Friday, November 28, 2014


Haiku Friday: Grandfathers


[Above is a painting my dad did of his own grandfather; it hangs in my dining room where I see it every day, to my great joy]

As I have noted before, my dad has been blogging over at the web site of the Dirty Dog Jazz cafe.  Recently, he wrote a wonderful post about his grandfather:

My grandfather was a tall big boned Wisconsin farm boy (think Gary Cooper) who went on to college and then worked at the Westinghouse Corporation as a civil engineer. He spent years bringing electricity to the southern tip of South America. He had a horse and a dog as company as he inspected the lines. He was a vigorous yet gentle man who had plenty to do until he retired at 65.  He and my grandmother started traveling to all the places they had dreamed of in a small trailer. They would park it on the vacant lot next to our house when they would come to visit us. Bompa was restless. On their travels he saw the effects of the depression. He knew that the severe economic cycles had been  destructive and needed to be leveled out. He threw himself at the problem, he stopped traveling, and he began studying economic theory nonstop. He thoughtfully came to conclusions,  wrote papers, he met with important people and he eventually was invited to speak at universities and with corporate and civic leaders. He changed the conversation with his ideas. He lectured on economics into his 90′s. He never stopped being a good friend and an inspiration to me.

Let's haiku about grandfathers today... it can be a biological grandfather, or one who just played the role regardless of family relationship.  I will go first:

Late in his lifetime
He built a computer, bam!
He knew the future.

Now it is your turn... just make it 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second, and 5 for the third, and have get in on the action!

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Happy Thanksgiving!

So much to be thankful for... among the many things, the people I get to interact with here.  I love the people who write and haiku and opine-- what an eccentric and brilliant group! 

I am up late, waiting for my pies to come out of the oven.  I noticed that the Washington Post has put online the clemency piece that Rachel Barkow and I wrote-- it will run on the print edition on Friday.  I'm sure we will get some interesting responses!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Political Mayhem Wednesday (since tomorrow is Thanksgiving)

Yesterday, a number of students came into my office to ask what I thought of the decision of the grand jury in Missouri regarding the possible charges against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  The grand jury, as we all know, declined to bring an indictment against Wilson for shooting Michael Brown.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) Some commentators have said that the proceeding was "unusual." That's true, relative to most grand jury proceedings.  Most of the time, a prosecutor goes in with the goal of getting an indictment on a specific charge or set of charges.  She presents evidence, and then asks for a true bill (that is, an indictment).  That did not happen here, because the prosecutor apparently took no position on whether a true bill should issue or not.   That's unusual relative to most other grand jury proceedings, but it is NOT unusual in politically-charged cases where the prosecutor is not strongly invested in an indictment.  It is pretty typical, in situations like this, for a prosecutor to avoid making the charging decision by leaving it to the grand jury.

2)  However, that doesn't mean that the prosecutor doesn't expect a negative outcome.  By not seeking an indictment, the prosecutor sends a strong signal, in fact.  Think about it from the perspective of the grand jury:  for week after week, month after month, prosecutors come in with sharp, focused presentations that clearly seek an indictment.  Then, after all that, a prosecutor comes in and just presents some mixed evidence and doesn't take a position.  Of course that sends a message!

3)  I still don't know what happened between Brown and Wilson.  I can't opine on that exchange.  Neither do most of the people who have spoken sharply and conclusively about it, on both sides.

4)  As a symbol, Ferguson represents something we all do know, though. It is this: there is racism in our society.  Blacks are not treated the same way as whites by the police in some (maybe most) places.  We can't pretend that we have gotten beyond race, because it just isn't true.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Recipe Time! IPLawGuy's Turkey In a Can

This recipe comes from IPLawGuy (pictured above), who makes a great turkey every year in his own unique way.  

Here is what you will need:

1 three-foot-long wooden stake
1 brand new trash can (not galvanized)
1 big bag o' charcoal
A jumbo jug of lighter fluid
9 beers (14 if you are buying Little Kings)
Aluminum foil (he uses official Dale Earnhart, Jr. foil, but you can use inferior brands if you must)
1 18-19 pound turkey
12" Mullet wrench

Next, here is the plan:

1)  Go out in the back yard.  Clear off an area about two yards wide-- just shove all the stuff over to one side so the ground is clear.  Begin consuming the beers.  Make sure you get all the stuff like Barbies and Nationals' jerseys out of the way. 

2)  Put down some aluminum foil to cover the ground, about 3 feet by 3 feet.  Or, 1 metre by 1 metre if you are in Canada.  But why are you in Canada for Thanksgiving?  That's just stupid.

3)  Pound the wooden stake into the ground right in the middle of the aluminum foil.  IPLG uses a mullet wrench for this.  You can use a hockey stick or a muffler if you want.

4)  Now, get the charcoal burning real good in the lid of the trash can.  Use a LOT of lighter fluid.  A LOT.  In fact, just make a little lake there in the bottom of the lid, and it will go up real nice. 

5)  Place the turkey on the stake, legs down.

6)  Now put the trash can down over the turkey and the foil.

7)  Once the coals are ready, dump them on top of the trash can and around the sides.  The bottom of the trash can should have a nice lip on it there, so it's like a little hibatchi or something.  Have some more beers.  Be careful when dumping the coals, and use oven mitts to handle the lid of the trash can, because lit coals are hot.  Really hot.

8)  Let it cook in there for about an hour and a half or so.  Don't peek while it is cooking.  The coals will die out on you about then anyways.  

9)  Slowly tip up the can and remove the turkey.

Garnish and serve.  Serves three.

One of the beautiful things about this recipe is that it uses every part of the trash can, so nothing goes to waste.

Important note:  Here are a few things IPLawGuy has learned from years of experience:

-- DO NOT use a plastic trash can
-- Don't drink all the beers at once, before you pour the coals
-- Don't leave your Nationals jersey close to the flames
-- Make some other stuff for dinner, too!

Monday, November 24, 2014



Medievalist, I loved this one:

It's rainy, cold, dark,
November, a time for rest,
Slow down and give thanks.

And Anonymous was wonderfully happy!:

This year has brought love
In unanticipated
Form. Such joy abounds.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Cleaning

Yesterday, I tried to get my house in some order, since my entire family is coming here for Thanksgiving this year.  I tried to put away stacks of books (it was surprising how many of those there were), and cleared things out in the basement so that people can sleep there.

It went slowly.  In part, that was because I stopped and read old letters and found things inside of books.  It turns out I have saved a lot of letters, and reading them again was like getting a glimpse of myself two or three decades ago.  It wa like opening a time capsule, if things had been put into the capsule at random.

What surprised me is how similar I am now to the person described in those notes.  I would probably tell you (if you asked) that I am a completely different person now, but I'm not so sure.  Yes, I am a happier person, and more productive, but I have the same insecurities and challenges and strengths, for the most part.  There is an eternal part of who we are, I suppose...

Saturday, November 22, 2014


The Game

Today is pretty much an off day in college football:  #1 Alabama, for example, is playing "Western Carolina," which is apparently a thing, and #2 Oregon is playing Colorado, which I'm pretty sure is a club team.  

However, there is one game today that matters, at least to a few people: Harvard-Yale is going to determine the Ivy League championship, as the old old rivalry enjoys a new moment of relevance.  ESPN's weird but mesmerizing "Gameday" show is going to be live from Harvard all morning.  

Football aside, the Harvard-Yale game is kind of renowned for pranks.  A classic was this one in 2004:

Harvard's years of retaliation included this fake Yale admissions video:

Which led to this…

I wouldn't be surprised if something interesting happened today...

Friday, November 21, 2014


Haiku Friday: Giving thanks

There really is no other good topic for this week, or one more appropriate.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all; I love the idea that animates it, the absence of commercialism attached to it, and the sense of quiet and love that can come with it.

Let's haiku today about something we will thanks for this year.

I will go first.

These students I teach:
They each bring their own wisdoms
Some days I just sow.

Now it is your turn: write about something you care for, and use the 5/7/5 syllable recipe....

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Executive Action on Immigration Policy

The New York Times is glad that President Obama will announce new executive action on immigration policy tonight, but many others are unhappy.  It is expected that the administration will act to shield millions of immigrants from deportation.  

It certainly seems that the president does have the authority to use discretion in enforcing (and not enforcing) federal laws.  In fact, I have personally urged the federal government not to enforce a perfectly valid law barring marijuana possession. The question now is whether or not he has the right to negate the current laws on immigration through inaction.  Here, it appears that the President is acting in part out of frustration with the House of Representatives, which has failed to pass any immigration legislation.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh...

As a kid, whenever I sang "Over the River and Through the woods…" I always wondered about that sleigh and the white and drifting snow-- where the heck did these people live, where the snow was already in drifts by Thanksgiving?

Now I know.

It's been a disconcertingly early winter here in Minnesota, with the snow falling and temperatures in the single digits. The ski areas are up and running, and the high school nordic team is out in full force.  

Usually, I am upset when I see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, but in the snow it seems ok.  In fact, unless we get a serious melt I'm not going to be able to put decorations out at all.  

I love the snow, though.  I love the quiet it brings, the smoothness of the world, the slower pace we all must have when we walk and drive.  I love glancing into the park and seeing a lone skater, blades cutting the ice against a backdrop of green and white and brown, cutting rounded lines into the clear, cold ice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Big Hero 6

I saw Disney's adaptation of the Marvel comic "Big Hero 6," and found it contained some intriguing surprises:

1)  It takes place in "San Fran-Tokyo," which seems to be the result of some kind of rapid and bizarre continental drift resulting in Tokyo merging with San Francisco.  The result is a little disconcerting.

2)  The puffy hero-robot has some great moment.  It is almost a return to physical comedy-- the kind that Buster Keaton and his contemporaries did so well.

3)  My favorite thing about the whole movie is that in the end the hero's highest and best use is as a medical services provider.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Fred Haas... or something like it

I'm not even from Houston, but I still loved Jill Scoggins' haiku:

Fred Hass car lot ads.
On my car radio, the
F and H aren’t heard.

“What is a Red Ass
Toyota? Do I want one?”
I wonder out loud.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Sunday Reflection: When Jesus was gone

Lately, I have been talking to some of my friends who, for various reasons, have lost their faith.  It's something I understand, and have come close to myself.  They didn't want to end up without that certainty, but people and events pushed them to a place where belief in a loving God no longer made sense.

Yesterday, I was wondering about Jesus's followers after he was gone.  Not just the first time, but the second time, too-- after the resurrection.  It must have been very strange to have devoted three years to an intense cause that was focused so closely on one man, and then have him be gone.  

What they did, it seems, was move to action.  They went all over, to the ends of the known Earth, they took risks, they confronted the impossible.  This is different, though, than what my friends struggle with.  For Jesus' followers, it was the body that was gone, but the idea of the man remained.  For those who lose faith, it is the idea that is gone.  It might be that losing the idea of what can be is worse by far. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Untied Airlines

IPLawGuy tipped me off to this great story in the New Yorker about the decline of United Airlines after its merger with Continental.  The story is a familiar one: Airlines promise great service and low prices after a merger, and none of it is true:

Modern American corporations rarely degrade service in bold, attention-getting ways. Rather, it is a kind of suffering by a thousand cuts, each individually unnoticeable but collectively defeating. On the “new” United, seats got smaller as the airline jammed more people into the same tube; upgrades, to escape the sardine effect, seemed to become harder to book. The number of boarding groups began to resemble something like a caste system; “change fees,” which have always been outrageous, grew higher (two hundred dollars for domestic, three hundred dollars for international), while baggage fees soared to as high as a hundred dollars. The cross-country flights somehow seemed to all be on old, broken-down planes, while gate agents and flight attendants all just seemed crabbier. 

Friday, November 14, 2014


Haiku Friday: Mis-heard

Earlier this week, I was driving along and heard President Obama speaking in China after meeting with that nation's President Xi.  For whatever reason, it sounded like Obama was saying "President Cheese," and until I got the full context of what was going on (I had started listening in the middle of the speech, and didn't know where he was), I thought he was referring to "President Cheese."  I was very curious about this President Cheese, imagining that logically it could only be that Mayor McCheese had been elected to the top spot in his native country, Sweden.

So, let's haiku about things we mis-heard today-- in songs, speeches, terrifying children's books, whatever.

Here, I will go first:

This President Cheese,
Is he a gouda leader?
Sing "Hail to the Ched!"

Now, you go!  Use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun...  

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: College Football Madness!

So, get this:  Baylor is 8-1, and tied for first in the Big 12.  They whomped Oklahoma last week, 48-14, and looked good doing it.  It's been a great season, with their only loss coming on a trip to scary, scary West Virginia.

In the latest ranking of teams by the committee that is choosing the four teams that will be in the championship playoff, though, the Bears are ranked 7th.  That's a little strange, given that they are three points behind 8-1 TCU, whom the Bears beat head-to-head earlier in the season.  In other words, these two teams played a game, one of them won, and now the other is ranked in a position to get into the playoff. 

Among other oddities of the rankings, one-loss Oregon is ahead of undefeated Florida State, the defending national champion.

But here is the thing about the TCU/Baylor debate... it may all come down to how Minnesota does in its last three games.  And Minnesota is the other team I have been rooting for lately.

See, if Minnesota wins two of its final three games-- against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska-- or maybe even just one of those, it makes TCU look better, since TCU beat Minnesota 30-7 earlier this year.  TCU's supposedly superior strength of schedule depends on the Gophers.

So, if I want to see Baylor in the playoff, I should want Minnesota to lose.  But I don't.  I'm kind of thrilled by how well they are doing.

What's a guy to do?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Wait a minute… Brad Pitt is married?!?!

I'll admit that I get a lot of my news from The Onion, but at least Onion readers know who the VP is:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Net Neutrality

The debate is continuing over the idea of net neutrality, as the President has ordered the FCC to take what steps it can to prevent internet service providers from favoring some content over others.  As the New York Times explained it:

The Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Obama said, needs to adopt the strictest rules possible to prevent broadband companies from blocking or intentionally slowing down legal content and from allowing content providers to pay for a fast lane to reach consumers. That approach, he said, demands thinking about both wired and wireless broadband service as a public utility.

This is such a thoroughly modern debate-- an issue that didn't even exist just a few decades ago.  

Is there a principled argument against net neutrality?

Monday, November 10, 2014


Thank you for your vote.

How can I not recognize this haiku by my dad?

"Thank you for your votes;
I will take it from here" said the
special interests.

And, yeah, the sculpture/poster above is his, too...

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Living in the moment

"Live in the moment" is one of those phrases I always thought was just wrong.  I read it to mean that you shouldn't worry about or plan for the future, just enjoy whatever is happening right now.  It seemed narcissistic and self-centered.  When people would say it, I would roll my eyes.  

Then, something happened, something quiet and gentle, but it is often quiet, gentle things that really change us.

The last time I was in Richmond, I was sitting at the bottom of a hill at the University of Richmond, talking to some of the students there.  It was a beautiful evening, dusk, with that gorgeous filtered light and soft air that you get in Virginia sometimes.  

At the top of the hill, walking towards me, I saw my friend Craig Anderson with his wife Lori.  He looked tall and happy and strong.  In that moment, that precise moment, my heart leapt with joy.  It was a powerful thing.  Craig had battled cancer, a terrible bout, and beaten it.  Now, there he was, alive, well, whole.  That instant was perfect: that moment of realization, joy, and gratitude.

Maybe that was "living in the moment," in a good way.  I let myself feel that joy, express it, live it without compromise.  It was only a moment-- I had a presentation to give-- but one of the best moments of all.  I would imagine that at the end of life, that is what we are left with.

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