December Notes

| December 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

In November I wrote about Simone Weil (“Do You Know Simone Weil?”), a woman whose life and legacy has come to haunt my own. I could have written more, but must allow readers’ interest in Simone is limited. However, if you choose to know more about this extraordinary woman, Google offers many connections to Simone’s life, including her notebooks that can be read online at (the print edition is pricey, $190).

But one thing I didn’t write about and should have is this: Simone Weil believed in obligations, not rights.

At The Great Fenway Park Writers Series dinner November 10 in Boston a man who had read my Sentinel essay, and who is familiar with Simone (thanks to a college professor), told me he thought the defining creed of Simon’s thinking was the priority of obligations over rights; that she believed the besetting sin of Western Civilization was people believing they have rights without obligations.

In “Gravity & Grace,” one of Simone’s most important works, she writes when God created man and gave him freedom God conceded control of his own creation. This may not make any sense to you, especially if you think “God” a silly idea or embrace the Big Bang theory of creation or Darwinian postulates, or that you believe something quite different, that this is God’s world and he’s in control (see John Calvin), then you would reject Simone’s thinking.

Like many others, I have struggled with the idea of a loving God allowing a world of pogroms and genocide, of death and destruction, both man made and nature caused. How could a loving God permit, at the hand of man, the Spanish Inquisition or Auschwitz, or at the hand of nature, Katrina or the catastrophic earthquake off the coast of Japan? If God is a “loving God” how does he then allow such terrible things to happen? Not just at the macro level, the Turks massacring the Armenians or Serbs killing Bosnian Muslims, but at the micro level as well, a young woman dying from breast cancer or a young man from AIDS. The question is hardly new. It’s been asked since man became a conscious being.

But the answer Simone Weil gives of God creating man in his own image and bestowing the priceless gift of freedom by God upon man, works for me. It’s been a constant belief in my life but no one prior to Simone synthesized it more lucidly. But she also believed that in Christ God provided the grace whereby he might reconciled man and man’s world to himself, restoring what God had lost through his own magnanimity; a freedom man proceeded to corrupt by pride and arrogance, and from which the attendant tribulations of our world resulted.

I wrote last month that when Malcolm Muggeridge asked me, “George, do you know Simone Weil?” I was embarrassed to say I did not. I am no longer “embarrassed,” but I am challenged by Simone’s life and thought. I will never rise to, or approximate, her genius, but if in knowing Simone Weil I become a better person, then I shall be eternally grateful to Malcolm for having asked the question.

 That’s a Great Question

 Serving as moderator of three public forums in San Diego, Denver and Boston, I preside over Q & A, which follows a speaker’s remarks. I have therefore taken due note when questions are asked, invariably the speaker will preface his or her answer by saying, ”That’s a Great Question.” And, if you are C-SPAN obsessed, you will hear the same response at public forums they cover, “That’s a great question.”

Really? “That’s a great question.”

An inane question, even when asked in the most enlightened of circles, does not deserve an “inane” answer; neither does it deserve, “That’s a great question.”

True, I’ve had questions I’ve asked answered with, “That’s a great question”; even if it wasn’t a “great question,” but few people find flattery off-putting (count me among them).

It’s not that I am bothered by “That’s a great question,” given its commonplace usage in today’s lingua franca of Americana, but rather that its usage intrigues. Who first said, “That’s a great question?” I raise the question without being able to provide a definitive answer.

However, a quick search on Google leads one to discover that at least one book has been written with the title, “That’s a Great Question,” written by Glenn Pearson (it’s a faith based book). I also ran across this from a Web blogger, FemaleScienceProfessor (

“As I wandered the halls of two academic buildings today, I passed various classrooms with classes in session. No fewer than  three times did I hear the phrase “That’s a great question” uttered. I wonder how many times each day this phrase is used, and I wonder whether anyone says, “That’s a good question” any more. Good is not as good as great, so perhaps it is damaging to a student’s self-esteem to label their question as merely good and not great. (?)

”Other variants include: That’s an excellent question. That’s a really great question. That’s an important question.

”Is there an alternative? I’d rather not replace it with a more modern expression, e.g.: That’s an awesome question. That question totally rocks. But is there anything as succinct yet effective?”

I have no clue as to the identity of the FemaleScienceProfessor, but I think her Web site is terrific, and if nothing comes of this column than the discovery of it, I will be most pleased.

“That’s a great question” reminds me some years back the great David Broder of the Washington Post used a line in his Sunday column about a certain politician by writing, “He waffled.” OMG, just like that everyone in Washington, on The Hill, at the White House, in all the agencies of government, in news bureaus across our capital city, even west of the Potomac, people were saying or writing, “He waffled.” Not about the pol Broder was writing about, but about everyone facing hard choices on issue. One could hardly read any opinion piece or listen to political commentary without “waffled” being invoked. It became the de jure comment.

But as quickly as it obtained coin of the realm currency it was gone. Why? Sorry, again, no clue. Maybe “That’s a great question” will experience a similar sudden demise. So we may hope.


“You know” “You know” “You know”

 The indiscriminate use of “absolutely” is one thing, but “you know” is quite another. It’s become the great filler phrase. Rather than practicing silence through conversational pauses, one hears, over and over again, “you know”, “you know”,  ‘”you know.”

I was listening recently to sports talk on Mighty 1090, the AM radio station whose broadcasts reaches from Baja to BC (they claim), when in one 60 second segment I must have heard “you know” 30-times. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Thirty times!

Now, to be clear, the “you know” offender wasn’t Scott Kaplan or Billy Ray or Darren Smith or even Hacksaw, but someone of lesser skill and obviously a more limited understanding of the English language. However, while the stars of 1090 are largely “you know” free, the same can’t be said of many of their guests.

I’m told the constant use of “you know” is a generational issue, more characteristic of those in their 20s and 30s than those of us who are older. But no matter the generational stigma it must be challenged, people must be held accountable. Our language is at risk by the insatiable use of this mind-numbing phrase.

And, what about me? Do I ever use “you know?”

You know, I don’t.

On to 2012.

 George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,



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