miss the man. They still don't get it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Critical Mass: What Castrillon Hoyos Doesn’t Tell You

[WARNING: Yet another piece on ecclesiastical minutiae, in this case concerning the use of the Traditional Form of the Roman Mass for Catholic worship. Continued reading may be accompanied by glazing of the eyes, and wishing the Pope were still in America spending the day watching a baseball game in the stands. Oh well, you've been warned...]

His Eminence Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the implementation of the Traditional Latin Mass for the Roman rite. Following his celebration of a Pontifical Mass at Westminster Cathedral in the UK, he had the opportunity to remind the press (and by extension, anyone who didn't get it the first time), that the classical form of the Roman liturgy was not meant only for the few who get down on their hands and knees and beg for it, but for the whole Church. As if that were not clear enough, according to the Telegraph, he indicated that the Holy Father's wish for the Traditional Mass, was that it be celebrated in all parishes.

That's right. All of them.

Here's where the buzz continues on Angelqueen and CTN-GREG, and all the other internet chatterboxes, in which the huddled masses of armchair pundits will demand that this transformation take place by... well, how's next Sunday?

Here's why that's not going to happen, and why could will take at least five, or even ten years.

For one thing, "prefectly clear" is not clear enough for someone who doesn't want to hear it. And you've got an entire infrastructure that is accustomed to doing things a certain way, even if we are to assume such to be a good thing. I've got an old friend back in Ohio who's a priest, a perfectly good one in all respects, except maybe for one. He tells his parishioners that "the Latin Mass" ain't gonna happen while he's in charge, and that his parishioners who want it are free to attend old Father Fezziwig's place down near the water treatment plant (or something like that). All this is to say, that it is not enough for those who love the Old Mass to want it; those who couldn't care less have to learn to live with it, and their collective hand hasn't been forced just yet.

What you need is a transformation equivalent to that which happened in the five or six years following the Second Vatican Council, that culminated in the "Novus Ordo Missae" of Pope Paul VI.

Even for those parishes that want the Traditional Mass -- and I mean really REALLY want it, every Sunday morning at the same more-or-less convenient time -- you need at least two priests in residence (or at the very least, two who are readily available) who are competent to celebrate it, to ensure that this will happen regularly. If Father Number One gets called away at the last minute, or is otherwise indisposed, you have to have a Father Number Two, or the best laid plans... you get the idea.

Next, and for the long haul (the one we never consider when wanting something immediately), you have to require seminarians to learn it. That does not mean to make it an option. That means "require," as in "learn it both ways or don't get ordained." If you are successful at pulling this off starting -- er, uh, today, your mandate will bear fruit in four to six years.

But we all know that won't happen today, don't we? (See "not clear enough," above.)

Now, getting past all that, we have nearly half a century of iconoclastic architecture for new churches, and really bad makeovers for older churches, around which we have to maneuver. That would be hard enough in a place devoted exclusively to the ancient form. But when both have to co-exist, the fact is that some situations facilitate co-existence better than others. If you have, say, a half-hour between the previous Mass and yours, you can expect to spend half of it re-arranging furniture, only to put it all back afterwards. (Try getting half a dozen boys to do that in a timely manner every Sunday. It's not nearly as easy as I make it look. And, I do, of course...) Sometimes you have a huge free-standing altar sitting in the middle, while the priest insists on saying the Mass on the unconsecrated shelf behind it which is deemed "the altar of repose." It looks perfectly ridiculous, but depending on where what I like to call "the elephant in the sanctuary" is placed, it may be the only way. Even when it's NOT the only way, some of the rabble in the pews have a real thing about a free-standing altar, regardless of the orientation of the priest.

Of course, at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, no one is complaining. Not in the last few centuries anyway...

And what about the faithful themselves, the ones who want the Traditional Mass badly enough that they'll drive across town for it? They can be a positive force in the life of the parish, especially older urban places that would otherwise close down or fall apart. A perfect case in point is St Mary Mother of God Church in Washington DC, east of Chinatown, with the traditional sanctuary and magnificent marble altar and reredos still intact, its view unencumbered by a fixed "people's altar." On the other hand, they can be just a group of malcontents that take over for an hour and a half, complain about their limitations, then leave like a thief in the night when it's over, often after contributing nary a pittance to the financial health of the parish. Some have a reason to complain, especially when they're treated badly by the host parish. I've never known the latter scenario personally, but I do notice that some parishes are "forced" to add a later time to their schedule, rather than replace a regularly scheduled (and more reasonably timed) Mass.

This is how you handle a situation that's meant for everybody. Uh-huh.

It comes down to this: I don't care if a family threw their TV out in the trash and homeschools their kids. They are a product of the society in which they live, and like most of their neighbors, when they want something, they want it RIGHT NOW! There are some unavoidable reasons why that's not going to happen in most places, so they'd better learn to settle in for the aforementioned long haul. They need to look at the big picture, wherein may be found the brighter side, as reports are coming in from all over the country about the growing popularity of the "Extraordinary Form." (Does anyone else hate that term as much as I do?) As I've written before, and have said to different groups time and time again, tearing something down is much easier than building it back up again.

Welcome to The Land of Building Back Up Again. Just don't hold your breath.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Most readers have heard of the passing of journalist Tim Russert last Friday. The NBC News Washington bureau chief, and host of the long-running Sunday morning news-talk program Meet The Press, collapsed while at work last Friday afternoon. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack.

In the hours that followed his death, the news channels began the litany of tributes. Personally, I tend to ignore them. Not that I doubt the sincerity or the genuine grief of the journalists who reflect on the life of their colleague. They are as human as everyone else. It is merely an indication of how jaded I have become, after months, after years, of watching people with little other than their poise or good looks telling me what to think. We don't really get our news on television from "journalists" anymore. What we see on the talking head channels are "commentators" and "political analysts." These are just other words for "guys with an opinion." Join the club, guys.

But to hear Mom tell it on the phone the other day -- and my folks' opinion of the mainstream media is not much better than mine -- Russert was "one of a kind," and his Sunday morning show was one of their favorites. He asked the tough questions, and he probed the heart of his guest. But the point is, he didn't do it to play to the audience, but in a search for the truth. In so doing, he may have been one of the few journalists out there, who assumed the viewer at home was intelligent enough to decide some things for himself.

People will talk about Russert's link to his "roots" -- his working-class Irish Catholic upbringing, in a rough-around-the-edges place like South Buffalo, in upstate New York. They'll talk about Big Russ & Me, the 2004 book about growing up and coming of age in that world with his father. There were many letters written to Russert in response to that book, so many that he incorporated them into a 2005 sequel volume Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons. It is worth remembering on Father's Day, that what made him special was not his qualities as a journalist, but that he knew what it meant to have, and to be, a father. It is that quality, more than his political career, or his rise to prominence on television, that speaks to his character.

Russert was an occasional Mass attendant on Saturday evenings at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, where I was sacristan in the early 90s. While I was never acquainted with him, his was one of the familiar faces there. In that house of God, he stood in no limelight, but in the presence of his Maker. This is who he was. This will be what matters in the end. To remember men like Russert, is to calculate the true measure of a man. He lived without apology, without pretense, in a town that rarely values such quiet nobility.

All the more reason, perhaps, why his fellows will miss him.

Friday, June 13, 2008

For years I have heard this song, in what sounds like Latin. I have always been curious as to what they were singing. This would appear to be the English translation. It all makes sense to me now...

(Chalk up another one for your Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. And no, I don’t get free beer from these guys for running this. Not that I shouldn’t.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It’s Snowing in Wyoming

Can you believe that? I've been listening to classical music on Wyoming Public Radio this week. Here in DC, we've had near-100 degree weather, with an occasional thunderstorm, in the past week. The other night, a "cold front" came in with a rain storm, so it was actually pleasant for a day.

Unfortunately, no snow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Beyond Four Dollars A Gallon

The Washington Examiner has a cover feature that says out loud, "NEW RIDERS CRAM METRO: More trains, buses may be added, GM says."

But people will still drive their cars, won't they?

This writer envisions a near-future where the average family of two or more children still has two cars, but for very different purposes. Where before, a husband and wife joined their respective four-door sedans to the one household, that scenario will have to be replaced, if it isn't already. One car would be a "highway car," a minivan or crossover vehicle large enough to haul the kids with either the groceries or the luggage for vacations. The other car would be the "city car," most likely a subcompact like the Toyota Yaris, or even the new "Smart Fortwo" micro-vehicle (see photo, click for better view) that is seen buzzing around cities in steadily increasing numbers. At a length of just under nine feet, and room for two passengers and a couple of suitcases, the Smart takes up half a parking space, especially when parking crossways, which is possible at a width of just over five feet. This can be very handy in town. And while gas mileage (42 mpg) does not exceed that of popular hybrids like the Toyota Prius, a future hybrid model may. The lack of excess, in a world that can afford it less, is probably in our future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh — Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

Why did I wander to find what lies yonder?
Life was so cosy at home
Wondrin’ why I wander
Why did I fly, why did I roam?

I visited him on a Sunday, after he'd come home from the hospital. We'd seen each other off and on over the years, but quite often this past year. He had been like a father figure to me, so it was the least I could do. Both of us are products of the Midwest, so we had at least that much in common. As we reminisced about our respective upbringings, and I said in passing where I was from, he repeated from memory the words to an old Broadway tune. It both got us thinking.

The musical first appeared on Broadway in 1953, written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Leonard Bernstein. But it was based upon a play by Joseph A Fields and Jerome Chodorov, entitled "My Sister Eileen." This in turn was based upon a collection of short stories of the same name by Ruth McKenney, which recall her memories of growing up with her sister. A movie based on the book under that name was released in 1955; a short-lived television series of the same name appeared in 1960. It was about that time, when I remember reading about the local high school putting on a production of "Wonderful Town" in the weekly Milford Advertiser. The story revolves around two sisters, Ruth and Eileen, who leave their home in Columbus for New York City, to seek their fortunes and (as most such productions would have it) true love. They rent a basement flat in Greenwich Village. Eventually they become homesick. Sort of.

Now listen, Eileen,
Ohio was stifling.
We just couldn't wait to get out of the place,
With Mom saying -- "Ruth, what no date for this evening?"

   And Pop with, "Eileen, do be home, dear, by ten."

The gossipy neighbors
And everyone yapping who's going with whom --

   And dating those drips that I've known since I'm four.

The Kiwanas Club dance.

   On the basketball floor.

It is said that Ohio is "the most average state in the Union." It's the one everyone passes through on their way to somewhere else. Everyone, that is, but my ancestors, who appear to have stayed. It has a little of everything, but not to much, lest you take it for granted. It has rolling hills, but no mountains. It has flat, endless, farmland, but not too endless. As a Scout, I spent a lot of time in the woods, but I can count on one hand the number of times I ever saw a snake. And I never saw any bears. Not that they aren't there; they just keep to themselves -- or at least, away from me. And walking through the streets of Cincinnati, I never saw any "ladies of the evening" either. The "red light" district was banned from the city (where newspapers never advertised burlesque shows), and so moved across the Ohio River to Newport, Kentucky. Now northern Kentucky is experiencing an urban revival. Their neighbors back over in Ohio are still recovering from urban riots over racial tensions brought on by a police incident. That was nearly ten years ago.

Cousin Maude with her lectures on sin...

   Jerry Black!

Cousin Min!

   Ezra Nye!

Hannah Finn!





But it was a place -- and still is, to some degree -- where things don't change too quickly. Mark Twain once said: "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times." Sometimes that isn't so bad. A museum display of "art" photographs of young children can be labeled "child pornography" by the County Prosecutor. The truly sophisticated sit at their cocktail parties and laugh at the backwardness of the hoi-polloi. But after several years of news headlines about child sexual abuse by priests and schoolteachers, they're not laughing anymore. Before leaving home, I was used to seeing six-lane highways. When I first arrived in Washington in 1980, coming down I-270 on the last stretch from Frederick, Maryland, I saw six-lanes again -- this time, on each side!

I almost moved back to The Buckeye State in the late 80s. My wife and I decided that our son should be raised there, and we wanted to return to our roots. She was from Cleveland, and I was from Cincinnati. So we found a picture-postcard college town east of Columbus that was situated in between, and set the target year for 1990. But the marriage tanked that same year, and the dream died with it. And even though more companies have moved to Cincinnati in nearly three decades since I left, the economy in the state as a whole hasn't set the world on fire in all those years. For my line of work, I'm better off here. Still, when I dream, I live there, sometimes even at my parents' house. It looks just as it did before the renovation. When I'm awake, I go back once a year. Some things have changed, others stay the same. After a few years, I lost certain forms of speech, like when you didn't hear what somebody said, and instead of saying "I'm sorry?" you say "Please?" because your German forebears always said "Bitte?" in the same situation. In recent years, I've found myself saying "EYE-ther" and "NYE-ther" instead of "EE-ther" and "NEE-ther." Even words like "PRY-vacy" (long "I") have occasionally become "PRI-vacy" (short "I"). My son doesn't have the slight Midwestern twang of his cousins. They talk of staying in Ohio after finishing college. Paul talks of going to Canada, or Sweden, before finishing college. I left my family, and Paul barely has one. I left my friends, and am lucky the ones here return my calls on the same day. Paul has plenty of friends, and they're almost like his family. I shouldn't be surprised.

"Why did I ever leave Ohio?" I had roots there, but no wings. I could have stayed and moved from one underpaying free-lance job to another, working for the bottom-feeders of the graphic design trade, and still be a mama's boy at forty. Things might have gotten better, but my options would have been limited in getting there. Or I could have been my own man, even as I wonder what to write on an application where it says "In case of emergency, next of kin." When I was 25, two roads diverged in the wood. My choice made all the difference. I have seen events the rest of my family only sees on the evening news. I have met people I would otherwise only read about in books. I have met people from all over the world. In a sense, I have BEEN all over the world.

And yet, I have talked of going back one day, ending a sort of Babylonian captivity, after 2015 when I expect to retire. With "Sal" in the picture, Deo volente, we would likely make the decision together. One way or the other.

Maybe I’d better go
      Maybe I’d better go home.

But... not just yet.

("Ohio" from the musical "Wonderful Town," lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics reprinted here in part without permission or shame.)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Four Dollars A Gallon Revisited

Last week we talked about the price of gas, and how its rise affected the footloose-and-fancy-free lifestyle of yours truly. It would appear that the Black Hat Guy is not alone.

Public transportation in DC and other major cities is experiencing a noticeable increase in ridership. The prospect of intercity bus travel is also becoming a more attractive one. Or at least it would be. I remember going from one city to another by bus a number of times in my college days. That was thirty years ago. There are those who would say that the same mode of transportation today... well, let's just say I wouldn't recommend that ladies take an overnighter anywhere, shall we?

But that may be changing, as bus companies look to new ways to attract customers:

"Spurred partly by the soaring cost of taking the car on that weekend road trip, bus ridership is up across the country for the first time in 50 years — a 13% increase this year compared with 2006, according to a DePaul University study. Now major operators are vying for a slice of the growing market for non-stop service between major cities — previously the purview of niche operators catering primarily to immigrants and low-income populations. Both BoltBus and Megabus, which is owned by the Scotland-based Stagecoach Group, are winning over new customers with sleek coaches touting $1 fares from New York to D.C., Chicago to Cleveland and Kansas City to St. Louis. More than a cheap ride, the vehicles feature amenities unheard of on traditional bus lines — including real flush toilets, wider seats and power outlets for all."

This is good news, and long overdue. I can blog about my trip while I'm taking it. I can read the news, watch a DVD, entertain myself in the same comfort as on a jetliner, with a lot less hassle. In finding ways to reduce overhead and increase amenities at the same time, we may yet see a revival of ground transportation. BoltBus goes back and forth along the East Coast; Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. MegaBus offers "[d]aily bus service between Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and Detroit." Their website is inaccessible as this is being written.

But it looks as though we'll see a renaissance in ground transportation in the next decade, one that I hope is not limited to bus travel. Then maybe I can take the Amtrak overnighter from DC to Cincinnati (the Cardinal, I believe that route is called) for a lot less trouble (not to mention money) than driving.

Of course, I might have to rent a car once I get there. Hmmm....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Fifth... Revisited

In the interest of fairness, and as indicated in our previous video, Officer George Bruch from the Virginia Beach Police Department responds to Professor James Duane's presentation, concerning why innocent people should never talk to the police.

For once, the sequel is more exciting than the original. And about ten minutes shorter.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pleading The Fifth

Many Americans claim to know about the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and what it means. But few know how to apply it when it is really necessary, especially before a matter ever gets to court. In this video presentation (about half an hour long), Professor James Duane of the Regent University School of Law explains, how it's not necessarily a good idea to cooperate too eagerly with the police.

(Stay tuned for tomorrow morning, when mwbh presents the officer's response. It's twenty minutes you will not want to miss.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Life At Four Dollars A Gallon

I made a deal with myself when the marriage tanked back in 1990. Every four to six weeks, I would take to the road. I had my excuses lined up. There were folk dance and swing dance camps everywhere. In the 1990s, I was a regular in Pittsburgh, at least two or three times a year. I would go to Cincinnati twice a year for special events. Once I made it out to Bloomington, Indiana, where the provincial Midwestern meets the inner Bohemian. I've been to Rochester and to Rhode Island. Six or seven years ago, I would have been a regular in the Baltimore zydeco scene. People just assumed I lived there. I was once a big hit at the same scene in Philadelphia (if I do say so myself).

I would put at least 15,000 miles a year on a car. During the Baltimore "era," it was over 20,000. The last few years, since I bought the Scion xB, it's been more like 14,000, then 13,000. I really love this car. I really don't love what it costs to fill a tank. The other day, I put forty dollars in a gas tank for the first time. FORTY DOLLARS!

Five years ago, the cover price for a zydeco dance was typically ten dollars. Now, with the price of gas at double what it was then, the cover prices have risen in kind. I'm paying fifteen, sometimes twenty dollars. So I had to get picky about the bands. Some are more dedicated to the craft than others, and after a while, you figure this out.

It's amazing what I used to do in 1990, when I was 36 years old, compared to what I do now, at 53. I didn't think I would age so much in so little time. The funny thing is, life is more or less where I want it to be now. I say, "more or less." I wish my studies were done so I could play the guitar more -- well, play at all, really. I wish I could lose (again) the 30 or 40 pounds I lost a few years ago.

I have less reason to run away, I guess. It's just as well; the price of running away has gone up. You can see how it's changing the lives of others. I can see how it's changed mine.
Now that it is all but certain who will be running for President in the two major parties -- and this writer hasn't voted for one of those candidates since Bob Dole in 1996 -- perhaps this would be a good time to talk about the promises of "hope" and "change." We've been hearing a lot about that from one of the candidates. For those with memories that go back more than thirty years, we have heard this message before. With this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, let us take a moment to pause and reflect on the tendency of history to repeat itself, and the tendency of the huddled masses not to learn from that history.

After all, we know how THAT one turned out, don't we?


I hate meetings. Oh, G-d, do I hate them!

I know any number of people where I work, who spend a lot of time in meetings. Sometimes they are in meetings all day. Then they are so tired when they leave, and wonder why they're so tired when they didn't get any work done.

It's simple. They DIDN'T get any work done. The purpose of most meetings is not to do work, but to discuss what needs to be done, what is being done, or what has been done. Duh.

Years ago, the agency where I work was headed by a guy who hated meetings as much as I do. The story that got around, was that if the meeting lasted longer than twenty minutes, he would just get up and leave. Personally, I think any meeting that lasts longer than thirty minutes is probably a waste of time.

Once our office had a director who was a real hard-nosed son of a b@#$%. He would have these meetings that ran well over an hour, where he would say the same damn thing over and over again. His tirade would be followed by his two unofficial "assistants," who would also say the same damn thing over and over again. This went on for several years, until even the people for whom he worked discovered that this was basically all he was good for, at least around here. That was ten years ago. I haven't had to sit in a meeting that lasted longer than an hour ever since.

These days, when I go to a meeting, it's a working meeting. I mean, there's no protocol over who gets to talk and who has to listen. Everybody is on the level, and the quorum is small enough to keep it manageable. As a result, work gets done. In most situations, unfortunately, I think meetings exist to allow the boss to hear the sound of his own voice, and have his minions share in the experience.

Here's my advice for running a good meeting. First, decide how long it will last. If it's over an hour, make sure lunch or refreshments are served. Next, decide on the agenda. Then, stick to the agenda. If an item from "old business" takes longer than five minutes with no end in sight, have the principals involved convene a separate meeting and get back to you. Chances are, they'll know when to shut up next time. Same goes for "new business." Then, before it's over, make one more go-round the room to ensure everybody has anything else to add. By then they'll make sure it's short and to the point, because they know you'll cut 'em off at the knees.

According to Craig White of the Center for Participatory Change, running a meeting is not the same as participating in the discussion. Having the chair do most of the talking is an easy trap, but renders the meeting pointless (just like the ones I used to attend; see above).

One more word of advice. If the boss brings up an idea for a meeting, and you don't have to be there, try to get out of it. Our division was going to have a meeting about assigning days for teleworking. Because I'm in school and my hours on campus are sometimes during duty hours, I don't telework. So I asked to be excused from the meeting. How did I handle it?

"Hey, is my telework arrangement going to change as a result of this meeting?"

"Why, no, David, it's not."

"Good, I'm very happy with the current arrangement, so I won't have to be there."

"Why, now that you mention it, David, no you won't."

End of discussion.

Finally, be sure to end the meeting on time. If some guy tries to bring up a whole new subject near the end of the meeting that 1) will take forever, and 2) can wait for the next meeting... well, you know what to do. After all, there's at least one guy like that in every meeting.

To learn more about running effective meetings, even how to avoid them altogether, go to

Thursday, June 05, 2008

American Civics 101

A lot of people are under the impression that the President of the United States is supposed to be elected by the people.

No, he's not. He never has been.

This misconception, promulgated mostly by political liberals and powder puff mainstream "journalists" -- who think that if they say it enough, or do enough made-for-cable movies which slant the story their way, that it will be true -- has been the cause for much misunderstanding, especially pertaining to the results of the 2000 election. And whatever you may think of Ann Coulter (a little sensational for my taste, but she's right most of the time), she provides a desperately needed lesson in how this country works, for those of you who can't stop bitching about it long enough to actually know what the hell you're talking about:

[O]ur Constitution sets forth rules for the election of a president. Under the Constitution that has led to the greatest individual liberty, prosperity and security ever known to mankind, Americans have no constitutional right to vote for president, at all. (Don't fret Democrats: According to five liberals on the Supreme Court, you do have a right to sodomy and abortion!)

Americans certainly have no right to demand that their vote prevail over the electors' vote.

The Constitution states that electors from each state are to choose the president, and it is up to state legislatures to determine how those electors are selected. It is only by happenstance that most states use a popular vote to choose their electors.

When you vote for president this fall, you will not be voting for Barack Obama or John McCain; you will be voting for an elector who pledges to cast his vote for Obama or McCain. (For those new Obama voters who may be reading, it's like voting for Paula, Randy or Simon to represent you, instead of texting your vote directly.)

Now, I have to warn some of you. If you read this, you might learn something. And if you do, you might be tempted to share it with others. And when THAT happens, the cool kids might not invite you to their lunch table anymore.

You didn't need friends like that anyway.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Who Do You Say That I Am? Part Two

Do panhandlers ever quit and move on? Jonathan Choe investigates one who says he did. A continuation of yesterday's podcast, about life on the streets of Chicago, produced by Breakthrough Stories. For more information about Breakthrough Urban Ministries, click here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Investigative reporter Jonathan Choe explores the underground world of panhandling on the streets of Chicago, and grassroots attempts to find them a way out. A podcast from Breakthrough Stories.

You Don’t Know Diddley

He was born in McComb, Mississippi as Elias Otha Bates. Adopted and raised by his mother's cousin, he took her family name and became Elias McDaniel. Moving to Chicago when he was seven, he saw John Lee Hooker play the guitar, and there was no turning back. As a man, he assumed the name of one of his early hits, the harbinger of his signature sound, slingin' that signature homemade box-shaped guitar -- "Bo Diddley."

It was a southern black slang meaning "nothing at all," as in "he ain't bo diddley," or "you don't know diddley." There was also the two-stringed "diddley bow" that was popular among field hands "back in the day."

But to most of the world, it was name of that sound, that amplification of "shave and a haircut, two bits," that came out with a rumba, hambone type rhythm, more like "bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp."

In the late 1980's he teamed with Bo Jackson in the Nike infamous Bo Knows commericals. Saying his one line "Bo you don't know Diddley!"

He was a major influence of both early and later white rockers -- Buddy Holly, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello, in that order. Bo didn't copy anybody, and didn't much care for it when others copied him.

In the late 1980s, he appeared in a Nike commercial with Bo Jackson, for the famous "Bo Knows" commercials. His famous one liner: "Bo you don't know Diddley." Back then, my brother-in-law had that tee-shirt. I searched high and low for a tee-shirt like that.

But for all his apparent success, Diddley didn't make diddley, being part of an early generation of black blues-rockers who were "discovered" by white producers who paid him a flat fee and walked off with the royalties, which usually resulted in pawning them off on the mainstream white artists of the time. Even as he was touring in the 1970s and 1980s, he worked as an officer of the law in New Mexico for many years. Nevertheless, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2004, he was number 20 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Artists of All Time."

With a history of hypertension and diabetes, Bo had a stroke in May of last year. He returned to McComb, MS, to be honored one last time.

Bo died yesterday of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida. He was 79. Surrounded by dozens of family members as he passed on, one of them, grandson Garry Mitchell, told Reuters: "There was a gospel song that was sung and he said 'wow' with a thumbs up," Mitchell told Reuters, when asked to describe the scene at Diddley's deathbed. "The song was 'Walk Around Heaven' and in his last words he stated that he was going to heaven."

He was The Originator. He was the Grandfather of Rock and Roll. And if you don't know Bo, you don't know Diddley.

[Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, Wikipedia, Various and Sundry Recollections.]

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Catholic Thing

Starting today, a new Catholic website is being launched under the wonderful Chestertonian name of "The Catholic Thing." Its founder is Dr Robert Royal of the Faith & Reason Institute here in Washington. Yours truly has been working with Dr Royal as web administrator.

The address of this new site:

Every day the site will feature an original column by such writers as Ralph McInerny and Mary Eberstadt. It will also include a round-up of news articles and opinion pieces culled from various sources. For the first "issue" today, that round-up is made by Dr Royal.

If you are unfamiliar with the work of the Faith & Reason Institute, you might want to take a look at their site:

(h/t to Kirk Kramer.)