Thursday, January 31, 2019


Haiku Friday: February

It's the shortest month, and in some ways the cruelest. I always felt a little cursed because of my February birthday-- in Michigan, it came in the middle of gray, sad slush season, when winter lingered too long. 

But there can be beauty in it, too, of course. Either way, let's haiku about February this week. Here, I will go first:

My mom saved the day
With an ice cream cake and love
Went to bed happy.

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


Political Mayhem Thursday: Meanwhile, in Europe....

We Americans tend to assume that we are the only place experiencing political crazy time, but that is far from true. If you have been following the news from England in the past month or so, you know that Brexit-- the UK's exit from the European Union-- has been a crazy hot mess.

For those following along at home, the UK voted by referendum to exit the EU. The hope within the UK was to negotiate an agreement where they could keep some of the good parts of the Union while pulling out. A key sticking point was the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which was open so long as both were in the EU, with great advantages to a lasting peace there.

UK Prime Minister Teresa May, a Tory, negotiated what she thought was the best deal she could get. However, the Parliament rejected it overwhelmingly. Now the EU is pretty much shrugging and saying "that's the best deal you're going to get." If the UK exits the EU without a deal, things get... messy. Like, planes not being able to land in London anymore messy.

According to the Financial Times, here are some of the key events coming up in the Brexit debacle:

Early February: May goes back to the EU seeking a new deal.

Feb. 13: May updates the House of Commons on any progress.

Late February: Perhaps a vote on a new deal or the one already rejected.

March 29: "Brexit Day"-- this is when the UK leaves the EU, barring an extension.

In other words, things are going to get really interesting over in London over the next few months...

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Who's Next?

As the field for the Democratic presidential nomination grows and grows, that is only one-- but perhaps the most important one-- of the "Who's Next?" questions that our larger society faces. 

Here are a few others:

-- Who is next to be indicted in the Mueller probe?
-- Who is next to create a song that people will hear in the background at pools all summer?
-- Who is next to change their field and transform a slice of our society?
-- Who is next to re-shape the way we think about faith in this country?
-- Who is next to write a book that no one expected to take off... but does?
-- Who is next to challenge those in power in a way that changes the way we think?
-- Who is next to love where love is not deserved?
-- Who is next to save a life when no one is looking, and to tell no one about it?
-- Who is next to move us to action?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


The past and future of trucking

I found this PBS interview fascinating:

It raises a lot of questions for me, of course. One of them, raised explicitly in the interview, is crucial: Are low prices for goods and services always worth the offsetting cost in income disparity within the larger society?

Monday, January 28, 2019


The White Fog

As haiku go, it's hard to deny that the Medievalist nailed it this week:

My breath billows out,
A white fog of frozen steam,
It's January.

I love that image, of the white fog... and I'll be living it this week, too! On Wednesday, our high temp is predicted to be -14!

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Politics as a replacement for religion

What a week this was in politics! The Mueller probe, the showdown over the shutdown, etc. etc. etc. And it seems like most weeks are like this, one way or another.

I'm coming to realize that for some people politics seems to be taking on the role that faith and religion have traditionally played. It gives them meaning and provides a worldview; it assigns a place in a group with an ideology. These people spend much more time obsessing over cable news than nearly anyone does in church in a given week.

Part of it seems to be the delusions of importance that we place on politics-- that we pretend that government and its choices really has a great deal of agency over our daily lives. The truth is that the choices we make-- about who we love, how we act, what we choose as our vocation-- almost always matters much more to the outcomes in our lives. And yet we give in to the grandiosity, looking for a Democratic "savior" or believing that any president can "Make America Great Again."

Worst of all, politics becomes normative in the same way faith does (or at least should). If our faith says, for example, that we should care for the poor, that will make us want to take actions that help poor people. That's normative behavior.

While the normative behavior caused by faith is usually (though certainly not always!) positive for ourselves and society, the normative behavior caused by politics is much less often positive. Frankly, it seems to manifest itself mostly by talking talking talking about politics with people who may or may not care, and seeking out groups of others who share the same viewpoint as primary social groups. Which divides up our society just as certainly (and perhaps more corrosively) as Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods once did.

Politics matter, sure. Government policies can and do have a profound affect on the environment (to cite just one example). Yet politics are not an ultimate issue, a definer of one's soul. If we are shifting from religion to politics fulfilling this role, we will find ourselves in a worse place as our sights are lowered to enhancing our divisions rather than healing our brokenness.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Roger Stone

Yesterday morning, Roger Stone was arrested at home based on a remarkable 24-page indictment charging him with offenses related to Wikileaks and the 2016 Trump campaign. And when I say remarkable, I mean it-- the thing is an entire case-in-chief packed into a thin sheaf.

You can read the whole thing here.

Friday, January 25, 2019


Haiku Friday: The Freeze

Yeah, it's cold now, pretty much everywhere. So light a fire, make some comfort food, and enjoy the coziness of winter!

Let's haiku about all that comes with this time of year. Here, I will go first:

Late January light
It's crystal shards and starbursts
Horizon line white.

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday, State of the Union Edition

So if we can't even get a State of the Union address off the ground, it would seem that the state of our union is pretty messy. Here is the lay of the land right now according to the New York Times (which also provided the photo above):

-- The Constitution requires that a State of the Union message be given
-- From 1801-1913, it was written rather than delivered as a speech
-- Most presidents since then have delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress (Jimmy Carter was an exception in 1981; he delivered a written message)
-- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has refused to invite the President to the floor of the House to give the speech.
-- The President can't just show up and start talking (at least not with lights and amplification), since the facilities are literally controlled by the Speaker of the House.

My hunch is that President Trump will find a way to turn this into some new kind of political theater, so stay tuned!

And no, none of this is normal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


The unseen costs of the shutdown

For many, perhaps even most, people there is no tangible sign of the partial government shutdown. That's because little of what the federal government does is providing direct services. They inspect the meat rather than sell it, so when you go to the store you still see a lot of meat, but don't see the fact that inspections have been cut. And when you get sick, you don't know the cause.

The FBI Agents Association just put out a fascinating report on how the shutdown has impacted their work. You can read the whole thing here.

The most obvious consequence of the shutdown is that the agents are not being paid. But there is more:

-- forensic interviews in sex offenses agains children are being delayed.
-- counseling services for sex trafficking victims has been curtailed.
-- they can't fund local initiatives.
-- funding for some kinds of investigations has run out.
-- translators are unavailable.

I suspect there are many agencies with similar problems...

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


MLK Breakfast

Yesterday morning, I went to Minneapolis's gigantic MLK breakfast. 2500 people were there, including both Minnesota Senators, a bunch of Congresspeople, and a fun bunch of people from my school. The speaker was Don Lemon, who both like and kind of know a little bit.

I left the event glad for the time with my friends from school and the pretty good speech by Don Lemon, but disappointed, too.  Like many events celebrating King, the point seemed to be to reduce his message to the easiest, least controversial bits-- basically, "people should be nice to each other." It's a good point--in fact, it is the heart of Jesus's Second Great Commandment-- but it is also one that few people disagree with in principle and which has been articulated already by activists as diverse as Rodney King, Rodney Dangerfield, and Barney the Dinosaur. (I suppose this is one area where it really does not matter if a speaker is black, white or purple). There was, in fact, almost no discussion of race by any of the speakers.

It is at best an incomplete message. King's genius was to reveal deep ugliness in our society. There was an edge to what he said-- just like Jesus had an edge. He challenged convention, named names, and insisted on change in specific ways. He championed the poor. He condemned those who stood by the sidelines. He called out the "teachers of the law" and others who ignored human dignity.

 No one left uncomfortable. And that was wrong.

Monday, January 21, 2019


The Red Green Show

Sometimes, Haiku Friday introduces me to something I did not know. This was one of those weeks, and it was all thanks to this haiku by Gavin:

The Red Green Show, eh?
Canadian TV’s “best.”
SNL in plaid.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Not Yet at the Mountaintop

Tomorrow is MLK day here in the US. It's an important holiday, given that the legacy and present reality of racism is the defining challenge of our country. The day set aside to consider this, though, is increasingly being used to celebrate a false sense of "mission accomplished."

I co-authored a piece about it with one of my heroes, Nkechi Taifa, who has done more than anyone I know to address the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  You can read the whole thing here. It begins this way:

As politicians and office-holders trot out their annual tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., beware of a big lie that has too often been front and center in these speeches. In short, it is this: That there was racism in America, that Dr. King came and solved the problem, and now we are lucky to live in a post-racial America.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


So.... You think YOUR apartment is cramped?

Friday, January 18, 2019


Haiku Friday: Bad TV

The terrible New Years special highlighted here yesterday has had my mind buzzing about bad television ever since. Let's haiku about that this week! We all suffered through-- and sometimes loved-- some television that really just was not that good. Here, I will go first:

A nuclear war
Spared only Volvo drivers
What next, humankind?

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019


The Worst New Years Eve Special Ever!

Sometimes I stumble across something so amazingly awful that I just have to share it. And that is the case with "First Night with Jaime Kennedy 2013," an event so riddled with technical issues, F-bombs, dead air and stoned/drunk/racist performers that it is usually considered one of the worst television shows of all time.  The whole thing comes to a fitting end when they get midnight wrong by ten seconds and then a fight breaks out on the stage during the credits.

In the video above you can literally jump to almost any point in the broadcast and find content that is both horrifying and oddly hard to stop watching, like a NASCAR race that is all crashes.  Or, if you are feeling lazy, here is a low-lights reel:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


My First Piece in the Atlantic!

Yesterday, the Atlantic posted a piece I co-authored with Rachel Barkow and Mark Holden, titled The Clemency Process is Broken. Trump Can Fix It.  I hope you will read it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


You won! Now you get every kind of burger...

Last night at the White House, President Trump hosted the Clemson Tigers football team, who just won the national championship over Alabama. That's an old and good tradition.

Things did get a little weird, though. It appears that instead of setting out the usual spread or calling over to his hotel a few blocks away, Trump sent out for, basically, every kind of fast-food hamburger and a few pizzas. It seems to have something to do with the government shutdown, but that is a little murky.

Apparently, Trump thought that cold hamburgers are what football players eat. "I think we're going to serve McDonald's, Wendy's, & Burger King, with some pizza. I would think that's their favorite food," Trump said before the event. My own hunch is that elite athletes probably pay some attention to nutrition at least some of the time, but that's a guess.

In fairness, if you look closely I think there is a tray of salads in plastic clamshells on the table, too. And Trump reported that he paid for the spread himself, so that's good.

Still... probably another first for the White House.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Haiku on brothers

Wow! I like what people did with this one.

The Spanish Medievalist offered this:

Somos hermanos,
Pepe y yo, gemelos de
Distintas madres.

Which, according to the online translator I used, comes out in English this way:

Sleeping brother
Pees on your gemstones
Disinfecting them.

Meanwhile, we had this offering from Susan Stabile, which made me want fresh fruit:

My only brother
loves Harry and David pears.
So I send him some.

And Jill Scoggins sent this, which is either about a brother in Puerto Rico or Public Relations:

My P.R. brother 
from another mother. We
clicked at first phone call.

My favorite was the most poignant, from Megan Willome:

I don't even know
who you are anymore. But
you are my brother.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Sunday Reflection: On withdrawing

There is this tension among many people of faith-- of many faiths-- between being engaged with the world and being withdrawn from it. You can't make a difference without being engaged, but withdrawing from the world ensures a kind of purity by avoiding all the mess that comes with engagement.

I have met people who have almost completely withdrawn from mainstream society because of its "corruption." They live in a remote place and stay there. They tell me it comes from their deep sense of Christianity.

I would never choose that. Christ called us to engagement, after all; it is at the heart of the Second Great Commandment, since you can't love your neighbor unless you know them.

And there is also my favorite story, just about, in all of the Gospels. The Apostles, or many of them, withdraw after the death of Jesus. They head out to the Sea of Galilee and fish. The resurrected Jesus, though, finds them. He tells Peter, the most enthusiastic of them, to "feed my sheep."

And we know what happens next. Peter engages with that broad world, the beloved creation, this big remarkable society we are all a part of. It's messy. But how could it not be? It is where we are meant to be.

Saturday, January 12, 2019



If you look at the photo in the post below, you will notice that my hair is pretty unruly (particularly in contrast to my brothers, which is much more ruly than mine). And, honestly, that was probably an above-average day.

I'm not sure why (probably genetics), I have a lot of hair and not much control over it. The introduction of some gray hair has compounded rather than solved the problem. The barber schedules extra time for me, and then when he is done it still looks pretty goofy. There's just not much that can be done.

Like a lot of people with a problem, in the the absence of any way to solve that problem I like to imagine that it is secretly a strength. If I go into a meeting, for example, it probably lowers the expectations of others when I look like I might be homeless or (at best) some kind of mad scientist. Then if I say something halfway intelligent, it seems surprisingly worthwhile!

Or, maybe it is just time to start wearing hats more often.

Friday, January 11, 2019


Haiku Friday: Brothers

Everyone, just about, has a brother of some kind. Biological, spiritual, adopted in the best part of your imagination-- maybe all three. 

I lucked out in the brother department. He is someone I both love and admire. And if you know Will, you probably do, too.

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

We come from one place
Brothers of the same mother
Different; the same.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday-- the Shutdown

While President Trump is off visiting the border today, the partial government shutdown enters its 20th day-- one day short of the modern record, according to the New York Times (which also provided the photo above, of the President heading up to meet with Republican legislators).

The Shutdown is affecting many people in a very real way. In a nation where even many middle-class workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, the lack of a paycheck matters.

I see a few ways this may end:

1) The President declares a national emergency that allows him to use military funding to build the wall, then re-opens the affected agencies. This may end up being a fine outcome, since it is possible and even likely that a court will enjoin the emergency order, the government will re-open, and nothing really will change.

2) The President may find some other way to declare victory, such as announcing that since the Wall will be funded indirectly by Mexico through foggy math and trade agreements, it doesn't matter and he can re-open government.

3) Mexico could just decide to pay for the wall as Trump always promised. Frankly, at this point a lot of people would not blame Mexico for building a wall to keep Americans out given the way our society seems headed.

4) Democrats could decide to call it a day, give Trump the money he wants, and explain that the wall won't actually be built for many years, if ever. Just obtaining the land in many areas will be a challenge, and if you have been to the Southwest Texas border, you know how hard it will be to build anything there.

So... what do you think will happen? And when?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019


I'll just leave this fact right here....

African-American members of the House of Representatives

Democratic - 1
Republican - 1

Democratic - 51
Republican - 1

Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Best Concert

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what the best concert I ever went to was. Actually, it is nearly always IPLawGuy who asks me this question. I tell him that it was the Ramones in 1996, and he usually says something like "Incorrect," as he takes a long sip of peach schnapps from someone's  Hello Kitty water bottle. "The correct answer is the Skip Castro Band at the Wigwam in 1982."

I kinda understand his position. He is just sore that I didn't take him to that Ramones show, which was in DC. I can't remember why-- probably it was a last minute thing, or he was off in Switzerland or something. I was there for DOJ training. Anyways, the show was weird and amazing. For some reason, it was in an old warehouse in Anacostia, a big un-air-conditioned space which was a strange choice in August in DC.

But, somehow, that made it better. It was steamy and hot, people were dancing all over in that bouncing-up-and-down way, and they played for two hours straight through wearing leather jackets the whole time. And they were on. The gap between songs seemed to be two or three seconds, max, and then there would be the countdown and they were roaring again. I'd love to see it again.

And you?

Monday, January 07, 2019


Book talk....

I love books. And I loved these two haiku about books...

First, we have Jill Scoggins just tellin' the truth!

What’s the best book? One
that makes you crazy sad when
it ends, wanting more.

And then there is the Medievalist, laying out a sad reality about himself (but one which could be easily remedied!):

I never read it,
To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout,
Jem, Atticus, Boo.

Sunday, January 06, 2019


Sunday reflection: A day is a thousand years...

This morning I will be giving the sermon at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis. If you can, come by-- the service starts at 9:30.

The passage is from 2 Peter 3, and includes the idea that to God, one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years is like a single day. It's a confounding thought--like wearing a microscope on one eye, and a telescope on the other-- and scary in both directions.

After all, if one day is like 1,000 years to God, that means that he sees everything, like "bullet time" in the movies. His eye is indeed on the sparrow-- and on us. We are intimately known, and no secrets are hid. That's terrifying! Few of us really want to be truly known; we imagine that we can cabin away at least small, secret parts of ourselves.

And what of 1,000 years being like a single day?

That describes a God that spans the universe-- who is beyond our comprehension. And that means that we do not know more than a tiny fraction of what God does.

What does that unsettle? Certainty.

And from what I have seen, it is certainty--about who is favored and who is abhorrent to God, about which political party is right (according to God), and about who is going to Hell-- that has been at the root of the worst things done in God's very name.

Saturday, January 05, 2019


2014 was a long time ago...

The Baylor team I still root for is Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears, and they did something remarkable this week: defeated the UConn juggernaut. It was UConn's first regular-season loss since 2014.

That's a pretty remarkable streak, especially given that UConn always plays a tough out-of-conference schedule, and is in a decent league. Baylor is ranked #8 in the country, but I suspect they will be moving up!

Friday, January 04, 2019


Haiku Friday: Books!

I love books. Mostly writing them: my third came out last year--the picture above shows my sister Kathy holding the second one). Of course, sometimes I like reading them, too. Lots of people got books for Christmas; others put together reading lists for the new year. So, with books on the mind, let's haiku!

Here, I will go first:

The store overwhelms
So full of wonders. I stroll
Hours pass quickly.

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

Thursday, January 03, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Romney Report

Incoming Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) made things pretty clear even before the session opened: He may vote with Donald Trump, but he probably won't be his friend. In an eye-popping op-ed in the Washington Post-- titled "The President Shapes the Character of the Nation. Trump's Character Falls Short:-- Romney said the following:

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.

What is Romney up to here? As even the Op-Ed makes clear, he supports many of Trump's policies. Will he really be a dissenting voice when he does not?

Wednesday, January 02, 2019


Political fractures

In looking over year-end social media posts by people I know, I am surprised at how many people have noted a loss of relationships because of political differences. This did not happen in my own family (where we do have political difference among the people attending holidays) and I'm very glad for that.

There is something deeper and troubling, though. Many of the people I see reporting broken friendships and family relationships are those who do the most for others, and are alienated by the Fox News/Trump brand of politics. Given that many of those who hold to the Trump/Fox News line are those who are most in need. Will this further their poverty, if political toxicity pushes away those most willing and able to help them?

Tuesday, January 01, 2019


Happy New Year!

It's 2019, everyone.

I'm not quite sure what to make of that. 2018 was plenty strange-- and I don't think 2019 is going to mark a return to normalcy.

And yet... think of 50 years ago.1968 was ending, a year marked by the Vietnam war, the murders of Matin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and political tumult. Richard Nixon was elected president. And the new year, 1969, was a little better.

We need to find hope where we can. I had a piece in the Waco Trib last Sunday about that; you can read it here.

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