Tag Archives: politics

Quotations worth sharing from Irish, Irish-American and Catholic life

May 22, 2011


Overlook Press paperback bursting with quotations that are keepers.

Words put together with craft, with wisdom, with wit scream “Hey, pay attention here” to me, and I end up highlighting clusters of them where ever I find them printed.

Peter Quinn’s “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America” (Overlook) is a rich vein of memorable and I thought share-able quotations – some by writers we know, some by people we never knew, and many from Quinn himself, a former speech writer for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.


“Tell us, doctors of philosophy, what are the needs of a man. At least a man needs to be notjailed notafraid nothungry (sic). . . not a worker for a power he has never seen . . . that cares nothing for the uses and needs of a man.”

John Dos Passos, “The Big Money”

“There was no damned romance in our poverty.”

Eugene O’Neill, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

“There are only three types of men: Bullies, lackeys and them who refuse to be either.”

Patrick Francis Quinn

“He’ll be the last man out of purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

Gertie Quinn

“When I consider how my life is spent,

I hardly ever repent.”

Ogden Nash

“Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude.”

Edward Gibbon

“It is enough to know that children are poor to know that they need help.”

Peter A. Quinn, U.S. Congress, (D-NY)”

“If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”

Peter A. Quinn

“No Catholic breaks with Rome easily.”

John O’Hara, “BUtterfield 8”

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Bishops come and go. The city continually molts its old self and renews its pursuit of the extravagant. But amid the whirlwind of ambition and celebrity, the need will always be great for institutions and congregations whose mission stays the same: to heal souls as well as bodies, comfort the sick and dying, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, defend the poor and disenfranchised, and insist on the God-given dignity of every person. to the degree that the Church and its members seek their perfection in this work, the future will never be in doubt.”

Peter Quinn

“Crumble, crumble

Voiceless things;

No faith can last

That never sings.”

Lascelles Abercrombie, “The Stream’s Song”

“For Catholics, sin is ubiquitous. But so is forgiveness. Hell exists. But it might be empty. Evil is real but mingles with good, and no human being is either all good or all evil. We are mixtures of both, and who is saved or damned is beyond our knowing.”

Peter Quinn

“In the end it comes down to the old story that we are sinners, but that this is our hope because sinners are the ones who attract to themselves the infinite compassion of God.”

Thomas Merton

“We feel the water and oil used in the sacraments, taste the bread and wine, not just to enjoy them for what they are, but to plumb our belief that they aren’t just what they seem to be but, in ways that defy the limits of language, signs of God’s real presence among us.”

Peter Quinn

“Although agnostic in spirit, the secular left . . . treats the mystery of divine love as a harmless myth; at worst, as a dangerous delusion that can impede human progress, particularly in the medical sphere. Secularism claims toleration as its central tenet. But it’s a qualified toleration. It says, Go ahead and believe what you will, just as long as it has no effect on any significant part of your public life, is never asserted outside of church, and remains a private eccentricity.”

Peter Quinn

“Christians’ belief in the eternal significance of every human life is a bulwark against a Malthusian ethic of reproductive profligacy that robs the individual of any meaning other than in furthering the survival of the species.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Gabriel Marcel

“A man becomes a saint not by conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together they need the mercy of God.”

Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”

“The current huffing and puffing over gays in the priesthood can’t negate the fact that there were, are, and will always be homosexual priest whose piety, probity, and loyalty deserve respect and gratitude rather than slanderous distrust and squalid witch hunts.”

Peter Quinn

“Those descended from the Famine Irish have a special responsibility to look past the current evocation of innumerable, anonymous aliens threatening our borders, or the latter-day recycling of theories of ethnic and racial inferiority, and to see in today’s immigrants a reminder of our ancestors: those hungry ghosts who, though dispossessed and despised, passed on to us their faith and their hope.”

Peter Quinn

“Despite our differences, we Americans are hopelessly (and hopefully) entwined with one another, our histories, ancestries, stories, songs, dreams, and lives wrapped around each other like dual strands of DNA.”

Peter Quinn

“What we need most times is not the courage of our convictions but the courage to question our convictions . . . the willingness to see the world afresh, to throw over old presumptions and consider new possibilities, to abandon routine and renew a sense of wonder.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Nietzsche


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Jackie Robinson, Lucy and the quest for a better tomorrow

September 28, 2010


As two events draw near — Major League Baseball’s playoffs and the announcement of the Strategic Plan for Parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — I thought this might be a good time to revisit a column from a few years back that connected the great American pasttime with something many will need to deal with  — change. — bob z

 By Bob Zyskowski

Jackie Robinson, more than half a century ago, knocked out one half of an analysis that defines my belief about life.

The other half of the definition comes from Lucy, the dark-haired girl in the Charles Schulz cartoon strip “Peanuts.”

Robinson, the Hall of Fame ballplayer who was the first black to play in the Major Leagues, said back in 1950 that he was given that opportunity “because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past to discover the truth of today, and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow.”

In other words, we can change.

Lucy, however, pitched the curve ball.

In the first panel of a cartoon she says that nothing happens until someone changes.

Linus responds in the next panel: “But I have changed.”

Lucy’s retorts in the final panel: “I meant for the better.”

Can we ever know?

That’s the dilemma I keep bumping into today.

In our country.

In our workplaces.

In our communities.

In our church.

We have the potential to change, but we’re uncertain if the change will be for the better.

I’m not sure we can know.

But should not knowing – not being absolutely certain of the consequences – freeze us from ever allowing ourselves the opportunity to improve? Should it prevent us from the opportunity to – as Jackie Robinson said – find greatness?

 Who needs power windows?

Back in the 1970s, when our young family was forced to look for a new car, finances dictated that we settle for basic transportation. No bells or whistles.

Power windows?

What for? I never had a problem rolling them up before.

Skip ahead 30 years. Middle son is out in the work world and needs a car.

He sees an ad in the paper for what looks like a good deal and asks me to go with him to check it out.

The advertised car is definitely basic transportation.

It’s a case-study of the bait-and-switch sales technique.

The car comes with n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

No air conditioning.

No power steering.

Not even a radio.

And windows you have to roll up and down manually.

I recommend against buying the car.

The clincher was the windows.

 Accept conditions – or change them

Other changes in our lives and our society haven’t worked out as well as power windows on automobiles.

To take just one example, the pre-Sexual Revolution mindset that treated human sexuality as “dirty” was less than healthy in denying the positive qualities of this great gift from God; however, some of the consequences of the Sexual Revolution – sex without commitment, using others to sate one’s own sexual appetite, abortion, single parents and children in poverty, sexually transmitted disease – are evidence that change can sometimes go too far.

That some change goes wrong, however, cannot be allowed to paralyze us into accepting a situation that can be improved.

Author Denis Waitley once wrote, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

Several generations earlier, Catholic commentator G.K.Chesterton skewered hard-liners on both sides of the change/no change issue:

“The whole modern world has divided itself into conservatives and progressives. The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

 Start with a question mark

A mentor for me was the late Archbishop John R. Roach. A former president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops who for 20 years led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, he was asked once if his was a “liberal” diocese.

“I don’t know if we’re liberal or not,” Archbishop Roach answered, “but we move.”

If the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results, the sane choice may very well be to move, to do some things differently than the way we’ve done them in the past.

From my perspective, that doesn’t mean change for change’s sake. As cartoonist Schulz says through Lucy, the goal needs to be change for the better.

But staying the course when the course is not leading to satisfactory results, being bound by tradition when traditional ways aren’t working any longer, that’s just as wrong as taking change too far.

Start with a question mark, Bertrand Russell suggested.

The philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning writer offered, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

We need to do that questioning regularly, no matter where on the ideological spectrum our personal feelings lie.

A mover if not a liberal, Archbishop Roach told of forcing himself to question his own thinking. He was among the leaders in promoting the approval of the document that would become the landmark 1983 U.S. Bishops “Peace Pastoral,” but Archbishop Roach said he could never persuade New Orleans Archbishop Phillip Hannan that the pastoral was right.

“I had to ask myself, does he see something I don’t see?” Archbishop Roach said.

 Toward a better future

We’re in that situation with any number of issues in our lives, and especially in our church: The failure to hold onto teens and young adults who were raised in the faith is one example; our stewardship of parishes and schools is another. Keeping a pat hand isn’t the answer. Some of the things we are doing just aren’t working.

Neither is going back to the way things used to be. A century ago another archbishop of St. Paul proclaimed the fault in the kind of thinking that would have us to revert to the way things have been done in the past.

“I see no backward voyage across the sea of time,” Archbishop John Ireland said. “I will forever press forward. I believe that God intends the present to be better than the past, and the future to be better than the present.”

So we can change, and we must.

We may make mistakes when we do, and we may fail at changing for the better.

But doing nothing is failure just the same; it is failure to seize the opportunity to improve.

And perhaps to find greatness.

 Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit.

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Catholic position on abortion promoted in an outrageous, satirical, off-beat novel?

April 23, 2010


Checkpoint cover


by Nicholson Baker

Back in 2004, “Checkpoint” was blasted by reviewers for daring in fiction to have as its subject matter the possibility of killing a sitting United States president. The New York Times reviewer called it “a scummy little book,” and Republicans used it to attack Democrats as crazed liberals even though Democrats had nothing to do with the book being published in that chaotic election year.

But buried in the controversial novel, and buried in the tumult of reviews that condemned even the thought about a novel about someone “thinking” about assassinating a president — not doing it — is a unique literary argument, and a strong one at that, for the ending of legalized abortion.

If only author Nicholson Baker had found a different vehicle to make his powerful points about the immorality of aborting babies in the womb.

Outrageous main subject matter

You can call “Checkpoint” alternative writing, non-traditional, unusual in format and way-out-in-leftfield when it comes to subject matter.

What else would you call a novel that is entirely dialogue between just two characters and involves one guy trying to talk the other guy out of assassinating President George W. Bush?

Jay is the nut-case character who has determined he can no longer take Bush’s war-mongering. He’s adamant that the only way to stop the killing — and stop the President from other sins he’s convinced Bush is responsible for — is to get onto the White House grounds and put an end to Bush.

Ben, a long-time friend, gets a call to come to a Washington hotel because Jay has something important to tell him. When Ben finds out what Jay has in mind, he does all he can to reason with his friend and save him from this mistake.

It’s hilarious writing, as off-beat as it comes, with an off-beat topic pursued through 115 pages of off-beat banter. Jay’s ideas about how to assassinate the president are ludicrous, even stupid, great signals that no killing is going to happen. The dialogue format is amazingly conversational. The counter punching of the argumentation is superbly done, with point and counterpoint being made with comic timing and tangents creeping in to add to the fun.

My personal favorite of these — because it is so true to life — is Jay’s little side trip to bemoan the Wal-Marting of the world.

Jay begins blasting Wal-Mart for buying products from other countries and adding to the demise of American manufacturing. Ben responds that his son loves Wal-Mart, that the last time he shopped there he got a really cheap DVD of the Andy Griffith Show and a pretzel, and “there were friendly chatty women in the crafts and sewing area.”

Jay: What were they chatting about?

Ben: Who was going to go on break first.

Pro-life message ahead

Amid all the silliness, amid the rationale that the President has to die in order to stop the killing of both combatants and non-combatants in Iraq, all of a sudden on Page 81 Jay makes the point that the United States won’t be a righteous nation until legalized abortion is repealed.  Ben tries to fend off his arguments, but Jay scores all the points.

He makes arguments that Catholics have been making since 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. Jay calls “reproductive rights” a huge inconsistency in the liberal position, calls “pro-choice” a fake term, and soundly condemns the use of the word “fetus.”

Jay: Twenty percent of all pregnancies in this country end up being aborted. That’s hundreds of thousands of infants.

Ben: Fetuses.

Jay. Not fetuses! “Fetus” is a scientific word that’s deliberately chosen to be ugly so that the remorse of killing will not attach to it. Infants.

Jay likewise takes apart the argument that abortion needed to be legal to stop back-alley abortions:

“Because there were evil doctors and incompetent doctors, and people who pretended to be doctors but were really killers, who harmed desperate women, therefore we must continue to permit the killing of the unborn? What kind of an argument is that?”

“Checkpoint” may be the most powerful literary attack on abortion ever.

Killed by the reviews

But you’ve likely never read “Checkpoint.”

It’s not a new work. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf, a publishing company that deserves a pat on the back for printing a strange-but-creative, outlandish novel with a message few other mainstream publishers have the guts to put on paper. And it was soundly condemned before it even hit the bookstores.

Perhaps it is outrageous to write anything — even a fictional political satire — about assassinating a president. Perhaps our national sensitivity to the horror of such an act won’t allow this kind of writing, even writing that seems meant not to provoke such an evil deed but rather to first, entertain, and certainly to make political points about the immorality not just of George W. Bush’s war-making but the failure to act morally by several generations of American leadership.

What’s sad for me is that Baker’s wonderful polemic about the sin of abortion got lost in the wash. He may have been wrong about writing about presidential assassination, but about abortion he was right on. — bz

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Quotes show comments in past were as nasty as today’s

September 20, 2009


by Robert Schnakenberg

Don’t believe the voices clamoring about our 21st-century society being exceptionally rude and willing to belittle others more virulently than ever.

“Distory” proves that people — especially some in high office — have been saying ugly things about the rest of God’s children for a good long time.
When Charles the Fifth led the Holy Roman Empire, he slammed an entire country: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Nineteenth-century Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative Thomas Reed blasted congressmen of his time with the cutting remark, “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

And author Charles Dickens once called Henry VIII “a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England.”

The whole book is like that, a series of quotations by individuals who have taken the kidgloves off and vented about another.

Insults through the years

Because the quotes are organized into chapters of insults by and about a) Americans, b) Brits, c) military figures, d) other nations and e) miscellaneous, and because they are listed chronologically, “Distory” can claim to teach us a bit of history as well.

Robert Schnakenberg subtitles this St. Martin’s Press work “A Treasury of Historical Insults.”

“Treasury” might not be the choice of nouns that polite folks would have used. In fact, some of the remarks are clever and witty. Others plain mean and graceless.

But I found it valuable to read the American chapter from beginning to end. It was a refresher course in history — and a mostly witty one at that. I learned, too, what some of the great names in history felt about others of their time, perspectives that weren’t in my elementary or high school history books.
Guess about whom pamphleteer Tom Paine — the lauded author of “Common Sense” — called “treacherous in private friendship . . . and a hypocrite in public life”?

Would you believe George Washington?

John Quincy Adams termed Andrew Jackson “a barbarian who cannot write a sentence of grammar and can hardly spell his own name.”

General George McClellan called Abraham Lincoln “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

Teddy Roosevelt said that William McKinley “has a chocolate eclair backbone.”

Press no shrinking violets

Media are often accused of being much more mean than their predecessors, but Baltimore Sun columnist H.L. Mencken was as nasty as they get when it comes to insults. He wrote this about Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he sorely needs, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House backyard come Wednesday.”
Journalist Hunter S. Thompson at the end of the 20th century had a poison pen as well. Thompson on Richard Nixon:

“He was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad.”

And Gerald Ford said, “Jimmy Carter wants to speak loudly and carry a fly swatter.”

Brits: Masters of the ‘craft’

Our friends across the pond, of course, have made political insults a science. Politico John Bright in the 19th century said of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.”

Disraeli came back with this about the man who was both his predecessor and his successor, William Gladstone: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone pulled him out, it would be a calamity.”

My favorite quotations, however, are this clever bit of repartee between playwright George Bernard Shaw and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Shaw: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play, bring a friend — if you have one.” Churchill replied: “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second — if there is one.” — bz
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Try a slice of politics, Chicago style

March 19, 2008


“Windy City,”
by Scott Simon

My wife, Barb, who grew up in central Illinois farm country, used to say that my Chicago friends and I were afflicted with the same disease: “You guys think that Chicago’s the only place to live.”

At the time, her diagnosis was spot on.

Chicago can spoil you, and until you take the antidote of living elsewhere, love for Chicago is a tough illness to shake.

Obviously I’m not completely cured, despite having lived away from the Windy City for more than 25 years. When I spotted Scott Simon’s book, “Windy City,” at a bookstore, I didn’t think twice before plopping down $24.95.

The novel starts with the city’s long-serving mayor found dead at his desk, his face in a prosciutto and artichoke pizza. Finding the killer or killers is part of the unraveling, but to be honest, solving the crime is really only background music. A whodunit this ain’t.

The plot? Chicago politics. In the raw.

The characters? Chicago’s aldermen. In all their humanity, all their sins, all their antics, all their shenanigans, all their deals, all their in-fighting, all their “character.” How they work with and around one another in complex relationships that can’t be described as all bad– but they aren’t all good, either.

What keeps you turning the pages, ostensibly, is the storyline about who will become the next mayor, since the City Council must elect a replacement until the next general election.

One aldermen recommends that another vote for a certain candidate because she “knows how to express her appreciation,” wink wink.

But Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” has put together a package that combines accurate descriptions of Chicago’s ethnic variety — ward by ward — with an inside-baseball view of Chicago’s City Council and its city government operations. He captures life as every Chicagoan will tell you is exactly the way it is.

It’s the speeches at the Museum of Lithuanian Civilization, the Baptist church and the wedding reception in a Chinese neighborhood, the flashbacks to how the now-dead mayor forced Chicago to live up to its motto as “The City That Works,” and insight into machine politics — aldermanic votes are dependent not upon who is best for the job but who will agree to put a police station in their neighborhood or vote for a tax enhancement zone in their ward. You get to keep you seat on the council if you do two things: fill the potholes and clear the snow off the streets.

“Windy City” was a fun read for me because I was able to identify with so many of the locales that Simon takes his readers to and with the ethnic mix that has such an impact on politics in Chicago.

Others will love the circus-like atmosphere in the City Council chambers that Simon portrays perfectly, almost historically!

There’s really great writing, too. Simon doesn’t just say an alderman is “in bed with” one of the city’s unions, he “shares bedbugs” with it. When a City Hall worker commits suicide from a high-rise apartment, the police officer involved admits his investigation hasn’t produce any reason. He tells an alderman, “All we know for sure now, sir, is that he wasn’t Peter Pan.”

The amazing thing about “Windy City” is that Simon doesn’t involve the cardinal-archbishop of Chicago in the story — not in any way. In this day and age, an author deserves a plenary indulgence for resisting the urge to take a cheap shot or to pile on the hierarchy and the church.

The most religious action in the whole story comes just before Chicago’s 50 aldermen are to vote on the mayoral replacement. Because the Rev. Jesse Jackson is unavailable, an alderman who is also a rabbi is asked to do the invocation for the council session. And there’s a bit of good old Chicago pride that seeps through, as you’ll see in this excerpt:

“May God give us wisdom today. And if we don’t choose the best or the brainiest candidate, please let us at least find a good man or woman who loves this city and will grow wise in the job.”

Now for the worst part of “Windy City” — the jacket design. A weather vane with a donkey, an elephant and an American flag, plus convention-type boater hats. Please. Chicago politics isn’t akin to a party convention. And there’s no Republican anything in Chicago, not even a weather vane. Sure, you could vote Republican in a city election — but why waste your vote? — bz

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