Friday, March 31, 2017


Doctors call it gross hematuria. I call it red pee.

By whatever name, it’s scary stuff. Scary enough to send me to the ER at McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital on Monday.

A few hours in their tender care and a CT scan yielded a diagnosis: transitional cell carcinoma of the left kidney. Doctor Z gave Polly and me a couple of pills, just in case we would have trouble getting to sleep.

When you have six children, all mature and highly educated, and you tell them you have cancer, the immediate mobilization is a marvelous thing to behold.

Get a primary physician in Lansing; get a top urology expert and a first rate oncology doctor. Make appointments ASAP. Have all CT scans and medical records delivered immediately. Step up the remodeling and furnishing of the condo at Burcham Hills in East Lansing. Urgent emails, text messages and phone calls create the kind of teamwork buzz I remember from my days of political campaigning.

Their concern, of course, is heartwarming, but I suspect that my reaction to the news has not been what it would have been thirty years ago. When you are 87 years old, death is like politics; you can talk about it, but you can’t change it.

It is what it is.

Our Christian heritage tells us that we are dust and unto dust we shall return; that we know not the day nor the hour. Good enough. If I were scheduled to face a firing squad tomorrow morning, I probably wouldn’t sleep very well tonight.

But that is not the case. Tomorrow will be like today. Another blessing. Another miracle of sentient existence.

The old body gets a little creakier every day, that’s true. The hugging and kissing, daily habits of a lifetime, get a little more satisfying and appreciated; the smiles and the laughter are a little more precious and necessary.

But life goes on. I will watch the news. I will do Sudoku puzzles. I will write blogs, read books, browse the world wide web, and chew gum.

And I will hug my darling Pauline. Until I can’t any more.

I have spent the last half century trying to make a difference in this old world. It is a preposterously egotistical ambition. Like a grain of Lake Michigan sand trying to create a dune.

Still, I have always believed it is worth the effort. Sharing in the important work of administering justice to my fellow citizens, helping to create access to the legal profession for new generations of Americans and on more than a few occasions, just trying to make things a little better for some folks who needed help; it’s not a mighty sand dune, but it’s not chopped liver.

The popular mantra sweeping our nation these days is “Make America great again.” All well and good, but I hope our people will pay heed to the famous words quoted by Dwight Eisenhower in a 1952 campaign speech:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there. . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests—and it was not there. . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there. . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. 

America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good,she will cease to be great.

In the last analysis, the most patriotic and efficacious thing that most people can do with their lives is to try to behave themselves. Or as my sainted father, Joe Brennan, advised: “You know what’s wrong and you know what’s right. Do what’s right.”

Dr. Z from the Emergency Room called yesterday to say that the CT scan also shows a penny-sized nodule on my left lung.  

The big C is the big C. It is what it is. I’ll try to behave myself a while longer.                                                                              

Thursday, March 16, 2017


My oldest daughter, Peggy, is a brilliant woman. After earning her Master’s Degree in advertising from the University of Illinois, she walked away from a promising career as a successful account executive at Foote, Cone and Belding to devote full time to mothering four beautiful daughters.

And advising her lawyer husband, Dave, on how to market legal services.

She visited us this week, and, as always, engaged us in the most enjoyable and affable conversation.

We got on the topic of grandchildren, and she told us a touching story about the funeral of the father of a friend of hers. The eulogist asked all of the deceased’s grandchildren to stand and be recognized. Nine young men and women stood.

Now, said the speaker, would any of you who believed that you were your grandfather’s favorite, please raise your hand. Instantly all nine of them raised their hands.

Our nineteen grandchildren range in age from thirty-four to fourteen. They are scattered from Savannah, Georgia to Los Angeles California. At last count, they had accumulated seventeen degrees from a dozen universities.

I got them all together for Thanksgiving dinner up until a few years ago. It was always a real kick to see them as adults chatting affably with cousins they knew from childhood.

There was inevitable talk of the Pookie room, at the foot of the back stairs in our house on Park Lake Road. It was a special hide away for preschoolers, crammed with toys and crayons. Adults were not welcome.

And they remember the year Puppa rented a bus which hauled the whole clan to a touch football game, a barbeque and other adventures.

Family gatherings now focus on weddings. We have had three so far, with another in the offing for October. Polly and I revel in the fuss they make over their octogenarian ancestors. They always make us feel very special and very specially loved.

Polly is in charge of the birthday cards and the Christmas presents. The burden of buying gifts, even for the inveterate shopper to whom I am married, has finally dictated that we content ourselves with sharing financial largess at Christmas and on birthdays.

Having some vivid memories of the economic pinch associated with being a young adult, I am not surprised to hear genuine gratitude when the checks are distributed.

Like her sainted mother, Peggy is never shy about expressing her views about my role as Paterfamilias.

And, of course, as always, she got me to thinking.

What exactly should be the relationship between an 87 year old grandfather and his twenty-something and thirty-something grandchildren?

I had to concede that few, if any of my grandchildren and/or great grandchildren, will ever accede to being my favorite. Indeed, among my siblings and myself, the idea that any of us would be favored by our parents was unthinkable.

In fact we used to joke that our mother must have stood before her bedroom mirror and recited the words from Snow White: mirror, mirror on the wall…

Mother was meticulously even handed. Indeed, she was ‘the fairest of them all.’ She loved all five of us exactly the same. Period.

Which is not to say that I do not see each and every one of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as special and specially wonderful.

They all astound me, amaze me, and amuse me. They are fun to be around, interesting to talk to, and full of challenging ideas and exciting experiences.

Yes, Peggy, I should call them once in a while. Just to talk. Just to say hello. Just to let them know that I think about them and care about them.

Even if I can’t remember all the birthdays.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


March 10, 2017
Dear Judge Brennan,
By way of brief introduction my name is Patrick Sell and I am a Foreign Affairs Officer in the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC. My office, the Office of the U.S. Speaker Program, coordinates virtual and traveling speaking engagements, connecting American experts with foreign audiences to advance American foreign policy priorities. We receive regular requests for speakers to discuss the current state of American politics. American Embassies abroad look to our office to connect them with American experts in this field.

I am writing to see if you would ever be interested in working with us on any future U.S. Speaker Programs? If so, then I would be happy to have a brief phone call with you to tell you more about the U.S. Speaker Program. Please e-mail me at if you are interested.

Thank you, in advance, for your consideration of this request.

Kind regards,
Patrick Sell

March 10, 2017
I would be happy to discuss the Speaker Program with you.
My phones: Land Line: 231-526-0065  Cell: 352-346-5891
I should be available most any time.

March 10, 2017
‎Dear Judge Brennan,

Thank you very much for your response and for your willingness to participate on our public diplomacy initiatives. I am currently out of the office, but one of my colleagues will be in touch with you early next week to discuss the U.S. Speaker Program.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Kind regards, Patrick

On Monday, March 13, 2017, I received a telephone call from Brandon Lambert, a colleague of Patrick Sell. He described the Speakers Program as one in which the State Department underwrites one or two week’s overseas travel for selected private citizens, the purpose being to talk to people about our country. The federal government, he assured me, pays for travel and lodging and provides an additional modest allowance of $200 per day.

Mr. Lambert told me they would want my curriculum vitae. I told him they could look on Wikipedia. He said that their office knew nothing about me except that I had been a supporter of Donald Trump for President.

March 13

I spoke with your colleague. He said that your office knew nothing about me except that I was apparently a supporter of Donald Trump. On reflection, I am of a mind to decline participation in your program. It has the smell of the swamp #45 wants to drain.


March 14, 2017
Dear Judge Brennan,

My apologies for my late response. I am on personal leave and am only checking emails periodically.

I also apologize for this unfortunate exchange. Evidently I didn't properly brief my colleague before I left. My job is to recruit a wide variety of experts on various topics. It's true that I came across your name on a list of experts who endorsed President Trump in the recent election. But it's your judicial experience, and your higher education experience, that makes you a great candidate for our programs (if you so choose). We run multiple Speaker Programs on judicial capacity building, for example, and I believe your time on the Michigan Supreme Court would be valuable to the foreign judges. We also discuss ways to promote American higher education- another area of expertise for you.

I am back in the office on Friday and would love to have a telephone conversation to discuss our offerings. But should you feel that this is not a good use of your time then I completely understand.

Kind regards,


March 14, 2017

You didn’t mention the reason you are on ‘personal leave.’ As a taxpayer, I would hope that you are busy looking for employment in the private sector.

Your candid admission that you found me on a list of “experts” who supported the candidacy of Donald Trump takes some explaining.

Why are State Department employees looking for Trump supporters who might be interested in all-expense-paid overseas travel coupled with pocket money of $200 per day?

The light goes on. This program certainly wasn’t invented after January 20, 2017. No sir. It is better than even money that this program has been going on for a long time.

Next question: for how many past years have employees of the State Department been culling over lists of Presidential campaign supporters to find candidates for overseas travel?

Foggy Bottom is well named. It sure sounds like a swamp.


Friday, March 10, 2017


During his campaign, President Trump made it pretty clear that he opposed the Iraq war. Then he chided President Obama for describing ISIS as “the junior varsity.”

He has also made some very sensible and popular statements to the effect that under his leadership, the United States will defeat ISIS. He has subscribed to the simple proposition that America only goes to war to win.

Now I see where the President has sent 400 Marines to Syria, presumably to capture Raqqa, reputed to be the ISIS capital.

I’m sorry, folks, but I have to take exception. Two reasons: First the President has no constitutional authority to start a war. The Constitution says, very clearly, in Article I, Section 8, that Congress has the power to declare war.

There is nothing in the Constitution giving Congress the power to amend the Constitution or to delegate its power to declare war to the President or anyone else.

To deploy American marines into a foreign country, uninvited by its government, is clearly an act of war.

I suppose that many people would argue that Trump inherited the mess in the Middle East. Bush Jr. started it, and we have had troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and thereabouts ever since.

But 400 Marines is hardly the force Majeure that Patton or Eisenhower would have insisted on. On the contrary, 400 Marines is the minimum size of a battalion, typically led by a Captain or a Major. Just a little more than we lost to two suicide bombers in Beruit in 1983.

I had hoped, vainly, it turns out, that President Trump would take his oath to support and defend the Constitution seriously; that he would not simply get on the train of international military deployment as an executive geopolitical strategy.

He is supposed to be the great deal maker. Does he think he can win a poker hand by showing a pair of deuces?  Or scare Macy’s by opening a dime store across the street? No sir, sending 400 Marines to Syria is a Obama-esque neighborhood rumble.

The worst part about it is that it tells the world America is not serious about destroying ISIS. It tells the world that we are a war weary nation torn between fighting and tolerating an enemy that hates us.

It tells the world that the Congress of the United States, and by extension, the majority of our 320 million people, are simply uncommitted to the kind of sacrifice that actual, honest and serious warfare demands.

I’m not a hawk and I shutter at the thought of turning the deserts of the Middle East into a vast Omaha Beach. But the truth is that we are confronted with an enemy whose principle source of power is a pathological corruption of theology.

We can, I suppose, live with the beheading of Christians broadcast on the Internet and the periodic slaughter of random civilians. We can do what we have been doing within the strictures of civilized society to punish offenders and minimize the hurt by detecting and thwarting their conspiracies.

But the lives of the brave and patriotic Americans serving in our Armed Forces are too precious to be appropriated as sacrifices to a make-believe war conducted by professional military commanders who use and sacrifice them as pawns in an interminable international chess game.

From my perspective, Mr. President, your decision to deploy 400 Marines to Syria is a mistake. Bring them home. Deploy them around the Capital Building and call the Congress into a continuous session to debate and decide what the United States should be doing, if anything, in the Middle East.

If their decision, reflecting as it must, the disposition of their constituents, is to defeat and destroy ISIS, let them declare war, identify the enemy, and define the objective of our military action.

If the objective is to kill or convert every man, woman or child who believes that Allah wants them to kill Americans, then let us say so, and get on with it.