Sunday, December 09, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Advent Challenge

[Painting: "Christ" by Rembrandt] 

Advent calls us to do something I am terrible at: to still ourselves. I am someone who usually has a lot going on, often at the same time. That tumult to me is blood coursing through my veins, keeping me alive. But I know that there are times to be quiet and wait. So I struggle to do that, and sometimes I succeed.

Last week, I went for a walk and looked in through a window in a house. There was a kitchen and a little living area with a couch. A woman was chopping something in the kitchen, and a man was reading a book to a child on the couch. I tried not to stare, but it was compelling. It was their home; they were doing the things you do at home. As I reflected later--in a moment of quiet--on that scene, my mind went someplace unexpected. I suppose that does happen when we still ourselves.

It was this: One thing we don't know anything about is Jesus's house as an adult. Isn't that kind of weird? He traveled a lot, of course, and is often described visiting others and staying with them, but not until this week did I even wonder if he had a home and what it would have been like. When he retreats to quiet, it is to the wilderness. When he dines with others, it is at someone else's house (ie, Martha and Mary) or outside (the breakfast in John 21) or in a kind of meeting hall (the Upper Room).

I suppose he might have been homeless, in a strict sense.

Or, I suppose, in just the normal sense.

And that changes everything, doesn't it?

How much lower could Jesus's status have been? Homeless, poor, at odds with the religious authorities, without possessions to speak of, at one point an infant whose parents sought asylum, and eventually imprisoned and killed-- that is the position God gave to his son.

Shouldn't that tell us what it is that is important, where virtue can be found? Or, at least, what we should not scoff at and denigrate?

To those who think that the worthy are marked by wealth: why, then, is this our savior?

Saturday, December 08, 2018


Every ATM I seem to use has this problem...

Friday, December 07, 2018


Haiku Friday: Modern Presidents

I thought the discussion of George H.W. Bush yesterday was fascinating. It might be fun to continue the theme and haiku this week about modern presidents-- pick you favorite, or your least favorite, or something in between! (and yes, IPLawGuy, I suppose you can haiku about Polk or whoever you most recently read a "book" about). 

Here, I will go first:

In fifty-five years
They will remember as best
Barack Obama.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 formula and have some fun!

Thursday, December 06, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: George H.W. Bush

Some readers have noted, correctly, that I have not joined in the many tributes to former president George H.W. Bush. I suppose I will just say that this is not the right time for me to honestly state my feelings about his legacy in those areas that are important to me.

However, I realize that some others have memories or feelings for which this is the right time to put it out there. Please do, in the comment section below.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018


The Death of Fred Hampton

I suspect that many readers have never heard of Fred Hampton, who was killed by the Chicago Police almost 50 years ago, when he was 21. He was a young leader of the Black Panther movement, and a socialist long before socialism entered the political mainstream in the United States once Bernie Sanders ran for president. 

A long time ago, I came across a little bit of film of Hampton speaking, and I understand why people found him so compelling-- and the establishment found him so dangerous. For some reason, there was a flurry of social media postings about Hampton recently, and it seemed the right time to share a little of the message he sent out. It is still compelling, even for those who do not agree with all or some of it, because it goes to the key questions in our nation-- then and now.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018


Update on the First Step Act

I wish there was some kind of breaking news--First Step Act passes the Senate!--but there really isn't. There is some movement, though...

The bill now has 28 co-sponsors in the Senate, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Here is the complete list:

1.     Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
2.     Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) 
3.     Mike Lee (R-Utah)
4.     Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
5.     Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
6.     Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
7.     Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
8.     Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
9.     Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)
10.  Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
11.  Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
12.  Chris Coons (D-Del.)
13.  Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), 
14.  Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.),
15.  Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), 
16.  Doug Jones (D-Ala.),
17.  Susan Collins (R-Maine), 
18.  Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.),
19.  Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), 
20.  Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.),
21.  Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 
22.  Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
23.  Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
24.  Angus King (I-Maine).
25.  Todd Young (R-Ind.)
26.  Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
27.  Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
28.  Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Isn't it strange to actually see a bi-partisan list? The list of supporters is longer than the list of co-sponsors, of course, and it seems that all of the Democratic Senators are prepared to vote yes. That means (given the 14 Republican co-sponsors) that even without a whip count it seems clear that there are 60 votes in favor.

The opposition is coming mainly from a small group of Senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas. 

Monday, December 03, 2018


Reading spots...

So, I can vouch for IPLawGuy's claim, since I have had to stop him from reading a book while he is driving a car:

Anywhere with light
Bathroom, airplane, subway, gym
Wish I had more time.

Christine's seems about right for someone like her who spends a lot of time in Florida:

A poolside lounge chair
On a sunny afternoon
A book and a nap.

And, as usual, it is hard to argue with the Silly American!

Under or atop
My fluffy down comforter
Natural light's best.

Sunday, December 02, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Advent arrives

Of all the liturgical seasons, Advent is singular. I love the quietness of it-- if we allow it-- and the gentle moments it allows. 

This year, there is something different, too. I have been, like many people, disappointed by what I see in Christianity. Publicly, we are awash of Christian embrace of the deeply problematic Donald Trump, a continuing sex scandal in the Catholic church which makes it imperative for the church to make changes it resists, and the numbers of my fellow-believers continue to fall.

It is a good time for quiet reflection, isn't it?

And those who know me know that for me, quiet reflection is not a permanent state. It precedes and inspires action. That is the cycle we saw in Christ's story, wasn't it? Withdrawal and reflection followed by engagement and action.

And both are important.

Saturday, December 01, 2018


My take on the First Step Act

As I have written here before, I am all for the First Step Act now pending in the Senate. I explained why yesterday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. You can read it here.

I also have a piece up on CNN about the GM plant closures. You can see that one here.

Friday, November 30, 2018


Haiku Friday: Best place to read

We all have one: a favorite place to read. It might be just the right chair, or a couch, or maybe a place-- a cabin, or the beach. Let's haiku about that this week.

It's very comfy
And Jack White upholstered it
(Don't mess with legend).

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Raiding the Bishop

I found this headline (in the NY Times) pretty alarming: Investigators Raid Offices of President of US Catholic Bishops. It's just another chapter in the never-ending sexual abuse and cover-up scandal in the Catholic church. This time around the focus is on Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, who is the President of the Bishops' conference and who is alleged to have assigned a Priest to work in a parish despite prior allegations of abuse. The police felt they needed to raid the Cardinal's offices because of suspicions he was hiding records related to that Priest.

There are at least five parts to this scandal, which has engulfed Catholic Dioceses all over the country (and the world):

-- The initial abuse by priests
-- The failure of the Church to investigate allegations of abuse
-- The re-assignment of Priests credibly accused of abuse to new positions in the church rather than removal from the priesthood.
--  The failure to cooperate with or initiate outside investigations.
--  The pervasive attitude of "Let's move on" when the scandals have not been thoroughly investigated and the truth made known.

The "Let's just move on" take on things, where internal investigations are forgone or dropped, priests shuffled around, and secrecy maintained, has not worked well for the church. Mostly, it has ensured that instead of a few years of tragedy and pain, this scandal will consume an entire generation of the church. It's a terrible choice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The Manafort Developments

Things are getting interesting.

The Mueller team now has moved to alter Paul Manafort's plea agreement, asserting that his lies during proffer sessions relieve them of their obligations even as Manafort remains bound by the agreement's terms. And... that is how it works. He is in a tough spot that he designed.

Of course, there are a lot of other allegations flying around about Manafort:

-- That his lawyers were reporting back to the Trump team about the Mueller proffer sessions, giving Trump an idea of what Mueller was interested in.

-- That he met secretly with Julian Assange, the fugitive who released the emails stolen from the Clinton campaign, at Assange's hideout in the Ecuadorian embassy. Allegedly, this happened before Assange released the emails.

-- That he also went to Ecuador and met with the Ecuadorian President in 2017, after Trump was inaugurated.

As a prosecutor, I know that we are looking at a tiny part of a large beast, and I am loath to draw any broad conclusions about what has or will happen. It does seem, though, that the Mueller team has enough sources to know with certainty that Manafort lied to them-- and I find that quite intriguing. Manafort is no longer important to them, perhaps, now that they know the truth from other sources. If Trump pardons Manafort, it will be an injustice... but it probably will not affect the Mueller investigation one bit.

His usefulness is ended. He faces the worst sentence one can receive in the Trump world: irrelevance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


GM Kills Itself

Yesterday, General Motors announced that it was going to close down five factories in the US and Canada, let 14,000 North American employees go, and cut several car models (including, oddly, the plug-in hybrid Volt and the strong-selling Cruze, a small car). For the second time in a few weeks, I am mad at the same thing that is angering Donald Trump (the first was Mitch McConnell's obstruction of the First Step Act).  

Part of my own view has to do with the fact that two of the plants being closed are in Metropolitan Detroit. One of them, in fact-- the Poletown plant-- was built when eminent domain was used to destroy an entire neighborhood. That was just one of the benefits GM sponged from the public, and pales in comparison to the bailout they got from the Obama Administration as the company approached collapse. 

The plan is to stop production of sedans to focus on  SUVs, crossovers, and trucks while investing in the development of electric cars and car-sharing services. I doubt they will ever get past the "building giant inefficient vehicles" part of the plan. Companies like GM so often get obsessed with short-term profit that they find it nearly impossible to sustain long-term vision. They will just make behemoths until gas prices spike again and they are fully committed to building trucks that use a lot of gas.

GM says they don't want to end up like Sears, which went bankrupt last month after failing to adjust to an online economy. But... there is more to that story.

See, Sears once did something very much like what GM announced today. In the 1980's, Sears joined with IBM to develop the very first online service, which was called Prodigy. It came packaged with a computer I bought in 1988 or 1989, and I signed up for the service. It was really something-- it was, for example, possible to buy airline tickets without a travel agent! It did feel revolutionary.  Prodigy then became the first service to provide full access to the World Wide Web.

They did not keep their eye on the ball, though. They sold their stake in Prodigy in 1996 for $200m, and apparently just went on doing what they had always done. 

Will GM be able to maintain a sustained vision even when short-term gains pull them elsewhere? I doubt it. And that means that eventually we will have to decide whether we should use tax money to bail them out again, even after they ignored American interests time and again. Will we have the guts to finally hold them to the same kind of accountability that we require for, say, Medicaid recipients?

Monday, November 26, 2018


Bang bang?

Nice haiku on leftovers, everyone (and I want to get lunch from Gavin's mom sometime), but I wasn't quite sure what Christine was talking about:

Looking forward to
turkey meets Asian salad
a la Bang Bang style

Can someone explain it to me?

Sunday, November 25, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Randall O'Brien's job well done

Randall O'Brien is retiring as President of Carson-Newman University in Tennessee at the end of next month. As is true everyplace else he has been, he leaves it a better place.  

I have attended and worked at a bunch of universities, and never came across a president like Randall. He obviously loved the students, and talked about them every chance he had. And not only did he talk about them, he also talked to them,  and it was impossible to walk ten paces on campus with him without being interrupted, wonderfully, by a student with a question or-- just as often-- who was about to be questioned by Randall. You know that great feeling you have when you can tell that other people love someone that you love? That's what it was like to see these encounters. 

Of course, I'm one of those students. Technically, we were co-teachers, but let's not fool ourselves. Randall and Hulitt Gloer taught me every week we supposedly "co-taught" our Oral Advocacy class at Baylor. They taught me to preach, but that was not the most important thing. They taught me how to seek out the dignity and talent in my students when perhaps they did not see it themselves, how to trust myself in my teaching, and how to care about a class as a whole.

He is retiring from this presidency and the success he had there, but he will not, cannot, retire as my friend and mentor. That, I could not fathom.

I'm wildly blessed. And one of those blessings has been the friendship and leadership of Randall O'Brien.

Saturday, November 24, 2018


Caption contest

This illustration is from a how-to manual explaining the Heimlich Maneuver.  

Still, it seems really compelling divorced from that context. What all is going on here? There is something about the choking victim looking straight at the observer, for example, that is either fascinating or creepy (or both).

Captions welcome.

Friday, November 23, 2018


Haiku Friday: Leftovers

I know people who love the leftovers more than the big Thanksgiving meal itself. IPLawGuy is one; as he told me the day before Thanksgiving, "Traditionally, we steam a whole mutton for the holiday, and then savor the leftovers for a week." He took a moment to double his wager on the Lions and refresh his Pimm's Cup before making a suggestion: "It's easy to use leftover mutton for mutton tetrazini.  Your kitchen assistants should be able to do it with no problem."

Lacking kitchen assistants, I tend more towards turkey sandwiches. Which are much better with gravy! 

Let's haiku about leftovers this week. Here, I will go first:

Pumpkin pie;
Better the second morning
A perfect breakfast.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Thanksgiving Thursday

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love this image by Ryan McGuire (if you want to buy it, the photo is for sale at Saint's Rest, a coffee shop in Grinnell, Iowa). 

The bunny seems so content, doesn't he? Looking out over an inlet on a cloudy day, a bench to himself. I feel like that bunny. I know that I am lucky, and I am full of gratitude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Found poetry

Tuesday, November 20, 2018



Every year, it seems, I write one or more pieces about how the annual turkey pardon by the president makes a mockery of the failures of human pardoning. This year, writing at CNN, I took a different tack and dug into the process of how they actually pick the turkeys to pardon. Guess what? It's way better than the one we use for actual federal clemency.

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