unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

Remember that French Hitchhiker I Picked Up?

Phil blogYou may recall that earlier this year I picked up two hitchhiking international students at 75th and Stony Island and blogged about what a good experience it had been; George was from China, Antoine from France.  They subsequently visited me in Chicago and we’ve stayed in touch.  I just received this email from Antoine, whose immediate professional aspirations involve working in India.  I thought it might be of interest:

Hello Phil,

How are you doing?  I have good news: I just got hired in a nice position in India in a French company and this is partly thanks to you.  Let me explain: the recruiter asked me the classic question “ what’s your best quality?”  I answered that people tend to trust me, she asked “how?” and I showed her the blog that you wrote about George and me.  She enjoyed it and that’s how I cleared the first round of interviews!

On Tuesday I’m starting technical training about packaging and by December 1st I’m flying to Bangalore (India) to start my actual mission.  Again I’m very thankful for what you did for us. I really hope that sooner or later I’ll host you either in France or India.

All the best,


I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in all this, but I am completely tickled by what has flowed from this chance encounter.

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Before You Speak!

There was a particularly interesting moment in my interview last night with Judith Valente.  Valente covers the religion beat for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly on PBS.  She has a new book out called Atchison Blue:  A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith.  The book chronicles the time she has spent (and continues to spend) at Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchison, Kansas, which is home to Benedectine nuns.

Among other things, Valente writes about the importance of story-telling in the community of sisters, especially stories that contain a spiritual lesson.  The flip side of story-telling is the opportunity these monastic visits provide for silence; silence which has resulted in Valente’s spiritual growth.

She said something that stuck with me and also with the studio crew (because they asked her about if after the interview was finished).  She said that before sisters speak at the monastery, they are taught to ask themselves, “Is it kind, is it true, or is it necessary?”  I told her on the air that if journalists had that test, we would be rendered mute!  Anyway, it’s not a bad litmus test for when to open our mouths — or to keep it shut. Watch my full interview with her below and read an excerpt from her book here.

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The New Normal?

Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief, Lynn Sweet, reported over the weekend that President Obama is concerned that shootings will become the “new normal.”  This, after the recent shootings at the Washington Naval Yard and in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood that injured thirteen people.  I share the same concern.

I think it’s pretty easy to look at the location of a shooting, or the time of day, or the ethnic and racial backgrounds of the shooter/victims and think, “Well, that couldn’t happen to me.  I don’t go to neighborhoods like that.  And I’m not out that time of day, so I’ll be okay.”

That’s probably the way many of us once looked at terrorist attacks — that they were the sorts of things that happened in other parts of the world, not here.  We’ve learned differently.

Likewise, let’s not blissfully think that we are immune to what’s happening in other parts of the Chicago area.  And let’s not get used to it.  As the president said,  there is nothing normal about children dying in our streets from stray bullets.


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The Time of Your Life

Very interested in Bill Daley’s assertion that he’s pulling out of the race for Illinois governor in large part because, at age 65, being governor is not how he wants to spend the better part of the next decade.

What else might have been part of the equation?  Well, there’s always the possibility that beating incumbent Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary was not a given.  And even had Daley won the primary, he may have realized that the time might be ripe for a Republican to win.  Or that even if he could have prevailed over the Republican, he would win what?  The pleasure of sparring with Mike Madigan in Springfield over a seemingly unsolvable pension mess?  Hmm, that sounds like a fun way to spend one’s golden years.

We are also hearing that Daley simply didn’t have the “fire in the belly” to endure the enormity of a political campaign.  Whatever.

Like any major life decision, a number of factors probably played into it.  So it’s probably a combination of all of the above.  But the bit about life being short resonates with me.  Tempus fugit, or so the saying goes.  Daley’s probably done a lot of us a favor by reminding us that the sands of time never stop pouring.


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Football and 9-11

Sometime after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, my old boss, Jim Lehrer, said that he would never look at a jet in the sky in quite the same way again.

I’ve been thinking about what Jim said this football season as I’ve watched games where there have been some serious hits involving players’ heads.  (There was one particularly bad one in last night’s “Sunday Night” game between Seattle and San Francisco.)

If you’ve been following all the coverage about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), I wonder if you’ve had the same reaction.  (FYI, here’s a definition of it.)  Ever since I saw images of brain samples from former Bear Dave Duerson who committed suicide, I can’t help but think about them whenever I see a particularly vicious hit.  The evidence appears to be fairly strong that there may be a link between the multiple hits players suffer and the development of CTE.

When you look at the huge stadiums, the crowds, the coverage, the commercials, etc., it is troubling to think that players might be paying the price for the whole extravaganza with their mental health.  Yeah, I know.  Grown men have the right to make choices about how they use their bodies, how to support themselves and their families, and so forth.  But like I said.  I don’t look at a violent hit in football in quite the same way anymore.

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Lyme Time?

Really interesting segment on our show last night regarding Lyme disease.  I used to think of it as an issue mainly in New England and in the upper Midwest, not Illinois.  But, in each of the past couple of years, the state has set records of reported cases.  And it’s getting worse in the suburbs.  For example, 40 percent of the ticks in Lake County now carry the pathogen that causes it.  Yikes!

The other disturbing bit of news is that the Centers for Disease Control now estimate that the cases may actually number 10 times what is being reported.

Bottom line:  wear long pants, long sleeves and hats when you go into the woods or where there are tall grasses.  Experts also recommend using insect repellent, examining yourself for ticks and showering shortly after being out and about in the great outdoors.

And if you notice flu-like symptoms after an encounter with a tick (and especially if you notice a target-shaped rash) get yourself to a doctor.  Pronto.  Prompt treatment appears to cure it for most people, but left untreated it can develop into a very debilitating disease.  So hikers, campers and lovers of the outdoors, beware and be careful!  Check out the segment for more information.

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