Tuesday, April 30, 2024


The Class of 2024


For a lot of college graduates, the events coming up in the next month will their first real graduation. They were the students of the high school class of 2020, the ones who got no prom, whose spring sports were cancelled, and whose "graduations" involved watching a ceremony on TV or in a car at a drive-in movie theater or getting a diploma from a bus circling the neighborhood. 

At some schools, those graduations are imperiled by protests, and in others there are various and sundry dangers threatening the normal. The class of 2024 enters the world at a weird time-- a time of upheaval and conflict in our country, of a historic political division, and an economy that favors everyone else over them as generational wealth pools up among older people and job prospects dim compared to the last few years.

But, still...

This is an accomplishment. And, frankly, every other era had its challenges. I graduated from William and Mary in 1985, and the economy wasn't great (especially in Detroit). The protests then were over the apartheid regime in South Africa. Yet it was a special time, scary and thrilling and bittersweet, the way it is supposed to be. And how it will be for you all, finally.

Monday, April 29, 2024


On pasta...

 There were only three haiku submitted last week, but they were winners! 

Desiree has a favorite or two (and they sound great):

It’s all in the sauce-
Grandma Rose’s red or my
special pesto-yum!

The Spanish Medievalist offered his customary flare:

Espaguetis negros,
Calamares, su tinta,
Maravilla es.

[here is a rough translation:

Black spaghetti
Squids, their ink
A wonder it is!]

And this anonymous entry reflected a need to try harder (at pasta, not haiku):

I cook it too long
Like a college food hall chef
Bland and lifeless goo.

Sunday, April 28, 2024


Sunday Reflection: Martha and Mary

 38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him.[k] 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s[l] feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one.[m] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This story is baffling to our modern sensibilities, which honor hard work, duty, and stick-to-itiveness. Martha does all the work while Mary just sits and listens to Jesus.

Of course Martha has some complaints! She is doing all the work, after all. But Jesus says that "Mary has chosen the better part."

As a kid, I remember hearing this story and imagining Martha giving up her work and joining Mary. Sure, the place would become dirty and dinner would be cold, but... to sit and listen to Jesus?

There are times that it is essential to remember the balance life fully lived requires. There are times to put down your tasks and listen. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024


Game Show truths

 Not every SNL skit has held up as well as this one:

Friday, April 26, 2024


Haiku Friday: Pasta

 A few nights ago I had some tagliatelle that just hit the spot! There is time pasta is the right thing for all of us. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Thank you, Italy
Ziti, gigli, farfalle
And... medium shells?

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

Thursday, April 25, 2024


PMT: Freedom (pt. 2)


Yesterday, my friend Jason Hernandez got a pardon from President Biden (he received clemency in 2013, and has been out of prison for 10 years). It is well deserved. Today, he is in DC, meeting with Vice President Harris to talk about it.

And that is awesome. 

Yes, campuses are in an uproar, Gaza continues to suffer, a former president isn't doing too well in his criminal trial, and lots of other things are of note right now. But you know what? This is good, and that's what I'll take for today.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Fixed it, Chief!


My biggest accomplishment for the month of April? Definitely that would be cleaning out the clogged drain in the bathroom sink. 

You would think that would be pretty easy-- just take out the plug, reach in there and grab out the gook.  However, the challenge is in removing that plug. It is actually connected to a mechanism under the sink-- that's what allows you to move it up and down with the handle in the middle of the sink. And the connection is more complicated than you might think, and oriented away from you behind the main pipe. 

Eventually, though, I figured it out, removed the plug, used needle-nosed pliers to remove the obstruction, and then tried to put it all back together. 

I did have a strange sense of accomplishment...

Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Protests Spread


Columbia University decided it was going to crack down on protests against Israel's continuing war in Gaza. The University President even testified in Congress that harsher action should be taken. The police were called in to arrest students en masse, and many of those students were suspended from school.

I suppose the plan was to stop the protesting. That didn't work! The protests at Columbia intensified, and others expanded at Boston University, MIT, NYU, UNC, Yale, and elsewhere. 

As much as anything, the Columbia President's actions signaled to young people where they could find something the yearn for: meaning. And they have flocked to it. 

Certainly, there is a debate to be had (and it IS being had) about whether these protests are good or bad. But that misses the point-- either way, they allow significance to the voices of people who want to have a significant voice. They will keep coming.

Student protesters sometimes go on to do great things (while others don't):

Monday, April 22, 2024


So many poems about public art!

 Wow! It was a great turn-out this week for a kinda weird topic: public art. A lot of people described things I have never seen, including the Medievalist:

Woody Allen stands
On a street in Oviedo,
He's contemplative.

And Christine (Sterling Heights?):

The Golden Ring stands
in Sterling Heights Michigan
Is the "butt" of jokes.

I've also never seen what Jill Scoggins described (Oh, Louisville!):

Our twenty-four-foot
Wishbone: popular during
Thanksgiving each year

Frozen during the
polar vortex of last year,
it’s now stored away

Hopefully to be
back in November. Icon
of our holidays.

But I have seen the Bean referred to here:

Shiny stainless steel
Reflects the sky, the people
Chicago’s Cloud Gate
(but everyone calls it The Bean!)

And that cherry noted by Your Tim(e) Has Come:

Did the cherry get
A brand new coating of red
It looks different.

While this anonymous poem creates some mystery:

Gift Horse, blue rooster,
Big thumbs up, Lord Nelson’s Ship
Trafalgar’s Fourth Plinth.

And Gorton still likes those cows...:

Hey, I like those cows!
A boon to local artists
(Yes, talent varies).

Sunday, April 21, 2024


Sunday Reflection: The Good Shepherd


Last week I went on a straight-up rant about focusing on the stories of Jesus for guidance. Then I realized I don't to that often enough myself right here! So I intend to fix that.

Let's start with this, from John 10:

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

That idea of a shepherd is one that would have been much more familiar to people in Jesus's time than it is to us now. This story, though, goes beyond what people would have expected of a shepherd in that time-- after all, this shepherd is watching over sheep that are not in his fold, and who is willing to lose his life for his flock.

Both of those things are aliens to us.

First, we tend to be lousy at bring in those who are not from our fold. We emphasize our differences and shun and stigmatize those who are not like us-- it seems to be the way of our culture. Yet, Jesus challenges that, and emphasizes the basic thing we all have in common; that we are all God's, even those who do not believe it.

Second, this kind of leadership is sacrificial. How rare is that! As much as we might imagine it to be true, too rarely is humility or sacrifice the central value of those who lead. The benefits of those positions seem to convince their holders that they are worthy of more than others, that they are entitled to it.  And when we find ourselves in those positions, how hard is it not to succumb?

I love the challenges of this faith.

Saturday, April 20, 2024


I don't know why...

 But this really cracked me up last week...

Friday, April 19, 2024


Haiku Friday: Public Art


There is a lot to love-- and a lot to not love so much-- about public art. Some cities (like Chicago or Columbus, Indiana) have done a great job with it. Others pretty much threw up some cows in sweaters. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Spoon and red cherry
Invite me to the Walker

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

Thursday, April 18, 2024


PMT: The Cost of Not Caring


The New York Times is reporting that the Department of Justice is preparing to settle a case involving athletes who were abused by "Doctor" Larry Nasser for about $100 million. This comes after Michigan State settled for over $500 million and the US Olympic committee for about $380 million. 

The Justice Department's mistakes were well documented in an Inspector General's report in 2021. In September of 2015, US Gymnastics officials met with the top officials in the Indianapolis field office to report the abuse by Nasser. They interviewed a gymnast, said they were sending the case to Michigan, but didn't do it. Then-- and this is weird-- later that year the head of US Gymnastics talks to the top Indy FBI Agent about a job with the US Olympic committee while they are at a bar! 

Nothing happens with the Indy investigation, so in May of 2016 the gymnastics officials take the same info to the FBI in Los Angeles. Remember... because Michigan State (Nassar's employer) was refusing to take it seriously, Nassar was continuing to abuse athletes at this time. The LA FBI office interviews the same gymnast, and reaches back to Indy, where they falsely claim they sent the case to Michigan. 

In August of 2016-- nearly a year after the Indy field office was approached, someone finally files a complaint against Nasser with the Michigan State campus police. The next month, the Indianapolis Star publishes an article about the allegations. Finally, in October of 2016, the FBI finally opens a case. 

Mistakes happen-- but in this case it was costly. And I don't mean the financial penalty; I mean the continuing abuse that occurred during the delay.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


The Trump jurors

 In Manhattan, they are continuing to pick jurors for the trial of Donald Trump for financial improprieties. It's a fascinating process, and a challenging one. People have strong opinions about Trump, and that equals a suspicion of bias in the courtroom. The coverage of this process has been great-- a real opportunity for people to learn more about juries, and important part of our legal system.

I would love to be on a jury, but it is unlikely I will get a chance. The last time I was called for jury duty was in Waco, about 15 years ago. Both of the lawyers in the case had been my students, though, and they did not want to try a case in front of me! 

Juror duty is a right and a duty-- and it is kind of amazing that we pay people $40 a day to stand in judgement of others, sometimes literally choosing between life and death. I remember giving a lecture on the role of jurors to a class in China. One student was incredulous: "So you just pick 12 people at random from the population and have them make this important decision?" he asked (more or less-- it was through a translator, and this is based on my own shaky memory).

"Well, yeah," I said, thinking through how it sounded kind of bad when you put it that way.

"But... couldn't you have an expert decide, like we do here?" he wondered.

I babbled about the wisdom of collegial discussion as a way of getting to truth, something I really believe-- juries show surprising wisdom.  Then he really went for the knockout: "So why not make other important government decisions this way?"

What a great question!

And, actually, I think it might not be a bad way to make some of those decisions!

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


What's next in the Middle East


After Iran's mostly-failed attack on Israel-- some 300 missiles and drones were shot down without much damage-- we wait to see what happens next. 

It's fascinating to me how the larger conflict has eclipsed the war in Gaza as a magnet for the news. And, of course, the larger conflict has caused a bit of a respite in Gaza as Israel had to pull forces back to the homeland. 

It's shocking to think how many wars this relatively small area has had in my lifetime. Just off the top of my head, I can remember the following:

Iran v. Iraq
Israel v. Hamas/Gaza
Israel v. Lebanon
Everyone v. ISIS
US v. Afganistan
US v. Iraq
Houthis v. Saudi Arabia
Syria v. Syria
Egypt/Syria/Jordan v. Israel

Am I missing any?

Monday, April 15, 2024

 I loved the way this week's poems about summer food so well reflected the people posting. My mom's was so Detroit:
Food is best with jazz
on the side, Detroit Jazz
Festival - yummy!

And Desiree's was so... vegetarian:
Summertime food of
the gods is okra. Perfect
fried little nuggets.

The Spanish Medievalist's was so... you know, Spanish:
Tapas, cerveza,
Sitting in the shade is nice,
Pass me the olives.

Christine's was evocative of where she lives:
Farm stand is open
Homemade ice cream everywhere
A fav'rite is corn.

And this anonymous one made me know they are in a good place:

Farmer’s market fare
Berries, peaches, nectarines
Colorful, juicy.

Sunday, April 14, 2024


Sunday Reflection: Is it about Jesus?


I've always struggled to find the right church. Part of it is that what I care about most, the heart of the faith for me, is what Jesus actually taught. Not the interpretations of others and tradition and creeds, etc. etc. etc., but the complicated and fascinating things that he said we should do. I'm pretty imperfect as a student, but I do know who my teacher is, and I'm focused on learning from him rather than the smart-alecs in the class (or who never really took the class).
It's surprising how hard it is to find a real focus on that in a church service. I did find it at 7th and James in Waco, and here and there since then.
And yes, I realize that many people think my interpretation is wrong-- that Christianity is a rich tapestry of interpretation and structure, etc. etc., but that just isn't what it is for me!  
That means that when I go to church I'm often left unmotivated and unmoved. But sometimes... when a preacher takes Jesus literally in what he taught-- it can be thrilling and special.
What will I find today?

Saturday, April 13, 2024


Yesterday in DC


I was in DC yesterday for an event at Main Justice. I got to see so many heroes and old friends-- there is a lot of overlap between those groups. And Jason Hernandez spoke, which was wonderful. Not a bad Friday...

Friday, April 12, 2024


Haiku Friday: Summer Food


It's probably pretty clear already that I am longing for summer. And with that comes summer food: stuff from the grill, food at the beach, what you eat at the ballpark, etc. etc. So let's look forward hungrily and haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
I do eat hot dogs
At ball games and in New York
Never in winter.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun...

Thursday, April 11, 2024


Political Mayhem Thursday: Tired of it all


As I read about the upcoming election, I often come across a new phrase "election fatigue." I like it, and I totally get it, and man am I feeling it.

For a lot of us, we're tired of all the yelling and fear-mongering. I get emails from both parties telling me that if I don't send them money so they meet their "quarterly deadline" or whatever, then all is lost and we will cease to exist as a nation. It's ridiculous. And it seems to be getting worse. 

More than anything, living with this all-caps form of fundraising and communicating more generally within the political sphere is like listening to music that is too loud-- after a while you just want it to go away.

The truth is that there are important issues that should be talked about: relations with China, climate change, the national debt, abortion, industrial policy, health care.... but it is rare to hear a deep or nuanced take on any of this anymore. There once was a time that political opponents like George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton would drone on for weeks about such things as if they really mattered-- which was great, because they did (and do). 

Are you a little worn out?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024


TV recommendation


If you are looking for a nice distraction, I'd recommend Girls5Eva, streaming on Netflix. It's kind of stupid and fun and actually funny. A lot of it is about the music, which mostly comes from Jeff Richmond, who is Tina Fey's husband. Sara Barrielles and a some people from various "Hamilton" casts appear.... 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024


The Eclipse!


It was a big day in Waco yesterday, as the path of totality brought in tons of tourists to see the total eclipse. Here in Minnesota it was barely noticeable, since it was a pretty gray day already. 

I often wonder at times like this what ancient people would make of this. Suddenly, the sun disappears! Then it comes right back! Even for a lot of us today it is mind-boggling when observed directly (or, more properly, indirectly). 

Did you get to see it?

Monday, April 08, 2024


Poems about summer

 Only two people offered haiku this week, but they were great.

Christine knows what the star of her summer will be:

April showers bring
Summer flowers, so many
Vibrant bouquets, joy...

And so does the Medievalist!:

The rain falls mainly
On the plain in Spain and I
Will be a witness.

Sunday, April 07, 2024


Sunday Reflection: Tax Day


Tax Day is a weird thing in the US-- April 15 is almost like a holiday, with the date etched in the minds of adults. And with it comes a lot of moaning and complaining about paying taxes, usually from the wealthy (since they are paying; others are happy about getting refunds).

Of course, there are things to conflict anyone about paying taxes. For some of us, the proportion that goes to bombs and warships is troubling. For others, the idea that their taxes might support "welfare" for someone makes them mad. To my mind, that latter attitude-- usually coming from Christians-- seems contrary to the faith. We're supposed to give gladly to the poor, after all, if you accept Jesus's directives.

Some people, of course, will say that supporting the poor is something individuals and private groups should do, not the government. That seems to be a pretty cramped view of God's Kingdom, doesn't it? That the values Jesus taught should apply to some of our lives but not others?

At any rate, Jesus was pretty clear about taxes in Mark 12:

13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

At the very least, that makes it clear that we shouldn't care so much about money, which is of this world rather than God's. But... not caring about money is a very hard thing for most of us (including me). But maybe that is where it matters most?

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