Nebraska Feed

Minimum wage, etc.

An interesting report on Bloomberg news suggesting that the Democratic party can achieve some of its policy aims by unbundling them and running them as initiatives, as this year's success of the minimum wage votes demonstrates.  

This report also informs you that, adjusted for cost of living, Nebraska will have the highest real minimum wage in the country!


Favourite Place in Autumn

IMG_20141021_131649657

Today I spent the afternoon at my favourite place to be in the autumn in Omaha.  It is at Memorial Park, on a warm day, when the leaves are at prime color.  There is a spot where you can sit under trees with bright yellow, red, and orange leaves and bath in the colored sunlight.  The view is over the west lawn toward the university and the Catholic school, with their towers in site.  

Our second autumn here, on a really nice day, I went out there and found this spot and enjoyed an afternoon drinking wine and reading The Varieties of Religious Experience.  I've tried to do the same every year, but the weather doesn't always cooperate (we don't always get a warm, dry, clear, sunny day when the leaves are at their prime).  

But this year, today, was the best so far.  

This is a good experience to have in the autumn, because winter is coming, and this lovely memory will help to buoy my spirits through it.


Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked it for its sense of humour. For the sharp wit and sarcasm. I liked it for nostalgic reasons, as it recalls some aspects of my own youth, as I'm almost the same age as the protagonists. I liked it because the chapter about the first time they held hands is exactly how it felt the first time I held hands with someone.

Though I never grew tired of their adolescent perspectives, there were times I sorta laughed at them and not with them. And sometimes I wondered at their motivations, only to recall that at 16 those would be their motivations.

It was an enjoyable read, that lived up to its hype.

View all my reviews

The Meaning of Names

The Meaning of NamesThe Meaning of Names by Karen Gettert Shoemaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a literary renaissance occuring in Nebraska, with the likes of best-selling authors Rainbow Rowell and Timothy Schaffert. Karen Shoemaker's novel is a worthy contribution to this lively literary community.

The Meaning of Names was selected for this year's Omaha Reads book. It is set in Nebraska, almost a century ago, after America enters World War One. The story focuses on Gerda Vogel and Dr. Ed Gannoway. Through Gerda we experience the life of a farmers wife living on the edge of the Sandhills, but, more importantly, we experience the discrimination faced by German-Americans from neighbors who once trusted them. Through Dr. Gannoway, we focus on his struggles as a man of science with the dominant Catholic faith in his community, embodied by the new priest Father Jungels, and then the doctor's fight against the influenza which ravages the county.

Shoemaker's story, setting, and characters are all engaging, including the rich supporting characters like the club-footed driver honored to assist the doctor, the German father who resists any emotion but anger, and the father grieving over the death of his soldier son. And I enjoyed Shoemaker's language. Here is an evocative example of life on the Plains: "'A lazy wind,' Miranda said when they stepped out onto the road. 'Too lazy to go around you so it goes right through you.'"

I recommend this well-written, engaging story, and not just to Nebraskans.

View all my reviews

Maha 2014

10540905_10203325349308266_6368758664206449385_n

Of course the morning of the day at which I'm going to attend a rock festival, I read an essay by Chuck Klosterman on how rock and pop and hip-hop are really about teenagers and their tastes.  There can be great music that adults listen to, but whatever is relevant at any given time is what the kids are listening to.  Ouch.  Thanks for the reminder that I'm forty.

It had been nine years since I'd attended a festival.  That was the last time I attended the Austin City Limits Music Festival (when I saw this band I'd never heard of before called, at that time The Arcade Fire).  Attending ACL involves preparation.  For one thing, it is three days long.  Second, it is (or at least was when I attended) roasting hot.  So on Saturday morning, I kept having to remind myself that I was planning for a reasonably nice afternoon and evening Omaha, not an unpleasant (weather-wise) three days in Zilker Park.  

That said, my ACL training came in handy.  For one thing, I was surprised by how few Omahans wore hats.  Anyone without a hat at ACL would be pepto bismol pink by the end of the first day and peeling layers of skin halfway through the next.  Note: I did not wear my straw, beachcomber cowboy hat that I purchased in Galveston and generally wear to something like this.  That seemed to "Texan."  I was also wearing a longsleeve linen shirt.  Some guy in a sweat-soaked cotten t-shirt said, "That shirt looks too hot.  Is it?"  I looked incredulously at him, "It's linen and does much better in the heat than your cotton shirt."  Also essential--a bandana to protect the back of the neck from sunburn (bonus: it prevents the sweat from running down your neck).  And I had the umbrella that has been in my chair bag since I vowed after ACL 2004 never to attend one of these things again without that protection.  I did comment to more than one person that this Omaha crowd didn't seem adequately dressed or prepared for sitting outside all day.

And we missed the intense early heat.  I had a church gig and didn't arrive till around 4.  

Lack of preparation was made up for in overall politeness.  Nothing like the obnoxiousness of ACL 2005, about which I blogged here in my rules on Festival Etiquette (which, I must say, is one of the best blog posts I've written.  Glad to get a chance to highlight it again).  

Besides the polite people, the Maha Festival impressed with its bathrooms.  They were the nicest and cleanest port-o-potties I've ever experienced.  #NebraskaNice

I enjoyed the music too.  Here's who we saw: The Both (great to see Aimee Mann), The Envy Corps, Local Natives, Icky Blossoms, The Head and the Heart, and Death Cab for Cutie (which reading my ACL blogs, I'm reminded that I saw them in 2005).  I enjoyed at least a little bit from each of these performances.  The Envy Corps I was unfamiliar with; I want to explore their music a little further.  The Icky Blossoms set was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed singing along to The Head and the Heart songs I knew.  

This festival was filled with friends and acquaintances, so everytime I went for food or to the NebraskaNice port-o-potties, I ran into someone to chat with.

One more thing.  I do like that the beer guys walked around with backpacks serving beer.  That was new from a decade ago.  We are evolving as a species.

  10549150_10203336435985426_6169203113113513652_o

For walks down memory lane:

  • Here is my blogpost on ACL 2004 "Wilco at Sunset."  Besides Wilco, the bands included Sheryl Crow, The Pixies, Elvis Costello, and Ben Harper.
  • Here is my post on ACL 2005 "Dust Bowl."  Among the bands were Coldplay, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Wilco (again), and Oasis.
  • Here, again, is the funny post on "Festival Etiquette."
  • And here is a 2011 post on the Wilco album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as part of my "Post 9/11 Music" series in which I remembered ths significance of the two Wilco performances at ACL.  

Sandhill Cranes

Sometime before our first spring here in Omaha, we started hearing about the Sandhill Crane migration.  That it was a must see.  That it was not only one of the great natural wonders, but often evoked a profound spiritual experience.  There are, even, churches here who host annual retreats to watch and reflect upon the crane migration.  The annual event also gets lots of local media coverage.

So, every spring, I've wanted to go.  But this always falls around Lent and Easter and not the best time for me to get away.  Everyone always recommended going for sunset, spending the night in Kearney, and then catching the sunrise.  It never seemed to work out.

This year, I was determined to make it work.  Discussing this one day with friends, Michael Heller suggested that instead of spending the night, that we simply go one morning for the dawn activities.  It was only about 2 1/2 hours away, and we could leave in the middle of the night to get there on time.  This I could make work, particularly on a Friday when I am off of work.

This Friday, Michael, his husband John, and I went.  We left at 2:30 a.m.  It was snowing.  When I picked them up, I said, "Boy, we sure do know how to pick them."  

Sandhill Crane Migration 002

Michael guided us to an exit with a public viewing area, which we had some trouble finding in the dark of night.  Along the way, we saw some of the organized, paid tour locations, including one with red lights, which actually looked kinda creepy.

We stayed in the car, waiting for a little more light on the horizon before venturing out into the cold.  When we finally did, it was so cold and windy, that we only stayed out for a while before heading back to the car to again wait for more light.

Before the sun rises, the birds begin to stir and make noises.  Soon, what was just a quiet squawk gets louder and louder as more join the chorus.  As the light dawned, we realized that on the island in front of us there were probably thousands  of birds, which had only a few minutes ago simply looked like a dark spot.  They began to stir and fly around.  Many, which were west of us, fly overhead.

Sandhill Crane Migration 016

It is funny watching them land, because of the way their legs awkwardly dangle as they approach the ground.

Sandhill Crane Migration 050

After a while, we decided to drive down the road and look for another vantage point.  We found a good one and spent quite a bit of time there.  Twice we saw big swarms (a better descriptor than flocks) of birds.  Thousands of them flying this way and that.

Sandhill Crane Migration 036

Eventually, we'd enjoyed enough, and the birds were starting to settle down into the fields.  So, we drove along the dirt road till the next bridge crossing back over the Platte, before heading on into Grand Island for breakfast.


Figuring out our tax returns

IMG_20140320_183426

Now, I don't normally blog about preparing my income tax returns, but this year is not normal.  After the Windsor ruling, the IRS has announced that all same-sex married couples are legally married as per federal law and are supposed to file married, either jointly or separately.  This was a civil rights win for our community.

But it also meant that I need to learn some new things about tax filings, since pretty much every year I plug the new numbers into the same forms the same way.  Plus, Michael and I need to get our schedules together, as he often is a last minute filer and I'm sometimes early (not so much this year).

The IRS has produced some helpful information, including a Frequently Asked Questions webpage and this video.

 

 What is less clear is what we are supposed to do with our Nebraska taxes.  Nebraska was one of the states that ruled that married, same-sex couples must file as single when filing their state taxes.  Missouri, one should note, gave the opposite ruling, despite their constitutional amendment that does not legally recognize same-sex marriages.  They, rightfully, understand that the state taxes ought to be based upon federal form and that it is better and simpler for the state taxes to align with the federal taxes.

Last autumn the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Unicameral held a hearing to explore this and other issues created by the Windsor ruling.  My testimony before the committee was quoted in news articles and an essay of mine appeared in the Omaha World-Herald.

One thing that has troubled me, is that the state is compelling me to create a false federal form to use when filing my state taxes.  Plus, the final thing one does on a tax return is sign that the information is correct.  The Nebraska form states, "Under penalties of perjury, I declare that, as a taxpayer or preparer, I have examined this return and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is correct and complete."  That wont' be the case for my Nebraska return.  It will be founded upon a lie.

One friend recently said, "You should get a letter from the Department of Revenue that instructs you to do that, otherwise, who knows if in the long run they won't come after you for committing tax fraud?"

So, today I looked to see if the Nebraska Department of Revenue offers any advice, and fortunately they do.  I'm sure some states are ignoring reality, like flat earth people.  Here are the instructions.  I was quite amused by their instructions:

How does an individual in a same-sex marriage file his or her Nebraska income tax  return?
  • Each individual must complete a pro forma federal return (a “mocked up” return that is not actually filed with the IRS) using the single, or if qualified, head of household filing status.
     
  • Each individual must use the numbers from the pro forma federal return to file a separate Nebraska Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040N, using the single, or if qualified, head of household filing status.
     
  • Each individual must use the tax rates, credits, deductions, and adjustments corresponding to the single or head of household filing status, whichever applies.

Really?  Who thinks scare quotes are a good idea in tax instructions?  Here is the definition of scare quotes:

Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to imply that it may not signify its apparent meaning or that it is not necessarily the way the quoting person would express its concept. Thus, the quotes are used to establish a use–mention distinction, in a similar way to verbally prefixing a phrase with "so-called". When referred to as "scare quotes", the quotation marks are suggested to imply skepticism or disagreement with the quoted terminology.


My Thirties: Place

Wichita National Wildlife Refuge 029

In 2007 as Oklahoma celebrated the centennial of statehood, I decided to immerse myself a little more in Oklahoma itself, reading its history and visiting places I'd only heard of.  The highlight of this endeavor was a November trip in Western Oklahoma.  Having grown up in Eastern Oklahoma, there was much of the western part of the state that I had never seen.  So, I packed up may car, took along a handful of books on Oklahoma history, and spent almost a week visiting places like Quartz Mountain, the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, Antelope Hills, Boiling Springs, Alabaster Caverns, Little Sahara, and the Gloss Mountains.

24 -- Approaching Antelope Hills from the South

Also that autumn, our congregation was visited by Susanna Labsch on an ecumenical visit from the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany.  Over dinner at Iron Star Urban Barbeque, we were discussing Oklahoma history and how the stories were biblically resonant when she mentioned that it was filled with suffering and displaced persons.  I found these intriguing theological concepts.

That conversation, combined with my fascination of the bison skull with the red lightning bolt discovered at the Cooper Site and on display at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History (something I've spoken, preached, blogged, and written about numerous times), fired my imagination to compose an "Oklahoma Theology."  An idea that expanded, once I moved to Nebraska, to write a "Theology of the Great Plains."  This remains an idea in the works and maybe a liftetime project, though I do continue to work on it in a more informal sense, mostly in themes developed in my preaching.

51-Salt plain

While in Oklahoma, I began to enjoy spending my days off hiking and visiting places--Fort Reno, Roman Nose, the Great Salt Plains, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, etc.  And, fortunately for me, Michael was also into inexpensive little trips in the area and excursions to quirky sites and fun diners.  Memorable was our night in the Price Tower during a thunderstorm.  Or the St. Valentine's Day weekend spent at Quartz Mountain.

Anniversary Weekend 2008 027

St. Valentine's Day Weekend 027

When we first arrived in Omaha, we made a plan to see sites in the area every other weekend.  That didn't last once we got to know more people and got busy with other things, but we've continued to enjoy the excursion here and there (and have made plans to renew this idea this year).  We've enjoyed eating at the Black Crow in Beatrice, admiring the State Capitol, and visiting the Antiquarium in Brownville.  We also get into Iowa some, where we've enjoyed weekends at Lake Okoboji, shopping for antiques in Walnut, driving through the Loess Hills, and I even went fossil hunting in the Nishnabotna.

Beatrice for our 3rd Wedding Anniversary 009

Brownville 042

CIMG2155

Our first day in town, we went to Barnes and Noble and I bought travel guides and books on Nebraska history.  I've also immersed myself in the rich literary tradition of the state--Cather, Neihardt, Sandoz, Aldrich, Kooser, etc.

So, one theme of my Thirties has been the development of a richer sense of place.


O Pioneers! is 100

A beautiful little essay at the New Yorker discusses Willa Cather and O Pioneers! on the occasion of the book's 100th anniversary.

This line intrigued me, as I had never considered this idea before: "Cather was fundamentally a Platonist; she believed that vision was more real than reality."

The essayist writes, "Others of Cather’s books—for example, “The Professor’s House”—are sadder than “O Pioneers!,” because, being less romantic, they are harder to regard as a fiction. But this is the one that takes a knife and stabs you through the heart, by its joining of such ravishment with such pessimism."