Friday, January 28, 2011

I Think She's Got It

After my discovery of delectable Shrimp and Grits at Marlow's in Alpharetta, you may recall reading that Connie set out to re-create it here on the high desert. Alas, she wasn't satisfied with her first effort and forbade my putting the recipe in front of you. (Yes, she is a perfectionist.)

But this week, she tried again. The picture above is just before we tied into this melt-you'-mouth creation that made me sorry all over again for all of the mean and nasty things I said about grits in the past. This time the recipe passed Connie's muster, so we call it "Shrimp and Grits Connie's Style." She has given her permission for me to pass it on to you.  Here it is:
Cheddar Grit Cakes

1 cup 1% milk (I used skim milk)
1(14 ounce) can fat free less sodium chicken broth
¾ cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
2 tsp minced fresh jalapeno pepper (optional)
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (don’t compromise on this unless you go extra extra sharp)

1. Bring milk and broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in grits and jalapenos. Reduce heat and simmer until thick almost dry. Stir in the cheese; stir until cheese is melted. Spread grits into a 9 inch square baking pan (glass works best) that has been greased with butter or coated with cooking spray; cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or until set.

2. Invert grits onto a cutting board. Cut grits into 4 (4-1/2 inch) squares. Cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles. Heat a large nonstick skillet thinly coated with cooking oil or cooking spray over a medium high heat. Add triangles; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Serve with shrimp and sauce over the grit cakes.

Shrimp and Sauce

1. Sauté 1/2 cup chopped green onion, ¾ of a red sweet pepper coarsely chopped and 6 medium mushrooms sliced in1/3 c butter. Season to taste with a mixed dry seasoning. I use Kroger’s Original Zesty Seasoning Blend. Sauté the vegetables al dente.

2. Add 40 frozen uncooked shelled and deveined shrimp or fresh shrimp. Add 2/3 cup clam nectar, scallop nectar, shrimp nectar (you may buy fresh shrimp to shell and devein. Shell them the day before and boil the shells – not the shrimp - in a generous cup of water for 15 minutes – let the nectar stand overnight to get the best flavor) (I used the juice from poached scallops that I cooked a few weeks before and froze). Cook until the shrimp are pink.

3. Remove shrimp and veggies from the pan. Make a light roux of a generous tablespoon of cornstarch and water. Add the roux to the liquid in the pan enough roux to thicken a little more than the finished sauce. Add the shrimp and veggies. The juice from the shrimp and veggies should thin the sauce to just right. Continue to cook just until everything is heated through. Don’t overcook.

Serve over Cheddar Grit Cakes.

Note: We don’t cook with salt and find this dish well-seasoned but salt lovers may want to add to taste.
If you're so inclined, try this recipe and let us know what you thought about it, or how you improved it.
- Milo

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vote on Filibuster Rules Today

 I received a note from Oregon’s Junior Senator, Jeff Merkley, this morning. Apparently, the vote on changing the filibuster rules is today. Since the Republicans are using the very rules Merkley and 53 Democratic Senators are trying to change to prevent an up or down vote, 67 votes will be required. That makes me mad and I hope it does you too. I thought you should see Merkley’s letter:
Dear Milo,

You know that the Senate is broken, and I'm so grateful for your support in fighting to fix it. The consistent abuse of the filibuster is outrageous.

Senator Udall and I have been immersed in persuading our colleagues to support real reforms that will fix the broken Senate. We have 29 co-sponsors on our reform bill. All 53 Democratic Senators have signed a letter agreeing that the status quo is simply unacceptable. And 200,000 Americans agree, signing petitions urging reform.

Now, thanks in large part to your advocacy, a package of rules changes will get a vote today, including our common sense proposals to fix the filibuster.

In the few hours left before the vote, I'll be doing everything I can to convince my colleagues from both parties to bring transparency and accountability to the Senate by making filibustering Senators hold the floor. This is about replacing the current “silent” filibuster with the “talking” filibuster.” If 41 Senators say they want additional debate, then we will have that debate!

This will strip away the frivolous filibusters that are currently paralyzing the Senate. And it will make the Senate filibuster transparent and accountable to the American citizens. Americans can watch and weigh in on whether a Senator is a hero or a bum.

We all know that change doesn't come easy.

The bottom line is that Senate Republicans are using the very rules we're trying to change to block us from a straight-up or down vote, so we'll need 67 votes to pass tough reforms rather than the 51 provided for in the Constitution.I don't know if we will succeed today. But I can assure you, your support has moved us further than anyone thought possible in a short time. And regardless of what happens today, I'm determined to keep fighting, as long as it takes. I hope that you will fight with me down to the wire.Every previous effort to change the rules has taken repeated attempts over many years. Like you, I'd like to get results sooner, but I'm not going to give up.I'm confident you'll be right there with me, fighting to make this country a better place.
I hope you take note of how your Senators vote today and let them know what you thought about their vote.
- Milo

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fraud in Defense of Prayer

Stopping the practice of defending prayer with fraud and sin would seem to me one way of overcoming the past and adding something better to the present.

Who would support religion by committing fraud and sin? I don’t know the “who” but I know the “what.” The “what” is an email that purports to be 60 Minute commentator Andy Rooney’s comments on public prayer. Fraud is the crime of obtaining money or some other benefit by deliberate deception. The last time I checked, one of the Ten Commandments has to do with bearing false witness. I think that writer of the email is guilty of both.

The one I received a couple of weeks ago had a catchy opening line above the article itself: “CBS and Katie Couric et al must be in a panic and rushing to reassure the White House that this is not network policy.” Over the years you’ve probably received it in one of its several forms, perhaps without the opening line, beginning like this:

I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December. I don't agree with Darwin, but I didn't go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his Theory of Evolution.

Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what's the big deal? It's not like somebody is up there reading the entire Book of Acts. They're just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game.
The email goes on for nine or ten paragraphs and usually concludes with this:
The silent majority has been silent too long. It's time we tell that one or two who scream loud enough to be heard that the vast majority doesn't care what they want. It is time that the majority rules! It's time we tell them, "You don't have to pray; you don't have to say the Pledge of Allegiance; you don't have to believe in God or attend services that honour [sic] Him. That is your right, and we will honour [sic] your right; but by golly, you are no longer going to take our rights away. We are fighting back, and we WILL WIN!"
We could have an interesting discussion about the substance of the email but that would get us away from the subjects at hand: “fraud” and “sin.”

If you didn’t already know, by now you’ve probably guessed that Andy Rooney is not really the author. You would have guessed right. And not only did Andy Rooney not write it, neither did Paul Harvey, who was credited with writing it, all the way back in 2004. The one who actually wrote it was Nick Gholson, a sports writer for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas on September 5, 1999.

I don’t know why the creator of this email didn’t credit it to Nick, but I suspect it could have had something to do with “Who?” and “Where?” I know about the “where” question because I went to high school in Iowa Park, ten miles away from Wichita Falls. For some reason, the creator decided that Paul Harvey’s name would have carried more weight than Nick’s. And then some years later, someone decided that the name of Andy Rooney would even be better. Rooney is reputed to be an agnostic. I don't know that, but I do know that some believers love nothing better than to receive words of affirmation for whatever horse they are riding from someone other than themselves because it gives their cause more credibility.

The problem is that fraud, as I said above, is a crime of obtaining money or some other benefit by deliberate deception. I assume the benefit being sought by the creator of this email was credibility that could only be supplied by the use of someone’s name without their permission. I think in the eyes of the law would be considered “deliberate deception.”

And, then, there is the matter of “sin,” which from the language of the email is probably a relevant concept to the perpetrator. I don’t know but I’m guessing that the he or she would be one wanting to have the Ten Commandments prominently displayed on public buildings.

If you are interested in the real Andy Rooney’s sentiments on religion, here’s one:

“Houses of worship don’t pay taxes. There are more than 6,000 churches in New York City alone and many occupy prime real estate. All of us from different religions essentially subsidize houses of worship, and I don’t think that’s right. The people who run any church should pay taxes on the property they occupy like everyone else. There’s nothing sacrilegious about that.”
I haven’t seen any forwards from Andy Rooney fans in the religious community about that.

The next time you receive this fraudulent email, feel free to copy this article and send it to everyone on their distribution list. I don’t know what the law says about forwarding a fraudulent email, but I’ve heard something about ignorance of the law not being an excuse.

- Milo

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Precious Memories - Taiwan and Memphis

[This is the fourth and final article on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s presence in my life over the years. I would like to hear how he has been present in your life, before and after his death. The quotes from Dr. King below may all be found in context here.]

On April 2, 1968, four of us boarded a small train on a narrow-gauge railroad in Chai-yi in south central Taiwan. Our destination was what had once been an old Japanese resort at Ali-shan high in the ridge of mountains that takes up much of the land space on the island. On April 5th, after the luxuriating isolation with the cherry blossoms in full bloom providing needed physical and mental distance from realities in Taipei, we boarded the small train for the trip back.

We sat on hard wood benches for the six hour trip down through three climate zones to reach Chia-yi. Somewhere near the halfway point there were two sets of tracks where the train coming up could pass the one coming down. When the two trains stopped, the morning newspapers that came up were distributed on the train going down. I could manage speaking Chinese but my reading skills were limited. The only papers on the train were in Chinese, so I didn’t try to buy one.

As people around me opened their papers to read, I saw that the front page consisted of one huge Chinese character I recognized as “wang,” the character for “king.” I wondered why the front page of a major newspaper would be covered with this character. Was there some important news about a king somewhere? My curiosity overcame my embarrassment at having to admit that I couldn’t understand the headline.

“Please sir,” I said in Chinese to a man sitting in front of me beside his wife and two children, “I do not understand the headline. Did a ‘king’ die?”

He turned around and looked at me. “It is your country’s Dr. King. He has been assassinated,” the man said.

Then, he opened the inside of the paper and pointed to two articles on page two. “Can you read?” he asked politely.

I nodded my head. I could read the headlines well enough to know that Dr. King had been shot in Memphis and that there were race riots all over the country. The second article was about an elementary school class somewhere that cheered when the teacher told them the news. The man shook his head as if he found the stories as hard to believe as I had in deciphering the characters.

I shared the news with the others, two of whom were friends with roots in Tennessee. We wept and fell into silence. What could we say? The past few carefree days were eclipsed and a dark shadow fell across the days ahead.

In my mind, as I had often done through the years, I began a one-sided conversation with Dr. King:

Martin, I remember when you said that it was past time for desegregation, and I said “You’re right, but you’ve got to give us more time to get ready.” You were right, and you pulled me along.

I remember when you started the Poor People’s Campaign and I whispered to you that important as that was for people of all races, I worried that it would dilute the focus of the civil rights movement. You reminded me that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” You were right again. And you pulled me along.

Just a year ago, on that day at Riverside Church in New York City when you announced your opposition to the Vietnam War, I whispered again, “Martin, this is going to hurt all you have done for civil rights. Let other’s carry this fight.” And you responded at how sad these words made you: “… such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.” And of course you were right.

You’d think I would learn, but just three weeks ago when you decided to get involved in the sanitation workers strike, I wondered if your intervention on behalf of labor in Memphis wouldn’t limit your influence. I already guessed what you would say, and as you have been all along, you were right.
Self-reproach, I reminded myself, is good if it results in changed behavior; otherwise it just drags down the soul. I remembered with gratitude how Dr. King had changed my life, and what a difference he had made in my work in Taiwan. His 1963 words from Birmingham still echoed in my conscience: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” as did his words six months earlier in 1967 when he confronted those who were ready to resort to violent acts to achieve justice: “We must reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence.” Those two admonitions had become bedrock for me in Taiwan. But that’s another story.

Dr. King has been gone forty-three years and it is impossible to know what he would say about the issues we face today. But his presence is still with us. We are engaged in wars that I believe cannot be justified. The first step in seventy years to make our health care system more just and effective is assailed as “job killing”. The atmosphere of political discussion is as hate-focused as it was on Dr. King in his day. His words from jail in Birmingham in 1963 seem as relevant for our generation as his:
“More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
I believe we are a better people because of Dr. King. Because of him, a lot of people stood up. That’s why, in the words of J. B. F. Wright’s old gospel song
As I travel on life's pathway
Know not what the years may hold
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious mem'ries flood my soul.
- Milo

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Precious Memories - Boston and Birmingham

Precious Memories, how they linger
how they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold.

- J. B. F. Wright (1925)

[Have there been events in your life that were so powerful you knew something changed for you, even if at the time you didn’t understand what or how? Martin Luther King Jr.’s presence has been a constant since I was seventeen. This is the third in a series of four reflections on these events. Truly “precious” memories can be discomfiting; they won’t mire us in our pasts but will point the way to possibilities in our presents.]

Dr. King preceded me at Boston University Graduate School of Theology by about a decade, but his presence there was strong. Since I had to pass qualifying exams in French and Greek, I needed a tutor. My advisor Per Hassing recommended an old man in Back Bay.

“He knows how to get students ready for the exams, and you wvill enjoy getting to know him,” my major professor, Per Hassing, said in his heavy Norwegian brogue. “He got Martin ready for his.”

The tutor was in his late seventies. One day when the radiator of his small apartment was cooking us, he took off his worn blue blazer, leaving him in the starched white shirt and maroon tie he always wore. He didn’t loosen his tie, but he did roll up his sleeves, revealing a blurred serial number tattooed on his left forearm. When I asked he acknowledged that he had been at Auschwitz and was grateful for his liberation by Soviet forces. Although someone who loved to talk, he didn’t speak again of Auschwitz.

“Did you tutor Dr. Martin Luther King?” I asked one day.
“Ah yes,” he said as his face brightened with obvious delight. “He was a good student, that Martin.”

“I’ve heard from Dr. DeWolf, his adviser, that Dr. King wasn’t a social activist while he was here in school. Is that true?”

This wasn’t as much a question about Dr. King as it was about me. In the spring of 1963, newspapers were filled with stories about Dr. King’s campaign in Birmingham. As the situation there intensified, school children were joining the protest in large numbers. King appealed for more marchers to come and fill the ranks vacated of those being arrested. A major march was scheduled for Good Friday and the word was that King would go to jail.

In Montgomery, Governor Wallace and Alabama’s white officials made their own plan. They knew SCLC’s bail funds were already low,
“they drafted a bill to raise the maximum appeal bond in misdemeanor cases from $300 to $2,500, applicable only in Birmingham. They added a resolution proclaiming that Birmingham ‘has been invaded by foreigners who would by force and violence attempt to overthrow laws which may not be to their liking.”
Student organizers in Boston chartered a bus to take volunteers. With my language exams coming a week after Easter, I didn’t know what to do.

“Ah, Harold [DeWolf] is right and would know better than anyone else; Martin avoided those organizations. He was here to study and that’s what he did. Oh, he and Coretta went to an occasional concert, but he didn’t let anything distract him from what he was here for, including preparing for his German exam,” he chuckled.

“When he was here as a student,” he continued, “I knew I would be reading about him, but just not so soon. Within six months of receiving his doctorate he was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

“You see, these students running around advocating for this and that,” he said, waving his arms. “They are good causes, most of them, but they are jeopardizing the good they might be able to do later because they’re not paying enough attention to their studies now.”

Then, looking directly at me he said, “I think you would do well to prepare for your exams instead of going on the bus. The time for you to do good will come later.”

Although I didn’t think his words were cheap advice to make me feel better, I didn’t know what good I might do later. “Later” I would be overseas and away from the revolution in civil rights going on here at home. My guilt wasn’t assuaged when I read Dr. King’s letter from jail in Birmingham, addressed to clergymen in the city who had issued a statement calling the non-violent demonstrations “unwise” and “untimely.” That night at the rally in Dallas his words energized me, but his words from Birmingham seemed like an indictment:
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’"
The certainty of my call to ministry eight years earlier was not in doubt, but where I was to exercise it was. Now, as I approached the end of years of waiting, I wondered if going to Taiwan was a way of avoiding the hard road ahead in my home country and a betrayal of the old man who had given me a ride, Marshall, my great grandfather and Dr. King. I never experienced any certainty in answer to those questions. From now on, the answers would never be certainties, only answers that “seemed best” among gray choices.
- Milo

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Precious Memories - King Comes to Dallas

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger ever near me
And the sacred scenes unfold

[Have there been events in your life that were so powerful you knew something changed for you, even if at the time you didn’t understand what or how? If I made a list of such events Martin Luther King Jr.’s name would appear prominently. This is the second in a series of four reflections on these events. If these memories really are “precious,” they won’t mire us in our pasts but will point the way to possibilities in our presents.]

In 1960, Dr. King came to Dallas to speak at a voter registration rally. My social ethics professor at Perkins School of Theology, Joseph Allen, invited several of us go hear him. Except for media, we seemed to be the only whites present. Dr. King was supposed to speak at 7:00 but didn’t arrive until 10 pm. It was the first time I had seen him in person or heard him speak.

He started low and slow, but the momentum he built was irresistible. When he came to what would become his signature ending, the 2,000 people were already clapping, shouting, and stamping their feet so hard that the building itself began to shake: “We are working for that day when, in the words of that old Negro spiritual, we can sing, ‘Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.’” The crowd went wild. As the tumult subsided, Dr. Allen leaned close to my ear and said, “Aren’t you glad we’re on the same side?”

As we drove back to the campus, the other chatted about the evening. I was lost in thought about my great grandfather, Amos Lancaster Thornberry. My grandfather, father and I shared great grandfather’s middle name. I was proud of it, but had always been glad that the name passed on to me was not “Amos.”

Amos grew up in a large family in Greenup, Kentucky. When the Civil War broke out, many families, especially in Border States, split over the war. Amos was the one member of his family that was in sympathy with the Union. He said he was opposed to slavery. In 1861 at the age of sixteen he enlisted in the Union Army, his brothers all joining the Confederate Army. He was wounded in the battle for Atlanta but stayed in the army until the end of the war. He went back to Greenup only long enough to marry his fiancé and then headed to Texas. He did not contact his family again. His convictions about the Union and abolition were so strong that he refused to worship in southern Methodist churches that in 1844 had split with the other Methodists over the issue of slavery.

Growing up in Texas, I learned that my parents and grandparents had conventional southern attitudes about race, or at least chose to be silent if they believed otherwise. And yet, my grandfather and my father both took some pride in telling the story about Amos. That puzzled me. I tried to embrace the racism of my peers, but in the back of my mind there was always this story.

As with Dr. King, I never met my great grandfather in person, but on this night when Dr. King spoke, my great grandfather and his story came alive. I realized Amos was involved in this struggle and I should be too!

The opportunity was not long in coming. In January 1961, the Sit-In Movement, begun in Greensboro and Nashville a year earlier, spread to Dallas. Leaders from SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organized demonstrations at strategic locations around the city.

Several of us from the seminary participated, but because a German deli across the street from the campus, and our favorite eating place, refused to serve us when we had gone there earlier with Marshall Smith, one of the few black students in the seminary, we organized a rump sit-in of our own. Much to the chagrin of his customers who were urging him to call the police, after an hour’s standoff of four of us sitting at an emptied restaurant, the owner backed down and served us our favorite sausages and hot potato salad. It was the only sit-in in which I participated directly, but others were going on at eating places all over the city. Within weeks, Dallas joined twenty-five other cities in desegregating restaurants and lunch counters. This was three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made such segregation unlawful.

When the activities died down in Dallas, we congratulated ourselves on being a part of history, and went back to our studies. We believed we were on Dr. King’s side. What we didn’t know was that in the months ahead, King would have reason to doubt that white moderates were serious about justice and desegregation.

- Milo

Monday, January 17, 2011

Precious Memories - Fearless Hospitality

Have there been events in your life that were so powerful you knew something changed for you, even if at the time you didn’t understand what or how? If I made a list of such events Martin Luther King Jr.’s name would appear prominently. I never shook hands with him but he was an uncomfortable presence in my life from when I was seventeen to the present, and that presence didn’t cease with his death. Over the next few days I want to share some of those events and hope that some of you will be prompted to share yours. If these memories really are “precious,” they won’t mire us in our pasts but will point the way to possibilities in our presents.

I was in my first year of college on December 1, 1955 when seven hundred miles away, a seamstress named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus. The arrest set in motion a series of events that catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I had become accustomed to hearing the young pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church called a “Communist,” both by the people around me and in the Fort Worth and Dallas newspapers.

The boycott was continuing beyond public expectations. The voices became shriller and threats more frequent. Letters to the editor suggested that what was needed in Montgomery was a “noose solution” for Dr. King.

My college roommate and I were hitchhiking back to Fort Worth after a weekend at home in Iowa Park. The wind was icy and there weren’t many cars on old highway 287 south of Henrietta. We were chilled to the bone when an old black truck pulled over to the side of the road ahead of us. We raced up to the door and were surprised to see an elderly black man behind the wheel. I didn’t weigh much but was tall; my friend Bob was a tackle who would have made two of me.

“You boys need a ride?” he asked.

“Yes Sir, we’re on our way back to Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth where we go to school,” I quickly replied hoping that might put him at ease and not decide that he had made a terrible mistake stopping and drive off without us.

“I’m goin’ to within a few blocks of the college,” he said. “I’ll drop you off.”

We wedged into the bench seat of the small truck. I straddled the gear shift. This was closer than I had ever been to a black person.

He asked us what we were studying. We told him we were preparing to become ministers. He told us about the church he attended just off Rosedale. I knew the area, a black section not far from the college.

Since he said he was Baptist and King was too, I asked him about the pastor.

“I’ve never met him,” the old man said, “but I have friends who are members of his church.”

“Do you think he’s a ‘Communist,’ like everybody says,” I asked.

His eyes twinkled as he replied, “He’s about as much a ‘Communist’ as Jesus was.”

The more we drove and talked, the more I was in awe of this old man who wasn’t afraid to pick up a couple of scruffy-looking white guys on the highway and who also wasn’t afraid to speak to us honestly.

The two hours we chugged to Fort Worth passed quickly. When he pulled up in front of the Administration building to let us off, I reached into my bag on the floor and pulled out the cherry pie my mother had baked that morning and handed it to him.

“Thank you,” he said. “Why don’t you come down to worship at my church sometime? We have services on Sunday night.”

“We will,” I said. And the next Sunday night we did.

On December 5, 1955, Dr. King addressed the first meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, at Holt Street Baptist Church:

“You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression ... If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The old man who gave us a ride introduced me to a fearless hospitality I didn’t know existed and, from seven hundred miles away, to a man who would be forever calling me out of complacency. The struggle for me was just beginning.

- Milo

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gator, Dooby, and Neighbors

Just after noon, Connie came home with Dooby, a three month old Catahoula mix that has leopard-looking spots on his back. The pup has been recovering from a variety of illnesses, including meningitis, and has been cared for in the home of the manager of the Humane Society of Redmond and where Connie is the foster coordinator. The manager was going away on vacation and Dooby is not quite well enough to be back in the shelter. So, Connie brought him here until the manager returns. She set him up in an x-pen out in the studio - a large building that houses a wheel, kiln, and lots of clay and pots - until she could get a place ready for Dooby inside the house.

We haven’t fostered puppies for a while and our two studio cats, Lily and Gator, didn’t quite know what to make of the new puppy. The cats are used to our dogs, but the presence of Dooby made them nervous, especially Gator. Gator is a year and a half old gray and white male with the softest long hair I’ve ever felt on a cat. Like most rescues, we know little of their earlier lives. While I’m always asking questions about what is known about their pasts, I’m probably better off not knowing. Gator was found at the age of five weeks in a horse pasture in the midst of a herd of mustangs. There was no trace of his mother or siblings. Connie named him “Gator” because he had a fierce bite, a practice he has now given up.

After lunch, I went out to check on Dooby and the cats. The skies had opened and we were having a rare downpour. When I opened the door of the studio, Gator shot out between my legs like a bullet from a gun. Because he had never done anything like this before and because since we’ve had him he’s not been outside, I watched in horror as he ricocheted around the backyard fence until he came to an old thirty foot high juniper tree. Up he went, yowling in apparent complaint of the rain that was quickly soaking him.

For the first thirty minutes, Connie and I alternately tried to talk him down. We put up a ten foot ladder that Connie ascended, but Gator was far above us and meowing plaintively. I couldn’t believe the amount of rain that was falling. This is Central Oregon, not the Willamette Valley! All of the coaxing didn’t work.

I needed an extension ladder, but I didn’t know what I would do if I had one. I went next door and asked our neighbor Karen if they had one. She called Lonnie at work and said she would call me as soon as she talked with her husband. I called another friend who lives about ten minutes away. He had one and offered it to me. Then, Karen called back reported that Lonnie said they had an extension ladder at his company that makes control instruments for industrial applications. He was tied up north of Bend but he was sending one his staff and the ladder. “His name is ‘Paul’,” Karen relayed.

Rain continued to fall and Gator continued yowling while we waited for Paul’s arrival. I opened the side gate to a young man slightly graying at the temples carrying the ladder. As I explained the situation, probably with a lot more information than he needed, two things impressed me: a sense of calm and kindness in his face and speech. I was reassured, even though I didn’t know what I would do up on the ladder.

Paul extended the ladder all sixteen feet and leaned it in a mass of old growth that I wasn’t sure would hold either one of us. As he started up the ladder I said, “You’re going up wasn’t a part of the deal; I only asked to borrow a ladder.” Over his shoulder, he smiled and said, “Lonnie told me to go up.”

I feared that this stranger would scare Gator even more, but there was that calm and kindness. I hoped Gator would sense what I had. I explained to Paul that Gator was used to being scruffed (held by the skin behind the ears, the way mother cats move their kittens), and loved it. Every afternoon before siesta, Gator wanted to be scruffed and I obliged. Paul seemed surprised.

Fully extended, the ladder wasn’t long enough. At the top, Paul stepped off and onto branches of the tree, climbing until he and Gator were face to face about twenty feet off the ground. Paul reached around and took the cat by the scruff. Gator immediately relaxed and released his frantic hold on the branch.

Paul put Gator on his shoulder like you would to burp a baby, got back on the ladder, and descended. Gator didn’t move. I took him from Paul’s arms. Gator seemed completely relaxed. Maybe he was exhausted. By this time he had been clinging precariously to that two-inch thick branch for an hour and a half. I carried Gator to the studio where he immediately set about cleaning himself, no small task because he, like the rest of us, was soaked to the skin.

Words can’t describe my sense of relief at having Gator back safe, or the gratitude I felt for the response of my neighbors and Paul.

Last night when Lonnie got home, he told me that Paul was a highly trained Search and Rescue volunteer with Deschutes County, and had been responsible for saving more than one stranded climber. I didn’t know that before, but somehow it didn’t surprise me. Neither did what Lonnie said next,
“I’m sorry that I was not available to come myself, but I think Paul’s presence was meant to be.”

Gator and the rest of the animals that inhabit this place are doing well. They’ve accepted Dooby, and Dooby them. I don’t think it will be too long before he is recovered and ready to be adopted into his “forever” home. Today at siesta, I scruffed Gator as I usually do. He relaxed and closed his eyes in contentment. I wonder what he remembers about yesterday.

- Milo

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Filibuster an Honorable Tradition?

Of course it is. It made the career of James Stewart in Frank Capra’s 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Stewart a.k.a. “Jefferson Smith” saves his career, the Boy Rangers, and maybe the nation from graft-seeking politicans and unconcerned citizens. How? By a three day filibuster on the floor of the Senate! The movie became the poster child for this delaying tactic.

Apart from the movie, the filibuster is constitutionally ordained, isn’t it? Well, no. When the Senators were all raptly listening to the reading of the U.S. Constitution last Thursday, they might have been reminded that Constitution does not contemplate the filibuster in any way, directly or indirectly. It is simply one of the rules of the Senate [Scroll down to “Q139”]
It is a word that comes from the Spanish word for "freebooter," which means "pirate." The origin seems to be that a person who filibusters is plundering the time and focus of a deliberative body, like a legislature. Specifically, in the U.S. Senate, a filibuster is used by a single Senator or group of Senators to stop or delay action on a piece of legislation. It has long been the tradition of the Senate that debate may not be stopped unless those taking up the debate allow it to be stopped. In other words, once a Senator has the floor, he or she may continue to talk forever. This rule goes back to the very beginnings of the Senate.
The Constitution may not have ordained the filibuster but it clearly provides authority for the House and Senate set their own rules.
The Constitution allows each house of Congress to set its own rules. Early on, both houses had unlimited debate provisions. The House of Representatives, however, as a much larger body, found this rule unworkable and rules to limit debate came into effect. The Senate, until recently, never created such a rule. The term for the use of unlimited debate as a legislative tactic became known as a filibuster in the 1850's. The first attack on the filibuster came in 1841, by no lesser a figure than Henry Clay. It survived, though, until 1917, when the Senate adopted a rule allowing a filibuster to be stopped by a two-thirds vote. Such a vote is known as "cloture." Cloture ended the ability of a single Senator to hold up Senate business, but since a two-thirds vote can be difficult to get, it certainly did not stop the filibuster.
I am not opposed to the filibuster; I believe it to be an important tool for ensuring that a minority of senators cannot be steamrollered into silence. I also believe it was used to good effect by Democrats in preventing bad legislation and judicial appointments under Republican-dominated Congresses.

But the filibuster cries out for reform. Its use has increased in recent years, but none to compare with Republicans in the 110th and 111th Congresses (2007-2010).

So we shouldn’t be surprised that every returning Democratic Senator signed a letter demanding an end to the almost automatic way the filibuster has been used in recent years. By simply raising an anonymous objection, senators can trigger a 60-vote supermajority for virtually every piece of legislation. The time has come to make senators work for their filibusters, and justify them to the public.

Critics will say that it is self-serving for Democrats to propose these reforms now, when they face a larger and more restive Republican minority. The facts of the growing procedural abuse are clearly on the Democrats’ side. In the last two Congressional terms, Republicans have brought 275 filibusters that Democrats have been forced to try to break. That is by far the highest number in Congressional history and more than twice the amount in the previous two terms.

These filibusters are the reason there was no budget passed this year, and why as many as 125 nominees to executive branch positions and 48 judicial nominations were never brought to a vote. Filibusters preserved the tax cuts for the rich. Even bipartisan measures like the food safety bill are routinely filibustered and delayed.

The key is to find a way to ensure that any minority party — and the Democrats could find themselves there again — has leverage in the Senate without grinding every bill to an automatic halt. I believe the most thoughtful proposal to do so has been developed by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, along with Tom Udall of New Mexico and a few other freshmen. It would make these major changes:
NO LAZY FILIBUSTERS At least 10 senators would have to file a filibuster petition, and members would have to speak continuously on the floor to keep the filibuster going. To ensure the seriousness of the attempt, the requirements would grow each day: five senators would have to hold the floor for the first day, 10 the second day, etc. Those conducting the filibuster would thus have to make their case on camera. (A cloture vote of 60 senators would still be required to break the blockade.)
I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of a Senator having to stand up long enough to break into a sweat and get uncomfortable, like Senator Smith did in the movie. If you’re going to obstruct the legislative proceedings, it seems to me that it ought to cost you something. But back to the Senators’ proposal:
FEWER BITES OF THE APPLE Republicans now routinely filibuster not only the final vote on a bill, but the initial motion to even debate it, as well as amendments and votes on conference committees. Breaking each of these filibusters adds days or weeks to every bill. The plan would limit filibusters to the actual passage of a bill.

MINORITY AMENDMENTS Harry Reid, the majority leader, frequently prevents Republicans from offering amendments because he fears they will lead to more opportunities to filibuster. Republicans say they mount filibusters because they are precluded from offering amendments. This situation would be resolved by allowing a fixed number of amendments from each side on a bill, followed by a fixed amount of debate on each one.
Changing these rules could be done by a simple majority of senators, but only on the first legislative day of the session, which is January 24th. Republicans have said that ramming through such a measure would reduce what little comity remains in the chamber, never mind that there is great public support for filibuster reform. Although negotiations are going on, it remains to be seen whether reform this reform effort will have any bi-partisan support.

Should the Democrats go it alone on January 24? I believe it is time to end the abuse of an important legislative procedure. I’d like to know what you think, but it’s far more important to let your Senators know. Now is the time! Don’t know how to contact yours? Click here to find your Senators and how you can contact them by phone, email, or snail mail. Make “Mr. Smith” proud and give them a call.

- Milo

Monday, January 10, 2011

In Hate's Cross-Hairs

Reform of the filibuster rules in the Senate was to be the subject of this blog. But, as for many of you, I can’t keep my mind off of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and at least nineteen others with her in Tucson Saturday. As of this writing, six were killed, including a Federal Judge and a nine-year-old girl.

I was riding in the car with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We were going to visit a friend who is dying. We had this conversation:
“I just don’t understand why politics has become so vitriolic,” she said out of the blue.

In my mind, I quickly ran over a long list of suspected reasons, but what came out was this:

“I’m not sure. That there seems so little regard for facts is a part of it. Truth is whatever one chooses to make it, and its validity is verified by how often, how loudly, and how angrily one shouts it.”

“The disregard for facts and hatred has consequences,” she said as we arrived at the home of our friend.

That conversation took place on Friday, before the shooting in Tucson on Saturday.

Sunday morning, an aide to Sarah Palin said that the crosshairs depicted in her now infamous list of Democrats were not actually gun-sights:
"We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross-hairs like you'd see on maps," said Rebecca Mansour on the Tammy Bruce radio show. Moreover, there was "nothing irresponsible" about the image, and to draw a line connecting Palin and Saturday's shooting is "obscene" and "appalling."
After the passage of Health Care Reform in March, Palin twittered to her followers,
"Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'" And “aim at Democrats” she said.
Giffords was on Palin’s map. A moderate Democrat, who had been elected in Obama’s tidal wave of 2008 but who survived the Republican tsunami in November, Giffords had been vilified by some conservatives for her opposition to her state's aggressive crackdown on illegal immigrants and for her support for the health care overhaul. When her office in Tucson was vandalized after her vote for health care reform in March, Ms. Giffords said:
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences.”
I also wonder about last June when Representative Gifford’s Republican opponent Jesse Kelly had an event at which voters could shoot an assault rifle with the candidate. The event was promoted with this ad:
“Get on Target for Victory in November
Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office
Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly”
Is it too much to suggest that Palin and Kelly’s words were like persons shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater and, after people are trampled to death in the panic, saying they really didn’t mean “fire” because they were speaking metaphorically?

Little is known yet about just what motivated the killer. Direct lines of causality can rarely be drawn between a climate of hatred and a particular individual’s actions, but the observations of Representative Giffords last March and my friend on Friday have merit: hate language has consequences.

I am appalled, saddened, and angry. But I am also grateful for Representative Giffords. She has been in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “a drum major for justice” against the strong currents swirling around her, refusing to be intimidated by the hate that had her in its cross-hairs. She is a sign of hope.

Maybe I’ll get back to filibuster reform tomorrow.

- Milo

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shrimp and Grits?

When I was growing up, I didn’t know what grits were, let alone eat them. In the isolated region of the Texas Panhandle where I was raised, I thought everybody ate potatoes with eggs at breakfast. I didn’t know then that the geological line between Fort Worth and Dallas was also a cultural fault line, dividing the South from the West. How could a naive kid like me think otherwise, when the motto of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was “Where the West Begins”? The South and grits were somewhere else.

That upbringing was hard to shake. Even after thirteen years in the Atlanta area and repeated efforts by friends to convince me what a wonderful delicacy grits were, I still didn’t get it. If I had the choice between potatoes and grits, it was spuds hands down.

Then this fall when I was visiting kids in Georgia about to head for the airport and back to Oregon, my daughter Katy took me to Marlow’s Tavern in Alpharetta. “The food is great. Milo will love the ‘Firecracker Shrimp’,” encouraged her husband Paul who knew of his wife’s and my love of hot and spicy anything.

I ordered a spicy chicken soup but probably grimaced when I heard Katy order “Shrimp and Grits.” I had never heard of it and had a hard time imagining it.

“It’s really good, Dad. It comes from the Lowcountry in South Carolina but in the last few years has been spreading in popularity all over the country.” All that did was remind me of a now obvious blind spot in my knowledge of southern cuisine.

I don’t mind being ignorant about a lot of subjects, but food is not one of them. I grew up in a home where my mother thought no family problem too great to be made better with a good dinner. After I grew up, I don’t know whether her frequent family dinners were to get me to the house because there was a problem that needed to be solved (by food, not by talking about the problem), or if it was that she so loved food and cooking. I suspect it was both.

Grits were not on my mother’s problem solving list of foods. And I was pretty sure that in my thirteen years in Georgia, I had never heard of such a dish called “Shrimp and Grits.”

When the dish was delivered to the table, I was astounded to see that the grits were in the form of grilled cakes that looked like French toast. [The picture at the top is of the dish as prepared at Marlow’s.] Over the top the chef had poured a translucent orange sauce with shrimp, slivers of onions and jalapenos over the patties.

“Come on, Dad, try a bite,” Katy urged.

There have not been many dishes in my life that were truly love at first bite, but this was one. The sauce was rich (lots of butter) and the cheddar cakes gave new meaning to “melt in your mouth.” The combination of ingredients was almost magic. I ate more than half her dish, as well as all of my soup.

Returning to Oregon, I told Connie the wonder of this dish. She decided to make it for my birthday a few weeks later. When we searched “Shrimp and Grits” recipes online, I was surprised by sheer numbers. We discovered that in the Lowcountry shrimp and grits are also known as “Breakfast shrimp,” in which boiled shrimp are mixed into a bowl of grits and served at breakfast. Most recipes, it seemed, called for a pound of butter. Connie created a recipe that might not qualify for “Heart Healthy” but maybe “Less Heart Destructive.” And wow!!! I called it “Shrimp and Grits Connie’s Style.”

When I told her that I wanted to include the recipes she created for the grit cakes and sauce, she exclaimed, “You can’t do that! I don’t like the recipe!”

We’ve never been ones to keep family recipes secret. We even made a collection of our favorite fifty and gave them to our kids. Secrecy is not the issue here; Connie’s sense of the right taste and texture is. So, to keep peace in the household, I don’t dare; yet anyway. At such a time when she thinks she’s got it the way she wants it, with her permission of course, I may print it here.

In the meantime, I need your help her improve the recipe. I have a suspicion that some of you out there in cyber space have prized recipes for this dish. I’ve even heard that the Granville Inn in Ohio makes a mouth-watering version that is as good as that at Marlow’s. Whoever and wherever you are, how about sending me your recipe with your notes about it? I’ll print it here in the blog and we can all try it. If you don’t have a recipe but know the dish, I would like to hear what you think too.

After all, it is shrimp AND grits.
- Milo

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

They're Baaaaack

The 112th Congress is the name, and austerity is the game, at least to hear new House Speaker John Boehner tell it. The nation will be better because this Ohioan and his GOP colleagues are determined to “listen to American people” who have already determined that what “the people” want:
"We are going to fight for their priorities: cutting spending, repealing the job-killing health care law and helping get our economy moving again."
The 112th will convene Wednesday in Washington, D.C. This legislative assembly will continue through January 2013.

Before we get to the meaning of the “austerity” of which the Representative speaks, let’s get the numbers clear. The House has a Republican majority with the GOP occupying 242 seats to the Democrats’ 193, quite a contrast to the advantage held of 255 to 71 held by the Democrats at the end of the 111th Congress.

In the Senate, the Democrats still have the majority but with reduced numbers: 53 caucusing with the Democrats and 47 Republicans. (The Democratic caucus includes two Independents – Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.) In the last Congress, the Democrats had 58 in their caucus, while the Republicans had 42.

The Senate will continue to be led by Harry Reid and the Democrats, but in the House it is fruit-basket-turn-over for the leadership, including committee chairs, committee compositions, offices, and, let’s not forget, legislative priorities.

Which takes us back to Boehner’s austerity agenda. High on the GOP list is the repeal of the health care reform bill. Never mind that the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the health care overhaul will reduce deficits by more than $140 billion over 10 years, largely because new spending will be more than offset by new taxes and cutbacks in the growth of Medicare. There is a lot to be said for austerity, but repeal of the health care reform bill can hardly be considered.

The effort to repeal is mostly theater, since such a measure would not likely pass the Senate, and would certainly be vetoed by President Obama. The vote to repeal, already set for January 12th, is an opportunity to let all of those Representatives who ran their campaigns on repealing the measure an opportunity to cast a vote that they can say to their constituencies, “See, I voted to repeal it.”

The effort to repeal is not without its risks to the Republicans because it gives the Democrats an opportunity to show why it’s needed:
“Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, challenged the Republicans to bring it on. “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives,” Mr. Andrews said. “On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”
Democrats argue that repeal would increase the number of uninsured; put insurers back in control of health insurance, allowing them to increase premiums at will; and lead to explosive growth in the federal budget deficit.”
In blunt language, Bob Herbert warns that Republican talk of austerity is not what it appears. I think he’s right.
“It was ever thus. The fundamental mission of the G.O.P. is to shovel ever more money to those who are already rich. That’s why you got all that disgracefully phony rhetoric from Republicans about attacking budget deficits and embracing austerity while at the same time they were fighting like mad people to pile up the better part of a trillion dollars in new debt by extending the Bush tax cuts.
This is a party that has mastered the art of taking from the poor and the middle class and giving to the rich. We should at least be clear about this and stop being repeatedly hoodwinked — like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football — by G.O.P. claims of fiscal responsibility.”
Contributing something better to the present and future begins with resisting the siren of a disastrous past.
- Milo

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dog Rescues Dog

I hear a lot of stories about humans rescuing dogs and dogs saving humans, but I don’t often hear about dogs rescuing other dogs. This is Nala’s story, and a human who paid attention.

Light snow was falling through the freezing fog, adding another layer to that already on the ground. The weeds along the road were bent with their ice coatings as Alan Borland walked dogs from the Humane Society of Redmond on Monday, December 6.

This volunteer had already walked five different dogs on this route, not two hundred yards from the shelter. Now, with Nala, a dog he had escorted along this path like the others many times before, something was different.

The black pit bull mix was pulling him toward the ditch. Because the dog had been at the shelter for eight months, Borland knew she was good on the leash. But today she was different. Nala refused to respond and kept tugging in the direction of the frozen weeds. Following the dog’s lead, Borland went into the ditch after her. Nala led him to a frost-covered black and white ball of fur.

“I thought he was dead at first,” Borland said. “He had ice balls on his feet, and he was really filthy-looking.”

A closer look revealed a cocker spaniel that appeared to be clinging to life. Borland pulled Nala back to the road and rushed to the shelter for help. The cocker was revived and identified. He was Chadwick, a blind resident at the shelter until his adoption a month earlier.
Somehow, a week earlier Chadwick had gotten away from his new owner’s property two miles away. Somehow, he survived a week of bitter cold and snow until he almost found his way back to the shelter. Somehow, even though five other dogs passed by without notice, Nala didn’t and Chadwick was saved. Chadwick has been returned to his owner.

Nala is a heroine! (Alan Borland is also a hero! He had the good sense to pay attention to what Nala was telling him.) The story circulated quickly through central Oregon and beyond with many expressions of admiration and interest. But a month after her feat, at least at this writing, Nala has not yet been adopted.

For those involved in dog rescue, the reasons seem clear. First, despite looking much like a lab, she is a pit bull mix. Second, she is black. Third, she doesn’t get along well with other female dogs.

Nala is not in danger of being euthanized, but she deserves a “forever” home. She needs a human who understands pit bulls and doesn’t have female dogs.

I have lived with dogs long enough to be suspicious of anyone who says they know what these creatures feel and don’t feel, or know or don’t know. My suspicion is that they know more and in ways that as humans we can’t imagine. Unlike any other animal, over thousands of years, dogs have been bred to be companions to humans; it is now, quite literally, in their genes.

I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read, 

“Being kind to animals will make our whole world a better place.”
There are a lot of things that we can do to make the world better, and I believe being kind to animals is one of them. Nala and other canine friends are ready to help us, if we just pay attention.

- Milo