Site Index

Hanson for Congress
Campaign Archives

Burton Hanson.Com
Political Opinion Journal
Sometimes Left, But Always Right

BurtonHanson.Com Political Opinion Journal - Archives VI

 Sunday, 07.02.2006

 Are 'campaign lies' free speech protected from government regulation? "Can political candidates lie about their opponents and chalk it up to free speech? The state Supreme Court is wrestling with how to balance the goal of fair-minded and civil campaigns with the First Amendment's broad guarantee of free speech. The nine justices presided over a lively debate Thursday over whether the state's law regulating political advertising is constitutional. The high court previously threw out a law that barred campaign lies and the Legislature responded by writing a narrower version that gives the Public Disclosure Commission authority to police candidates' most damaging and malicious lies about their competition...." More (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 06.30.2006).

Comment. Bill Maurer, executive director of the Washington State chapter of a libertarian law organization is quoted as saying, "The idea that the government must shield the people from falsehoods in political campaigns is both patronizing and paternalistic. It assumes that the people are too ignorant or disinterested to determine the facts and that the government must enforce its vision of the truth through prosecution." We agree.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said that "experience" is "the great teacher." In 2000 I stood for the position of Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election. In my non-campaign I accepted no contributions or endorsements and spent less than $100, confining my efforts to a self-produced website. The campaign website, the no-longer extant VoteHans.Com, contained a personal campaign weblog, possibly the first such use of a weblog or blog. In writing the weblog and in writing several position papers, I came to have first-hand Holmsean experience with the Minnesota Supreme Court's experiment in restricting speech in judicial campaigns. I spoke to what that experience was teaching me in a 10.07.2000 entry in the weblog:

I grow less impressed with the court's effort [in restricting speech in judicial campaigns] and more wary of the whole business. I worked for the court for more than 28 years, 26 and a half of them as deputy commissioner, and learned a thing or two about speaking and writing in a judicial manner or judicious way. And yet, even I find it difficult to fathom the operational meaning of some of the court's restrictions -- that is, how the restrictions apply in practice. Perhaps there is something to be said for the attempt, and I don't doubt the judges who approved the restrictions, including my opponent, acted in good faith. But each of us has feet of clay and each of us has blind spots. I submit that in this instance the court somehow got itself involved in the business of trying to rein in democracy.

It really ought not to have surprised anyone that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the so-called "Judicial Free-Speech Case," struck down those restrictions. See, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002). By the same token, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised by the legal community's reluctance to comply with that decision. On this, see, inter alia, SCOTUS declines review of USCA's case on judicial campaigns - MN. Supreme Court reversed again on free speech - Free speech is a 'bad idea'? As I like to say, Emerson knew what he was talking about when he wrote in his great journal, "[L]awyers...are a prudent race though not very fond of liberty." Ralph Waldo Emerson (Journal 04.1850).

Truth-in-campaigning laws, like the kind under advisement in Washington, and like rules restricting judicial campaign speech, undoubtedly have noble purposes, such as keeping campaigns clean, preventing fraud upon the voters, protecting the more scrupulous candidate from the less scrupulous candidate, etc., etc. But, at root they are anti-democratic. As Mr. Maurer points out, these paternalistic, patronizing laws show a profound distrust of voters. Ultimately, they say that voters need protection by prosecutors and judges. I have always had a different view -- a perhaps naïve belief in the ability of ordinary people to distinguish the real from the fraudulent, if not immediately, then eventually. I take comfort in the fact that this "naïve belief" was shared by Thomas Jefferson, who said, "If you state a moral case to a plowman and a professor [or a prosecutor or judge], the farmer will decide it as well, and often better, because he has not been led astray by any artificial rules." Jeffersonian farmers and other voters can see through campaign rhetoric, lies and distortions without Big Brother, who is no more qualified than they are, serving as Authoritative Voter Guide. All such attempts to rein in and purify democratic elections in the hope of protecting voters from making "mistakes" will and ought to fail.

Moreover, a much, much more significant problem, as I see it, is not fraudulent campaigning but bland, even gutless, campaigning, both in legislative elections and in judicial elections. This last winter I witnessed a very sad debate among some Republican candidates for Congress in one of Minnesota's districts in which not one of them mentioned the War in Iraq. See, my entry dated 02.19.2006 titled Who's the most narrow-minded? at BurtonHanson.Com. I'd rather participate as voter in a contest between two professional political mudslingers who address the important issues, albeit in a messy, dirty way, than as a voter in the sort of contest in which those nice candidates likely will engage.

 Thursday, 06.29.2006

 The Golden Rule and Bush's War on American Ideals.

"The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. More (Washington Post 06.29.2006). Comment. On 11.14.2001, while others, including my own Republican Congressman, Jim Ramstad -- and nearly every other Member of Congress, including most Democrats -- were busy playing "Follow the Leader," I posted a strongly-worded opinion piece in the "War on Terror IV" section of my pioneering law weblog, BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else. In the piece, I opposed President Bush's just-announced plans to try the Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. The piece, which I proudly reproduce verbatim from the page on that site where it still resides, follows (note: many of the links have "expired"):

 Military justice. Yesterday (11.13.2001) I posted a link which I titled "21st Century Justice: secret nonjury trial." I intended sarcasm. The link was to this news story at Court TV's website. The story relates to the start of a "closed-door" so-called "trial" in Tehran, Iran, of members of an outlawed "reformist" group, a trial that the "moderate" President, Mohammad Khatami, has denounced as "unconstitutional." Before 09.11, I posted a number of critical comments relating to "judicial" actions by the "hard-line" super-independent judiciary in Iran. The purpose of those comments, as well as my pre-09.11critical comments relating to human-rights abuses in Pakistan, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, China, and Zimbabwe, was partly to remind myself and those who regularly visit this site what precious things are our liberties and that the price of keeping them is, as Jefferson said, "eternal vigilance" -- eternal Jeffersonian self-examination, Holmesian skepticism, ACLU-scrutiny, etc., etc. Because each of us is assigned, by God, the task of being guardian of his own soul, we as a unified people, committed to the socio-political contract implicit in the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution, must also guard our nation's soul. It looks like we're going to have a time of it, now that we're engaged in an anti-terror campaign -- a campaign of military, economic and diplomatic components -- to which the President has affixed the label "war."
There've been a number of ominous signs. One was the spoiled Yale-boy smirk I saw on Bush's face the other night when he was addressing the well-orchestrated, choreographed political-convention-style rally before that carefully-chosen audience. I was switching channels when I caught a few seconds of the speech and saw that smirk. I said to myself, "This guy likes the fact that he gets to do what Clinton moans he didn't have the opportunity to do -- be President during a time of great crisis." I switched to one of the networks that thankfully chose not to broadcast what really was a speech designed to maintain the President's high ratings in the polls. That was only one of the ominous signs. The latest is this announcement that the President is invoking his "war powers" and is going to follow the Iranian or fascist model of conducting closed-door "military trials" in certain terrorism cases involving noncitizens, thereby bypassing the inconvenience, I take it, of due process, public scrutiny, appeal, etc. The timing of Bush's announcement could not have been worse, coming on the same day that the front page of the New York Times carried stunning sequential photographs showing soldiers of our latest "allies," the Northern Alliance, which has a human rights record on a par with that of the Boys of the Taliban, summarily and brutally executing a captured prisoner of war.
Can Bush do this? Well, the boys in Washington say there's precedent for it. Oh, sure, there's precedent for it. We've done it before during times of war. Hell, one of our Presidents used his war powers to ship an entire subpopulation of American citizens -- those of Japanese ancestry -- off to our version of concentration camps, and our great U.S. Supreme Court concluded it was a.o.k. More.
A better question is: Should Bush do this? I don't think so, and I'm hoping fair-minded Americans, who were fed the Bill of Rights before we were fed Pablum, will give this latest decision by the President the intense critical scrutiny it deserves. Why? a) Because it looks to me like we're reserving to ourselves basically the right to conduct the kind of faux-trial and summary executions that the Islamic fascists, the Taliban leaders, have conducted on a number of occasions recently in Afghanistan. b) Because in this, as in everything, the "Golden Rule" is applicable: If your son, at least presumably innocent, were arrested in some foreign country and charged with terrorism, wouldn't you want him to receive a fair, open trial, with a meaningful right of appeal? Wouldn't you be absolutely appalled if he didn't receive that but instead received a quick middle-of-the-night closed-door military trial? Well, if you're unwilling to provide a noncitizen with a fair trial, the kind we hold out as a model to the world, then you've lost the moral authority to complain when Islamic fascists arrest, try and execute your son or some other American in an unfair way. But, you say: Our military justice is fair, ain't it? Julius Henry (a/k/a Groucho) Marx, who didn't have a degree from Yale but was a wiser man than George Bush (either one of them, take your pick), answered that when he said, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to music." I think Groucho "swiped" the aphorism from French statesman Georges Clemenceau -- if so, good for him. Regardless of who said it first, it speaks a basic truth: military justice ain't the kind of justice we're familiar with or famous for. Shockingly, the military tribunals Bush has authorized for alien terrorists don't even equate with typical military trials. They're worse. (11.14.2001; revised, 11.18.2001) Update: Seizing Dictatorial Power -- Bush's first historic mistake (William Safire, 11.15.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req.); On Left and Right, Concern Over Anti-Terrorism Moves (11.16.2001, Washington Post); Editorial: A Travesty of Justice (11.16.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req.); Nat Hentoff on Bush's idea of due process (Village Voice); Prof. Dershowitz on military justice (Village Voice); Kangaroo Courts (William Safire, 11.26.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req); Wake Up, America (Anthony Lewis, 11.30.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req).

 Memorial Day Weekend - 2006

Here is an item I initially posted on Armistice or Veterans' Day, 11.11.2002, as our country's leaders prepared us for yet another war.

 Born in Minnesota, buried in the Philippines. One of the important "father figures" in my life lost a son in WWII. He's buried in The World War II Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (depicted right). The cemetery "is located about six miles southeast of Manila, Republic of the Philippines within the limits of Fort Bonifacio, the former U.S. Army Fort William McKinley....The cemetery, one hundred and fifty-two acres in extent, is on a prominent plateau, visible at a distance from the east, south and west.  It contains the largest number of graves of our military Dead of World War II, a total of 17,206, most of whom gave their lives in the operations in New Guinea and the Philippines...." Click here for a listing of American casualties in our major wars. In 1991 the U.S. estimated that we killed 100,000 Iraqi soldiers in the Gulf War; Iraq estimated its civilian dead at 35,000. Our government reported a total of around 300 American battle and nonbattle but war-related deaths. A little over a decade later, our great political leaders, most of whom never served in the military (or, if they did, ever saw actual combat), are once again preparing the country for war, a war they will bravely direct from the relative safety and coziness of Washington, D.C. My friend, who in his old age became somewhat pessimistic about human nature and political leaders, used to say, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." And during the Viet Nam War, those of us who opposed it were fond of a song with the rhetorical refrain, "When will we ever learn?" (11.11.2002)

As of 05.25.2006, 2,460 American soldiers (up from 1,655 last year at this time) have been officially listed as killed in Iraq War II, and 17,869 have been officially listed as wounded in action. More (ICasualties.Org). Other sources suggest the number of Americans wounded is significantly greater. Sources disagree wildly as to the number of Iraqi casualties. One source estimates Iraqi civilian deaths at between 37,848 and 42,216. More (IraqBodyCount.Org).

 Saturday, 05.20.2006

 Condi the Con-Woman.

I've gotten a bit lazy of late in my "political" blogging. Three reasons: a) It's spring and I have other things to do; b) I devote most of my blogging energy to my newest website, The Daily Judge, which is developing a regular readership; and c) I often feel I can't improve on some of the stuff I've already said that still remains on point. Take, e.g., the following entry from 11.11.2002, originally posted at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else, when the country was getting suckered into pre-emptively invading another country on the weakest of evidence supporting the claim of necessity. Now "all about us" are looking for excuses for their supporting this preposterous and immoral and costly war. I suggest those in positions of authority who supported it look in the mirror if they now "need" someone to blame -- and I suggest that this fall all the voters who've been "a bit lazy" in supervising their representatives go to the polls and vote against every Member of Congress who voted to authorize this blot upon our country's record and against every gutless candidate for Congress who does not make ending the war the central issue in his or her campaign.

 What's ludicrous? What isn't? Bush's National Security Adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Ph.D., was on ABC TV's This Week on Sunday morning. Asked about Sadam Hussein's calling his rubberstamp parliament into emergency session to consider a response to the U.N.'s resolution, Rice called the legislative session "ludicrous," adding, "Saddam Hussein is an absolute dictator and tyrant, and the idea that somehow he expects the Iraqi parliament to debate this -- they've never debated anything else. I'm surprised he's even bothering to go through this ploy." Why should she, or we, be surprised? Bush went through "the ploy" of getting approval from "his" Congress knowing he'd get what he wanted. To me, the only thing sadder than a rubberstamp parliament is a democratic legislative body in which the members of the opposition party have the freedom to stand up to "the leader" but don't. I'm referring to the absence of meaningful debate of Bush's latest war plans both in our Congress and in the recent elections. We got lots of nasty exchanges by the candidates in the various elections for Congress around the country, but the exchanges were on the same intellectual level of the mutual dissing by the opposing rappers in the Eminem movie, 8 Mile, that my daughter and I saw the other night. Totally missing was any meaningful debate on any of the issues, including the big one. I like that word "ludicrous" that Ms. Rice used, but I think we should apply it to the conduct of our representatives and the candidates who seek to represent us -- and, most of all, to our own conduct in asking so little of them. (11.11.2002)

 Monday, 05.01.2006

 Onward Christian Soldiers - another oldie but goodie. The other day we reprinted an entry we posted on our BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else website on 11.06.2002, i.e., right after the election, in which the G.O.P. fared well. Here's a companion one, posted the same date:

 How did Cheney, Bush, Coleman & the other Chickenhawk Generals do it? Simple. They were well aware, as clever politicians have been for hundreds of years, of the truth behind one of Geo. Simmel's fundamental principles of conflict theory, that conflict with an external entity, or the threat of it, brings persons and groups together even though their interests are not otherwise shared. By keeping our eyes on the ball of War against the Great Evil Enemy, they diverted us from other issues, such as the Administration's dismal handling of the economy since gaining power, its abuse of our civil liberties, etc. What would be amusing if it weren't so sad is the parade of basically good people -- including churchgoers, kindly neighbors who ordinarily wouldn't harm a flea -- waving the banner of the necessity of War against Evil, knowing, of course, that their own sons won't have to put their lives on the line. Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition. Onward, Christian Soldiers. Sad stuff. Sad. (11.06.2002)

 Friday, 04.21.2006

 Chickenhawk Generals - an oldie but goodie. Here's a verbatim copy of an entry we posted on our BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else website on 11.06.2002, i.e., right after the election:

 Chickenhawk General Norman Coleman. A "chickenhawk" is "a term often applied to public persons - generally male - who (1) tend to advocate, or are fervent supporters of those who advocate, military solutions to political problems, and who have personally (2) declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime." The definition is supplied by Steven Fowle, a Viet Nam War veteran, editor of the New Hampshire Gazette, who maintains the Chickenhawk Database, an in-depth tabular presentation of the military records of all the brave men who are so intent on invading Iraq. If I were a hawk, I'd be eligible for listing. But, as I was during the Viet Nam War, I'm a dove on this one, at least until Cheney, Bush & Co. persuade me otherwise. All they've persuaded me of thus far is that their subtle use of war talk to divert public attention from their domestic failures in order to win control of both houses of Congress was as sinister and cheap as it was well-timed and effective. No one did a better job of it than Minnesota's Norm Coleman, who was hand-picked by Cheney, Bush & Co. American soldiers, we give to you the newest and glibbest of the Chickenhawk Generals who will send you into battle, General Stormin' Norman Coleman. (11.06.2002)

 Friday, 03.17.2006

 What, if anything, did one or two or three supreme court justices say? (And see updates). As elsewhere, so-called "religious" right-wing Republicans in Minnesota want the legislature to place a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the general election ballot. Now our state supreme court finds itself involved in an indirect but potentially serious way. To understand its involvement, a bit of context is in order:

In Baker v. Nelson, 291 Minn. 310, 191 N.W.2d 185 (Minn. 1971), appeal dismissed for want of federal question, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), reproduced here, Justice C. Donald Peterson, speaking for a unanimous court, held that 1) the Minnesota legislature, in using the term "marriage" in the statute governing marriage, undoubtedly used the term in its commonly-understood meaning, as "the state of union between persons of the opposite sex," and 2) the statute, as interpreted, "does not offend the First, Eighth, Ninth, or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."

Disclosure: I was Justice Peterson's law clerk at the time. Subsequent to Baker, in 1997 I think, the legislature amended the statute to reflect and show its approval of the result in Baker by expressly prohibiting marriage "between persons of the same sex," Minn. St. 517.03, subd. 1(4). There was no need to do so, but the legislature did so.

Not satisfied with that, opponents of same-sex marriage, for various reasons (you don't need a great imagination to guess them), want to put the prohibition in the state constitution. Some of the supporters of the proposed amendment, which would require approval in the general election, argue that absent that, there's nothing to prevent the Minnesota Supreme Court from abandoning Baker and holding that the statutory prohibition violates the state constitution. Dean Johnson, Minnesota's state senate majority leader, a Republican-turned-DFLer, who also is a Lutheran pastor, doesn't want the proposal to amend the state constitution on the ballot. One of his arguments has been that there's no likelihood that the state supreme court will declare the state statute unconstitutional. Which brings us to the matter at hand:

In January he spoke to members of the New London-Spicer Ministerial Association. Brent Waldemarsen, an area minister who is not a member of the association, asked to attend, then bought a digital recorder and, without anyone's authorizing it, taped Johnson's remarks, which he then made public. According to the 03.17.2006 St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

On the recording, Johnson can be heard saying he had spoken [to] three Supreme Court [justices] about the issue, including former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz. "I have had a number of visits with them about our law. All of them, every one of them, including the lady who just stepped down, Kathleen Blatz, was my seatmate (in the Minnesota House) for four years. She was the chief justice. You know what her response was? 'Dean, we all stand for election too, every six years.' She said 'We're not going to touch it.' That's what she said to me." He also said that he had talked with two of the three justices named Anderson and that they had told him, "Dean, we're not going to do it."

Blatz reportedly has denied making such an assurance. And Johnson has issued a clarification saying he had talked with just one of the justices: "'I embellished it to say the judiciary doesn't seem too interested in overturning this...I suppose I was becoming frustrated. I made a mistake.'" More (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 03.17.2006). Comments. According to the Pioneer-Press, "Chief Justice Russell Anderson [one of the "three justices named Anderson"] issued a statement Thursday, 03.16.2006, saying: 'I take any suggestion of judicial impropriety very seriously. I have spoken with every member of my court and my predecessor and I can say with confidence that no member of the Supreme Court has made any commitment to Sen. Johnson on this matter' [Emphasis supplied by BRH]. Asked if that meant no justice had discussed the marriage issue with Johnson, court spokesman John Kostouros said 'We'll let the statement stand on its own.'" Hmm. Pretty artfully (Clinton-esquely?) worded: no "commitment" to Sen. Johnson on the matter. Not the same as saying no justice had made any "comment" to the senator. Well, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I have but three specific comments: a) I support same-sex marriage (if I were in the legislature, I would vote to authorize it) and I personally hope the proposed amendment is kept off the ballot. See, my detailed 2004 position paper titled Marriage and the Law, which I personally wrote and posted on my campaign (now political opinion) website in my failed anti-war Republican primary campaign against Minnesota's Third District Congressman, Jim Ramstad. b) Sen. Johnson shouldn't have said what he said to his fellow pastors. He could have made the point without bringing the justices, or anything they said to him, into the discussion. After all, it doesn't take a genius to make the point he wanted to make -- I made it as well in my 2004 essay:

Nor is there any significant likelihood that our state supreme court will overturn Baker [or hold the express statutory prohibition unconstitutional]. Unlike the members of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which recently issued the controversial ruling holding in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that barring same-sex marriage violates the Massachusetts constitution, the members of our state supreme court, although typically appointed by the governor in the first instance, must run for election and potentially face opposition every six years if they wish to continue serving on the court. That they ultimately owe their offices to the electorate makes it extremely unlikely that they will overrule or distinguish Baker and hold that the statutory ban on same-sex marriage violates the Minnesota constitution. Like their predecessors who served on the court in 1971, they are likely to conclude that as a matter of Minnesota law the matter is one for the political process.

c) While I wouldn't want to see any justice's career ended or the court hurt by anything that would be revealed by an investigation, I believe that Chief Justice Anderson's statement is inadequate and that an investigation into precisely who said precisely what is imperative. I believe the judicial conduct folks, who are supposed to be independent of the court in matters like this, need to subpoena each current justice, as well as former Chief Justice Blatz, and question each one individually, under oath, and on the public record about his or her knowledge of the making of any extra-judicial statements by any of them to Sen. Johnson or any other legislator. My guess is that the court will be hurt more by no investigation than it will be by the investigation I propose. In any event, an investigation is imperative and a failure to conduct a thorough and open one may seriously hurt the court's credibility as an institution and unfairly injure individual justices who may have done nothing wrong. (03.17.2006 - reprinted from The Daily Judge). (Permanent link).  Updates. Minnesota's he-said/she-said controversy: Is somebody necessarily lying? (Daily Judge entry dated 03.22.2006) - The latest on what, if anything, MN's Supremes told a senator (03.18.2006 posting).

 Friday, 03.10.2006

 And now, 'secret dockets' in our criminal courts.

"A prominent news media group is reporting that about 18 percent of the federal criminal docket in the District of Columbia is shielded from the public through a dual or 'secret' docketing system...In a study released this week, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that, over a five-year period, D.C. defendants in more than 450 out of 2,600 criminal cases were indicted, tried, prosecuted and sentenced to jail in complete secrecy...." According to the story, by Molly McDonough, "The 11th and 2nd U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have ruled that secret docketing is unconstitutional," but "the system has remained unchallenged in the nation’s capital." More (ABA Journal eReport 03.10.2006). Comment. It's getting so that nothing the Government does these days -- regardless of how objectively shocking -- surprises me. The stream of sorry revelations, one after another, continues. I have no confidence anymore that our supposed representatives, Republicans or Democrats, or our supposedly-independent judges are up to the tasks we have delegated to them.

 Sunday, 02.19.2006

 Who's the most narrow-minded?

I usually don't watch Almanac, Twin Cities Public Television's self-congratulatory weekly gathering of Minnesota's blandly-incestuous (even the hosts are related) political in-crowd, all of them Minnesota Nice. But it was very cold Friday night, and watching winter -- as in the Winter Olympics -- didn't seem likely to provide wanted/needed warmth. Perhaps, I thought, the "debate" among the four announced Republican contenders for endorsement as the party's candidate for Congress in the Sixth District might provide some warmth, if not light. Instead, they -- Michele Bachmann, Jay Esmay, Jim Knoblach and Phil Krinkie -- provided neither warmth or light, just a sort of sad amusement -- a) amusement as in each trying to convince the listener that he/she was more narrow-minded than the other three, b) sadness at again being reminded what has become of the once-great Minnesota Republican Party of Harold Stassen and Luther Youngdahl and Elmer L. Anderson. "I'm the most-narrow-minded, much more than you three," State Senator Michele Bachmann, the anti-gay activist, seemed to be saying. "No, you're not, I am the narrowest," each of the others seemed to say. You'd think that in the wide Sixth District there might be one Republican of courage with even slightly progressive ideas who'd step forward and provide a choice to the few progressives left in the party, but apparently not.

The saddest line of the night? -- undoubtedly, Michele Bachmann's statement that her proposal to amend our state constitution to ban same-sex marriage is not divisive but "unifying," because it's something Republicans and Democrats, Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Muslims, Caucasians and African-Americans and Latinos and Asians can all agree on. Alas, the unity of agreement which she idealizes is the same sort of unity of agreement that one saw back in the days of segregation, when "good people" of all faiths and political leanings in many states united to ban inter-racial marriage. And it's the same sort of unity of agreement that led to rounding up all the Japanese at the start of WWII and concentrating them in camps around the country. See, BurtLaw's Legal History. And it's the same sort of unity of agreement that was present when in 1917 the Minnesota legislature created the Minnesota Commission on Public Safety, which became a dictatorial police organization used by old line Democrats and Republicans and big business interests to harass loyal German-Americans and to suppress political activity by organized labor and the Non-Partisan League (the fore-runner to the Farmer-Labor Party), of which U.S. Rep. Charles Lindbergh, Sr., father of the then-barnstorming pilot, was a leader. See, It Can't Happen Here? (09.15.2001 entry at BurtLaw's War on Terrorism I). These kinds of unifying ideas are unifying to those who support them but exclusionary to those who are excluded. There are many voices calling to us at any one time on an issue like this -- the voices of the past, the voices of the crowd, the voices that are being shouted down by the crowd, that still small voice within each of us, the voices of the future. My voice on this great "unifying" issue that Ms. Bachmann hopes to ride to higher office is a small voice, one that is unpopular now. See, my 2004 campaign essay titled Marriage and the Law. But my mom taught me never to be a crowd follower. What did your mom teach you?

If the line that banning same-sex marriage is "unifying" was to me the saddest line, it wasn't the saddest fact about the "debate." The saddest fact? -- unless I was laughing or crying or dozing and I missed it, no one, not the hosts, not the candidates, said a word about the BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, our invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. Shame on them. Shame on us for being such narrow-minded suckers.

 Friday, 02.19.2006.

 The People's Court.

"When Adolf Hitler rose to power, he deemed the current judicial system too lenient -- or perhaps not loyal enough -- and he instituted the 'National Socialist People's Court' -- the Volksgerichtshof (VGH). The VGH dealt solely with cases of treason against Hitler and the Nazis. Roland Freisler, the spirited lawyer and admirer of Hitler, was VGH president from 1942 until his death in 1945. Under Freisler, the VGH convicted thousands [of treason]. The definition of treason was flexible and, in most cases, defense in the courtroom was futile. Guilty verdicts were generally a foregone conclusion and death sentences (which were prevalent in these cases) were carried out within hours of the verdict...." More (White Rose). "Raving Roland," as he was called, was the judge in the February 22, 1943 "trial" of Sophie Scholl and other members of The White Rose, a tiny resistance movement at Munich University that hoped to convince people that continuing the war was futile. The arrest, trial and execution of Scholl are the subject of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (German, with English subtitles), one of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It's reviewed in yesterday's (02.17.2006) NYT by Stephen Holden, who refers to Judge Freisler's "fulminations" in the courtroom as having "a tone of desperate, hysterical fury." The depiction and his nickname are justified: "Belittling, impatient, loud, verbose and anything but just, Freisler's outbursts in the courtroom are legendary... recounted and corroborated by eye-witnesses and, more importantly...captured on film." Fittingly, "Raving Roland" was "on the bench 3 February 1945 when air raid sirens sounded. The courtroom emptied as people scurried to nearby bomb shelters.  Noticing that he'd left some important files behind, Freisler returned to the courthouse," just as a bomb hit, destroying it and killing him, instantly. More (White Rose). Not everyone practiced Taqiyah in totalitarian Germany. Too many practice it today in free America.

 Wednesday, 02.15.2006


"Taqiyah" is a "principle [that] seems to have etched itself into the national character" of Iranians -- so says Michael Slackman in his Letter from Iran in today's NYT. Taqiyah allows one to deviate a bit from the restrictive norms and laws of strict Shiite Islamic rule, provided one takes care not to attract too much attention to one's deviance. A rock musician is quoted as saying, "You are allowed to do everything, unless you want to share it." That which a person might feel free to say or do among friends behind closed doors could well attract the attention of the religious police or vigilante squads if said or done in public -- if "shared." Some people, like the rock musician, "do risk public sharing" -- say, in a small public room among the like-minded rather than in a larger concert venue -- but even then "watchfully," because the more one "shares" one's "deviance," the greater is the likelihood that "vigilante squads of bearded men" will violently "rush the place." Share your criticisms of "the system" with a few trusted friends and you'll probably be okay, but share them with the public -- as, for example, by expressing them in a blog -- and you might wind up in jail.

Justice Holmes wrote, "If the universe can be thought about, which is a compulsory postulate, any fact exhibits it as much as any other if you can see how; and the universal is the only sublime. My pleasure in the law, apart from that found in the exercise of the faculties which is the fundamental one, is just in trying to exhibit some hint of horizons, even in small details." I find a similar pleasure in reading a story like this and playing with it a bit in my mind, asking, for example, what it says about human nature under varying circumstances and different "systems." I can't read it without seeing a bit of our basic selves in those yearners and strivers, who need and want to express themselves not just more than they are permitted to do but perhaps as freely as they know we here in America have an inherent inalienable right to do.

I also can't help reversing things and asking if perhaps we in America have gotten good at praticing Taqiyah ourselves. Might that, for example, help explain the public timidity of so many good people in the face of so many things they know they ought to oppose or at least question?

 Sunday, 02.05.2006

 When will Pawlenty stop being 'tough on crime'?

MN's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, wants $70 million from the legislature to build, improve and expand prisons. I have two clever little ideas for legislators: 1) Don't give him the money. 2) Save more money by sending fewer non-violent offenders to prison and by shortening the sentences for many others. We won't hold our breath waiting for any politicians to show a little courageous and sensible leadership by publicly agreeing with these two positions. They're all too worried about being branded as "soft on crime."

But it's always interesting how politicians and other public figures change their views once they've seen the inside of a prison for a few days. If a conservative is a liberal who's been robbed, and a liberal is a conservative who's been ticketed after being caught running a red light by a red-light camera, then someone who advocates sentencing reform is any liberal or conservative who has gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar and has had to serve time in jail or prison.

Two recent examples: Win Borden, former state senator, lobbyist, attorney, who spent 11 months incarcerated in Yankton, S.D. for the federal offense of failing to file tax returns and Roland Amundson, ordained minister and former Judge of MN Court of Appeals, who spent 40 months in state prison for theft. Lori Sturdevant's column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today takes the form of a just-out-of-the-joint joint interview with these two men. It's worth reading. Both agree that our prisons in too many instances not only don't rehabilitate people but make them worse than when they entered prison. Moreover, both say that our harsh sentencing policies don't just punish criminals; they punish the families of those who are incarcerated and ultimately destroy the families. Finally, both agree we don't need more prisons:

Amundson: "We don't need any more prisons in this state. You could empty out the prisons, and put these people on work release. They'd be paying their own way, earning a wage, paying taxes, and staying with their families. They could be monitored with electronic surveillance."

Borden: "If you want to talk about a crime, it's the economic robbery of the taxpayer by locking up thousands of people who are of no threat to anyone...We have 734 of every 100,000 Americans in prison today. That's more than Stalin had in Russia at the height of the gulag system. The question is, are we safer because of it?"

Background. We typically urge less-harsh treatment of everyone from Minnesota kids who bring plastic Nintendo guns with them to school to judges who veer slightly off the boring straight-and-narrow path they are expected to follow. See, e.g., my comments on a judge's conduct at Judge charged with reprising Michael Douglas' role in 'Traffic'? As to the boy with the plastic Nintendo gun & our schools' stupid zero-tolerance policies, see entry dated 04.27.2002 titled Zero-tolerance nonsense (scroll down) at BurtLaw's Law & Kids. We even urged probation with home-confinement rather than prison for Judge Amundson when he was convicted -- see, entry dated 06.08.2002 titled Wish list (scroll down) at BurtLaw on Crime & Punishment, an opinion that subjected us to national ridicule (a slight exaggeration) by an extremely popular conservative blogger (whom we nonetheless like). (We can take it -- & we can dish it out.) As we just indicated, Judge Amundson now thinks, as we do, that our lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-keys sentencing laws are a big mistake. It's one reason we have advocated, as Frank Lloyd Wright did, sending all judges and legislators to jail -- if only for a night or two. See, Should we send all judges and legislators to jail? People who spend time behind bars or have a relative or friend behind bars tend to stop thinking of people in trouble with the law as "others" or as "them" but as "us" and they start to see the folly of our unnecessarily-harsh and counter-productive sentencing policies. Further reading. I've held these views all my life and I've never been ashamed of them, although I've not always been free to express them. Here's a link to the campaign position paper on Crime and Punishment I wrote and posted online in my 2004 anti-Iraq-war campaign against entrenched MN Third District incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad.

 Monday, 01.30.2006

 Stormin' Norman's barnstorming the world; T.R.'s 'goofing off.'

Our nickname for Norm Coleman -- "Stormin' Norman" -- is apt, in view of the revelations earlier this month about all his travels on other people's dimes. Like so many politicians holding elective office -- in the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- Norm seems to think that being peripatetic is one of the core functions of the office. Politicos who run around like whirling dervishes giving speeches and doing photo ops like to imagine that they are modern reincarnations of Theodore Roosevelt, who championed the active, vigorous life and referred to the Presidency as his "bully pulpit." Have they read any good biographies of TR? The guy wasn't a fool but a thinker, who actually read books (by himself and to his wife and kids) and actually wrote books himself (and speeches and wonderful handwritten letters to his kids). And, except for his daily goofing off (e.g., "mornings -- or afternoons -- on horseback") and an occasional trip to give an important speech, he usually was in or around the White House. As Edmund Morris put it in his profile of TR in Time's "100 Persons of the Century," TR "was...capable of reading one to three books daily while pouring out...letters and conducting the business of the presidency with such dispatch that he could usually spend the entire afternoon goofing off." (One wonders if TR could have gotten a job as a lawyer in one of our modern day law firms that primarily reward not productivity and quality and efficiency but the logging of lots of "billable hours.") "Goofing off," as Roger Rosenblatt put it, usually meant being an active friend and father: "[With his six kids] TR had around him a brood of pupils, acolytes, companions, and friends, one of whom he sadly outlived. He rode horseback with his kids, went hunting with them, taught them, cajoled them, praised them, served as their referee, loved them. And he wrote them letters, wonderful letters." Roger Rosenblatt, A Bully Father (PBS 06.14.1996). To Norm (and all the others like him), I say, "Sit still, read, listen, talk, think, manage, govern, goof off." (Permanent link).

 Friday, 01.20.2006

 Praying for War.

Here are two pieces on Ministers of the Gospel of Peace and Love and Forbearance praying for War. The first is from today's New York Times by Charles Marsh, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia; it's titled Wayward Christian Soldiers:

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine...The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply...What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

The second is a piece titled "Mark Twain's 'War Prayer'" that we posted at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else on 11.07.2002:

Contemporaneously with another of our great military misadventures, the one that occurred circa 1899 - 1902 (you know your history, right?), Mark Twain composed his famous "War Prayer," which didn't find a publisher until later. It's an amazing piece that illustrates...how even churches get caught up in what the Old Testament refers to as a "lust" for war and darkness -- as old as Adam and Eve -- and its accompanying distorted rhetoric. The setting is a Sunday service in which a minister is praying in the same way ministers in America always seem to pray at the outset of war. In the middle of the minister's blather, in walks a strange man who interrupts the service and reminds everyone that the minister's prayer for us and our noble cause has a flip side to it, and he proceeds to spell it out in stark terms, in The War Prayer. The minister and the congregation, of course, dismiss the intruder's message as that of a mad man. (11.07.2002)

 Wednesday, 01.04.2006

 Strutting dogs, strutting pols.

Here's a headline in today's (01.04.2006) Press-Enterprise CA: Dogs prepare to strut for judges. It's a headline for a story about "the return of the Kennel Club of Palm Springs All-Breeds Dog Show this weekend." It prompted me to think back on some notable examples I've witnessed over the years of attorneys "strutting" for common-law judges, then prompted recollections of a few instances I've witnessed of "judicial strutting." In turn I thought of the line attributed sometimes to the sharp-tongued Alice Roosevelt Longworth (TR's daughter memorialized in the song Alice Bluegown), "He [referring to a prominent public figure, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, I think] struts sitting down." My button-down mind then reminded me of all of the strutting of President Bush [which I first commented on in a piece shortly before 09.11 titled "'It's my ball,' said the spoiled boy" at BurtLaw's Court Gazing (scroll down)], strutting that increased after he became a "War President" and has diminished significantly since he landed on the aircraft carrier to give his ill-timed Mission Accomplished Speech. Having gotten this far in a few seconds of mental gymnastics, I decided perhaps "someday" to write a comparative essay on the similarities and differences in the ways members of the different branches of government strut. It will conclude with admonitions to all public figures -- nay, to everyone except dogs and horses -- not to strut. The admonition will cite as "legal authority," first, a poem by Robert Frost that I have always liked titled "The Fear of God," with its caution to those who "rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere" of the need to "Stay unassuming" and to "keep repeating to yourself/ You owe it to an arbitrary god/ Whose mercy to you rather than to others/ Won’t bear too critical examination...." And next it will quote from Anton Chekhov's 1886 letter to his brother Nikolay on the prerequisities to being a "cultured person," #6 of which is:

They [cultured people] are not vain. They do not care for such paste diamonds as familiarity with celebrities, the handclasp of the drunken gadfly, the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture gallery, popularity in beer-halls....When they have done a kopeck's worth of work they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred rubles' worth, and they do not brag of having the entrance where others are not admitted. The truly talented always keep in the shade, among the crowd, far from the show. Even Krylov said that an empty barrel is noisier than a full one.

Making life difficult for the public figure/reader, it will also caution against something that is more offensive than public strutting, namely, public displays of false humility.

 Friday, 12.16.2005

 The Politics of Justice -- Vikings-style.

Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney, who is running for the U.S. Senate, perhaps believing correctly that talking tough wins votes, regularly pleads her notorious cases in front of TV news cameras. Appearing to be tough on crime is how prosecutors get themselves named judge or elected to higher office. Back in June of 2002, after her office persuaded the trial judge, H. Richard Hopper, to impose a harsh sentence of 69 months in prison on former Court of Appeals Judge Roland Amundson for a property offense, she stated, "This confirms that no one is above the law, not even a judge." More (Star-Tribune 06.08.2002). We've criticized her for the grandstanding, and we've praised her for her enthusiastic support of recording of police interrogations of suspects pursuant to the Minnesota Supreme Court's pathbreaking 1994 decision in  State v. Scales, 518 N.W.2d 587 (Minn 1994) (discussed in detail here). Now, we merely ask, Where's Amy? Has she said a word about the Vikings Love-Boat Scandal?

Yesterday the county sheriff held a press conference announcing filing of misdemeanor charges against four Vikings players as a result of an investigation into the scandal. More (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 12.16.2005). Thirty Vikings were on board the boat but only the four identified by witnesses were charged. Apparently, all thirty Vikings invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to talk. Some of those not charged are believed to have participated in the acts but no witnesses could or would identify them. Similarly, the investigation failed to identify the female participants in the alleged misconduct.

The Vikings players love to be photographed visiting sick kids in hospitals and otherwise appearing to be good citizens. But not one of the thirty, some of whom presumably did nothing wrong, is willing to speak to the investigator about what he witnessed. We don't criticize any of them for relying on the Fifth. But there is a way around the Fifth. What a prosecutor could do is call a grand jury, subpoena the ones who they know did not participate, and grant them "use immunity," which would result in their being required to testify or face being held in contempt. More (MN County Attorneys Association).

We're not saying Amy Klobuchar ought to get involved, but we can't help commenting on her silence. Why has she been silent? We know it's not because she's not interested in things purple. Her dad, Jim, is author of books about the Vikes and we'd be willing to wager she's a lifelong fan. If you asked her, she'd probably say that matters like this are typically not a concern of the county attorney. One more likely reason is she may fear, not unreasonably, that getting involved might risk alienating some voters. Stated differently, we can't help thinking if she were certain there were any political benefit to be gained from getting involved, which she is free to do, she'd do so.

 Saturday, 12.10.2005

 Clean Gene McCarthy (1916-2005).

Without being aware of what one is doing, one collects heroes as one grows up. Then, when one reaches 60 or so, one starts making mental lists from the material of one's life, and one of those lists is of all the heroes in one's life. At the top of my list of political heroes, one of the fathers of my spirit, is Eugene McCarthy, who died today. Former Senator Eugene McCarthy Dies at 89 (N.Y. Times 12.10.2005).

With my mom's being a Republican activist, of the liberal/Eisenhower/Rockefeller sort in the 1950s, I became, and still am, a "default Republican": everything else being equal, I typically either vote Republican or, if both the Democrat and Republican candidates are equally bad, leave both boxes blank. But as a default Republican I've voted for a surprisingly large number of Democrats and Independents. (It was easy, e.g., for me to vote for Walter Mondale over Norm Coleman in 2002.) So that's where I'm coming from, when I say....

...I was a sophomore in high school in 1958 when Gene McCarthy defeated the GOP incumbent, Ed Thye, to become Minnesota's junior Senator. The first person I knew who spoke highly of him was my Benson High School Spanish teacher, Judith Mellin, one of my favorite teachers of all time. She said McCarthy had been a guest lecturer at St. Cloud State when she'd been an undergraduate and he was the best teacher or one of the best she'd ever had.

In the fall of 1959, as a junior, I began working as an after-school rock 'n' roll deejay at the local station KBMO-AM ("1290 on your dial") for Mgr. Bob Zellmer. I'd work from 2:00 p.m. until closing each weekday and from 8:00 a.m. or so until closing on Saturdays and Sundays. Sundays were a mixed bag: "Scandinavian Melodies" (a live morning accordion show with Cliff Gandrud playing in "Studio B"), live church services from Our Redeemer's Lutheran at 11:00 a.m., periods when I'd play pretty much anything I wanted (with rock reserved for the "less holy" afternoon),a recorded religious show ("The Bit of Heaven Ministry"), a public service show ("The Air Force Show"), and...Gene McCarthy's report from Washington, a show recorded on audiotape in some recording studio in the Senate complex in D.C. and shipped to local radio stations like KBMO. McCarthy's report, which seemed unscripted, was professorial in tone and -- yeah, boring. I wish I had access to some of those tapes now so I could see if I still thought them boring.

Fast-forward to the 1960 Democratic Convention. Listening to Gene's passionate, memorable nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, who stood no chance of being chosen by the convention, I couldn't believe my ears. Was this the boring professor I'd nearly fallen asleep listening to on Sunday afternoons at KBMO?

Fast-forward to my three years at Harvard Law School, 1964-1967. Like so many of my cohorts, I found myself increasingly distressed over the War in Viet Nam. In 1965 I wrote to McCarthy expressing my concerns. I still have his response: in his opinion, the Senate was starting to live up to its historic institutional responsibility to question the President's use of power. In 1966 in the fall McCarthy gave a series of lectures at Harvard's Memorial Church on religion and politics. One sensed he was on "our" (that is, the students') side. In 1967 we began to hear talk that he might challenge President Johnson. That fall, my girl friend (later my wife) and I attended what was billed, accurately or not, as the first McCarthy for President Rally -- on historic Brattle Street, just a few blocks off Harvard Square.

Others could have challenged the President but didn't. He did. Some who were glad he was running criticized him for not running hard enough. They wanted him to be like other politicians. But if he'd been like other politicians, he'd never have run. For him, it wasn't all about running or about winning. It was about standing for something. He's been a hero of mine ever since.

The obit in the Times contains this statement by a "longtime friend" of his: "I think he has a rejection wish. He wants to reject others and be rejected by them." I don't know if that couplet was offered in praise or in blame. For good or ill, I detect the trait in myself as well.

To me, McCarthy's heroism lies in his being a wise and principled "conscientious rejector":

he rejected a war that wasn't worth embracing;
he rejected excessive Congressional deference to an all-powerful Presidency;
he rejected the personalization of the Office of the Presidency;
he rejected lax Congressional oversight of the FBI, the CIA and the IRS;
he rejected old-fashioned back-room, ward-style top-down politics;
he rejected misuse of language for political ends;
he rejected shallow journalism;
he rejected the bureaucratization of the political process.

And, more recently, he rejected from the outset the immoral, unjustified invasion of Iraq.

The obit writer says that "candidate McCarthy's basic message to Americans was Daniel Webster's dictum to never 'give up to party what was meant for mankind.'" Or as McCarthy phrased it, "To serve one's country not in submission but to serve it in truth."

The irony of it all is that it was the once-strong HHH-dominated DFL party in Minnesota that made McCarthy the politician/statesman possible. So I guess I must concede that not all top-down politics is bad. HHH-style top-down politics gave us Art Naftalin, Don Fraser, Walter Mondale, Larry Yetka, Warren Spannaus, and numerous others, all of whom helped make Minnesota what it once was in its Golden Age and what it can be again.

What ultimately endeared McCarthy to me more than anything else was that, in the poet Robert Lowell's line from his 1968 poem "For Eugene McCarthy," he was "coldly willing/ to smash the ball past those who bought the park." I think when he walked up to the plate, he foresaw the outcome, and it wasn't "victory" in conventional political terms. He knew he was choosing a different path, one less travelled, and that his career as an elected/electable politician was pretty much over. Indeed, he even said as much in often repeating the old line about how in ancient Rome the fellow who brought the bad news was killed.

Although Clean Gene has died, his noble voice still lives. As does his example: it turns out he was a teacher from start to finish and he taught Americans, by his princely example, that it is patriotic to stand for Peace in a sorry world that says it wants Peace but loves, deep down even craves, War.

Update. The website for College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Collegeville has a special page set aside with information about McCarthy's special relationship with SJU and with links to many memorials, etc., written about him since his death. We also highly recommend: a) the piece by Christopher Hitchens posted on 12.12.2005 at Slate, b) Sam Smith's Notes on a Napkin - Lunch with Gene posted at the website of Progressive Review, c) His Time Was Then - And Now, a piece in The Hill by Al Eisele, whose 1972 joint biography of McC & HHH, Almost to the Presidency, will be reissued and updated under a different title next year by Smoky Dragon Press, d) The Quiet Man, by Roger Kahn (N.Y. Times 12.19.2005), e) Remembering the Real Gene McCarthy, Garrison Keillor (Chicago Tribune 12.14.2005), f) An Appreciation, Colman McCarthy (National Catholic Reporter 12.23.2005). Also, the half-hour documentary, Eugene McCarthy: I'm Sorry I Was Right, possibly available on your local PBS station, is an excellent intro to McC. It's well narrated by Minnesota's de facto poet laureate, Robert Bly (see Note on Robert Bly). One other matter: Is it possible for a governor of this great state to have released a more pathetically inadequate statement of condolences, under all the circumstances, than the one Pawlenty issued on the death of one of our greatest Minnesotans? Here it is:

Eugene McCarthy was a passionate, articulate and intelligent public servant who spoke his mind and was part of the Minnesota populist tradition. As an activist and public official he believed deeply in serving his fellow citizens. On behalf of the people of Minnesota, Mary and I express our heartfelt sympathies to the McCarthy family.

Just another example of how "small" some of our leading Republicans in Minnesota are these days and why I am not proud to call myself one.

 Note on Robert Bly. Minnesota's own Robert Bly, narrator of the McCarthy documentary, wrote a bitterly ironic poem with an enemy body-count theme that he recited at "A Poetry Reading Against the Viet Nam War" at a packed Sanders Theater at Harvard University in the mid-'60's when I was a student there at the Law School. That poem was entitled "Counting Small-boned Bodies." It's under copyright but if you do this Google search on it, you might be able to find it on the web. It's discussed at Modern American Poetry. Bly's poem and other poems recited by other prominent poets that night are collected in Bly, Robert, and David Ray, eds., A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War (1966). See excerpt from an interview with Bly, in which he discusses the role poets played in the anti-war movement. Bly opposed George H. W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in an opinion piece that appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 1991. He has also opposed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Here's what Bly said at a "wake" held at Kieran's Irish Pub in downtown Mpls. on Sunday evening, 12.18.2005, apparently reference to the "trouble" McC "caused" in 1968 by stepping forward after it was clear no one else in his party would do so: "Unless you cause trouble, your life isn't going to be worth s—t." Yes. Details (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 12.19.2005).

 Wednesday, 12.07.2005

 Life Without Principle.

Our texts for the day are a) from the first paragraph of the Gospel of Thoreau, chapter o/k/a Life Without Principle (1863)

A man once came a considerable distance to ask me to lecture on Slavery; but on conversing with him, I found that he and his clique expected seven-eighths of the lecture to be theirs, and only one-eighth mine; so I declined. I take it for granted, when I am invited to lecture anywhere -- for I have had a little experience in that business -- that there is a desire to hear what I think on some subject, though I may be the greatest fool in the country -- and not that I should say pleasant things merely, or such as the audience will assent to; and I resolve, accordingly, that I will give them a strong dose of myself. They have sent for me, and engaged to pay for me, and I am determined that they shall have me, though I bore them beyond all precedent.

and b) from the sublime Journals of the greatest American, Emerson, entry dated 3/22-25/1839:

A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist. I hear my preacher announce his text & topic...do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new or spontaneous word?...What folly then to say let us examine, & purse the mouth with the wrinkles of a judge. He is a retained attorney; and this air of judgeship is mere affectation. Even so it is with newspapers; & so with most politicians. (3/22-25/1839)

Yesterday, a coalition of law schools argued before an apparently less-than-receptive U.S. Supreme Court that the so-called "Solomon Amendment" violates the First Amendment. That amendment withholds federal aid to universities that don't allow the military to recruit in the same way as civilian recruiters. The law schools say they would be aiding and abetting discrimination to allow on-campus recruiting by the military because the military has an announced policy of not hiring "openly homosexual" applicants. According to Linda Greenhouse's account, Chief Justice Roberts said rhetorically, "What you're saying is this is a [position] we believe in strongly, but we don't believe in it to the detriment of $100 million" in lost grants. More (N.Y. Times 12.07.2005).

As a senior in high school I debated the topic of federal aid to education before a large assemblage of the P.T.A. in the "little theater" of my high school. I was, and still am, a self-styled Eisenhower/Rockefeller-Republican. Although I was echoing the party line, I wasn't necessarily telling the folks what they wanted to hear: I argued that federal aid to education inevitably would mean federal control of education. Turns out I was right, and the "Solomon Amendment" illustrates the point. But what neither I nor anyone else hewing the party line fathomed was that someday it'd be Republicans themselves who'd a) be using the threat of withdrawal of federal aid to gain control of education, and, then b) be going a step further and audaciously claiming the right to control education by mandating this-and-that without even funding the mandates (it's called "No Child Left Behind").

Although as a Representative I never would have voted for the "Solomon Amendment" and although I oppose the military's policy of discriminating against homosexuals, I don't have great sympathy for my alma mater, Harvard Law, or any of the other law schools who seem to fear the practical real-world consequences of the Faustian bargain one always makes when one sells one's soul for a mess of pottage. It will not be a bad thing, from my perspective, if the Court rules as expected and these law schools are put to the proverbial test of their principles. Inside the front entry at lovely old Austin Hall at HLS there's a plaque with the long peroration from a famous speech Judge Learned Hand gave about the principled men who were his teachers at HLS. I used to know the peroration by memory and, if I had a beer or two on an empty stomach, I might find myself carried back in time and able to declaim it once again: "More years ago than I like to admit" is how it started. But enough. I'll just quote the line that applies here: "They asked no quarter and they gave none." HLS should stop asking real quarters from the federal government and should give no metaphorical ones in tribute to outrageous discrimination. Back when the usual suspects were wailing about the Fifth Amendment and threatening to try amend it, Dean Erwin Griswold (red-robed, left, handing diploma to me, black-robed, right) was one of those who stood courageously to defend it. He asked no quarter and he gave none.

Truth is, we are always being tested, each of us. We are always being given the chance to sell our souls for a mess of pottage. Often the mess of pottage is political office. And how does one get and hold political office these days? One way, not a new one, is to hitch one's wagon to a star. We've seen how that works here in Minnesota. Strange for me to think of anyone seeing Dick Cheney as a star to which one would want to hitch one's wagon but both Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty did it in 2002 and Mark Kennedy is doing it this year.

Another way one gets and holds political office is to give the audience a "lecture" (or campaign) that is "seven-eighths" theirs (or "seven-eighths" the party line of the day) and only "one-eighth" one's own. Or, to use Emerson's words, one gets and holds office by "abdicating" the rich realm of personal integrity and truth and giving the folks something that "conforms" to what polls tell you are their expectations.

And so it is that we see Hillary Rodham, the Goldwater girl turned Wellesley anti-war radical turned First Lady turned politically-adept Senator turned tough-lady would-be Commander in Chief -- the closest thing the Democrats have to our own chameleonic Norm Coleman -- making it clear that she, like her husband, will do whatever it takes to further her personal ambition. Vote for an immoral, unjustified pre-emptive invasion of a weak foreign country so no one can accuse her of not being tough enough to be President? Why not? Co-sponsor a bill to make it illegal to desecrate the American flag so no one can accuse her of being unpatriotic? Why not? It all reminds me of Presidential-candidate Bill Clinton racing back to Arkansas to sign a warrant authorizing the execution of a retarded man so no one could accuse him of being soft on crime. As Maureen Dowd put it, "The senator [is] doing Clintonian triangulating [that] is just as transparent as [Secretary of State Condi Rice] doing Clintonian parsing" in her ends-justify-the-means justification for torturing but not really torturing detainees in secret prisons around the world. See, Torturing the Facts  (N.Y. Times 12.07.2005); see, also, Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode (N.Y. Times 12.07.2005).

Why do we have a Congress full of Republicans who toe the party line and Democrats who should be providing vigorous principled opposition but are so afraid of appearing wimpy that they act like a bunch of wimps? "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." -- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141).

 Thursday, 11.10.2005

 Onward, Christian Soldiers.

Here's a brief excerpt from a story in today's St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

A cross-section of pastors from evangelical to Catholic will meet today in Eden Prairie to decide how to preach a message they believe is a plain truth: that Minnesota should amend its constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. "The only thing that stands in the way of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Minnesota is the church,'' said Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for the Minnesota Pastors' Summit, a first-time event in this state. "If the definition of 'one man-one woman' is to be protected, the church is going to have to do it, and they'll have to be vocal.''

According to the story, the politicized pastors will be meeting, about 250 of them, at Grace Church, a Baptist mega-church that has its campus in Eden Prairie on choice real estate that, incidentally, enjoys an exemption from property taxes.

There are of a number of novels from the 1920s and 1930s that I've found myself returning to of late -- novels by Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sinclair Lewis, the latter two Minnesotans. One of the novels is Lewis' Elmer Gantry (1927), which is a brilliant meditation upon popular religion in America in Lewis' time. It is perhaps more relevant today -- in this age of tel-evangelists, mega-churches, and minister-politicians who get special confidential briefings from the President on his Supreme Court appointments. Here's a brief excerpt of a conversation about our young hero, Elmer Gantry, between a faculty member and dean of tiny Terwillinger College, "founded and preserved by the more zealous Baptists...on the outskirts of Gritzmacher Springs, Kansas":

On their way home, they two alone, the oldest faculty-member said to the dean, "Yes, it was a fine gratifying moment. And -- herumph! -- slightly surprising. I'd hardly thought that young Gantry would go on being content with the mild blisses of salvation. Herumph! Curious smell of peppermint he had about him."

"I suppose he stopped at the drug-store during his walk and had a soft drink of some kind. Don't know, Brother," said the dean, "that I approve of these soft drinks. Innocent in themselves, but they might lead to carelessness in beverages. A man who drinks ginger ale -- how are you going to impress on him the terrible danger of drinking ale?"

Id at 68. Earlier in the novel Lewis summarizes some of the other small-town Baptist views shared, at least in word, by his young Baptist hero, Elmer:

"He was smirkingly accustomed to being denounced as over-strict. He had almost as much satisfaction out of denouncing liquor as other collegians had out of drinking it. He had, partly from his teachers and partly right out of his own brain, any number of good answers to classmates who protested that he was old-fashioned in belaboring domino-playing, open communion, listening to waltz music, wearing a gown in the pulpit, taking a walk on Sunday, reading novels, transubstantiation, and these new devices of the devil called moving-pictures. He could almost frighten any Laodicean."

I know nothing about those attending the little political strategy summit out in "Eden Prairie" (which sounds like one of the names Lewis might give a fictional base for a mega-church if he were alive and composing another novel about popular religion). But I can't help observing that the position advocated is in the tradition of ministerial nay-saying summarized by Lewis. In the early 20th century every small town, including my own, had ministers who not only fulminated similarly against but tried to prohibit "the dance," Sunday baseball, movies, cards, drinking, divorce, certain books, popular music, etc., etc. Religion in this line of thought seems to me to be primarily about "prohibiting," and not just things like dancing. Many of the ministers in that tradition also manned the barricades in the first half of the last century in defense of the institution of marriage against what they thought would be its ruination by racial intermarriage -- they did this by successfully campaigning for state legislation and constitutional amendments prohibiting what was called "miscegenation."

It should not surprise one that the religious tradition that opposed domino playing has long believed so passionately in "the Domino Effect," illustrated by the good Terwillinger College dean's belief that drinking ginger ale led to drinking ale and God-knows-what-else. It would be ironic, indeed, and perhaps poetically just, if those ministers who rail politically against the "great evil" of same-sex marriage were to experience "the Reverse Domino Effect," that is, to wake up one morning and find their weekly collection-plate-take significantly down, a good share of their members fleeing, and their tax-exempt status challenged, all because of (and I'm exaggerating) their turning the church into the equivalent of a ward political club in old Chicago.

But I don't wish anything bad like that to happen to any ministers or any church. I will say, however, that any good population geneticist could tell them that somewhere down the line practically every one of them will have one or more descendants who are genetically-predisposed to homosexuality. I touched upon this last year in an essay I wrote titled "Marriage and the Law":

Whether or not one is comfortable contemplating it, it is entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that somewhere down the line, later if not sooner, each of us will have a descendant whose genetic makeup predetermines his or her gender preference in a lifelong partner to be someone who is of the same gender or sex. Contemplating this possibility or probability makes me want to do everything possible to help ensure that that hypothetical descendant of mine not only will feel my love across the gulf, in years and generations, that separates us but will have the same good life, wonderful liberty and plentiful opportunities to pursue happiness that I have had and that I hope all of my descendants will have.

It's this basic human impulse -- that our love and good fortune should descend along with our genes -- that, I believe, underlies the fact that a man as conventionally "conservative" in his thinking and acting as Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a "gay" daughter, feels as he said he did the other day: "With...respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone....People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to." In short, he feels about his daughter the same way I feel about that still hypothetical descendant of mine.

Ironically, the gay-descendant probability for each of us is increased under what I guess is some prohibitionists' own wished-for scenario, which I take to be that those who are predisposed to homosexuality should ignore their predisposition and enter into traditional marital arrangements, that is, marry members of the opposite gender and reproduce. I guess you might call this increased probability, this eventual unintended effect of banning same-sex marriage, "Irony-by-Genetic-Dominoes."

In any event, everything we do is, in some sense, "on the record" and therefore open to possible perusal by our descendants. The 250 ministers -- as is their privilege in this great country with its diverse population of people with many political and religious orientations --  obviously will be going "on the record" with their congregants, so we know what their record will say. What will your record say to your descendants?

Earlier: a) BurtLaw's "Father of the Year - 2005" - Rev. Dr. Norman J. Kansfield, b) Marriage & the Law (my 2004 campaign position paper on same-sex marriage issues), and c) Government & Religion (my 2004 campaign position paper on the appropriate relationship of religion and government).

 Tuesday, 11.08.2005

 A Boy's Will.

A year ago today, shortly after 9:00 a.m., my only sibling, Rev. Dr. R. Galen Hanson, Ph.D., died at his beloved home in Benson, MN at age 65. Ninety years ago Robert Frost (1874–1963), a favorite poet of GH's and of mine, published his first book, A Boy's Will. It's in the public domain, the property of each of us. It contains many of his finest poems. One is this one, "The Trial by Existence." GH knew what it meant, as I do.

The Trial by Existence

Even the bravest that are slain  
  Shall not dissemble their surprise  
On waking to find valor reign,  
  Even as on earth, in paradise;  
And where they sought without the sword         5
  Wide fields of asphodel fore’er,  
To find that the utmost reward  
  Of daring should be still to dare.  

The light of heaven falls whole and white  
  And is not shattered into dyes,         10
The light for ever is morning light;  
  The hills are verdured pasture-wise;  
The angel hosts with freshness go,  
  And seek with laughter what to brave;—  
And binding all is the hushed snow         15
  Of the far-distant breaking wave.  

And from a cliff-top is proclaimed  
  The gathering of the souls for birth,  
The trial by existence named,  
  The obscuration upon earth.         20
And the slant spirits trooping by  
  In streams and cross- and counter-streams  
Can but give ear to that sweet cry  
  For its suggestion of what dreams!  

And the more loitering are turned         25
  To view once more the sacrifice  
Of those who for some good discerned  
  Will gladly give up paradise.  
And a white shimmering concourse rolls  
  Toward the throne to witness there         30
The speeding of devoted souls  
  Which God makes his especial care.  

And none are taken but who will,  
  Having first heard the life read out  
That opens earthward, good and ill,         35
  Beyond the shadow of a doubt;  
And very beautifully God limns,  
  And tenderly, life’s little dream,  
But naught extenuates or dims,  
  Setting the thing that is supreme.         40

Nor is there wanting in the press  
  Some spirit to stand simply forth,  
Heroic in its nakedness,  
  Against the uttermost of earth.  
The tale of earth’s unhonored things         45
  Sounds nobler there than ’neath the sun;  
And the mind whirls and the heart sings,  
  And a shout greets the daring one.  

But always God speaks at the end:  
  ’One thought in agony of strife         50
The bravest would have by for friend,  
  The memory that he chose the life;  
But the pure fate to which you go  
  Admits no memory of choice,  
Or the woe were not earthly woe         55
  To which you give the assenting voice.’  

And so the choice must be again,  
  But the last choice is still the same;  
And the awe passes wonder then,  
  And a hush falls for all acclaim.         60
And God has taken a flower of gold  
  And broken it, and used therefrom  
The mystic link to bind and hold  
  Spirit to matter till death come.  

‘Tis of the essence of life here,         65
  Though we choose greatly, still to lack  
The lasting memory at all clear,  
  That life has for us on the wrack  
Nothing but what we somehow chose;  
  Thus are we wholly stripped of pride         70
In the pain that has but one close,  
  Bearing it crushed and mystified.

 Monday, 10.31.2005

 Thank God we're not like the Russians.

 Most Russians distrust authorities, Putin, courts. "More than half of Russians think everyone in power is dishonest, a survey showed on Monday, from the president and parliament to government and the courts, Reuters reported. 'This goes a long way to explaining the colossal level of political apathy in society,' said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic Assessments...." More (MosNews 10.31.2005).

Comment. The article states: "The Duma is packed with members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and critics say many deputies rubber-stamp legislation while enjoying the perks of office." Boy, I'm glad that even though the President's party controls both Houses of Congress in the U.S., the Congressmembers are all such independent-minded folks who'd never rubber-stamp anything. I'm glad, moreover, that the Democrats are so willing to stand up to the President. Just think, if we were like Russia in this regard, the President could get away with invading other countries on the slimmest of pretexts, could ram through laws that disregard basic civil liberties, and could instruct the military it's okay & All-American to torture people.

 Sunday, 10.16.2005

 Our Bait-and-Switch Society.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book out, about her experiences "undercover" as a member of the ranks of the unemployed white-collar workers. Its title is Bait and Switch - The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. The book has received mixed reviews. Although I have not read it, I have a pretty strong feeling that its use of the bait-and-switch metaphor is apt. Indeed, it has seemed to me for a long time that our society has become a bait-and-switch society. This feeling has only been reinforced in recent days when, after Old Blue, my reliable 1988 Ford Crown Victoria Ltd. midnight blue metallic V-8 wagon, finally gave up the ghost at 203,000 miles, I began looking casually (one should never do it desperately) for a replacement set of wheels. But it is a feeling I've had for some time, which is why I wasn't surprised by the internet stock bubble bursting (I predicted it), why I wasn't surprised by the corporate accounting scandals (my uncle, a prominent CPA, had been preaching publicly the need for CPA's to adhere to a higher standard of ethics), why I am offended by all the ads in the newspaper and TV that promise so much for so little (until you read the fine print), and why I am not surprised at the latest evidence that our President played bait-and-switch in fooling the country into invading Iraq (an invasion I publicly opposed). We all recall the President's saying in the 2000 debates that he wasn't going to get us involved in nation building and we all recall his premising the invasion of Iraq on WMD's, etc. Here's what "Dr. Rice," our Secretary of State said without any apparent shame this morning on NBC's Meet the Press:

[T]he fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make.  We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al-Qaeda and perhaps after the Taliban and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves. Or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power.

Transcript of Meet the Press with Tim Russert (MSNBC 10.16.2005). Sadly, nearly everyone you deal with these days has "an angle" and is "playing some sort of game." The angle and the game, of course, have the same end, to get something from you, whether your cash or your vote or your name on the dotted line to pay high interest rates forever for something that won't last very long. One longs for the old verities, the givers-not-the-takers, the old virtues like reliability and honesty and decency. Emily Dickinson's "Tell us the truth and tell it slant" may be good advice for poets and lovers and friends. The unsaid motto of many CEO's, ad people, politicians, and auto sales people these days seems to be, "Hide the truth from the suckers in fine print or put a slant on it so it's unrecognizable or just give 'em sugar (well, corn syrup) or play the Clinton semantics game -- or, what the heck, just lie." The advice I wish everyone would follow in public and business life is slightly different from Emily's: "Tell us the truth and tell it straight."

 Wednesday, 10.12.2005

 Saint Jack.

Black branches that sometimes blossom. Minor poets who once or twice in their meager lives produce something beautiful. Small-town Norwegian women whose crafts were making their own kinds of poems, pies and rosettes -- and making memories for little boys. Eugene McCarthy, Minnesota's political knight errant in the great tradition of Don Quixote, the man who helped tip public opinion against the War in Viet Nam, has written some nice poems about small-town Minnesota poet-piemakers, some collected in Gene McCarthy's Minnesota - Memories of a Native Son (1982) -- including one about the grandmother who "could card wool and spin it,/ And knit toe and heel," and another one about the other grandmother who "could cook potatoes/ Eight ways at least/ And believed any illness would yield/ To eucalyptus tea, and brandy" ("Two Grandmothers"). Two of my favorite McCarthy poems are "Litany of the Saints and Others" and "Litany of the Saints and Others II," poems in which he names the "saints" of his past. The first begins, "Mathilda Ophoven/ Minnie Quast/ Lucinda Nistler/ Verena Brixius," and proceeds thusly. Is this poetry? To him it is, and to me it is. What is a word but a small poem that represents so many things other than the stark letters of the alphabet joined together. And what is a name of someone from our past but a poem in itself that brings to mind so many memories of real living things, kind acts, small heroisms.

The Catholic Church has strict rules about designating someone a saint. One must have performed two reliably-witnessed miracles to be deemed a saint. Very few make the grade. We Norwegian Lutherans (as well, apparently, as Eugene McCarthy, a Minnesota Catholic) are not so strict. We think of our little church as a "communion of saints," albeit "everyday saints" (the best kind) who perform ordinary "miracles" (the everyday kind Walt Whitman celebrated in a poem titled Miracles) on an everyday basis all their lives.
Each of us has his or her own litany of favorite personal everyday saints, a litany that typically starts with names of family members. I have before me a red-covered, spiral-bound small-town church cookbook titled Recipes from Our Redeemer's, assembled, published and sold by the women of the Norwegian Lutheran church of that name in which I "was confirmed." I enjoy reading through the book and occasionally trying out some of the recipes of women I knew when I was a child (something I guess I still am). I always laugh when I come to the joke recipe inserted by a friend and distant relative who was a class ahead of me, Marilyn Johnson, sister of my friend and classmate, Jim. It's a recipe for a BLT: "Arrange lettuce, tomatoes and crisp bacon strips on toast. Moisten with salad dressing. Serve." That, too, is a "poem" to me, and every time I make and/or eat a BLT I think of it and of her. Sometimes I look in the section titled "Scandinavian and Smorgasbord." I review  the recipes (often multiple ones) for each of the traditional delicacies -- Krum Kake, Fattigman, Rosettes, Sandbakkels, Julekage, Swedish Pancakes, Rullepulse, Rommegrot, etc. (their spellings, which I accept as authentic). And I read again the names of women -- women who, in the Norsk tradition, would have been only too willing to call themselves sinners but to me also are saints.
Not all the everyday saints and everyday miracles of one's life exist in some sentimentalized past. The truth is that "wheresoe'er you go" you find yourself surrounded by them.
Filed away in my mind under "miracles" are some sounds -- for example, the way my daughter, when she was very little and still didn't know how to say any words, used to sing to herself in her crib when she'd wake up, blending in with the chorus of newly-arrived birds that woke us in the spring morning. And, for another example, the sound of her and her bro, senior and junior, soprano and bass, winning the top rating at the state level in a high school music competition singing, in the original German, Brahm's "Life Shall Be Gladdened." One of the happiest life-gladdening sounds of the summer, my favorite season, for many years was the sound of laughter coming from Jack and Mary Overmans' porch next-door on warm pleasant evenings when the air was sweet and the breezes soft and the windows in our kitchen were open and their boys, all grown, were visiting. The usual laugh leaders were Jack and Andy, with their large natural laughs, but they all contributed to the making of a wonderful, miraculous sound, one of the neighborhood sounds I rank up there with the sound of Cardinals singing in the early spring, the sound of Robins waking me up in May, and the sound of the Youngs' talking bird "Pickles" teasing their dogs "Chance" and "Aurora." The Overmans moved to a smaller place in 1996 but as I told them in a note when they left, I like to think that a hundred years from now the sound of their laughter will still be heard on summer evenings gracing the neighborhood, if the people fortunate enough to live here just listen carefully. I know I still hear it and I hope I always will.
Jack took leave again the other day, dying of complications following surgery. I've known him since late October 1973, when my ex-wife and I moved into this house, right next door to Jack & Mary & their boys, Steve (now a prominent minister in Eugene, Oregon), Andy (a minister and Head of the Classics Department and Biblical archeologist at Macalester College), and Dave (now a leading doctor). That first night, after a hard day of moving from our apartment, we were greeted by a knock on the door and a welcome from Steve and Andy and a platter of warm cookies Mary had made.
Jack, who held an MBA from Columbia University, had been a navy pilot in WWII and then had been a successful ad man with one of the big national advertising firms, living with Mary & kids in New York and Detroit and, I think, Chicago before coming to Minneapolis. By the time I met him, he had been running his own independent ad agency for three years. We Norwegian Lutherans have the notion that every man or woman can be a "priest," in two senses: that no person needs a priest to stand between God and him (he may confront God directly), and that no matter what one's vocation or way of making money, one can and should minister to others. Jack was already active (as an "everyday Lutheran-sort of priest") in the lovely church down the block, St. Stephen's Episcopal (the church with the evening chimes that grace the neighborhood every day), when he decided to become an "official" Episcopal priest. Nineteen years ago, on 11.01.1986, after earning an MA in Theology from St. John's University, he was ordained into the Episcopal priesthood and he has served the Episcopal Church in the Twin Cities as a priest ever since.
When I think of Jack, I don't just think of him. I always think of him as part of a great twosome, Jack & Mary. Whatever they did, they did together, each caring for, each supporting, the other. In 1983 six Edina women started a group called Edina Grandmothers for Peace. One of those women was Mary Overman. According to a piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on 02.17.2003:
Their first action was to protest [President] Reagan's appearance at the Minneapolis Leamington Hotel...They stood out from other protesters because of deportment and dress. They made a huge sign reading, "Edina Grandmothers for Peace; Say No to Nuclear Weapons." The word "grandmother" was stressed to make it clear that they were not young radicals and "Edina" to show they were from an area generally thought of as politically conservative.
Twenty years later, Mary's group was doing its part to keep us from invading Iraq:
Each Tuesday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. -- no matter what the weather -- they hold a "presence" on the sidewalk in front of the Edina Lunds, near the busy corner of France Av. and 50th St., one of the toniest shopping districts in the Twin Cities. They chose the word presence, rather than demonstration or vigil, to indicate their opposition to war.
I've seen them in the coldest, nastiest weather on my Tuesday afternoon drives to Lunds to get some groceries. I always admired them and I don't doubt that in some way they influenced me -- not so much to "run" for office in 2004 as an anti-war candidate but to "stand" for office as a "presence" on the ballot. Where was Jack in all this? Well, according to the Star-Tribune piece, he was where those of us who knew him would expect him to be, standing alongside of her, just as she always stood alongside of him:
"If men were to pound on the door, we'd let them in," said Mary Overman, another founder...The group meets indoors at 12:45 p.m. at the new Edina Public Library the first Wednesday of every month -- except in the summer. Overman's husband, Jack, was at the February gathering, one of about six men who set up chairs. "If you're going to work for peace, you have to have chairs to sit on," he said cheerfully.
What a wonderful image to carry with me for the rest of my life: Everyday Saint Jack helping Everyday Saint Mary, standing together, sitting together, laughing and smiling together -- always people full of life and of peace and love and laughter and kindness and caring.
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least...
Why should I wish to see God better than this day
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me...
There is that in me -- I do not know what it is -- but I know it is in me...
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yaws over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
-- Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892), from "Song of Myself," Leaves of Grass.

Other entries - Archives I - Archives II - Archives III - Archives IV - Archives V - Archives VI - Archives VII

Copyright (c) 2006 by Burton Randall Hanson.
E-mail: BurtonHanson@BurtonHanson.com.