Robert St. Tunnel: Invest in West St. Paul Without Raising Taxes

Right now the West St. Paul city council is debating the 2018 budget and a potential 10-12% levy increase. Yes, taxes are going to go up.

This really isn’t a surprise, especially since the city has been unable to secure state help in paying for the recent Robert Street reconstruction (I explored taxes vs. investment last year).

These are preliminary numbers and the city council and mayor are working to bring those numbers down—nobody wants a huge tax increase. They will wrangle over ways to slash the budget, including closing the city pool and Thompson Golf Course, delaying improvements to Marthaler Park and more.

Budget cuts are painful, no way around it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to invest in West St. Paul without adding to the budget? 

Oh yeah, there is: The Robert Street Tunnel. Continue reading Robert St. Tunnel: Invest in West St. Paul Without Raising Taxes

Synchronous Vacation Photos

I love seeing photos that are near reflections of each other. I don’t know what to call this—synchronicity, mirror images, whatever. There has to be a better way to describe them. But I love them.

While on vacation this year I managed to add a new chapter to several such photos:

1986: Me, my brother, and my dad (Grand Lake, I think)
Hendricks Boys 1986 (Rocky Mountain National Park Style)

2002: Me and my wife (Estes Park)
Kevin & Abby with the RMNP Sign

2014: My wife and I (Grand Lake)
Rocky Mountain National Park West Gate

2017: Milo, Lexi and me.
Rocky Mountain National Park

Continue reading Synchronous Vacation Photos

We Should Offer Universal Empathy Instead of Relational Empathy

Today I was reading the quick book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (it’s actually a great little parenting guide), and came across this line:

“Teach her to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussion rape, will always say something like ‘if it were my daughter or wife or sister.’ Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.” (29)

This sort of response happened over and over again in reaction to Donald Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comments last year. Men (politicians in particular) were outraged on behalf of wives, daughters, mothers.

Somehow they couldn’t just be outraged. Their outrage only mattered if it had a relational component.

I know others made similar criticisms at the time, but Adichie summed it up very succinctly.

All people are human beings and worthy of dignity and respect. It’s sad and frustrating that we’re more willing to give empathy when we connect to people. I suppose that’s only practical.

But it cheapens our humanity.

It means we can withhold empathy when we hold people at an arm’s length. It’s how we justify lynching and genocide, or simpler things like ignoring homeless people.

In talking about racism and #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve been tempted to use my son as an example. But I realized I’m doing the same thing: I’m asking people to be empathetic because it’s my son, when empathy should be extended regardless.

We should care about injustice to black people because it is injustice, not because it could happen to my son.

We should fight “pussy grabbing” because it is always wrong, not because it could happen to our wives or daughters or mothers.

We need to learn how to practice universal empathy.

2017 Solar Eclipse: My Perspective in Geneva, Nebraska

On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse passed across the continental United States. The last solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979 (the year I was born), and the last one that went through the middle of the country was 1918.

It’s not quite a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s pretty close. We’ve got a string of upcoming total solar eclipses in the U.S. in 2024 and again in 2045 (and one in 2099 that will go across Minnesota, if you plan to still be around then). You can certainly travel the world to chase down eclipses, but it’s still a pretty rare event.

Monday’s total eclipse lasted a total of two minutes and thirty seconds, so it’s definitely a short-lived moment.

Last summer I read Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass and learned about the wonders of a total solar eclipse. So I planned my summer vacation with the kids around this event, knowing it would be worth the effort.

And it totally was.

This is just before totality. You can’t tell from the picture, but the light is starting to get weird:

2017 Solar Eclipse

This is during totality. The sky looks bright in the background, but it’s twilight. The kids are freaking out. Lexi: “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!” Milo: “Oh my freakin’ Thor!”

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A glimpse of the sun in full eclipse:

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This is immediately after totality ended:

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Yep, worth it.

Continue reading 2017 Solar Eclipse: My Perspective in Geneva, Nebraska

It’s Time to Join the Hard Work of Fighting Racism

The news out of Charlottesville and around the country in the past week has been bewildering. It’s bizarre to watch a president struggle to condemn racist hate. It’s encouraging to see people come together and condemn this hate, but at the same time I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place.

We’ve overlooked too much, sat by in uncomfortable silence, allowed injustice to go unchecked for too long.

All this talk of taking down statues is helpful, but we need to be careful that we don’t see taking down statues and condemning groups that should obviously be condemned as enough.

Ta-Nehisi Coates said it this way:

“I will say that there is some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues. … I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation, you know, by taking down symbols and saying, ‘OK, that’s nice. That’s over.'”

We face a real danger if we whitewash our public spaces of any potential signs of racism, but refuse to do the deeper work of ridding our hearts of racism.

It’s easy to condemn slavery and Jim Crow, to look down on the South and the Confederate flag. But racism thrived (and still thrives) outside of the South. When it was founded, Oregon banned black people from the entire state. The 1951 riot in Cicero, Ill., showed that Jim Crow existed outside the South. Even today, Minnesota has the worst racial disparities in the nation.

We have work to do.

We can’t breathe easy just because we stopped some Nazis.

I think Austin Channing Brown said it powerfully:

Its time, Beloved. Its time to commit yourselves to learning. Its time to commit yourselves to speaking. Its time to commit yourselves to writing. Its time to commit yourselves to organizing. Its time to commit yourselves to preaching. Its time to commit yourselves to teaching. Its time to commit to understanding American history. Its time to commit yourselves to the work of racial justice. Its time to commit yourselves to love- whatever that looks like at the intersection of your giftedness and influence.

But when I say love, Im not talking meaningless, polite niceties. You can keep that. Im talking about a love that takes risks. A love that requires sacrifice. A love that protests hate.

Its time to unequivocally protest the hate embedded in white supremacy- not just in the events of Charlottesville but around the dinner table, in the pews, in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the board meetings, in the curriculum, in the books, movies, and media in your house, and most of all from within your own heart, mind and spirit.

Go read her entire post. It’s good stuff. Continue reading It’s Time to Join the Hard Work of Fighting Racism

How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

People who know me know that I like to read. A lot. I read 158 books last year, and that was pretty average for me. This year? Not so much.

We’re exactly halfway through 2017, and so far I’ve read 40 books. Last year at this time? 104.

40 books is still a lot of books to read in a single year, let alone six months. But it’s still way below par for me. For the last five years I’ve read well over 100 books a year, once over 200.

So what happened?

I’ve been in an extended reading slump.

Continue reading How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

Minimizing Terrorism by Integrating Muslims

Recently on The Daily Show, journalist Sebastian Junger and producer Nick Quested discussed their documentary Hell on Earth about the ongoing civil war in Syria. They made an intriguing comment about why ISIS terror attacks haven’t happened in the U.S. as much as they have in Europe:

“Thank God this country has been spared most of the kinds of attacks Europe has been suffering the last few years. The theory for why that is, is that the Muslim population in America has been really successfully integrated into our economy, our culture, our society. In Europe it has not. And I think the lesson for America is let’s make sure that we are as inclusive a society as possible, because that is actually what protects us from the kinds of violence, the tragedies we’ve been seeing almost every week in Europe on the news.” -Sebastian Junger, The Daily Show, June 7, 2017

Continue reading Minimizing Terrorism by Integrating Muslims

Muslims & Christians Coming Together for #LoveSomalia

The first weekend in June, more than 15,000 people came together in downtown St. Paul to pack meals for the famine in Somalia. The nonprofit Feed My Starving Children organized the mobile packing event, setting up their warehouse in the RiverCentre.

At the end of the #LoveSomalia event, nearly 5 million meals had been packed. My family attended for a shift on Sunday, doing our small part to pack a few boxes.

What’s amazing about this story is that Somali Muslims approached an unapologetically Christian organization to ask what they could do. Feed My Starving Children responded by setting up this emergency event in eight weeks.  Continue reading Muslims & Christians Coming Together for #LoveSomalia

Robert Street Tunnel on Hold for No Good Reason

Just when I was starting to blog about other things (two posts in a row!), the tunnel comes up again. This time the proposed River-to-River Greenway and Robert Street tunnel in West St. Paul received high-profile coverage in the Pioneer Press.

Unfortunately, it’s not good news:

Plans for the tunnel are on the shelf for now as officials wait for retail development to play out nearby.

As the article explains, there’s potential for development on both sides of Robert Street where the tunnel would cross. That’s not new. So far, none of those projects have come together (the last attempt by Pebb Enterprises failed because they wanted the city to pitch in $4 million to make it work).

What is new is the city saying they don’t want to hinder any potential development, so the tunnel can’t happen.

This is odd for several reasons: Continue reading Robert Street Tunnel on Hold for No Good Reason

Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad

This week I finished reading American War by Omar El Akkad. It’s a fascinating speculative story about a second American Civil War 50 years from now.

Two days after finishing, I turned on the radio and there was Omar El Akkad talking about his book. Even better, he was making an appearance in St. Paul the next day. Score.

A Word About Author Readings

I love seeing authors in person. It’s such a unique way to get a glimpse into who they are and how they create. It’s an opportunity that takes the book reading experience so much deeper.

And they’re almost always free.

I wish I had done a lot more of that in college when I was still learning how to be a writer. (One of my first experiences of it came in college—Wendell Berry reading Jayber Crow.)

Continue reading Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.