Merry Christmas From Caffeinated Politics!

It is that time of year when thoughts turn to baking cookies and watching the old classic Christmas movies.  Before taking a break from blogging until January 2nd I want to thank those who have stopped by and read a post or two, or engaged in the topics that made for the drama of the past 12 months.   Many such spirited moments are promised as we enter a presidential election year.  But for now it is time to ponder the more important things in life–home, family, friends.

Once again James and I put the year into perspective in our annual Christmas letter.  I have included parts of that letter for this blog and send it along with my hopes that all have a Merry Christmas (that means you too, Mark P.) and a wish for a Happy New Year to everyone.

2015 was a different kind of year. We didn’t travel much outside of our neighborhood. We didn’t even go out of our way to shop, letting the power of the internet work its magic through the hardworking men and women of the U.S. postal service. What we did do, though, was enjoy just being home and taking part in the little things. What we did do was to use down to a nub an impressive amount of sidewalk chalk, drawing and skipping countless rounds of hopscotch with the neighborhood kids, Priska and Kuno. Those same kids helped us to blow bubbles, large and small, and watch the wind carry them away. We basked in the peace and calm of summer breezes, and we listened to raindrops beat against the plate glass windows. In short, we found a rhythm and pattern to our days that allowed for the small moments to shine; our slow pace this year was a tonic for the soul.

We bravely met the first hints of the waning winter with rakes in hand. So anxious were we to see the snow melt that we helped it along, pulling the piles down little by little, observing the ice crystals as they seeped in to the lawn or formed rivulets on the sidewalk as they made their way to the storm drains which feed Lake Monona, only a number of yards away. The previous autumn, we had undertaken one of those huge gardening projects that is required every few years to make sure the hosta plants are thinned and that the ever-spreading day lilies get placed back behind their borders. We transplanted bulbs in the hopes that the squirrels would leave them in the ground long enough for them to burgeon and become spring blooms. Impatient to be outside, we cleared the area where the blue Adirondack chairs sit, spread out some cardboard so as not to mar the ground as we luxuriated on those above freezing afternoons and welcomed the vernal warmth back.

Our yard is full of life. Over the months, our Adirondack thrones permit us to eavesdrop on the comings and goings of the world around us. The robins tug worms out of the ground; the yellow finches perch upside down on the heads of sunflowers and eat until their bellies are full. Monarch butterflies and honey bees gathered plentifully on the zinnias. And, then there were those ‘friends’ we invited in to our lives, getting to know them one page at a time.


James adventured out with Andres Viestad to taste the flavors and the spices that Marco Polo encountered on his journeys; he set out on the high seas with the likes of Herman Melville and Mark Kurlansky, not so much to capture the Great White Whale, but rather to pay homage to the lowly cod fish so treasured by the Basques. Tranquilly he listened to Nancy Houston recount tales set to the harpsichord tones of Johann Sebastien Bach. And he lamented to decline of our English language with Steven Pinker and celebrated the polyphonic conditional tense of French and the complexities of the indicative past of Spanish with Pierre Patrick Haillet and Maria Luz Gutierrez, both of Middlebury renown.

Under a new hemlock green cantilevered umbrella in the yard, thus making sure that the heat of the day is blunted and those with thinning hair are not burned, Gregory reclined on fire engine red and sunflower yellow cushions and was consumed with a tome covering a twelve-year period starting in 1788. He visited the Potemkin villages, symbols of the imperial power of Catherine the Great and cringed in horror along with the peasantry of the French Revolution as Louis XVI lost his head. Positioned under the sugar maple of our yard, a wave of nostalgia led him to re-read the Ian Fleming series on James Bond which he had first read under the large oak tree back at his family home as a boy. All of this is to say that we aren’t at a loss when asked to give recommendations on a good read.

Good reads and good eats go so marvelously well together. One never knows what might be happening in James’ kitchen, though. And if Gregory isn’t careful, James’ list of “secret ingredients” (those things that Gregory claims to hate, but James sneaks in to the food anyway because of their umami qualities) appears to be growing.

If he had his druthers, James would be a first-class forager. Our attorney friend, Jennifer, comes to eat about once a month. While she is delighted with the gourmet fare offered here, she has been reluctant to write or to sign a waiver indemnifying James from all loss as a result of his “discoveries”. No matter. A tort is a torte.

Risk taker that he is, James now cooks our meat according to the new USDA recommendations which means that lower temperatures can be used affording safety while enhancing the flavor. Gregory has even caught him vacuum-packing our beef to cook in the gentle waters of a “sous vide”, what looks like a fish tank heater, a rather costly instrument now a favorite of the foodies and the gastro-pornographers he watches on television. He sprinkles the meats with ‘lilac sugar’. Gregory walked in to find James creating this by meticulously removing lilacs pedals and grinding them in sugar. There was a small pile of petals assembled on the table that day and when asked what was happening James smiled and retorted, “Secret Ingredient”. But it wasn’t until James came back from Maine that he truly had Gregory flummoxed. James brought out a bag of birch leaves which his dad and friends, Gary and Barbara, had helped him to gather. The leaves were carefully washed, added to sea salt and pulverized in the food processor. While worrisome, they do make for a most impressive food flavoring.

In late August, James traveled to Maine. It was a busy “working vacation”, the end result of which was a U-Haul pod of stuff being shipped across the country. The pod arrived about ten days after James’ return, delivered to our place by a ‘moving company’, two young men and a mini-van, who didn’t know how to back up with a trailer hitched on. James offered to back the rig up for them, but they declined, preferring to aggravate the entire neighborhood for a pair of hours as they unloaded the pod in to the basement from the center line of the street.

For the first time in years, all of James’ belongings are in one place. Everything from awards and certificates from his childhood to antique rocking chairs that his great-grandmother had rocked ‘the kids’ in, to James’ mother’s collection of crystal dishes and serving pieces were loaded in to that plywood box.

Most impressively though was the new old bed that James brought back from his familial home. In 1977, when ‘the twins’, as he and his sister have been known for much of their lives, needed a new bed, James’ Dad tore a couple of pages from the Sears Catalog to use as inspiration and went to his woodworking shop and built matching ‘Captain’s Beds’, a left and a right, which he modified recently to make one king-sized bed for us to use here. Robert must have been given a router for Christmas 1976, as the wood edges were sculpted and decorative. The Captain’s bed has book shelves in the base and head board and two large drawers for storage on each side. After cleaning them up a bit and reassembling them here in Madison, Gregory now has even more reason to stay upstairs in the event of a tornado or severe weather which would normally send the wise to the basement for cover. He states that he will now just tether himself to the massive and heavy bed and keep on reading.


As you know, we are political junkies and as we tune in to our daily dose of insanity and hate-filled rhetoric from what passes for presidential candidates these days, we try hard to think about what it really means to have a home. It isn’t just the place where we live—it is the whole ensemble of memories and emotions that link us to our pasts. While some would deny others of the chance to establish a home of their own here, we want the US to be a place where others can relish in the simple pleasures of life, where others can hopscotch, read good books, share in meals and friendship, get a good night’s sleep. We wish you a restful year ahead and thank you for being a part of our lives.


Pivoting Towards Christmas

While our home has been decorated for weeks in the way Victorians used to celebrate Christmas that same mood has not come to this blog.  Until now.

Back when I was a boy my Mom always turned the music up loud when it came to gospel music from quartets.   Her first many years in Ozone, Arkansas along with the love she had for music that resonated with feeling made for lots of times when the radio and record player volume was turned up just a bit higher.

As this blog turns from politics to the best part of the year it is time to twist the volume up and become one with the Christmas season.


Wisconsin GOP Lawmaker Wants Citizens To Execute Each Other

The level of crazy has reached a new high–or should I say a new low.  The latest statement from a Republican lawmaker is simply unacceptable.

“Wisconsin does not have a death penalty law, but with significant practice and careful aim, law-abiding citizens can help clean our society of these scumbags,” State Representative Bob Gannon from Slinger said today.  “Criminals no longer have any fear of our courts or our prisons, so it’s time that the citizens of this fine state stand up and fight back.”

The last thing a Christmas shopping crowd needed at the East Towne Mall on Saturday was anyone carrying a gun.   So it was very traumatic for many when a major fist-fighting brawl erupted among teenagers and one of them pulled a gun and fired.   Needless to say panic ensued.

But can you image the mayhem that would have resulted if a bunch of people with concealed carrying had all of a sudden in their rush to “clean our society of these scumbags” started firing their weapons?   The gun shot wound in the leg to one person on Saturday would instead have become a bloodbath.

We have witnessed at every level of government an angry and verbally uncontrolled Republican Party.  There seems to be no more ability to temper words or think before speaking.  If we do not hear statements about banning Muslims from the country or cavalierly talking about shooting Russian pilots from the skies we are now advocating nothing short of vigilantism among our very own citizenry.

I know it comes as a hard sell to those like Gannon but the problem is not that we have too few guns in society but that we have too many of them that are too easy to obtain.  Add to that mix an education system that too often fails to fulfill the needed mission, or an economy that does not produce enough jobs let alone ones that are good paying.  Add in drugs, gangs, broken families, and a host of social pressures that young men feel and it is not hard to see what we need to be concentrating on as a society.  By my noting these issues in no way gives license to anyone for acting in the fashion we all too often hear about.  But we need to be aware that real issues have to be addressed if we are to be serious about preventing what took place at East Towne Mall.

So for Gannon to reach out for the lowest rung on the ladder and suggest that people just need to load up on weapons and carry them for the task of shooting and killing “scumbags” is just revolting.  It speaks to a strain of people in the state, that I am most aware of.   But that small segment does not represent who we are as a state nor do his words echo the thinking of the majority in the legislature.

No one was pleased with what happened at East Towne, and that includes those of us who actually live in Madison.   But if we are to find a way forward concerning the root causes of this gun violence we need to check the most base and unhelpful words that seem to pour from some within the Republican Party.   I know it is hard for some to play beyond the need to stoke the fires among the base of their party. After all that is all they have to offer.   But that just means the rest of us need to double-down on seeking real-world solutions to what happened.

Some Nice Words Before We Retire Lindsey Graham From The Presidential Trail

Today Lindsey Graham suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination for president.  Over time I have posted about the senator and as it has been noted I him smart and impressive.  That does not mean I agree with his conservative ideas or his fondness for everything that Israel does or tries to do in the Middle East.  But when it comes to a powerful intellect I want more people like Graham in the U.S. Senate.

Last week he made a statement at the Republican debate that I very much appreciated.  Time did not allow for me to comment about it, but as Graham in now exiting the presidential race I feel it needs to be mentioned.

Graham had the spine and moral DNA to offer an apology to the Muslim world for the outrages of Donald Trump.  He stated in an emotional way that the words and actions of Trump doesn’t reflect America’s attitude toward Islam.

“Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do — declare war on Islam itself”.   How true that is.

Smart people like Graham know that this time of  tumult in the Islamic world (something many learned people liken to the reformation process as the faith works towards modernity) is not a clash of civilizations and should not in any way be handled on the international stage as if that were true.

Therefore his words at the debate were simply refreshing and deeply appreciated by a world that does seek answers instead of mindless bombast.  “To all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt, I am sorry. He does not represent us.”

I sincerely wish that Lindsey Graham–who I do think is gay–can now with the end of his quest for the White House come to terms with himself and come out of the closet.   Nothing in politics is worth living a lie for.

This will not be the last post on my blog about Graham.   But it is clearly one of my most sincere.

Bernie Sanders Not Expanding Details To Plans Makes For Mistake As Candidate

One of the points I made to James while watching last night’s Democratic debate is that Bernie Sanders plays only the greatest hits and never has any new material to showcase.   Perhaps I watch and read political news too much and really want something more at a debate.  But there was noting new to hear from what was offered last night from Sanders when it comes to his economic planks.    That statement is meant only as a fact.

The other gripe I have about Sander’s presentation is never getting him to address how his budget would be orchestrated so to pay for the programs he champions–some of those programs which I very much agree with.   But as a pragmatic voter I want as much detail from him about proposals as I do when pestering other candidates about their hopes.  It is not an unreasonable request.  From what has been presented thus far his ideas are not funded, and if he has budget numbers to show otherwise this is the time to present them.

Which brings me to the link below and the political problem that runs to the heart of the Sander’s campaign.

New York Times: “Most candidates evolve: Barack Obama and George W. Bush became better at communicating and campaigning during their first presidential races, and their agendas developed overarching themes. Mr. Sanders, by contrast, was repeating old talking points on Saturday night — like breaking up big banks and increasing taxes on the rich — without convincingly saying how he would achieve those goals or presenting them in powerful new language. As the debate demonstrated, he has yet to grow from a movement messiah into a national candidate whom many people can imagine as president.”

Most Amusing Image From Democratic Debate

There was no way not to laugh and smile when Hillary Clinton arrived late for the resumption of the Democratic debate Saturday night.  This was after all the second time at a debate that she was a bit late as it seems it takes women longer then men when using a restroom.  I get all that, and yet this image from last night as she makes her return and the discussion is already underway is priceless.



The first word out of her mouth made for laughter that erupted in our living room when she simply stated “Sorry”.

Hillary Clinton Winning Democratic Debate

One hour into the Democratic debate and issues aside Hillary Clinton is winning in terms of tone and debating skills.  Unless there is some major unseen event this debate will freeze in place the race and allow for Clinton to take her national lead well into the heart of January.

Gun Violence At Madison’s East Towne Mall—And What About Parent’s Responsibility?

Once again the angry and violent nature of our society bubbled over and resulted in gunfire.  This time it took place with shoppers at Madison’s East Towne Mall–six days before Christmas.

Well Ho Ho Ho!!  What says Merry Christmas more than carrying a loaded gun into a mall?  And what about those who allow for kids to have guns?

Today the shots fired resulted in one person being injured.  But for the vast majority the injury was the panic that must have sent shivers up and down the spine.  Too many headlines of mass shootings that result from lax gun laws in this nation make people jittery on a good day.  One can imagine what people thought when the shots were heard today and then spotted people running and screaming in panic.

The gunfire seemingly erupted after some  teenage males got into a fight that turned violent.  It might be a good time to again ask how the hell do parents allow these punks to get their hands on guns?  It might also be a good time to ask if parents are not able to control their offspring then perhaps they should forfeit their children tax credits.  The rest of society should not have to continually pay the price for bad parenting.

The NRA has plenty of responsibility for the number of guns in our society and the ease with which anyone can get a deadly weapon.  But when it comes to teenagers with guns there also has to be a question asked–where the hell is the parent?