Monday, December 31, 2018


Haiku of Hallmark

Christine's haiku was great:

Really bad x-mas
Hallmark movie marathon
Time lost forever.

Yet, I am not sure I agree with it. How could anyone not love classics like "A Shoe Addict's Christmas?"

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Sunday Reflection: The New Year

As my faith evolves, I notice that it has a lot to do with cycles of change: redemption, growth, rehabilitation, hope are all part of it, coming in tandem with mistakes, stubbornness, brokenness, and despair. The low points and high points are linked; they rely on one another. It is that way in the gospels, of course. Jesus literally goes to a mountaintop before going to the valley, and enters Jerusalem a hero before death and resurrection.

That's why New Year's feels like a religious holiday to me. At base, it is like your car's odometer flipping to 100,000-- it only matters because we attach an arbitrary meaning to that one moment. We could pick any other just as easily. Yet, it marks the start of a cycle, and there is something to that, however arbitrary.

2018 was one strange year.

I hope that in 2019 a path will become clear for our nation and myself, towards something other than conflict and disunion.  And it is up to me to do something about that.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


The Show

If you saw "Bohemian Rhapsody, you probably noticed that they included a re-creation of nearly all of this:

Friday, December 28, 2018


Haiku Friday: Watcha' Watching?

Lots of people have some down time this week to catch up with old movies, Netflix classics, and all kinds of things. Let's haiku about that this week!

Michael's injury:
Burned his foot in Foreman grill
Made bacon in bed.

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Presidents, War, and the Draft

Yesterday's New York Times had a fascinating description of how Donald Trump stayed far away from the Vietnam War, even as people like Randall O'Brien stepped up to serve.  He is the third of the last four presidents (the others being George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) who managed to stay out of the war using advantage and exemptions not available to others (Obama was too young to be drafted).

Trump graduated from college in 1968, and lost the education deferment that had kept him out of the draft in July of that year-- at the height of the war. 300,000 men were inducted into the armed services that year. Despite a lifetime devoted to golf, it seems that Trump received a medical exemption from the draft based on "bone spurs." The New York Times found the family of the deceased podiatrist who gave the diagnosis to young Trump, and found that he apparently often bragged about doing favors for the Trump family.

Does it matter, whether we are talking about Clinton, Bush, or Trump, that they found a way around draft eligibility and to safety at home while others put their lives on the line?

As someone who did not serve in the military (and was never eligible for the draft as it ended when I was twelve), I don't have the perspective some others do. And clearly it does not matter much to an electorate that voted against genuine combat vets and in favor of draft evaders twice in the past few decades: Clinton over Bush I, and Bush II over Kerry.

But... should it matter?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Boxing Day

Having become aware only recently about liturgical seasons, I'm still getting used to the idea that Christmas extends beyond Christmas Day. I like that, a lot-- there is more of the story to develop, after all.

And so much of that story has to do with issue we care about now. Poverty, of course, is an important part of the story, whether we care to see it or not. And not just the broad subject generally, but the specific idea of transitory poverty, where a family is getting through a rough time; in Jesus's family, it was dislocation, political persecution, and a medical issue (pregnancy) that led them to a manger.  Joseph had a trade, after all, and they later seemed to do well, having more children. But that moment-- it must have been humiliating in some ways.

Many families, perhaps most, have some moments like that, the low places. And they are helped by good and generous people. I hope that the message of that is that we are to be those good and generous people-- and that we are supposed to work to address the issues that create that bad moment in the first place.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Merry Christmas!

Did I straight-up steal this image from my dad's blog? Yes, I did-- it is his Christmas painting this year. But it perfectly expresses my sentiments!

Monday, December 24, 2018


A haiku

Last Friday, Anonymous gave us this:

I like it. There is something wonderful about a gift, no matter how small, that fits the person just right.

And now it is Christmas Eve. For some of us, there will be candlelight in church, a moment that always takes me back to childhood, looking over the top of the pew and wondering at it all. Tonight I will be in that same little church, the one I knew well as a child, and will feel that same wonder. Life is good. We--we all-- are blessed, even amid tumult.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Sunday Reflection: The mystery of joy

There are states of mind that we can create within ourselves. It is easy to get angry, of course, if we focus on what hurts us. With some work, people get to contentment by focusing on what is good. But joy... it seems almost impossible to create that within ourselves in a given moment. It takes something or someone to bring it on, or an irresistible, unpredictable impulse within ourselves.

That's one of the hard things about "the joy of Christmas." Joy can come on Christmas, of course, through the presence of loved ones who bring you joy, or from an epiphany of faith, or maybe just from a place you can't quite identify.  But... it doesn't come just because it is Christmas, and I think that is hard sometimes. 

Have you ever noticed that the most significant points in your life, the turning points, usually did not occur on those days-- graduation, for example-- that are supposed to be the important ones? Instead they pop up unexpectedly, sometimes awkwardly, and stare us in the face. We look back, years later, and see them clearly, whether it is a seemingly random day in November or during the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

And joy, too. Joy comes to most of us, but it isn't tied to a calendar. 

You may have joy this Christmas. But you might also have contentment, or acceptance, or a quiet sense of being loved by those who have known you since the day you were born. All of those are good, too. And joy, when it pops up, will be just as wonderful on another day.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


So, among all the other mess...

... this happened yesterday:

Friday, December 21, 2018


Haiku Friday: Christmas Shopping!

It's the last minute for Christmas shopping, and it might be a good time to stay off the roads, tuck into some egg nog, and send out for pizza.

There are small joys in Christmas shopping, of course: let's not discount the satisfaction that can come from giving, right? Many of us have found ways to avoid scenes like the one above (which I think was taken at Eastland Mall in 1986).

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

I hold it gently
Like a baby bird: the thought
That will be a gift.

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: First Step Act Update!

On Tuesday night, the First Step Act passed the Senate with 87 yes votes-- a resounding victory for needed reform. I've already outlined some of the principle provisions of the bill-- you can see that here-- though we will have to wait to see what the House does to it, if anything. I expect that today or tomorrow we will see President Trump signing the thing, flanked by a truly bipartisan group. It will be quite a moment. I got to talk about that this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio; you can hear the podcast here.

So what happens after the First Step?

One would hope a second step. And I hope that the second step is clemency reform.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Information overload

I started out thinking I would do a little round-up of all the news that came down yesterday (including the passage in the Senate of the 1st Step Act), but it just seemed like too much.

The truth is, I'm having a pretty relaxed and reflective Advent. That's not always true for me, and I consider myself lucky to enjoy it.

My Dad, though, has kind of a downer blog post this week, which features this image:

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Recipe Time! Corn Chowder

I originally posted this in November of 2009, but it is time to bring it back!

Here is a recipe for the chowder I make every year on Christmas Eve. It is appropriate for any cold-weather time of the year, and is especially good when served with homemade bread. The recipe here includes scallops, but you can substitute almost any firm meat (such as ham) or seafood. This should serve 6-8 fat people.


1.5 lbs bay scallops
8 oz. bacon (cut into 1/2 inch sections)
one big ol' onion
ground cumin
ground pepper
ground cayenne pepper 
2 cups dry white wine
2 lbs yukon gold or fingerling potatoes (cut into 1/2 inch thingees)
7 cups chicken stock
6 cups corn (frozen or cut from the cob)
three medium carrots, cut into 1/2 inch sections
1.5 cups half-and-half
salt [Note: Do NOT use road salt. Just trust me on this.]


Get a big old soup pot. Cast iron works best, non-stick surfaces the worst.
Heat pot over medium heat, add bacon and cook until done.  
Remove bacon to a towel. DO NOT empty the pot.
Add onion to bacon grease and cook for 4 minutes.
Add carrots and cook for five minutes
Add one tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, one teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Raise heat to high and add the wine. Cook 3 minutes on high.
Add chicken stock and potatoes, and bring to a boil.
Then turn down heat to medium-low, wait for boiling to stop (this is important).
Simmer 20 minutes. During this period, saute the scallops in a separate pan.
Stir in corn and half-and-half, cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of cilantro.
Now add in the scallops, add milk or half-and-half to get proper chowdery color, if necessary.
Last, put the bacon on the top and serve hot.

Monday, December 17, 2018


On ornaments

I do love it when people  come through with great haiku like they did last Friday. I mean, look at this-- we had CraigA do several verses on the subject of Boston sports without one F-bomb (and three faith references)!

Hallmark Bobby Orr
And Teddy Ball Game at bat;
Hub Saints deck the tree!

Red Sox ornaments
Of every stripe hang in glory;
Celebrate four crowns!

Brady, the NFL GOAT,
Super Bowls my father saw not.
Prayers answered, Lord!

There is one Lord God.
Yet, lords and gods of Boston
Saved New England’s faith(ful)!
Meanwhile, IPLawGuy pretty much laid out his very interesting ornament history:

A Christmas Camel
More Like Christmas Jellyfish
Cute either way

Single, young and broke
Got baubles from hippie Aunts,
leftovers from work

Creepy Chinese dude
Angels with Beer mugs (trade group)
fishes, crabs, random stuff

Each one still on tree
Also glue-glitter orbs with
Libby, Miri, Max

Micah's was memorable:

Brother at age six
Crafted homemade ornaments
Paperclips and crayon

The best of them all:
Seven happy cockroaches
Pulling Santa's sleigh

Megan Willome brought the regional color:

moved in right before
Christmas, first ornament a
cowboy Santa ball.

Jill brought it back to moms:

Tiny Yogi and
Boo-Boo from Moma. Cherished
more and more each year.

While Christine brought it back to my mom (apparently, some people have a separate "Phyllis tree":

We have a small tree
with only ornaments made
by your Mom, treasures...

And, WHAT!?!?!?
CTL is getting married?

First gift from new girl
Was a snowman ornament.
The wedding's next month.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


Sunday Reflection: The silence and the mercy

This week I went to see the state clemency hearings here in Minnesota. We have a very strange system for granting pardons (and, apparently, no system at all for granting commutations of a sentence).  I watched them with reporter Jennifer Brooks, who writes about them in today's Star Tribune.

It's a compelling theater: petitioners take their turns personally making pleas for a pardon directly to the pardon board, which is composed of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. They answer questions, then listen as the three officials discuss their case and make a decision (which must be unanimous among the three. It's a system with some real problems, but one of them is not transparency. It is all out there in the open: all the tragedies of life, the worst choices, and also the healing and growth that sometimes follows.  Many of them told stories of addiction of recovery, a narrative shared by the governor himself.

Governor Dayton, about to leave office, has been in the hospital for a long stretch, and this seems to have delayed the hearings until this late date (usually they are in early fall).  He is not an extroverted man, and was quieter that usual in these hearings. One result of that was that when the petitioners were done describing their lives--the good and the bad--it was often followed by a long silence. No one was sure what was supposed to happen next, it seemed. It went on, it seemed, for minutes at a time: the whole room, silent, awkward.

And yet, in those long silences there was something solemn and holy.  They stayed with me long after I left. After someone has poured out their heart, hoping for the forgiveness of society, perhaps the best immediate response of all was that long holy and contemplative quiet, reflecting the weight of the moment.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


A world built on gears

It's fascinating in a way that much of our world still relies on the simple mechanics of some simple, ancient machines: the lever, the wheel, the inclined plane, the pulley, and gears. I have always been fascinated by gears; maybe it comes with being from Detroit.

As he jammed the crash-box in his unrestored 1972 Dodge Challenger, IPLawGuy explained it to me: "It's really just wheels and pulleys, nothing more, nothing less." He pulled some more snuff out of a small leather sack, and continued: "I always drive a stick because it keeps me engaged with the road, and that what I..." That's when he went up on two wheels around a turn and I threw up on his handcrafted burl walnut floor mat.

But the point was made. Gears are cool.

Friday, December 14, 2018


Haiku Friday: An ornament

Many of us have trees up right now, covered with ornaments that bear all kinds of meaning.  I love doing that, and then go and check out the tree every now and then. Many of my ornaments were made by my mom; she's great at it.

Let's haiku about those ornaments this week! Here, I will go first:

A friendly camel
With such long, dangly legs
Christmas visitor.

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: The picture becomes clearer....

It's been a big week in the world of criminal law.

First, the good news: Mitch McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on the First Step Act, which seems ready to pass with room to spare. That's great news-- but it is not yet a done deal.

The other big story was the rollicking week in the Trump/Mueller saga. Last Friday, two key documents-- sentencing memoranda in the Michael Cohen case-- were released, and yesterday Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. Through those developments, the following became clear:

1) The Mueller team has verified and corroborated evidence showing that President Trump directed Cohen to pay off two porn stars he is alleged to have had affairs with. Is that a big deal? Well, yes, given that Cohen just got three years in prison based in part on that crime, and anyone directing him to take that action would face the same criminal liability (since they caused the crime to occur).

2) The National Enquirer apparently cut a deal with Mueller, too, and has affirmed that the purpose of those payments was to affect the election. Ouch.

3) One of the Cohen sentencing documents laid out another troubling possibility: that people in the White House directed Cohen to lie in his congressional testimony. That's a felony, too.

4) Finally, the documents made it pretty clear that Mueller has evidence of multiple lines of communication and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

And now the Democrats will have the power to use House committees to investigate any and all of this.

It's looking very possible that there is good evidence that will show that the president committed felonies under federal law.

Here is what happens next:

The Mueller probe may be close to an end, either on its own accord or through administrative action. When that happens, we will see more indictments and Robert Mueller will make his report to the Attorney General (or, I suppose, the Acting Attorney General). It is up to the AG whether or not to send the report on to Congress, but that is probably a moot point now since the House Democrats will be able to subpoena the report.

In that report, it is possible, even probable, that Mueller will outline crimes by the president.

The most likely course in that even will be that the Democrat-controlled House votes to impeach and the Republican-controlled Senate then votes to acquit (conviction needs an almost-impossible 2/3 vote in the Senate). Everyone loses in every way under that scenario. Except, perhaps, the President, who can run for re-election as a martyr who "won."

For Democratic prospects in 2020, the best course may simply be to beat Trump in the election, and then let him face charges (state and/or federal) once he is out of office.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


The Louisiana Paradox

I stumbled across this video while doing some research and found it fascinating. My own commentary follows:

As readers of this blog know, I'm very wary of "pro-business" states that gut unions, strip away environmental regulations, and provide few social services to the most needy. It's a program that is always promoted as creating "prosperity," but outside of Texas it does not seem very effective over time. The states that consistently thrive economically-- California, New York, New Jersey, etc.-- mostly take the opposite approach. Meanwhile, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kansas, and the like lead the nation in, well, a lack of prosperity.

One would think that eventually the majority of the citizens in those states would realize that this just isn't working for them and vote for something else, but that doesn't happen.  Why?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Four gold coins

This past Sunday, I had a piece in the Waco paper arguing that 2020 presidential candidates-- in either party-- would be wise to seize on these four traditional Republican values that have been abandoned by the Party of Trump:

1) The problem of the national debt
2) American leadership in the world
3) Free markets
4) A certain moralism centered on personal accountability

In kind of a mismatch, they ran it with this cartoon (not that I disagree with the sentiment):

Monday, December 10, 2018


Presidential haiku

Good work last Friday, everyone! I wondered if people would warm to the task of haiku-ing about presidents, but it worked out well. IPLawGuy described the conundrum of presidents pretty well with this take:

Rise, Fall and revise
Reputations always change
Ike up, Jackson down

MSenneka identified my own favorite ex-president:

One-term President.
Humanitarian for
life. Still building homes.

Except maybe this one, described well by Angela:

Of those standing there,
He gave the country’s best care.
Michelle at his side.

While the Medievalist picked the (2nd?) worst:

Tricky Dick the crook,
Watergate still bothers me,
Broken legacy.

And Matt covered it all!:

Running guns and drugs 
In the name of James Monroe:
Reagan/Bush hubris.

"Read my lips" versus
"The economy, stupid;"
Economy wins.

Clinton used missiles
As tools of diplomacy.
Rest in peace, Layla.

Middle Eastern wars
Of misadventure: Bush's
Legacy lives on.

No one remembers
Cash For Clunkers when talking
About legacy.

Carter sold his farm,
But Saudis rent rooms en masse
In Trump properties.

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. 

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