Cranberry Redemption

cranberry-stuff
     I have a confession to make. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff at Thanksgiving – not sauce, relish, whatever. It seemed like some sort of Holy obligation — I had to eat some because of the sacred tradition.  My mom always opened a can and dumped it on a plate like some sort of  gelatinous cylinder…festive, flavorful, and to me, kind of industrial looking. It would be passed around the table like communion and folks would take a spoonful and deposit it on the side of their plate but not let it touch any of the other food…it was something apart.
     Now there are many ways to prepare cranberries and my mom experimented with different recipes but she had her hands full with everything else. We knew that it was best to stay out of the kitchen. I recall one year when there were flames roaring out of the oven and my mom and my aunt were franticly throwing stuff in the oven to put out the turkey. Another year the turkey lurched out of the oven and bounced across the floor. She picked it up and crammed it back in the oven and the look on her face said…”I dare you to say anything…it will be the last thing you ever say.”  So the little plate with the cranberry cylinder was fine.
     The cranberry plant has an odd life. It is sort of a vine-like shrub   that lives in a sandy, wet bog in rather cold climates — a very acidic environment. The common North American version (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) is somewhat different from the European variety but I have no idea what that difference is. We have several varieties or species of cranberries that have some differences in growing requirements or berry color but Vaccinium Macrocarpon is the one that seems to be widely cultivated. The Indians loved cranberries and probably introduced them to the hungry Pilgrims. I suspect you have seen the commercials with the two guys standing hip deep in a pond extolling the wonders of cranberries. The berries float so the farmers flood the bogs with enough water to float the berries above the submerged plants and then harvest the floating berries. The bogs are then drained after the harvest and the plants get ready for next Thanksgiving.
     As I said, I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving cranberry stuff. I generally like the flavor of cranberry juice and I like dried cranberries. There are lots of cranberry relish recipes all over the internet. The recipes seem almost like a desperate attempt to make something out of cranberries. Some have nuts, some have a mixture of other fruit, some have lemon peel, some attempt to replicate the same stuff that comes out of the can. None of the pictures look like anything I would want to eat much of. A chopped up cranberry mixed with other things that I can’t identify is not very inviting. My mom’s experiments with real cranberries didn’t seem to be an improvement over the convenience of opening a can while the smoke poured out of the oven.
     My days of big Thanksgiving dinners are behind me. I live 1,000 miles from most of my relatives so it is just me and my daughter  — who lives a short distance away —  conjuring up some sort of plan for the holiday. Neither one of us want a great deal of leftovers so we keep it small. This year we decided to forego cooking all together and made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole parade of traditional Thanksgiving  delicacies…including cranberry relish. Even in this situation, the cranberry concoction was served up in it’s own little Holy sepulcher …not part of the main attraction.  It was of the chopped or minced variety…not the semi-transparent gelatinous form. I pondered it for a minute or so. My plate was full of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (all drenched with turkey gravy) and green beans and candied sweet potatoes plus a basket of warm bread. That little dish of red stuff peered back at me…”Try me” it said, almost winking.  This seemed like too public a place to partake of the cranberry sacrament. Well…nobody was looking…I made a run for it and discreetly took a sample….and behold(!), I saw that it was good!  I tried some more…I was not deceived. It was quite good…very good.  It was clearly some sort of marriage of cranberry and orange marmalade.  Maybe I’ve been deprived all these years but I never considered those two flavors working well together. We enjoyed our dinner. My daughter also enjoyed the cranberries which I considered a good sign….it wasn’t just me. Perhaps the spell has been broken — we have reached cranberry redemption!  Shout Hallelujah!!!
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The Foolish Farmer and His Dog: An Allegory

dog-chickenOne day, not so very long ago, a farmer said to himself “I need to get a new dog. My old dog is ready to retire and I can no longer count on him to do the work of keeping my barnyard safe and well ordered.” So the farmer thought about what kind of dog he wanted but was having a hard time deciding. He went to the dog store but there wasn’t a big selection. In some ways that made the choice easier but in some ways it made the choice more difficult. One dog chased its tail all day so the farmer said “No — that would be a pointless choice for what I need.” Another dog seemed lost and confused. “No siree, I need a dog that is direct and strong minded”. The last two dogs were both alpha dogs and wanted to fight day and night. The dog man laid out the pros and cons of each of the two alpha dogs’ attributes. He really wanted to make a sale so he said good things about the dogs.

The farmer had bought dogs before so he considered what the man had to say but asked a lot of questions. Both dogs had some experience and the farmer decided that he would take one of these last two dogs.

One dog was golden colored, almost like a smallish Golden Retriever, but was somewhat troublesome. The dog man had to admit to some flaws in the dog’s character and, in fact admitted that the dog in question had killed chickens and sucked eggs some years earlier. Sometimes this alpha dog was a bad influence on other dogs or ran with a pack of bad dogs. The Golden dog was also very territorial and possessive, the man said, and would, on occasion, snap at other dogs or pick fights. But the dog man said all that was a long time ago and he was sure that the dog had reformed its behavior.

The other dog, looking more like a herding dog, had its own faults, too. He said it always tried to herd animals in the barnyard and was something of a nuisance in that regard. He said the Herder, being an alpha, was sometimes second-guessing its owner’s decisions and sometimes even made bad choices. The man generally said good things about the dog but the farmer noted that there was just a little hesitation at times. Of the two dogs, the Herder seemed to be somewhat secretive and maybe a little passive. The farmer asked more questions but the man said the Herder was a good dog and had no serious behavior problems that would cause problems but that it was a little stand-offish at times.

The farmer, being a long term dog owner, knew that some dogs were good and some were bad. Not all dogs were cut out for working on a farm and it was often hard to tell which was which. He pondered his choice carefully because both dogs were flawed but he really needed one quickly. He was put off a little by the man’s perceived hesitancy with the Herder and the farmer thought it was a little hard to read and something of a loner. It was quiet and well behaved but maybe that was just an act. On the other hand, the Golden dog was more social in some ways and, if it was possessive and territorial, it might be protective of the barnyard. Sure, it had a problem with attracting other bad dogs or maybe influencing good dogs to turn bad, but the farmer was not too concerned about that. Besides, the man said the Golden dog’s problems were in the past and it was now reformed.

After a while, the farmer decided to go home with the Golden dog. The dog was very happy and explored its new surroundings, especially the barnyard, and met the other animals there. The farmer was happy and sent his old retired dog to go live with his Uncle Joe. The farmer noticed a couple other strange dogs hanging around the farm…sometimes in the shadows and sometimes just over the fence.

One day the farmer went out into the barnyard and found a dead chicken. The farmer thought that maybe one of those lurking dogs had killed the chicken and he encouraged the Golden dog to be more vigilant and protective.

The Golden dog pranced and paraded around the barnyard and the farmer thought it was good that it had assumed possession of the barnyard and surroundings. The other dogs seemed to be less noticeable after a few days. But by and by the farmer found more dead chickens…first one and then another and then a third — four in all. The farmer was also finding fewer eggs and one day he saw that there were many broken egg shells in back of one of the empty stalls.

The farmer took the egg shells and the dead chickens and confronted the Golden dog. The dog was parading around the barnyard as usual when the farmer came and it snarled and snapped at the farmer. The Golden dog grabbed one of the dead chickens and stood over it, daring the farmer to take it back.

The farmer was nonplussed — taken aback that his dog would behave in such a way. Surely, he confessed to himself, it was his own dog that was killing chickens and sucking eggs. The dog man had told the farmer about the Golden dog’s one-time flaw but the farmer had dismissed it.

The farmer penned up the dog and scolded it. He kept it on a leash and walked it around the barnyard. When the Golden dog encountered a chicken the farmer yanked on the leash and yelled “No!!” and they continued with the walk. After several days of this the farmer thought that the problem had passed and released the Golden dog. The dog was somewhat sullen at first but in a while it was prancing and parading around the barnyard just like before.

The farmer thought that everything was fine but after a short while he noticed he was getting fewer eggs. He searched the barn but did not find any broken eggshells. Then the farmer noticed that some of his chickens were missing. The farmer looked at the Golden dog but the dog was innocently lying on the porch without a care in the world.

After a few days of this, the farmer began to smell something odd and decided to investigate. He looked everywhere but couldn’t pinpoint the source. The Golden dog watched from the porch as the farmer searched high and low. Finally, the farmer approached the porch and the Golden dog seemed to take notice. The farmer glanced at the dog and the porch and noticed a feather sticking out from the space under the porch. The Golden dog took an aggressive stance. The farmer saw that the Golden dog was back to its old tricks and had been killing chickens and sucking eggs all along but was hiding the evidence under the porch. The farmer marveled at how this could be as he took the dog and tied it to a tree far from the house and the barnyard. The Golden dog could no longer be trusted anywhere near the barnyard and was of no use to the farmer. The farmer recalled all the things that the dog man had said about the Golden dog’s problems and behaviors…things that the farmer had foolishly chosen to ignore.

The next day the farmer tried to return the Golden dog to the man at the dog store but the man would not take him back as the Golden dog had been nothing but trouble. Also the Herder dog — the better of the two — was gone and was busy on a different kind of farm in New York. The foolish farmer was sad that he was stuck with a useless dog so the dog man said “Take the worthless Golden dog to the junkyard and give it away to the junkman”…and that’s what the farmer did.

What have we learned?

geowashingtonFor better or for worse, the election is over. I think it is time for reflection, but not an autopsy. There has never been an election like this one. Our republic has been tested. We came through the storm and now must assess the damage. We all have reason to be dissatisfied with the process even if not the result. We have a President-Elect without a mandate, probably the worst kind of election outcome. The majority of votes were cast against him, if not in favor of another candidate. People claiming this is some sort of water-shed or revolution will be disappointed. If there was ever any real intention to “drain the swamp” we would have seen massive turnover in Congress.

In the end, this is what years of indoctrination via talk radio and conspiracy theories and self-defined victim status produces…they reached a tipping point. They become too stupid to know how stupid they are and that is a very paranoid place to be. It’s not just being uninformed, it’s being intentionally misinformed and willingly misled. We have seen that in other countries and it never ends well. In the face of this stupidity, it is our duty to preserve our republic and support our true values as a nation and our constitution.

There is an incredible level of ignorance about how our country and our government works. When I was in school, we could not graduate without completing two classes in civics. One was related to the state constitution and how state government worked. If the student didn’t pass the state constitution test they could not advance to high school. In high school there was a civics class that covered the US constitution and another mandatory test required for graduation. That requirement no longer exists. The Founding Fathers created a remarkable document in the US Constitution and it amazes me that most people, including the President-Elect, have little or no knowledge of its contents. Powers and duties of the three branches of government are specifically defined. Political parties are not covered in the original constitution because they did not exist. They developed more like private clubs than an arm of the government and they can make their own rules and do pretty much what they want. Every four years we have people who are astounded that there is an Electoral College made up of state Electors who choose the President and that these Electors are not bound to vote as their state voted.

The media voices are trying to explain the election outcome as if there are deep festering wounds in America that have been ignored for too long. Somehow it is America’s short-sightedness that is to blame. Many of those festering wounds are self-inflicted by hate groups. When you talk to the Trump supporters they all claim to be victims…it seems very chic to claim to have been victimized by one group or another. If there is no one group to blame for the victimization than it all must be Obama’s fault. These are fake, self-defined victims – they have been told repeatedly that they are being preyed upon by Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, welfare recipients, and illegal aliens…anyone who is different. They are being told this by people who are actually preying on them: the Rush Limbaugh types, the TV evangelist millionaires, the NRA, and Fox News. At the end of your sobering conversation, the poor, victimized Trump fans will climb into their Lexus or wannabe Humvee and drive away.

In this campaign there were, for the first time in recent history, foreign efforts to influence the election presumably in an attempt to discredit our republic and the democratic process. Those foreign efforts failed. One major strength of our system happens to be the orderly transfer of government as a result of an election. This will happen in January and by then much of the smoke will have cleared and we will have a better understanding of how things will go. Another strength is our election cycle — a President serves for four year terms. We have Congressional elections in two years so those with voter’s remorse or those who are opposed to the way things are going have an opportunity to change the members and direction of Congress. We have a Constitution that clearly lays out rights, duties and limits on power.

The current reaction to the election outcome is extreme on both sides and it could probably not be otherwise given the rhetoric and partisan rancor over the past year and a half. Over half of the electorate opposes the new President-Elect. He faces fraud and racketeering court cases before he is even sworn in.  I would not be surprised if he is hounded out of office by resignation before the end of his term or is impeached – our constitution provides for that. At any rate, he will likely face fierce opposition at every turn if he manages to stay in office for four years.

As we reflect on the process of selecting a President, I think it is important to consider at least one change. Our presidential election process is much too long. It is much too costly. It is much too divisive. The lengthy campaign tends to accentuate our differences and allows special interests and clever manipulators to sacrifice our civility and drive wedges into the natural fault lines that run through our society. We are not a homogeneous nation, nor were we ever meant to be. We are a nation of differences — race, ethnicity, religion, education, politics and gender to name a few major examples. Fault lines turn into fractures if there is enough pressure and our election process, lasting well over a year and a half, is causing too much damage. What can a voter learn in a year that they can’t learn in eight weeks if they are seriously following a campaign? In this day of lightning-fast communication and almost non-existent privacy the public knows within minutes what a candidate says or does. There are people making money – getting rich – over the course of our drawn out election cycle and there are states vying to be the earliest primary or caucus state. Why would it be relevant to be conducting a primary or caucus in February? This year there were six states with primary or caucus dates in February so campaigning started months before. If state caucus dates were in July and there were four regional primary dates in August and party conventions in early September, the entire actual final campaign could take about eight weeks. There would be months less of name calling, lies, charges and counter charges. Would the quality of candidates improve? I think it would because the process we have is not an incentive to run for office.

Another issue that we need to address is the Electoral College. This is the second time in five elections where the majority of votes were cast for the losing candidate. We harp on the concept that every vote counts and then the Electoral College shows that is a lie. I formerly supported the concept of the Electoral College as sort of a safety net for the process. After two apparent failures in recent history and an apparent expressed willingness by some electors to be “faithless”, voting for a different candidate, we need to get rid of it. That will take a vote of Congress and a constitutional amendment. It has been tried before and comes up short but not in recent times. An attempt to abolish it in 1934 failed to pass by two votes in the Senate in order to pass out of Congress and on to state ratification. I am not optimistic about abolishment – it will take a long time – but I think it is time to try.

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