Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let justice be blind, but let it have a pulse

Just for the record, I am not an attorney -- nor do I play one on TV. I am not equipped to judge the fitness of a nominee for the Supreme Court. I have not studied this nominee's judicial record or her speeches; I did not watch the hearings on TV. I am ill-equipped to weigh her qualifications. I would like to leave that discernment to better informed minds, but sadly there don't seem to be many. Just this morning I was reading about our very own Senator Grassley's decision to vote against the current nominee's confirmation. Is his concern that she is not adequately educated or prepared? No. Is it because she has been nominated by the President whose roots are in a different political party? You'll have to ask him. He says no.

What he claims to be afraid of is that her "personal experience could inform court decisions."

OK. So that's bad because...?

As I say, I am not qualified to judge her competence for the office, but I am troubled by this apparent delusion that anyone might come to this office without shaping personal experience that will necessarily inform his/her thinking. As I wrote in a letter to Senator Grassley this morning, "How, I ask, could they NOT? How could your experiences as a farmer not inform your work as a Senator? How could my experiences growing up in Texas not inform all of what I do? Is Clarence Thomas devoid of personal experience -- or any of the other sitting justices?"

"How," I went on to wonder with Senator Grassley, "have we come to this faux slavery to the pursuit of the fiction of 'objectivity.' You and the rest of us are deluding ourselves if we believe that anyone -- judge or otherwise -- can disassociate him/herself from the experiences that make us who we are. Neither this nominee, nor you, nor any future nominee to the Supreme Court is plucked from a sterile laboratory shelf. Thank God we come to our work with real life experiences that inform us. One certainly need not be imprisoned by them -- there are, after all, always more shaping experiences to have unless we determine to recreate that sterile laboratory shelf for the remainder of our days."

Do these life experiences increase the possibility of judicial mistakes? Sure, but aren't there an abundance of forces that stoke the possibilities for error? Surely the sitting justices have made mistakes; if confirmed, this nominee will be no different. Why, even Senator Grassley makes mistakes -- this decision, for example. The word "integrity" derives from the concept of wholeness. In Senator Grassley's pursuit of judicial integrity he seems to be requiring this nominee to sacrifice her own wholeness in the bargain.

Ultimately, the world will not end if this nominee is not confirmed. Surely our nation has plenty of qualified jurists. It's not really her torch that I'm carrying. My concern is for a legal pulse, and the conviction that the way our justice is handled should have one.
A pulse.
Some sign of human vitality.
If jurisprudence necessarily demands absolute, sterile objectivity then a computer could weigh the evidence. Somehow that doesn't sound like a very desirable alternative.

While justice should be blind, our justices shouldn't come empty to the task. I say let's give them permission to be people.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What Will We Now Do With All That Butter?

Oh great! Now The New York Times is even talking about the tempest in our little State Fair teapot: the great "Butter Michael" fiasco. It is, and I can't possibly say this sarcastically enough, a fine piece of news with which to seize the world's attention, and "spread" our progressive reputation, if you will pardon the pun.

Shortly after the death of Michael Jackson, State Fair organizers (who annually set aside space for a cow sculpted entirely of butter -- see photo, along with other notables like Tiger Woods, Harry Potter and last year our own gymnast Shawn Johnson) announced that they would memorialize the King of Pop in Iowa's own version of Madame Tussaud's dairy museum. According to the Times article, plans were already in the works "to create a butter diorama of sorts in honor of the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon — complete with a butter moon surface, a butter astronaut and an American flag of butter." Then, when Michael died, they apparently couldn't resist his"moonwalk" tie-in. Next time, I might suggest something a little less controversial -- like burning the flag on the Capitol steps. When the plan was announced, there was outcry. There was offense. There was righteous indignation. He was, you know, "different." At the very least.

Living, as we sometimes pretend, in a democracy, the question was put to a vote. A rarely interesting columnist who appears in our local paper whipped his readers into a voting frenzy, and almost before it had begun, the controversy was quashed. The people had spoken. The vote was in -- apparently 100,000 of them. There will be no Butter Michael. The public line from the Fair is that Jackson had no real Iowa connection -- even though the Jackson 5 performed at the Fair in 1971. I'm trying to think when Tiger Woods played here -- or Harry Potter played Quidditch here. But, then, they aren't "different."

So, we can all sleep in peace tonight. Michael Jackson is out. Our butter is safe for another year. That resolved, maybe now we can move forward on lesser concerns like climate change, affordable health care, and the industrialization of our food supply. And peace, while we are at it -- beating our butter swords into butter pruning hooks. I wonder how those 100,000 will vote on that.

Just a thought.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tomatoes When the Time is Ripe and if the Lord is Willing

I am sure that most of the credit goes to the rain. We have enjoyed consistent showers in Des Moines since early spring, meaning that flower beds and gardens all through the neighborhood are lush and full. That fertility has certainly extended to our back deck. Early in the season we planted our traditional flowers in the hanging boxes around the railing, but we also decided to try our typically brown thumbs on tomatoes again -- and a few miscellaneous other vegetables -- in pots. Ground planting has routinely proven disappointing, except to the rabbits and deer who enjoyed all the benefits. Pots on our elevated deck seemed the only possible route to success, and so we...

...got a little carried away. Seven pots of tomato plants have now so junglized the space that we have had to fold up and put away the deck chairs and table. Underneath all that foliage are supposed to be a similar number of bell peppers, but those shorter plants have long-since been hidden from view. I was disappointed by the scant number of blossoms on the vines, but now collections of marble-sized tomatoes are posting more favorable reviews. It has become an important part of my days to accomplish crop surveys, and I have sort of resented the rain for depriving me of occasions for offering my meager but beloved H2O therapy. It seems little enough to do -- slaking the thirst of those towering vines -- especially when the plants, themselves, are doing all the really hard work. Staying upright seems exertion enough, even with the wire cages offering their assistive support. But making fruit; that is labor of love, indeed!

Which is why I wish I could do more to help. My sense of stewardship is kicking in -- and, OK I will admit it, my salivation. It is too early to tell; after all, high winds or birds or, my luck, a flying rabbit or leaping deer could still intrude with a horticultural abortion. The nibbled whiskery stems down at the base of the tree where hosta leaves only yesterday sprawled is cautionary reminder that there are all kinds of mouths out there looking to be fed. We don't have tomatoes or peppers quite yet -- only their anticipation.

In the meantime we will wait, and watch and coax and fantasize.

And water, whenever the rain will let me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Answering the Bedside Alarm, and Getting Back to Work

The deaths of Ed McMahan, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, a coup in Honduras, a dubious election in Iran, a transfer of military authority in Iraq, gubernatorial sideshows in South Carolina and Alaska – a lot can happen in the course of a vacation. All those, plus a graduation party in Minneapolis, Father’s Day, medical concerns with parents on both sides, airports, highways, and a 4th of July wedding in East Texas complete with long-time friends and fireworks. 2500 miles, give or take, not including the drive up to the north side of Fort Worth for lunch at Joe T. Garcia’s, a necessary pilgrimage. Along the way we read a lot about food and farming and the modern disconnection between the two, and connected with another local organic gardener who is teaching us more about nutrition and healthful eating and...ummm...bodily functions than we had bargained for. All in all, it wasn’t necessarily the way we planned to spend the days, but it was interesting, fruitful, stimulating and warming. That latter in more ways than one; it was still 101-degrees during the 7:30 pm wedding.

Now home and ready for my third day back at work, I still walk into my office under a cloud of befuddled lostness – the clutter of disorganized mail, programmatic initiatives demanding attention and consideration, a search process reaching fruition, hospitals that need visiting, a funeral and a sermon and a couple of worship services to prepare. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to remember how to shut off the alarm – an interruption I had gotten used to doing without.

But home is a good place to be, and work – good and meaningful work the likes of which I am privileged to share – is worth getting out of bed for.